04567_Christmas_nativity_scene_at_the_Franciscan_church_in_Sanok,_2010The so-called “Nativity Scene” is a staple this time of year. Found on the lawn of nearly every church and in the home of nearly every Christian, they can be big or small,  life-like or cartoonish, full of animals or simply Mary with her newborn child. Some churches even put on a “living nativity,” complete with costumes, live animals, and a crying baby. For many, it’s just not Christmas without a depiction of the birth of Jesus, and it’s amazing to see the level of creativity from one year to the next.

Overall, it’s a wonderful thing. There’s something about being able to experience the event for ourselves, to use our senses to capture all that the original scene must have been like, to make the story from the Bible come alive. It’s why Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene back in 1223 (trivia for you!) and why Christians have continued the tradition for 800 years.

And yet, there is something tragically lost in so many of our depictions, and I can’t help but wonder if we miss the true spirit of Christmas because of it. Yes, all nativity scenes capture gist of the story: Jesus was born to Mary outside because there was no room in the inn and was eventually visited by either three men bearing gifts (Matthew) or shepherds (Luke). And no, there’s nothing wrong with themes like “peace on earth,” joy, and giving to one another. But like so many Biblical stories, this one has become so familiar to us that our depictions of it are often white-washed and sterilized, glossing over the truly challenging parts of the story for something that makes us feel nice inside.

When we look at the Gospel accounts of the birth of our Lord, what we see is not a happy, feel-good moment, but rather an act that was provocative, controversial, and even upsetting to the religious elite of the time. The nativity scene is a sign of subversion and ultimate conversion.

Take the situation of Mary and Joseph in its context. When we look back on this situation with the eyes of faith and the privilege of history, we can call them the “Holy Family.” But to their contemporaries, especially the religious elite, there was nothing “holy” about them. Even though Joseph takes her into his home rather than exposing her, people had to have known that Joseph was not the father. Irregular marriage and child out of wedlock? Strike one. Embarking on their journey, they find themselves foreigners in a distant country. Immigrants? Strike two. And let’s not forget that this was hardly a wealthy family. They did not have a caravan of camels and servants, they did not stop at fancy places and dine with princes. Joseph and Mary were poor peasants with no political or religious power. In their world, they were essentially worthless to both the Jews and the Romans. Strike three.

And yet, this is the situation into which God is born. The creator of the universe, the King of Kings, was not born in a palace to a noble family. He was brought into this world by poor, seemingly-worthless immigrants in an irregular marriage.

Another powerful, yet mostly overlooked point, is the symbolic place of his birth:

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

To many, this simply continues the theme of his humble situation: Jesus was laid in the manger because Mary couldn’t afford a nice bed or crib. But it’s more than that. The problem is that most of us think we know what a manger is… but actually we don’t. A manger is not a synonym for crèche, has nothing to do with a barn, and is not a normal 1st century crib; a manger is a trough where animals eat. Seriously. In other words, “She wrapped the poor child and laid him the chafing dish.” An odd statement, to say the least. Sure, given the circumstances, it might have been the most comfortable and convenient place to lay a baby and Luke may have just been recounting the practical details. But I don’t think so. Of all the themes in his Gospel, nothing is more significant than the institution of the Eucharist from their table fellowship. Luke, even from the point of Jesus’ birth, is announcing Jesus as food for the world.

To us, that’s a nice little detail, a cool foreshadowing to things to come. We love the symbolism and it helps us understand who Jesus is for us. But for the people of his time, this was blasphemous. Eat what? Who does this person think he is? From the very beginning of the Gospel, Luke makes the message clear: Jesus is the way to salvation, not the law. To accept this and follow him meant stepping outside of the status quo, rejecting the practices and teachings of the religious elite of the day, and having the faith to follow a radical man who upset a lot of people.

