A Church Magazine of Forgiveness

Well…not really. But America Magazine shows that they can laugh at themselves this holiday season with a blooper reel:

Almost as good as this one from a few years back that’s gotten me all nostalgic:

http://blip.tv/play/gc9e4ft+jPc9

Fr. Dave and I are the last two standing at BustedHalo from this group and I, a mere part timer now from Buffalo. A secret, I was Santa in the first few shots with Fr. Jack Collins, CSP playing Santa at the end. I could never get the finger tapping down right in the scene with Jarred. Secondly, I do not shampoo with ground beef. My dog is creepy and he does that to me daily. I no longer fight him and my vet says it’s his way of saying that I’m part of his pack—like a mama dog would do to her pups. Awwww.

Regardless, I’m a bit nostalgic for NYC today and for some old colleagues. I went to spiritual direction at America Magazine for a few years with Fr. Jim McDermott, S.J. and Fr. Jim Martin, SJ is a good friend. So to all of those “old colleagues” in the greatest city in the world. Merry Christmas.

Fox News: Slammed by Jim Wallis

Fox News has got it in for malls. They’ve been taking malls to task for saying Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas.

Jim Wallis, from Sojorners has a bit to say about that–particularly about the malls themselves:

Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season.
Imagine Jesus walking into the mall, seeing the Merry Christmas signs, and expressing his humble thanks for how the pre- and post-Christmas sales are honoring to him. How about credit cards for Christ?

While we’re at it, here’s another point of clarification: The arrival of the Christ child has nothing to do with trees or what we call them.

Evergreens and wreaths, holly and ivy, and even mistletoe turn out to be customs borrowed from ancient Roman and Germanic winter solstice celebrations, assimilated and co-opted by the church after Constantine made peace between his empire and the Christians.

Now, my family loves our Christmas tree, but its bright lights and wonderful ornaments don’t teach my children much about why Jesus came into the world. We do that in other ways, such as giving needed gifts — goats, sheep, and chickens and the like — to the poorest children and families of the world though the World Vision web site on Christmas Day. The goal is to make our sons more excited about the gifts they give than the ones they get, and it usually works. Last year, my boys sponsored a child in Ghana.
I have no problem with the public viewing of symbols from all of the world’s religions at appropriate times in their religious calendars (which can actually be educational for all of our children) and believe that doing so is consistent with our democratic and cultural pluralism.

But I don’t believe that respectfully and publicly honoring those many religious symbols has changed many lives, for better or for worse. Much more important than symbols and symbolism is how we live the faith that we espouse. And here is where Fox News’s war on Christmas is most patently unjust.

Game, set and match. Wallis.

Glee Sings One of My Favorites

Not ashamed to say this brought a tear to my eye (what a surprise to those who know me well)!

While you share the rest of Advent and Christmas with your family, remember the many who go to bed hungry, thirsty, orphaned, incarcerated, lonely and oppressed. May our prayers remind them that our God is especially amongst them.

Thanks to Greg Welch for sharing the video with me.

In Fairness…I Think This Too, Is Hate Speech

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League Launched a Adopt-An-Atheist Campaign. I almost didn’t blog this because I thought it was from The Onion. A h/t to Deacon Greg:

Here’s a snip from his rather hate-filled news release:

Approximately 80 percent of Americans are Christian, and 96 percent celebrate Christmas. Of the 20 percent who are not Christian, non-believers make up the largest segment, though the number of self-identified atheists is tiny. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, knows this to be true, which is why he is frantically trying to inflate his base. “We want people to realize that there may be atheists in their family,” he told the New York Times, “even if those atheists don’t even know they are atheists.”

We think there is some merit in David’s idea, even if he has things backwards, as usual. Today we are launching our “Adopt An Atheist” campaign, the predicate of which is, “We want atheists to realize that there may be Christians in their community, even if those Christians don’t even know they are Christian.”

Here’s what our campaign entails. We are asking everyone to contact the American Atheist affiliate in his area [click here], letting them know of your interest in “adopting” one of them. All it takes is an e-mail. Let them know of your sincere interest in working with them to uncover their inner self. They may be resistant at first, but eventually they may come to understand that they were Christian all along.

If we hurry, these closeted Christians can celebrate Christmas like the rest of us. As an added bonus, they will no longer be looked upon as people who “believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.”

Yeesh! Can’t we all just get along? I’m tempted to walk into the Center for Inquiry and apologize on behalf of non-nutty Catholics. I’m not happy with the atheist sign either but I don’t think it calls for that kind of venomous response.

Perhaps we should leave it at this…

While the atheists don’t believe in God they do believe that the end of the year is a special time of year. And while some atheists make a big deal over calling Christians irrational and their God a myth–that certainly doesn’t represent the majority.

