Are you excited? Have you been counting down the days with anticipation, filled with joy? Can you barely control yourself? Today’s the day!

The day for what, you ask? Advent beginning, of course!

If you’re not overwhelmed with excitement for the season, not filled with anticipation like a child, I can understand. Advent and Christmas can be extremely busy and even difficult times for many adults. The simplicity of the season as a child—making gingerbread houses, writing letters to Santa, and getting a pile of presents—has long since faded, and it has left many adults wondering, “what is there to get all that excited about? What are we even waiting for?”

This Advent, join me each week as I offer a reflection on the Sunday readings and the season, journeying together towards our great feast. This week, I look at the sense of excitement that we used to have as kids and suggest that there might be a pretty big reason to wait with anticipation as adults.

 

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It is often jokingly said that in the “divorce” of the Reformation, the Catholics got the liturgy and the Protestants got the Bible. A reflection of the fact that Catholics emphasized the sacramental nature of God’s revelation while Protestants whitewashed their churches and made the Bible the only thing that mattered, historically, there was definitely a difference in emphasis, and one can understand why the stereotype was born.

This annoys the heck out me.

Like all stereotypes, the kernel of truth that existed 500 years ago has been so overgeneralized that it is, at this point, more of an untruth than anything else, and serves to create a false dichotomy. Just because some Protestants made the Bible their only authority and rid themselves of all other forms of divine revelation doesn’t mean that Catholics have any less reverence for it or that Sacred Scripture is any less important to forming our doctrine. The Reformers may have given up a sacramental worldview, deferring that identity to the Catholics, but the Catholics never gave up their emphasis on Scripture (and, maybe more accurately, weren’t subject to overemphasizing its importance as the Reformers did.)

What I am getting at with this? Often, out of this misunderstood part of history, Catholics face a criticism from fundamentalist Christians that many do not know how to answer. Thinking that Catholics do not care about the Bible and seeing that some of our beliefs are not explicitly stated in Scripture, some will say to us, “Your doctrines are made up” or “read the Bible and you’ll see how wrong Catholicism is.” I would say that I get a comment on a YouTube video to this effect on a weekly basis.

This week on Catholicism in Focus, I hope to address this issue by explaining the Catholic perspective on Scripture. We have the utmost respect for its words and maintain that it is the inerrant Word of God to guide our lives (not to mention that we proclaim as much or more of it at our liturgies than Protestants do). For Catholics, it is an essential form of divine revelation, but certainly not the only form. Looking at how the Bible was compiled, how God interacts with the world, and what Jesus did to form the Church on earth, we recognize that there is more to God’s authority than what is written in Scripture.

If you’ve been a Christian for longer than a minute, you’ll no doubt have heard a few criticisms of the Bible; if you’ve read the Bible yourself, you’ll no doubt have some of your own. While it stands as the accepted canon of divine revelation—the “Word of God” for Christians—the contents of its pages are far from perfect, with discrepancies in historical accounts, lists of names, specific commands, and perspective on moral issues. It would take nothing at all to pick a passage, read it out of its context, and find a separate passage that seems to be in contradiction with it.

And opponents of Christianity do.

So, what do we do as believers? Do we just accept that our Sacred Scripture is flawed, that it falls short in being a source for life, and just relegate it to the category of ancient literature, something to be read out of fascination but having no bearing on our life?

Hardly.

In this week’s Catholicism in Focus video, I look at the many forms of contradiction in the Bible (yes, we need to accept the premise that there are contradictions right from the start) and share why it remains the “inerrant” book that we have always known it to be.

The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B.

Jealousy is an interesting thing. Anyone here ever been jealous of someone or something? Felt that burning inside you? Anyone ever do something reckless because of it…? Maybe I should stop asking questions.

To me, jealousy is an interesting thing because at the heart of every jealous person, every jealous act, is not over-active passion, but actually fear. You see, when most people say that they’re jealous what they mean is that someone else has something that they really want. “Ooo, you have the new iPhone… you’ve got tickets to the concert… I’m so jealous!” And while we all know what we mean when we say something like this, what we’re actually saying is that we’re envious, that there is something that someone else has that we really want. Jealousy, technically speaking, is somewhat the opposite: to be jealous is to already have something, but feel threatened that someone will take it, to be afraid to lose it. At the heart of the matter is not coveting, not immense desire or passion for something more… it’s fear of losing what we already have.

