Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jesus Birthday Party

Let me share a special moment in my ministry when the children of Holy Family were invited by their teacher to decorate Jesus’ birthday cake. During my homily about lullabies, the children put sprinkles on the cake. Then they put the finishing touches on their birthday cards they each made for the infant. Finally, they made a list of toys and games that they promised to give to Jesus for his birthday.

When we brought the birthday cake up to the altar, I gave each child a stuffed toy that depicted the animals that were in the barn on that first Christmas. These were no ordinary animals for on that first Christmas day, the animals had been given the gift of speech.

It was on a special night, in a simple stable, that ordinary animals became special animals because of the unique and most precious gifts each of them offered to Baby Jesus. It was a donkey, which carried the baby's mother safely on his back. And a sheep who gave the baby a special woolen blanket. Only a kitty could have purred the baby to sleep and it took a brave dog to keep watch over them all. Unique in this barn was a giraffe that watched for three special visitors who would come to pay homage to the infant king.

"Yes, everyone has a unique and most special gift to give at Christmas," said the cow. "That's why animals like us are given this special gift of speech each Christmas Eve at midnight. So we might tell our children about those very first Christmas gifts given by ordinary animals."

The animals gathered at the door to the stable. Suddenly they saw a bright star in the sky. "Yes," said the cow. "It is a special star that will always remind us of that special night when the most special baby was born."

Their teacher read the birthday cards the children wrote and the gifts they would bring the infant Jesus. A two-year boy drew a baby, some pie and a potato. Another young lady drew a blanket, a pillow and a coat. Someone drew a picture of a John Deere gator and a dirt bike. Another child drew a piece of chocolate candy. A six-year girl drew an ornament with the face of Jesus. Another drawing had a picture of a four-wheeler and a teddy bear.

The children took their cards and animals and placed them into the manager in the sanctuary. The candles on the birthday cake were lit and the children along with their moms and dads and grandparents and all the parishioners sang Happy Birthday to Jesus.

Notice in the photo above, how the children puckered their little mouths to blow out the candles. Noticed more the spirit of joy in their eyes and smile. It was truly a holy moment of peace and joy.

Perhaps it has been awhile since we felt this kind of joy and peace on Christmas Day. Let the expressions on these children’s faces be a source of comfort to you now that the Lord of Peace has come into your life and wants you to feel this same peace and joy.

Take another look into these precious eyes and see the wonder and the light of God’s peace for you. A Holy and Merry Christmas. Fr. Matt

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Need to be Alone

A good friend shared that when Christmas Day arrives he simply wants to be alone. Nothing personal he says, “you know what I mean.” During the months and days before Christmas, he works with people designing and responding to customer requests for his special holiday gift. A gifted designer, the pace is hectic and the rewards are few except when someone expresses their satisfaction with his extraordinary designs.

Despite the complements, he simply prefers time to be alone away from the noise of the holiday clatter. He appreciates his loyal fans that beg him to create another treat and the accolades by his fellow workers are sincere, but he needs the silence to get his heart and soul back in place with the season that promises peace on earth.

The final days leading up to Christmas are filled with tradition that leaves many of us physically and mentally drained. So I thought I take all my Sonshine Friends on a brief journey for a walk in the woods. Oh, it not very colorful this time of year, but the silence and mood as one moves across the rocks and stream can help to slow ourselves down. We need to be careful not to trip on a rock or fall into the water, for it can be slippy at times. But as you move gently along this path whose purpose is not to get to the any destination, but allow the silence to restore our aching spirits that has been drained by the demands of the season.

Review this image below and stop to look around. There’s no hurry, take your time and notice the little things in the stream, the mosses, the rocks, the lichens and the leaves. They are truly breath-taking if you know what I mean. God is here waiting for you. God is calling us to rest and calm ourselves down to experience the peace of Christmas night. You only need top surrender all the noise from the past months that keep plaguing us to buy happiness. You know there’s no such thing.

Our Savior knows how hard we have been working this year to make ends meet, The Prince of Peace understands the irritations that make us cringe. In this walk, let the silence calm your senses and bring you relief from the pressures of this holiday.

