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It’s pretty much impossible for any Christian to have never heard the expression Jesus is the Reason for the Season, yet isn’t it true we are still more motivated over the gifts, food, and fun of the holiday season and miss the point of bringing Jesus into our hearts and daily life?

John says in the first chapter of his Gospel: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it  … The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world … He came to what was his own, but his own did not accept him. Here is some clarity (pun intended); darkness is not something on its own, it is the lack of something. In the truest sense, darkness is the absence of light. The darkness that John speaks about is not being present to Jesus in one’s life. The last part of this Scripture passage submits to us that we are to accept Jesus. So how does one become ready to accept Jesus? Let’s think for a moment about Mary and Joseph, and their preparation and readiness for the first Christmas. Clearly, they understood that the Son of God was going to be born of Mary. I would think there was serious consideration and personal commitment given to being prepared. They must have lovingly prepared in some ways to receive him. Some things happened though, which they couldn’t plan for, and they had to alter their plans. For instance, when the moment came for Jesus to be born, surely they didn’t end up in the place they hoped for to give birth. But God’s plan for Jesus existed from the beginning and Mary and Joseph had to adjust. The real point of preparation is that it has to be flexible enough to adjust to God’s plan. Joseph obviously searched for a safe and peaceful location for Mary to give birth, and he could have let all of the stress and altering of his plans distance him from being meaningfully present to what God was doing. Just because there was no room at the inn, it didn’t mean there was no room for Joseph to receive Jesus with love and joy into his heart.

The expectations of Christmas in our culture often get in the way of preparing and readying to receive Jesus. The reality is too many of us are so busy with making plans that there isn’t a whole lot of room for Jesus on Christmas Day.  Let’s think for just a second, what is Christmas really about? It is about Jesus wishing to be born into our lives. And maybe we have realized that God prepared for Jesus to be born physically, and that Jesus had to be born to save us one day, but have we realized that God prepared for Jesus to be born personally into our life from before we were born. How much space is there in our life for Jesus? We may justify the lack of time for him with the busyness of life; commitments to family, working, school, friends, and other commitments. God doesn’t want us to shun these. What God wants is to be present in all that we do. God wants to be close to us. Think about it, the God who cannot be contained by a universe made himself small enough to fit into a manger, small enough to fit into our lives. He made himself small so we can understand he is present to us.

The Incarnation, the mystery and birth of Jesus is what changes everything in this world, from the beginning of time to the end of time. God’s love always set us free, in the birth of his Son rests the promise of God’s greatest gift of love, Salvation. Love is essential to us attaining the best version of ourselves! Where love doesn’t exist, the absence of light resides: carelessness, thoughtlessness, dismissiveness, insensitivity, and divisiveness. It is when one acts from love and responds in love that relationships thrive. Love is what magnifies light. When we love, there is a light that shines before all and this light draws people to it. 

My love language is in giving. As much as I enjoy giving gifts at Christmas and seeing the joy in others receiving, Christmas is much more about presence than it is presents. John goes on in his first chapter to say the Word became flesh. The Word is indeed powerful. When we are present to the Word, our words can encourage love instead of kindle fear. Make no mistake, what we speak does take on flesh and live with us. We are to seek to be present and not leave unsaid words of love that in a moment will be gone forever.

Do you want to give the most meaningful gift of all? This Christmas, give voice to your heart and say what needs to be said to those you love. Those words are more powerful than any material gift you will give. And if you really want to be kind to yourself, give yourself a present that will last all year. Begin a grace box, jotting down something wonderful you hear, see, or receive every day. I guarantee you will have 365 reasons why you became much more present!

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What is evangelization? Three words can sum it up: bring Jesus everywhere. Evangelization is about sharing the truth of Jesus with our family, friends, strangers, and yes even our enemies. It is about teaching Jesus. Not in the sense of catechism. It is much more personal. It isn’t listing his attributes, or waxing philosophically about his qualities. It’s not about memorizing Bible passages, or recalling all his miracles, as wonderful as this may be. If we are teaching Jesus Christ, we need to illustrate who he is by conforming ourselves to his life. The way we evangelize most effectively is when we witness who Jesus is by the way we live his life in our own. It is every one of our responsibilities to evangelize: no exceptions - no exemptions.

