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Letters from a Pastor to His People

Dear Parishioners,

On my 30-Day Retreat with the Spiritual Exercises last summer, I had a powerful meditation on the Transfiguration. If you remember, Saint Ignatius of Loyola is a proponent of "imaginative contemplation." That is, we reconstruct the scene from Scripture in our minds and use our senses. We would picture Jesus walking up Mount Tabor and see the blinding light. We would feel the dry desert air or the rocks under our feet. And so on. In the midst of the imagination and the reconstruction in the scene, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us.

I usually imagine myself as the apostle James in the various scenes with Jesus. Makes sense because Saint James is my namesake.

Well, here I was with Peter and John in my imagination. There was Jesus floating and talking with Moses and Elijah.

What happened in my mind/heart? Nothing.

I just sat there atop Tabor. I look up and nothing. Nothing noteworthy about what I saw or what I heard or anything.

That was one holy hour on my retreat. I didn't panic. Sometimes you strike out.

I went back for my second holy hour a few hours later and prayed with the Transfiguration again. I put myself as Saint James in the scene, I invoked my senses and imagination, cleared out any distractions and....nothing. Again, for an hour of prayer I just sat there. Blank.

Okay, now I'm getting annoyed. What the heck, God, I remember saying (internally) when I finished the second holy hour of flatness. This is such a rich scene and nothing is striking me. What is wrong?

Stubborn man that I am, I went back for my third holy hour a few hours later to the Transfiguration. And, you guessed it, nothing happened. I was really getting restless and fidgety in the chapel as the third period of prayer was coming to an end.

As I was about to leave the chapel, I stopped. Drawing on my "spiritual wisdom," which is not all that extensive, I related this frustration to God in the prayer. I put a pause on my imagination and just spoke plainly to God. "Lord," I told him, "this is my third time praying with the Transfiguration and nothing is happening. My mind is blank, though I sense there is something I should be feeling, and I'm bothered."

Jesus asked me what it was I would like. "I just want to be near you," I said.

In my attempts at praying the scene, I had been sitting on the ground, looking up. Jesus was up there floating and talking. I was removed from the action. I was outside the ring; away from God. I wanted to be engaged with the Lord.

There was no reason I couldn't be. I had made some assumption that the Transfiguration was Christ's event and not for me. Wrong.

So, I closed my eyes and went back to Tabor in my imagination. After sitting on the ground for a few moments, looking up and watching Jesus talk with Moses and Elijah, I finally shouted out, "The heck with this!" (I used a little more colorful language). I stood up and jumped up. I was taken up and there I was floating alongside the three. It was like that scene in Mary Poppins when they're all floating up by the ceiling, singing, "I Love to Laugh." Then the prayer took off.

If you're ever feeling flat or far from God, sometimes you just need to be bold and jump up there to meet him. You belong up there.

 

For tomorrow's Monday Evening of Prayer we will have Fr. Tom Byrne, the Director of Seminarians for the Archdiocese of Chicago (Kevin's boss), as our guest speaker at 7:30pm. All the talks are recorded as well, in case you missed a previous talk and would like to listen.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

Dear Parishioners,

Sea and sand. Gotta love the contrast between the first reading and the Gospel. We have Noah and the flood waters, and then Christ in the desert. Ah, if only there was something with snow, then we in Chicago could really relate.

Sea and sand seem opposite, but there is indeed a connection at play here. Sin.

God sent the flood during Noah's time because the earth was full of sin. In the desert, Satan, the father of sin, tries to tempt Jesus. The sea, the sand, and the sin.

We don't like hearing about sin because it makes us feel bad. Thinking about sin makes us think that we're hopeless and that we're unlovable and undesirable.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  We can pray about our sins, and sinfulness, and not feel the separation from God. We all sin, yes, but we are also all unconditionally loved by God. Think about that term 'unconditional.' Whether we are a great sinner or a great saint we are loved by God. We are desired by God. It is unconditional; not based on our goodness.

When we love God and are united to him in our soul, we are most alive. We are fulfilled. Sin takes us away from God. Instead of God, we are putting our heart into those various sinful actions or thoughts. We love the anger, the gluttony, the lust, the greed, etc. Satan tempts us into thinking those sinful things are what we really need; that those things will make us feel good. But they don't.

