Do you listen to what I listen to?

In a priory of nineteen men, you would hear a lot of funny things.  At the dinner table, you would have conversations about Aristotle and Kant, or the theology of The Hobbit, or how mom and dad are doing, on a daily basis.

One of the more interesting and recent conversations came from Brother Daniel the Wise.  He recently acquired some hardware for his ears.  Taking out a small remote from his pocket, he started telling us about the many settings of his hearing aids, the multiple settings, the things that the aids drown out, that sorta thing.

I responded, “So is there a setting to drown out certain frequencies?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Just wondering if you have a setting for ‘pastor’ or ‘prior’ or ‘Isaiah’ so you can just selectively not hear certain voices.”

He chuckled.

He didn’t deny nor confirm such an ability.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a distinction between hearing and listening.  We hear God’s voice all of the time.  Through reading the Word of God.  Talking to people that lift you up.  Going to Mass.  This is a reasonably passive act.  God speaks to us through sunsets and the smell of the air.  We don’t have to do much to realize the presence of God.  We just have to look around the City or hear the wind.

Yet listening, in my mind, is much more active.  You listen to a loved one or a symphony.  It’s active.  You attempt to soak in every nuance and word, slowly digesting what is given to you, discerning the nuances that the speaker or music is saying to you. With listening, you allow what is being said to effect you, change you, move you to action.  With hearing…well, you just acknowledge that the noise is there.

For me, hearing is like slamming back a coke.  Listening is sipping a glass of Cabernet.

listenGod speaks to us all of the time.  Through sunsets, loved ones, the news and worship.  However, when we sink into mysterious silence, do we listen to what God has to say?  Do we allow the soft whispers of love and compassion, His subtle instructions towards holiness, His consolations through the dark times and the praises through the bright times change us, effect us, make us holy.

I don’t listen well, and I don’t care what anyone else says.  I am certain that I need to learn how to listen better, and to listen more.  Perhaps I’m getting there.  Perhaps I’m listening to what He is saying as I am writing this post.

Nonetheless, may we listen to the Word of God, and allow the Word to change us, and make us the saints that we are called to be.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Brother’s Corner, January 11, 2015, The Baptism of the Lord

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHello. My name is Brother Andy Opsahl, and I am a Dominican student brother doing an internship here at St. Dominic’s until June. Father Michael Hurley will be absent for the next three weeks due to his leadership role on the Provincial Council at the current Chapter being held by the Western Dominican Province. A chapter is an event where major decisions are made for our order. Father Michael has asked me to fill in for him in the Pastor’s Corner during that time.

This weekend we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ by John in the River Jordan. It was the kickoff event for Christ’s public ministry. Through His public ministry, Jesus marked the path by which all Christians are to follow Him. That path begins for us, as it did for Christ’s ministry, with baptism. Baptism should be the foundational context for everything we do. Christ’s baptism pointed toward His death and Resurrection. Through baptism we are incorporated into that death and Resurrection, which leads us out of the corruption of this life and into the perfection of the next. Being baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection transforms us into extensions of Him, which enables us to share in both His human and divine natures. It is a process that is initiated in baptism and reaches its fulfillment outside of time after our physical deaths.

Meanwhile, those of us who remain here in the realm of time where the flesh can still lust against the Spirit are left to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Saint Paul describes this as a time of groaning inwardly as we await the redemption of our bodies that will bring the rebirth initiated by baptism to fulfillment. As stated earlier, baptism should be the foundational context for everything we do in this life. The difficulty for us is that it is easy to lose our sense of that foundational context. How do we lose it? For me, it starts when I drift out of the habit of reflecting on the fundamental precepts of what I believe as a baptized Christian. Gradually, usually without my even noticing it, the fleeting concerns of this life begin to dominate. Increasingly my actions become driven by desires for things that dazzle my eyes, indulge my belly, or delight my ego.

The last of those three is by far the most prominent, which should not surprise me, given that ego issues are related to pride, which was at the heart of the first human sin. Before that happened, at the beginning of human history, human beings did everything with an eye genuinely aimed at placing God’s will above their own, glorifying God over themselves. They cut themselves off from that perfect union with God by preferring to obey themselves, who were part of worldly creation, rather than obeying God who created them.