Meanwhile, we Catholics have our own nutters to deal with and they can be just as mean, fighting hate with hate.

Perhaps, we non-nuts with cooler heads might get together this coming year or even now while the Advent Season (better known as most of December to the atheists!) winds down to celebrate peace. Perhaps then, we’ll all be able to truly celebrate what it is that we all want all year long.

Peace. Love. And Good Will Towards Everyone.

I Have an iPhone…Guess I’m Going to Hell

From Gizmodo on How Pope Benedict will light a Christmas “Tree” display.

Benedict XVI will activate the illumination from his apartments in the Vatican Apostolic Palace. He will touch the screen of a Sony “Tablet” with an “Android” operating system which, via the Internet, will transmit the command to switch on the electric current to the tree.

Will this alleged “Android” “Tablet” be a Sony S? It doesn’t matter. The heavens have parted, and the choice is clear: The Pope Chooses Android. If you are one of the world’s billion-plus Catholics, take note!

The “tree” is actually a 2,132-foot-high lighting display on a Mount Ingino above the Italian town of Gubbio.

So the Pope has a Sony Android Device. I wonder if soon my iPhone will be banned from the Pews?

Actually I’m impressed that the Vatican used technology at all. Especially since they still announce a new pope by literally sending smoke signals.

Santa Comes Early for Our Family

So my wife’s side of the family always has a huge honking full-on family Christmas celebration on the second weekend of December. So we travelled down to Long Island this year and had some good food and better conversation with people that we don’t get to see all that often–especially since we made the move to Western New York.

One of the traditions I love is the appearance of Santa Claus with a sack full of toys for the children of the family (or as we call them the great-grandchildren–in reference to my wife’s grandmother who was the big matriarch of the family–Nana Big as the great-grandchildren called her).

Santa this year had delivered all his toys and then he shouted out one last name…Victoria.

Strange request—since Victoria is 26.

As she approached Santa he fumbled with his bag a bit and walked past Vicki. She then turned and found this sight just to her left:

That’s Joe, her boyfriend. And she said yes. So we have an engagement to celebrate. It took a lot of guts for Joe to ask Victoria to be his wife in front of literally her entire family sans a few absentees.

The family needed a bit of good news. There’s been Vicki’s mom, Angela, who overcame breast cancer recently and has become a huge supporter of other survivors. Victoria’s grandfather, Angelo, had been ill and has come back to good heath this past year.

Well, now that I look more deeply at this, I suppose that these things are all good news. After all, every situation has worked out despite the fact that they were met with bad situations initially. Sometimes good news can cause us to look back on the events of the past and find that they are better than we had thought. We stand a bit stronger now despite our struggles. And Joe and Victoria’s marriage will be able to stand on much firmer ground knowing that they can get through much more than they ever thought they could. My wife’s Uncle Andy was looking at pictures of his mother at her wake. His sister, who we call Aunt Roe remarked “Pictures of happy times.”

And Andy quipped back: “Well there were no other times.”

Perhaps that’s the lesson for us all. Even in times of struggle we can find grace and consolation. Most of all we find hope. That sure and certain hope that God lies just on the other side of our deepest fears and is there to meet us and comfort us in our darkest times.

God will always be with us, even when we think all is lost. Even when life deals us a lousy hand or huge tragedies befall us. Somehow God can make a way out of no way.

That’s not a bad thing to consider for those about to enter into married life. For you see, life is going to be difficult at times and things won’t always go the way we’d like or expect. We’ll be overcome by sadness and grief often enough that it just might be tempting to chuck our faith and our commitments to the side. Our spouses will irritate us at times and together married people will deal with all kinds of problems that seem all too difficult to get through.

But our hearts can stretch much farther if we stay open enough with each other to see each other through the darkness. Evil wants us to quit and say that it’s too hard to stay committed and that it’s not worth all the stress. But the truth is that finding God in the mess that our lives often are is where we often find that grace abounds. We find a God who has suffered with us, who shivers in the cold and who humbles himself to share in our humanity when God doesn’t need to.

God cannot bear to keep separate from us. Perhaps the same is an example for us for married love? Can husbands not bear to be without their wives and vice-versa? Isn’t that why we get married in the first place?

For Victoria and Joe, blessings on your engagement. Know that the road ahead will not always be easy, but that together you can overcome any obstacle simply by loving one another a bit more. Loving one another when it’s hard, when it challenges us is what God calls all of us to do.

You’ve already given so much of that love for your family in their times of hardship. Remember that and see God’s grace because of it in your marriage. That’s the secret of staying married.

May that secret bless your marriage forever.