What are your sins? What are the concrete things you're doing or thinking that are sinful? More importantly, then, what are the lies or wounds underneath those concrete things? Think of the sea and sand in your life: the sin.

Again, not to feel bad, but to help get a clear look at yourself. Think of your sins, and then think about how you don't want to do or have those sins. Think about how you want God. Sin is another way of highlighting your heart's desire for God.

Perhaps in your Lenten journal this week you can jot down your sins and then how you want God instead. And perhaps then go to Confession to clear them out!

 

For tomorrow's Monday Evening of Prayer we will have Fr. Tim Monahan, the Vocation Director of the Archdiocese of Chicago, as our guest speaker at 7:30pm. We hope you can join us for his talk and for prayer. Please see inside the bulletin for the upcoming schedule of speakers. All of the talks are recorded in case you’ve missed them.

On Saturday, February 27th, the Juliana Book Club will be meeting at 9:15am in the back of the church to discuss The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Our next book will be The Spear by Louis de Wohl and we will discuss it on Saturday, March 27th.

Thank you again to everyone who has signed up to bring us in the rectory a Monday or Wednesday dinner. Thank you for feeding us well, showing us love, and helping us out. As I've mentioned we'll eat anything, just no sweets and alcohol for Lent! Feel free to also invite us over for dinner, if that's easier. It'll especially help Kevin the seminarian get a sense of the "real world" as part of his internship experience. We're happy to bless your house while we're at it, if you wish.

A reminder that during Lent we offer Stations of the Cross in the church Fridays after the 8:30am Mass and then again Friday evening at 6:00pm. Also we still have free Lenten prayer journals in the back of church. Feel free to take one or two and even give them away.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

Dear Parishioners,

When a leper in ancient Israel overcame leprosy, there was a process for reentry he had to follow. The first step (or, should I call it Phase 1A?) of the purification ritual was that the leper, when it was clear the leprosy had left him, had to go to the temple and have blood and water from a bird sprinkled on him. Another bird was then sent off, symbolizing the sins being taken away. The second step was a thorough ritual washing and a seven-day quarantine. The third step was the sacrifice brought to the temple by the leper, during which blood and oil were placed on the hands of the leper. Behold, the Restore Illinois....I mean, Restore the Leper initiative!

When Jesus tells the leper to "go show" himself to the priest, what he is doing is skipping the first two steps and going straight to the third.

But I would make the case that the first two steps of purification weren't actually skipped, but slightly altered. The bird to be sent out in the first step is indeed sent out, but sent out here from Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit, the dove that descended upon Jesus at the baptism. The dove sent out by Jesus is the love he pours out of his heart into the heart of the leper. “I do will it," says Jesus. "Be made clean.” Love is an act of the will. Jesus loves the leper. And this love flowing out of the Jesus' heart baptizes the leper's heart: the ritual washing of the second step.

Ah, what a coincidence. It's the perfect day to bring up love...Saint Valentine's Day! The ultimate love is the love of Jesus Christ. The love of our heart, which goes to our priesthood or to our spouse or to our children or to whomever, is not our own love. It is the love of Jesus. We share in Christ's heart. He loves in us.

Your spouse or your neighbor or you child (or your pastor or bishop) might not be perfect. They might be like that leper. Love them as Jesus did/does.

 

This Monday we again have our Monday Evening of Prayer, which includes Eucharistic Adoration in the church from 6:00-8:00pm. We are doing a special "Speaker Series" for Lent for the prayer talk at 7:30pm. This week, February 15, the prodigal son himself returns...Father Hank Lyon will give the talk. Next week will be Father Tim Monahan. Hopefully you can make it out to pray with Jesus and hear Father Hank.

This Wednesday Lent begins. We will have Mass on Ash Wednesday at 8:30am, 1:30pm, 7:00pm in church. We will distribute ashes on the forehead via Q-tip (one Q-tip per person). On Fridays in Lent we will have Stations of the Cross immediately after the 8:30am Mass and then again Friday evening at 6:00pm.

Thank you again to everyone who donated to the Annual Catholic Appeal. Our goal this year is $63,544. Everything we raise over that amount will come back to Saint Juliana Parish. Please help us meet that goal to allow the Archdiocese and our parish to continue its important ministries.