Finally, no nativity scene would be complete without a few visitors. Whether we highlight the magi in Matthew or the shepherds in Luke, their presence is highly significant, and highly controversial. For now, though, I want to focus on Luke’s account of the sheep.

So the shepherds went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.

We’ve been so desensitized to the idea of shepherds that it seems normal. How could we have a nativity scene without a shepherd and a few cute sheep? It seems almost obvious to us. But to the people of the time, this would have been absolutely scandalized by them.

The whole issue is over ritual purity. For the Jews, certain things were clean and certain things were unclean, and exposing oneself to certain situations made one ritual impure, meaning they were excluded from the community and temple worship until they were ritually washed. Shepherds were very unclean. Not only did they spend their entire lives with livestock, no doubt encountering blood and other unclean substances, they were basically stuck in an institutional state of uncleanliness: as long as they remained a shepherd they were unclean, and if they took the time to enter the city to purify themselves, they would lose their flock. In Jesus’ time, shepherds were outcasts and undesirables, and they were not alone: for many, the law was a burden that inhibited community, created an entire class of people unfit for worship.

This is the situation that Jesus enters. These are the people that visit our Lord at the moment of his birth. It was not the chief priests or the ritually pure; it was not the most charitable or most liked; it was not the noble or important. The people connected to Jesus’ birth are the outcasts and unclean.

The savior of our world did not fit into religious categories, and was probably not regarded as important by the religious elite of his day. Think about what it means that  Jesus is the outcast and the unclean.

JoseyMariaWebTaken altogether, the birth of our Lord, captured in our nativity scenes, is a provocative, controversial, and downright upsetting symbol of our faith. His birth is yes, in a way, a sign of peace on earth and holy giving, but only if it is understood with an unmistakable sense of subversion. Jesus came to upset the religious and political systems of the day, to bring a new order contrary to what was expected.

As we look at own nativity scenes this time of year and glory in the birth of our Lord, my hope is that we may experience something more than a Hallmark moment. Recreating this scene as we do offers us an opportunity to see and feel how radically upending his birth really is, in his world, and in ours. It’s an opportunity to realize that, if our Lord were to be born today, many of us would not be among the outcasts or undesirables included in this scene, we might be among the religious elite, shocked by the blasphemy of it all, concerned with the ritual laws of our day, and unknowingly overlooking something quite extraordinary in our midst.

This Christmas, may we capture once again the true spirit of Christmas, that spirit that upholds the poor, welcomes the outcast, is open to conversion, and lives as a community gathered at table. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Not my problem. Do you ever have a situation thrown on you, find a mess somewhere, and just say those words? “Not my problem.” Clearly I did not cause it, this has nothing to do with me, I’m not getting involved. A few months ago I walked into a bathroom at our friary only to find baby powder all over the floor. True story. I took one look at the mess and just said, “Nope. Not my problem,” and decided to use the other bathroom. Another day, I opened up the drawer in the kitchen to find that someone had just dumped all the silverware instead of separating the forks, knives and spoons. I grabbed a spoon, shut the drawer, and said, “Not my problem.” #friarlife

Whether it’s a mess in the house or a frustrating situation at work, the not-my-problem approach is definitely a way to stay sane. As busy as we are, as many problems we have to deal with, it’s relieving to look at a situation and realize that we didn’t cause the it, it has nothing to do with us, and it’s not our battle to fight. Sometimes we just have to let people fix their own problems.

But to what extent?

Say your best friend comes to you for help, even though she didn’t take your advice, and is now in big trouble. Not my problem? Say your child comes to you at 8:00 at night with a science fair project due the next day and he hasn’t even started. Not my problem? Say a close relative calls at 2:00am, having just gotten into an accident because he was drinking and driving, and needs your help. Not my problem?

No matter how inconvenient and unrelated to our own actions, these situations, like it or not, are our problems. It is the responsibility we take on when we enter a relationship, live in society, and call ourselves Church.