There are three major components to evangelization: Encountering, Relationship, and Prayer. Jesus is so much more than a talking point. He is someone to approach. All the moments in Scripture where Jesus encounters people, he changes lives. The woman at the well, the prostitute about to be stoned, the greedy tax collector Levi, the blind man from birth Bartimaeus, the grave dwelling demonic, and the tree climbing little man Zacchaeus. My personal favorite is the Prodigal Son. The son tells his father he’s dead to him. His money means more to him than he does. You know the story, he leaves and wastes everything. He comes back home with his tail between his legs, depressed, and begs his father to let him come back home. What does his father do? Longing, dreaming, and praying for this day, the old man runs to his son. He lavishes love upon him. He throws some filets on the barbeque and they party. Jesus ends the story talking about mercy. Did you ever wonder what happened that next morning when the boy woke up? What did it feel like to know he was loved that much? Did he share with others how much having this love given to him meant and changed him? The big scary word, evangelization, is just us showing what Jesus has done for us and inviting others to encounter and experience this love too.

Sometimes when we try and evangelize, we can get caught up in theology, talking about something or talking at people. If we look at the Gospels, we see moments where Jesus is just being Jesus. He’s not being a theologian. He doesn’t talk at people, but he is present to them. He invited people to walk with him because he cared about them. There are countless moments when we have an opportunity to be present to others and share what Jesus has done for us. We too need to be present in such a way that people don’t just see us as a talking head, or somebody who just knows a bunch of stuff, but rather somebody who cares about them.

The last major component is prayer. To pray is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen, to listen to him more than we talk. We need to avoid turning our prayer life into a cosmic vending machine. God is not a genie in a bottle, where we rub the bottle hard enough and get what we ask for. God is not Santa Claus. Jesus Christ is our Savior. It is about staying connected, even when some prayers seem to be unanswered. All the dots get connected in time. 

The bottom line is this: we don’t get to be a Catholic without evangelizing to others. To be capable of evangelizing effectively we must be rooted in Christ. We need to encounter Christ, enter into a relationship, and pray so we remain plugged in to him. Summing things up: We don’t have to pretend to be someone we are not, the only person we have to be is the true person Christ created us to be. And if we are true to that we can share the truth of his love and all he has done for us and will do for others. This is evangelization.

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The Feast Day for St. John Paul II is on October 22. Much has been written about his life and papacy. Although it is impossible to do justice to the first major teaching he undertook as pope, I hope this short article inspires some to seek to become much more familiar with Theology of the Body. I believe it will be one of St. John Paul II’s greatest legacies. 

In its original release, Theology of the Body included one hundred and twenty nine talks, delivered between September 1979 and November 1984. Why did he write it? For one big reason, his entire papacy was devoted to bringing hope to a world in desperate need of hope. In Theology of the Body, he shares incredible insight to anyone who wishes to live a much fuller life.

His life experiences revealed to him that the culture has very little use for the idea that the visible body reveals the invisible person. But he says what we do with our bodies profoundly affects our souls and to ignore that greatly distances us from being more fully human. Today even more than when he released Theology of the Body the prevailing belief is that if God exists, God doesn’t really care what we do with our bodies. God is principally concerned that we respect each other as persons. St. John Paul II says that falls woefully short in exploring the very gift of God – love.

Theology of the Body completely affirms the goodness of sexuality. It clearly discloses that sex is not a dirty little word or limited to a bodily need and or function. God and sex can and should be spoken in the same sentence. God is the author of love and love is what drives a person to give, whether in marriage or in celibacy.

St. John Paul II believed that the nature of things is indispensable to understanding love and marriage. The problem with understanding how our world perceives marriage has a significant amount to do with an erroneous grasp of human nature. When one’s vision of humanity likens us to a mechanical machine that just happened to evolve then yes the body has no meaning, and what we do with it has no inner meaning and so marriage can’t possibly be comprehended in its truest form. St. John Paul II says the human body in its deepest nature was formed by God, it has spousal meaning, and the meaning for marriage flows from the nature of man and woman, male and female, created in the image of God.

