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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Foxes

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:8-12)

Good News! A Savior is born!

Who knew first? A lowly group of ordinary shepherds. But the news was intended for everybody -- for all mankind for all time because those shepherds were excited. And they checked it out. They went over to Bethlehem to see this thing that happened, and found the Baby lying in a manger. And they told other people!

It must have been very rare to find a new born baby laying in a stable in a place where animals feed. But that is indeed how Our Lord Jesus Christ chose to come into the world. And those are the type of people He invited to His birth -- ordinary people.

When He exited the world, Jesus chose the cross as the means of his leaving. The cross became a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Muslims teach somebody else took His place on the cross because to them Jesus was a great prophet, and to die on the cross was a shameful death. It's too bad more people didn't pay attention to His birth because being born in a stable is a shameful birth. I mean who do you know who was born in a stable?

But Good News! God doesn't see things the way we do. He picked a lowly virgin to be Jesus' mother. He picked a carpenter to be his foster father. They weren't rich. The didn't have a car. And their status in life was bottom of the barrel. But God was excited because it was His Son -- the Word made flesh -- Who came to dwell among us. And He sent his angels with the Good News.

But he also invited kings from the East. They were led by a star. And they brought gifts, and so the tradition of Christmas giving began. For it is Jesus Who said, "It is better to give than to give than receive."

Whether you are led by a star or led by an angel, we are hoping you also find yourself in a stable this Christmas standing next to an Infant lying in a manger. For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son. . .
-- Susan Fox

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HATRED MAKES YOU STUPID: A Family Conversation

by Susan Fox

Imagine a super-intelligent creature, whose whole desire is bent on evil.

But every time he thinks of some terrible tragedy to inflict on mankind, the loving God brings great good out of his evil actions. He does evil, but good triumphs.

“Curses, foiled again.” That is the refrain of Satan.

Case in point: Roughly 2,000 years ago, he plotted against what he thought was a man named Jesus. He organized Jesus’ Jewish detractors to ask him tricky questions. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” Satan probably thought, “Yeah, answer that one.” But Jesus answered with a question, “Whose image is on that coin?” The answer being “Caesar’s” So He answered, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.".(Mark 12:17) And Mark goes on to say, “they were amazed at him.”

Jesus had an answer for everything they threw at him. The Sadducees, who said there was no resurrection, came to Him with another trick question. A woman was married consecutively to seven brothers and had no children with any of them. So at the resurrection whose wife would she be as she was married to all seven? He told them they were in error. “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead -- have you not read what God said to you, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matt. 22:30-33) And again the crowds were amazed at this.

Finally, Satan stirred up so much hatred against Jesus Christ that the Jews spurred Pilate to condemn Jesus to death on the cross. There is a striking literary image of this in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” During the scourging at the pillar, a twisted ugly figure with a monstrous baby circles the crowd as Jesus willingly submits to horrible torture by the obviously brutal Roman soldiers. Satan gloats.

But what a short time he has to rejoice! In three days, he finds out that Jesus has risen from the dead! He is again teaching and preparing His apostles for Pentecost when the Church will be born and thousands converted. The apostles will reach the whole world with Christ's message, going first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles and finally to the ends of the earth -- to peoples never even known in that time.

“Curses, foiled again!”

Christ’s death was Satan’s biggest blunder.

But he keeps making the same mistake over and over again. “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) And so the saints and martyrs in all centuries since have suffered through hatred and persecution.

This led to my family conversation. A very holy man died violently Thursday morning in a car accident in India on his way home for Christmas. The blows to his head apparently were quite awful according to eye witnesses. This priest was a dear friend of my family and friends, and he had started an organization that led many onto the path of holiness. His life was incredibly fruitful.

Father used to tell us that Satan often threatened to destroy him -- even when he was a little boy. But Father knew that if God ever allowed Satan to kill him, God would use his death and suffering to save many other souls. It’s called the communion of saints: united with the sufferings of Christ in love, our peril is helpful to others, redemptive in nature.

Given the sudden violence of this priest’s death at a fairly young age, my family and I reflected that it was like Satan finally got his chance to viciously end the priest's life. He must have thought, "I will put an end to that organization by killing the priest. The good they are doing will stop."

