Bob May and Rudolph/Kindred Misfits with Hope
By Father Pete Iorio
This is a true story: A man named Robert L. May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.
Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”
Bob’s jaw tightened, and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember.
From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at a department store called Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression.
Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.
Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook!
Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.
The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form.
The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.
Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.
[For all the years as a kid, and even as an adult that I watched the TV classic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I never knew the rest of the story.]
And it truly is a story that has Gospel messages. Never give up hope. Persevere in life. Trust in God to always be with you. We know that there certainly are imperfections in this world. Misfits abound. Maybe you feel like you are one. Do not be discouraged to the point of despair.
We could say that John the Baptist was certainly a misfit in the Jewish society in and around Jerusalem. His father was a temple priest and he could have/should have followed in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he lived in the desert region around the Jordan River. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. This was not the typical clothing and food of a first century Jew. He was criticized. Even Jesus said that “John came neither eating nor drinking, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ “ There is a message here to anyone who feels like you do not fit in. USE the gifts that God has given you in generosity and selflessness and great results will come about.
While Bob May could not pay for a Christmas gift for his daughter, he could write stories. And millions of people have received inspiration and joy from this Christmas classic.
Rudolph had what we might call a birth defect, and God gave him an ability to be generous in using it to guide Santa on Christmas Eve.
John the Baptist was able to preach powerfully about God and the need to repent. John basically said: Do the right thing. Share all your extra clothes and food with those who have none. Give up your profiteering and false accusations. Oh yeah, and quit complaining about your salary.
The message must have found receptive ears and hearts because not just a few people came, but crowds of people repented. And they received this as good news and changed their ways.
Today is called GAUDETE or REJOICE Sunday. The first two readings emphasize this message of Rejoicing. The second reading says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. My cause for rejoicing is absolutely believing and knowing the Lord Jesus is within me and in our midst. When troubles and anxieties swirl around, I choose to return to this joy within. Something that is a worry for us as a parish is some of what Bob May had – financial woes. Our offertory income is already declining and last Sunday without a full Sunday collection, we are really hurting. Last Sunday during the snowstorm, I wish we had Rudolph and flying reindeer to go around to your homes and bring you safely to Mass. For our three Sunday Masses, 146 people total were here. The rest of you are not in sin for missing Mass. I dispensed you for good reason. I know you are like me and receive emails and messages every day to be generous with your end of the year giving. I am asking you to put our parish St. Mary’s on that list. We sure could use a little financial joy right now.
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
By Father Pete Iorio
I found this story that seems appropriate for this weekend’s storm: A blizzard hit the Kansas prairie. Two feet of snow drifted to five and six feet in places. The telephone rang in the doctor’s home. The time had come for John Lang’s wife to have her baby. But it was impossible for the doctor to get through those drifts. John Lang called his neighbors: Can you help the doc to get through? In no time, from all directions, came people with plows and shovels. They labored with all their might almost for two hours until finally the old doc was able to make it, just in time to deliver the Lang boy.
Today, to all of us comes a call from another Father, God the Father through His prophet Isaiah and repeated by Jesus’ own cousin John the Baptist: “Make ready the way of the Lord.” But we are called, not to remove piles of snow, but piles of sin, neglect, thoughtlessness, the things that make it difficult and often impossible for the divine child to be reborn to our hearts and lives. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne).
The Advent season challenges us to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ coming…not just to remember his first coming as the Babe of Bethlehem, but His coming at the end of time … and the end of our lives.
This Sunday, there is also a theme of homecoming… as well…Often in the Bible, God gives hope to people in difficult situations. The great city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and many inhabitants were taken in exile to Babylon. Some stayed. In the first reading, the prophet Baruch is speaking about the return of the exiles, giving them hope. In the passage we heard, Baruch speaks to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and tells them to rejoice and go to high places to watch the return of the exiles who are on a 700 mile journey from the east and are joyfully returning home.
During this Advent season, we, too, are asked to return to the Lord from our slavery to sin. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 126) offers us a close-up of the exiles who had wept bitterly on leaving Jerusalem now returning home, rejoicing.
