Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Help: "You kind, you smart, you important." - Feast of Mary Mother of God

There’s a beautiful scene in “The Help” where the maid, Aibileen, takes Mae Mobley, a child who has just been criticized by her mother, into her arms and encourages her. 
“Ever afternoon, me and Baby Girl set in the rocking chair before her nap.  Ever afternoon, I tell her: You Kind, you smart, you important.  But she growing up and I know, soon, them few words ain’t  gone be enough.”

These are the words Aibileen speaks to the two year old child Mae Mobley every day.   In “The Help” (Which was a bestselling novel and blockbuster movie now on DVD), Aibileen is a third-generation house maid who has raised over 17 white children.  She has seen them abused and neglected and often been more of a mother to the children then their real mothers ever were. 

She decides with Mae Mobley that from now on, every day she is going to speak these words of affirmation over and over to Mae Mobley so that no matter what her mother calls her, or how she is treated, she will come to realize that she is “kind, smart, important.” 

These words of affirmation are really a blessing.  These simple words spoken with love help Mae Mobley know that she is good. 

As we celebrate today the Feast of Mary Mother of God it is important that we realize the power of a blessing.  We bless Mary and Jesus every time we say the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” 

What does this mean “to bless?”  When the priest gives the blessing at the end of mass it is also known as a benediction.  This comes from the Latin “Benedicere”:  Bene (well or good) and dicere (to speak).  Benediction literally means to speak well of or to say something good.  So to bless someone really means to say something good about them, to speak of their goodness. 

How often do we do this?  How often do we speak well of people?  How often do we bless those we love?  Think about it in your own life.  Do you have more of a tendency to bless or to curse?  How do you speak to the people in your life? 

We hear from the Book of Numbers:

This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!

These words are echoed in the Hail Mary and echoed by Aibileen in “The Help.” 
“The Help” comes to an end, and I won’t tell you why, but  Aibileen is fired from her job and has to leave.  Mae is five is now five years old, in school, and old enough to beg Aibileen to stay. 

Please don’t leave, Aibee,” she say, starting to cry again.
“I got to, baby, I am so sorry.”   And that’s when I start to cry.  I don’t want to, just gone make it worse for her, but I can’t stop.

“Why? Why don’t you want to see me anymore?  Are you going to take care of another little girl?”  Her forehead is all wrinkled up, just like when her mama fuss at her.  Law, I fell like my heart’s gone bleed to death.

I take her face in my hands, feeling the scary heat coming off her cheeks.  “No, baby, that’s not the reason.  I don’t want a leave you, but…”  How do I put this?  I can’t tell her I’m fired, I don’t want her to blame her mama and make it worse between em.  “It’s time for me to retire.  You my last little girl,” I say, because this is the truth, it just ain’t by my own choosing.

I let her cry a minute on my chest and then I take her face into my hands again.  I take a deep breath and I tell her to do the same.

“Baby Girl,” I say.  “I need you to remember everything I told you.  Do you remember what I told you?”
She still crying steady, but the hiccups is gone.  “To wipe my bottom good when I’m done?”
“No, baby, the other.  About who you are.”

I look deep into her rich brown eyes and she look into mine.  Law, she got old-soul eyes, like she done lived a thousand years.  And I swear I see, down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be.  A flash from the future.  She is tall and straight.  She is proud.  She got a better haircut.  And she is remembering the words I put in her head.  Remembering as a full-grown woman.

And then she say it, just like I need her to.  “You is kind,” she say, “you is smart.  You is important.”
“Oh Law.”  I hug her hot little body to me.  I feel like she done just give me a gift.  “Thank you, Baby Girl.”

“You’re welcome,” she say, like I taught her to.  But then she lay her head on my shoulder and we cry like that awhile.”

Mae Mobley remembers the words that Aibileen put in her head.  We remember the words that people speak to us.  These words form and shape us from the time that we are a child. 

What are the words that you put into your children’s heads?  Your wives heads?  Your husbands heads?  Your friends?  Your employees? 

Mae Mobley is called a lot of things by the people that are supposed to love her, but it is only Aibileen who blesses her every day “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” 

This could be a wonderful model for all of us.  Remember that the words you speak will be remembered.  Take time every day to bless the people in your life. 

Just as the Shepherds blessed the new born child in the manger “All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

As the Shepherds spoke these words to Mary and she reflects on them in her heart, and as Mae Mobley remembered the words of blessing from Aibileen “you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  May your words be a blessing to others that they may know of their goodness and reflect on your blessing in their heart. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,

On a late evening I had some free time so I went to visit someone in jail. One of the perks of being a priest is that you can usually get access almost anywhere. I had done everything that I was supposed to do to set up all the clearance, got on the chaplaincy list and be approved for visitation. I was expecting to see him face to face. However, when I got to the prison I was surprised by a couple of things. First of all the guard said rather brusquely to me… you’ll see him at number six all the way down. I figured it would be a conference room, but when I walked in to the visiting area it was a line of phones… like you are used to seeing with the glass and the prisoner on the other side.

When I sat down and picked up my phone I was surprised that I wouldn’t even see him behind glass because there was no glass, only a computer screen. I went back out and told the guard that I couldn’t do what I needed to do over skype… she said I would need a court order for that.

What I realized is that no matter how great our technology is it can’t replace the human person, face-to-face. And we love all of our technology toys like the IPhone, Kindle, Ipad, Android and computers; they can’t replace the human touch.

You see, all of the Sacraments require human touch. The sacraments all an encounter with Jesus, incarnate, “in the flesh.” “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

This may be one of the few times you go to mass this year… and people often say “Why do I need to go to church? I can just pray to God on my own.” Well it’s the same reason that Skype wasn’t enough for me to visit that young man in prison, it’s the same reason why a Christmas card or gift can’t replace having your loved ones with you on Christmas. God wants YOU to experience Him “in the flesh.”

I use all of the social media: You can “Friend me” on Facebook, Sign up on my Blog, get “Tweets” from Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Skype, but if it doesn’t bring you here to mass on Sunday, if it doesn’t bring you to experience Jesus in the Sacrament of confession than it is worthless. Because our faith is about a real child, the Son of God, “in the Flesh.”

On Christmas we remember that God comes to us… “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus wants you to experience him in the priest, to be touched by His community of believers, to Hear his Word in the Proclamation of Scriptures, and above all to receive his Body and Blood in the Eucharist… you can’t do this by yourself… you’d be missing out on what and how He wants to come to you … “The Word made Flesh.”

This Flesh takes the form of a child whose whole purpose in coming into this world was to show us His Father in Heaven.

I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me

There is a man in China who has been searching for his son for over 13 years. Guo Gangtang has travelled over 400,000 kilmoters (that’s 240,000 miles) hopeful that he will find the son who was two years old the last time he laid eyes on him.

Although he hasn’t found now 15-year-old Guo Zhong, Gangtang has found seven other lost children for other families.

Chinese children are often stolen and resold to barren couples. Male children, like Zhong, are particularly desirable.
After all these years, what keeps Gangtang going? A lingering hope that he will one day reunite with his son.
“I have a feeling that if I carry on, one day he will come to find me. Maybe he will watch TV or go online and read about me. It may jolt some memory or something that doesn’t fit with the life he knows. Even if it’s not in the next couple of years, even if it’s after he gets marries, it’s not too late.”
These same words could be said of God to you, his child… “I have a feeling that if I carry on, one day you will come to find me… Maybe you will watch TV or go online and read about me. It may jolt some memory or something that doesn’t fit with the life you know… It’s never too late.”

If you have been away from the faith, if you haven’t been to mass, if you haven’t been living the life that you have been created to live… if deep down there is some memory of an experience of God… He is being reborn in you right now this Christmas.

We can hear these words echo in our second reading: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” God is your Father… He will never give up on looking for you… seeking you… desiring to have you back with him.

This is the whole purpose that Jesus came into this world… to show us to the Father… to reveal to us that no matter what experience we have had of ‘fathers’ here on earth… we have this Father in heaven that loves us unconditionally and never ceases looking for us.

This love is so deep that from the day that Jesus was born, the Father wed himself to humanity... to you personally and individually.

No more shall people call you "Forsaken,"
or your land "Desolate,"
but you shall be called "My Delight,"
and your land "Espoused."
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

There’s a YouTube video that has been going around of the British Navy returning home for Christmas. It’s a hilarious video where all of these Navy Men and Women are singing along to Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You.” It’s really about returning home to their husbands or wives this Christmas. At the end of the video it says… “Returning from Deployment… for Christmas 2011”

One of our parishes is home for Christmas before being deployed to Afghanistan. The wife said to me in front of her children and husband… “This is the greatest Christmas gift I could have… just to have him here with me.”

That’s the love that God has for us… All He wants is to have us Home with Him. And all we should really want is to be with God, our spouse, for Christmas. Listen to the Lyrics of “All I want for Christmas is You.” And imagine God saying it to you and you saying it to God this Christmas.

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas
Is you

This is the greatest Christmas gift… right now… at this mass… we are with God… we are home…

Unlike the young man in the prison we are not separated by glass or phone or a computer screen, He is here with us “In the Flesh.” In the Eucharist. If you’ve been a way for a while go and experience Him “Face to Face” (or behind the screen) in Confession.

Just as the man in China has been searching for his son for over years, God is searching for you hoping and wishing that you will return to him. Realize that you are missing something in your life without him… It’s never too late.

And as a young man rejoices in his bride… and as those men and women in the Navy wanted nothing else for Christmas than to have their spouses. God wants nothing less than you.

He wants you in the Flesh and he wants you to experience Him “In the Flesh.”

This Christmas make his wish come true… come back to Him… “All He wants for Christmas is you.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Translation Christmas Cookie Recipe

From commonweal magazine

Christmas Cookie Recipe
(New, Corrected Translation)

Serves: you and many.

Cream these ingredients, that by their comingling you may begin to make the dough:
1 chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar

In a similar way, when the butter is consubstantial with the sugar, beat in:
1 egg

Gather these dry ingredients to yourself and combine them, so that you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make:
2 1/2 chalices sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix the precious dough with your venerable hands.

Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough so that it may be chilled, for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and cutting of the cookies.

When, in the fullness of time, you are ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough and, taking up a cookie cutter or stencil of your choosing, fashion the cookies into pleasing forms.

Sprinkle colorful adornments over cookies like the dewfall.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have just begun to manifest the brownness that is vouchsafed to them by the oven’s heat.

May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table, there to be served with milk or hot chocolate, or with your spirits.

Merry Christmas!


Here was Fr. James Martins response

“O God, who see the cookies that you have graciously deigned to allow us to bake here according to this recipe that you have given us that we may give to others that which you have given to us here, bless, we pray, them, O Lord, that you may allow us to offer them in return to many, as we seek to preveniently nourish these your holy people, we pray, with the ineffable taste of the flour that you have graciously allowed us to refine, O Lord, with the milky milk that milkily issues forth abundantly from the many bovine animals which you have made and from the sweet sugar that sweetly comes from the sweet sugar cane plants which you have created for we your people, who humbly implore your blessings, that all of us may humbly eat of them, in order that you might, O Lord, we humbly beseech you, bless us and them, and, we pray, O Lord, and I forgot what where I was going with this prayer.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Caroling

The angel Gabriel was sent from God

to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,

of the house of David,

and the virgin's name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said,

"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."

But she was greatly troubled at what was said

and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

On Friday night I joined some of our children and parents for Christmas Caroling.  It was dark and the snow had just begun to fall.  I think it may have been the first time that I actually went Christmas Caroling.  What I noticed and reflected on the most were the people’s responses.  When we arrived at the first house, the kids knocked on the door and began singing.  An old, crotchety looking man appeared at the door looking slightly perturbed at the late evening interruption.  And then his eyes began to focus and his ears heard the sound of the little children singing and smiling in the lamplight.  His once stern looking face quickly transformed and he began to beam with a contagious smile.  You could see the joy in his face as his hardened expression turned to a warm smile and tender eyes. 

I’d like to say all of the houses were like this.  Many weren’t home, some didn’t answer, and some were pretty awkward.  The children were greeted at one of the houses by a middle aged man who didn’t appear to have any pants on, just a long T-Shirt… one of the little girls shrieked and said I can’t believe I just saw that.  I laughed and assured her that he had shorts on; it was just a really long shirt.  The house after that was an elderly man with a bandage on his nose… I began to think we were on a bad streak here.  But then he asked the children to stay there he disappeared.  We led the children in another song.  Moments later he appeared again with a plate of cookies for the children.  It was a beautiful moment for him, for the children and for us.  He was so excited to see them that he gave away all of his wives fresh baked Christmas cookies.

One mother answered the door and disappeared for a moment only to bring her two children and her husband to see.  They sang along and wished us a Merry Christmas.   

What I noticed is that each person was not expecting to be greeted by the Carolers and each family reacted differently to the surprise. Some families were overjoyed, some families were a little uncomfortable, and some families weren’t sure what to do. One lady saw the children from her kitchen and ran and hid in her bedroom! It’s not like this was Grim Reaper at the doorstep, it was a bunch of little angels, children singing Christmas songs.

If angels came to sing at your door how would you react?  Really… think about it.  We all have a tendency to be surprised when God speaks to us.  And, He does tend to come at unexpected moments.  Times when we aren't really prepared, sometimes we may not even be decent. 

Mary was afraid when the Angel Gabriel greeted her.  She “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”  She didn’t know what to make of it and asked, “How can this be?” 

I think we would all probably react differently to an angelic greeting.  It really is something so other-worldly.  And while it is something that should bring us joy, sometimes we aren’t sure what to make of it.  God does speak to us through angels and it’s always a surprise. 

During this Season of Advent God has probably greeted you in different ways.  He is probably asking something of you right now.   Either it is something in your life to let go of to make room for Jesus, or it may be something in your life to take on. 

This can bring about a lot of mixed feelings.  Their might initially be fear like Mary, there might be an awkwardness like some of the families had, their might be a reluctance, we might even want to run and hide.  The initial feeling is very human and acceptable because God is speaking to us and we are not quite sure what it is going to mean. 

The hope is, though, that we will come around and respond with joy.  Like the hardened crotchety guy that answered the door and was transformed into a joyful, warm soul with a hint of tears in his eyes.  It may take some time for our eyes to adjust to the light or our ears to become attuned to the mystery of His call. 

Mary, who was initially afraid but then responded with “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Hopefully our response will be on of grateful acceptance of God’s will and a joy that fills our hearts. 

As we approach Christmas, God desires for you to receive His child Jesus.  That may come as an invitation, it may come as a challenge to prepare for something, it may come as encouragement to let something go and make room for Him.  It may be an invitation to take on a responsibility that you are not sure how it will happen. 

What is God asking of you this last week of Advent?  What feelings does it evoke?  What is your reaction?  Can you say yes?  Can you, once disturbed, afraid, or surprised respond now with joy? 

For Mary, her yes to God would change the world forever and so could yours. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Keep Christ in Christmas

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

We are all very well aware of the many attempts of stores and government officials to sterilize Christmas, to take Christ out of Christmas and make it kind of a secular holiday.

There was a recent news story in providence Rhode Island about the Governor who
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Carolers singing "O Christmas Tree" crashed Rhode Island's Statehouse tree lighting on Tuesday after Gov. Lincoln Chafee unwrapped a holiday hubbub by calling the 17-foot spruce a "holiday" tree.

City of West Palm Beach officials refer to the city’s 35 foot tree as a holiday tree.
“It’s a holiday tree because it’s the holiday season and we want to be respectful for everybody’s views and respectful for what they celebrate this time of year,” said City of West Palm Beach Parks and Recreation Director Christine Thrower.
This has been something that is going on around the country and spreading year after year.

Now I don’t mention this to cause frustration or discouragement but just as a reminder that we are blessed with the Freedom of Speech in this country.  We can all “Testify to the light” as John the Baptist did.  We can help put Christ back in Christmas.

How do we put Christ back in Christmas?

Well this is more of a practical reflection of ways that may help stimulate your own creativity.  Here are three ways to “Keep Christ in Christmas”

The first way comes to us through the prophet Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.

If you have been confirmed, you have been anointed to do these very things… to bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the broken hearted, set prisoners free… Do you bring glad tidings to the people in your life, in your home, in your work, running errands?

Do you bring glad tidings wherever you go?  Think about it.  When you drive to work on these dark cold mornings and you walk into see your fellow workers… Do you bring glad tidings?  When people encounter you are they better off for having met you that day?  Or think about coming home from work.  How do you treat your family?  Do you bring glad tidings?  Or do you come home, tired, irritable, cranky, impatient, and mean?  If you do then you need to do something different before you come home!  How about the people that you meet at school or running errands?  Think about the young kid at the gas station, the waitress at Outback, the worker behind the counter at Wal-Mart.  Do you bring them tidings of comfort and joy?  Or maybe you work at a retail place and people are franticly running around trying to cross those gifts off of the lists… Do you take the risk of reminding them to slow down and remember what Christmas is all about?

