Advent Begins: 1st S. of Advent 2019

Advent 1

Today’s reflection is for the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we celebrated the truth that Jesus Christ is the King of our heart, of our home, and of the Universe, and as this new liturgical year begins, we eagerly await the return of the King…and also His arrival. Wait…what?

Jesus said, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (RV 22:13). Jesus, God eternal, created all things and will also bring all things to their ultimate completion in him and through him; the world and all that is in it, including you and I.

Alpha and Omega pictureThe season of Advent is a special time of year wherein we appreciate and celebrate that more than linear, our experience of faith is somewhat cyclical, and that Jesus stands at the center of it all. The C.C.C. says it this way, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” (524) So Advent isn’t just the more popular understanding that we prepare a place for the baby Jesus in the manger, but also that we prepare a place for Jesus in our heart.

While Lent is a far more penitential season of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, Advent tends to be more celebratory in nature as we prepare for his coming and return (e.g. carols, family, gifts, lights, decorations, and freshly baked bread and cookies). But make no mistake–Advent is a constant reminder that the Lord may return at any moment and many of us (like last minute Christmas shopping) have a lot of work to do to prepare for the King’s return! Some Christians focus so preeminently upon Jesus’ return that they even call themselves as much–Seventh Day Advents. We too should focus on the very statement that we profess each Sunday in our Creed. Of Jesus we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Let’s not forget! Don’t forget! The King may be long delayed but that does not mean he will not return! And judgement will occur. Will we be counted among the eternally living or the eternally dead?

Today’s Gospel teaches us that very thing. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come…you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Jesus clearly teaches that his disciples must do two things, 1. stay awake, and 2. be prepared.

In this life I find it very easy to become distracted by earthly pleasure and earthly rewards. In short time, if I do not remain vigilant, I can become sleepy to the things of the Lord. We can easily lose focus and supplant simplicity, virtue, and justice, with extravagance, vice, and relativism. I find myself having to conscientiously recommit myself to Jesus Christ and to staying awake time and time again. It’s sort of like my diet that way, I think. When I fail to maintain discipline at the dinner table and in my exercise, I quickly get unhealthy and out of shape, and can create quite a lot of medical problems for myself. Staying awake requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus. It is not easy. No wonder our first reading today speaks of climbing a mountain!

Isaiah teaches that people will say, “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” Like climbing a mountain, staying awake demands much from us. A relationship with God, to find and remain in the house of Jacob requires commitment, sacrifice, and long suffering–and I’m afraid that too many would rather rest for a while. And in their resting they fail to prepare, which is the second thing that Jesus says we must do.

Preparation for the Lord’s coming demands that we conduct ourselves properly. Those who are in training and have their eyes set on the Lord’s mountain have no time for the pleasures of the flesh. But when we decide to “rest a while” we can easily become complacent and begin to live in darkness instead of the light of Christ. St. Paul tells the Romans in our second reading, “For our Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light: let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.”

This conduct mentioned by Paul was popular in his own day and remains popular in ours too. If we become complacent in our walk with Christ, as we climb the Lord’s mountain, we can become too attached to darkness–and many Christians have become enveloped by it, have become distracted and complacent, and their faith grows cold. The attractiveness of drunkenness, lust, promiscuity, violence, and jealousy consume those who, though on the mountain, take too many “rest breaks,” and soon begin to backslide, make excuses, and give up the hard work of Christian discipleship altogether.

And so, as we begin this Advent season, join me in both staying awake and being prepared. Let us renew our commitment to praying daily at meals and nightly before bed. Let us receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us attend Mass every Sunday, and maybe even once or twice during the week, if possible. If you’ve got a Bible, read the Infancy Narratives found at the beginning of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, and if you have a Catechism, recommit yourself to knowing and following the Church’s teachings that you may be “instructed in his ways, and may walk in his paths.”

