GOALS FOR THE NEW YEAR

Making resolutions for a new year is not, in itself, a bad thing.  What can be bad is not making meaningful resolutions.

Recently, my daughter-in-law (the wife of my sailor son, Jens)  and I co-hosted a Cookie Decorating Party and Brunch.

As we shared the meal, I was saying that I am trying to improve myself.  I am trying to learn that not everything must be done my way or even a specific way.  There are many people with great ideas and it really is okay if something is not exactly the same every year.  Trust me, this is a hard one for me but I know it will take a lot of stress out of my life if I learn to truly let go of things.

My brunch companion was surprised that I would talk about changing myself.  The way I see it, I am nowhere near perfect.   And it’s probably safe to say that you’re not either.  No disrespect intended.  I want to be as near perfect as I can be when God calls me home.  I at least want it known that I was making my best effort at it.  I have a long way to go, but as they say, every journey begins with a single step.

One of the things that I have always enjoyed is researching wise thoughts of those that have come before me.

The following thoughts were recorded by a Shawnee Native American named Techumseh (pronounced te-KUM-see), when he was near-death in 1813.  His native name means “Shooting Star” and by his words, I would say that he lived according to his name.

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. 

Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.

 Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.

 Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.

 When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.

 Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson lived during most of the 19th century (1803-82).   He wrote many great works of literature that have endured the test of time.  I just recently “ran across” this quote that I found to be quite profound:

The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. 

I couldn’t agree with him more.  I take his words as a great inspiration to me.  I remember about thirty years ago, I had a revelation that I wanted my life to really count for something.  I had just started a family and wanted to put every bit of effort into raising good people who could contribute to society when they got older.  But I also set out to find one place I could make a difference.  Because I had that conscious goal in mind, I have managed to leave some good behind.  But the effort must never stop; it should intensify.  With each  accomplishment, you need to be further encouraged to continue and leave an even bigger footprint.  The same should be true of your faith life.  Try to deepen your faith  and come closer to perfection every day.

 

CHRISTMAS IS A TIME TO THINK OF OTHERS

Thank you for coming to St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish today for Mass to celebrate the Birth of Christ Jesus with your faith community.  We know that you could choose 1) to not go to Mass because Christmas is such a busy time or 2) to go to any other parish.  We are grateful and blessed that you are here.

I have been hearing  a lot of stories (from friends, co-workers, Catholic radio,  talk-show celebrities) about the abundance in our world, about children that get everything they need and most of what they want all year long.   Many have said that they are giving just one small gift to each child and taking the rest of the money they would have spent to sponsor a family who is less fortunate.

Members of our parish adopted twenty families this year.  When the families were interviewed, they were extremely humbled by being asked.  They were asked to suggest something they needed and something they wanted.

Most said they needed a blanket, or shoes, or a coat.  They usually ask for a blanket because they can’t afford to run the heater.  I know that we don’t live in COLD country, but 40 degrees in plenty cold!

Maybe you didn’t have the opportunity to sponsor a family this year at Christmas.  The BIG SECRET is that these families are in need all year long.

We currently have fifty families that come here each month for groceries.  We give them staple items for their pantries and a grocery store gift card ($20-25) to purchase fresh produce or dairy products.   It’s not that much.  To us.  It must help them quite a bit because they are so genuinely grateful.

We have 30-40 people who come every weekday for a nutritious sack lunch.  They receive a sandwich that was made fresh that same day by dedicated volunteers, a piece of fruit, something sweet, and a bottle of water.  This may be the only good food that this person gets all day.  Or they may be scamming and get food all over town, or they may be a beach bum.  But it’s not our place to judge.  We cheerfully give each person a lunch and tell them God Bless You!

The ministry that orchestrates these food-related projects is FEED MY PEOPLE.  There is always room for more people to help and if you cannot physically help out, a monetary donation would always be appreciated.

The flip side of looking beyond ourselves comes from a sense of GRATITUDE.    It comes when we look at our own lives, the opportunities we have had (and hopefully been wise enough to take), the graces we have been bestowed, the blessing of good people around us, and the strength to know when we need to ask for help.

We also recognize that we have been given a unique combination of gifts and talents to help us better love and serve the Lord and each other.

These are not gifts that come wrapped in a bow, but they are PRICELESS.  Unique to only you.  They are gifts that are meant to be used in all that we do and shared freely.  During Lent, we will have a Parish Mission that focuses on how to recognize our gifts.  Stay tuned.        Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Christmas: A Stewardship Reflection on Abundance and Poverty

 

There’s no season quite so full of wild abundance as the Christmas season. Admit it, do you ever eat fudge or drink eggnog any other time of the year? Or expect a full grown tree to appear in your living room?

It’s a joyful, exuberant time, full of music, family, parties, good food, and friends. But every Christian steward knows that there’s a shadow side to abundance, particularly material abundance, which brings with it challenges. Amid the joy of Christmas, a good steward ponders these challenges.

Speaking at a conference in Mexico City in November, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke of poverty and abundance. He was not speaking about the holiday season, but his words might help us to keep a clear perspective on the values of this time of year.

He cited the growing problem of poverty in the United States.  One in six Americans now lives below the poverty line, and the archbishop noted how many other problems accompany poverty:  “hunger, homelessness, street crime, domestic violence, unemployment, human trafficking.”

Often the poor among us become invisible, and poverty becomes a scourge of civil society.“  Poverty is an acid that destroys human kinship,” the archbishop said.