Thus began humanity’s tendency to be dominated by worldly distractions from God as the foundational context for everything human beings did. We no longer lived in the perfection of what we had been created to be on this earth. That perfection had been corrupted, and that corruption led to human pain, lust, toil, and ultimately death. We had committed an offense against our Creator of infinite proportions. That offense incurred an infinite penalty that humanity, with its finite, corrupted nature, was incapable of paying on its own. Accordingly, Christ took on our fallen nature and transformed it with His into something that could indeed pay an infinite penalty. Christian baptism became the passageway into that transformation for every person who professes faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. That eternal union with God that is initiated by our baptism is the ultimate aim of Christian existence in the present, temporary life.

During the times you find you have lost your sense of direction or have become driven by fleeting worldly concerns, recall your baptism and reflect on the fundamental precepts it signifies. Then, ask yourself, “Do I literally believe that?” If the answer to that question is “yes,” thank God. You have what should be the foundation for whatever you do next.

~ Br. Andy Opsahl, O.P.

A Preacher’s Life – Chapter

shield_prov474hEvery four years, the Dominican Order has what we call an Elective Chapter.  Very much like how our citizenry elects officials, we Dominicans elect all of our officials every four years.  However, we do so in the Greek Democratic form.  We elect delegates to elect our officers for us.

This year, beginning on January 2nd, St. Dominic’s Priory in San Francisco sent three men to be part of the elective Chapter for the Western Dominican Province.  This is a series of meetings that goes from seventeen-to-thirty days, in which we elect all of our officials and leaders, discuss legislation, and carefully discern what the Lord has in store for the Province for the next four years.  Fr Steve, is sent as prior (head of house), Fr Anthony is sent as another representative, and Fr Michael is sent, due to an election to represent a certain grouping of friars.

Statue of Holy Father Dominic, found in the cloister garden of our House of Studies, the Priory of Saint Albert the Great, OP, Doctor and Bishop

Statue of Holy Father Dominic, found in the cloister garden of our House of Studies, the Priory of Saint Albert the Great, OP, Doctor and Bishop

It’s extraordinary to send three friars to a chapter from the same house, really.  In our province, we usually group our smaller houses together and elect our delegates.  Only the larger formation houses, like St Albert’s in Oakland, and ours in San Francisco, are large enough to send multiple men.

However, here is the prayer request: the bulk of the liturgical and sacramental work rests upon myself and Fr Emmanuel.  Yes, we are getting some outside help—men that the parish has met.  These outside friars will help out during the week for Mass.  Yet—when it comes to Sunday Confessions, preaching the weekends, hospital calls, walk-ins and the everyday grind of allowing St Dominic’s to soar…well, the deacons and friars remaining will be rather short on time.  It’s going to be a very busy month.

In fact, for this month, I have a carte blanche policy of having no social life for January.  In terms of meetings, I am not meeting with many of my directees or regular penitents this month, so that I have the energy to preach and actualize the liturgical schedule.  Mind you, I’m not complaining.  I’m just saying that, if you see me walking around the nave with a dark look in my eye, it is likely that I didn’t sleep the night previous.

Please pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Chapter continues.  Please pray for Fr Michael, Fr Steve and Fr Anthony as they help discern with the province about the future of the Western Dominican Province. Please pray for Fr. Emmanuel and myself as we watch the Chapter from a distance while the work of St Dominic’s Catholic Church continues.  And pray for our parochial community, that we may have compassion and charity for each other, using the graces given to become the saints that we are called to be.

Let us pray:

bow in prayer 2Master Preacher,
through the intercession of Holy Father Dominic,
through the mercy of your Most Holy Name,
be with the delegates of the 25th Elective Chapter of the Province of the Most Holy Name.
May the delegates discern well your will
And may the Ministry of the Word
Continue to enflame the hearts of those who believe and preach,
that your Name be praised by all.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Our Pastor’s Corner, January 4, 2015, The Epiphany of the Lord