The truth is that both the time of Jesus’ coming and His return draws near. Follow St. Paul’s advice to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” And if you believe in Jesus, believe what he said, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Amen?

For reflection:

To what degree have I become complacent in my walk with Christ?

How much time, energy, and resources do I spend on earthly pleasures and material gain?

When was the last time I read my Bible or a book about the Church and it’s teachings?

What commit will I make to “Stay Awake!” and follow Jesus’ example of simplicity, virtue, and justice?

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Just Remember Me, Okay?: Christ the King 2019

Today’s reflection is for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 24, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. 

I often say that God speaks to us at unexpected times and through the most unlikely of people. As Jesus’ disciples, we believe that God’s Spirit dwells within us and opens our eyes, ears, and heart to hearing the voice of God and the message he has prepared, and today’s Gospel proves the rule.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we celebrate more than a title; we celebrate the Lordship of Jesus Christ over absolutely every single thing that exists, both visible and invisible, animate or inanimate, past, present, and future. We humbly recognize that without Jesus Christ we are nothing and have nothing. He is our all in all. And that’s the necessary beginning to salvation. It’s the only way that we know to enter Paradise–and all this from a criminal.

The words of the criminal on the cross are our words too. He said, “Indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.” The criminal knows what he is and he acknowledges what he has done. No doubt he has tried time and time again to be otherwise but has failed as many times to change his ways. Now he has been caught, appropriately condemned, and the only thing left is his punishment.

The criminal has hit rock bottom and acknowledges his brokenness. He is not a king, but a slave. He is not righteous, but left to his own is unholy andunrighteous–not a king but a pauper. Are we there yet? Each of us falls short of the glory of God. Each of us has sinned against God and neighbor. Each of us is as unholy and unrighteous as the criminal, and we too stand condemned.

The humility with which we approach the King of the Universe comes from an honesty about ourlimitations, weaknesses and failures. In fact, a failure to recognize our weakness blinds us to calling out to the King in the first place. It is he who grants pardon because of who He is as the benevolent King. He doesn’tpretend that there has been no offense, but instead loves and shows mercy in spite of it.

The rulers, soldiers, and criminals all sneered and told Jesus to save himself if he is who he claimed to be. In other words, they were wrong both about who he was AND who they were. They did not believe that he was indeed the King, and they did not believe that needed his help. If they had believed either in who he was or understood who they were, they would have been begging him to save them instead of telling him to save himself. They would have known thatthey needed a savior and that we was the savior. They had neither faith nor humility–and both are necessaryprerequisites to Paradise.

As we come to the end of our liturgical year, we recognize Jesus’ rightful place as king of our lives and of the universe. We acknowledge our countless failings and seek his pardon. As we approach the throne of the King we seek not fortune nor fame but instead only one thing…to be remembered.

After acknowledging his unrighteousness, the criminal says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” What a beautiful request. I want the same from my wife, children, and friends when I’m gone–to be remembered. To remember another is to affirm the strength of the relationship and the impact it had on our life. How is your relationship with Jesus? Have you had an impact on him? Would he weep for you as he did for Lazarus? Have we pursued him? Have we nurtured the relationship with Him? Have we allowed him to transform our lives? Or have we kept a safe distance so as not to be challenged, but because of it have not grown in love? Would He even remember us? Is that even our only request?

As we end this year, may we always acknowledge Him as King of kings and Lord of Lords, draw near to Him and grow in relationship with Him, and at our last hour may we too hear, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Run and Climb

ZacchaeusToday’s reflection is for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Some of you may remember the song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…” (Let’s try that together…)

Zacchaeus was a wee little man (repeat), and a wee little man was he. (repeat) He climbed up in a sycamore tree (repeat) for the Lord he wanted to see. (repeat)

