Gianna

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)

Isaiah 53:10-11

Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

Hebrews 4:14-16

Mark 10:35-45

 

Gianna Beretta was born on October 4, 1922 in Italy. She was the 10th of 13 children. Gianna was a typical kid but had a turning point at age 15 after taking a course in Spiritual Exercises. In the course, she wrote the following resolution, “I make note of doing all for Jesus. I offer him all my work, all my disappointments and sufferings.” Gianna then wrote the following prayer, “I promise You, Jesus, to submit myself to all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your will.”

Fifteen. FIFTEEN years old. I wasn’t that mature at 15! Gianna had no idea that her resolution at the age of 15 would be put to the ultimate test 25 years later.

Gianna went on to medical school and became a surgeon, specializing in pediatrics. If patients couldn’t afford her care, she wouldn’t charge them a fee. Nobody was turned away. In 1954, Gianna met Pietro Molla and the two were married on September 24, 1955. They gave birth to three children and miscarried two others.

In 1961, Gianna was pregnant with their 6th child. She was only two months pregnant when doctors found a large tumor on her uterus. As a doctor, Gianna knew the only way to guarantee her own safety was to remove the uterus, which would cause the death of the child in her womb. Without hesitation, she decided to have the doctors only remove the tumor and leave the uterus. This greatly endangered Gianna’s life, but gave her unborn child hope for a healthy birth.

As they approached the due date, Gianna and Pietro knew the risks and trials that they were about to face. However, a few days before the child was due, Gianna told her husband, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”

They went into the hospital on Good Friday of 1962, and Gianna gave birth to a healthy, little girl the following day. A few hours later, Gianna started suffering from severe pain due to septic peritonitis. And despite all efforts to save her life, Gianna died a week later. It was reported that up until her final breath, Gianna kept repeating, “Jesus, I love you! Jesus, I love you!”

Fast forward to October 1997. Pope John Paul II was listening to various speakers at the second ”World Day of the Family” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A young woman stepped forward and gave a moving testimony that ended with this prayer, “Thank you, Mother. Thank you for having given me life twice: in conception and when you permitted me to be born, deciding for my life. Intercede so that all mothers and families may always come to you with confidence.” Pope John Paul II heard this and wept. These words were spoken by Gianna Emanuela… the daughter of Gianna Beretta Molla. Gianna Emanuela followed in her mother’s footsteps and also became a medical doctor specializing in working with Alzheimer’s patients.

On May 16, 2004, Pope John Paul II officially canonized and introduced the world to Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. In his homily, John Paul said, “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.”

On a personal note, just a few days ago on October 16, 2018, my wife and I were able to officially adopt our little girl Laura and we legally changed her name to Gianna Wentz, named after this modern day Saint. And last night, our Gianna was baptized into God’s family.

I believe St. Gianna is an amazing modern role model who’s story of love and trust in God can teach us so much. She shows us that serving others and loving as God loves is what our faith is all about. It’s not about titles and prestige.

In Mark’s Gospel today, we hear of James and John asking Jesus that they be allowed to sit at His left and right side in Heaven. This irritates Jesus because they are seeking honor and authority rather than focusing on service. Jesus responds that He did not come to be served but to serve. “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” These are the commands Jesus tells his followers that they must be willing to do if they desire to enter heaven with Him. It’s about service.

St. Gianna didn’t seek fame and glory. She simply tried her best to commit her life to God. But she didn’t just talk about her faith… she lived out her faith. It is by both word and example that shows God just how much we really and truly love and desire Him. Anyone can say, “Hey look at me, I’m a Christian, God is great!” But to be blunt, that is a very shallow faith if it ends with just words. God is asking us for more. He’s asking us to live out our faith so that others can see our example and hopefully be moved to action in their own lives. This is the type of faith that will allow us to one day sit at God’s side in heaven like St. Gianna.

As baptized members of God’s family, God is calling each one of us to action. I pray that you use your time here on earth to use those actions to help build up and strengthen God’s family rather than tear it down.

And if you ever find yourself struggling, remember the prayer St. Gianna recited on her final days on earth, “Jesus, I love you! Jesus, I love you!”

