Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saint Malachy Church decorated for the season.

This Christmas story begins with the vanity of my mother. She was born on July 4, 1909. When she was about thirty-five she met the mother of a classmate to my sister and discovered that this woman, too, was a Yankee Doodle Dandy. The woman, Margaret DeMacedo, asked my mother the simple question, “What year were you born?” and my mother, thinking that this woman was surely younger than she, trimmed a few years off her age and said, “1912.” And Margaret said, “Oh, I’m older, I was born in 1909.” Several days later my mother called Margaret and owned up to the lie. The two women not only shared a birthday but became fast friends.

Later in life, after Margaret’s husband and one daughter had died, Margaret used to come to my parents’ home for Christmas dinner with our family. I remember the dignified way in which she lived through her widowhood and the loss of her one child. One Christmas at dinner she told us that the sermon at the early Christmas Mass had given her some comfort. The priest told the congregation that, if indeed they had a sadness on Christmas Day, they ought not feel guilty about their failure to share in the joy of the Lord’s birthday. Like so many widows and widowers who attended the early Christmas Mass, Margaret would always miss her spouse and child at that celebration. That sermon convinced her that her faithfulness was true even if she could not feel the joy of Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent altar at Church of the Gesu; site of student Christmas Mass December 19, 2008

The Catholic Youth Organization in Philadelphia collects and wraps thousands of presents for underserved families in a program called Operation Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve the presents are distributed by teams of Santas with their elves. These young men are Prep students about to go out to distribute presents.

Dec 19 Student Mass before the dismissal for Christmas Break

First I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the blessings that go with celebrating the birthday of our God in Christ Jesus. Our God loves us entirely and becomes one like us, a child who is completely dependent on us.

A priest or teacher greeting is always a prelude to assignments. I give you three assignments for the Christmas break. I relate the first one with a story:

Some years back I went to the grocery store a few days before Christmas. I don’t do the shopping any more; Father Maivelett takes care of it. I used to go to a store over on Aramingo Ave. and I was always eager to finish. The shopping went quickly and I got the grocery cart out to the parking lot. I was focusing on getting home as soon as I could get the bags of groceries into the trunk and go on my way. A boy of 12 or 13 years old approached me and offered to help me. Preoccupied with my own thoughts I waved him off indicating that I could take care of it. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind and he said, “Mister, it’s Christmas.” I thought to myself “what is the matter with me?’ He was right to call me into reality. Sure, it’s a great line and he probably had been using it all day. But, after all, It is Christmas. I had no reason to put the kid off. I asked him to do the job and gave him an extra tip.

So the first assignment, brothers, is this. Do not get so lost in your own self that you ignore the season. Don’t get so self-absorbed or pre-occupied that you ignore the people that are around you. Jesus comes to us so that he can be around us and have our company. So in imitation of him we ought to welcome even the stranger.

The second assignment is based on another story. Mr. Magree tells this one and he can tell it better with all its detail. But I will give the main outline. One Christmas Eve Mr Magree and his brother were driving across New York State on their way home to Ohio where their family was gathering at home for Christmas. They had some trouble with their car, got off the interstate and sought help at a rural gas station. But the mechanic needed a part and could do nothing to get the car back on the road until after Christmas. They were stuck on Christmas Eve far from home and far from a car rental agent or an airport.

Somebody at the gas station saw their plight and took pity on them. He had an extra pickup truck and lent it to them so that they could drive an hour to the Buffalo airport and there rent a car for the trip to Ohio. The man asked only that they bring the truck back on their return trip. We know Mr. Magree and we would trust him with our lives but this man only saw these two strangers, strangers who could have wrecked, stripped, stolen his truck. But he takes a risk and lends his truck for a few days to two college boys. Perhaps he knew the story about the travelers Mary and Joseph, far from home, who had a hard time finding a place to give birth to their child. In any case he took pity on these two brothers and made it possible for them to celebrate Christmas at home with their family.

Your assignment is to do something generous like this for your family or friends. This might mean taking time with your family, taking time to help an older relative or a young cousin. Whatever you do for them, you do for Christ.

Finally I have an assignment without much of a story. This is the season when we men ought to take a particular interest in babies and toddlers. This is the best way for us to get an understanding of the extraordinary event of God becoming a baby. Last Sunday Prep staff and faculty brought their little children to the Prep, to the Sauter Dining Hall, to meet Santa. Among the children were several babies. I took the opportunity to hold Mr. Daniels’s baby in my arms. Now Mr. Daniels, knowing I am childless, kept a very close eye on me making sure I knew how to hold his little child. She was completely dependent on me. My instruction for you is this: if you are lucky enough over the holiday to be with a relative or friend who is a baby, take the opportunity to hold him or her in your arms and realize that this child depends completely on you and trusts you. This is what God does in the Christ Child. God entrusts himself to us.

And if you have no baby around, find a toddler and play a game with him or her. Toddlers thrive on attention from teenagers. It is easy to imagine Jesus the toddler seeking the attention of teenagers. It is easy to imagine Jesus the toddler idolizing his young relatives and other teenagers who perhaps could recite sections of the Torah or run like the wind along the streets of their hometown of Nazareth.

So three instructions:
1) Put aside any preoccupation with yourself. God is not preoccupied with anything but you and me and did not shut himself off from us but out of love came to us as a child.
2) There will be needs during the Christmas season that you can meet with a generous spirit. Be generous like the man who risked losing his truck.
3) Finally enjoy the experience of holding a baby in your arms so that you can understand better that God placed himself at our disposal. Realize, too, that Jesus was once a toddler who looked in amazement at the talents that teenagers displayed. Amaze him now even more by making good use of your talents.

And don’t forget to get your rest, your exercise and your protein.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Staff and Faculty at the Prep have their kids come to meet Santa at the school. The event begins with Mass and ends with the annual Christmas concert with concert band, jazz band and chorus.
We had a good time and ate lots of potluck dessert treats.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Twin brothers, Asa and Tucker Collins, freshmen at Saint Joseph's Prep School

The poem below was written by Tucker on the 2-month anniversary of their mom's (Andrea's) death. Andrea told her story of cancer on her blog "punkrockmommy." She was a wise and witty wife and mother. Even those of us who did not know her personally now miss reading about how she loved her family and friends, how she fought for more time with them but eventually came to know that God would take care of their future.

A Man for and With Others

September 5, 2008

I am no longer a student
But a scholar
A follower Of the teachings of Ignatius
My life is changing rapidly
To transform into a new
Being of competence
To show the world my best
What am I to become?
What am I in four short years?
What am I in my prime?
What am I when I move on to the other half of life?
I answer you now
I shall become
A Man for and With Others
I will be
A Man for and With Others
I shall succeed as
A Man for and With Others
When I leave this place
I will be still
A Man for and With Others

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent decorations in the Church of the Gesu

When I was a small boy and trying to understand the meaning of Christmas, my mother taught my siblings and me this little “advent” poem:

“Christmas is a comin’ and the geese are gettin’ fat.
Time to put a penny in the old man’s hat.”

Such little couplets carry a world of meaning. Always the future is comin’ at us filled with the same kind of promise as Christmas. Always we have the talents and resources, whatever it takes to fatten the geese. Always there is time and in the time given we are to be generous.

I remember asking my mother about the old man, “who is he?” Was he the Santa standing outside the store and ringing a bell? Later I realized that he stood in for anyone in need.

Postscript: Someone reminded me during the season of the second couplet:

"If you haven't got a penny, then a halfpenny will do.

If you haven't got a halfpenny, then God bless you."

The lack of halfpennies in my world also caused a question! And how to pronounce the word, too!