We see this sometimes in children, don’t we, in our sort of primal emotions? When one sibling gets attention from mom or dad, gets a compliment or gift, they throw a fit, not necessarily because they’re desperate for attention, not because they actually want that gift, but because there is something inside them that says that mom or dad doesn’t love them as much. “That’s not so special. Look what I’m doing!” If their brother or sister gets affection, they think, they’ll be left behind and not loved. They become jealous.

Of course, we can see this sometimes in adults, too. When a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife spends times with their friends, maybe someone of the opposite sex, we see people getting very upset, very defensive. “No, you can’t spend time with that person,” some will even say. Why do they do this? More times than not it is not envy, it’s not a passionate feeling of wanting to spend more time with the other, it’s driven by a fear a losing the person, that by them sharing their love with another person, there won’t be enough love for them. They become jealous.

This is precisely what we see in our first reading and our Gospel today. Fear has overcome our biblical figures. In the first reading, those who were left back at the camp when God blessed the prophets are still able to prophesy. They speak for God and they speak with authority, two very good things. Things that the whole community should be proud of. Moses even says that he wishes the whole nation were given the gift of prophecy, that every single person spoke for God. But the others don’t feel this way. They see it as a threat. For them, if others can prophesy, then what they do will not be special, it won’t be unique. If others are able to do what they can do, then they won’t be as important. They become jealous.

Fast forward a thousand years and we see the same situation playing out once again in our Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are passing along, they find that there are people that “don’t go with us,” they say, that are prophesying in Jesus’ name, performing miracles and speaking for God. Surprise surprise, the disciples don’t like this. “They’re not one of us. We have to put a stop to this,” they say. But Jesus is not threatened, he’s not afraid: “No one can perform mighty deeds apart from me,” he says. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

And it is with those words that we see how irrational jealousy is. We see how selfish, how narrow minded it is at its core.

When we’re jealous, we convince ourselves that the success of another is somehow to our detriment. We convince ourselves that someone else getting something good, receiving acclaim, or being loved by others means that we somehow are not good, that we can’t receive acclaim, that we are less loved. If our parents love our brother or sister, it means they can’t love us as well; that if our significant other spends time with someone else, it means that we are less special; that if someone else does something good, our life is going to get worse; and that if God is glorified through another, God can’t be glorified in us.

And we see it all around us, don’t we? We fear that if another religion is given praise, that something is found to be true in it, it somehow undermines Christianity, and so we try to put them down. We fear that if our political adversaries, those people from the other party, do something good then our side will be hurt, and so we try to put them down.

But how absolutely irrational each of these things are! Out of our fear (and it is most certainly fear!) we convince ourselves that there is only so much goodness to go around and so we must be in competition with everyone else. Out of our fear, we forget that all of us are on the same team, that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ, that all of us are to be seeking truth and building up the kingdom together, and when something good happens to or through another, when God is glorified through another, all of us are glorified!

Being jealous, as our biblical characters are today, being led by fear, is completely irrational because another person’s gain is not our loss if we’re in this together.

But ultimately, I think there’s something more to this, something even more contrary to what it means to be Christian. If jealousy is a result of fear, a fear of losing something, why would we as Christians every have something to be jealous of? What could we possibly fear losing? As followers of Christ, we are a people who claims to give up all that we have, willingly—to leave everything behind, die to ourselves, and follow Christ from death to life. We are a people that follows a man who lost everything—his reputation, dignity, authority to teach, and even his life—and who calls us to do the same for his sake. The central teaching of our faith is that in losing all that we have, including our lives, we actually gain more than we can ever imagine. The very essence of Christianity is about giving up, about losing what we we have.

And so I ask again: what could there ever be to make us jealous? There is no reason to fear losing what we have, of letting fear weigh us down or cause us to do something reckless. These are the worries of the world, the worries of those who want to hold on to what they have rather than give it up to follow Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly who he says he is, then losing everything we have is actually the best thing that could ever happen to us.

Do not fear what others may take away from you. Focus on what Christ gives you in return for not caring when it’s gone.

The following is my homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

I’ll never forget the first time I held a sparkler. While they don’t interest me much now, they were so amazing when I was little. To see the bright light, the sparks going everywhere, the crackling sound; you could write your name or just stare at the light show right in front of you. I’ll never forget the first time I held a sparkler… because it did not go very well. You see, I was little, five or six, I don’t know, and when I saw all the older kids playing with one I begged my parents to hold it myself. Knowing it was dangerous, my mom made me promise that I would not touch the end. “You need to be very careful. Hold it like this,” she said. She must have told me three times. “Sure, sure, uh huh, I’ll be careful I promise. Can I have one, please please please??”

