Sunday, December 29, 2013

After the Feasting

People asked me in church today: “How was my Christmas?” I spent time with family and friends and appreciated the time to connect with old friends and new.

Two moments that were memorable for me were being asked to say the grace before the Christmas meal. I’m sitting with the young people trapped behind the picture windows. But the young people are not little kids any longer. They are young adult men and women in the process of dating and finding their lifelong mates. Church is not a priority but I believe this was a moment to introduce them to a God who wants them to find a purpose in life that will make them happy and respected.

So my spontaneous prayer can best be paraphrased: “Thank you Lord for bringing us all around this table to renew our friendships. We are grateful to our hosts for bringing us together for this delicious feast. May your love for us continue to grow in our hearts. May we realize that we are never alone for you listen to all our concerns. May our gift to one another be our hands and hearts willing to help each other in our time of need.”

As one family member pointed out to me after the desserts, in which I ate too many cookies. What our young people need is not pious words but a genuine invitation that says: “when you’re ready” God invites you to join a faith community that lives the true meaning of peace and happiness. That’s my prayer now for all of you as we begin another new year.

My second memorable moment is the image I have posted on this Sonshine. After hundreds of hours of work, clearing trails and cleaning hundreds of years of debris, we took our special friends for a Christmas “gator ride”
through the snowy trails and over the creek into the land of make-believe. 

After another hectic year of being busy, shopping, decorating and wrapping.
Now might be a moment for you to lean back and let the beauty of God’s landscape take hold of you and revive your drooping spirit.

As you reflect on this image, let your heart pray this psalm over and over again: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” (Psalm 31:5).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends in this New Year that we learn to lean on you more often. Help us to discover the truth that you simply want us to be at peace and assured of you ongoing love that give us strength and courage.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sin Carpet

Ask any priest what they want for Christmas and you get the usual humble response: “I don’t need anything but your prayers.” However, Fr. Matt’s weekly chores around the house include vacuuming all the wood floors and carpets. Not a problem except for the “sin carpet.” No, this is not a typo. It’s the “sin carpet”. This oriental carpet has a beautiful weave pattern and a mind of its own. The vacuum fails to pick up the kitty hairs and so I attach the chair attachment, get down on my knees and brush the carpet by hand to get it clean. This method works much better with a few choice words and the reason why I call this my “sin carpet.” It’s a prayer carpet with a certain twist. It’s twisting my body around because the beater brush just doesn’t do the job and pick up kitty hairs.

So what I want for Christmas is a solution to this backbreaking problem. The family says take the carpet and the vacuum to the repair shop and see what they suggest.

On this snowy day, I walk into the shop of an “old fashioned vacuum shop.” I humbly ask, “Is it OK to bring my oriental carpet into the store and show you the problem?”  The kind repairman motions to bring it on. Vacuum plugged in, he immediately says the vacuum has no power. He opens the machine and finds the filter and bag are OK. The attachments are in good order, but then with the wisdom of a guru he says, “this machine will never clean this carpet because it is not a motor driven unit but air powered.”

No one will tell you this at a box store because they don’t know the difference. A motor driven unit is best for carpets and works stronger to pull the dirt out of any carpet. He quickly demonstrates with a floor model and says: “go ahead and clean your carpet.” With a few easy strokes, no genuflecting, no swear words, the carpet was cleaned. Why don’t the salespeople tell you this when you buy a vacuum. I went online in Consumer Reports and found no information about the difference between a motor and an air driven unit.

The kind vacuum man suggested to continue to use my canister on the wood floors. I thought I had Dirt Devil in the basement that has not been used in years. He suggested using the upright to clean the carpet and wait till my canister dies. Then the next time, you need a new vacuum, make sure that it is a motor driven unit.

Sometimes, our sins seem to follow us around and we fail to clean up our life. Even on our knees, we pray to God for help with our temptations, but we still can’t get rid of those threads that make us feel dirty. Maybe, our machine needs a tune-up, a motor driven (spirit driven) unit that will clean up our act. A spiritual director like the vacuum cleaner repairman might help you clean up your life and get rid of those spots.

A motor driven unit not an air driven vacuum is the secret to getting carpets cleaned. I never knew the difference. The sin carpet will become a prayer carpet. When vacuuming, I will remember this kind man’s wisdom and ask God to bless him and all who help us lead a better life free from troubles that break our backs and frustrate our efforts to be holy.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who struggle in prayer with any sin that does not want to go way. Help us to persevere and remember that Advent is the moment a Savior appeared to be with us and save us from all our messes and fears.
Note, I did not find the Dirt Devil in the basement. I forget that I donated it to the Salvation Army this past summer. I wonder if it is still there?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Plug That Hole


Before Mass, a parishioner wanted to share his findings after walking through the school. A retired engineer, I asked this humble man to share his expertise. The school was abandoned for many years and the parish has just installed a new furnace, but it was leaking cold air like a sieve. Needless to say, our engineer was a blessing for he found lots of holes that needed to be plugged.