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way. (Matt 2:10-12)

wise-menThis weekend we celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas: the feast of Epiphany (“manifestation”) of Christ. Now the story of the “three kings” is a familiar one. The Magi, who were likely astrologers and magicians, left house and home, their families and all that was familiar to make the perilous journey to find the promised Savior. Where did they find him? In the field with the shepherds? In the manger surrounded by animals? In the temple with Simeon and the other Jewish clergy? No. In none of these places did they encounter the Holy Family. Remember eight days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph present him in the temple for the Jewish rites of circumcision and naming. So where was the holy family after the temple dedication, but before their desperate flight into Egypt? Where did the Magi find Christ? Scripture reveals: “And behold the star that they [the Magi] had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.” (Matt 2:9-11)

wrapped-gifts-ornamentsThe Magi find Christ in a home. Because the Scripture is silent about in whose home the Magi encountered Jesus, it invites us to reflect upon a great spiritual truth: that the primary place where we discover Christ is in our own home, in the midst of our family, friends and loved ones. In this way, the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh represent the gifts of relationships (gold), the blessings and joys of family (frankincense) and the sacrifice and sorrows of family living (myrrh). This feast of the Epiphany reminds us not only did the Magi find Christ because they were looking for Him, but also, they found him in a home. The home is where life happens, and in this place, Christ abides.

Because the Magi encountered Christ in a house, there is a wonderful and beautiful Catholic tradition of the annual house blessing on the feast of the Epiphany. As a priest, I often have requests to come and bless homes of all variety, and it is always a great privilege to be able to bring the gift of God’s grace and peace. Moreover, all have the ability to call down the God’s blessings into the place where they live. As a way helping folks to continue this tradition, we have put together “house blessing kits” which are available after all the Masses. There are three steps to this annual New Year blessing:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStep #1: Take chalk and mark on the inside lintel (the door beam) of your front door 20 + C + M+ B + 15

Step #2: As you are tracing each of the letters, numbers and crosses, say:

The three wise men

C Casper,

M Melchior, and

B Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became man

20 two thousand

15 fifteen years ago.

++May Christ bless our home and

++ remain with us throughout the year.

Step #3: Using Holy Water, bless the front door and pray:

May all who come into our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us. Let this house be a true home — a place for family and friends. May it be the place from which we seek to serve those in need and may Christ dwell here in peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

May we always seek Christ and discover him in the midst of our homes!

 

The Dark Side of Christmas

Business first: January 1, 2015 is a Holy Day of Obligation.  We will have one parish Mass at 9:30am.  Then, after breakfast, I’m watching football. Go Pac-12!

 

We are still celebrating Christmas!  The beauty of our tradition is that we celebrate Christmas and Easter for eight days.  These are the Octaves—we are currently in the 7th day of the Octave of Christmas.  Liturgically, this is one liturgical day.  That is how important Christmas day is—we celebrate it eight days in a row.

christmasHowever, amid all of the festivities of Christmas, there is that part of me that is reminded of reality.  The tree will dry out, the ornaments will be put away.  The gifts will be broken or stored or ruined, the emotions and sentiments will be lost in memory.  Eventually, reality will settle in for so many of our community.  This person’s spouse is still dead.  That person is still unemployed.  This marriage is still rocky or that child is still having real problems.

I remember this one story.  A daughter and mother were on the outs.  A death in the family illuminated and exacerbated family ties, and the two left each other’s company.  Daughter would not call mother, mother would not admit the existence the daughter.  Thanksgiving would pass.  And so would Christmas.  The daughter eventually married, had children, had a happily life in suburbia.  Yet the mother would wither in her own pride, spewing anger and venom about anyone who asked about her daughter.  The daughter’s pictures would be hidden and stored, forgotten by the light.

Years later, with her children entering the teens, they would ask their mother, the daughter of our story, about their own mother’s mother. After much prayer and discussion, the daughter called her mother, and invited her to Christmas dinner.  The mother said no, recalling past sins.

This was eight years ago, and they still aren’t talking.

I want to say that this story will end well.  I don’t know how it will end at all.  And sadly, this is no singular tale.  This cruddy, bloody, prideful, baneful stuff happens all the time.  Our own pride and insecurity so often gets in the way of our joy.  It’s maddening, it’s ridiculous, and it’s self-destructive.

Yet after I talk to the brothers and close friends about such terrible stories, they remind me to do the only two things I can do: pray and hope.

harrowing of hellDuring the Christmas season, I often pray for the reconciliation of families.  I have to live in the hope of Christ.  We are talking about a guy that went through Hell, chained Satan, and released the captive, bringing them to the new life of Heavenly Rewards.  If Jesus can conquer Satan and Death, He can surely penetrate the ribbons of pride that lace our hearts.

I invite you to pray with me.  Pray for this family.  Pray for this proud mother.  And this growing daughter.