It’s situations like these, those times when people bring us their problems and we just want to run from them, that remind me of St. Joseph. Often overlooked, Joseph’s contribution to the Christmas story in our Gospel reading yesterday is not only important to the life of Jesus, it is inspiration to our own situations. The way I see it, Joseph had three options:

1. He could have responded by divorcing Mary publicly, calling attention to her situation. This was probably the most common reaction, the one most people in his society would have expected him to do. He would have been justified by the law, and his reputation would have been held intact. “I did nothing wrong, God does not act in that way—Mary is a liar. Why should I help her? Not my problem.” No one would have faulted him for this option.

2. The second option, which he originally chose, was to divorce her privately so that she wouldn’t have to die. In this option, he runs the risk of losing his good reputation, even being subject to the law, but he lets her live. Maybe he believed what she said, but had some doubts. “It sounds peculiar what Mary told me, but if she is telling the truth, I don’t want to be against God so I’ll let her live and wait and see if she was telling the truth.” Joseph is a “nice guy” to let her live…but he also doesn’t put himself completely out there to stand up for her either.

3. After his dream, he comes to believe that what she says is true, and realizes that her problem is his problem too: This child will take away the sins of the world. He not only lets her live, he welcomes the child into his heart and life, raising him and caring for him, even though it is not his own. In doing so, he accepts not only the public shame from his neighbors but also a major burden on his life, having now to sacrifice time and money for something that he didn’t cause and has almost nothing to do with him.

In our lives as Christians, as we approach the great feast of Christmas, the day the Church celebrates God becoming a human being, we are also given three choices like Joseph:

1. We could choose to be cynical and reject what is hard to believe or inconvenient to us. “It is impossible for a virgin to give birth.” “God cannot become a human.” “Why should I have to help others? It was their mistakes, not mine.” This is the easiest and most acceptable response in our society. If we were to take this road, the road of “not my problem,” not only would we not be shamed, we might even be praised.

2. Our second option, like Joseph, is to profess our faith—with hesitancy. We come to mass, we believe that God could have done something like this, but we’re not really confident enough to let it change our public lives. Religion is what we do in this building on Sundays, and we like it, we’re good people. But like Joseph divorcing Mary privately, we’re not really willing to let other people know what we believe or let our beliefs “inconvenience” our lives.

3. But there is a final option, a perfect option God is calling us to in this season of Advent: to follow St. Joseph in accepting Jesus with our whole heart and let him transform every part of our lives. It’s one thing to let a child live; it’s another thing to raise him as if he were one of our children. To have faith like Joseph means not only believing, but being proud of what God has given us, our faith, and letting it change our private lives, our social lives, even our financial lives to let it grow.

When we look at our lives and out into the world, we see so many things that are “not my problem.” The human family is not exactly known for its great decision making, and we find so many people putting themselves in harm’s way, bringing heartache upon themselves and others. Unwanted pregnancies, drug addictions, major credit card debt. There are also those who maybe because of the fault of someone else are in a bad situation. Immigrants and refugees, mental illness, human trafficking. For each of these situations, it is easy to say that we did not cause these situations, it has nothing to do with us, and so we shouldn’t get involved. Especially this time of year: “C’mon, it’s Christmas, it’s a stressful time for all of us, and I just want to enjoy it with my family and not have to worry about anyone else’s problems.” 

And we could respond in this way. We could focus on how we feel, how we don’t want to be inconvenienced, and how we are free from responsibility. “Not my problem Mary. I’m busy enough as it is.” But I tell you, like it or not, if we love the person, it is our problem. We would never ignore our best friend, we would never let our child fail, and we would never let our close relative deal with a great struggle alone, even if it is not our fault. Like Joseph, we do not get to choose what God asks of us; all we get to decide is how we are going to respond. God is asking of us, in this final week before Christmas, to prepare to receive his son in this world. When we see him, when we see the body of Christ broken and battered, when we see the suffering of our brothers and sister in Christ, will we welcome him into our lives with open hearts like Joseph, or will we turn from the inconvenience and say to our Lord, “not my problem”?

