Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas 2016

Inspired by a dear friend Fr. Frank Matera on a beautiful hike at Steep Rock Reserve.

Once upon a time,
God looked down on the world he loved and sighed to Himself.
My people are so lost and confused.
Some are angry and bitter.
Some are lonely and afraid.
Some suffer so much and no one is willing to help them.

I’ve sent them prophets and kings over and over again, but nothing seems to work.

All I have left to do is send them my Son.
No one loves humanity more than Him.

So he called the Archangels Raphael, Michael and Gabriel together and said my people seem so lost.
I’ve decided to send My Son to the world.  
Where do you think I should send Him?
After a couple of days, the Archangels returned to God and Raphael stepped forward confidently and said, “I think you should send your Son to Rome.

The Romans are a powerful people and they have the best army in the world.
They are also great road builders and all roads lead to Rome.

Once your Son brings them to faith once they believe the Roman Legions can march all over the world spreading the Good News.”

He stepped back very confident.

Next, Michael the Archangel stepped forward and said, “I think you should send Him to Athens.

The wisest men and the greatest philosophers in the world live there.
When Athens speaks, the whole world listens.” If your Son went to Athens the philosophers could bring the whole world to faith with their logic.

Finally, the Archangel Gabriel stepped forward and said, “I think you should send your Son to Egypt.

They are the greatest builders.
Everyone looks at the pyramids with wonder.
They have the very best technology in the world.
If your son went to Egypt
He could use all of their technological skills to  save  the world.”

God listened attentively to the Archangels, and then he said
“Thank you for your wise counsel. I am going to ponder what you’ve said.”

A couple of days later God called them back.

They hurried back to be with God
Each of them was hoping that God would take their suggestion.
There was a stir in the air as they waited for God.

When God saw them, he welcomed them and said, “I have thought a lot about what you said and I have decided to send my son to Bethlehem.”

The Archangels were shocked.  
Michael the Archangel even blurted out, “Bethlewhere?” God smiled at him and said

I have chosen this little town in a tiny country because if I sent my son to Rome and the Romans carried his message to the world, people might believe more out of fear rather than love.  
We all know that power rarely changes a human heart.

And I decided against Athens because even though they are very smart in Athens their wisdom is worldly and sometimes rather black and white very logical.
It’s hard for them to accept anything uncertain or grey.
Worldly philosophies not rooted in faith and love can be very dangerous.

And as far as the Egyptians are concerned, yes,
I really like what they have done with the pyramids and they certainly have the best technology in the world.
Everyone looks at their creations with wonder and awe,
Our people need to find comfort when they look to the heavens not some newfangled technology.

And so it was that God’s Son was born in a way and a place no one could not have imagined.

You see, God was doing something new,
something that didn’t make sense to the angels.

God did something that doesn’t make sense to many in our world today
Our’s is a world which places its trust in power, worldly wisdom, or technology.

Tonight we celebrate birth of God’s Son, Jesus.
With Him light, life, and love are born to a broken and lonely world

With the prophet Isaiah, we proclaim that we have seen a great light.

With Saint Paul, we announce that grace,
God’s grace, has appeared in Jesus Christ,

With the His birth we dare to hope that God’s grace can even save us and inspire us to reject selfishness and sin so that one day we can live in God’s presence forever.

With the angels we rejoice that a savior is born today who is Christ the Lord—He is an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And this moment teaches us that God will not save us with power and worldly wisdom or technology rather God will save us with the poverty and weakness of this little baby.

God will save us by loving us and forgiving us and one day even dying for us.

Don’t ever forget that this gift of Christmas, this gift of God’s love, is for everyone. No one is excluded.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us over and over again that
The gift of Christmas is especially for those who live on the margins of society;
those who just don’t fit in, those who are only fully accepted by God.

May this Christmas Day be a blessing to us.
May it be a blessing for your family and those you love.
May it inspire us to try a little harder to love like the little baby in the manger.
May it give each and everyone of us hope, never ending hope.

And as we gaze on the child lying in the manger, may we never doubt the depth of God’s love no matter who we are where we live or what we’ve done.

Amen.   Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent - Year A -2016

It’s pretty clear from his life that John Baptist loved God and desired to follow God’s will without counting the cost.

John had no family or children.
He never lived in a comfortable home.
He shunned the the cities and towns of Israel and lived in alone with God in the desert.

He was a holy man who was very familiar with the Old Testament or the law and the prophets.

After years of prayer and discerning God’s will he set out to prepare the way of the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance.

In the spirit of Old Testament Prophets John was not afraid to shake things up his words were meant to move people from their complacency.

He warned anyone who would listen to look deep within themselves and repent of their sins and because God was coming and he wasn’t going to be happy if they didn’t change their ways.