And lastly, pray for all broken families in this Christmastide.  May the dark edge of Christmas be banished, leaving only light, hope, and joy.

 

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner, DECEMBER 28, 2014, SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF MARY, JESUS, & JOSEPH

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:22, 39-40)

 

Merry Christmas from the Dominicans serving St Dominic's Catholic Church! Fr Emmanuel, Fr Michael, Bro Daniel, Sr Anne, Sr Colleen, Fr Isaiah Mary, Bro Andy

Merry Christmas from the Dominicans serving St Dominic’s Catholic Church!
Fr Emmanuel, Fr Michael, Bro Daniel, Sr Anne, Sr Colleen, Fr Isaiah Mary, Bro Andy

This weekend is the feast of the Holy Family. Always the Sunday following Christmas, this celebration recognizes the gift of family and that the family itself often forms the core relationships that shape our faith. Yet when it comes to honoring the Holy Family, we can easily sentimentalize them. After all, they are perfect: Mary is the Immaculate Conception, Joseph is a saint, and Jesus is the Son of God. Like beautiful statues or stained-glass windows, the Holy Family seems worthy of our admiration, but not a real flesh-and-blood example for our imitation. However, we are invited to go beyond such sentimentality, for though we recognize that they are holy, we remember that they are human. In other words, the reason we celebrate the Holy Family is not because they were perfect, but because they were faithful.

St.Dom-Christmas_2014-page-001 In fact, the story of the Holy Family is the story of faithfulness both in the midst of unexpected crisis and in the routine of the mundane. First, there are the moments of family crisis. The story of the Holy Family begins with the account of a young teenager who conceives before she is married. It’s the story of a confused, anxious groom, who contemplates divorce in the face of this embarrassing scandal. It’s the story of a frantic father, who searches for shelter for his laboring, pregnant wife in the chaos of a crowded city. It’s the story of two new parents and a newborn forced to flee as refugees to a land that enslaved their ancestors. It’s the story of three desperate days of searching for a missing child in a crowded city.

Second, between these unexpected crisis moments, it’s an ordinary story. In fact for the most part, it’s a silent story. As we hear in the Gospel today, the last word we hear about the Holy Family for the twenty years between finding Jesus in the temple and His baptism is the detail, “the child grew in wisdom, age and grace.” Even among their own relatives, the Holy Family was regarded as ordinary. Much of Jesus’ family and friends are surprised when he begins to preach, teach and heal because they never had any inkling that he was anything more “than the carpenter’s Son, the son of Mary.” (Matt 13:55) Because of this, Jesus is unable to work any miracles in his hometown, and in the end, Mary has to witness her own people reject and conspire against her Son.

The theme that emerges from these stories of struggle and routine is not that the Holy Family was particularly extraordinary or successful, but that it was faithful. Mary is faithful to Gabriel’s words to trust that “nothing is impossible for God.” Joseph overcomes his natural fear and shame to care and provide for Mary and her child. Even though her relatives reject her Son, Mary stands by Him all the way up the hill of Calvary to the Cross.

This weekend, we are reminded of the story of the Holy Family, because it is our story. The Holy Family stands by all those who struggle, search and pray. They comfort teenage mothers and single parents. They stand with the homeless and immigrants separated from loved ones. They console parents who have lost or have had to bury their children. They offer compassion to those who grieve. But they also uplift us by their faithfulness. Even the silent, ordinary story of their lives gives us hope that God is present within the routine of our day. Their example of faithfulness is a powerful witness to all of us that we are not alone. The Holy Family walks with us to discover God’s presence wherever life’s journey leads.

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Dominicans serving St Dominic's Catholic Church! Fr Emmanuel, Fr Michael, Bro Daniel, Sr Anne, Sr Colleen, Fr Isaiah Mary, Bro Andy

Merry Christmas from the Dominicans serving St Dominic’s Catholic Church!
Fr Emmanuel, Fr Michael, Bro Daniel, Sr Anne, Sr Colleen, Fr Isaiah Mary, Bro Andy

 

On Black Friday, I was out with a very, very dear friend.  We walked downtown San Jose, and turning a corner, we saw that the Christmas festivities had already begun.  About a block away from the San Jose Cathedral, we saw that the median had a forest of trees filled with lights, each tree decorated by a particular society or group in the area, this youth group, this charity, that business.  Blues, reds, greens, whites, and other colors shone off against the dark.  There were stands for churros and hot chocolate.  Even an ice skating rink.  Even more, a glut of children and their parents walked all over this Christmas Park, all taking in the nascent holiday spirit.  We looked at each other, grimacing.

