Merry Christmas!

For it truly is Christmas.  The Church holds certain solemnities as so special that they can’t be celebrated in one 24 hour period; Easter and Christmas are those solemnities.  They are so special and hold so much significance that the church tells us that those ‘days’ are spread over 8 days; thus the Octave of Christmas and Octave of Easter.

Christmas Day, which we are still in, has much to celebrate and reflect on.  We start Christmas day with the joyful celebration of our God being born among us – He has come to earth to be one with us and save us.  This is an explosive joy and one that lingers; but just as we start, the church then reminds us of suffering with the celebration of St Stephen the first martyr.  This is followed by the feasts of: St John the evangelist, the Holy Innocents, martyr St Thomas Becket, and the Holy Family; quite a contrast within the one liturgical day of Christmas. Why would the Church within the celebration of Christ’s birth have us celebrate pain and suffering and death of the martyrs along with family and evangelization?

It is because of the Cross.  The shadow of the Cross falls back on the Manger (as the saying goes).  If it wasn’t for the Cross, the birth of Jesus would be just another baby born, even if He was still God it would be a non-event, as far as our salvation is concerned.  Jesus was born to die for us, all of us, and on top of that He gives us the example of how we are to live our lives.  We too are to follow Christ’s path with our cross.  The cross of our lives, as witnesses to the joy of God (St Stephen), as members of the body Christ (the Holy Innocents), as members of society (St Thomas Becket) are part and parcel of the joy of being one with God – and we embrace it!  Every part of our lives will have its moments of the cross, every relationship will, by its nature, require us to live and suffer for Christ, at work, in our family, everywhere.

But we have a peace, a joy that follows us, that walks with us – we have Christ Himself!  The shadow of the Cross can’t fall back on the manger if it didn’t have the light of the Resurrection to cast it.  We know that Christ came through all the sufferings and pains of the Passion to rise again and enter heaven glorified.  He has beaten death and has promised to be with us, each one of us and that is the great news of our faith. WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Merry Christmas to each and every one.

Can you feel it?

Can you feel it?  It is powerful.
There is a great hush over the universe, as there was 2000 years ago.  Then the heavenly hosts, angels everyone, crowded around each other looking towards Bethlehem.  In amazement they were staring into that little town.  God was going to be born!  He who they continually praise in their heavenly home is about to limit himself in a body of a man.  The God, who’s majesty is praised about the heavens, who’s hand arranged the moon and the stars is reaching down from heaven to those sinful men.  God, who is mercy, is about to put himself at the mercy of the sinners.  God, who is justice, is about to lay himself at the feet of the fickle whims of mankind.  Those angels just stared, amazed, hopeful and awestruck.  What does this bode, they wonder?  No words were spoken for no words could do it justice.  If they breathed there wouldn’t be a breath taken.  God was being born of a young maid – no power, no riches but there was love!  How would these men understand?  Angels looked down in amazement and the hush was deafening.

Can you feel it?  It is powerful.
There is a great hush in heaven today.  The angels, saints, martyrs and prophets all look down towards us.  For tomorrow Jesus comes in our ceremonies, the Lord comes again in our hearts as a babe.  Heaven looks down and wonders. Will we meet Him with hearts open? Will we grasp His gift anew? Will we change our hearts, our lives, our world?  Can you feel it? The hush is deafening.

* Inspired, in part, by Psalms 8 & 144

The Whole World Awaits Mary’s Reply

I would like to share with you today’s 2nd reading from Matins (Office of Readings) from todays Liturgy of the Hours.  It is an excerpt from a work of St Bernard of Clairvaux.

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 [1966], 53-54


Advent of Lights

Advent is entering its fourth week and we actually have a full fourth week this year.  It is a great time to reflect on our faith and take stock of our preparation to greet the Lord.  This year I have been reflecting on two aspects of Advent.

First, Advent is a time of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s coming into the world. But the term Advent has a profound meaning; more than just a time of preparation or expectation. The Holy Father has written that “Advent does not mean ‘expectation’ as some may think.  It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means ‘presence’ or, more accurately, ‘arrival’ ” as in the ‘beginning of a presence’.  The Church builds her celebrations on this meaning as she celebrates Advent.  Though we reflect on the second coming at the end of times, and look forward to celebrating the Nativity; we do this within the mindset of Christ already among us; for indeed His birth isn’t when He came to earth.  His nativity, His birth, was when mankind, albeit slowly, came to know their savior – when our relationship with Him, as man, started. But His arrival, His becoming man, becoming flesh happened nine months earlier at His conception in Mary’s womb.  It is a big reason why the church uses this Gospel we just heard on the Sunday before Christmas – to remind us of when God entered our world, and who it was that helped.  We started this celebration of the Mass proclaiming just that in the Opening Prayer, remember how it started?