If you think back to last week’s Gospel you will remember that John didn’t mince words.

When he saw the Sadducees and Pharisees or the religious leaders of his time coming to be baptized he called them a bunch of of snakes or a brood of vipers.      (No John wasn’t very diplomatic at all, he prefered 2X4 Therapy)

In today’s Gospel we experience a different side of John.

He is in prison and he hears about Jesus’ life and ministry and he begins to wonder if Jesus really is the Messiah.

He begins to ask himself why isn’t Jesus shaking thing up?
When is the baptism of fire coming?
Why aren’t the bad guys being vanquished and Kingdom of God established?

He probably wondered what happened to the mission he had made every sacrifice for.

You see like many of his contemporaries John expected the Messiah to be a powerful warrior King.

And Jesus the Messiah was completely different than John expected.

Instead of calling everyone out, he simply forgave their sins.
Instead of threatening divine retribution Jesus healed people of their illnesses.
Instead of vanquishing pagan Romans,  Jesus challenged his followers to love their enemies and do good to those who persecute them.

So when John heard what Jesus was doing it stands to reason that he was confused and maybe discouraged. So sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was indeed the Messiah or should they wait for someone else.

When the disciples… asked Jesus John’s question
Jesus didn’t get angry, he didn’t ask why is John doubting?

And he did not say flat out Yes I am, the Messiah rather he
he sought to comfort John and calm his doubts by citing scripture passages from the prophets which foretold a different kind of Messiah..

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

That’s the kind of Messiah that Isaiah foretold and that’s the kind of Messiah Jesus came to be.

The friars in our house still watch the news together every night before our meetings.

The ratings say not many people do that anymore and the commercials for different medicines on the news reveal the age of most of the viewers.

I won’t go into the details in Church just watch the evening news one night and you’ll get the point.

This week there have been several stories about the horrible massacre in an African American Church in Charleston.

It’s very moving to see that almost everyone to a person, the victims and the families of the victims, have stated that they want to forgive or that they are trying to forgive Dylann Roof for his unspeakable deed.

Of course they are heartbroken,
of course, they may have had moments of anger and resentment
but as they follow Jesus down the road of life they know what He is calling them to do and they are trying to do it.

John the Baptist would have been an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth kind of guy.

Jesus’ way of confronting sin was love the sinner away from the sin.

Obviously there is something horrendously wrong with Dylann Roof
He is so filled with anger and hate that he needs to be separated from society.

Anyone who would murder unarmed people in that manner and in that setting is extremely dangerous.

However if we return hate for hate or anger for anger, his horrible act will also take away a little bit of our humanity. It will make us just a little like him.

And if that happens then evil will wins and goodness, mercy, forgiveness and love will lose.

And so good people on this Third Sunday of Advent all of us have to look into our hearts and ask ourselves when we are confronted with pain or hurt,
when we suffer an injustice, how would we respond like Jesus who healed and forgave, or John who would call down fire to vanquish the evil doer.

As we await the coming of the Christ Child let us prepare a place in our hearts for him by praying for all  the victims of that terrible shooting and that painful day.

Let’s pray for all victims of violence and hate.

But even more let us commend to God those souls who commit these crimes.
Let us pray that somehow some way that their hardened angry hearts can be transformed by love mercy and forgiveness.

Only when we respond to evil with love can we claim to be authentic followers of Christ.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent - Year A - 2016

I’m not sure if you know this but before I came to St. Paul I spent a month living and praying in a trappist Monastery.

Trappists are a very strict religious community dedicated to a life of prayer and contemplation and work

They don't’ talk.
They don’t eat meat,
and they get up at 2 AM pray and study.

Some of you are probably wondering to yourselves…
Fr. Robert what were you thinking ?

It was a wonderful experience but I have to admit I was not perfect at it.

Beside talking when I wasn’t supposed to,
after three weeks of vegetables one day I got into my car drove into town and bought a double cheeseburger with bacon.

Of course I felt bad I told the Abbot what I had done he smiled and said I guess you were made to be a Franciscan not a Trappist.

Along a pond at the monastery there was this very long beautiful row of trees they were in a perfect row equally spaced all the same size. It was very impressive.

One day I asked the guest master about the trees and he responded

A shoot shall blossom from the stump of Jesse

I didn’t understand what he was talking about so he went on to explain.

Many years ago that was a beautiful big old tree which the monks enjoyed.

It was very large and gave lots of shade. There was a bench underneath it and it was a great place sit in the shade and look over the valley and pray.

Then one year after an ice storm severely damaged it they had to cut it down.
Everyone of them was sad because they loved the tree and they loved that spot..

After it was cut down one of the monk cut several of the branches and placed them in the ground as fence posts.

To their surprise after a few months everyone of the posts began to sprout and with a lot of trimming and care that whole row of trees grew from the fence posts cut from the old tree.