Atheist Billboard: Hate Crime Against Christians?

I’d like to start out by saying that I know a few people who are atheists. It doesn’t bother me that they are atheists, honestly. I believe what I believe and I’m OK with letting other people believe what they believe. I’m the co-conveener of the Campus Ministry Association and have really tried this year to bring people of all faiths together to work for the common good of the University and of course, the students. Sometimes we’re all on the same page and sometimes we’re a divided group.

And because of those divisions, because we tend to not work together on things, I fear atheists have a huge advantage over the religious community. Say what you will about the atheists, at least they are united.

Which is more than I can say about Catholics most days of the week. While we Catholics argue about the new changes to the liturgy this one slipped by us:

It begs the question of why there hasn’t been a vocal response against hate ads like this one.

Recently, a Vodka company had a billboard up that read “Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing” and immediately and appropriately there was a huge uproar from the Jewish community and the anti-defamation league. The company apologized and removed the ad immediately. To equate the Jewish people with frugality is indeed hateful and I’m glad people got behind this and took it down.

So why aren’t Christians of all denominations upset when another group of people intentionally call their God a myth? Isn’t that just as hateful? I would also say that if they put a big poster up that claimed that Judaism was a farce that would quickly be squashed. Why? Because the Jewish people know what hate speech leads to. Auschwitz was not that long ago and one man led the charge to claim that a group of people were evil because of their religion and began to have them exterminated.

Where do the atheists plan to go from here? Is the next step to exterminate all religious people? Religious icons? Churches?

Furthermore, a general question: Why is an anti-Jewish ad not OK, but an anti-Christian one just fine?

I’d like to issue a challenge to contact the anti-defamation league today and ask them to remove the offensive billboard. Perhaps our Bishops might want to get on board? Archbishop Dolan should speak loudly on this since it’s in his diocese and he’s the President of the Conference.

Martin Sheen, in a Notre Dame graduation speech told this story that I’ll paraphrase:

A man went to heaven and God looked at him and asked, “Where are ye scars?” And the man said that he had none. “Pity” God replied. “Wasn’t there SOMETHING worth fighting for?”

I never liked it when Bill Donahue (Catholic League) started ranting and raving, but perhaps at times we should get as angry as he would get? Some things are worth being angry about.

As I look to my secular campus, I note that most students aren’t choosing between different religious denominations, rather they are choosing between religion and atheism. And when we let the atheists say bad things about Jesus without a response, I fear it makes us look like we have no passion—that God isn’t worth fighting for sometimes.

Perhaps we need to unite against a common enemy. The sin of hate. And it seems to be wielded well by atheists who never seem to be able to live in freedom with others who espouse religious belief. Perhaps it’s time that someone tells them that they should simply leave us the hell alone and take their offensive billboard down.

Oh, and one more thing…

Merry Christmas.

An Imagined Nativity

Imagine if you will, being in that stable and watching Mary and Joseph enter in, telling you of the arduous journey, the hassle of having to come all this way just to be counted. Joseph angrily speaks of the lack of hospitality in Bethlehem, especially by the innkeeper who sent him out to the stables, a place that he called “good enough for the likes of you.”

As I place myself in the story I imagine being the stablehand. Joseph presses a coin into my hand. “It’s not much, but will it insure our stay while she gives birth?” I hand him back his coin and assure him that my meager dwelling is his for no charge. Though married I have no children of my own and so I’m eager to help out. The chance to welcome a child into the world, even one who is not my own, is one to savor.

I run to yell at my boss, the innkeeper, “The least you could do is give them some blankets for the baby, you heartless miser!” That’s the edited version. I’m angry at his lack of welcoming the stranger.

I return with some thin sheets, swaddling clothes, and Mary is grateful. In time Mary brings forth the baby and Joseph hands him to me to clean and wrap as he tends to his wife.

I am overwhelmed by holding the child. He cries and I hold him after taking that first breath of air. He calms down and I hold him closely and when I look down he smiles at me contentedly as if I am enough for him.

I realize that I no longer need to hold another child as it is clear that this child was born not just for Mary and Joseph but also for me.

Perhaps better stated, each child I hold needs to feel the same love from me that this child gives to me.

I hand the child to his father and he lays him in his mother’s arms. They look with wonder, nay more than wonder, at this child. They are overwhelmed too, much more than I am. I place a hand on Joseph’s shoulder. “If you need anything else, let me know.”

Each day I get that invitation to be with this Holy Family and to be filled with wonder. This child born “for the likes of me” in meagerness is all I will ever need. Do I remember my image of the manger and where I am called long after this meditation?

It is January. As the season grows shorter I remember the call. Who will come to my stable today? I wait to welcome and to be overwhelmed by joy.

