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Archive for December, 2010

Bucket List

There are many people who maintain a “Bucket List,” an accounting of things they wish to do or accomplish in the course of life’s years. Sometimes the items “in the bucket” are pretty neat: a trip to the Amazon River basin or skydiving or writing a novel. Other “bucket” wishes may be of a more intimate nature: reconciling with an old friend or touring a battlefield where an ancestor fought or meeting the pope. But I wonder what surprises would be found if we peeked into the “buckets” of some of our faithful readers.

Possibly on the top of Msgr. Hagerty’s “Bucket List” would be a birdie on the first hole of Fox Run Golf Course. Rich Papalia, our talented webmaster, probably wishes for a coffee tap to be within easy reach of his computer screen. My sister would love to win the HGTV “Dream Home” in Vermont. Emily Solic, goodhearted as she is, might have a longing for 100+ students or more to attend a Sunday evening Mass on her campus. And Aaron Pfoutz’s list likely includes a yearning for Bell, his Cockerdoodle, to be more inclined to protect him from strangers than the other way around.

I know of a man, though, who had only one item in his “Bucket List.” His name was Simeon and he had grown old and weary in the city of Jerusalem. Righteous and devout as he was, Simeon longed with all his heart for the promises made to Israel by God to be fulfilled. Before death befriended him, Simeon wanted to see with his own eyes the long-awaited Messiah. And God did not disappoint. For when Mary and Joseph carried the baby, Jesus, into the temple to present him to the Lord, Simeon was there. Taking the child into his arms, he cried out with joy: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

As we begin a New Year, a year sure to be filled with God’s presence and grace, might I suggest an inventory of our respective “Bucket Lists?” Sure, trips and seeing nature’s wonders and meeting important people are cool items to place in the “bucket.” But as Simeon reminds us, could any desire be of greater importance than that of seeing our Savior, Jesus Christ? And amazingly, could any “Bucket List” item be more easy to accomplish?

As he has from all eternity, Christ waits for you in this New Year. He waits to show you his face and shower you with his love. Like Simeon, you too can take Jesus into your arms and hold him there. You too can know the peace which only Christ can give. And if we peeked into the “Bucket List” of Jesus, there, handwritten on a slip of paper, would be your name.

From all who make this blog possible and to all our faithful readers, we wish you the most happy of New Year’s. God bless and keep you, God let his face to shine upon you, and without a doubt, you are remembered in prayer.

Fr. Steve

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I Believe

Some forty years ago, on a late December evening filled with anticipation, I looked into the night sky above my hometown of Bradford, and there I saw Santa’s sleigh. Sure it was just a flickering of light moving above the horizon, sure I should have been more amazed that I could just see the sky during a Bradford winter, but I was convinced that this light truly was the object of my wondering. I didn’t comprehend how reindeer could fly, I didn’t fully understand how Santa made his rounds in just one night, but I did not need to fully understand. I simply believed.

Some 2000 years ago, while keeping watch over their flocks by night, shepherds looked into the starlit sky above Bethlehem, and there they saw the angel of the Lord in glory. Sure they were struck with great fear, sure they were amazed by the heavenly voices in praise, but they were convinced that the angel’s message was the answer to their wondering. They didn’t comprehend the magnitude of that moment, they didn’t fully understand how a baby could be their savior, but they did not need to fully understand. They simply believed.

Each of us, today, can look at certain issues and events in our life – and we don’t understand. For example, I know several otherwise very wonderful people who persist in being Boston Red Sox fans. Who can understand such a thing? But in the really important things – conflict within families, struggles against weakness and sin, questions of evil in the world, sickness and death – we do want so badly to understand. God knows we look to him for answers. And he has provided.

For on the occasion of that first Christmas, an answer was given. In fact, a definitive answer was given: a response to every question ever to gnaw at the human heart. The answer is Jesus. Yes, it may sound overly simple. Admittedly, I do not fully understand. But when it comes to Jesus – Lord at his birth – I simply believe. I really do.

To you who share this belief, and to you still struggling to believe, merry Christmas! And may the words of this aged carol be for you and your family, both a consolation and a joy:

“Fear not, then,” said the angel,
“Let nothing you affright;
This day is born a Savior
of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in him
from Satan’s power and might.”

