theROCK

The Effort of Zacchaeus

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When I was a young boy, I had a book that I used to love to bring to Mass. It was the story of Zacchaeus. I must have read that story a hundred times. I found it fascinating that this short guy would climb a tree to see Jesus.

When I read it again today, through the eyes of an adult, I hear Jesus speaking to us about conversion and discipleship in “Eucharistic” ways. Consider what it takes to attend Sunday Mass. Yes, for some of us it takes little effort. For some, maybe it's a little more difficult. It surely takes the effort of Zacchaeus climbing a tree for families with little ones to make it to Mass on Sunday. It takes the effort of Zacchaeus fighting the crowds, for an elderly couple, or for one who has worked many hours during the week and would rather spend a few hours relaxing.

But, they come to Mass. Why? Because we know that the Eucharist changes lives. At each Mass, Jesus invites himself to our home - our very being, just as he did to Zacchaeus. When we receive him and welcome him into our heart - our home, with great joy we can allow ourselves to be changed. Zacchaeus was a sinner, just as we all are sinners. Through the healing power of the Eucharist, we find strength for conversion. Like Zacchaeus of old, we can become disciples to the poor and those in need through our conversion. So, whether you climb a tree, fight crowds or not, know that salvation can come to your house - not by any merit of your own, but through the power of the Eucharist - the Son of Man, who has come to seek and to save.

A Way of Living

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I am about to say something that will surprise, maybe even anger a few people. Ash Wednesday, one of the most attended Masses of the year, is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation. That’s right, you do not need to attend. It is not a sin to miss Ash Wednesday Mass. In my teenage years, I would have immediately shown this to my parents with excitement while planning what to do that night.

But don’t stop reading yet – Ash Wednesday has an extremely important lesson we all need to hear: In the gospel account for Ash Wednesday, Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” Jesus is saying, when you pray, when you fast, when you do acts of service, do not do it for others to see and praise you for being so devoted and generous.

When I read this, I think of all the NFL touchdown celebrations I saw this year. Some of the best players in the NFL acting like a rookie scoring their first touchdown. I am reminded of a quote from Vince Lombardi, “When you go into the end zone, act like you've been there before.” When we practice our faith, it should not be for others to see, it should be purely to praise and glorify God. Our faith is not a list of requirements to check off or things you need to know – it is a way of living.

This way of living involves having a God who loves each of us unconditionally and who cares about our decisions. We have a God who is less interested in what we know about Him than if we know Him intimately: that we have a personal relationship with Him. That is the message we hear on Ash Wednesday. Do not practice your faith because you get rewarded by others for it, do it because you Love God and desire a tangible relationship with Him. There is no better place to show your love and deepen your relationship with God then attending Mass.

Ash Wednesday Mass is a great opportunity  to start a Lenten season strong, a season when we recall the depths of God’s love for us, by worshiping our God, and falling more in love with Him. God Bless!

in Faith, Joy

O Holy Night

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The walk from the church of my childhood to home was exactly thirteen minutes. In Illinois, because of the crowds, you don’t count distances in miles, but by how long it takes to get there. I know it was thirteen minutes because we had to come home for lunch each school day and we had exactly forty-five minutes. That gave us nineteen minutes to eat. It also helped for the many times I attended Mass or served at Mass to know exactly when I would have to leave.

But there was this one night, this one late night when the walk was different - when it was magical, when it was a special night, when the walk home lasted forever—Christmas Eve, the first year I had returned from college. It was snowing as we left to go to the still then, Mass at midnight. The snow was eight inches deep by the end of Mass. I helped a few people clean off their cars before my two sisters and I headed home, the only brave souls of my large family that chose to attend. The streets were abandoned, so we walked down the middle of the road. The moon was full so the new snow shimmered like diamonds as we passed darkened houses. All was quiet. We three spontaneously began to sing the Christmas hymn which is now my favorite, O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. We walked into a scene of joy and laughter as my relatives were all gathered around the table for the after midnight feast. It is what was done back then.

There was no more pleasant a Christmas Eve I remember, nor a more sacred and silent night. As you gather family for this feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, share with each other your favorite Christmas story, the time you really felt the presence of Jesus and really knew that God is watching over you.