Bringing Calm to the Chaos

Happy Friday, and happy Fourth of July weekend! To celebrate both, I present to you a twofer: a video AND a blog reflection. Although focused on the same topic–the way in which Jesus calms the storms of life and then calls us to do the same for others–the two mediums, written and video, offer very different perspectives from one another. I hope you enjoy them both, and since this is America on the Fourth of July, celebrate your freedom: it’s up to you which you enjoy first!

(Here’s the link to the video for any email subscribers)

Being that it’s Father’s day, I thought that I would start with a story about my father. My father is a great guy. He’s smart, he was an all-American in high school, a great coach and teacher. And oh my gosh is he funny. My dad was born without the ability to feel embarrassed, so it doesn’t matter where we are or who’s around, he will do something stupid to make us all laugh, whether it’s intentionally tripping down the steps or pretending to play soccer with a statue. Actually, now that I think about it, he might just be crazy. That’s just who my father is, and I love him very much.

But that’s not what makes him a great father. Yes, it’s great to have someone who is silly and easy to get along with, but there’s more to being a father than that. What makes him a great father is what happened my senior year of college. After four years of driving 70 miles each day for a job that offered tuition exchange, the only way I would have been able to go to college, he calls me: “Hey Casey, I just wanted to let you know that I got let go today. They’re downsizing the department and had to cut someone.” I was devastated. Why him? He’s such a good man. I started thinking about a lot of things: how were they going to pay the bills, how was this going to effect their marriage, how was this going to effect his pride/was he depressed? I said, “Dad, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I’ll never forget his response: “Why wouldn’t I be okay? Don’t you see how God has blessed us? When you were looking to go to college, there was no way we were going to afford it. God provided me with a job that made that possible. Now you’re graduating, and I don’t need this job anymore. I’m just so thankful for the blessing we had for four years.”

Wow. That is what makes my dad a good father. When I was ready to focus on the negative, fall into despair at what I didn’t have, my dad was calmly there pointing me to our Father in heaven. In the midst of chaos, my dad brought me the peace of Christ.

All too often I find myself playing the role of the disciples in our Gospel. When things go wrong, when the world comes crashing down on me, my first reaction is to let the chaos get the best of me. Like the disciples, sometimes I forget that Jesus is right there in the boat, waiting for me to awake him. No matter what is happening all around us, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, Jesus is always there offering himself.

And I want to focus on that for a second. Sometimes we hear some things so many times that it loses its effect; we hear it doesn’t touch us like it should. “God is always here; Jesus loves us; the Eucharist is the real presence. Yeah, I know these things.” But really, take a moment to let this Gospel image set in a little. In the midst of all the chaos of our lives, the problems with money, children, careers, loneliness, bullying, whatever it may be, whatever our storm is… Jesus is right there in the boat, waiting for us to call on him. Jesus is here… now. I mean, seriously. When we listen to the word of God, when we share this meal together, we’re not just doing nice things… we are experiencing the living and true creator of the universe. Wow. There is no chaos too strong for our Lord; no problem too big. With him in the boat with us, there is nothing we could ever fear, even the raging sea. And why is that? Because if we believe with all our heart that what we’re doing is more than some nice gesture but really is the living and true God giving himself for us, if we let him take hold of us and become a part of us, how could we we ever fear or be concerned with anything else? The peace of Christ that we receive conquers every pain, every worry, every suffering, and every misplaced desire that we can ever have, and makes us whole again.

And if I stopped there, you’d probably think to yourself, “Well that’s nice. Good encouraging message from Br. Casey… and it was short! Nice!” And I could stop here, but that’s not the whole story, is it? As nice and true as it is to be reminded that God is always there to take away our pain and to calm the chaos, to stop here gives us the image of our God as the powerful psychiatrist in the sky, a genie that fixes our problems. God becomes someone who exists solely for the sake of making us feel comfortable and happy. To stop here leaves out an essential part of what it means to be Christian: mission.