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,…

Christ became man when Mary said yes and He was incarnated in her womb.  I think it is important to repeat: it was at His conception, His incarnation, not at His birth that God came among us. His birth in Bethlehem was when mankind started to know Him.

This seemingly small event, in a small town, to a small young maid was the start of the greatest gift to mankind.  Through this action of Mary the second half of our opening prayer was enabled:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

And this brings me to the second point: that God works in small ways should not surprise us.  Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 17:20 that with faith as small as a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds “Nothing will be impossible for you.”  The smallest of actions, if done in Christ have, as Pope Benedict writes: “within it the infinite potentialities of heaven”. WOW – the infinite potentialities of heaven! Though we might not notice it, our actions for and in Christ have a profound affect in this darkened world.  Each little act of kindness, love and faith makes an impact on those around us – it moves them, imperceptibly at first, but it moves them; it awakens them to something more and eventually, if nourished, it brings them to the salvation offered by God and was enabled through that small yes by that small young maid!

Every year the Advent season brings this message about the importance of our small actions for Christ back to my mind and heart.   During Advent have you ever noticed, when driving down a darkened neighborhood street how our eyes are drawn to that one house with its Christmas lights aglow!  Darkness all around and one shining house – we hunger for that light, that happiness illuminating from it.  It becomes our focus for a brief moment as we drive past.  Then our eyes start to search for the next glowing house within that darkness, and then the next.  And when we turn a corner and multiple houses are shining with lights our hearts leap for joy!  Well, at least that is what happens to me; and it strikes me that in a symbolic way those houses are me; they are us.  Our actions, in Christ, are those single houses with their lights burning in the midst of the darkened world. People notice what we are and why we are like that; and though they might not relate to it at first, maybe even be resistant to it; deep down within they delight in what they have witnessed in us and they look for more.  Through our small actions of love; our small yes to God – the infinite enters their hearts and they desire more.  By our actions we are small houses aglow with the glorious illumination of Christ!

May each of us, by our small faith brighten the hearts of those driving by our lives.

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

 

This is the 3rd year we have held the Advent service titled “And Evening with the O’Antiphons’.  The O’Antiphons are the antiphons used in the Vesper Services in the Liturgy of the Hours from Dec 17th to Dec 23rd.  They have a long and robust history in the Church dating back to about the 400s.  You might better know them from the Advent Hymn we all know O Come Emmanuel.  Anyway; I get 7 deacons together and we each take one of the O’Antiphons and reflect on it.  It can be anything that moves us.  Tonight I had the first O’Antiphon – O Sapientia (O Wisdom).

 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

The Antiphon:  O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.

I have this habit of watching science shows, especially ones about the cosmos.  It is amazing, simply amazing what is out there and how we think it works.  The beauty of the universe is only matched by the intricacies of its structure and logic.  The idea of this being a haphazard series of events just doesn’t hold under its own weight.  Chaos doesn’t lead to order, it can’t by its own definition. This has even been alluded to by some of the great scientists, there has to be something behind this immensity.  Einstein once commented about the laws of nature:”there is revealed such a superior Reason that everything significant which has arisen out of human thought and arrangement is, in comparison with it, the merest empty reflection.

Mankind is constantly pushing the boundaries of learning about the universe and how it works.  We are getting very good in explain how things work, from the cells in our body to the heavenly bodies.  But what these great minds, in general, fail to come up with is the answer to why it works or even why it is here at all.  Again Albert Einstein said: “I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.”  However, he too kept looking to find God’s thoughts never to be satisfied.

The answer to his problem, as with most of the great thinkers in this world is that they need to quit trying to find ways to gain wisdom, and allow Him to enter their hearts.  For Wisdom isn’t a thing; it is a person.  He isn’t hard to find either; we need look no further than the little babe in Bethlehem.  Those great thinkers and scientists and yes even us need to quit thinking of knowledge, the attainment of information, as wisdom and welcome Him with the joy and peace He brings.

  • Knowledge explains the workings of creation; Wisdom holds creation together.
  • Knowledge allows us to improve and grow; Wisdom gives us life.
  • Knowledge is benign, Wisdom is all good.
  • Knowledge helps us understand each other; Wisdom gives us love for each other.

In talking about gravitation Albert Einstein came very close in admitting the difference between knowledge and Wisdom:  “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.

