Saturday, December 20, 2014

God is Mighty

"The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth..."

Along with Michael and Raphael, Gabriel is one of the great archangels serving the throne of God. His name means, "God is mighty", and he is called upon to make it clear that God is about to perform a "mission impossible" in someone's life.

He first makes his appearance in the Old Testament book of the prophet Daniel. Daniel has just had a vision of a ram and a goat, and Gabriel is sent to interpret it for him. The horrifying vision foretells the rise of a great political power which will wreak devastation throughout the world. Gabriel tells Daniel that eventually this great political power will be defeated but "not by human power". That is, the hand of God will work in a mighty way to save his people from the tyrant. Though it would seem impossible that Israel, a country which at the time was in exile, could defend itself against such a mighty power, Gabriel arrives on the scene to announce that all things are possible with God.

In today's gospel reading, Gabriel now appears to Mary to declare to her that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. She is startled, and cannot comprehend at first the meaning of the angel's greeting and message. As the angel reveals God's plan to her, it becomes evident that there's a hitch. How can she become pregnant if she is a virgin? Gabriel explains to her that it will be by the power of the Holy Spirit that she is to conceive. And so, the child will not be the son of a human father but of God himself. Gabriel ends his message with these words: "...for nothing will be impossible for God." God sends Gabriel to announce to Mary that he is about to do the impossible in her life.  

The Scriptures are full of stories of those whom God chooses to do the impossible. In the first reading, God tells David that his dynasty will be without end. David had been a simple shepherd boy. Alone, David could never have expected to be anything more than that. Yet, called and empowered by God, he became king of his people, and he is remembered forever because from his line Jesus, the Messiah was born. God did the impossible in the life of King David.

The twelve apostles chosen by Jesus to carry on his message were also simple fishermen, tax collectors and political idealists. By themselves they didn't amount to much. Yet God used them to spread the message of the gospel to all the nations. It wasn't because of a good business plan or effective marketing strategy that we still remember them two-thousand years later. It was because of the work of the Holy Spirit who emboldened them to witness to Jesus' love even in the face of persecution and death. The message of Jesus has reached us here in this place so many centuries later because God did the impossible in the lives of twelve simple men who said "yes" and followed Jesus. 

God is great. It is the nature of God to work wonders. When we say "yes" to God, the impossible happens. 

As we look in our own lives, what wonders do we want God to perform? Are there people in our lives struggling with addiction? Do we have children who have drifted away from the Church and no longer believe? Are we struggling in our marriages or other relationships? Has the economy placed a strain on our jobs? If we entrust all those cares to the Lord, we can expect him to do a miracle.

As a parish community, what do we want to achieve? Do we want to reach out to more young people? Do we want to bring back to Church those who have stopped coming? Do we want to make our catechism classes more compelling and our worship more joyful? What is holding us back?

We are rational and practical people. But, too often, we settle for the merely possible when God wants to do the impossible. Sometimes we approach God with a false humility, thinking that it would be arrogant or unreasonable of us to ask too much of him. But God loves us as his children and will spare nothing to bring us closer to him. There is nothing that we could ever ask him that would be impossible for him to do. All things are possible with God.

We are here today because God did the impossible in the life of Mary. We are here today because God did the impossible by becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ. And God will do the impossible before our very eyes turning simple bread and water into the very body and blood of Jesus to nourish and strengthen us. To unleash this mighty power of God, all Mary did was tell Gabriel, "Yes, let it be done to me as you say". To witness the impossible in our lives all we have to do as we receive the bread of angels is tell Jesus, "Yes, let your will be done in me as you say."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pure Joy

Every relationship goes through three distinct phases - Romance, Disillusionment and Joy.

When we first meet people we find attractive, we are drawn to their good qualities. We might find them physically attractive. They might be fun to be around or we might admire their intelligence and spirituality. Being around them is easy and conversation comes naturally. We want to get to know them better and we make a point of spending time together. All the while, emotional bonds form and we find ourselves falling in love.

However, in time, no matter how close we may grow to a person and no matter how attractive we may find him or her, romance eventually gives way to disillusionment. As the haze of infatuation dissipates and our emotional balance returns, we start to see the other person more clearly. Their faults and shortcomings suddenly become more visible and they do not seem to be as attractive as we once thought. At times, we find our feelings being hurt by their insensitivity. What once came naturally - talking and spending time together - now takes effort. We start to wonder whether he or she is the right partner for us.