We need to prepare our hearts and lives for Jesus our Savior to be reborn in us during this Christmas time. We have to fill in the “valleys” of our souls, formed from our shallow prayer life and a minimalist way of living our faith. We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking, like involvement in some secret or habitual sins or in a sinful relationship. If we have been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we are called to straighten them out and make restitution. If we have been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time to clear away all the debris. As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent fault-finding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, or a bullying attitude. And we all have to level the “mountains” of our pride and egocentrism by practicing the true humility of rendering humble service to others.
The Gospel reminds us that We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and our fellow human beings: John’s message calls us to confront and confess our sins. We need to turn away from them in sincere repentance and receive God’s forgiveness. Next, we need to forgive others who have offended us and ask forgiveness for our offenses.
This week on Tuesday is St. Mary’s parish penance service at 7 PM. It is an opportunity to prepare our hearts for Christ and open our lives to make a proper home for the Son of God.
By Deacon Don Griffith
“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”(Ineffibilis Deus 1854).
Sometimes we, or perhaps just me, we approach God with the same mindset of how we interact with others. What I mean to say is that as a child to a parent, or as a parent to a child, sometimes our behavior can be surprising. Sometimes we have that same mindset with God- we can sometimes think our actions surprise God, that we catch Him off guard and now He has to play catch up, and He can’t get in front of my sin. But the truth is God is the one who surprises us. In my own prayer, This conversation of love between the Father and the Word. I desire to create so that creatures may know our love and share our life; the Word says send me forth and through Me they shall be made. They will reject me. Again the Word says send me, I will redeem them. The father says a body I will prepare for you; I choose Mary of the house of David.
From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. (Ineff. Deus). God isn’t so much reacting to our sin as God is working the hardest to rescue us from our sin.
The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”.136 The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.(CCC 492). The declaration of St. Paul (Romans 5:12) that all men have sinned in Adam. The purpose of this Pauline declaration, however, is to insist on the need which all men have of redemption by Christ. Our Lady was no exception to this rule. (Cath. Encyc)Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ’s redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor.(Cath. Ency)
Pope Benedict xvi speaks about Mary’s familiarity with the word of God. This is clearly evident in the Magnificat. There we see in some sense how she identifies with the word, enters into it; in this marvelous canticle of faith, the Virgin sings the praises of the Lord in his own words: “The Magnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of her soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate”. (Verbum Domini). Mary precedes us. How God’s word was part of her, and she was able to incarnate the Word of God, so too it is for us. Nourished by the Eucharist and God’s word, we in a sense must incarnate the Word- to be His hands, and His feet, his eyes, His ears and be like Christ for others. In this Season of Advent and in this Solemnity in particular, please give some prayerful thought on the mystery of the interplay of God’s providence and our freedom; How His knowing what we will do doesn’t limit our freedom, but He is able to include it to make it part of His divine plan.
By Deacon John Hackett
Our gospel theme today has a lot to say about the calamity of what is called the last day or the “end times”; technically termed the Apocalypse. And it’s a gloomy picture. But I think it is important to explore this last day, this end of time in terms of your time and my time as Christians. I think we need to get a little bit better focus on the whole process. And it doesn’t involve the end of the world, the Apocalypse per se, although I don’t doubt that that will come about one day….the last day, the end time.
Now, for some background that may be helpful. You see, when a big change happens in our lives, it takes some time for us to get used to whatever the “new normal” might be. A newly married man adjusts to the new normal of being a husband. When a woman gives birth to her first child, she gets used to being a mother. Marriages and divorces, births and deaths, graduations and relocations: these are all major moments in our lives when we leave behind the old day by day, week by week, and settle in to our new situation.
Notice that in all these new normals, we adjust our present circumstances based on a past event…we get used to what happened yesterday and then a new definition of experience arrives. Makes sense, doesn’t it .But things are a little different for the followers of Jesus. Today (as for us) we get used to what happened tomorrow. Now, let me explain that.
You see, the last day has already happened. Although we’re still buying new calendars every year, moving from 2018 to 2019 to 2020 and so forth, the last calendar of the last year of the world has already been printed and all its little squares have been X-ed out. The last hour of the last day of the last year has already happened—a long time ago.
When God entered our world as a human being, died and rose again, he brought the first day of creation and the last day of creation with him. Jesus holds everything from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 in his hands.
Now we confess that he’s the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, but what does that mean? It means He’s everything from start to finish: all history, all God’s doings, all God’s saving, all God’s resurrection. Jesus is God’s timetable in the flesh.
Although, in our time, he was crucified around 30 AD, in God’s time he is (as recorded in the book of Revelation) “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,”. Although, in our time, our bodies will be resurrected on the last day, in God’s time he has already “made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:5-6).
In God’s eyes, the last day has already happened in Jesus. We’ve already been made alive in Jesus, raised with him, and seated with him at the Father’s right hand. Our lives as Christians, therefore, are a constant adjustment to what happened tomorrow. The resurrection is our new normal. We don’t see it or feel it; we believe it. And that faith in what happened tomorrow is what gets us through today.
For instance, my good friend Jim (one of my best and longtime friends in this life) had been battling a serious lung condition off and on for several years. (BTW, he had never smoked a single cigarette in his entire life – so go figure!) But what got Jim through the pain, the weakness, the shortness of breath, the effects of the treatment drugs, and the fear, is what happened tomorrow. You see, Jim had already died with Christ and been raised with Christ, and seated with him in the heavenly places. The tomorrow in Jesus, which had already happened, infused him each day of his sufferings with hope, comfort, and peace. Even his large and lovely family (and me and my wife) could feel it too, even though there was a feeling of sadness about the whole thing. BTW, me and my wife prayed the Divine Mercy for Jim at his bedside the day before he died and Jim even joined in with us when he was able to come up with enough machine-fed oxygen to respond.
You know, when we are sick, when our children are suffering, when our lives seem to be on a downward spiral, and even when things are going just fine, what keeps us going? What fills our todays with strength and hope….What Happened Tomorrow! The creating, saving, and raising that the Father did for us in Jesus.
Our life in the resurrected and reigning Son of God is our new normal. The whole of the Christian life is getting used to sitting at God’s right hand in Jesus.
One day it will get easier because we’ll see it with our own eyes, experience it with our own bodies, but for now we live by faith—which, by definition, according to Hebrews, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Not seen, not felt, but very…much real and true.
So, in ending, until then, our new normal as followers of Jesus is adjusting to our life in Him. From the beginning of the world, he has atoned for our sins. And from the end of the world, he has resurrected us. It’s all present in Him. And us too…because as you know, we are in Him.
By Deacon Don Griffith
Advent is a time of expectant hope. When I hear that word expectant I think of expecting -of a woman who is pregnant. So this Advent we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary, pregnant with our savior, with this expected hope this hope that we hear through all the prophets and today in Jeremiah when the Lord speaks of the just shoot he will raise up for David.
Also we hear on this first day of the liturgical year, a passage from near the end of the Gospel of St. Luke. Because our Lord gives us something else to look forward to and to hope for-that of His second coming. These two comings of our Lord cannot be separated. We prepare for the coming of Christ the Redeemer, Who comes to prepare us for His second coming as Judge. Now is the time for mercy and then at His second coming the time for justice.
The catechism reminds us that before Christ’s Second Coming the church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers (CCC 675). The Savior himself tells us to be vigilant at all times and pray that we have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent. Our Lord gives us everything we need to live a life pleasing to him. Along with St. Paul, I urge all of us to conduct ourselves to please God even more. Our Lord says Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy; some translations have take heed to yourselves meaning we should make use of the gifts of God- cooperate with God’s grace- to work out our salvation with fear and trembling because he repays each according to our deeds. That day will come upon us, the day of Christ’s return. But this should not be a day of fear for the one who is responding to God’s grace. Christ is with us all along. We come before him and beg bless me for I have sinned. We stand before him and say Christ have mercy. Our Lord is able to see a humble and contrite heart. And we come to stand before him and take him into our mouth so that he may enter our hearts and we can go out and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently. It is a day we pray for, a day we really love- the Creed says we look forward to that day. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in spirit of the liturgy that standing is the posture of the victor. Jesus has trodden death and the Evil One underfoot. We have heard that if we have died with him we shall also live with him and if we persevere we shall also reign with him. We persevere by spending this life being vigilant and in prayer and taking particular care of our soul, not only when we don’t sin but when we do we turn back to the Lord and in this way run to meet Christ with righteous deeds.
Jesus is the Way to Meaning in Life
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
We must be on guard for the day which is to come when all will be fulfilled. As we await the coming of Christ, let us love one another, observing His convenience and decrees.
What is so terrifying about the second coming of Jesus? There should be no fear or anxiety because this Gospel tells us to “hold our heads high” when He comes, because our deliverance is at hand.” For those who believe in Him and love Him, Jesus comes as the Bridegroom to the bride; as the fulfillment of all our human hopes and expectations. The Gospel says “people will die of fright in anticipation”: not of what is coming to the earth (Jesus), but of what is coming upon the earth; that is, “there will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars,” signs that the heavens and the earth are passing away.
This is what is frightening to us: the prospect of everything we are used to, everything we take for granted — the very ground we walk on and the air we breathe – just ceasing to exist. It seems to take the security of our life. It isn’t just that our own lives are going to end. The end of the world has something about it that is more frightening than even our own, individual death. When we die, our time on earth is over. But when the end of the world comes, everything we lived and worked for, everything that gave meaning and value to our lives on earth, is over, just as if it had never began. Then, not only has our time on earth come to an end, but everything we have accomplished just drops into nothingness. The very prospect of this seems to pull the rug out from under us before we even get out of bed in the morning. Unless…
Unless the coming of Jesus brings everything we have lived and worked for to fulfillment. The key question is, “What are we working for? What is it that gives meaning and value to our lives? What are we hoping to accomplish during our time on earth?” If we are shortsighted on our goals – that is, if we look at nothing beyond what we do to enhance human life on this planet, then the end of the world really is a canceling out of all we have accomplished. But if our goal has been to bring all people and events under the reign of God, to prepare the world to receive him as Lover and Lord, then His coming brings all our work to completion.
This Gospel presents Jesus to us, not just as the Savior of our souls, but also as the Savior of all we do on earth. He saves the meaning and value of our efforts during life by giving them significance for all eternity – provided that in everything we do we labor as true stewards of the kingship of Christ. This is why the Gospel warns us not to let our “spirits become bloated.” Our spirits are bloated when our minds and hearts (not just bodies) are stuffed with concern for the things of this world. If we just live for ourselves (“indulgence”), or if life is so empty for us that we basically live for detractions (“drunkenness,” including any escapist addiction — for example, television); or if we are so shortsighted that we actually are excited about “worldly cares” – success, status and having sway over people and events – then the end of the world really will “close in on us like a trap.” We will realize that all our life long we had been lured by the bait of immediacy into the trap of the sin of pride, wanting it our way and all revolves around me. Jesus came to save us from this, he came into the world as a humble servant. When we recognize him as the goal of all human history, it gives us something to focus on when we seek direction in our lives and guidance in our choices. If we understand that life itself is supposed to lead to, we can make each step we take count for something. Then the end of the world will be for us a joy, the completion of our journey.
“Woe to the souls where Christ does not dwell!” Is the title of a sermon by St Macarius Bishop of Jerusalem in 340AD. St Macarius help Helen the mother of Emperor Constantine verify the cross of Jesus. One of the three had curried a sick woman instantly when the wood touched her.
When God was displeased with the Jews, he delivered Jerusalem to the enemy, and they were conquered by those who hated them; there were no more sacrifices or feasts. Likewise angered at a soul who had broken his commands, God handed it over to its enemies, who corrupted and totally dishonored it. When a house has no master living in it, it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse. So too is a soul which has lost its master, who once rejoiced there with his angels. This soul is darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame.
“Woe to the path that is not walked on, or along which the voices of men are not heard, for then it becomes the haunt of wild animals. Woe to the soul if the Lord does not walk within it to banish with his voice the spiritual beasts of sin. Woe to the house where no master dwells, to the field where no farmer works, to the pilotless ship, storm-tossed and sinking. Woe to the soul without Christ as its true pilot; drifting in the darkness, buffeted by the waves of passion, storm-tossed at the mercy of evil spirits, its end is destruction. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ to cultivate it with care to produce the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. Left to itself, it is choked with thorns and thistles; instead of fruit it produces only what is fit for burning. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ dwelling in it; deserted and foul with the filth of the passions, it becomes a haven for all the vices. When a farmer prepares to till the soil he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable. So Christ, our heavenly king, came to till the soil of mankind devastated by sin. He assumed a body and, using the cross as his ploughshare, cultivated the barren soul of man. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin. Into the fire he cast the straw of wickedness. And when he had ploughed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the Spirit that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.”
Let us pray (that we take Christ coming seriously). All powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good, that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of Heaven where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God forever and ever AMEN
By Father Pete Iorio
A phrase first uttered by a Harvard professor is: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I am reminded of it because the feast that we celebrate today, Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is new in the history of the Church. Pope Pius XI began it in 1925, during the moment in history when nationalism, secularism and fascism were growing in Europe. The Pope wanted to underline the victory of Christ over evil and the Reign of Jesus established with the resurrection of the Lord. He wanted to remind Catholics that the Reign of God is distinct from any other reign that politics can establish.
It is important to hear well the words of Christ in the Gospel when Pilate asked Jesus: are you the king of the Jews? Jesus answered: “You say I am a king.” Just imagine Jesus who was a prisoner, before Pilate who has the power over his life, and Jesus answered yes, that it is true that he is king. It would have seemed ridiculous to Pilate. Nevertheless, Jesus insists that he is king, but he makes it clear that his reign is distinct. He says: My reign is not of this world. It means that his reign is not based on the power of weapons and armies, nor in the conquest of territory and the collection of taxes. His reign does not function according to the criteria of domination and of control.
Jesus says that his role as king is to testify to the truth and everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. Here the truth indicates the wisdom of God and his plan for the salvation for the world. The word of Jesus is sure; it is the message of God for the liberation of humanity. The word of Jesus does not depend on human power. It does not force itself on anyone. Those who hear are free to accept it or reject it. Jesus comes with an invitation to know the way towards God. Each person can accept his invitation or not. The distinctive mark of Jesus’ reign is love, compassion, forgiveness and non-violence.
To accept Christ as King is to enter the profound mystery of the faith. Pilate is a symbol of an Emperor who can decide whether other human beings live or die; Christ is a king who extends eternal life to all who hear his voice. Pilate is a symbol of power that depends on the force of weapons. Christ is a king who suffers, until death, but does not depend on violence to establish his victory. Pilate is the symbol of those who order others around. Christ is a God who expresses the will of God in service to others. Pilate is the symbol of human ambition which demands loyalty and whose leaders need to win. Christ is He who by means of his fidelity to the Father, invites all to live according to the compassion of God.
When Christ says: My reign is not of this world,” it does not mean that he does not live in this world. Jesus always called his disciples to live now with justice and compassion. He wanted his followers to extend the generosity of what they had received from God. His reign is based primarily on the Beatitudes, not on the commandments. His reign is founded on the same compassion of God, not in a version of the law established by the powerful of this world. His reign is based on forgiveness and the prodigal love of God, not as the concept of control and oppression and fear.
The Church invites us today, at the end of the liturgical year, not only to accept Christ as King, but to commit ourselves to live according to the precepts of his Reign. We are invited to accept Christ: who suffered, as a servant, faithful, compassionate full of love and compassion, as a model of our life. The Risen Christ has already won the victory over all the forces of evil. In Him, we share the victory. We can live in confidence with Christ as King of Our Life.
Most all the kings and queens I have known in history sent their people out to die for them. I know one King who decided to die for his people out of love for them. Those of us who have Jesus, the King of the Universe reign in our hearts, are willing to do the same because as Scripture says: Perfect love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18)