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Let’s Roll

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Isaiah 50:5-9a

Psalm 116:1-6,8-9

James 2:14-18

Mark 8:27-35

“Let’s roll!” 17 years ago on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer spoke these two final words just before Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. He was on a phone with a GTE operator, explaining to her that their plane had been hijacked. Those on board Flight 93 were already hearing reports that 2 other planes had hit the World Trade Center Towers in New York. They knew that if they just sat by quietly, they too would have a similar fate. So the passengers on board came up with an action plan. It was believed they were going to try and rush the terrorists, break into the cockpit and try to regain control of the plane. It was then that the GTE operator overheard Todd on the phone say, “Let’s roll” as they put their plan into action. Shortly later, Flight 93 crashed into an open field. There were no survivors. The theory was that the hijackers were headed to Washington, D.C. Probably with the intention of crashing the plane into the White House. However, the plane never reached that destination because the brave men and women on board took action.

I thought today’s reading from James was very fitting to be proclaimed in church just a few days after the 17th anniversary of 9/11. In it, we hear St. Paul say, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” He very clearly illustrates this when he says you can’t tell someone, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” if you know they are without food or clothes as you walk right past them without lending a helping hand. You see, saying one thing, but not backing it up with action is a complete contradiction. Instead, St. Paul logically tells us that people who have a strong faith should also have strong actions that support their faith. For it is in these good actions that we see a faith that is alive.

What does this mean to us and how does it relate to Flight 93? There is so much negativity in the world. Let me ask you this… If you sit around and do nothing at all, do we humans tend to get excited or depressed? We get depressed and lethargic. We tend to go inward instead of outward. We also start to listen to the negative chatter in our minds. I’m sure that the people on board of Flight 93 were frightened. After all, they were starring evil and death right in the face. They could have turned inward and sat there doing nothing. But instead, “Let’s roll” was the battle cry they chose. Unfortunately, in the end, they never made it off that plane. But their actions allowed them to die as heroes because the plane wasn’t able to reach it’s target which would have undoubtedly lead to more innocent casualties.

Now, I’m not asking you to go out looking for a way to die as a hero. I am asking you however, starting today, to take on the battle cry, “Let’s roll” regarding your Christian faith. The time for sitting around and being complacent is over. We as a Church need to rise up and start putting our faith into motion.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding teaching our children and grandchildren the faith. You want a better church a decade or two from now? Then we need to take seriously the task of teaching our faith to the younger generation. I know that Mary Jane has asked many, many people to teach Sunday School catechism because we always seem to be shorthanded each year. I also know the most common reason people turn her down is because they claim they don’t know their faith enough to teach it. That’s an honest and valid reason. But why then don’t we have more adults in the adult formation class Sunday morning? We adults need to take the lead here and learn, or in some cases re-learn, our faith so we can pass it on to the next generation.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding supporting this parish. Studies continue to show that 1/3 of the people attending church donate zero dollars, 1/3 give some and 1/3 donate most of the money used to pay the bills. But it’s not just about money! If you look at the committees, it’s usually the same small group of people that volunteer for everything. To them I say, “Thank you!” To everyone else, I ask you to step out of your comfort zone and volunteer for something.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding participating in the Mass. If you aren’t excited to be at Mass… If you don’t see the value of saying the prayers and singing the hymns as a community… If you don’t do everything in your power to make Mass attendance the #1 weekend priority… then you need to have a serious heart to heart conversation with God and figure out what you are missing. Because God provides so much grace when you are fully here and receive the Eucharist with an open, God-loving heart.

People of God… I say to you, “let’s roll” regarding loving our neighbor. Let me say this loud and clear. Forgive one another. Drop the grudges. Encourage each other to be a better person and always lead with a loving heart. If we learned anything from the tragedy of 9/11 it is that we have no idea how much time we have left on this earth. So why in the world would you want to waste any time at all on negativity and nonsense?

Remember, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t live a life with a dead faith. Instead, choose today to up the game and live out your faith fully with the heart of Jesus.

People of St. Andrew’s… I say to you, “let’s roll!”

Mosh Pits, Crowd Surfing and Mustard Seeds

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 17, 2018)

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Psalm 92:2-3,13-14,15-16

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Mark 4:26-34

This may be hard for you to picture, but back in high school, I had hair down to my chin. Not only was it long, I was that kid who wore a ponytail and had the underneath side of my head shaved. Yes… I was a product of the 90’s. And in case you were wondering, the 90’s produced some of the best music in my opinion. Metallic, Guns n Roses, Peal Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots. Pretty much anything that caused you to jump around or bang your head back and forth was worth listening to back then. I’ve been in mosh pits… I’ve gone crowd surfing… I even have some hearing loss from listening to music entirely too loud.