Having experienced the love and peace of Christ in our lives, the transformative nature of the Eucharist that fills us with joy and hope in the midst of chaos, we are now called to do the same for others. Remember how our Gospel passage started: Jesus told the disciples to get into the boat. He led them into the chaos, not away from it. Why would he do this? Why would he put them in harms way? As Christians, those who know the power of Christ to heal wounds and bring peace, we are not meant to flee from pain and despair, but to be the first ones running towards it. We are called to get into that boat and to bring Jesus where he is needed most.

A quick look at our world shows that there is no shortage of chaos all around us. Everywhere we look a storm is brewing and ships are sinking. People are being shot in churches; pope Francis reminds us that we are turning the earth into “an immense pile of filth”; there is human trafficking and spousal abuse; bullying and loneliness; war and mass migrations. Given it all, we could easily say that it is not our problem, claim that it doesn’t affect us, and just wait for someone else to take care of it. We could hide in our safety and comfort. But what if, as Christians, those who truly know the power of Christ to heal wounds and bring peace, what if we were the first ones running towards the chaos, bringing Jesus to those who need him most? What a world that would be…

And so I pray, on this our Father’s day, that we may always remember two things. The first is that there is no amount of chaos that could ever overwhelm our God. No matter what we are going through, no matter how crazy it may seem, God is there, waiting to be awakened to calm our storm. The second is that, once we have received this great gift, the only thing we can possibly do is go to those in the chaos, go to those in the place that we were before we knew Christ, and bring them the love and peace that we have received. It’s the story of the Gospel and it is our Christian mission. In the midst of chaos, may we always be as my father was to me: calmly pointing others to the Father in heaven.

“It is Finished”

Jesus' final words are as an artist marveling a new masterpiece: it is finished.

Jesus’ final words are as an artist marveling a new masterpiece: it is finished

It is finished. These are the climactic words of Jesus’ life. Everything he did and said leading to this final moment: It is finished. But what did he mean by these words? How might those around him have heard them; how do we hear them? For some, like the Pharisees, these words mean that the nuisance is over and we can go back to the way things were before, unchanged and unaffected. Lent is behind us and now we can go back to eating chocolate. For others, like Peter, these words mean that we’ve run out of time, we have let him down. Maybe we didn’t live up to our Lenten promises; maybe we feel like we haven’t “earned” Easter. For some, like Mary, these words mean that at least the suffering is over. As someone who lost his grandmother to cancer this year, I know exactly what this feels like: at least she’s not in pain. It is finished.

In each of these interpretations, there is some truth, but it is not the complete truth. Jesus may be gone, but what he did was so profound that we cannot help but be changed; we may have fallen short and missed our chance, but we know that he will rise again no matter what we did; we take consolation that at least he is not in pain any longer, but really, we know that he has entered into his glory.

Because of this, I think Jesus meant something very different with his final words: “I have done what was mine to do. God the Father has sent me to be the perfect manifestation of his self-sacrificial love for the world. In my life and in my death, I made visible what could not be seen, made clear what was not fully known, that God is by God’s very nature self-emptying love. I have lived with perfect obedience and have poured out everything that I had to give. I showed the way. I revealed the truth. I have given life. [deep breath] It is finished.” His words are of great relief and satisfaction as in a job well done.

What Jesus did with his life and death on the cross was pure gift: freely given, unmerited love for the world. There is nothing we did to earn it; nothing we did to cause it. Jesus did not come because we sinned, we did not place the cross upon him as a burden he must carry. It was not given to us so that we would owe him something or be forced to love him in return. No. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone that believes in him might not perish but have eternal life in him.” Jesus was completely free, and he chose to give of himself, to take up his own cross, and to hand over his life. He did this not out of guilt or obligation, but because he loves us. His life was both the example and the source of strength for us to follow him.