Many relationships do not survive the disillusionment stage. Sometimes it just becomes too difficult to work through our differences. However, those relationships that can make it past disillusionment reach the third stage - Joy. Joy is vastly different and more profound than the giddy excitement we feel in the romance stage. Rather than being based on an illusory, idealistic image of our partner, joy draws its intensity and strength from a realistic knowledge of the other. We find ourselves loving the whole person, not just the qualities we find attractive. We accept, embrace and celebrate our loved one day in and day out when it is easy and when it is difficult.

When our relationship reaches this stage, we find ourselves putting the other’s needs before our own, sacrificing willingly to support our loved one and letting go of hurt, frustration and anger for the sake of our relationship. And then, one day in a quiet moment when we are sitting together holding hands, feeling comfortable just being together without having to say a word, we discover that despite the hard work and sacrifice we are truly and deeply happy. That is joy.

Disillusionment is an experience we have in all our relationships, not just our romantic ones. We can be disillusioned with our parents when we feel that they have not loved us as much as we wanted. We can feel disillusioned with our political leaders when they fail to deliver on their promises. We can feel disillusioned with the Church when her members do not live up to the standard of goodness and holiness we expect. And we can feel disappointment even with God when we see the alarming level of injustice and suffering in our world.

However, if we can work our way through disillusionment we can also experience joy in every area of our lives. Disillusionment literally means having our illusions stripped away so that the truth can be revealed. When a husband has the illusion stripped away that his wife is capable of meeting all his needs, then he becomes free to love her unconditionally as she is. When we are stripped of the illusion that our parents have all the answers, then we can begin to appreciate their hard work and sacrifices and begin to learn from them. When I am stripped of the illusion that everyone in the Church is good and holy, then I can be free to stop looking for the hypocrisy in others and focus on how I can change to become the good and holy person Jesus calls me to be. And when I am stripped of the illusion that God is going to stop everything and remake the world as I would like to have it, then I can accept my responsibility in helping to make the world a better place. In all these instances, I experience a deep, lasting joy that is not based on illusion or wishful thinking but in the real goodness of creation and the ability to love even when it demands sacrifice.

Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Church calls us to joy, a joy based on the love and goodness of God. In preparation for the feast of our Savior’s birth, we have been facing the reality of sin in our lives and in our world. The struggle with temptation and injustice can leave us feeling discouraged and disillusioned. But today, as we light the third candle on our Advent wreath, we are reminded that Christmas is close. The reason for our struggle against sin and injustice becomes all the clearer - Jesus, the true light, is coming into the world - as Saint John proclaims in today’s gospel. Only His light can dispel the shadows and illusions that keep us trapped in despair and enslaved to error. He is the ultimate cause of our deep and lasting joy because He can never let us down or abandon us. He alone can meet our hopes and expectations of a fulfilled life. In fact, Scripture assures us that Jesus and He alone is capable of doing for us more than we could ever hope for or imagine. With Him in our hearts, we are empowered to bring joy into the lives of others despite our own weakness, fears and failings; because we are pointing them to the one who alone can meet the deepest need of every human heart - Jesus, the Light of the World.

In this life, disappointments and disillusionment are unavoidable. However, as Saint Paul instructs us, we rejoice always. With the joy of Jesus in our hearts, we can accept people as they are, serve their needs and love them unfailingly. When we sacrifice ourselves for others, looking past their faults, we will find as we reflect in quiet moments that we are truly happy. That is joy. That is Jesus, the Light of the World, alive in our hearts.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Joy

There is no greater witness to Jesus than a heart filled with joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit which ripens in our lives when Jesus is living within us. When we are radiating peace and happiness, it tells others that there is something different about us. Others will notice that we do not complain in the midst of difficulties or gossip about others who might rub us the wrong way. They will wonder what is different about us. They will want the joy that we have. And all we will have to do is tell them the truth. It all comes from Jesus, and if they give their lives to Him, they will know the same peace and joy.

We do not tend to think of John the Baptist as a joyful person. From our reading of the gospel, he seemed like a fiery character preaching the wrath of God. While he certainly warned those who heard him that they must repent of their sins, he could not have drawn so many people to the banks of the Jordan River if all he did was preach condemnation and judgment. There had to be a joy radiating from him which made so many people want to stop and listen to him.

Where did John the Baptist’s joy come from?  It came from understanding who he was. Having so many people follow him and getting so much attention could have easily gone to John’s head. His popularity may have tempted him to use his power for his own gain. He may have begun to think that because he had so many followers he deserved special treatment. But John knew all along that it was not about him. He had to point people to someone else. As he tells the priests and Levites in the gospel we have just heard, someone was coming after him who was greater than he. For John the Baptist, the focus was not on him, what he was doing or how many followers he had. The focus was always on Jesus. As he would say later in John’s gospel, “I must decrease, and He must increase.”

