Monday, December 31, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle C - December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family
Cycle C
December 30, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm and 8:00am 


 SPACE for Families 

This afternoon/morning, I want to make some recommendations for families – for living family life today, in the year 2018.

I realize that there are different types of families. There is the structure that I grew up in – with a mother, a father, and children, with the mother being a stay-at-home mom and the father going out to work.

I also know that there is the reverse of that – with the father being a stay-at- home dad and the mother going out to work. Of course, in most families today both parents are working outside the house.

Then, there are single-parent families. There are blended families, with one or both parents having children from a prior marriage and now forming one new family.

And there are families with spouses having no children. Well, for all of these types of families, I want to offer five quick recommendations.

I offer these based on my own upbringing and on listening to some of you. These five recommendations begin with the letters: S—P—A—C—E.

Obviously, an easy way to remember these is the acronym SPACE, and maybe we could entitle these as Space for Families. So, here goes.  


S stands for Structure. The idea is to structure the life of your family in ways that work for you.

Structure a time for the children to get up in the morning and to go to bed in the evening, a time to do homework and a time to play. Structure some responsibility for everyone to do something for the good of the household, like vacuuming or doing the dishes.

Structure some regular time for the entire family to be together. And structure certain family rituals, like birthday celebrations, Christmas dinner, visits to grandparents, things like that.


Then, the letter P in the word SPACE stands for Pray. The idea is to pray in some way as part of your family life.

For example, pray by inviting each person to thank God for one thing at the beginning of a family meal. Pray a simple bedtime prayer with your children or with each other as spouses.

Pray by coming to Mass together. I know that this can be challenging where there are different religious traditions, but try to do this if possible.


Next, the letter A stands for Affirm. It is important, first of all, for spouses to affirm one another for something accomplished at work, for looking attractive, things like that.

It is important for parents to affirm children for their strengths and gifts. It is important not to harp on failures or mistakes.

And it is important to affirm by showing affection. Exchanging a hug or a kiss is important among family members.


Then, the letter C in the word SPACE stands for Communicate. The idea is to share something of what’s going on in your life. 

Talk with one another about your feelings of enthusiasm, stress, hurt, whatever. In all of this, communicating means that I risk opening myself up to the other members of my family. 

And, of course, it also means that we respect one another and listen. We really try to understand and take in the feelings or ideas of the others.


Finally, the letter E stands for Eat. It is important for families to eat dinner together.

There is research showing that eating dinner together creates strong family relationships. The effect of doing this at least three times a week is remarkable especially on teens.

The incidence of teens resorting to smoking, drinking, or drugs is far less when families eat dinner together. This can be challenging with jobs and after-school activities and all the other opportunities today, but it is important to try to do this.



Structure – Pray – Affirm – Communicate – Eat.

I think these five actions will create SPACE for Families. They will help in today’s world to have happy, healthy, and even holy families.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas, Cycle A - December 25, 2018

Cycle A
December 25, 2018    4pm, 6pm, and 10am

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

It’s A Wonderful Life 

Have you ever seen the movie It’s A Wonderful Life?

I’ll raise my hand, so just raise your hand if you have seen it. I just want to get an idea of how many of us have seen it.

I have watched this movie twice in recent years – right before Christmas with my brother and sister-in-law. It’s A Wonderful Life was originally made in 1946.

 Since the 1970’s, it has often been shown at Christmas time, even though it is not explicitly a Christmas story. In the movie, Jimmy Stewart plays a young man named George Bailey.

George grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York. He has two big dreams for his life: traveling and becoming an architect.  

Unfortunately, George’s father dies very suddenly and George becomes the President of his father’s Savings and Loan. He delays his own goals to save the Savings and Loan and help the townspeople of Bedford Falls.

George is good, honest and always helping the little person. One time after another he lets go of his own dreams for the sake of doing what is right and helpful for others.  

Then, when a mistake threatens the very existence of the Savings and Loan, George becomes despondent. He begins thinking that his whole life has been for nothing and he considers suicide.  

At this point an angel appears and helps George to experience how fortunate he has been and how many lives he has touched. With this insight, he realizes how worthwhile and meaningful his life is.  

George realizes that, all things considered, It’s A Wonderful Life.

The Christmas Story 

Well, I see this movie expressing some of the valuable messages of Christmas. I want to highlight three of them for us this evening. 

