New Year Peace

Once again we are on the eve of  a New Year.  Society (at least in the United States) celebrates this with an almost manic pace.  It seems that we are frantic in celebrating the passing of one year for the next; as if we need to have a better year to satisfy our longings; to erase anything that disrupted our enjoyment of life; to try and create stability out of uncertainty.  We act like addicts trying to get the next high!  But when all is said and done there is nothing that will satisfy us as we wish, at least that is in our control.

Look to Mary, Holy Mother Church says on this first day of the year; this Solemnity of Mary – Mother of God.  Look to her faith, for that is where true happiness can be found. Mary didn’t have a perfectly peaceful life, and yet she was at peace because she was with peace, Jesus.  The things that we know happened in her life we wouldn’t want to happen to us.  Much despair and hardship – from her fiat to Gabriel to her holding her dead son; from the exile in Egypt to the exile in Patmos she lived much sadness and uncertainty.  But in spite of these events she was at peace because she was with God.  She had stability with her creator.

There is a quote by Saint Teresa of Avila that always reminds me of Blessed Mary:  ‘Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. God alone is enough.

May we all find the peace that Christ brings.

Choice of a System

The celebrations occurring in the Octave of Christmas are powerful; with the Birth of Christ, Holy Mother Church celebrates God revealing Himself to mankind as He came to live among us. We celebrate the joy of this gift; knowing that our salvation was brought to us, offered to us, and this celebration is magnified by the peace and joy of knowing that our Lord has experienced our plight, He knows us for who we are and what we encounter.

How we live our lives is our response to this gift

The Holy Father in his September 12th general audience reflection on prayer and the Book of Revelation points out that there are two ways of living: “We might define the first  as the ‘system of Christ’, to which the assembly is happy to belong, and the second, as the ‘earthly system of anti-Kingdom and anti-Covenant, brought into being by the Evil One’, who, by deceiving men and women, wishes to create a world that is the opposite of the one willed by Christ and by God.”  It would seem to those of faith that the choice is obvious, but as we see, even within Holy Mother Church, our fallen nature affects how we live.  With our free-will our decisions and choices are tainted by the desire to be accepted; to be popular.  Left to ourselves, we tend to walk the path of least resistance. We look longingly at the ‘system of Christ’ while dipping our toes into the ‘earthly system’.

And, of course, our ability to live this loving response to God, this ‘system of Christ’, in light of mankind’s fallen nature and the manipulations of the Prince of the World, Satan, is not easy – as the feasts during this Octave of Christmas highlight.  The feasts of St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents and the memorial of St Thomas Becket point out that the world, in general, doesn’t accept this gift.  These feasts remind the faithful of the struggles that we can expect.

But Holy Mother Church, in her Christmas celebrations also points to the importance of a relationship with God.  She celebrates that God’s gift of coming among us is still as fresh and strong now as then – that with this relationship with our living God we are strengthened in our ability to live the ‘system of Christ’.

We honor St. Stephen because of his heroic witness to God; but we also reflect on the strength he had to endure this because of his relationship with God.

We celebrate the Holy Family, who lived a life the same as others – with the same needs, fears, struggles that accompany any family’s joys and successes – but who based their family on their relationship with God.

Yesterday, we celebrated the memorial of St. Thomas Beckett, who in spite of his successes chose the ‘system of Christ’ over the whims of temporal leaders.  Knowing what the outcome would be; his relationship with God strengthened him for his martyrdom.

And of course we will end this Octave with the celebration of Mary as Mother of God and meditate on her constant reflection and communication with her Lord and God.  She is the exemplar of relationship with God.

In these uncertain times, where those who try to live the ‘system of Christ’ are being buffeted by the Satan’s ‘earthly system’ let us look to the Octave of Christmas to see how we are not alone; God-with-us, Emmanuel, is still beside us and take heart.  Let us follow the examples of those we celebrate and keep our relationship with God strong through our prayer life and by doing so help to strengthen others who desire this ‘system of Christ

Family

God came to us in a Manger two millennia ago.  On a solemn night the Lord of creation was born to mankind; an event that was not noticed by most of the world.  Not much fanfare, just a birth in a stable with farm animals as witnesses.  Shepherds, tending their flock were alerted of the event by the heavenly hosts and came to see.  Magi from the east discerned this event from their studies of the stars and traveled to pay homage.  A maniacal king slaughtered a region’s male children to stop this event.  But as far as the citizens of area were aware – nothing was happening – another day of life.

Mary and Joseph, aware of the import of the event were still trying to live their lives.  God was born to them; but He was still a baby- with the needs and demands that a baby brings.  The Lord of Lords was part of their family; still they had to eat, to pay bills to worry about safety and to take care of each other.