The world tells us something quite different. Society tells us to put ourselves and our needs first. However, when we put ourselves on center stage, we immediately start to feel as though we are not getting everything we deserve. We wonder why people are not paying more attention to us. We become jealous of others who have more than we do. When someone offends us, we become so insulted that we can brood over it for years. Nothing is ever enough. We always want more, and so we always feel unsatisfied. Joy cannot survive in a selfish person. The only sentiments that can take root in such a person are bitterness and resentment.

How different life is when we give everything over to Jesus. As Christians and as human beings, joy begins to flood our soul when we take the focus off ourselves and place it on Jesus. When God takes center stage in our lives, we begin to see everything we have as a blessing. Even when we face difficulties, we know that our Heavenly Father is in control. No matter how others treat us, we have confidence in God’s love for us and that nothing can change that love for us. We experience less anxiety because we understand that our Heavenly Father has a plan for us and that He is at work accomplishing His will in us. When, like John the Baptist, we draw attention to Jesus and not to ourselves, worry and anxiety flee and joy wells up within us.

How can we begin to take the focus off ourselves to experience the joy that only Jesus can give? Saint Paul teaches us how in the second reading from the letter to the Thessalonians by telling us that we should “render constant thanks.” When we are thankful, we admit that everything that is good in our lives is a gift from God. Gratitude puts the focus on our Heavenly Father, His love and His willingness to supply all our needs. Giving thanks helps us to correct the attitude that we so often have that we deserve more, that we are entitled to something better. Stopping throughout the day to be thankful for the people who love us, for the good things we enjoy and for the beauty of creation which surrounds us will bring joy to full flower in our lives.

Saint Paul also tells us that we are to rejoice always and in every circumstance. It is easy to be happy when things are going well, when we have our health and when we have enough money. But when we encounter problems, that type of happiness dissolves quickly. Christian joy is very different. It stays with us both in good times and in bad times. It gives us gratitude when times are good and holds us up when times are tough. As Christians with the joy of Jesus in our hearts, we must rejoice even when things are not going our way, when we face tragedies and when life becomes burdensome. We rejoice because we know that God has a plan and that He is in control. He will be with us through it all and will see us through it. How can we do anything else but rejoice when a God who can do all things is by our side?

Joy is a sure sign of a heart that is given over to Jesus. We gather here today to worship, to express our joy to the God who is at the center of our lives. And so we sing, we pray, we kneel and we lift up our hearts to our loving Father. Though we so often lose sight of Him, He never loses sight of us. For too long now we have carried around the burden of bitterness. It is time to dump it at the foot of the cross and put our focus on Jesus from here on out. It is time for us to know the joy that only He can give us, a joy that can never leave us.

(image by Marisol Sousa)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rejoice! The Lord is Near!

There is a different feel to today's liturgy. We see it in the rose-colored vestments and the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath. We hear it in the upbeat music and joy-filled readings. Over the past two weeks, the mood has been sober and penitential as we have reflected on the end of the world and our need for repentance in preparation for the birth of Jesus. Now, as that happy day of Christmas draws near, a sense of joy pervades our worship. Christ our Savior is near! The Church today calls us to rejoice and give thanks!

But very often that call to be joyful can fall on deaf ears. For many, these weeks leading up to Christmas are among the most tiring and stressful of the year. There is shopping to do, parties to attend, presents to wrap and dinners to cook. Sadly, many people feel relieved when the holidays end, and life can return to normal.

For others, the Christmas season can be the loneliest time of the year. The shorter days and cold weather leave many people depressed. Over this difficult year, many have lost their jobs or their homes and are not able to provide for their families. And for those who are alone or who have recently lost a loved one, the festivities of the season only deepen their sense of bereavement and grief.

Christmas is not always a joyful time for everyone.

The great Catholic preacher, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, once described his loneliest Christmas. He was a young theology student studying in Belgium. Unable to fly home for the holidays, he had to spend Christmas day alone, and it left him feeling empty inside. At first, he was tempted to spend the week of vacation alone pitying himself. Then, the thought came to him to ask a local pastor whether there was a poor family in town he could help. He was given the address of a family with several children. After making their acquaintance, he visited them on Christmas day with food for the table and presents for the children. Rather than feel sorry for himself and let his circumstances dictate how he would spend the holiday, he decided to reach out to someone even needier than himself and so experience the true joy of Christmas. What would have otherwise been his saddest Christmas was now transformed into one of his happiest through the joy of giving.