In this way, the grace of Jesus’ life and death is all around us. Everywhere we look we can see him if only we have the eyes to see. He is in the mother or father that gives up what they want for the sake of their children; He is in the person that chooses love, not revenge, when they are insulted; He is in those who give when they know it won’t be noticed or reciprocated; He is in those who care for people who cannot or do not give them thanks; he is in those who suffer greatly but do not despair because they have hope in God; He is in those who are forgotten, unwanted, and misunderstood. When we encounter these people; when we choose to give of ourselves in a self-sacrificial way, not counting the cost but simply giving everything we have because God has loved us, Jesus is anything but dead: he is living among us.

May we be a people that lives what we celebrate today: at the end of each day and when our days have come to an end, may we look back on what we have done and how we approach our death with the relief and satisfaction of a job well done, a life lived in perfect obedience and self-sacrificial love. On that day, we too may say and understand the climactic words of our Lord Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.”

The Reason For The Rules

Greetings from Durham, NC! As it is spring break for Catholic University, I’m here at Immaculate Conception Church with my classmate Dennis Bennett, learning about one of our friars’ ministries and enjoying the southern weather! When we get back to D.C. in a few days, I would like to offer a post on the trip itself, but for now, here is the reflection I gave at the masses this morning. As usual, this is based on the readings for the day found here.

This morning I have the pleasure of talking to you about what I’m sure is everyone’s favorite topic: rules. We all have them. Don’t do this! Don’t do that! No ice cream until you finish your vegetables. Only one hour of television a day. No juggling chainsaws in the house. (There’s always that one person that ruins the fun for everyone, am I right?) Rules are everywhere: at home, at work, at school, even here at church. But like it or not, rules are very important in our lives because they remind us of what matters most; when we identify a value that is close to our hearts (safety, equality, health, justice) rules keep us on the right path to honoring them. If we want to grow up big and strong, we make a rule to eat our vegetables; if we don’t want to be couch potatoes, we make a rule to limit how much we watch t.v.; if we want to keep all of our limbs and fingers we make a rule not to throw and catch dangerous things. In this way, the rules we make and the ones we continue to follow say a lot about who we are.

So what do the ten commandments say about God? For the Israelites, it reminded them that they were special in God’s eyes, the “chosen people,” rescued from slavery in Egypt, given a land all to themselves, and entrusted with something given to no other nation on earth: the law of God. By giving them the law, God was calling them to a special relationship with himself. Essentially, he told them the way he wanted to be loved. If they wanted to be close to God, all they had to do was obey to what made him happy. It’s like that person that not-so-subtly hints at what they want for Christmas: “If only someone would buy me that watch… what a good friend.” In a less superficial way, it’s how all of our relationships work. When we want to show someone our love, we go out of our way to do what makes them happy; we set up rules in our lives to enable relationships: no cell phones at the table so we can talk with another; Wednesday night is family night so we can spend time together; on Sunday, we go to mass so we can give glory to God.

But sometimes, rules make no sense. Sometimes we forget why the rule is there in the first place and we end up following them for no good reason. “You can’t change that”— “Why not?”— “Because that’s the rule.”— “Why is that the rule?”— “No, that’s the way it’s always been done!” Have you ever experience this in your life?

Unfortunately, that is where the people of Israel have found themselves in our Gospel today. At some point along the way, many of them forgot why God gave them the law in the first place; they forgot that what God really wanted was to be in relationship with them. Sure, they kept the Sabbath and went to temple, but they turned it [from a place of worship for all people] to a place for making money. Sure, they said prayers to God and gave him reverence, but when he walked right before them, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles, they ridiculed him and kicked him out. Sure, they didn’t carve any false idols, but they became so attached to the temple building that they weren’t able to see the temple of Jesus’ body that God was going to raise up on the third day. Jesus, God himself, the reason for the law in the first place was in their presence… looking them in the eye…touching them…offering them eternity in heaven. A relationship with God was right in front of them, but they preferred to cling to a hallow shell of misunderstood rules than to follow him.

