Looking for a Real Christmas

 The Gospel According to Saint Luke 2:1-14

These two branches may look the same from a distance, and in some ways they are alike. But there is also a great difference between them. This is from a real Christmas tree. And this is from an artificial tree. You can see, feel, and smell the differences when you are near the two branches. One branch is wounded and will die. One never had life and came from a box.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a real and artificial Christmas tree, but can you tell the difference between a real and an artificial Christmas?

Maybe you never thought about it, but you can have an artificial Christmas. Just as the artificial tree can serve a purpose, an artificial Christmas can be fun. You can give and receive presents, go to parties, sing songs and still not have a real Christmas.

A real Christmas includes the coming of God’s Son to be a part of life with people on earth. On the first Christmas He came as the Baby at Bethlehem. But the Baby was God, and He came to be the Savior. Jesus still comes to the world as the Savior who gives new life to people who know and believe this.DSCF8609

When Jesus was here the first time, some people wanted to know for sure that He was the real Savior. They did not want an artificial Son of God. Jesus told them to look at what He did. Jesus healed the blind, deaf, and crippled. He brought a dead person back to life. He had a message of love and hope for all people. They could tell that He was real because what He did was real. His actions proved that His words were true.

Just as Jesus pointed to what He did for people to show that He was a real and not an artificial Savior, you can tell if your Christmas is real by seeing what it does for you. Jesus once said, “You will know my real followers by their fruit.” Ask yourself some questions:

Will this Christmas help me feel the presence of God?

Will I realize that God not only came to a manger but also to me?

Will I see again how much God loves me and feel that love in action?

Will I see that God came not only for me, but for all people?

Will I also produce abundant Christmas fruit of love, joy, hope and peace?

Let us celebrate a real Christmas. Recognize that many things that look like Christmas offer only an artificial Christmas. They are not wrong, but don’t use them as a substitute for the real thing.

VIRTUAL and REAL CHRIST-MASS TREE: Gifts of Holy Spirit beneath the Tree of Life… and Fruit of the Holy Spirit in the Branches. Jesus is the Light and Star radiating from the top of the Tree of Life. Jesus is asking us to be living trees of life, where people live off the fruit of the Holy Spirit God sends through us.

Christmas is real when you know Christ comes to you. Christmas is real when we ask ourselves how we fit into the Christmas Story in the living Nativity. Christmas is real when we hold the child like Joseph and accept Jesus as his real son. (Joseph is not an artificial father.) Each of us will have the best and merriest Christmas ever if we receive Jesus as God’s Christmas gift, gratefully, cultivate his love responsibly, share him lovingly with justice, and return Jesus with abundance to God! That is what we do at this Christmas Mass. That’s a real Good News and Merry Christmas!

Best Christmas Ever…still!

December 25, 2015

Today is the 10th anniversary of Mark Woods’ article, The Best Christmas Ever.

Ready for PT in Fallujah

I do tend to be nostalgic, but this does not seem like the best Christmas ever. It does not even feel like one of the top ten. Today I will be working as a counselor at a rehabilitation hospital. Many there have addictions and brain health issues. They have no idea how much I love them. Some are angry. Some are homeless. Some are far away from home like the people I served in a war zone. I will ask them, “How is this the best Christmas ever?” I expect the patients to look at me as if I was the crazy one.

My homily I gave for Christmas in Fallujah 2004 is still haunting and challenging me. It really was a terrible Christmas on the outside… the wrappings. Not only was I thrown into a crazy and horrendous war, but also I was in the middle of the worst and most devastating battle as a complaining and whining priest chaplain. I hate that I whine!

My homily was rather simple. If this is not the best Christmas ever, something is wrong. Every Christmas builds on the previous Christmas. When we realize we are loved unconditionally by anyone… nothing else is desired or needed. The birthday of Jesus in which we celebrate today reminds us of the man who forgave the people who were crucifying him. He loved us even when we didn’t have the guts to stand at the foot of his Cross. He loved us beyond the grave. Jesus was clear; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you… Love one another.” (John 15:13-17)

The key to my book, Tear in the Desert, is that God wanted me to tell the men and women I served with that I loved them. When an Army soldier came to me, I balked. God literally asked me, “You do love him, don’t you?” With everything in my being, I loved this man whom I just met. He suffered an unexploded rocket to his abdomen. As I helped bring him into that operating room, I was confused and angry about this damn war. I had already witnessed 27 deaths and hundreds of physical casualties, not counting thousands of hidden brain and heart injuries. Yes, I loved him. That was the problem.