Along the way, I eventually cut my hair and my taste in music expanded. After moving to Kentucky, I found two Christian radio stations that played music that actually sounded good. Air1 and K-Love. One of the first Christian rock artists that I found and really liked was Jeremy Camp. I remember distinctly going through a rough patch in my faith journey when I heard his song called, “Walk By Faith.” Here are some of the lyrics:

Would I believe you when you say, your hand will guide my every way? Will I receive the words you say, every moment of every day? I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Because this broken road, prepares your will for me. Help me to win my endless fears. You’ve been so faithful for all my years. With one breath you make me new. Your grace covers all I do. Well I’m broken, but I still see your face. Well you’ve spoken, pouring your words of grace. I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Because this broken road, prepares your will for me.

This song came to mind when I read today’s second reading from 2 Corinthians, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

This scripture verse is a daily struggle to live out. It is very easy to believe in something that you can see and touch. It takes a “letting go” to be able to put your trust into something or someone who you can’t see standing right in front of you. This is where the utmost trust in God can really shine through.

This can be understood more by looking at the mustard seed parable in today’s Gospel. The mustard seed is a tiny seed. The size of a period at the end of a sentence. If left alone, it will do nothing but remain a tiny, insignificant seed. But add water, sunlight and rich soil and it will become a bush large enough for birds to nest in and animals to lay in its shade. With proper care, it will grow up to serve a purpose. And all of that potential was contained in a tiny seed. It just needed a few outside influences to allow it to flourish into something beautiful.

Well guess what? You all are the mustard seeds. God has ingrained into you every possibility imaginable. You contain, within you, a God given purpose. But, just like the mustard seed, you need the right outside influences to allow you to flourish into something beautiful.

On one hand, you can allow the world to stimulate your growth. Television, news, Facebook, gossip… you get the idea. If these are the important things that are cultivating your growth, you will never flourish. You will never be truly happy. You will remain a tiny, insignificant seed.

On the other hand, if you allow God to cultivate you… watch out… Reading Scripture, living out God’s teachings through His Church, receiving the Sacraments from Baptism to Confirmation, helping others, respecting and honoring all of God’s creatures with the love He has shown you… these are the things that will allow us to grow into something magnificent!

Allowing God to have an active hand in our life journey, allows us to “walk by faith, not by sight” a heck of a lot easier. When we have a strong, Godly foundation and hit one of those rough patches, we know God is in control and our suffering is merely temporary. But when we are allowing negative influences to feed us, those rough patches we come across can seem almost unbearable.

So allow God to stimulate your growth. Allow God to nurture you so that you will grow and flourish into something truly magnificent.

What Is Love?

6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48

Psalm 98:1-4

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

When preparing to preach at Mass, in my experience, it is very easy to just skim over the 1st and 2nd readings and even the Responsorial Psalm in order to see what the Gospel message is for the week. Very often the Gospel passages proclaimed at Mass have the “meat” of Jesus’ teachings that can really change our lives when we apply them and live them out. Today’s Gospel from John is no different. It’s message is clear and to the point. Jesus tells us, “Love one another as I love you.”

But in order to better understand this “love” that Jesus is talking about, we really need to go back to the 2nd reading today from the first Letter of Saint John. It would be a shame if we just skimmed over it because I believe it is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. It reads almost like a love poem. It is only 4 lines long, but profoundly powerful. So allow me to read it to you again:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10).

 So next time you tell someone that you “love” him or her… I want you to think of this passage. Because all you ever wanted to or needed to know about love, is explained in these 4 verses. Therefore, you really have to understand this passage so that you are sure that you actually mean what you say when using the word “love.”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Love comes from one source… God. It’s not a man made emotion. It originates from God who is love. Therefore if you truly have love inside of you, then you have God inside of you as well. Even an atheist, one who doesn’t believe in God, in some way, knows God simply by loving others.

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Therefore if God is love, it would make sense that someone who has absolutely no love for anyone can NOT possibly know God. I would take this even farther and say that love and hate can’t reside in the same person at the same time because of how opposite they are. You can’t on one hand tell your child, a friend or your soul mate that you “love” them but on the other hand hold a grudge or hate against someone else. One expresses the presence of God. The other expresses the absence of God. The two don’t mesh.

“In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” Here, God reveals to us what is love. God didn’t reveal love through His speech, but through His actions. God decided to show us what love looked like by sending us His Son. To live for us. To die for us. To save us. I personally couldn’t imagine standing by watching one of my children suffer a horrendous death. Even if it was for the greater good, I don’t think I would have it in me to keep going. But that’s exactly what God did. He allowed His Son to suffer out of love for us.