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
(London carol, c.1770)

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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My sister was in the midst of a life mini-crisis over the past couple of weeks. With the situation coming to a head last Thursday, my mom and brother and I were in full prayer mode. Of course, as a priest, I get paid the big bucks to be a man of prayer. But admittedly, prayer intentions such as world peace and an end to global hunger got short shrift last week as I focused on a happy outcome for my sister’s crisis. And praise God, that is exactly what she got. Her situation was resolved in a positive manner and the family rejoiced. No doubt, we all believe, God was with her. He really came through in the crunch.

But what if her crisis had not been resolved in a positive way, would we have claimed that God was not with her? It is an interesting question. Most of us tend to be very good about thanking and praising God when prayers are answered in the way we wish them to be. Things turn out all butterflies and strawberries and we are whooping it up for the Big Guy. But when, despite our most fervent prayers, things turn out all stale and broken, then we are pretty reticent in thanking and praising. It begs the question, is God only with us when what we hope for happens?

This season of Advent points us toward an answer. “The Lord himself will give you this sign:” says the prophet, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (Is 7:14).” The virgin is Mary, the son is Jesus, and Immanuel means that God is with us. That’s right, God is with us. He is with us when things go well, he is with us when things are a disaster. God is there when we achieve success, he is there in the midst of our failures. But God is always there.

As we move quickly toward Christmas day, let us remember how Christ entered this world. Our Lord came not in glory and power, with riches and splendor, but he came poor and forsaken, hidden beneath the hay of an animal’s manger. The world barely took notice. When it comes to me or you, might he not enter our lives in a similar fashion? We want God to be with us, but translated, that desire usually means that we wish him to come in visible power and glory. Solve my problems, Lord! Heal my weakness, Lord! Save me now and in a way I understand, Lord!

But what if he comes to my soul and yours, into my life and yours, exactly as he came to the shepherds of Israel: humbly, quietly, with no visible show of power? What if he is working miracles – now – and we don’t even realize it? What if we are so busy demanding that Christ solve our issues in the manner we deem appropriate that we miss his hidden work well advanced in the silence of our hearts?

Advent – with its scriptures, symbols and songs – reminds us again and again: God is with us. But let us look for him not in the orchard but in the desert, not on the mountaintop but in the valley, not where the powerful gather but where the poor can be found. Come, Lord Jesus, come . . .  not on our terms . . . but on yours.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Throughout the holy season of Advent, we as the Church read deeply and often from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. These readings are strikingly beautiful. Isaiah describes a world transformed by the splendor and power of God’s presence. We hear of deserts blooming in abundance of flowers, limpid pools forming from burning sand, blind eyes being opened to sight, the lame leaping like deer, and those once mute singing songs of glorious praise. In Isaiah’s world, instruments of war become the tools of peace, while predators and prey walk together in harmony. And amidst this all lies a holy path, a highway of righteousness and everlasting joy, leading at end to the birth of a child from his virgin mother. What Isaiah describes for us is nothing less than the Kingdom of God.

Jesus, whom Isaiah foretold, makes a stunning announcement. This Kingdom of God, so long awaited, is now among us. Yes, it is true, the Kingdom of God is at hand. But where? How can we see it? Look! The Kingdom of God is in our midst!

When a night-shift nurse takes the hand of a lonely, dying man, the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the joy felt by a college student as she walks through the morning snow, the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the laughter shared by friends round a blazing hearth, the Kingdom of God is at hand. When the words, “I am sorry,” are spoken with sincerity, the Kingdom of God is at hand. As a single mom labors without complaint to care for her children, the Kingdom of God is at hand. When a stranger at school offers a compliment, the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the music of a concert, in the crashing of waves on a beach, in the beating of a human heart, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Why do we miss God’s presence when it is so very close? Why do we persist in our fears? Listen to Isaiah’s words while pondering the deserts which have formed in your own life and in your own heart, while considering your own affliction and your own neediness. “I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not” . . . The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the Lord, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water. I will plant in the desert a cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive; I will set in the wasteland the cypress, together with the plane tree and pine, that all may see and know, observe and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it (Is 41).”

Could it be that during this Advent season, God wishes to make new life bloom within us? Could it be that God desires to slake our thirst and heal our woundedness? Could it be that God longs to make springs of joy flow from our souls? Yes, yes, and yes. Remember, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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