If you missed last week's bulletin, Seminarian Kevin Gregus will be with us full-time for the seminary parish internship program. He'll be helping around the parish, teaching in school, giving a weekly reflection at Mass, doing a weekly Bible study and more.

Since we have another mouth to feed in the rectory, please feel free to sign up for a rectory dinner on the TakeThemAMeal website. Thank you so much for all of those who have brought meals for us recently and over the years. We've eaten incredibly well (and saved the parish money!), so we're grateful. We'll eat anything, just no sweets and alcohol for Lent!

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

Dear Parishioners,

I've been recently interested in and reading about the phenomenon of sleep (as you know, I'm weird). Sleep happens to be a theme this weekend. Job says, "troubled nights have been allotted to me" and laments while in bed. Jesus wakes up early and goes off to pray.

When we sleep at night, we go through four "sleep stages" or cycles. The first stage is dozing off, as the brain relaxes, and lasts about 1-5 minutes. In the second stage, the body relaxes further as the temperature drops and heart rate and breathing slow. The third stage is the deep sleep, also called the "delta sleep" since the brain waves form a delta pattern. This is the most important phase of sleep, the restorative sleep stage, as the body recovers and grows. There are signs that because of this deep sleep, creative and insightful thinking, as well as memory, are improved. The fourth stage of sleep is the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage when the most vivid dreams occur and the body is paralyzed, except for the muscles that control breathing and the eyes. We move in and out of these four stages while we sleep, spending the longest amount of time in the third stage.

Stress obviously affects how we sleep. Things that weigh heavily on us are stored in our brain, and our brain, of course, is still "on" while we sleep. We can't necessarily remove the stressors from our life (well, I guess that's debatable), but what we can do is seek help to deal with the stressors.

And the best help is Jesus. Praying before we go to bed, and then when we awake in the morning, invites the Lord into our stress so he can help us. If you wake up in the middle of the night (because of a bad dream or whatever) or you wake up early before your alarm or if you can't fall asleep, consider praying. Keep a rosary by your bedside and have a crucifix and perhaps some other religious art in your room. Sprinkle holy water on your bed. And say a prayer to Saint Joseph, the patron of dreams, to grant you, as we say at the end of Compline, a "restful night and a peaceful death." 

 

This is the Commitment Weekend for the Archdiocesan Annual Catholic Appeal. Please help our parish meet its goal. You can mail in the form you received in the mail, take one from the back of the church, or give online: http://annualcatholicappeal.com. You can also do a "text-to-give" donation. The number is 345345. You would text ACA2021 to that number and you will receive a text message back with further information on how to proceed. Thank you again for your support.

Seminarian Kevin Gregus is starting his pastoral internship at the parish. If you remember with now-Father Hank Lyon, it is part of the seminary program that seminarians during their second year of theology stay full-time at their assigned parishes during the winter and spring to complete their "internship." Kevin (along with Tian and Lee) had been coming to the parish just for the weekend, while during the week he would be up at the seminary for classes. Now, Kevin will be with us throughout the week. We are blessed to have him with us. Feel free to talk to him if you see him around and perhaps have us all over to dinner some nights! Kevin likes beer and will eat anything (p.s. I like beer and will eat anything). You’ll see him serving at Masses, teaching in the school, chasing me down Touhy, and also hear him give an occasional reflection at Mass.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Parishioners,

 I once heard this definition: "anxiety is scorned poverty." Interesting. Scorned poverty.

I don't have enough space to completely unpack that. But allow me to give a few nuggets. Saint Paul, by the way, says in our second reading, "Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties" (1 Corinthians 7:32).

Poverty is being in a state of dependence and weakness. We don't have something. We cannot provide for ourselves. We are reduced to asking for help.

This is a good place to be spiritually. We are called, in fact, to be poor before the Lord. We have our weaknesses: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. We cannot save ourselves. We need to turn to Jesus to help us. When we acknowledge our poverty and embrace it, we are put in direct union with God.

When we scorn that poverty and try to fix things ourselves, we separate ourselves from God and experience anxiety. Hence the definition.

Anxious lately? Try lifting your weaknesses to the Lord in prayer and ask him to come to you.

 

Last week we started the "Discernment and Decision" phase of Renew My Church (RMC). If you recall, the six parishes in our "Park Ridge+" grouping have been activated (St. Juliana, IC, St. Paul of the Cross, Mary Seat, Our Lady of Ransom, Our Lady of Hope). Please keep an eye on the special RMC section in the bulletin for updates.