Message 1: God Is with Us

First, in the movie, George’s guardian angel appears, stays with him and gets him through a very dark and low period.

In the same way, Christmas proclaims that the name of the infant is “Emmanuel”,and that name means “God is with us.”  Christmas says that God is at the very core of our life, whether we are down or up.  

We always have this closeness or communion with God.  I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but this is why we call the Eucharist “Holy Communion.”

The Eucharist or “Holy Communion” is really meant to energize or enliven the communion we already have with God who is with us always.  
 Message 2: Each Person Is Significant 

Then, in the movie, the angel helps George to realize how significant his life is.

The angel’s point is that even the most ordinary life can have a powerful impact. Christmas proclaims the same thing.

God becomes human as a vulnerable, dependent infant. So, if God can come to us in this way, then the life of each person is valuable, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.  

This message gives us a source of self-worth that you and I and everyone – no exceptions – everyone needs this. 

 Message 3: Peace Comes from Doing Good

Finally, in the movie, George Bailey realizes that inner fulfillment and peace do not come from material things or financial success.

Instead, fulfillment and peace come from doing what is right and good.  Faithfulness, sacrifice, caring for others, truthfulness, and honesty – these are the things that bring fulfillment and peace.

This is the peace that the angels announce at Jesus’ birth: “Peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.”  So, fulfillment and peace come not so much from something outside of ourselves.  

Instead, they are more the result of doing the right and good thing in life, of living out our inner communion with Jesus.


So, It’s A Wonderful Life is a memorable movie.

It has the core messages of Christmas:

1) God is with us.
2) Each of us, each person is significant.
3) And, inner fulfillment and peace come from doing what is right and good.  

I hope those messages help you to have a Merry Christmas!

4th Sunday in Advent, Cycle B - December 23, 2018

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 23, 2018    
4:00pm and 8:00am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore


A Soldier and a Woman


Several years ago, the Boston Globe carried a memorable story.

It takes place at the Denver airport.  A forty-six-year-old woman is sitting near the gate where she is waiting to board her plane.

She glances up and sees a young man, probably in his early twenties, standing in front of her.  There are a number of empty seats in the waiting area, but he nods his head at the seat next to her.

This woman’s suitcase is blocking that seat.  She is mildly annoyed, but she moves the suitcase.

The young man sits down and drops his duffel bag at his feet.  He is wearing a U.S. Army camouflage uniform.

He asks, “Where you headed?”  She responds, “Home.”

He then tells her that he has just returned from Afghanistan and is heading to Florida to surprise his mother.  He hasn’t seen her for five years.

The woman notices that when he looks at her, his eyes show need.  He wants something from her, but at first, she doesn’t know what.      

She also notices that he keeps scanning the terminal.  Eventually, he says that it’s hard to stop scanning for danger.

Yesterday he was in the desert.  Some fellow soldiers had been killed.

Today, he is in an airport where the biggest issues are waiting for a latte or being upset over a flight delay.  He admits that he doesn’t know how to be here in this place.

The woman now wisely senses what he may want from her.  So, she opens her heart a bit and tells him that just last week, her friend’s teenage son had died suddenly.

She shares that she is a mother and she has felt disoriented and distant from the everyday world.  And with that, the soldier seems to relax.

They had made a connection.  The woman writes: “This young man had seen the raw and the unbearable.

“He knew that it was not the time of the flight, or a latte that was his concern.  But he did not know how to tell me.

“This was what he needed from me – what we all need.  He did not want the seat beside mine.   

“He wanted to sit with me. He needed to feel safe and understood for a while.”

Mary and Elizabeth 

That soldier and that woman and their visit together, and the visit of Mary and Elizabeth in today’s gospel have an important lesson.

Mary travels to visit Elizabeth.  She knows that she, still very young, needs time with this older woman – for Elizabeth’s sake, and for her own sake too.

Elizabeth is surprised by Mary’ unexpected visit.  But she welcomes it and gives herself to it.

In a similar way, the soldier seeks out this woman, old enough to be his mother. He knows that he needs someone at that moment and senses that he will feel safe with her.

The woman is a bit annoyed at first.  But, very quickly, she is there for him in a remarkable way.

Remember What Is Important 

I see a simple, but important lesson here, especially at this time of year.