Archbishop Sheen's experience holds a very important lesson for us. Life isn't always fair. We experience the loss of loved ones. Our families are not always as supportive and attentive as we would like them to be. Our jobs don't always leave us feeling fulfilled. No matter what the circumstances of our life are, we can always find fault. But, when we focus on the negative, we become bitter. We start to close in on ourselves and lose our appreciation for what is good in the world. We end up imprisoning ourselves in depression and loneliness.

Saint Paul gives us the remedy for such bitterness in today's second reading. He tells us that we are to "rejoice always" and to give thanks "in all circumstances." Gratitude is not only appropriate for the times when we are glad or when things are going our way. Rather, gratitude is most necessary when we feel overwhelmed and joyless. By giving thanks, we are empowered to look beyond ourselves and our situation. By rejoicing even in the midst of difficulty, we take the focus off what is lacking in our lives and put it on the abundance of good things we enjoy. It might be as simple as being thankful for a warm shower or that our car starts. It might be as basic as being thankful that we are still breathing and able to roll out of bed in the morning. No matter how poor,alone or sick we may be, there is always a reason to rejoice.  

Today's Responsorial Psalm is taken from the gospel of Saint Luke. It is the beautiful song of Mary called the Magnificat. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Mary had just learned from the angel Gabriel that God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. Though not yet married, she was to become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the most important responsibility given to any person since the creation of the world. Mary found herself in a difficult situation, but rather than be overcome with fear, she overflowed with praise at the favor God had shown her. By saying "yes" to God and putting his will at the center of her life, Mary came to know the joy that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we say "no" to ourselves and "yes" to God, we experience that same joy and overflow with that same gratitude for a God who has loved us enough to send Jesus to save us.

Gratitude is at the heart of Christian spirituality. When we are grateful, we recognize that all we have and all we are is a gift from a loving Father. By being joyful in all circumstances we demonstrate that our world doesn't revolve around our own comfort and well-being but around Jesus and his plan for our lives.

The word "Eucharist" is taken from the Greek word meaning "to give thanks". Every Mass is a thanksgiving to the God who has created and saved us. Every Sunday we become a joy-filled community. No matter what our circumstances may be - whether we are poor, tired, sad, or bitter - we gather around this table to give thanks. God has richly provided for us. And so, today is a day to set aside the holiday plans and preparations and to focus on what is really important and what is really worth celebrating - Jesus, who comes to us as a child and who wants nothing else than that we love him back.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Beginnings

Advent is a season of new beginnings. Therefore it is fitting that our gospel reading today be taken from the beginning of the Gospel According to Saint Mark.

Scripture scholars tell us that Saint Mark was the first to write down the story of all that Jesus said and did to save us. It is believed that much of what Saint Mark wrote down was the eyewitness account of what Saint Peter himself saw while he traveled with Jesus.

Not only is Saint Mark the first to give us the story of Jesus’ ministry but he is also the first to give a name to the literary genre he had created. He called it a “gospel” - “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”  It is significant that he did not call what he was writing a “history”,  a “chronology” or even a  “biography” of Jesus. Rather he calls it a “gospel”. The others who would follow him - Matthew, Luke and John - would likewise call their writings a “gospel” as well.

The word “gospel” comes from a Greek word meaning “good news”. In Jesus day, there were obviously no newspapers or television. News traveled slowly because it was brought by word of mouth through messengers who ran from town to town relaying it to the people. If a king were to go off to fight a battle, no one would know for months or even years on end whether or not the war had been won. It was only until the messenger arrived proclaiming the “good news” that the citizens would know that their king had prevailed and that they were safe from invasion.

This is how Saint Mark and all the Christians who followed him came to understand the “good news” about Jesus. It is the proclamation of a great victory! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has conquered sin and death. He has overcome the kingdom of darkness and inaugurated the Kingdom of God. We can look forward to a future of peace marked by justice because our Savior is victorious.

Throughout the Advent season, we read copiously from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is sometimes called the “gospel of the Old Testament” because of how beautifully he writes about the coming kingdom of peace that God will inaugurate. In today’s first reading, we hear how God will come not to judge, not to enslave the people, not to punish but to give comfort. He comes as a Shepherd gathering up the lost sheep, holding them closely and treating them tenderly.