We are also in the midst of the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). On behalf of those served by the ministries, parishes and schools who receive funding from the Appeal through the Archdiocese, thank you for your gifts. Please return your response as soon as possible. The ACA this year is titled “Come, follow me and bring hope to the world.” This is especially important during these trying and challenging times. Many in our parishes are affected financially by the pandemic, and we encourage giving at all levels to support this initiative. In addition to providing for ministries and services throughout the archdiocese, the ACA funds the projects and services in our own parish. When we financially support the work of our parish, our archdiocese and the Catholic Church throughout the world, we experience a feeling of deep gratitude, especially when we contemplate God’s many gifts to us personally. By sharing our wealth through gifts to the 2021 ACA, we demonstrate our commitment to the Church and each other. God bless you for your support of Saint Juliana and the Archdiocese.

We are also beginning Catholic Schools Week throughout the Archdiocese. Please pray for our school here at Saint Juliana and please promote it with your neighbors and friends. Word of mouth is the best advertisement. We are doing great things here at Saint Juliana School. God bless our faculty, students and families!

School board will meet virtually tomorrow, Monday, February 1st and there will be a virtual First Reconciliation/Communion parent meeting on Tuesday at 6:30pm with Patty Collins, the director of our Religious Education program.

Wednesday is the feast of Saint Blaise. Because of COVID-19, the Archdiocese has mandated that there can be no individual blessing of throats during the Mass, when candles are placed around the neck. We will still give a general blessing of the throats over everyone at Mass, however. If you would like your individual throat blessed with a candle that day, please reach out to me and Father Emanuel and we will be happy to do so. I know Father Emanuel will bless my throat so I can continue to have a cigar occasionally!

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

Dear Parishioners,

Have you ever had an epiphany about one of your behaviors? I know the feast of the Epiphany was last month, but the theme of revelation or epiphany is pertinent, I think, to the readings today. The town of Nineveh has a “wake-up call” with Jonah's preaching and they change. Jonah reveals to the people just how destructive their behaviors are, and they repent. Jesus too speaks of repentance. Peter, Andrew, James, and John receive a sort of revelation when Jesus calls them: they leave their old way of life and convert.

So, back to the question. Have you ever read something or seen something that has made you realize, Wow, that's me or Yikes, I'm doing that, and tried to change? Or maybe had someone reveal something to you? I had a recent example.

As I mentioned in a homily a few weeks ago, some priest-friends and I are reading Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung. It's a book on the Seven Deadly Sins. The chapter on gluttony opened my eyes.

OK, I'll make a public confession: I commit the sin of gluttony. You might be surprised, thinking I'm pretty thin. Sure, I talk a lot about Malnati's, but it doesn't appear like I overindulge.

Well, DeYoung explains, gluttony isn't just about overeating. There is an acronym to help understand the vice: FRESH. Eating Fastidiously, Ravenously, Excessively, Sumptuously, Hastily. All of these qualities, which go into gluttony, are about the pleasure of eating. We put our satisfaction above the real purpose of food.

The habits from my old football-playing/eating days are still in me. I can inhale several pieces of deep dish pizza before Father Emanuel has even had a chance to unfold his napkin. That full bowl of guacamole he labored over? It will be half empty by the time he's looked up from having squeezed the lime into the Corona. Yes, Padre, that was me who made the food disappear. Ravenously and hastily are my culprits.

I always ruled gluttony out of my repertoire, but this chapter made me realize it's there.

Anyway, I'm sure you'd love to hear me go on about my sins, but the point is God can open our eyes at random times to show us how we need conversion. This simple book made me see what I'm doing.

Now, God doesn't open our eyes to make us feel bad. The point wasn't for me to read this chapter and get down on myself. Otherwise I would have gone to the freezer to polish off a tub of Breyer's ice cream: counterproductive. No. It was simply for me to see I'm weak and in need of God's help. Remember, all things are possible with God. He can call fishermen to be apostles. He can call me to limit myself to two pieces of Malnati's and make them last for at least a few minutes. He can call you to greatness. Open our eyes, O Lord, that we may see the wonders of your law.