Let’s be aware of the persons in our lives.  Let’s take the initiative to be with them and to share what is really going on with us.

In turn, let’s be open to the family member or friend or anyone who reaches out to us. Let’s be alert and give that person some attention.

Maybe some very needed personal support will occur. Or maybe a relationship will get enriched or reconciled.  

Underneath all the glitz and rush of these December days, this is what’s really important. These connections with one another are Godly moments.  

The younger Mary and older Elizabeth sit with each other and end up seeing the hand of God at work.  The younger soldier and middle-aged woman sit with each other and a God-filled experience happens for both of them.  

So maybe the question for this Sunday before Christmas is this: With whom do I need to sit? Or, to put it differently, who needs to sit with me today?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

3rd Sunday in Advent, Cycle B - December 16, 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 16, 2018

St. Mary Parish, Pylesville      9:30 and 11:15am


Theme Christmas Trees

In recent years, theme Christmas trees have become rather popular.

Years ago, most Christmas trees would have a variety of ornaments, lights, tinsel, and garland – but they didn’t usually have a single theme. Today, you can see many theme trees in stores like Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. 

I’ve seen Christmas trees with an NFL theme – maybe with Ravens logos or with helmets and footballs. There are trees with a gingerbread theme.

There are trees decorated with animals – some with all dogs or all cats. There are trees with a Nascar theme or a Star Wars theme.

And, of course, there are trees for coffee lovers – with a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks theme. So, lots of possible themes for our Christmas trees!

All Good, But…

Now, these theme trees are fun and enjoyable, but I’ve got one caution. 

Christmas is not just about my favorite style of decorations. Instead, every year in Advent, including today’s Advent gospel, John the Baptist proclaims the true meaning of what we are celebrating.

John calls us to focus on something or Someone new. He reminds us that this Season really celebrates Someone – spelled with a capital S – Someone who is far greater than any of us. 

So, Reclaim These Customs 

And so, what I suggest is that in these days of Advent, we try to reclaim what Christmas is really all about.

Many of our customs are good. And I believe that we can allow them to speak of what Christmas really means.

For example, let’s send Christmas cards that speak of the “good news.”This is the heart of John the Baptists’s message in today’s gospel.

The passage says, “[John] preached good news to the people,”the news that “one mightier than I is coming.”I like Christmas cards that proclaim this good news, and then some of our other customs can define this.

So, let’s understand the lights on our Christmas trees as speaking of the light and presence of Jesus. The prophet Zephaniah in the first reading says: “The Lord is in your midst; you have nothing to fear.”

Saint Paul in the second reading repeats the same idea: “The Lord is near.”So, let’s understand our lights as proclaiming the presence of the One who is the light.

And then, let’s allow our Christmas carols speak of our joy in the birth of Christ.  Once again, the prophet says today: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!”

And Saint Paul says: Rejoicein the Lord always.”  So, we sing carols and are joyful because of the birth of Christ.

And then, let’s allow our hospitality in this season speak of peace.  Saint Paul says it so well today.

If we realize that the Lord is with us, then “the peaceof God will guard our hearts and minds.” So, our hospitality toward others in our homes or workplaces or schools will not be superficial but will speak of the peace that is possible through Christ.

Especially Gift-Giving

Finally, let’s allow any gift-giving that we do to express what this Season is really all about. 

We could give an Under Armour hoodie or a Fitbit or National geographic DVDs or an American Eagle shirt or a PlayStation game console and on it goes.  There are so many things we can give, but what is important to give?

That’s really what all the people in today’s gospel are asking John the Baptist. They all ask: “What are we to do?”

And John’s answer, to each group, is the same: be fair, just, compassionate, and charitable. That is the real gift we are to give to each other.

Because being fair, just, compassionate and charitable is really the gift of self. And when we give of ourselves, then we are doing exactly what God does for us at Christmas in giving us his Son.

Then we have captured the real meaning of this season.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

2nd Sunday in Advent, Cycle B - December 9, 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 9, 2018
Mepkin Abbey, South Carolina        


Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Many of you will remember the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

Bonhoeffer was a Protestant theologian and pastor. He lived and especially active in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. 

Bonhoeffer spoke out strongly against the atrocities of the Nazis. As a result, he was imprisoned and eventually executed. 