We Three Kings

Where did they go? These magi from the East sent by a madman to find the newborn king so that he might destroy him? They returned to their country by another route. But then what? Did they spend their lives on the lam, always in fear of Herod? Did he ever find them? Were they the unknown martyrs that we don’t know about?

The magi offer gifts and gifts often bring us a symbol of security. When someone offers us a gift we are somewhat assured of their fondness for us. It is a reminder that they were once with us and when we see that gift we remember and are touched by that now mystical presence.

These men lived out their faith perhaps on secret after giving that gift. And whether or not the story is historically accurate is not the point. For the three kings are us. We need to care for the financially destitute with our gold and riches, offering it when we have more than enough, even if it makes us a bit less comfortable. We need to offer our frankensence, the fragrance of our lives that sweetens the lives of others. Our prayers too rise to God, not merely for ourselves but for those far off who we often don’t think of until we get wind of a stinky situation.

And we need to care for those who are dying with the myrrh that anoints those with the healing balm that God gives them. May we comfort the dying with our good news of Christ’s love for us and their families with the comfort that God can bring to all.

Today may we greet one another as kings who welcome God into our lives. And how we are a gift to Christ. Amen.

A Child is Born to Us

For those of you who have children, I can only imagine the joy you had at the birth of your own child. Here was this little baby, a fragile life, given to you to care for. Joy and fear grasped many in this moment of newness of life. World’s get turned upside down as parents now live not just for themselves but now also for their child.

Mary had the extra burden of not merely having a child surrounded by the simple joys and fears that many parents grasp. She was an unwed mother in a culture that gave the right to her betrothed to stone her for being pregnant. It’s an interesting phenomena that we hear nothing of how the stoning of the unwed mothers of that time never took into account the life within their womb. Jesus indeed was placed in a precarious vessel. The Theotokos, the Greek word for “God-bearer”, Mary, is essentially a criminal. Someone who rightfully could be put to death and nobody would have blinked about it.

Herod even tried to stop this birth by murdering the first born of everyone in the town. These Holy Innocents as we have come to know them were victims of the lunacy of a fearful dictator too afraid to lose the power than he had to the one who would be King.

And yet, God comes to us anyway.

God comes to us despite everyone’s attempts to make it not so. A horror of a cultural convention makes way for Joseph’s gentle mercy and his comforting dream. Another dream, warning Joseph of Herod’s dastardly plan, gives God an escape plan, where others were caught in the crosshairs.

God comes, and more importantly, God stays, despite everyone’s best efforts not to make it so.

How often do I want to run away from God? Aren’t there problems in the world that I just don’t bother with? Don’t I have issues that I sweep under the rug? Aren’t there people that I avoid so I don’t have reconcile with them?

The truth of Christmas is that God doesn’t idly stand by and not reconcile with a world that many times simply forgets about God. God comes, but more importantly, God stays.

God stays and takes on our own human condition. God has dirty diapers and spit up. God lives in poverty. God faces rejection and betrayal and even mockery. And finally God takes on not just our life but also our death. God stays through all of that, even when others run away.

Who are we called to stay with? Who do we not spend enough time with? Who don’t we bother to reach out to? Who has become out of sight and out of mind in the world that we all too conveniently forget all about?

Who do we leave up to God to remember?

Tonight we recall the genesis of God’s redeeming love. The love that came to us through a simple woman who would not avoid God’s invitation despite the inconvenience that it brought to her and her betrothed. The love that came through a man who found his fiancée pregnant and showed mercy and a father’s protection for a child who was not his own. The love that came despite the hunger for power and the bigotry of the self-righteous.

That love still came despite our sin, that self-concern that we all try to abandon during this great season of Christmas, when we put others first and forget about ourselves.

God’s love doesn’t stop at His coming. God stays, God continues to love long after the manger’s wood gets dismantled. God stays and that wood that bore him in birth will hold him also in death.

We sing those familiar words, “O come let us adore him” but perhaps on this night, when we have come to celebrate the child given to us, we are called to stay a bit longer. We are called to stay for the season and the child grow and serve others. If we stay we see the miracles of the sick being cured and hungry being fed. If we stay we suffer the fear and disappointment of the disciples and the cross.

If we stay, we understand all that God has done for us.

God comes. God stays. And it changed everything.

We have come tonight and we have seen the coming of the Lord. Do we dare stay and let ourselves be changed? Do we stay with this child and grow in faith to reach those he dared to touch?

Or will we just avoid God? Who comes over and over again–not merely at Christmas but each day, each opportunity, each choice we have to be Christ for another.

God does not avoid us. May the birth of Christ open your hearts so that your life might be given to others.

And may those lives, continue to change everything.