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Love is not in the receiving, it is in the giving. Love wasn’t “created” by us out of thanksgiving towards God… Love was “born” from God when He extended it to us through His Son. This sacrifice is the height… the pinnacle of true Love.

So now you are all experts on “love,” right?? Understanding love is the easy part. But it takes a lifetime to properly put it into motion and probably won’t be perfected until you reach heaven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try while we’re down here living in the world.

So here’s my challenge to all of you…your homework for the week. Be more aware of the level of love you are expressing towards others in your daily lives.

Meaning… if you have high levels of negativity, anger, gossip, holding tighter to those grudges, eye rolls, having to argue everything, cursing or sin in general… your love is out of balance. It means you are distancing yourself from God instead of walking towards Him.

When these things creep up, because it will happen from time to time, you need techniques to counteract them. Simply recognizing this when it’s happening is a great first step. Then try some deep breathing, meditation, prayer, read some Scripture or take a walk. Just putting a smile on your face will do wonders. And here’s the big one…go to confession. This sacrament can give you more grace and love then you’ll probably ever truly realize. It’s that important… so no more excuses! Go!!

The only way to return to love is to return to God. So when your love is low, turn to God. For He is the source of all Love. The source of all Joy.

Be A Good Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)

Acts 4:8-12

Psalm 118

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

We’re all supposed to imitate Jesus, right? When preparing for this homily, I read the first line of the Gospel, stopped and then just laughed to myself. It reads, “Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd.’” Why does this make me laugh? If we’re supposed to be like Jesus, then we’re supposed to also be good shepherds. In picturing me as a shepherd, for some reason, I thought of what happens right after the final song at Mass. And I mean right after the priest has walked down the aisle and the dismissal song has ended. At that point, I usually gather up my things, tell my family to head for the van and then off we go… after genuflecting of course! Within a few minutes, I’ve said my goodbyes, given Fr. Al a hug at the door, walked outside and just start to feel the sunshine on my face when I realize… I’m all alone.

You see… my wife is still in her pew talking with her friends. Laura is running around giving out hugs to everyone she can find. Oliver is still picking up papers that dropped out of his Sunday school folder while trying to put on his jacket. Jacob has taken off outside like a bolt of lightning with his buddy (cough… Luke Coleman). And Owen and Zach are somewhere in the foyer talking with their high school friends about “teenage stuff.” So apparently I’m not a very good shepherd because I can’t even get 7 people from our church pew to our van in under 20 minutes.

After reading the rest of the Gospel passage, I then realized that herding your family from church in an orderly fashion might not necessarily be what Jesus is meaning when he talks to us about the “good shepherd.” So in order to better understand what we are to learn from this Gospel passage from John, let us first look to Ezekiel 34 in the Old Testament. It reads:

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”

In this passage from Ezekiel, God is upset with many of the leaders of the church. They were being very selfish by putting their needs above the people. This led many of God’s people to have a weak faith or to completely leave the faith behind. Reading this in light of today’s Gospel passage, we can now see that Jesus didn’t just randomly refer to himself as the “Good Shepherd” because it sounded good. No, he’s letting the people know that He is not like the shepherds they have read about in Ezekiel. He is not going to lead them astray or cause them to scatter. He is going to feed them with the Bread of Life and ultimately… He’s going to lay down His life for them.

Now remember… we’re supposed to be imitators of Christ which means that we are supposed to also be Good Shepherds. How does that look in our day-to-day lives? Very simply… we put the needs of others above our own. Instead of holding grudges… we hold out a helping hand. We turn the other cheek and help each other heal and move on. We spread the Gospel rather than gossip. We put a smile on our face and go out into the world and actually act like we are Christians.

You see… a good shepherd doesn’t motivate the flock by herding them. A good shepherd leads the flock by example. People want someone to inspire them… To motivate and encourage them to be better. They don’t need more negativity. The world throws plenty of that at us on a daily basis already.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us, the flock, so that we can have a chance to spend eternity with His Father in heaven. We too can help out the flock by taking His lead. By helping others. By putting the needs of others above our own.

Be a Good Shepherd. Inspire someone. Put yourself out there and enjoy the life that God envisioned specifically for you.

Stop wondering around aimlessly like a lost sheep. Follow Christ. Our Good Shepherd.