ChristmasInThePark2 We eventually decided to walk through the park.  Overheard, we hear songs about Frosty and Rudolph, good cheer and good will towards all men and women.  Effectively, the secular side of today’s Feast Day.  All of these people, feeling glad and giddy—Christmas is finally here!

It made me ill.  These people happily zombie-like, taking in the manufactured Christmas spirit of plastic reindeer and lit-christmas-treesmechanical Santas.  Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.  Hoping all families to be made one.

Yet not one reference to Christmas.  No reference to the true meaning of Christ’s-Mass.  Christmas, for this park, was about fleeting good feelings and juicy foods.  Sweet treats, like candied apples.  Reindeer games and melting men of snow.  Things of fancy that dissipate at the dawn of something dark.

 

Yet the other day, I presided over a communion service at a nearby nursing home.  These men and women who have fought the good fight, counting their last breaths.  Almost nonresponsive, with vacant eyes and lethargic bodies.  Occasional notices and glances, yes, but fewer and fewer, and farther in between.  After I distributed communion to the patients, I spoke with the activities director, who is as devout as the peace lily that sits in my office.  We spoke about Christmas celebrations, Ferguson, amongst other things.  We talked about her family, and I talked about mine, for just a little bit.

Then one of the patients walked up to me, drooling “Father.”

I looked at her.  An older woman, standing up, stared at me.  She wore a pink cardigan and a white, floral hospital gown.  On her feet were a pair of slippers you would find at Walmart.  Her bronze and white hair was nicely tied back against the sides of her head.  She held out her hand.  “Thank you for today,” she said.

I shook her hand, feeling that she was giving me something.  She smiled, slightly, and walked away.  Looking down at my hand, I felt my jaw drop.

This old woman, giving me one simple dollar for Christmas.

wrinkled-dollar-stock-image-3276251I looked at the activities director.  She crossed her arms and smiled, shrugging.  “That happens.”

Suddenly, I remembered that moment in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus sees an old woman giving a pair of coins into the temple collection. Jesus marvels at her, saying that she will be great in heaven because she had given of her poverty, whereas most of us give of our wealth.

Now, for all I know, this woman could be the beneficiary of the Hilton Empire.  Or the mother of a major real estate mogul.  But nonetheless, here was a woman—at least in my eyes—that had nothing.  Not a proper wardrobe.  Not a proper sense of cognition.  Not a sense of what time of year it was.  Or so I thought.  Here is this woman, who is giving of herself, giving thanks for receiving Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament.

Is this not the true meaning of Christ’s-Mass?  Acknowledging the Great Gift of the Son of Man.  The Great Gift of Jesus?  He was born in order to give us a true example of how to live and how to die.  Is this not what we celebrate today?

It’s not about fleeting emotions or men made of snow.  It’s about that eternal promise given to us by our Compassionate Creator Father that he will always provide for us, to the point of sending His most precious prize of His Son.  For us.  So that we too may live in God’s light.

So Merry Christmas, everyone.  May we receive the Gift of Jesus within our hearts this day, and all of our days, so that we may become the saints that we are called to be.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

 

O Antiphon 7 – The Gift of God with Us

“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

Here we find ourselves at the seventh and final O Antiphon of the Advent Season. Today’s O Antiphon emphasizes Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with Us.” It can be easy to take for granted the fact that we as Christians live in an age in which we can refer to God as being with us. For centuries human beings lived in separation from Him, before Christ was born, died, and rose. Once those events came to pass, we no longer needed a law to be united to God. He came among us, having taken on our human nature, and through his death and Resurrection, paid the infinite penalty we had justly earned and were incapable of paying on our own. What a privilege it is to know that right now God is with us in the way he is bringing to fulfillment the rebirth he initiated in us through baptism. He is with us in the closest way possible, in the sense that he has transformed us into individuals who are nonetheless extensions of Himself, a transformation that will reach its fulfillment at the end of time, assuming we persevere in faith. Once again we will enjoy perfect union with God, except it will be a higher kind of union with Him than Adam and Eve enjoyed before the first sin. We will have been fully incorporated into Christ’s body, which will enable us to share in both His human and divine natures. At the end of time, we will be like Him, full actualizations of what He made each of us to be – a reality in which our every longing will be fully engaged. It will be an eternal state of perfect happiness. As you open your Christmas gifts in the coming season, do so happily. But remember the perfect happiness that awaits you through faith in the One who came to be with us as the first gift of Christmas.