The good news is that God comes to show mercy to His people. He sees our suffering. He knows how we struggle. He takes note of the burden we carry everyday because of the sinful and unwise choices we have made. He does not come among us to wag His finger at us, to remind us of our bad choices or to add to our burden by punishing us further. Rather He comes to comfort us, to call us back to Himself, to gather us in His arms as a shepherd gathers his sheep.

That is why the story of Jesus’ life is “good news”. While He walked the earth, He sought out sinners with the love of God. He reached out to the sick a hand of healing. To those who suffered, He gave words of comfort and encouragement. He challenged all of us to serve the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned and the sick. His first commandment to us was to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Leaving no room for doubt, He warned us that we would be judged according to how we treated those who were dependent on our charity.

If Saint Mark was the first to write down this good news, Saint John the Baptist was the first to proclaim it by appearing on the banks of the Jordan River preaching a baptism of repentance. In doing so he shows us what the proper response to this good news is. It is repentance. To embrace this God who comes in power to save us, we must change our lives.

How we will have to change is different for each of us. Some of us will have to be more aware of the sufferings of the people around us just as God is aware of our suffering. Others of us will need to stop judging those who do not appear to be as religious as we are so that we can imitate God’s compassion to the sinner. Many of us will need to let go of prejudices toward those who earn less than we do or have a lower social status so that we can share more of our lives with them and see the face of Jesus in them. It is clear that if the good news is to penetrate our lives and become a reality in our world each of us will have to trade in our stony hearts for loving ones.

The good news is that the Kingdom of God is established in Jesus Christ. However, we know that His victory is not yet complete. As we profess in our creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Saint Peter urges us in today’s second reading, “...we await new heavens and a new earth...Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” As Saint Mark was the first to write down the gospel, let us, then, be the first to repent of our sins this Advent season. Let us also be the first to proclaim the goodness of God by serving the needy. Finally let us be the first to announce to others this good news of God’s love made visible in Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Perfect Vessel

If you are thinking of giving someone you love a very special Christmas gift and have thousands of dollars to spend, you might consider getting a bottle of Louis XIII.

Louis XIII is one of the world’s most expensive cognacs selling for over $2,000 a bottle. It is made in France and aged in oak barrels that are several hundred years old. Because of its reputation as one of the best cognacs available, older bottles can sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. If you do not have $2,000 to spend on a bottle of Louis XIII, don’t worry. You can get a glass of it at a restaurant for only $250.

One of the reasons that this cognac is so prized throughout the world is the beautiful crystal decanter it is sold in. Just the empty bottle sells for over $200. Some special edition decanters have even sold for over $500 at auction. It is natural that a cognac that is so expensive would be sold in a bottle that is worthy of it. It is also natural that the connoisseurs who value this cognac so highly would also value the bottle it comes in.

Now, if cognacs and fine wines are distributed in beautiful containers, how fitting is it that the mother of Our Lord, who carried in her womb the Saviour of the World, should herself be the most worthy and purest of vessels? Because she would carry Jesus within her, God preserved Mary from sin from the moment of her conception. Our Heavenly Father fashioned her into a beautiful, stainless vessel to bear His Son.

When the angel Gabriel greets Mary at the Annunciation, he calls her “full of grace”. We repeat the angel’s greeting every time we pray the Hail Mary. She is so full of grace that there is no room for anything else. There is no room for sin, no room for hate, no room for evil. There is only room for Jesus. And as a bottle allows us to see what is within it, so Mary allows us to see Jesus within her. The clearer the bottle is, the better we see what is within it. Just so, our Lord shines through Mary more clearly than any other person in history because she was the purest creature to ever live.

Because of this, we can learn from Mary what it means to love Jesus. No one loved or knew Him better than she did. And because Jesus gave her to us to be His mother, she loves us and wants to introduce us to Jesus. In all our struggles with temptation and the burdens of life, we can turn to her for help as we would to our own mothers. We can be assured that she will bring our needs to her Son for us. We can also be assured that Jesus will not deny any request made to Him by His mother.

This feast day is also an opportunity to examine ourselves. We also have Christ living within us through faith and baptism. Is our soul a worthy dwelling place for the Saviour of the World? Do we strive everyday to avoid sin with God’s help so that we remain a pure vessel for Jesus? And can others see Jesus within us? Jesus was born of Mary so that He could offer us the forgiveness of our sins and the power to live a good and holy life. He has also given us His Mother to serve as an example and to pray for us. We can be assured, then, that God will make us pure and holy if we will only entrust our lives into His loving hands.