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse

Everyone of us has had dark  moments, moments when hope or even the possibility of hope seems far away.

Maybe you've endured the pain of a broken marriage or the death of a loved one.

Maybe you’ve run into financial troubles or lost your home a lot of people have.

Maybe you’ve become estranged with a family member or your kid is really struggling and can’t seem to find happiness.

Maybe your family has moved away and you live alone and are lonely waiting for someone to call..
Maybe you just can’t forgive someone and move on.

The list goes on and on and on…

Yes sometimes life seems like a dead stump.

In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah is describing the terrible time in which he lived.

During his youth Israel was affluent but then fell to the Assyrians.
In other words Israel went from a flourishing tree to what appeared to be a dead stump.

Judah the northern kingdom later became the pawn of foreign powers.
And even with all the compromises they had made with their neighbors
they too had fallen on very hard times.

All appeared lost there seemed to be no reason to hope.

Yet the prophet Isaiah refused to give up and under God’s inspiration he dared to proclaim that even though the stump of King David's Dynasty, seemed dead a shoot would sprout  and life would return.

Many say this simple phrase was prophecy of the Messiah which would be fulfilled in Jesus That Jesus would be the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse

Isaiah’s prophecy called his contemporaries to hope, hope in God and God’s love

Pope Benedict once wrote

Hope is more than just the belief that things will get better.
Hope is the conviction that we are loved and cherished by God

And If we  understand that we are  loved and cherished by God even for one moment, our lives will never be the same.

No matter what challenge we face no matter how dead our tree seems.

The readings on this second Sunday of Advent call us to hope
Hope without ceasing

Dear Friends
If we are loved by God..
What can touch us ?
If we are loved by God
What can harm us ?
If we are loved by God
What should we fear ?
If we are loved by God
What can we fear ?

Even in the darkest moments  of our lives let us dare to hope that shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent - Year A - 2016

This Thanksgiving as usual I invited my whole family from Poughkeepsie and their friends to the Friary for Thanksgiving Dinner. They told me 20 were coming but as usual with the Schlageters things got mixed up and 14 showed up.

To get ready for Turkey Day I spent Sunday afternoon and Tuesday shopping and I ran into half the parish in stop and shop.

On Wednesday I peeled potatoes and made all the side dishes,
at night I prepped the Turkeys and collapsed in my chair.

Thursday everything went in the oven and I set dining room in the Church Hallt.

Ladies I don’t know you do it.
I don’t know how you face Thanksgiving day year after year and make it seem so simple and effortless.

Suffice it to say when Friday morning rolled around and my 5:00 am alarm went off I hit the snooze button, then I hit it again, and again and again

To be honest  I really don’t know how many times I hit that snooze button but and when I finally when I looked at the clock I was almost late for the 8:00 AM Mass at Sacred Heart.

If  by chance make an illegal right turn on red from Main Street to Farmington Ave, and then hit the 6 signals just right, you can make it to Sacred Heart in 7 minutes. That was my Black Friday lesson this year. It’s possible.

On the first Sunday of Advent the Church always calls on us to reflect on the end times or our final judgement.

All of human beings, all of us will one day stand before God and be judged.
We will be judged by how we lived and how we loved.

Today’s readings invite us to focus on the final judgement,
not to frighten us Or to make us feel vulnerable,
but rather to remind us that this life is not all there is and our destiny is to be with God forever.

In the first reading that’s what the prophet Isaiah paints a picture what life in convenant with God is supposed to be and then he begs them to forsake their worldly, unfaithful ways, and walk in the light of the Lord

Lest one day they be judged for their infidelity

Paul in the second reading echoed Isaiah’s words with his own wake-up call to the Romans and to each one of us when he says….

Brothers and sisters:
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is at hand;
the night is far spent, the day draws near.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.

In the Gospels Jesus continues the same theme and reminds us over and over again that there will be a final judgement.

In the passage we heard from Matthew today he practically begs us to be ready for that moment when we will stand before God.

We never really know when death will knock on our door.
We never know when our hour of judgement will come.
You see that’s the essential tension for everyone who follows Christ:
We are all called to live the present moment to provide for our families and be contribute to common good.

But at the same time we are also called to prepare for our final destiny in heaven.

One of the greatest temptations in life is to keep hitting the snooze button over and over again and never really making an effort
to address our faults and to grow in holiness.

All of us, every single one of us are sinners and all of us  have something that needs to be changed in order to be ready for the final judgement that all we will face.

And so good people this Advent encourages us to reflect on our lives.
stop hitting the snooze button, and change what we need to change in ourselves.

Sadly experience has shown that we just never know how many more tomorrows we will really have.

Let us take to heart the words of Jesus who said in the Gospel

You too must also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”