 

The Juliana Book Club will gather this Saturday, January 30th at 9:15am in the back of the church to discuss the book Come Rack! Come Rope! by Robert Hugh Benson. Our next book will be The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and we will discuss it on Saturday, February 27th.

We are still holding our Monday Evening of Prayer on Mondays in the church: Eucharistic Adoration from 6:00-8:00pm, Confessions from 6:30-7:30pm, a talk on prayer at 7:30pm, and Night Prayer and Benediction to conclude at 8:00pm. In Lent we will have a special speaker series for the prayer talks at 7:30pm. Stay tuned for the speaker line-up!

 It will soon be that time for the Annual Catholic Appeal. If you have received a mailing from the Archdiocese, thank you for your generosity. Everything we raise over our goal will go back to our parish. More information will be forthcoming.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

 

Dear Parishioners,

As you may have noticed, I was away the first week of January. I was asked to serve as a spiritual director on a retreat for seminarians from around the country. It was an emotionally-tiring experience, but very fulfilling. I'm grateful to the Lord for calling me to this ministry of spiritual direction. It is a blessing in my life.

Before I continue about spiritual direction, I want to thank Father Emanuel and the staff for handling the parish so well while I was away. Of course we had an influx of funerals that week while I was gone (and Father Roger had also left for Florida—he'll be away for several months, FYI, in case you noticing him missing), but Father Emanuel did a great job, rising to the challenge! I owe him a bottle of tequila.

At any rate, there are four icons of spiritual directors in our readings: Eli, Paul, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

In our first reading the boy Samuel is hearing things in his sleep. Sammy is not quite sure what is going on, and so he goes to the elder Eli for advice (ok, I admit made up that nickname for the prophet). Eli does his own bit of discernment, testing the boy to see if he's just dreaming, and then at last sees that God is indeed talking to the boy. Eli gives Samuel the direction, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening'" (1 Samuel 3:9). Samuel follows the direction, it works, and he's on his way to living in God's grace. The first reading ends: "Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect."

John the Baptist in the Gospel does a classic "spiritual director move": he points out the Lord for the disciples. The spiritual director helps the directee see where God is present and active (or not) in his/her life. We should always follow the Lord, not the enemy.

One of the keys to being a good spiritual director (in my humble opinion) is not directly telling the directee if God is or is not present; not always giving the answer to the directee. So, the director asks questions to the directee, helping the directee articulate the desires of his heart and see for himself, hear God for himself. Jesus acts as a good director when he asks the disciples, "What are you looking for?" Jesus could have just told the disciples, "Look, you're looking for me, and here I am, so there." The question Jesus poses to them is more effective to promoting that union with God.

But sometimes there is a need for the spiritual director to instruct. Paul does this in our second reading, both asking the Corinthians questions and then instructing them. The good spiritual director does this not to talk down to his directees, but to be a really father to them, loving them and desiring the directees' good. Paul was a father to the Corinthians, and so too can all spiritual directors be.

This week there are couple noteworthy, "national" events: Inauguration Day on Wednesday, January 20 and the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Friday, January 22. Let us pray this week for our country and for all the unborn.

Next Saturday, January 30th the Juliana Book Club will gather to discuss the book Come Rack! Come Rope! by Robert Hugh Benson. Please obtain a copy of it if you haven't already.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

 

Dear Parishioners,

Christ's baptism in the Jordan was a significant event in his life. One could even make the argument it was "life-changing." (As I write, I can almost see the seminarians getting out their red pens and licking their chops to circle the heresies in this letter...settle down, boys.)

Christ's baptism was deeply touching for him. It can be too for us. Remember, as Columba Marmion says, "Christ's mysteries are our mysteries."

To me, when Jesus is baptized, he becomes fully aware of just how much the human race needs him as a savior. Yes, he receives the Father's love as he hears the voice from Heaven speak, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). But Jesus already knew and received that love. He already "felt" that love poured out to him in the Trinity from all eternity. So, that's not really "life changing."

But when Jesus comes up out of the waters, and sees how moved John the Baptist is, along with the people on the banks of the Jordan River, including some future apostles, Jesus sees something profound in a new way. He fully understands how much the people need this; how much the people need a personal God who carries their burdens and loves them. Jesus had known this perhaps intellectually, but he had never fully felt this in his heart. At the baptism, he feels the thirst of his flock.