 

Make straight his paths.

On this second Sunday of Advent we hear the words of John Baptist heralding the coming of the Lord.  John himself was heralded by the prophets in the Book of Isaiah:

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John’s call to the people of his time and to us is both clear and enigmatic.  Clear because he leaves no doubt that we need to mend our ways to meet the Lord who is coming. Enigmatic, because, due to Original Sin, how we are to do this is hard to grasp; it seems to be a confusing process. 

We need help in making straight the path from our heart to the Lord – so the Lord can enter our hearts. And who better to be our role model than the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary’s path was straight because she lived for God, she was His servant – her life and God’s will were the same.  Mary could freely say yes to God because she was truly a free person, living within God’s love.

It is for this reason that I find the Advent Season very Marian in that she is our lens to view the Savior.  Everything about her and her life is directed towards God, and by allowing her example to affect us she directs us towards her Son.  May this Advent season bring us closer to the Virgin Mary so that with her intercession we can make straight our paths and welcome her son into our hearts.

A call from God (homily from 2008)

Advent – 4th Sunday Cycle B – 2008

If we are only honest with ourselves – we can recognize times when God comes to us in very direct ways.  Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Woman’s Choice Services (the group guiding the Project Gabriel Ministries) about trying to find one of our clients who would consent to being interviewed by the Chicago Tribune.  The Tribune, it seems, wanted to do a story on how a ministry affected someone’s life, especially spiritually; Project Gabriel was selected.  As a “good little regional coordinator” I passed the email on to the eight Parishes that I serve with the advice to call WCS, not me, if they have anyone they think would be a good fit.  Then as our hectic schedules have a tendency to do; the event was pushed back to the rarely visited vaults of my memory.

Last week, as I was praying over the readings for today, to prepare this homily, I came to a point of indecision.  How could I relate to you what the Gospel was telling me?  What can I take away from these readings to better my life and maybe help you to do the same?  But try as I might it wasn’t becoming clearer.  So, as I have a habit of doing sometimes, I put it to the side – praying that something would point me the right direction.

Well, yesterday, as I was about ready to use a beautiful reflection by St Bernard of Clairvaux for this homily, and feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t come up with my own; I received a call from one of the Project Gabriel Parishes.  The Parish Coordinator told me that one of their clients had been selected for the Tribune article and that it should be in the Christmas Day issue.

It was a very splendid surprise; I can remember back to when we first got this client; it was a study in confusion, originally – the information got lost, a parish said yes then nothing was done and so forth.  The end result was that on the way home from work one early October day I was calling three parishes and trying to find help for this mother-to-be who had somehow been dropped through the cracks.  She had just been kicked out of where she was living – primarily due to the fact that she wanted to keep her unborn baby, and was now with friends in a place with almost no heat, and was in desperate need of food.  So while driving home from work, I contacted the OLOM Project Gabriel coordinator who, as chance would have it, was also driving as well; told her that I had an emergency case in need of help within hours, and asked if she could take care of this extreme case.  I then watched as she found the people, the food and a way to have an angel team visit her that night.  All of this – in the span of an hour or so!  I remember the feeling of witnessing a beautiful symphony at work – people were dropping what they were doing to help this young lady; who by saying yes to God, had been forced to find shelter and was in need.

The client’s name isn’t Mary, but here actions were.  She found the strength to go against her family, her boyfriend, and society and say yes to the life within her.  She was tested severely but continued to find the courage and strength to say yes, as the Holy Family did in those first few years.  By all accounts she is a sweet young lady and is grateful for all we have done.  She had every reason to be bitter but was just the opposite.  She is an inspiration to us all.

Those friends of hers, the ones who took her in, aren’t inn-keepers but their actions were.  They hardly have anything, not even good heat and enough food to feed them selves – but they offered what they had.  They took on another burden out of love.

The angel teams aren’t real angels but there actions were.  In a matter of minutes many people had changed their Friday evening and weekend plans to rush to the aid of this woman in need, went to be with her, bring her food, take her to the doctor the following week, and befriended her throughout the remainder of her pregnancy and still to this day.

The baby isn’t named Jesus, but the reactions that came about because of this baby radiated Jesus nonetheless.  Everybody involved in the case didn’t first count the cost to themselves, they just said yes – they let love reign supreme.  Everything that was done to help this child and mother witnessed to God’s plan of what being human is all about; and those of us involved, and that now includes you, have been reminded in a real and powerful way.

That day back in early October wasn’t Christmas but the spirit was.  And it took a call from God yesterday to remind me how to really celebrate the birth of Christ.