Archive for December, 2011

The Joy of Christmas

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Christmas Eve and Christmas

Westminster Towers

Is 9: 1-6; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14

Deacon Larry Briockman 

The waiting is over!  Christmas is upon us.  Do you feel the joy?  Not just the joy over the cards, the gifts, the lights, the decorations, the cookies, and all the glitter of the season; but the joy over the coming of the Lord. 


You know, each year the Church goes through a cycle that starts with Advent.  That’s the four week season that we just went through to prepare for the Lord’s coming.  And then the Church year proceeds to celebrate Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary time in that order.  After that, the Church year starts all over again.  So, we all know that the Church year is symbolic, a reenactment on a yearly basis of the Christian salvation story that unfolded 2000 years ago.  As we celebrate Christmas, we commemorate the birth of the Christ Child and the joy of it.  It may not seem real to us- after all, it is a yearly reenactment.    But you know what- Christmas can be real to us, and not just symbolic if…  If we really take to heart the meaning of it all. 


You see, Almighty God sent his only son into the world to become one of us; and to live as one of us.  He lived, he suffered, he died, and then He was resurrected; and he promised all of us who believe an everlasting inheritance in the Kingdom of God.  If you really, really believe that- if it is an “aha” experience to you, then it can only bring you the real joy of Christmas.  The cards and lights and cookies and gifts become the symbols; the joy of Christ’s coming is what is real!  So, do you feel it- the joy?  And why would you feel joy over that?


In the second reading today, Paul sums up quite well what it is that we should be joyful over.  First- he speaks of the kindness and generous love of God for all of us.  Amen- God’s love is first and foremost the source of our joy.  The God of the universe showed his love for all of us by sending Jesus to live amongst us and show us the way to salvation.   Paul is quick to point out that this love is unconditional, because it doesn’t depend on any righteous deeds we have done.  And when you really think about it, this love is demonstrated in such a unique way.  You see, other religions look at God as “transcendent”, a fancy word that means that God is high above us; so much above us that we cannot possibly have a personal relationship with Him.  But by Jesus becoming one of us, we know that God is available to us through His son, so available because he lived and related to people just like us.  He is still that available to us, because he gave us His body and Blood in the Eucharist.  We will all share in the Eucharist in just a few moments.  How wonderful is that!   


Then, there is God’s mercy.  Because no matter what we have done, if we have accepted his love for us, if we believe in Him, then God forgives us and will save us through rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  That’s called the mercy of God.   

Next, there is the grace that comes with the Holy Spirit, the grace that all of us need to do God’s will.  All of us are gifted with the Holy Spirit-  Jesus promised us that He would send the Spirit.  That’s what our reenactment of Pentecost is all about.  And the Spirit pours out God’s grace on all of us who have the Spirit within us.  We are justified by that grace, because God’s grace is the great enabler we need to be the people he has chosen.


Lastly, we become heirs in the hope of eternal life, heirs to the same happiness that Jesus experiences in His resurrected state.  And that happiness lasts forever.  It is like a fairy tale ending- we will “live happily ever after.” 


Love, mercy, the Son, the Holy Spirit, grace, and the promise of eternal life- really, what more can we ask for than that.  Indeed, Christmas is the source of real joy. 

Keeping It Simple

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Thursday of Third Week of Advent

Is 54: 1-10; Luke 7: 24-30

Dc. Larry Brockman

You can outsmart yourself.  You really can!  Our society almost trains us to do that.


Previous generations were taught the faith through old fashioned rote memory using the Baltimore Catechism #2.  Some of us remember that; but most of you, all of you who learned about your faith after 1963 in fact, probably don’t know a thing about the Baltimore Catechism.  You see, those of us who were taught the old-fashioned way, were taught what the Church teaches by rote memory first.  And then, later on in life, we went through a conversion experience where we thought about what had been drummed into us and either accepted or rejected in our hearts the faith we were given by rote memory.  But the point is, that we knew- we knew exactly what the Church taught.  And it was simple; it was black and white, not relative.


Today, the emphasis in our secular society is on “rationalism”.  Everything is put to the test of reasoning as it is taught.  Everything is subject to questioning; and everything “depends” on the circumstances.  Nothing we are taught seems to be on firm ground.


This contrast, it seems to me, is the same as the contrast between the Pharisees and Scribes of the Law mentioned in the Gospel as opposed to those who were baptized by John.  The Pharisees and Scribes suffered from the danger of too much knowledge and a serious dose of “reasoning”.  All of John’s claims had to be tested, validated, proven, and compared to the scriptures and the detailed law.  And this was done with their minds rather than their hearts.  The Pharisees were not looking for the answer in their hearts- they were looking for compliance with the scriptures in their minds.