This won’t take long, a minute, whatever you can spare to get away from your desk, out of the barn and journey into a realm that offers a peace that no one can take away from you. When you had enough of holiday trivial and frivolous activities, come with me now into the forest and find your strength in the newborn Christ who welcomes us with opens arms to find peace of mind and a good heart.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who need a gift of quiet peace that will take away our darkness and exhaustion. When we gaze upon the manager at home or in our church, may we hear a voice that speaks a wonderful gift. The Prince of Peace who sees our weary souls and now He comes to refresh our souls with His quiet gift of peace.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Removing the Obstacles

The twelfth thing of Christmas that's such a pain to me:
Singing Christmas carols
Stale TV specials
"Batteries Not Included"
No parking!
Lots of whining!
More special collections!! (Note: the people laughed at this line each time)
Making Christmas dinner!
Five months of bills!
Sending Christmas cards
Drinking too much beer!
Rigging outside lights!
And finding a Christmas tree

Needless to say, I was wayyyyy off key, but all these complaints sum up the attitude of many people during this holiday. Instead of joy, people are worn out, whinny, and uncharitable. I thought this was a perfect introduction to a Penance Service in which the Lord invites us to remove the obstacles that prevent us from reflecting His light and love.

At this service, I invited all ht people to come down the aisle to share the gift that they needed most from God this Advent. Not so surprising, it was PATIENCE! We need patience to cope with those in-laws, bosses, co-workers, Christmas dinners, cards and lights that drive us up the wall with their whining and complaints,

It has become a tradition for me to offer God’s healing touch, so I simply place my hands on their cheeks and whisper these words: “May the gentle, loving Lord forgive you your sins and bring you peace.” The eyes say it all when they leave my hands for I can see the calm and relief as they walk away knowing humbly in their hearts that God loves them despite our lack of patience, charity and complaining.

My Sonshine Friends, for all the times I interrupted your work to ask another favor, for all the times I did not pay attention to your concerns, forgive this humble servant. Yes, I am grateful for your kind support in my new ministry to refresh a closed Catholic faith community that is now on fire with God’s love helping the poor and homeless.

This week I learned to make Christmas wreaths and learned a new trick from my floral designers. The young wreath designer showed me how to tuck in the last evergreens so that the other side overlaps and the wreath looks perfect! Now, if I can just master tying a bow for all those Christmas gifts.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who yearn for patience in coping with the turmoil of the holidays. In this moment of silence, take a breath and know that God is listening and wants you to know that He loves you all very much. Hope to see you all on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


This Advent let me invite you to share in a special communal Advent Penance Service. Try this image on for size. I think we are being asked to undergo some revision, some stretching in our approach to the spiritual life and in our approach to tragedy of sin. As each person comes to share what they need from God to be a better spiritual person-- I will lay my hands on their heads and pray: “In the name of a gentle, loving God, your sins are forgiven you." This can be a turning point in your life. This gentle sacrament of hope can help deepened our faith in God and one another. This is a moment to turn things around, leaving the darkness of sin and facing the light. This is what repentance is like. But you need to find the time and get off your couch to experience this grace-filled moment. I can’t come to your parish.

Jesus comes not just into our beautifully decorated homes with manager scenes, our dreams of lots of toys, our happiness and cheer, but also and importantly, into the craggy mountains and deep gorges of our lives.

You know a lot about these if you are a human being. What sadness are you hiding from? What mountain is currently too high to approach? What utter failure hides in the recesses of your heart? Only one possible solution exists for these troubles, whether they are giant or small: to let God’s depths be an intimate part of your own soul.

Christ is gestating right now in our hearts, just as you and I did in our mother’s womb. Like a mother, we have to stretch! His birth will not make the world pleasant and polite, but will connect it at its very roots with the mysterious profundity of God.

Will you let him be born in you this year, a little more than in the past? Are you willing to let your insides pull wider than ever before and so make room? This is the meaning of Advent. Streeetch!

You do not have to be capable of such a feat all by yourself. As Paul says in the “let the one who began the good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 Lord I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that we rely on the tender care of God and of his carefully tending mother. Allow them to help you dis-close yourself, to tease open a few doors that have been shut for too long. Fear has ruled you but Advent care can help you.