Let’s Not Rush Jesus, Shall We?

With over half a dozen radio stations moving into all-Christmas music formats these days and the malls filled with stuffed bears singing Christmas Carols and everyone generally getting into the holiday spirit with Thanksgiving squarely behind us and Advent just a day away, I have only one thing to say.

Stop rushing Jesus.

How often in our lives do we want God to come on our time? And what we most often find is that when God does actually enter into our lives (which is, in fact, daily) and we bother to notice God, that God is right on time.

Most often, my picture of God is in the person of Jesus. I can imagine Jesus walking with me in my most desperate hours and me asking Him why He has waited so long to intervene. And instead of some schmaltzy hallmark card answer like “those times when you see one set of footprints were the times I carried you,” I hear Jesus saying…

“Um, I’ve been right here all along, dumbass!”

Often people reach out to me when they are in great pain and I hope that most of the time I can journey with them in their pain. Because that is what I believe that God does with us as well. I know I’m far from good at this because most of the time I don’t want to be bothered–and even mores, I don’t want people to bother with me when I’m down and out. I choose to push people away and say that I can face matters all on my own.

And when you ask people who are facing suffering about their experience, most often their understandable reaction is that they feel God’s absence. As if God is a sadist and is the one inflicting their pain.

But the truth is that God suffers with us. God doesn’t like cancer, or car accidents, or when kids get shot in schoolhouses. God hates it just as much as we do when young people die accidentally, or someone commits suicide, or someone we love gets sick and never recovers.

And because God loves us enough to give us free will, inevitably bad things happen in the world. And faith calls us to trust that somehow, God redeems our suffering. That tragedy never has the final word and that evil really wants us to believe otherwise and keep us all in desolation.

We all hope to rush consolation..but suffering has a time commitment. We all need to take time to heal–to allow God to heal us, so that we might stand a bit stronger next time out, so that we might learn from mistakes we may have made, so that we might be a bit more sympathetic to others when they end up in the same boat.

And so we might realize that we are not God.

But that God loves us anyway and will redeem all that we suffer and cries when we cry.

We often want to hold someone in suffering and tell them that it’s OK. And the truth is that at the moment, it is very much not OK. Last year I watched a family howl in despair when they gathered to mourn the death of a young man. He was their son, their brother, the father of their child, a friend. A distinct voice of a young woman cried out “THIS IS NOT OK!”

And darn it, if she wasn’t right?

And I hope she knows this day, that God didn’t think it was OK either. None of us could rush her healing. None of us could bring God a bit closer to her in that pain. Desolation and grief are sometimes too overwhelming even for those of us with the strongest of faith.

But when we realize God’s care for us, God’s presence with us…

That’s when God comes right on time.

I believe that this is what Advent is all about. We wait for God, but most often, it is God who waits for us. God waits until consolation can show to us that God is already present. We wait for the mist to lift from the fogginess of our desolate doldrums, so that we might see a bit more clearly the tears of God, crying with us in our pain…crying out from the cross in agony when we are too, crucified by our own crosses.

And God hopes that our fears, our anger, our hatred at times, will not get the best of us.

My colleague, Fr. Tom Colgan, S.J. had a remarkable insight last week. He was meditating on the scene where the “bad” thief rebukes Jesus on the cross. He thought about this guy and the soldiers and all those who jeered at Jesus and mocked Him.

“Man, I hate those people!” he thought.

And the voice he heard from Christ on the Cross was: “I don’t.”

He then thought about all the people in his life who drive him crazy. And he felt the same anger and said “OK, maybe I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them very much.”

“I don’t.” Again, that same cry from the cross.

I took up this meditation myself recently. For me the scene had me at the foot of the cross feeling helpless. “There’s nothing I can do to change this!” was my only thought as tears streamed down my cheeks with John and Mary standing arm in arm with me.

“I can.” came the cry from the cross.

And then…”You just wait.”

Later I meditated on the journey that Mary and Joseph may have taken to bring the Christ-child into the world and I thought of Jesus stirring in Mary’s womb saying, “Don’t rush me, I’m right here and you just wait.”