He illuminates something that clearly needs to be understood if one is to understand love at a deeper level, each and every one of us is called to be a gift, a gift to one another and a gift to God and that this giving and receiving requires real presence. This life altering reality is becoming even more challenging in a world becoming more and more gender neutral, not to mention virtual.

When one begins to comprehend and sense the truths of Theology of Body, the Sacrament of Marriage comes much more into focus and its ordained purpose can be seen as a divine order of creation. For the invisible realities are made visible through the physical world. Why is this important? Because everything in the created order points to God. Once a person understands and accepts this, it changes the complexion of things. For everything we see and touch and do has something to do with the sacred. We need to touch it all aware of our connectedness to God, for it comes from God and reveals God in some way.

The beauty of Theology of the Body is it goes a long way in helping us discover the biggest why’s of life. Mysticism is the why behind everything – why we’re human, why we’re made, why we are female and male, and unless we know the real why we don’t know how to be fully human. Theology of the Body explores all these whys. Theology of the Body is a unique vehicle to call us back on the path to fuller humanness. 

Stay tuned, sometime this next year, St. Thomas the Apostle will be offering multi-week presentations on Theology of the Body.

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I’m pretty sure that most of us are at least partially aware of Mahatma Gandhi, but I’ll bet most of us never knew this about him. During his younger days, when he was a lawyer in South Africa, he read the Gospels at length and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, the caste system. He seriously considered embracing the Christian faith. He went to a white-only church one Sunday morning to talk to the pastor about the idea of becoming Christian. When he entered the church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go worship with his own kind. Gandhi left the church and never returned. He wrote years later in his memoirs: If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu.

You and I have heard it said that we have a vocation’s crisis, a family crisis, a marriage crisis, a faith crisis. These crises are but symptoms of a much greater predicament. We have an identity crisis. We have forgotten our missionary calling: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20).

 Jesus gave us 4 tasks: go – make – baptize – teach. At the very heart of the Great Commission is make disciples. Jesus told us over 2,000 years ago to not just make believers or practicing Catholics, but to make disciples. We were and are always a people meant to be on a mission. That mission is to bring good news wherever it has yet not been encountered. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus. This learning process is not haphazard, but intentional and disciplined. You and I know that just because someone believes in Jesus or goes to church does not necessarily mean they have a hunger for Jesus. Loving evangelization leads to hunger. To evangelize literally means to announce the good news, but what is the Good News? The Good News is not only to hear the wonderful truths of God’s plan for salvation, or to hear about God’s love and mercy. The Good News has a name and a face. The very person and presence of Jesus in our life is the Good News. The ultimate game-changer is in coming to know him and to love him. The difficult truth is many people have never come to know him personally, and therefore have no hunger for him. Less than 25% of all self-identified Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. Millions upon millions of Catholics are utterly convinced that they are missing nothing. 

I recently overheard a fellow Catholic discuss how they belonged to the one true church. The church Jesus founded. Just for the record, being part of the Catholic Church is not meant to provide home-court advantage. Being part of the Roman Catholic Church is meant to be a joyfully shared treasure. The truth is the Catholic Church by definition exists for the sake of those who do not belong. It’s not a club for the sake of its members. The Catholic Church is where we are meant to be led and united in our hunger for Jesus.

 Maybe we could reflect how well we are sharing our love for Jesus with others who aren’t present among us. Are we inviting others to come and experience Jesus? How much are we going out of our way to be hospitable to others on Sunday and beyond? Trust is gained through relationships, through caring, through making someone feel like they belong.

 The intentional disciple is always driven by a desire to see other people hear and respond to Jesus. The intentional disciple has a hunger for Jesus himself. They have a passion for people to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ. Intentional disciples always remember they are in the disciple making business.

Confirmation 2017

On behalf of the myself, the Confirmation Team, Deacon Ed and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, we want to thank Bishop Kicanas and all of our confirmandi and their sponsors for making this day truly amazing. Forty-two teens and two adults were confirmed in the faith. Below are the pics from throughout the ceremony.

We continue to be blessed to serve our youth community!

URLVD,
Starbuck