John and the others are as moved by the Father from Heaven as Jesus is. They are as overjoyed, as delighted, as consoled. They see Heaven. They hear God. They receive an insight into the Divine they had never known. They know now they have a father.

The people of Israel needed a Father. They were alone in the dark. They were burdened, trying to labor and provide for themselves all on their own. They were suffering. Imagine a child without a father or a mother.

With the Baptism of the Lord, the Israelites are no longer orphans. They are loved. They are relieved. This is their great victory.

When Jesus came up out of those waters and the Heavens opened, I imagine the crowd on the banks of the Jordan River erupted with joy. "You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3). I imagine a victory parade, like when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup or the Cubs the World Series. People in utter celebration. It was the reverse of the base of Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments and the people were lost in sinful reverie. People lost control of themselves on the Jordan River, but in an ecstatic cloud of divine glory. For with Jesus' baptism they had been set free of their bondage. They were no longer slaves in the wilderness, but beloved heirs of the King.

If you're feeling burdened or tired or afraid or alone, put yourself on the banks of the Jordan River with the joyous throng. Let the Father in Heaven speak to you as he spoke to Jesus and that people two thousand years ago.

Tomorrow we have the Monday Evening of Prayer with Eucharistic Adoration from 6:00-8:00pm, with confessions at 6:30pm and a talk on prayer at 7:30pm.

If you would still like to make a donation to the various projects of the church interior, and have your name or the name of a loved one on our memorial plaque in the back of the church, please let me know.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James

Dear Parishioners,

On my 30-Day Retreat last July, I spent a fair amount of time in prayer with the Adoration of the Three Magi. Saint Ignatius of Loyola would have us put ourselves in the particular scene of Scripture. Here with the Holy Family and Three Kings we imagine ourselves present and assisting as a "poor little unworthy slave." Allow me to describe part of my imaginative prayer from that scene...

After presenting the three gifts, the three Persian visitors made ready to leave, but Joseph insisted that they sit and stay a while. They accepted the offer. I laid out some food and Joseph boiled some tea while Mary held the sleeping child. One of the kings remarked as I handed a date to him, "What a privilege it must be serve the King of Kings!" I merely nodded in assent.

"What will you do differently with your life now that you've had this experience?" the king went on to ask me.

Now, in a previous meditation with the shepherds, I had asked one of the shepherds the same question. Now that the shepherd had seen the star and witnessed the birth of God, what would he do differently with his life? The shepherd had answered me: "Well, I'll still be a shepherd. But something is different in my heart now, I can tell. I am filled with hope, with meaning. I always knew about God, but now I know for sure that God is real and God is love. That love fills me with comfort. I can live peacefully the rest of my days tending these flocks. I'm not anxious or weary about my life. I know I will be with God one day when my time on this earth is done. And this earth I see now, I see it with greater beauty and appreciation. This is God's land: the green, rolling hills and slopes, the streams and flowers, the blue sky, sunsets and sunrises—God is present in this. He made it and has become part of it. This is how heaven will be. He brought eternity down to earth that night, and now earth will be part of eternity."

"Wow," I remarked, "that's profound for a shepherd."

The shepherd laughed. "Well, this night was profound," he responded, "and no one will be the same after it."

I gave a similar response to the king as the shepherd had given to me.

After the kings had eaten, Mary asked if each king would like to hold the child. They accepted that offer as well. Each took his turn holding and marveling at the baby. Amazingly the baby didn't cry or as he was passed around.

After the baby was returned to Mary and the seven of us had sat in silence for some time, I asked the kings the same question they had asked me, and that I had asked the shepherd from a few days before: what does this change about their lives?

"This child means God is with us," said one of the kings. "He will ease our burdens, share in our experiences, and one day bring us to himself in the afterlife. We will continue to study the stars, but now we have meaning and hope.

"Our pagan gods are part of our culture and sources of identity, but they don't know our personal stories: our pains and struggles, our gifts and talents, our needs and desires. This baby does and that makes all the difference."

The next day as the kings set out to return to Persia, but not via Jerusalem, one the kings from a camel commented to me, "All men and women of all the world now can come to God and receive the same love and personal fulfillment as we have."

We will still have our Monday Evening of Prayer this week with Eucharistic Adoration in Church from 6:00-8:00pm, but there will no talk at 7:30pm this week.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James