I’m sure you can see where this is going…

To be fair, I was very careful…. while it was lit. I didn’t touch the sparks, I didn’t put it in my pocket, didn’t attack anyone with it. In fact, I waited until it was completely out… to get distracted and grab the hot end with my other hand.

Yeah… not the greatest childhood memory.

But really, how many times did we do things like that when we were kids? We were told over and over to be careful—not to run in the house, not to drink juice in the living room, to be gentle with our younger siblings—only to have it end in an unfortunate way. How many times did we hear our parents say, “how many times have I told you?” As children, sometimes, we can be a bit foolish.

And now, I find that to be an interesting world, “foolish.” We hear it proclaimed today in both the first and second readings, a call not to be foolish but to be wise. I find it interesting because it says nothing about how smart we are, doesn’t imply malicious intent; it’s the sort of word that we use when someone knows the right thing to do, is able to do it, but gets so distracted by something unimportant that they end up doing something careless. Being foolish is being told over and over not to touch the end of a sparkler, not to run in the house, to be gentle… knowing that bad things can happen, and yet still getting get burned, knocking something over, or hurting someone.

Of course… being foolish is not limited to being a child, is it? Adults, sadly, can be just as foolish, and this is the danger that the people of the Gospel face today. You can almost hear Jesus’ frustration growing. Here he has been preaching all day about how he is the bread of life come down from heaven. Over and over he has said this—he even performed a miracle and fed five thousand people—and the people still do not believe. “How many times do I have to tell you? I am the bread of life. Unless you come to me, you will have no life within you.” I do not suspect that these were bad people; I don’t think that they were intentionally denying the divinity of Christ, the power of the Eucharist, the life-giving nature of the resurrection. No… they were just being foolish. The answer was right in front of them, but they were too focused on the wrong things—just too distracted—to accept what Jesus was saying and to do something about it.

And it makes me wonder. Here we are, having heard some variation of this Gospel for four straight weeks now, some variation of Jesus proclaiming that he is the bread of life, the life-giving food, the grace of God given to us in bodily form—how many times we have heard this message! And yet, I’m left wondering whether it’s truly sunk in. Having heard these words for four weeks now, I wonder if they have changed our lives… or if they haven’t just become like the words of our parents telling us to be careful, words that go in one ear and out the other without catching our attention or changing our actions, words that we hear but don’t actually lead us to act wisely. “Yeah, sure sure, bread of life, of course, Jesus from heaven.”

Some many find these readings a bit repetitious, maybe even a bit boring, but not me. I have to say… I actually love hearing it over and over again. I’m not sure about you, but I can be a bit hardheaded in my faith. Sometimes, I need to hear something over and over until it clicks, until I actually start to believe what I’m saying, until I actually start to live what I’m believing. Sometimes it takes two, three, even four times or more for me to do what’s right.

I think of how many times I went to mass over the years, heard the word proclaimed, ate the bread of life… but left the same way I came in. It was right in front of me, but I foolishly didn’t even notice it.

I think of how many times I’ve said yes to God, yes to following God’s will, being a good Christian, yes to turning my life around… only to forget the path I was on and fall short. The path was clear and easy to follow, but I foolishly took another path.

I think of how many times we as a Church have asked the world to trust us, proclaimed ourselves to be a people of truth and love… only to have more scandals, more coverups, more revelations of devastating systems of sin be brought to light. We were entrusted with such an amazing responsibility for the sake of the world, but now the world simple sees us as fools.

How frustrating this can be for us, feeling so foolish.

And yet, despite all of this, how many times has God continued to call our name?
How many times has God continued to give us everything we could ever need?
How many times has God continued to wait patiently while we were acting foolishly?

I tell you, I love these readings. I love being reminded over and over and over again of the power of Christ to give new life where there is nothing but death because it shows me how patient God is with us even when we’re foolish. It shows me that when something is important, God isn’t just going to give up on us and let us get away just because we weren’t listening. It gives me hope that even if I have fallen short before, even if I have let my friends, my Church, and even myself down, even if our Church has let the world down over and over again, there is still time to say yes today. There is still time to start again today and make things right. There is still time to accept Jesus as the bread of life come down from heaven and to let him live in and through us in everything that we do.

Because truly, with God, it doesn’t matter how many times we’ve been told not to touch the sparkler but did anyway.
It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard what was true and didn’t listen.
And in a way, it doesn’t even matter how many times we’ve let people down. We can’t change the past.

All that matters is that we have today, this very moment, to finally choose wisdom over foolishness, to begin to right what is wrong, and to say yes to God with all our heart.