So Satan must have also thought when he agitated for the death of Christ. He thought, "His apostles will be demoralized. The work of Jesus will be at an end." If he had but known the good that would come from the tragedy of Christ’s death, Satan would have been stirring up the Romans and the Pharisees to save His life -- not destroy it.

But hatred actually makes you stupid. Think of Satan, probably the most intelligent creature God ever made, certainly one of the most beautiful. He should have realized that great and infinite good that would come out of the death of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. But hatred blinded him. Hatred confused him in his innermost thoughts.

How funny that a creature so bent on causing evil, succeeds and then finds his best efforts have unintended good results because God is in control and God is love.

We -- his family and friends -- will miss Father. Jesus' disciples were terribly demoralized for three days after his death. But on Pentecost they were up and at them -- busy preaching the word of God to the multitudes; exultant when they were allowed to suffer abuse and death for the sake of Christ.

Father used to say that dying was just a change of address. You go to sleep and you wake up somewhere else, and God says, “You are going to live here now.” It's the company you keep that is important. Father used to urge us to become PIGs (Planted In God). "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Matt 24:35) Anchor your heart in the Word. Father did. He always kept company with Jesus.

And now Satan must have realized it. “Curses, foiled again.”

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Ps 116:15)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beautitudes are a Map to Happiness

by John Paul Shea, Tucson Seminarian
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Superstition Mountains
In Arizona, not far from where I am from, there is a mountain range called the Superstition Mountains. According to history, there is a fantastic gold mine that was discovered there. The mine is said to have been first discovered by the Apache Indians in the 1500s.

People have been searching for the mine ever since, but no one has found it. Over the years the mine has been given the name the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Everyone who is said to have discovered the gold have either been found dead or have vanished. Just last year Arizona officials called off a search for three hikers who were on a quest for the legendary lost gold mine. The men disappeared into the sweltering wilderness with little camping gear or water. According to news reports, “They had one thing on their mind, and that was finding [the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine], and they didn't take into consideration the other factors."

In today’s Gospel we also hear about a mountain. Like the Superstition Mountains, this mountain also has a hidden trail that leads to gold. However, unlike the Superstition Mountains, this gold can be found. The map that leads to the gold comes from the mouth of Jesus Christ and is written in the scriptures. This map is the Beatitudes.

The map of the Beatitudes is a map to happiness. Everybody wants to be happy. We want what makes us feel good. We desire pleasure. We want prosperity. Although these things are not bad in themselves, they do not bring us the kind of happiness that Jesus gives us. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings the notion of happiness to a whole new level. Jesus is telling us that happiness does not come from what we have. Rather, happiness is given through the way we live.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows us a way of living that is radically different than what had ever been heard before. Jesus is asking us to change. He is not just asking us to make a few changes in our behaviors, but is asking us to change every aspect of our lives. These changes do not promise laughter, fortune, or even safety. What they do promise, however, is divine union. We all know that making changes in life is not easy. None of us can do it on our own. That is why Jesus gives us a series of steps. The Beatitudes is kind of like a twelve step program. However, instead of twelve steps, there are only eight.

In the first step, Jesus tells us to become poor in spirit. This first step is very important because it breaks the sin of pride. By taking this first step, we will empty ourselves of our self so that God can fill us with His self. When we become filled with God, we will then have the grace to take the following steps. By the time we reach the last step, we will see firsthand that no Christian will reach the top of God’s mountain without major difficulties. Yet, if we persevere, even to the point of death, we will find true happiness because we will have overcome the world.

If we look into the lives of the saints, we can see that many of these holy individuals have followed the steps of the Beatitudes in their own creative ways. For example, Saint Teresa of Avila climbed through nine mansions, taking each step of prayer and self-denial until she reached divine union. Saint Therese followed the steps in her “little way.” Saint John of the Cross, who climbed the mountain in darkness said, “The beatitudes are a marvelous chain of mountains of which each peak is a steppingstone in the sublime ascent that leads to God. Each one of the beatitudes is something perfect and excellent – a summit in itself; and at the same time it is a beginning of future happiness even in this life.”

My brothers, climbing the Beatitudes is not easy. But, Christ has assured us that he will give us blessings all the way. Let us continue to persevere on this Christian journey. Let us not fall backwards into the false gold of the world, but let us climb up the Mountain until we reach the true gold, the gold of divine union. On that day we will reach true happiness. We will hear the words, rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.