If I told this man that I loved him, and I don’t say things I don’t mean, it would destroy me. It would destroy me because I loved him as if he were my very own son. As a Catholic priest, the hardest choice for me was not to get married or have children of my own. So here I was with this dying man before me who calls me Father. I was like Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

I have been told and witnessed that there is no greater pain in this world than to witness the death of one’s child who is loved no matter how old or wayward they may be. I wasn’t just being asked by God to tell this soldier I loved him. I was being asked to accept this child as my son.

I was very vulnerable.

I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t even attempt to minister the sacraments. I was numb. The surgeon was screaming at me to set up the light. I figured I helped get the man on the operating table and stretch out his arms like Jesus on the cross. They were the lifesaving surgeons. I was a token chaplain. When he told me I was standing on the huge light, I snapped out of it… at least superficially. I felt I could throw my prayers out like a 3-point swish and get the hell out of there.

But as I approached the table, the altar of healing hope, to do my professional duties, the two surgeons simply said to me, “Padre, it is up to you. We can’t do anything further.” And then they walked out of the room.

I was stunned. I thought, “How can you give up hope. God is working through you.”

Edward, my foster son, was dying at that very moment. I had sung to him as I caressed his red hair and bludgeoned body. As I sang, O Holy Night, a tear escaped his left eye at the words, a weary world rejoices. Edward spoke to me through that tear. I assured him I would let his family know of his love for them. A sword was piercing my heart.

And then God gently asked me to tell Edward that I loved him.

“O Jesus, I can’t tell him that.”

“You must Ron Moses. You do love him, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. You know I do. But if I tell him I love him, and then he dies, I will be toast. I won’t be able to function through my own grief. What about these other service men and women I love? They need this padre to be strong.”

“Trust me Ron. I love you. You can do it.”

There was my beloved son dying. I loved him. I had trouble letting him go. I have asked so many people to tell their loved ones that it is okay to die peacefully and that they will be okay. This time it was God, my Father, urging and ministering to me to love my son into heaven.

So, in a most terrifying and holy space, I leaned over and breathed these words and sealed them with a kiss on his forehead.

“I love you Edward. Go with Love.”

Flash of light. With the eyes of my soul, I saw his soul embraced by love.

Today is the best Christmas ever… because I remember and feel the embrace and kiss of Edward, my beloved son… still.


God loves the poor…in the New Year of 2012

God hears the cry of the poor…in the New Year of 2012!

After Jesus was baptized and was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil, he entered the synagogue of his hometown. He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Happy New Year! Next Sunday is the Feast of Epiphany, a celebration of Light in the World and in our minds. The time between Christmas and Easter is a time to understand the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor. God loves the poor. After the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ during the darkest days of the year, the days will get longer and lighter for the next six months. Hopefully, our minds will likewise get more enlightened.

It amazes me how much money and energy is spent on football and playoffs. As soon as a team (and city) wins a Super Bowl, we immediately strive for another. One is not good enough. We don’t take the time to really enjoy our accomplishments. Our moods and emotions are determined on whether our team wins or loses. Don’t get me wrong, sports and entertainment are good for us, but addiction is not.

How many things of this world are we truly addicted to? Computers and the Internet are wonderful inventions, but now we keep pushing the limits. How often would we prefer to “text” someone, rather than speak to them? Then there are the times we are driving and being absorbed in talking on a cell phone or worse, texting, is truly a serious problem. We get so absorbed and distracted that we would put another person’s life at risk for that immediate gratification of responding to the mad dash of fingers on a tiny phone.

Of course as I say this, I convict myself. It is so easy for me to put off the work I need to be doing while I surf the web or Facebook for unreasonable lengths of time. There are so many “conveniences” and gadgets that take me away from prayer and simple silence that truly are food for our souls. Now that seems to be the problem. Our souls are starving to death. We don’t watch or attend just one football game a week, we keep feeding our eyes with the game that would feel empty if we didn’t have replay.

I hate to break this to many of you, but real life doesn’t have replay. Our sins are not overruled on the field. The only remedy for a bad play…is forgiveness from God. Let us ask ourselves: “How much time and energy have we expended to relieving the cry of the poor?”

If we truly desire to live in Heaven for all eternity, we need to follow the example of Jesus. We must detach and love the poor. Be creative. I suggest beginning with silence, taking a walk, singing and journaling. I will end with my journal entry from December 29th this past week.

To kneel before a poor person’s baby, born in the most unfortunate circumstances…
That’s what Christmas is for us.

Good morning Jesus, I thank God for another year of You!. And yet, you are God!
Here I sit, just an hour before celebrating Eucharist at St. John’s in my own town.
The year is almost over,
the growing darkness has ceased
as we begin to realize that we are on our way home.
As we walk with You, we can’t help but notice the blood dripping from your body.
Your heart is pierced.
Your hands and feet are still pierced and bleeding profusely.
You didn’t just die from asphyxiation,
You died from your blood pouring out from your body.
You were being embalmed while you still were living
And some how You managed those seven last gifted words:

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Is it possible that the thief realized there was no life from you? To watch those last moments before you died must have been excruciating. And then those moments between the death of Jesus and his own death must have been beyond terror. Involuntarily they stood beside you at the cross. “Jesus told me that today I would be with him in Paradise…what joy!”

“Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”
“I am Jesus’ brother!”
Jesus, we have the same mother and father!
We are brothers!
Joseph is my father too!
My God and Your God, my Father and your Father!

“I thirst!”
…for the Poor, the lonely, the oppressed and the rejected.
Jesus thirsts for you and me…o my!

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
I trust you Jesus. In God we must trust!

“It is finished.”
Mass is ended. God in Peace.
The Mass never ends, we take it with us.
Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

Have a most wonderful New Week in 2012!

Love, joy, peace,

Father Ron Moses +

The best Gift ever!

Christmas can be a very anxious time because people that love us give us gifts. Whenever we receive a gift, it comes with a burden. Think of the last gift that you received. Did you feel like you owed something back to the person?

Sometimes, a simple “thank you” is just not enough. We sometimes try to be prepared if someone gives us a gift. We don’t want to feel cheap or inconsiderate if we don’t reciprocate with a gift that is even more thoughtful. We clamor to figure out if we have paid our debt for this generous and kind gift.

Now think of God, who gave us His beloved Son as a gift. Do we sometimes attempt to outdo God? Ouch! Even though our parents aren’t perfect, we are still so filled with gratitude for the life they sacrifice to give us. Sometimes we try to repay our parents by spoiling our children or grandchildren. We never feel satisfied in our giving.

Christmas is definitely about giving gifts. But it is so important for us to realize that the best gift ever has already been given; Jesus the Christ. We can’t reciprocate or come close to matching this gift. We receive the most awesome and amazing gift ever given or that will ever be given.

This doesn’t mean that we come to the Midnight Mass empty handed. But we do need to bring an empty heart. God cannot fill us with intimate and compassionate love unless we have the room. “Mary wrapped the infant in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” We must bring our emptiness and longing for a love that will help us survive our death and the death of those we love.

Advent is a time to prepare our gift for our One and Only Love. We bring the only gift that God desires. What is the gift that you can bring to God for giving us Jesus? Each of us is capable of playing our drum for the babe in the stinking manger. God desires each of us, more than we desire God. We must recognize this and respond in kind. We can bring our charity and love for the poor. We can bring our studies of sacred Scripture. We can bring our contemplation. A great gift would be to simply come home to the Sacred Heart and family of the church, warts and all!

In my 52 years of life on this earth, I have celebrated Christmas (Christ Mass) in many different places and countries. Whether it was in Korea, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, or in Fallujah, Iraq during a war, I always felt I was at home at the Mass. It reminds me of when Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days when he was twelve, and Jesus simply said, “Why did you search for me, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” I am always at home at Midnight Christmas Mass.

When I returned home from my first year in college, my parents had sold and moved out of our house (a mom and pop motel in Daytona Beach), and forgot to let my brother Rick and me know where they were staying. We felt so homeless. We eventually found them and celebrated Christmas as a family of eight in a small motel inn…and at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church where I would eventually celebrate my First Mass as a priest twelve years later!

Although it is awkward and difficult for me to celebrate the revised Mass, there is one clear translation that is a tremendous help. “Pray my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Our sacrifice is our gift for Christmas, Easter and every Sunday Mass of the year. We offer the gift of plain unleavened bread, wine and water. These simple gifts that were given to us by our gracious God will be transformed into the Lamb of God who suffers and dies. This brings up the second part of our gift to God: suffering.

St. Augustine, our patron saint, is quite clear:
“Whenever we suffer affliction, we should regard it both as a punishment and as a correction. Our holy Scriptures themselves do not promise us peace, security and rest. On the contrary, the Gospel makes no secret of the troubles and temptations that await us, but it also says that he who perseveres to the end will be saved.”

Another word for “saved” is “Christ”. The more accurate word for “Mass” is “Eucharist”. Therefore, the Mass is really about “the giving thanks for being saved”.

John the Baptist, Our Blessed Mother and all the apostles and saints suffered greatly. If we truly follow Jesus, we must expect suffering. And we must give thanks for our sufferings! Give thanks for your sufferings, cancers, homelessness, struggles, disappointments, broken relationships and persecutions. They all make the best Christmas gift ever if you give them to Our Father. He loves the gift of your sufferings.

And God will top that gift when you hear the priest invite us to the best Supper ever and proclaim as he holds up the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ:

“Behold the Lamb of God,
behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!”

Love, joy, peace,

Father Ron Moses +