Perhaps that is our need for this advent. To ask ourselves what is it that we are rushing in our lives? And what might we need to slow down and savor for just a few extra moments?

In those few extra moments, we will find God.

And it will be more than worth the wait.

Thankful Yesterday, Gluttony Today

Look at this horror in Georgia!

I begin to wonder if Thanksgiving has turned into “Gluttony Day”? We sit around our tables eating large amounts of food, often with little or no regard for the poor. Then fast forward to just a few HOURS now after the meal is over and we find a scene like the one above.

Perhaps it’s time for us Catholics to make a stand against what Thanksgiving is turning into? Perhaps, just maybe it’s time for all Catholics to get together on Thanksgiving to participate in service projects throughout the day with the poorest of the poor?

Thanksgiving contains two words “Thanks” and “give” and instead we’ve turned it into a “grab” and “get”. Grab that last turkey leg and then last iPod touch. How many in the world would be happy for just a smidge of our wealth. I’ve seen poverty up close when I saw people living in the GARBAGE dump in Nicaragua.

What part of thankfulness have we forgotten?

Gratitude is at the heart of the Christian message? I’ve learned a lot about gratitude this year. My wife is healthy and I love my job. I’ve helped to rebuild a neighborhood and to serve students who come from lands where they have very little indeed. I’ve dumped cable and I don’t miss it. And the highlight of my day is often exercise, the loyalty of a great dog or the love of an amazing women.

And they don’t cost me a dime. (Well, save a gym membership!).

A few weeks back I was overwhelmed by our students’ response to our community service project to plant trees in our local neighborhood. We had more people than we anticipated. Most of the students were eager to help and pitch in where they could. But one student who was required to do the service for a class said “Well, let’s get this over with…”

I wonder what she went to do immediately afterwards?

We spend our time lavishly and long for recreation activities that leave us often flat. When students return from a week of alternative break they often wonder how come their world isn’t “less about them”?

I asked my UB 101 class (an introductory class for Freshman students) what they thought Thanksgiving would be like if they were headed home for the first time? Many admitted that they wondered about how their parents would react to their return home. One quipped, “They’re going to ask me if I’ve spent more days sober or drunk?” Another said, “I thought it would be great to spend the night in my own bed again, but my room is being used for storage.”

But it was my student assistant who had the comment that’s stayed with me. She’s a sophomore and she stated that last year “My mother just let me do whatever I wanted to.”

Helicopter parenting has become more about placating even their adult children instead of challenging them. While they might be overwhelmed by seeing their child back home, shouldn’t there also be family expectations to pitch in with the family meal? Shouldn’t there be time set apart to catch up and to make plans for the future and to hear what struggles and challenges exist for both students making their way through freshman year and parent’s dealing with the loss that comes with the empty nest?

Or is it all just a grab and get for attention and selfishness?

Are we truly thankful? We woke up this morning and many did not. We have roofs over our heads and many do not. We’re eating leftovers while many don’t get even one full meal a day.

I miss my own family–my parents and sister—as Thanksgiving is the one holiday that we decide not to travel home for. We’ve even taken to spending an early Christmas with both families because the price of airfare and gasoline has skyrocketed and it’s a bit cheaper to fly then than it is closer to the 25th. I think even the corporate world has made us shift our values and necessitate us moving more towards individualism and less towards family. Ikea even reports that the entertainment system sells much more readily in the United States than the kitchen table does (I sheepishly admit that my TV and Roku player take up more room than my tiny kitchen table).

A final note, the stress of the holidays often has us avoiding one another and trying not to step on too many toes. Perhaps it’s time to eschew that attitude and express ourselves openly–even if it leads to an argument? Do we all just pretend to like each other because we’re family–and then present our false selves for a photo op?

God calls all of us to become who we are–in all of our flawed humanity. Maybe it’s time to remember that and be grateful for who God has made us to become instead of grabbing for what we are not?

As our prayer today, let’s close with a great song that our evangelical brothers and sisters sing often.

And Father Greg Boyle says it all much better than I ever could: