Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Today we celebrate Christmas which is one of the most important days of the Church year. Christmas is the feast of the incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh, the Nativity of the Lord. We celebrate God becoming man bringing salvation to all of mankind.

Though we as Catholics differentiate the Christmas season from the Advent season, culturally Christmas has become much more than a liturgical day. For us our Christmas Season begins today, but culturally the Christmas season has been going strong since the day after Thanksgiving. For the past 4 weeks we have heard songs about a snowman who comes alive, a reindeer with a glowing nose, and a drummer boy who had nothing to give but a song. For the past 4 weeks we have been baking cookies, writing and mailing Christmas cards, covering homes with brightly colored lights, attending Christmas parties, and greeting each other and strangers with good cheer and best wishes. Though, liturgically, Christmas begins today, that is not true of for us culturally. Culturally, Christmas is even now beginning to come to an end.

Considering the modern-day grandeur and scope of Christmas, its beginnings as a liturgical day and season is not easy to pinpoint. The early church was more concerned about the return of Christ than they were his beginning. In fact, the church celebrated annual feast days of Saints and martyrs before the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord became a tradition.

Though the actual date of the birth of Jesus is unknown, we do know that sometime in the late 3rd to early 4th century December 25 was selected as the Nativity of the Lord. Though still debated today, the theories as to why and how the early church came upon the date of December 25 are based on observable tendencies of the early church.
The early church had a high respect for symbolism. On the Julian calendar the winter solstice fell on December 25, and the symbolism of Jesus Christ, the light of world, coming on the darkest night of the year was not lost on the early church. The early church had a tendency to borrow from the world around them. It is possible that in an attempt to offset the influence of pagan festivals the early church selected the date to coincide with a harvest festival to the Roman god Saturn. Regardless of the specific reason as to why December 25 was chosen, we do know that the date of the Celebration of the Nativity of the Lord has not changed since the early 4th century when it was established.

Since then the traditions surrounding this day have been influenced by culture, both civil and religious alike. From Santa Claus, whose beginnings are found in the stories of the charity and the humility of a 4th century saint named St. Nicolas, to the Christmas tree, which emerged from 17th century Germany when pre-Christian traditions surrounding evergreens and lights melded with the early Christian tradition of a “paradise tree”. Christmas candles, window lights, luminaries, nativity scenes, los posadas, Christmas carols, mistletoe, holly, poinsettias, and Christmas pageants all came from a culture and a people from somewhere other than the 1st century, out-of-the-way, nowhere town called Bethlehem.

Even in my own family our Christmas traditions have evolved and morphed based on cultural and personal tastes. My Norwegian grandfathers would not have dared celebrate Christmas without oyster stew or lutefisk and lefsa, a Christmas tradition that my family gladly abandoned in favor of Red Baron Pizza and spring rolls. In my childhood home my brother and I opened presents on Christmas Eve. My wife, on the other hand, could not even conceive of a Christmas morning without the frantic unwrapping of presents.

To pretend that Christmas, the season, liturgical or otherwise, is not a wonderful, beautiful, fantastic hodge-podge made up of cultural, religious, and personal traditions would be to miss out on the very reason for this glorious day. That reason, that Jesus Christ, son of God, fully man and fully God, came to earth that ALL who believed in him may become children of God. The traditions of this season are what make this season truly unique and significant for during no other time of the year do we celebrate, what we celebrate this day, the way we celebrate it.

We celebrate hope, love, charity, and peace. We celebrate our acceptance of one another and tolerate those who we otherwise would not. It is not our traditions, customs, and practices that make Christmas so special, rather it is the fact that during this time of year, unlike any other, we celebrate that which we share in common…a desire for light in a dark world…a desire for peace and harmony with our fellow man… a desire for salvation and the hope that it brings.

Our challenge this day is not to defend our traditions from the culture around us, rather it is to share our traditions with the culture around us. Our traditions allow us to express the love, hope, charity and peace which were given to all of mankind as a gift, in the form of an infant. Our challenge is to share our hope, love, charity and peace with those around us, and to do so again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day after that, until the Lord comes again in power and glory.

We come to this altar to today in celebration. Celebrating that God came to us…that God is here with us…and that God will someday come again for us.

As we enter into this Advent season

Gospel of Luke 21:25-28, 34-46

So… I did it.  Yes, indeed I sure did.  I went down a convoluted shadowy path this past week.  A path crowded on all sidesby misguided conjecture and fraught with misinterpreted prophecies.  A path inhabited by men and women, Protestantand Catholic alike, who boldly and unabashedly proclaim to possess the knowledge of the “truth”.  A “truth” that they claim has been revealed to them through personal revelation and is only given to those who are the “true” believers. This “truth” they claim?   The knowledge of the dates, times, and events pertaining the Second Coming of Christ.

My friends, I am confessing that this past week of homily preparation was not one of joy.  As I prepared to embark upon this liturgical season of Advent, I was overwhelmed by the negativity I encountered on full display in the internet world topic of “the second coming of Christ.”  Advent is, according to the Norms of the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Missal, “a time of preparation…, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when… minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming…. “For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” 

Delight was definitely not a term I would use to describe my internet experience. For me, the deeper I went into the world-wide web of end-times prophecy the more discouraged, depressed, and disheartened I became.   Global war, environmental disasters, wide-spread persecutions, and apostasy are not the preferred themes of traditional Christmas songs and Hallmark movies.  Yet, in today’s Gospel in Luke, this 1stSunday in Advent, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about these very same catastrophicevents.

It is easy to read this Gospeland then allow the political, natural, and religious events of our current day to darken our expectant joy and diminish our faith and hope in the Second Coming of Christ.  Even today we offer our prayers to those individuals, families, and communities whose lives and livelihoods were affected by fire and earth quake. Yet, despite the turmoil and terrors, we are instructed in today’s Gospel to “stand and raise our heads” in the wonderful anticipation of our promised redemption.

So…how do we rectify this apparent contradiction?  This contradiction evidenced by today’s Gospel and its warnings of trial, tribulation, tragedy, and discord in the light of Advent, a season of “devout and expectant delight.” 

We must first come to understand who we are as Catholics and what we believe.

Who we are?  We are the body of Christ with Jesus as our head.  We are the Church and there is no separation of Jesus and his church.  The church was born on Pentecost and has continued, and will continue, throughout the rest of history until the Second Coming of Christ.

What we believe? We believe that Christ is present in his Church.  We are not “dispensationalist”, nor do we profess “millennialism”.  Each of these fallacies deny Christ’s presence in his church and profess that the church will be “raptured” before the second coming of Christ.  The catechism clearly confronts these false doctrines, stating that “the final age of the world is with us” and “that Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled… by the king’s return to earth.” (CCC 670 & 671)

My friends, we are now currently living in the end times… the last days!

This reality, the reality that Jesus Christ, through his birth, life, passion, and death has allowed us to become the children of God, co-heirs to the kingdom, is the very foundation of our faith and our hope.  Our hope that as sons and daughters of God, the Almighty, we will receive the promise of God, eternal life in perfect in love with our Creator and with his creation.

Yet, in spite of our belief in the promises of God, and the hope which is produced, I believe we, as the church, the body of Christ, have become drowsy and have succumbed to the anxieties of life.  We have allowed fear and sin to exist in our lives, and in turn have become apathetic, or at the very least dismissive, to our mission as ordained to us by Christ.

Today, in this country, the greatest threat to life is not war, pestilences, or natural disaster it is self-harm.  A recently published study by the Center for Disease control reports that the life-expectancy rate in theUnited States has decreased continuing a 3-year period of stagnation and decline.  The main reasons for this decline in life-expectancy?  Suicide and drug over-dose.

Deaths from heart disease, the number 1 killer of Americans, have leveled off. Deaths from cancer and other serious illnesses are in fact declining.  Yet, the average life-span of an American is decreasing, not for lack in advancement of medical science, but rather to loss of hope.

We, as disciples of Christ, members of his body, his church, have the cure to such an illness.  For it is hope that flows abundantly from the well-spring of grace which has been given to us without merit or measure by God, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are his ministers of grace and communicators of hope.

As we enter into this Advent season preparing our homes, our places of work, and our community to celebratethe 1st coming of Jesus, let us commit ourselves to preparing also for his second coming by standing alert, awake, and ready to be the agents of hope in a world so desperately lacking.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite…

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In today’s 1st reading in Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people of God to not only hear the statues and decrees of God but to also live by them. He issues a challenge to live as God commands and affirms that the God of their fathers is far superior to all the others. He states, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Moses is pointing out two unique aspects of the Law of God. The first, that God desires to be near to us. He is not uncaring, distant, or disinterested observer of human activity; rather, God is loving and near, near enough to hear the voice of his people. Secondly, God’s law is just. It’s precepts and guidelines not only prescribe how one should interact with him, but also how one should interact with others.

In today’s 2nd reading, St. James continues Moses’s exhortation to the people of God as directs, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” He then provides a very specific caveat, stating “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” His instructions to the early church reiterate the message of Moses that the true measure of faith in God is manifested in actions, and most especially actions directed towards those who lack status and a voice.

Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chastises the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah he confronts their make-believe faith, stating, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. He then calls his followers to him and clearly professes the following truth, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Jesus emphatically makes clear that faith in God is not a procedure or methodology. One cannot achieve righteousness by their own accord; rather, righteousness is given through transformation, a transformation of the very inner-self.

The 1st century Palestinian Jew, at least those who were obsessed with righteousness before God, were consumed with ritual and appearances. They had confused the decrees and statues handed down to them through Moses with oral traditions and practices. Their assumptions about what it meant to be righteous before God were impregnated with self-conceived illusions of piety. They wore their faith like they wore their clothing; as a means to cover and communicate status.

When Jesus stated that “nothing that enters one from the outside can defile”, he was revealing to his disciples the essential truth of the Gospel: that no one is without need of salvation. That no person is righteous by their own actions. Righteousness before God is not achieved through ritual and custom, rather righteousness is only achieved through the gift of God’s grace given to those who believe and are baptized in faith.

In the darkness of this present age and in the division it has created, a division present even within our own church, the message of Jesus Christ, our need for salvation, comes to us today as both a beacon of hope and as a call to repentance. As Moses exhorted the Hebrew people, and as James reminded the early church, and as Jesus instructed his disciples, faith, true faith in God, transforms the person from the inside out.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite the mystical Body of Christ. We can no longer afford to let division and difference separate us from the reality that we, and those around us, are in desperate need of the transforming power of God’s grace poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit. It is time that we remove from our language the words of division such as “liberal” and “conservative” recognizing that now more than ever we are called to be first disciples of Jesus Christ, and second, servants of one another. Whether we prioritize the exercise of our faith in the service of the poor or on bended knee in front of the blessed sacrament, we are all called to be transformed by the grace given to us through Eucharist and the Sacraments of the Church.

This day I ask you all, myself included, to pause and reflect, allow the perpetual light of the Word of God to reveal our empty practices and customs of performance-based piety. As you come to the altar of God this day do so in the full awareness of your need for salvation. And, as you leave the altar of God this day, do so in the full awareness of those around you who need you to be a witness of that salvation.

What does it meant to be sheep without a shepherd?

16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34

What does it meant to be “sheep without a shepherd?” Does it mean to be lost? Does it mean to be at risk, or in danger? At the mercy of the environment, in want, or in need? Does it mean to be without purpose or direction?

I presume that we all have had moments in our life when we have felt void of purpose or lacked direction. Times or periods when we go through the motions, act out of habit or routine. We, and again I presume, have all had time in our lives when we felt threatened; the wolves of life were circling, snapping their jaws and filling our ears with their growly threats. Moments in our life when fear gripped us, controlled us, and caused us to do and say things that we later regretted and wished we could have taken back.

Maybe you will disagree with me, however, I would suggest that might just be what it feels like to be a sheep without a shepherd; to be lost, fearful, discouraged, and in persistent doubt. To be a sheep without a shepherd is to live a life at risk, constantly on alert, always on the lookout for the next threat.

Jesus, after his disciples returned from their missionary journeys, instructed them to get into a boat so that they may get some rest. They headed to a desolate place, something that Jesus did himself, in order that they may refresh, restore, and prepare themselves. Yet, that isn’t what happened.

Imagine if you will the scene. Jesus and his disciples traveling in a boat and thousands of people walking along the hillside and shoreline tracking their progress. People who, maybe only hours before, were at their homes, doing their chores, engaged in their work, going about their day just as they did the previous days before, and were now traveling to a desolate place so that they may have an opportunity to see and hear Jesus. What caused them to leave their daily routine and go out into the wilderness? They did so, because they were people in need.

Some in need of physical healing, yes. There were those suffering from illness, disease, and deformities hoping for relief and a cure. But not all were suffering from illness or disease. What about those who were physically fit, lacking a deformity, or physical limitation? Why were they leaving their routine and seeking Jesus?

They came because they needed what we all need from Jesus: complete healing. Men and women who needed their sins to be forgiven and to be restored. Men and women who had been living their lives, going about the motions, yet, lacking in security, care, direction, and purpose. They were sheep without a shepherd.

This event in the Gospel of Mark signals a change in Jesus’s ministry. He never again enters into a synagogue to teach. His ministry goes public, so to speak. People surrounded him in the marketplaces and searched him out. His popularity grew, as did the crowds, but so did the resentment and scorn of the Pharisees and other religious rulers of his time.

Something happened to Jesus that day on a boat, as he saw the large crowd of people awaiting his arrival. As he looked upon these people, these sheep without a shepherd, his heart was moved with pity. He saw a group of people with their needs, their wounds, their despair, and lack of direction and he loved them.

In the verse, the Greek word translated as “heart” is not meant in the sense of an actual biological beating heart. His biological heart wasn’t moved. Rather, this word could more accurately lead to mean in English as “gut”; or the seat of our emotions. When we use the phrase, “I feel it in my gut” we typically are describing a feeling that is found in our very most inner self. That place down deep inside each and every one of us in which resides the very core of our humanity; the very essence of who we are. When Jesus’s heart was moved with pity, it was his very most inner self, the very core of all that he was, and is even to this day, which caused him to respond and to desire to shepherd his sheep.

Jesus’s love for you today is in no way diminished or lessened. Just as he looked upon those tired, misguided, and desperately lost people, and was so moved to responded to their needs, so too does he look and respond to you, here this day, in front of this altar.

We too, at times, act like sheep without a shepherd. We too have gotten lost in our sin and misguided intentions. We too have been surrounded by wolves, subsequently threatened to scatter, and have felt abandoned and forgotten. Yet, do not let us forget that Jesus loves us and his love for us is at the very center of who he is, for it is that love which calls us…calls us to him, who is our shepherd.

St. Mother Teresa started each day in prayer

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

It is said that St. Mother Teresa started each day in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  She is also recorded as saying, “You are called to do more than say, ‘I love you Jesus.’ You are called to be your brother’s and sister’s keepers.”  Her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament combined with her service of others embodies the spirit and purpose of today’s Solemnity, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or more commonly referred to, Corpus Christi Sunday.

For us Catholics, today’s Solemnity is significant in that it draws our focus towards two manifestations of the Body of Christ:  the Holy Eucharist and the Church.  Much like the previous Sunday’s solemnity, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we, the faithful, are called to celebrate one of the great mysteries of the Church.  We are called to reflect upon and profess our sacred belief that the Body of Christ is present and real in both the Eucharist and in his Church.

Throughout history, God has called all of humanity to himself.  It is his desire to make men holy and save them, but not just as individuals, but as a people, a people of God.  A people who are bound and connected to one another.  He created this bond through the establishment of a covenant.  A covenant he made with a people whom he called.

In today’s first reading we heard how God established this covenant with his people through Moses (the law) and through blood, the blood of animals.  This covenant was a pre-figure, a preparation for, the New Covenant, the eternal and perfect covenant instituted by Christ though his sacrifice upon the cross.  This New Covenant, ratified in the blood of Christ, allows all of humanity, both Jew and Gentile, to become one race, not in the flesh, but rather, in Spirit.

As the people of God we perpetuate this mystery, this New Covenant, through the celebration of the Eucharist.  As recorded in today’s Gospel, Jesus gave the supreme expression of his sacrifice for the salvation of men at the Lord’s Supper when he proclaimed, “This is my body which is given for you.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  He transformed this Last Supper with his disciples into the memorial of his voluntary sacrifice, which, in turn, has been perpetuated throughout the Age of the Church by his Apostles and their successors.

We acknowledge the physical and mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist when we stand before the Host and profess, “Amen.”  By our “Amen” we attest that the offering of bread and wine do indeed become, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, the real and physical Body and Blood of Christ.  We also attest, as the Catechism states, that those who have been nourished by the Body of Christ then also become the Body of Christ.

The mystical Body of Christ, the Church, are those who have been born of the Spirit and have been baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Through our profession of faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we then become the Church, the body of Christ.  Our role as the Body of Christ is to then engage in his work; the mission to make disciples of all nations.

It is my fear that as our society has become more polarized and divided, that we, the Church, have allowed ourselves to mimic, or copy this attitude of division.  We, as the Body of Christ, I fear, have succumbed to the lure of division and isolation and have, instead, turned our attention to the things which divide us, rather than the reality which unites us.  This reality which unites us all, is that each and every one of us are in need of salvation.  The salvation offered through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.

On this day, this day of celebration, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, I challenge you to not only profess your faith with your “amen”, but that you also profess your faith in this mystery by your actions.

When you receive the Eucharist you are in fact allowing yourself to be transformed by that which you consume.  You are not only professing your faith in the great mystery but you are also committing yourself to be an active participant in the missionary work of the Church.  When you reach out to those who are suffering, to those who are hungry, sick, and imprisoned in doubt, fear, and shame you are in fact reaching out with the very hands of Jesus.

I ask you to reflect upon the example left to us by St. Mother Teresa.  Her daily devotion to prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament manifested in her a daily commitment to be the Body of Christ to those whom she served.  She embodied the reality that those who are nourished by the Body of Christ also become the Body of Christ.  Become the Body of Christ for someone else today.  Let them see in you this mystery…the mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”…

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”… this is not only the most effective way of getting the attention of a room full of Catholics, but it is also our most basic and simplest profession of faith.  As we cross ourselves and call out in the name of the Most Holy Trinity we are, in essence, acknowledging our belief in the greatest two mysteries of the Church; the redemption obtained for us by Christ through his salvific work on the cross and the three distinct persons of the Most Holy Trinity.  Today, in the modern age, the significance of this simple profession of faith may be somewhat diminished, but its importance and relevance is essential and necessary to the life and well-being of the Church.

The development of the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity was not without controversy and conflict.  Throughout the centuries the church’s efforts to clarify this teaching required many councils and the theological work of many Church Fathers.  The doctrine itself, after years of struggle against heresy and false doctrine, was ultimately formulated in both the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and, finally, in the Council of Florence in 1442.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is considered to be the central mystery of the Christian faith.  Though we, as modern day disciples of Christ, may not truly appreciate the struggle and the effort represented in the simple act of crossing ourselves “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, this profession of faith did not come to us without struggle and sacrifice.  Countless men and women endured and preserved in order that this essential truth remained firmly at the center of our faith and witness.

It is this central belief in the mystery and power of the Most Holy Trinity which we find in today’s Gospel reading.  It is also in today’s Gospel reading that we find the challenge given to us by our Lord and Savior.  The challenge of living our faith in such a manner that others will also become disciples of Christ.

In order to meet this challenge we must first be willing to examine our life and how we live it.  We must ask ourselves difficult questions.  Questions such as, “How am I fulfilling the command of Christ to go and make disciples?”, and, “Am I intentionally, purposefully, prayerfully, and visibly living each day in order to fulfill this challenge?”

As Catholics we sometimes fall into the trap of; that is what the Priests and Deacons are supposed to do.  They are responsible for baptizing and instructing.  As good Catholics we are only required to pray, pay, and obey. We are not responsible for making disciples.

Christ’s call to “go and make disciples” is universal and encompasses all who call themselves followers of Christ.  It is not a right, a privilege, or even a “calling”; it is a commission.  A commission from our Lord and Savior to spread his light and love throughout all the world; regardless of title, position, or ordination.

Jesus Christ called his disciples to him on the mountain and, in spite of their doubt, commissioned them to go and make disciples.  We, the fruit of their labor, are held to that same expectation.  Though our individual responsibilities and authority vary according to our unique and specific gifts and talents we all have opportunity to teach and guide others in the ways of our Lord.

We teach others by how we live.  When we stand up against injustice; when we show kindness; when we take the time to listen; when we respond in love; when we provide comfort and support; when we offer friendship; when we give direction… we are teaching others what we have learned from those holy men and women who gone before us.

Our responsibility to make disciples does not require formal formation and the Sacrament of Ordination.  Our responsibility to make disciples rests in our willingness to let Christ, through the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit, to minister through us.  This willingness comes from a choice.  A choice to fulfill the commission of Christ to go and make disciples.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Church

Pentecost – Solemnity

Happy birthday everybody. Or, I guess I should use the proper name for this solemn day…Pentecost. So…Happy Pentecost everybody.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. Roughly, some 2000 plus years ago, on this day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, manifested in the sound of a mighty wind and in tongues of fire and filled all who were present with power and grace. This event, as recorded by St. Luke in the 2nd chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, marks the beginning of the “age of the Church.”

This solemn day of Pentecost finds its beginnings in the ancient Jewish festival of the same name, but is also known as the “Festival of Weeks.” In the ancient Jewish tradition, Pentecost consisted of a seven-week season committed to celebration and thanksgiving. By the end of the 2nd century, Pentecost in the Christian tradition, had manifested itself into a 50-day festival starting immediately after Passover. During this time, fasting and kneeling were prohibited as it was a designated period of rejoicing and celebration. This practice of Pentecost continued late into the 4th century when the Feast of the Ascension was added at the 40th day following Easter. It was then, around this period of time, that the celebration of Pentecost as a 50-day celebration was interrupted and the 50th day following Easter was begun to be observed as Pentecost.

I share with you this brief history lesson not just in hopes of providing a little education, but also in hopes of providing a little inspiration.

Our Catholic Church since the 1st Pentecost, has rejoiced and celebrated her birthday from the very beginning. From her very inception, our Catholic Church has remembered her origin and her mission by recalling that glorious and mysterious day. A day in which a promise had been fulfilled. A promise to send an Advocate. An Advocate of truth who guides and empowers the Church to fulfill her commission to spread the Gospel throughout all the world. This commission to spread the Gospel is as real, and as vibrant, and as necessary today as it was 2000 years ago.

I recognize that this commission is a challenge. It is indeed as much a challenge to carry out today as it was for those who have gone before us as they set the example for us. This challenge to live out the command of Jesus Christ to go and spread the Gospel, baptizing and making disciples, is not an easy task, nor was it ever intended to be. Yet, as made evident to us through all three of today’s readings, the expectation to evangelize the world was given to us not without help nor without power.

This power, though not necessarily manifested in the same manner as it was some 2000 years ago, is available to each and every one of us here today. This power, manifested in both word and deed, allowed the Apostles to go forth and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, and is of the same source which guides and directs Christ’s Church today. This power, this power of the Holy Spirit, has been given to those who have been confirmed by the Church in full measure and it is we who are responsible for carrying out the mission and purpose to evangelize and build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Now, there is a cynical and grumpy man who has been known to not have such a high esteem of birthdays. He has been heard to say on more than once occasion, and in his typical curmudgeonly way, something that sounds a lot like this, “Why do people always want to celebrate their birthday? Really, all you have to do to have a birthday is not die in the past 365 days.”

Cynical, grumpy, curmudgeonly men notwithstanding, I challenge you this most solemn and holy birthday to make the next 365 days a year worth celebrating. A year worth celebrating because you endeavored to make it a year worth living. A year worth living not just for yourselves, but a year worth living for your faith, for your Church, and for your Savior.

During the next 365 days, each and every day, you have an opportunity to make a difference in the world in which you live, and in the life you are living. You have an opportunity to show a kindness to someone whose life is full of bitterness and regret. Or, to demonstrate God’s justice by allowing yourself to be an instrument of his mercy to someone who is desperate and full of despair. You have the ability to act in charity by not only giving out of your abundance, but also by giving out of what you have in short supply. This year can be the year you make a friend out of an enemy and promote peace and cooperation instead of conflict and division.

God willing, you have 365 days to prepare yourselves for what ought to be a most glorious and wondrous celebration. A celebration resulting from your cooperation with the Spirit of God to effect positive change in your world through the fulfillment of the great commission of Jesus Christ by spreading the Gospel to all of your world. A celebration, I remind you, which has continued on throughout history…the celebration of the birthday of the church…which started in a small room full of people who were willing to allow themselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and make a difference in their world.