How do you treat people that you encounter throughout the day?  Are they better off for having met you?  At your confirmation you have been given the grace and the power to bring glad tidings, to bring comfort to the broken hearted, and to set prisoners free.  Do you use this grace to “Keep Christ in Christmas?”

Second, Listen to the words from today’s readings form St. Paul to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.

Keep Christ in you this Christmas.  Listen to these words on this “Gaudete” Sunday.  Yes, “Rejoice” Sunday (By the way a good way to remember the difference between Gaudete for Advent and Lautare for Lent is – “L” Lautare for Lent).  These words are so moving, so wonderful, and so powerful – REJOICE ALWAYS!!!!!!!  Pray without ceasing!  In all circumstances give thanks!  Wow!  This is preparing for Christmas.  Is Christ in you?  What I mean by that is are you rejoicing?  Or are you stuck in despair?  Sometimes during this time of year as the days get darker and colder, maybe there is grief at the loss of a loved one, or tensions in the family, separation from loved ones, a son off in war, a daughter across the country… the joy and intensity of Christmas can also intensify some of the darkness.

If you find yourself in desolation or despair or depression – do something to get out of it.  Increase you prayer.  Go to confession.  See a counselor.  Share your struggle with some spiritual wise person.  Get some help.  Exercise.  Rest.  Make a retreat.  Take advantage of what your parish is offering: Christmas concerts, Communal Penance Services, Advent days of recollection, days of reflection.  Get involved in some sort of service where you can get out of your own misery and find compassion for others.  Often the reason we experience desolation is because we have been tepid, lax or lazy in our own spiritual life.  Do not Quench the Spirit!  Find a way to rejoice!

The third way to “Put Christ in Christmas” is to Testify.  This comes to us in the Gospel.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

Jesus is the light, and just as John was not the light but testified to the light so can we?  What do I mean by this?  How can we testify to the light?  Well I don’t mean become a Baptist preacher, though that Spirit wouldn’t hurt, but what I do mean is that “We are all witnesses”.  We can all in some ways witness to and testify to the Light and “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Here are some examples of testifying.  I recently received an email that was an invitation to keep God in our state:

You have an opportunity to vote for the best description to be placed on the new Ohio license plate. If you follow this link you can vote.

What is great is you can vote for, "With God All Things Are Possible", the official Ohio State motto.  I love it! While government agencies are trying to squash God, we have a chance to promote Him!

Imagine if everyone responded to this email our license plates could say “With God All Things Are Possible!”

I know another faithful catholic friend, Walter Lazuka, who writes a pro-life message on everyone of his checks.  Everyone that sees his check is “witnessed” to by Wally.  One lay man that in a very gentle and loving way upholds the dignity of life in the womb.

Another friend, Dr. Phil Gigliotti who is a doctor in Parma, witnesses to every patient, drug rep, and staff member that walks into his office.  He has a stack of bibles there and asks if they read the scripture, if they have a bible and if they read it.  If not he hands them one and tells them to read a passage.  How many spiritual lives have been changed because of this medical doctor?

One man that I worked with years ago started his own business in the music and concert industry.  The founder and president, Tom Arko, named it “Eight Day Sound” which is the with the image of the “Last day”, the day when Jesus Christ would come again, the day we long for during Advent.  He does the staging, sound, video, lighting for your favorite concert tours all over the country and the world.  And how many people will ask him: “Where did you get the name Eight Day Sound?”  Each time he can witness to Christ and point to the light in a business that is normally about money.

What I mean by these examples is that we all have thousands of opportunities every day to witness, to testify, to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Buy a “Keep Christ in Christmas” magnet from your parish’s Knights of Columbus and put it on your car.  Post the readings from this upcoming Sunday on Facebook.  Make your signature on your email your favorite scripture reference.  Wish people Merry Christmas.  Put a light up Advent Scene in your front yard.  Name your company after something scriptural.  Write something intriguing and meaningful on your checks.  Witness and be the light in every way that you can.

We are all not called to be John the Baptist, but we are all anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to set prisoners free, to rejoice always, and to testify and witness to Christ.

How will you “Keep Christ in Christmas?”