What I find so interesting about this situation is that, like us, these were generally good people. Like us, they wanted what was best for their families, went to a religious gathering every week, and really just tried to do what they thought was right. The law was what was right, and they had grown comfortable with it over the years, even if it didn’t make much sense or bring them joy or fulfillment. They did it because they knew they were supposed to. Like many of us, they had grown so comfortable in “the ways things have always been done,” that they forgot that God was calling them to an intimate relationship with himself; God wants more than rules and obligations, he wants love, worship, joy.

It’s easy for us to sit here two thousand years later and criticize them for failing to see God among them. “Brother, if Jesus were standing here right now, I would worship him and do anything he said. How could they have been so blind?” May-be. But here’s the thing: Jesus is here. His presence is as alive as it ever has been. He is here, right now, holding all of creation together and animating all to life. Can you see him in your life? Can you feel his presence here, in each other? Can you hear him calling you by name? 

For much of my life, I couldn’t. Maybe you struggle with this too. I always believed in God, I went to Church, fasted during lent, said my prayers, you know, all the “rules” we follow, but I always wondered, “Why doesn’t God speak to the world today like he does in the Bible? Why doesn’t Jesus reveal himself to me?” Like many people, I went to mass but didn’t get much out of it. Maybe it was the music, maybe the homily could have been a little better, or at least shorter. These things could have certainly helped, but for me, the problem was much deeper. I went to church to experience God. Isn’t that why we go to church, you ask? The problem was that it was the only place I experienced Gpd. You see, my experience of God, like the Jews, was entirely tied up in a building, in a ritual, in a set of rules. This did not work for me. If we do not have an experience of Jesus outside of these walls, if we don’t really know who Jesus is, personally, we cannot bring anything to this worship. And if we can’t bring anything from our lives, any lived experience, how are we anything but a people following rules we don’t understand? St. John Chrysostom once said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” Since I struggled to see God in my everyday life, I struggled to understand what I was doing when I came to mass.

This began to change in college when I spent the summer in Philadelphia at the soup kitchen run by the friars. There I was, twenty years old, living in a row home without air conditioning in the inner city, eating whatever the kitchen was making that day, and spending my entire time with the poor, I was far from home. Where am I? What am I doing here? Like the tables in the temple flipped over by Jesus, my world was completely upside down. I was uncomfortable, I was vulnerable. It was there that I experienced God truly in my life. On the inside door of the soup kitchen there is a sign that says, “Smile, Jesus is at the door.” And on the other side is a homeless person, broken, desperate, and probably wreaking to high heaven. At first, I thought, “That’s good to remember. Treat everyone with respect like you would treat Jesus.” But it was more than that. What I came to realize was that Jesus was at the door. In those men and women, I experienced Jesus’ weakness, his pain on the cross, his humiliation before us. In those men and women, I felt Jesus himself in my presence: speaking, touching, performing miracles before my eyes. I felt him calling me to a different life, a life in him.

In our life in this church, we have many rules. Stand here. Sit there. Pray this. These rules are important. They unite us in prayer and give us a way to glory to God together in a beautiful way and enable us to show what is important in our lives, a relationship with God. Because ultimately, that’s what really matters. Without that encounter, without the eyes to see and the ears to hear the presence of our Lord among us, we are simply a people going through the motions, following rules we don’t understand because “that’s what we’ve always done.” Instead, may we be a people that loves our God so much that we see him in everything we do and every person we meet; that this Eucharist we celebrate may not be yet another rule we follow, but a celebration of the God who is truly present in our lives, and wants nothing more than to love us. Today, may you know this with all your heart, that God truly loves you and wants to be in relationship with you.