Heaven and Fairy Tales

5th Sunday of Lent (March 18, 2018) Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Psalm 130:1-8

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45

Death can be a very scary thing to talk about. But first, let me clarify. As Christians, there are two types of death we often refer to. The first is dying to sin and being reborn in Christ. This is what happens in the sacrament of Baptism. It’s exciting to know that there are several among us at St. Andrew’s that will be born again in the waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil this year. They will be further strengthened in their new Christian life that same night when they also receive the sacrament of Confirmation AND receive our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time ever. This is the fun type of death that we can talk about all day long and get those warm and fuzzy feelings because the people who “die to sin” are still with us afterwards.

The second type of death… well…let’s just say… there are not so many warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m obviously referring to the type of death where we lose a loved one, have a funeral and then mourn for days, weeks, even years after their passing.

But the question I’m posing today for your consideration is… WHY? Why do we get so excited to see someone die to sin and be born again into God’s family through Baptism… but so sad when a faithful Christian dies to this world and is granted eternal life with God?

In a way, I believe this is the question Jesus is asking us through today’s Gospel from John. It’s a long passage so I won’t read it again to you. But basically, Lazarus has died and everyone is in mourning. Many of the people blame Jesus for not being around to save him from death. You see… they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but they still don’t yet understand the resurrection since Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet. But Jesus knows. He fully knows what’s to come and has been preaching to His followers that they will have new life in God in this life AND the next.

But still, the people blame Him while they mourn the death of Lazarus. One of my favorite parts of this passage is where Jesus shows us His human side. We read two times that Jesus is “perturbed.” Yes, even Jesus got upset and irritated at people! He is perturbed because people’s faith in His teaching on heaven and the afterlife is very weak. Rather than celebrating Lazarus’ new life with God, they mourned his death and blamed Jesus for not saving him. I can see Jesus’ eyes roll, hand on his forehead, as he gets perturbed and says, “Fine, I’ll give you one more sign but then that’s it! You really need to start believing in what I’m telling you!” Then he turns to the tomb and cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Now, I acknowledge that we mourn over someone’s death because we won’t see them anymore. I get that. It stings greatly. Trust me, I know. But I think we struggle with death and mourn so intensely after losing a loved one because, deep down, our faith might be a little weak when it comes to heaven.

I can see someone get baptized. I can see someone receive the Lord’s Supper. I can see someone get confirmed. But I can’t “see” what happens to someone’s soul after they die.

Death is that one moment where our faith is put to the ultimate test. We are told that we will stand before God right after our bodily death. So death is the moment that we as Christians realize if this whole “Jesus, Church, Bible” thing is true or just a nice sounding fairy tale. And I think that scares us. I know I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time. I would like to think I’m a faithful Christian who tries my best to follow Christian teachings. But I still wonder if at the moment of my death, I’ll be confident in my faith or “hold my breath” (so to speak) as I wait to see what REALLY happens after I die.

I had a very real, very concrete experience that happened to me recently that has strengthened my faith regarding heaven that I wanted to share. We Catholics pray for the “repose of the soul” of someone after his or her death. It’s a very common practice that dates back to the early Church. It’s based on the teaching that people sometimes need to go to purgatory after death, before entering heaven. Purgatory being a final purification stop on the way to heaven. Think of it as a car wash. When we pray for the repose of the soul of someone, we’re asking God to speed up the process, if possible, so they can enjoy life in heaven sooner. After my mom’s death in October 2017, I’ve been praying for the repose of her soul often.

Well… I was at Mass at the Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington this past February. Angie and I were there assisting with the next class of future Deacons. I had just received communion and returned to my pew to kneel in prayer. With eyes closed and hands folded, I prayer, “Lord, I offer up this Eucharist for the repose of the soul of my mother, Joan Wentz.” And then I froze for a few moments. After that feeling passed, I picked up the hymnal and started to sing the communion hymn… but only got 3 or 4 words out and then I froze up again. Still on my knees, I put the hymnal down and closed my eyes again. I couldn’t move… I couldn’t speak. It was at that moment that I felt my mother’s arms around me. It’s as if she was kneeling to my left, giving me a side hug with her head on my shoulder. It was very real and I just kneeled there… enjoying the hug… as I cried silently. A few minutes later, she was gone. I’m not sure if that’s the moment she left purgatory and entered heaven or if God just knew I needed a hug from my mom that day.

I’ve reflected back on that incident a lot since it happened. I have even kneeled down at Mass after communion and tried to “re-create” the incident to see if it was just in my mind. But I’ve had no luck. I truly feel that God allowed my mom to visit me that day for a brief moment. Since then, I’ve had a better sense of peace that my mom is with God in heaven. I decided to tell all of you about it today because, honestly, I think we all could use a little encouragement when it comes to death and the afterlife. Many of us have lost loved ones this past year.