Shortly before Christmas in 1943, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter from his prison cell. He says this.

“Life in a prison cell reminds me a great deal of Advent. One waits and hopes and putters around.

“But in the end, the door is shut. And, it can only be opened from the outside.”
Our Need for Justice

Bonhoeffer gives us an image of our human condition before the coming of Christ.

In a sense, we were imprisoned in our humanity. The door was shut, and it could only be opened from the outside.

And that is precisely what Jesus does. He opens the door that separates us from God.

Many of our Advent Scripture readings describe this with the word justice.For example, the prophet Baruch in today’s first reading is speaking to God’s people five hundred years before the birth of Christ.

Three times he uses the word justiceto describe what God will do for his people. This word, as Baruch uses it, does not refer to a judge presiding in a court of law or to a district attorney or anything like that.

Instead, the Scriptural meaning of justice refers to a just or good or right relationship between God and us – the relationship that God intends from the beginning of time. The Advent prophets foresee the coming of One who will bring about this just or good or right relationship.   

From our perspective today, we know that in and through Jesus, we are in that relationship with God. Our longing for closeness with the transcendent God is now fulfilled.

Our longing for being in touch with the ground and center of our being is now possible. Our longing for fullness and the fullness of life is now within reach.

Jesus has opened the door and satisfied the longing that lies under all of our other longings, our longing for God. That is the justice,the just or good or right relationship with God that the Advent readings promise.  

Our Need for Everyday Justice

Now, there is another dimension to this justice.

We need to do what we can to align our human relationships and our world with this relationship with God. Luke’s gospel and, again, the prophet Baruch use some images that guide us in our efforts to do this.

For example, “every mountain and hill shall be made low.”

These mountains might be our pride when we hold ourselves as persons or ourselves as a Church above others, instead of humbly walking with them on the journey of life. Or they might be the mountains of waste caused by our failure to use renewable sources of energy and to recycle whatever is possible.

Then the prophets say that “Every valley shall be filled.”

This may be the valley of depression of a person who could really use some of our presence and time. Or it could be the valley of poverty that requires us to re-think economic structures and how the fruits of the earth get distributed.

And again, the prophets say that “The winding roads shall be made straight.”

This may be the winding way of talking about someone who irritates us, instead of respectfully talking with that person. Or it may be the winding way of racism or xenophobia, where instead we need to see others who are different from us as human beings who are really very much like us. 


So, justice – a key word for Advent.

A just, good, right relationship with God – Advent promises this. And Christ has made this possible.

And then, allowing the justiceof God to flow through us into our relationships and our world. That’s the calling of this very special Season.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

1st Sunday in Advent, Cycle B - December 2, 2018

1st Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 2, 2018


Be Vigilant 

I am taken by the words “Be vigilant” in today’s gospel. 

In this passage, Jesus uses some frightening imagery. There will be signs in the stars, nations in dismay, tribulations, and people dying.  

These images are a literary style of Jesus’ day and they are not intended to make us afraid or fearful.  Instead, to use Jesus’ words, he wants us to “be vigilant.”

My reflection on this has led me to three words that capture what it means to be vigilant.  Each of these begins with the letter “A”: Awake, Alert, and Aware.    

I see a difference in what each of these words means. And I also see them in a definite order, with one leading to the other.

1. Be Awake

So first, be awake.

Jesus cautions us not to “become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.”  So, on a basic level, don’t get caught in any substance abuse that just deadens us to what is going on in life.

Beyond that, don’t get caught in living for the latest electronic tablet or kitchen appliance or clothing style.  And don’t get trapped into being so busy with our jobs and into making so many other commitments that we are always running and always exhausted.

All of these possibilities in today’s lifestyle can make us asleep to life.  They can lull us into unconscious living.  

So, it is important to grab hold of these things. It is important to try to gain control of them.

Be awake to life and to living each day of life consciously and intentionally.  And being awake in this way takes us to the next step of being vigilant.

2. Be Alert

Be alert.

This means to notice the persons in our lives, especially our family and friends.   Be alert to what is going on with them – maybe your son has become withdrawn and seems down and you need to be there for him.

Notice the neighbor next door.  Be alert to her illness or relationship problem and to what a few minutes of our time might do for her.