His suggestions were very practical, like discovering holes on the first floor where the cold air was coming from the basement. Also, a back door had an opening so large that you could see straight to Buffalo!

Now I’m trying to get ready for Mass and lead the Advent Penance Service. This man is passionate and wants me to find 3 or 4 people after Mass to plug some of the holes or he fears the water pipes will freeze and the furnace will die.

During the Penance service, I shared a statement from Pope Francis. He shared that there is darkness in each of us. For we are all sinners. Hold on, the Pope is not talking about Catholic guilt. He says, “Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back.” St. John wrote: ‘If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. Look to your sins, we are all sinners, all of us … this is the starting point.

When the Lord forgives us, He does justice” – continued the Pope – first to himself, “because He came to save and forgive“, welcoming us with the tenderness of a Father for his children: “The Lord is tender towards those who fear, fear not in the sense of being scolded but mentored to those who humbly come to Him “and with tenderness,” He always understand us”. He wants to gift us the peace that only He gives. ”

But let’s get real and be honest, many of us are too busy to look within ourselves, we are often ashamed to tell the truth: ‘I did this, I thought this’. But “shame” is a true Christian virtue, and even human and to be ashamed is a virtue of the humble.

Pope Francis continued: “ we must have trust, because when we sin we have an advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” And He “supports us before the Father” and defends us in front of our weaknesses. But you need to stand in front of the Lord with confidence, even with joy, without masquerading… We must never masquerade before God. And shame is a virtue: ‘blessed shame.’ This is the virtue that Jesus asks of us: humility and meekness”.

In other words, there are lots of cold drafts in our lives that need to be plugged. I witnessed humility in our church today as peoples’ cheeks were cradled and I told, “ to let go of their shame and walk in humility.” Yes, we are all sinners, yet we all came to receive the Lord’s mercy to restore the warmth of our hearts that have been made bitter cold by the sin in our lives.
At the end of mass, we made the announcement for volunteers and a dozen people walked over to church to plug some holes and promised to return to repair the many doors and windows that need to be readjusted to keep the cold air out and warm air in.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that “to be ashamed” is a virtue that will bring us out of the cold into the warm embrace of our loving God. Believe and celebrate this blessing.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Wait A Bit


It is Advent now. We hope to quiet down during this time, and ponder our need for a savior. Look around the world and you will see plenty of reason to need one. Looking can be immensely disturbing.

But let me tell a story that might show a different side of “waiting.” Holy Family started a tradition common in many churches today to have coffee social after Mass. On the first and third Sunday of each month, people gather in the back of church to meet and munch.

Every social features some special goodies that our pastry cooks bring to church. Sometimes it’s a juicy cheese cake, or crème puffs, others times, a pastry apple filling, there’s always something with maple and a variety of tasty cookies.

What does this celebration have to do with Advent? Well, the funny thing is that no one in line at the coffee social is in a hurry. They talk, they share stories about their family, they relish being in “the” place. People can cut into line for coffee or another pastry and no one cares. The crowd seems to have turned waiting into a social affair, a time of patient anticipation, together.

The point? Our waiting during Advent does not have to be an agony. Jesus will be born, and in fact we know this for sure, since we have experienced him at Mass. In Advent we join each other not around pastry treats but around the peace and goodness that his birth will bring to our hearts and to our rapport with others. God turns our waiting into a social, prayerful event.

Granted, it is not always easy. Traffic jams, grocery store lines, shopping on Amazon, the usual chaos of the season can be exhausting. Sometimes our minds are spinning with the many things we have left to do. Christmas is coming, after all. Impatience rears its head. But what is the alternative?

Here's an idea. If we use our senses we will not need to buy another gift to make the season joyful. In the present moment, as you read these words, hundreds of real and God-filled objects are all about you. Did you take a walk on the first day after our first snowfall? Despite my frozen fingers, I took the above photo and enjoyed this moment of beauty. How about letting in the colors and lights of your Christmas tree? There are times when we can stay in the present during Advent, instead of in the future or the past. Maybe we will find subtle and quiet beauty all about us. The present tense is still happening.

Advent is a time to focus a bit and realize that emptiness is a healthy and normal part of our lives. We will only be filled if we let emptiness have a home in us first. Strange to say, the waiting for fulfillment is also itself a fulfillment. It lets us be what we are—not God but human.

God waits for us as we reflect: "Happy is the one who listen to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting besides my doors." (Proverbs 8:34).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they stay awake and find your presence in their daily lives waiting to bring them peace and comfort.