O Antiphon 6 – Being Fashioned from the Same Dust

“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart: O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

Today’s O Antiphon emphasizes Jesus as the King of all nations. Being a member of a nation can provide a person with a profound sense of identity, but also a deeply rooted sense of what makes that person different from people of other nations. That human dynamic in general relates to other types of group membership, like in political parties, families, social cliques, and numerous others. The sixth O Antiphon should indicate for us that while we may have differences, we are all ultimately fashioned from the same dust. We all share the same source of existence, and hopefully we are all headed toward the same afterlife. Sadly, human beings do put up profound obstacles that by their nature block the unity humanity was fashioned by the Creator to enjoy. The most profound example of this would be fundamental differences in what we believe about that Creator. From a Catholic mindset, we cannot live together as though every different belief about the Creator is right. If we Christians truly hope to enjoy the afterlife with all people, we must dedicate ourselves to the roles Christ gives us in His ministry of reconciling all people to Himself. Beyond that, all we can do is hope for the salvation of all people through Christ however Christ may do that, His ways being far beyond our own. Now, given that we were all fashioned by the same Creator from the same dust and are hopefully all headed toward the same afterlife, wouldn’t you like to be as free as possible from allowing differences to keep you apart from others needlessly? As Christmas approaches, start small and think of someone you avoid simply because that person annoys you. Next, remind yourself that you and that person share the same source of existence. Then, imagine being with that person in Heaven, a reality free of disorder in which nobody will annoy anyone. Last, ponder how close to Heaven you might be able to get with that person through faith in the One who unites all nations. Admittedly, such an endeavor will always have its limits in this life. However, if we are hoping for Heaven in the end anyway, why not try to get as close as possible with each other in the meantime?

Our Pastor’s Corner, December 21, 2014, Fourth Sunday of Advent

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s the secret to happiness? I recently read about a historic 75-year study undertaken by a group of Harvard researchers who systematically sought to research this very question. Following 300 folks from the classes of 1938-1940 (now well into their 90s) for 75 years, the Harvard team collected data on various aspects of subjects’ lives at regular intervals to provide a comprehensive, flesh-and-blood picture of some of life’s fundamental questions: how we grow and change, what we value as time goes on, and what is likely to make us happy and fulfilled. The result: Love is really all that matters. It may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life. In fact, some of the researchers were surprised to discover that someone could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn’t be happy, “Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”

This vision for happiness comes into view as we enter into the Advent and Christmas seasons. For our compassionate God has already taken the first step in forging this relationship with us. By coming to earth as a fragile, vulnerable newborn, God reveals that he is willing to enter into the fullness of our human experience. “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.” (I Jn. 4:10) The Incarnation is God’s gift to us, the gold standard in assessing the nature of love. In this way, our happiness hinges not on the question, “What do you want out of life,” but rather, “How can I respond to God’s love?”

giftUsually around Christmastime, it is customary for St. Dominic’s to make a financial appeal for the needs of the parish. And although we thankfully receive and do rely on such financial support, this year, I also want to make a more pressing, more critical appeal. During this Christmas season, I would ask you to consider your relationship with Christ. In what ways have you responded to the gift of God’s love? We all know well that the impressive crowds that pack our Christmas Masses dwindle in the coming Sundays.  If you’re among that Christmas crowd, that’s ok. But know that you are welcome every Sunday. In fact, I promise that if this New Year’s resolution includes coming to Mass on a regular basis, you’ll begin to experience life in a more vibrant and spiritual way.  

Open-HandsAnd here’s the twist. God is never outdone in generosity. So whatever “responding to God’s love” looks like for you in a real and practical way, what you receive is infinitely more precious. For when we give our hearts, when we give ourselves to God, God comes more fully alive in our lives. In the midst of our joys and sorrows, God is there in a new way. If we feel alone, anxious or isolated, it is by trusting ourselves to God that he fills us with the gifts of his peace and comfort. What possibilities! On behalf of the Dominicans and staff at St Dominic’s, may the heart of Jesus always beat in your lives and may you experience the peace and joy of this holy season.


~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.