Notice the needs in our parish or community.  Be alert to how we might assist someone, maybe by taking an ornament from the Christmas Giving Tree and buying gloves or sweaters or jeans for a family in need.

And notice the big picture of our country and our world. Be alert to something we could say that would be constructive and that lessens fear and negative energy.

So be alert to the persons and situations around us. And being alert in this way takes us to the third step in being vigilant.   

3. Be Aware

Be aware.

This means to look within ourselves.  Be aware of how well we are living.

Look, as Saint Paul says today, at our feelings for others.  Be aware of our feelings of respect or disdain, jealousy or acceptance.
Look at our quiet time versus our talking and noise time.  Be aware if we are making space for an inner life, for being in touch with ourselves, with our hopes and worries, with our inner peace or unsettledness, with our loving of others and feelings of being loved.

Look at our relationship with God.  Be aware if it is minimalist, just putting in time for Sunday Mass, or if it is more than that, really putting ourselves into the Mass and also making time for personal prayer during the week.

So, be aware of ourselves, of what is going on and how we may need to grow.  This may lead us to a sense of repentance and fresh resolve, and it will definitely be the crowning and completion of being vigilant.


This is the approach I am seeing for Advent.

Jesus tells us to “Be vigilant”and I see these three words that begin with the letter “A” – just like the word Advent – as helping us to do this.  Be Awake, Alert, and Aware.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Feast of Christ the King, Cycle B - November 25, 2018

Feast of Christ the King
Cycle B
November 25, 2018      

He Had God

Recently a psychiatrist talked about her first appointment with a new client – and, of course, his name remained anonymous.

This man had been off of drugs for six months and was living in a sober house. He was working hard to cope with the mood swings and sleeplessness and other challenges that often come with early sobriety.  

The issues that had to be addressed to repair his life were overwhelming – depression, drug addiction, trauma, homelessness, and unemployment. And yet, the client sitting in her office was very willing and very polite.

The psychiatrist asked him, “What is keeping you going?”He said calmly, “Why, nothing but God.”

He appeared to have turned himself over to a new father – to God. He felt that God would love and manage him better than his own father had.

At one point, he, the client, asked her, the psychiatrist, “How were you raised?”“Me?”  

He persisted. “What do you believe?”

The psychiatrist says that she felt somewhat embarrassed and lonely. It struck her that one of them had a home, a job, and a family, and the other appeared to have nothing.

Yet the one with nothing was not lonely. The psychiatrist said, “I have great respect for people who believe.”

He simply said, “Ah!”They then set the next appointment and he got up to leave.

He turned to her and said, “I’ll pray for you, you know.”She says that those words stayed with her all morning.

This man, her client, had nothing. But he did have God.    

God Was His All 

That story appeared in The Boston Globe.  

For that man, the client, God was his all, his everything. It was God who was getting him through and keeping him going. 

God Is Our All: Alpha and Omega

This, as I see it, is the point of what we celebrate today in our Church.

I find the title of Christ the Kinga bit awkward. Jesus is not a monarch like King Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth.

Here we are not talking about power or pomp or politics. Instead, I see the words in today’s second reading as really opening up what Jesus is for us.

Jesus himself says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.”You probably know that Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

So, Jesus is saying that he is the Alpha, the first, the origin of all that is. He is one with the Creator in bringing all there is, including us, into being.  

And Jesus also says, “I am the Omega.”He is the last, the endpoint, our goal and destiny.

What This Means

So, with these words, Jesus gives us a powerful way for understanding our lives.

He is our Alpha – the One from whom we come – and our Omega – the One to whom we will someday return. And, as I see it, if he is that, he is our all, our everything, much as God was for the man in the psychiatrist’s office.

No question, our loved ones are valuable, probably invaluable to us. In that sense, they are everything to us.

But, in another way, Jesus is our everything. If he is our origin and our destiny, then he is also our way and companion for everything in between.

So, the words that I choose to use to express myself maybe especially when I am frustrated; the decisions that we make on how to deal with a relationship or a marriage problem; how to treat employees or how to do our job for our employer – my idea is that Jesus is to be our reference point for all of this.  

And, of course, when we are hurting or lost, something like the man in that psychiatrist’s office, Jesus is our sure foundation. He is the secure base who helps us to get by and keep on going.  

It is in this sense that we can say that Jesus is a King. This is why our Church honors him with this title today.