Today we join with Christians throughout the world in celebrating the power of God who preserved Mary from sin from the moment of her conception. We also celebrate His promise that through the death and resurrection of Jesus we too one day will be free from sin and filled with grace, love and joy. The Holy Spirit is at work in us even now to fulfill that promise by purifying us so that we may be worthy vessels to carry Jesus within us as Mary was. As we approach Jesus today in the Eucharist, let us embrace Him as wholeheartedly as Mary did and ask Him to make our souls a worthy place for Him to dwell. Then we will experience God working in powerful ways in our lives as He did in the life of Mary.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Very Good News

When was the last time you heard really good news, the kind of good news that changed your life?

It could have been when you found out you or a loved one was going to have a baby. It could have been that you were accepted into the school you had always dreamed of attending. It could have been that you got the job you interviewed for. Or it could be that you learned that someone you love loved you back.

This type of good news brings something new and exciting into our lives. It reminds us that life is good and gives us hope for the future. It lifts our spirits and gives new purpose to our days. We all need good news like that from time to time and welcome it whenever it comes.

Today’s readings are all about good news, the kind of good news that can change our lives.

The prophet Isaiah, whom we will hear throughout this Advent season, spoke God’s word during a very difficult period in the history of God’s people. Israel had been invaded, Jerusalem had been destroyed and most of the people were carted off into exile. Far from home and feeling abandoned by their God, they began to despair. But God sent prophets to the people to remind them that He was still in their midst and to urge them to be faithful to the covenant promises they had made to Him.

At their lowest point, Isaiah appears among them bringing good news. He comforts them with the word of God letting them know that their exile is coming to an end. They had endured a time of testing and punishment but now a time of blessing was coming. He reminds them that God is their Shepherd and that He has been leading them not only through the good times but also through the bad times. Though they feel abandoned by God, He had never left them and, in fact, was carrying them through the time of trial as a shepherd picks up and carries a wounded lamb. They could be assured that no matter how rocky the road, God was leading them to a place of rest and peace. Like a Good Shepherd, He would gather all of them and lead them home.

Many of us are here today waiting and praying for good news. Life can be very difficult. We can feel lost and alone. We can even feel as though God has abandoned us or let us down. Maybe things have gotten so bad for us that we have nowhere else to turn than to our Heavenly Father. There is good news for us even in the midst of our trials and tribulations. No matter what we may be experiencing, God is with us. There is nothing that can drive God away from us or cause Him to abandon us. Even when we are suffering because of our bad choices, He never abandons us. Most likely, when God feels distant, we cannot see Him because He has hoisted us up on His shoulders to carry us through the rough patch of road. The good news is that God is always by our side.

The good news is also that the God who is always at our side is also ahead of us leading the way. Like a Good Shepherd, God is leading us to green pastures where we can rest and be fed to our heart’s content. He goes ahead of us clearing away all the obstacles and chasing away all the wolves who threaten to harm us. And if we should get distracted and jump off the road, God will go into the thickets to find us and bring us back. God has a plan for our lives. There is a purpose for every path He leads us through. He can make good come out of whatever may happen to us along the way. Many times, we cannot see it until we have gone through it. But in faith we can walk forward with courage and confidence knowing that he cannot steer us wrong.

For our part, we need to trust God. Every morning, we need to entrust our lives into His loving hands and say, “Thy will be done.” Whatever problem we are faced with, we need to say with confidence, “Lord, I trust in you.” It means taking one day at a time, dealing with what is directly in front of us and letting God take care of tomorrow. As Saint Peter tells us in the second reading, “in the Lord’s eyes, one day is as a thousand years.” Today is the day of decision, the day that God has prepared for us. Living this day well will make tomorrow that much better.

We heard proclaimed today the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. He tells us that it is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The good news, the news that has changed the lives of untold people throughout the centuries, is that God sent His only Son to die for our sins. He rose from the dead and is still among us. Our Heavenly Father has created each of us for a special purpose and He will lead us to fulfill that purpose if we can leave sin behind and entrust ourselves to Him with childlike confidence.

That is what we are called to do in these weeks leading up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth. We remember that He was born of the Virgin Mary. We proclaim that He will come again to create a new heavens and a new earth where God’s justice will prevail. And we celebrate His presence among us now in the people He has gathered, in the word that is proclaimed and in the bread and wine that will become His Body and Blood. It is the good news that changes our lives forever, the good news our hearts are longing to hear. Our God is with us forever.

(image by Marisol Sousa)