We have much to learn from Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. The first is that Zacchaeus was not perfect—in fact, far from it, and often so are we. The second is that Zacchaeus strove mightily to see the Lord, even to the point of climbing a tall sycamore tree, and so should we. And finally, Zacchaeus joyfully accepted Jesus’ request to enter his home—and it changed his life forever, and so must we.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew name Zacchaeus literally means, “clean and pure.” But we know from the Gospel today that Zacchaeus’ life was far from being either clean or pure. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a sinner. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for the Roman government, which was an occupation force in Israel. So not only were tax collectors working directly for the people oppressing God’s people, they openly added extra money for themselves, and used force to collect it! Zacchaeus became rich on the backs of his own overtaxed, hard-working, countrymen. Hardly clean. Hardly Pure.

But the truth is that whether we like it or not, we can be a lot like Zacchaeus. Too often we tend to look out for number one, to be selfish and greedy, and often at the expense of our own countrymen, our friends, or our family members. I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you…I eat my children’s candy, and I eat more than my fair share of the cookies! Just last week my wife made twelve cookies. That’s three cookies each for the four of us…I ate 6 before the kids even woke up the next morning! Sometimes we’re selfish, but Jesus calls us to be self-less.

Although Zacchaeus was selfish and sinful, he strove mightily to see the Lord, right there in his own town. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was vertically challenged so he knew he’d better find an elevated place! It says, “for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up.” Isn’t that beautiful, Zacchaeus knew who he was, knew his weakness, and his need and took off running! Zacchaeus knew he was a, “wee little a man, and wee little man was he.” He didn’t whine about it. He didn’t complain. He didn’t say he was a victim and start looking for sympathy, and he didn’t ask the whole crowd to take a knee so he could see. No, he just started running and climbing.

You might not know that the sycamore tree has existed on the earth for more than 100 million years! A single tree can live up to 600 years old and grow up to 130 feet tall. Now I don’t know how tall the one was in Zacchaeus’ village, but I know that Zacchaeus was willing to do the hard work of climbing it so that he could see Jesus. Like Zacchaeus, we too need to run and strive so that Jesus doesn’t pass us by.

Many of us are taking things a little too slowly, procrastinating, getting distracted, and wasting precious time. Life is short, we’ve gotten out of shape, we have a long way to run and a tall tree to climb if we hope to get the invite. We must get our priorities straightened out while there’s still time—build our spiritual muscles—too many of us aren’t running and aren’t striving. We strive when we pray daily, read a Catholic book, attend reconciliation and Mass, read the Bible, spend time with family in service opportunities, volunteer at “We Care,” or the Salvation Army serving the homeless. It is in these moments, and in that service that we see Jesus face to face. It is in the midst of the struggle that Jesus sees us and asks us to take him home with us.

Zacchaeus was not perfect, but he strove mightily, and his life was changed forever. We hear that people began to grumble when Jesus went into Zacchaeus’ home. I guess it was no different then than it is today, “Haters gonna hate!” I love that Zacchaeus received the Lord with great joy and couldn’t care less what anybody else thought about it. Zacchaeus saw the face of God, accepted Him into his home, and the change in Zacchaeus’ lifestyle provided the evidence of the change.

St. Ambrose said that there are two conversions in the Church, namely, water and tears. The first, he said, is the water of baptism where we are converted to God for the first time, and the second, he said, are the tears of repentance where we return to God again and again. (C.C.C. 1421) The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversation to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. It entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.” (C.C.C. 1431)

That day Zacchaeus gave away half of everything he owned and pledged to return four-fold any money he had taken that wasn’t his to take. We might not be called to give away half of our wealth, but we may need to apologize if we have hurt someone. We may need to start dedicating more of our resources to God and the Church community. We might need to commit ourselves to daily running and striving mightily to see the Lord.

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…”

The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’, which is exactly what we are called to be. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus didn’t live up to his name, and too often neither do we. After Jesus reached out to him, Zacchaeus changed his ways and went above and beyond to make things right. He finally overcame his past and lived up to his name, and so can we. God bless.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos