The Preparations

When you get married, preparing for Christmas is a little different. You both bring your own traditions and preferences and have to find some middle ground. White lights or colored lights? Real tree or fake tree? Homemade ornaments or the store-bought kind? This doesn’t even address the typically bigger questions of “Whose family’s house will host Christmas?” “Do we celebrate on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?” “What time are we going to Mass?” It’s a lot to think about, but preparing is very important. In fact, during Advent, that is the MOST important.

It’s not actually those preparations that are important though. You should spend far more time analyzing your heart than your home. You should be focused on the light of Christ, not the ones on your tree. The way you do that is by praying and encountering Christ in the Sacraments. You won’t find Him in the mall or under the tree. In fact, you will find Him in some of the unlikeliest places—such as in a manger in that stable that first Christmas night.

The season of Advent precedes Christmas. It requires us to prepare ourselves, so if it’s been awhile, prepare yourself by going to Confession.
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The Light in the Darkness

When you’re going through something difficult the two last things you want to hear are “It’s all a part of God’s plan” and “You just need to have hope.” Just no. God doesn’t want bad things to happen. And hope? Hope in what?! Well, “the light shines brightly in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Sin was not a part of God’s plan. Death, brokenness, and darkness are all the result of it. Suffering is a result of our sinfulness and Original Sin. But in the darkness, God’s light shines brightly. In our brokenness, God restores. And death gives way to life through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

What is Advent? It is hope. We trust that “at dawn there is rejoicing” (Psalms 30:6). Dawn is daybreak—light penetrating the darkness. No matter what darkness has crept into your life—serious sin, doubt, suffering, etc—joy comes in the morning.

Advent is a time of joyful expectation. We may be in darkness. We may be hurting. We maybe caught in some serious sin, but the dawn is coming! Emmanuel! God is with us! This Advent, prepare for the light of Christ to shine brightly into your own darkness. Christmas is coming. That’s hope.

The King

As Catholics, we have it pretty easy here in the United States. Odds are, none of us will have to die for our faith. We may be persecuted (just Google the Little Sisters of the Poor and their ongoing legal battle with the government), but no one is getting killed for following Christ or attending Mass. In many parts of the world, that is not the case.

In the 1920s, the Mexican government all but outlawed the Catholic faith. The bishops of Mexico even had parishes stop celebrating Mass for the safety of all believers. By the end, over 5,000 Catholics were killed. The Cristeros were the revolutionaries who fought against the persecution—many of whom were priests who stood alongside the revolutionaries and fought back using non-violent means. The Cristeros’ battle cry was “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”).

Catholic martyrs are people who have died for their faith—died for their King. Many have given their lives simply attempting to attend Mass. They sacrificed everything to be with Christ the King, yet we often show up to Mass late, leave early, pull out our phones, etc. What are we missing? It’s time we started living as if Christ is our King.

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

The Blessings

When we know Jesus, our outlook changes. Bad things still happen. We still get sad or upset. But our outlook changes. When there is darkness, we can still see the light. We can use times of hurt and pain (or even past sinfulness) to grow closer to Christ and to lead others closer to Him as well.

All of our gifts, money, and time on this earth are blessings from God. We thank Him by using them for His glory, not by being stingy with them for our own. When we go through rough patches, we have to acknowledge the blessings in those moments as well. “We know that all things for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28), so we have to use all of these blessings—the good ones and the ones we perceive as “bad”—to glorify Him.

My wife and I have lost three babies over the last two years. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good, but I can always see God working. The last two years have been an awesome test of hope, where I have seen my trust in the Lord grow immensely. I can bury those thoughts and focus on the negative, or I can use them to glorify Him.

The Unprepared

Has someone ever forgotten who you are? Maybe you ran into someone you went to kindergarten with or something, and you recognized him, but he didn’t recognize you. It’s kind of insulting. In yesterday’s Gospel, we heard about these women who approached the bridegroom (God), and he didn’t recognize them because they were unprepared.

God knows each and everyone one of us. In Jeremiah, we hear that He knew us even before He formed us in the womb. How could He not recognize us then? It’s like when someone does something so completely wrong and out of character, and we say, “I don’t even know who you are anymore.” Of course God knows us, but we have become completely unrecognizable because of our sinfulness. He made us to be one way, but we have chosen to be another.

We don’t know when we’re going to come face to face with our Maker. We don’t know when He’s coming back, and we don’t know when our time on this earth will end… but we need to be ready. This means we need to be praying, attending Mass, AND receiving God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. If you were face to face with Him right now, would He recognize you?

The Evangelists

Even though most people are more afraid of public speaking that dying, standing up in front of hundreds of teens on a weekly basis isn’t that hard. To preach the Gospel with your words, you could get by (not do an exceptionally good job… but get by) with a few hours of research and a few well-placed stories. To be effective at it though, it requires a lot more work and, most importantly, a relationship with God.

It’s all too easy to say, “Do as I say, but not as I do.” Practicing what you preach can be difficult. Our faith and our ministry (which we are ALL called to) should not be limited to what we say, but what we do. And it’s not only what we say and do when people are watching. It’s not only what we say and do on Sundays. It’s about a 24/7/365 relationship with Christ.

We have all been called to share the Good News. No one is exempt. When people notice that you go to church or believe in Jesus because you wear a crucifix, you become an evangelist. You become a representative of the Church. So you must ask yourself, “Am I leading people closer to or away from Jesus?”

The Extreme

There’s a big difference between ALL and SOME. If I ask for some of your fries, I probably won’t be eating every single one. If I ask for all of them, there won’t be any left when I get done with them. The word “all” is a superlative. It’s an extreme. Just like the word “none.” This is why it’s easy to prove or disprove multiple choice questions that include those words. It only takes one exception to disprove it.

In our Gospel reading yesterday, Jesus said that you must love the Lord “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He didn’t say some of it. He said ALL of it. Is this something you do? Or have you given part of your heart, soul, or mind away to something or someone else?

It’s not easy to give all of ourselves to something when society tells us we need to be involved in so much. We have schedules packed with school, extracurriculars, work, friends, and more. It’s impossible to give any one thing our all. Yet it seems that God frequently gets nothing. Make time for Him, and give Him your all by only filling your life with those things that glorify Him.

The Debt

There’s a difference between owing someone something and someone deserving something. To owe someone something is to be in debt. For example, if you spend money on a credit card, you owe money to the credit card company. The credit card company spotted you the money to allow you to buy something, but that debt must be paid.

Jesus paid our debts. The cost of sin is death. That is what we owe, yet Christ took on our sin and death and died in our place. We are debt free. We no longer need to pay the price for our sin, and we do not need to pay Jesus back in anyway. Even though we don’t owe Him anything, He is DESERVING of our praise, our worship, our time, and our devotion.

There is no way we could possibly pay Jesus back for His sacrifice even if we wanted to. He is beyond deserving of our love and devotion. We express that through our prayer, the way we live our lives, the things we say “yes” or “no” to, etc. We do not owe Him this, but He is deserving of it. How do you express your love to the God who so lovingly paid your greatest debt?

The Party

I love free stuff. Free stuff is inherently better than stuff you pay for… for example, free food just tastes better! Right?! If someone invited me to a party, told me it was free, AND that there would be food and dancing, I would totally be there. This is why I like weddings. Free food and fun… plus the Sacrament of Matrimony (obviously).

In yesterday’s Gospel, many invited wedding guests didn’t share my enthusiasm. Back in Jesus’ time, weddings even lasted a week! Can you imagine a week-long party with free food? Who would say no that? Yet, plenty did. So the king in this parable sends his servants out to extend the invitation to anyone they could find.

We turn down really good stuff all the time without even knowing it. Every time we sin, we turn down God’s plan for our us. He has extended an invitation to us to join Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, yet many of us turn Him down by the way we live our lives. We have an opportunity to join God for the ultimate, free, life-long party. He literally gave His life so that we could join Him. We RSVP by how we live our lives. Will I see you there?

The Future

I am the guy with a vision. I have big plans. There are big things I want to make happen both in my ministry and in my life. As a result, I am also a worrier. That’s what happens when you are always looking to the future instead of the present. We get anxious.

My struggle is letting God be in control, but He tells us in our second reading this weekend, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is our relationship with God. Petition is what we ask of Him. Thanksgiving is for the gifts of the past and present. If we are focused on this, we cannot get caught up by the anxiety of looking ahead.

Our God has a plan for us. Trusting in His plan is the virtue of hope. It is so important to trust in this plan even when it doesn’t align with our own. Like I said, I look ahead a lot, but I can’t desire to have my own plans succeed more than God’s or impose my plans upon Him. His plans will lead me and those around me to Heaven. Who knows where mine lead…