At the same time, Archbishop Chaput also spoke to the flip side of this issue – the poverty that comes with abundance. “I mean the moral poverty that comes from an advanced culture relentlessly focused on consuming more of everything; a culture built on satisfying the self; a culture that runs on ignoring the needs of other people.

That kind of poverty, as Saint Mother Teresa saw so well, is very much alive in my country,” the archbishop said.

These are important words, not words that are meant to cast a “bah humbug” spell delightfulness of the Christmas  season, but words that help bring us back to the true meaning of Christmas in its joy and abundance. Despite the great spiritual significance of this feast, we can sometimes let the season become a time of material excess. Christian stewards know that the true joy of Christmas is not tied in to the wealth of goods under the tree, but to the abundance of love and generosity that fill our hearts and spill out to others, especially those most in need of our generous spirit.

The Christian steward knows how important it is to take time during Advent, and throughout this holiday season, for silence and stillness, to make room in our hearts for the child born into poverty who came to give us life and share it with all those whom we encounter.

 

What is the meaning of the candles in the Advent Wreath?

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word meaning “coming.”

The Advent wreath–4 candles on a wreath of evergreen–is shaped in a perfect circle to symbolize the eternity of God. Three of the candles are purple in keeping with the color of the Advent season and, on the third Sunday of Advent (called Guadete Sunday–meaning “Rejoice“), a rose or pink candle is used to represent joy. There is also a white candle added on Christmas Eve which is the Christ candle.

The Advent wreath is part of the long-standing Catholic tradition that came to be used as part of spiritual preparation for Christmas around the Middle Ages. At that time, the candles had a two-fold purpose: to symbolize the coming of Christ as well as to bring light to the interior of the churches.

During each Sunday of the Advent season, we focus on one of the four virtues Jesus brings to us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. As an alternative, the lighting of the candles can also symbolize: Expectation, Hope, Joy, and Purity.

The lighting of the Christ candle on Christmas Eve reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. During the four weeks of Advent, the wreath continually reminds us of who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

We wish you a Happy Advent Season!

God is Good

Thank you all for your prayers and support as I traveled to Chicago on Thanksgiving week to see my son graduate from Navy Boot Camp.  I traveled with my daughter-in-law, Karen, and we arrived in Chicago a few days before graduation.  It was—literally—freezing cold.  We had a really nice time anyway and were told by a local waitress that it was “sweater weather”.  LOL!

The day before I left, I was at church all day handing out Advent Devotional books.  So I had Advent on my mind.  I was thinking about it being a season of giving, but not really about presents.  Giving thanks for all we have and all we are, giving praise to God for all His majesty, giving back to our families, our church, our community.

As we wandered the streets of Chicago, we were approached by a man who had seen better days.  He showed me a picture of his 10-year old daughter.  He said he just got out of rehab (for alcohol addiction) and had a half-way house lined up but it wouldn’t be available for 2 days.  It was already about 6 p.m. and getting even colder by the minute.  He went on to say that he had found a “flea bag hotel” that would take him, but he didn’t have the money for the night.  I hear these stories all the time in the Parish Office.  In Oceanside, a flea bag hotel costs about $60 for one night!  I gave the man a twenty.  I felt bad that I couldn’t give more, but at least it would help him reach his goal.   He wiped his eyes before the tears began falling and said that the hotel was $18.  He would have enough to get a cup of hot coffee!

The next morning, we were going to take a tour of the town that started at the Corner Bakery.  Just outside the front door was a man who had REALLY seen better days.  He had a donation cup in his hands.  I was walking past him and he said, “coffee with cream and 2 sugars?”   I returned a few minutes later with his coffee.  I think—in the short term—he was happier with the coffee so he could warm up.

That afternoon I was approached by a woman who had a suitcase and said she needed money for the train to get home to her family.  I gave her $10.

After these encounters, I thought about a story that we do not hear in Advent.  We hear it as we prepare for Easter.  It’s the story of Peter denying Jesus three times.  I gratefully thanked God that I was presented with the opportunity to affirm him (three times, of course).

My mother always said “there but for the grace of God go I”.  I think about that almost every day as I encounter so many people who are less fortunate  than I.  When I talk with them, I find that most have not chosen the path they are on.  Some have fallen victim to uncontrolled mental illness, others have become destitute from astronomical medical bills, others from a divorce.   Most are estranged from their families.   During this Season of Giving, please remember these people who are suffering daily from loneliness, hunger, the cold.   And thank God that you have been so richly blessed!

OK—you’ve been patient—the update on my son.  The graduation ceremony was full of pageantry, pomp and circumstance, patriotic pride, and proud families for their sons and daughters.

The moment I saw Jens, I could tell that my boy was now a man!  What a moment!  I’m sure everyone else was feeling the same thing.  It makes sense if you’ve sent off your recent high school graduate, but it was just as true for my 30 year old son.

Karen’s parents joined us for the day, and we all ate and talked and shared stories.  We wanted to know all the details, but of course, many are never to be shared.

After awhile, Jens and I were able to sit alone together.  He whispered that he would be getting  new dog tags when he reached Pensacola for his training.  They would indicate that he is a Catholic!    He, of course, shared this with his wife as well.  On the plane ride home, Karen told me that she was now open to having their marriage con-validated (civil marriage blessed by the Church).   TY God!

God is good.  He bestows so many blessings on us—some in our time and some in His time. Be patient and give thanks freely. (God is good!)