On the other hand,  the people that John baptized were just looking for the ultimate truth that would resonate with their hearts.  And so, John told them that truth- that God’s word asks us to believe; to recognize our sins; to repent of them; and to accept the immanent coming of the Lord; and that if we do all that, we will enjoy the Kingdom of God- simple, basic, and not complicated by a lot of hair splitting; and a matter of the heart.


We have the same choice as the people of John the Baptist’s time.  We can choose to listen to the word of God with our hearts, not hanging up on the details, but rather, tuning in on what is really important; or bogging down into the culture of today’s secular society, one that demands- “show me the details; and prove your thesis.” 


This Advent, we are given the opportunity to reflect on the simplicity of the message that the Lord is coming, the savior is coming.  Be prepared for the coming of the Messiah- the Almighty God incarnate as the son of God.  Accept that with your heart, and live Jesus’ practical lesson of love.  If you don’t, you can outsmart yourself in a sea of sophistication that wants proof of the coming of the Son of God amongst us.  The choice is yours. 

Real Joy

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent

Is 61: 1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thes 5: 16-24; Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28

Dc. Larry Brockman


What is it that gives you joy in your life?  Have you ever really thought about that.  Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday in the middle of Advent when the Church asks us to reflect on the coming joy of Christmas.  Because, as Christians, the joy that comes with the Christ child  Should be our ultimate joy.  But is it?  And how can it be our ultimate joy?   

Well, let me ask you again.  What is the source of the joy in your life?  Does your joy come from things- like all the goodies you hope Santa leaves under the tree- things like cars and computers and new clothes and video games?  If you are like me, some of these things can bring excitement and satisfaction- but only for a while.  And when the fascination wears off, and it eventually does, we will go on looking for something else to amuse us.  So, speaking for myself, I don’t think things are the source of joy.   

Maybe you get joy from the goodness and beauty of God’s creation.  After all, a sunset, a sunrise, a breathtaking view of the mountains, or the seacoast, and the night sky;  or a beautiful painting, sculpture or other piece of art- these all can raise our spirits, and that’s kind of what joy is.  But it is passing, and there is something missing- a connection.   

So, perhaps joy comes from relationships.  After all, that’s where we can really make a connection.  A baby certainly seems joyful over the baby’s Mom and Dad- particularly the Mom.  And all of us who have fallen in love know how joyful that can be.  Ah, yes- love in our relationships can bring us some joy.  Both of these examples imply love, and a connection.  So perhaps relationships are the source of our joy.   

But even so, there can be a lot of pain when you fall in love with someone.  There are a number of reasons.  First, all of us humans put limits on our love.  Our love is usually conditional, not unconditional.   Unconditional love is really hard, because it means always giving.  That’s why the love between a Mom and a baby most often seems to portray pure joy, and the same thing between a couple that falls in love.   But this usually doesn’t last- eventually there will be limits.  As a child grows up; or as a couple gets to know each other, the limits begin to appear. 

And the second reason is that there is pain in separation because the connection can be broken.  The most giving of us have experienced that when someone dies that we love or who has loved us or when a child leaves home.   And that can be anything but joyful because of the pain.   

And yet, I am sure that most of you will agree with me that the most joyful experiences we have in life come from our relationships, not from things or nature.  And so, joy, it would seem, can only be complete by unconditional love and a connection that lasts.   

When John the Baptist speaks this morning in today’s Gospel, he says “I am the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the path of the Lord”.  This echoes the prophecy of Isaiah.  And Isaiah’s promise was that the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah, would bring glad tidings to everyone.  These glad tidings would remove all that keeps us from joy- poverty, sickness, broken hearts, captivity, and all such impediments would be removed.  On the other side, the Messiah brings something positive.  And what the messiah really brought us was God’s love- the unconditional love of God for His people because God sacrificed His only son, sending Him to become one of us to live, suffer, die, and eventually be resurrected for eternal life and happiness.  Indeed, Jesus showed us the way to true joy and happiness.  That’s what the Gospel does- it documents the good news.  It shows us that unconditional love for God is the answer.  Because unlike any of our other relationships, our relationship with God can be different.  We have only to recognize the unconditional love that God has for us, and to love God for it, and we will experience everlasting joy.   

That’s why Paul tells the Thessalonians to rejoice always and to pray unceasingly.  The praying part is what keeps us in connection with the Lord.  We need to develop a loving relationship with the Lord, and maintain it.  We do that by getting to know the Lord, and by doing His will.  Prayer is essential for us to do that.  Rejoicing always comes naturally after that.  Because no matter how hard life may seem- no matter how our life is burdened with poverty, sickness, broken hearts, captivity, and all such impediments to our joy, the coming of Jesus, the Lord, as Isaiah promised, changes all that because the never ending search for the ultimate happiness is over.  We need no longer look for the perfect toy, the most beautiful scenery, or the perfect human relationship.  We have found it- the source of our joy.  The Christ Child will bring us the source of our ultimate joy. 

So rejoice always, the Lord is coming.         

The Tremendous Love of God

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Advent Reflection Service

  Dc. Larry Brockman


Love  That’s what Christmas is all about-  the boundless love that God has for us.   

   Last week, my wife and I were privileged to take care of two of our Grandchildren.  One evening, my wife was trying to get our 4 year old grandson Jonah down for the evening.  After reading him some stories, a few Children’s Bible stories in fact, she asked him if he had Jesus in his heart.  He looked up at her, and with a tear in his eye, he said:  “Granny, I think I have Jesus in my heart, but I wish you would ask Him to speak a little louder, because I can’t hear him!”!     

  I wonder how many of us feel the same way.  We think we have Jesus in our hearts, but we are not certain.  How do we get Him to speak a little louder to us?  How do know Jesus is really in our hearts?  Well, this is the time of year that the Church sets aside for all of us to work on that- Advent, the season to prepare for the coming of Jesus.  Now, we can be sidetracked from this important task.  There are Christmas Cards, Christmas Trees, baking to be done, gifts to buy, people to visit and to be hosted, and all kinds of parties and rituals that we will participate in.  Most of them are good in and of themselves because they show that we care, and they show that we can give as well as receive.  But sometimes they take away from our ability to prepare for the coming of Jesus.  And that should be our priority.   

  Today, we have just heard the story of God’s coming among us.  We call that the Incarnation- where God sends Jesus, consubstantial with the Father, into the world to live as a human being.  Wow!  If you really think about that, that the all-powerful, infinite, ever-present God   Sent Himself to live as we do right alongside of us, then it can only bring us immense joy.  And Christmas is the expression of that.  But it implies so much more than that.  The Incarnation is the story of how God loves us, loves us so completely that he would send His Son among us.  So how can we get a feel for just how much God loves us?  Well consider the readings we just heard.   

  First, even though God saved His chosen people from Pharaoh and the Egyptians; and brought them to the promised land; and gave them special prophets and kings; the people were still looking for a sign that God was with them.  And just like a parent who constantly needs to reassure their children, God loved them enough that he did give them a sign- the promised coming of Immanuel, the Messiah.  That is love.   

  And God went on to promise that the savior would come in the town of Bethlehem, just a small insignificant shepherd town.  And so, the Messiah would be born of humble roots.  He would not be famous by birth; he would not be well to do.  He would not be one of the privileged folk of the time.  He would be like one of us, someone we could identify with.  That is love.   

  Not only that, the Messiah would come to save all people, not just the Israeli people.  All of us were to share in the inheritance, Gentile and Jew- God loves all His people.  That is love.

  Then, God chose Mary, a human being like us in absolutely every way to be His mother- the God-bearer.  An ordinary person was entrusted with the responsibility to bring Jesus into the world and bring him up to be an adult.  God, through His angel Gabriel, accepted Mary’s word that she would do God’s will for her, sacrificing whatever goals she had, just to be Jesus’ mother.  And so, the almighty God trusted in our humanity, and that is love.   

  And then it happened- it really happened.  The promise of many generations was fulfilled.  Jesus was born of humble parents in a very ordinary way in the town of Bethlehem,  just like God promised.  That is love.   

  Finally, knowing that all of us needed to know more about our God, John reveals the Trinity to us in the last reading.  The Trinity is a mystery, something we cannot totally grasp.  But nevertheless, God has revealed the Trinity to us.  He has revealed that Jesus is the son of God, fully human and fully divine.  And that Jesus brings the light of God into the world to enlighten us and to show us the way, a way which has been recorded for all time in the Gospels- the Good News of Jesus Christ.  God has done that for all of us Christians.  The Incarnation is unique among the world’s religions.  And the fact is that the Incarnation is so important because it makes God imminent, that is, present to us at a close and personal level.  Now it is also  true that our God is high above us, or what is called transcendent, so much more intelligent and capable and powerful than anything human beings can conceive.  That’s what other religions teach- that God is transcendent.  And yet, because of the Incarnation, God is both Transcendent and Imminent to us Christians.  And being immanent means that we have can have a personal relationship with Jesus, and that is so important.  That is another mystery- but we know that it is true.  It is the essence of what we believe on faith.  That, too, is surely love.   

  And so we know that God really loves us.  He has stuck with us over thousands of years of doubt.  He has sent His only son to live as one of us  He trusted in the word of His mother to do His will,  And after all that, He promised us who believe eternal life- all of us, each and every one of us.  He is a God who is not just high above us and remote, but one who is present to us through His son- always.  That is tremendous love, or as Father Ennis would say, awesome love.  And so we have reason to celebrate Christmas with great joy.  That joy is our way of expressing our appreciation for God’s love.   

  When we acknowledge just how much God loves us; when the reality of that love becomes so very real and present to us that we want to please God in all things, then, we will know that we have Jesus in our hearts.  That is why it is so important to reflect during the season of Advent on Jesus’ coming.  Because, first, we need to understand how much God loves us.  When we discover the boundless, unconditional, love God has for us through Jesus’ coming,  then, we will come to love God.  For what child among us doesn’t love a parent or Grandparent for exactly the same reason-  that they are loved unconditionally?   

  This is the time of year that Santa Claus is featured in the stores and decorations and stories of the Season.  Santa symbolizes the love of Christ because he gives and gives and gives without limit.  True, they are earthly gifts.  But they symbolize the gift of the Christ Child, which is the great gift of Love by God to all of us.  And so when your child asks you about Santa Claus, you would certainly say something like:  “Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.” 

  But we have a mission here this year and every year to understand the love of God and to accept Jesus in our hearts.  And it is one demonstrated by my grandson Jonah’s concern about hearing Jesus.  And so, shouldn’t we say instead:  “Yes Jonah, there really is a Jesus.” 

Building a House on Rock

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Thursday of the 1st Week of Advent

Is 26: 1-6; Mt 7: 21, 24-27

Dc. Larry Brockman


“Yes, but”.  Is our allegiance to the word of God characterized by “Yes, but” or a resounding “Amen”?  Because, that’s the difference between building our foundation on rock or sand.   


You know, there is a fallout associated with all the education we get these days.  In very blunt terms:  “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”.  And in the American society we live in, our level of education is so much more sophisticated than it used to be.  We are taught to question everything; we are taught to be critical thinkers.  That is a good thing, unless…  unless we try to second guess God’s law.  We can become so arrogant about our little bit of knowledge that we don’t listen to God.  You see, God thinks at a level that we cannot begin to approach.  His ways are totally beyond our comprehension.  And so, God has revealed His law to us through the prophets, Jesus and the Apostles, and the great doctors of the Church.  God’s revelation is slow, and doesn’t always seem to be provable or understandable according to man’s level of intelligence.  The Incarnation, the Trinity, the Resurrection of the body, the Eucharist; and some of our moral standards, like the right-to-life, and the dignity of a human person, are examples of that.  So, these are beliefs that are challenged by secular society using today’s sophisticated learning and reasoning.   


Consider some examples of areas where human “thinking” tries to second guess the aggregate teaching of the Church in today’s society.  Usually the sophisticated arguments are used to embrace the exception.  We say- marriage is the union of a man and a woman;  Society’s elite say- yes, but what about two people of the same sex who truly love each other.  We say- an embryo is a human being just like the parents.  But society’s elite say- yes, but what about the fact that the embryo cannot exist without the mother’s body;  And if that support can in any way danger the mother, than shouldn’t there be an exception so the mother can make a choice.  We say- thou shalt not steal; but society’s elite say- yes but   those who have should be forced to pay for those who have not  because all are entitled to basic needs- it’s only fair.   


It is important for all of us to remember that the truth is not relative- it is absolute.  There is black; and there is white.  It is possible to cross the line between one and the other.  In other words- there is still sin.  Abortion is either right or wrong; Marriage is between a man and a woman; and we cannot just steal from people who have, to give to the poor- the rich have to give of their hearts.  Right is right, and wrong is wrong.  And we must build our foundation on rock- that which is right.  That means we must take a position that some things are absolute, not relative.  The things that God has revealed to us as our foundation are things like the ten commandments and the beatitudes and the catechism of the Catholic Church. 


Otherwise, when we think that human beings can discern by the circumstances,  we are building our house on sand.