So yes, don’t be afraid to mourn for those that have passed away. But as we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday… really pay attention and allow all of your senses to be flooded with LOVE. Because it is with LOVE that Jesus offered His body to us on Holy Thursday. It is with LOVE that he died for us on Good Friday. It is with LOVE that He overcame death and opened the gates of heaven for all of us on Easter Sunday. And if you can see with open eyes what Jesus did for us on those Holy Days… then you will absolutely realize just how much He loves YOU. And that love WILL continue into the next life because it is NOT just a fairy tale.

Three Gifts For God

The Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 7, 2018)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13(11)

Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, according to the world, Christmas ended on December 26. But Catholics actually celebrate Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (which is Monday, Jan 8). And this weekend, we celebrate the Magi visiting the Christ child. Imagine, they had enough faith… that they followed a star to a far off land in search of someone extraordinary. And we all know the story, right? The Magi found the new born King under a star and brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold to represent Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense as a symbol of His priestly role. And Myrrh to point towards the suffering Christ will face later in life since this was an aromatic substance used in embalming.

As many of you know, my wife and I have 5 children at home. A number of years ago, back when we only had 3 children, Angie and I discussed how to try and keep the balance between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. In our modern world, that is a very tough thing to accomplish for parents. Santa is fun and magical, right? He eats the milk and cookies and, most importantly, brings the gifts! Somehow, during one of our discussions on this topic, one of us brought up this same verse that we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel.

We are told that Jesus received three gifts from the Magi. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We give each other gifts on Christmas (aka Jesus’ birthday). Do you see where I’m going with this? So it was decided, if three gifts were good enough for Jesus to celebrate His birthday, then three gifts from Santa were good enough for our kids as well! So we sat the boys down and explained our decision. After their eyes got really wide and the shock wore off, we reminded them that they still have grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles that also give them gifts (so don’t feel sorry for them!). We then wrote a letter to good ole St. Nick to explain our request: From now on, just bring three gifts per child on Christmas, just like the Magi did 2,000 years ago.

Now I’m not saying that this is for every parent out there. It was just one way for us as a family to keep Christ in Christmas. But then that got me thinking. Does anyone here remember he telling you in my last homily that every weekend, you have homework to do after attending Mass? Remember? You listen to the readings and the homily and then allow them to challenge you the rest of the week to become more Christ-like. Well, I’ve got another homework assignment for you today. And this assignment will take you just under one year to complete. Sorry….

We just began a new year. 2018. This is traditionally a time when people try to begin new habits. Hopefully good habits since we always want to try and improve our lives from last year, right? But rather than making a “New Year Resolution,” I want you to think of offering three gifts. But these won’t be material gifts. Let me explain. To decide on the three gifts, I challenge you to go to prayer. Find some quiet time, close your eyes, and picture Jesus Christ sitting next to you. For a time, just be present to one another. And after a few minutes, ask Jesus, “What can I do to be more like you?” And then be quiet. Allow your brain to wonder with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I guarantee you that, at some point, you’ll be able to think of at least three areas of your life that can be improved. And whatever those three things happen to be in your case… those are the three gifts you will work on all year.

It could be your health. Maybe you need to take better care of yourself so you can help others. It could be your finances. Wouldn’t it be nice to free up some money so you can donate to those in need? It could be to heal a broken relationship or possibly even to end a harmful relationship. Chances are it’s going to be challenging. Change usually doesn’t come easily. But changing for the better is always worth it in the end. And who doesn’t want to change and become more Christ-like?

Christmas is officially over after this Monday. That means we’ll be right back here celebrating Christmas in 11 ½ months. You and I both realize that it’ll be here in a blink of an eye. It always does. So why not start preparing yourself now to celebrate next Christmas in a richer, fuller way. Decide now on what three gifts you want to offer to Christ NEXT Christmas. You’ll have 11 ½ months to work on them. And how amazing will it be to be able to take all of that hard work and sacrifice, all of that positive change, all of that Christian transformation… and then lay those three gifts down at the manger next Christmas…

I realize it’s a long way away. A lot can happen over the next year. There will be a lot of ups and downs. But be like the Magi… let the star of Christ guide you. And once you reach the Star on December 25, 2018, you will approach the manger as a changed person. And with your head held high… with a rekindled faith… you will kneel down and lay your gifts at the feet of our New Born King!