On this feast of the Holy Family, in the Octave of Christmas, we reflect on what it means to be a family with God amongst us.  We meditate on the normalness of the Holy Family’s existence and take comfort in the fact that they were able to grow in sanctity.  God is among us, He walks with us in our normal routine, He is an integral part of our family – if we allow it. With His presence among us our family can weather the day to day demands and make them a growing opportunity.  By putting Christ within our family experience we can find the strength to love unconditionally, to grow in sanctity and become a continuing witness to God’s gift to mankind that mostly went unnoticed two millennia ago.

Something Stupid

The other day at work I was talking with a group of people that were in my department. During the conversation someone wished me a Merry Christmas and asked what I was doing for the celebration – so I went through my schedule.  It was at that time that one of them said, ‘I find it curious that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus in December when he was actually born in summer.’  You would have to know this man, he is a wonderful person however he is a walking replay of anything from the Discover and History channels – a fount of bizarre and most often wrong information (did you know that red M&Ms get their color from mosquito wings?).  I immediately responded with the comment ‘really’, winking at his work-group companions, who all rolled their eyes because they knew what was coming.  10 minutes later, after the rest of his co-workers had escaped and after much useless and often times contradictory proofs I was able to get a word in.

A couple times he used the word stupid to refer to this celebration (again, you have to know the young man to understand he really means no harm). I mentioned that as stupid as it might seem, it was a perfect day to celebrate the birth of Christ, and that it was the day he actually came to us; since during the Mass He truly comes to us (talk about words going over the head of someone).

But, in reaching my main point I said that mankind needs celebrations, momentous events to reinforce in our minds and hearts certain basic, foundational truths.  That the day might not be correct as far as historical fact is beside the point (though contrary to his experts no one is really sure), it is the meaning of the day that is important.  It is the metaphysical truths that are being remembered and hopefully reinforced in our hearts.  In which he replied with ‘Hmmmmm’ and what metaphysical truths do you need to reflect over.

The gift of Love, I responded. That God, creator of the universe, came down from on high, was born to mankind in order to save me; that I am loved that much, that I am that important.  I kneel beside the manger and thank Him for His gift of self, I tear up at how I have let Him down and I pray that I can do better in the future.  I offer my heart to He who offered Himself and I offer my heart to those who He loves.  Gift giving at its most pure and best!

Later, a couple of his co-workers came to my office and wondered what I had said to him to make him quiet for the rest of the day.  ‘Oh’, I replied, ‘I just said something stupid’.

May you all have a blessed and holy Christmas!

O Oriens

Every Advent, for the past 5 years, St Dominic Parish holds ‘an Evening with the O’Antiphons’.  A service where 7 deacons from the diocese of Joliet come together and reflect on the seven great O’Antiphons.  This year I was given O Oriens

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It is good to see you all are still here. I wasn’t sure how many we would have after the end of the world; for today, at midnight this morning the world ended, and I think we look pretty good for having gone through that.

Though a majority of the people who took a passing interest in this doomsday prediction viewed it as the end of times; there is a group of people who took it as the start of new great things.

This is not the end of the world. This is the beginning of the new world,” Star Johnsen-Moser, an American seer, said at a gathering of hundreds of spiritualists an hour and a half from the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.  “This is the beginning of a change in priorities and perceptions. We are all one,” said Esther Romo, a Mexico City businesswoman who was there as well. “No limits, no boundaries, no nationalities, just fusion.

Oh, so close, so close; for truly their desires are good, we share them; but they have the wrong guide.  Today, December 21st is a good day to remember newness, rebirth.  To rejoice in the oneness of God’s people and His continued coming among them.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

On this winter solstice, the shortest day of the year we proclaim O Oriens, O Daypsring, and remember the newness brought by the Son.  On this day when darkness is at its maximum we are assured that its hold on the earth is passing and daylight starts to grow and retake what darkness has taken. From now on – each day sees the Sun rising earlier in the east, sees light come quicker.  As with the earth so it is within us.  Through the darkness of our lives we turn to the east and strain to see the rising of the eternal Son.  We struggle to see the rays of peace and joy streaking through the darkness of the world and our souls.  We hope for the coming of victory of God’s light over the prince of darkness.

These past few months have been trying times, and this past week our hearts have been wrenched and we have struggled for answers.  But we are a hopeful people because of Christ.  In spite of everything; our hearts know peace because peace has walked among us.  Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” 2,000 years ago God made good on Isaiah’s prophecy and every day since He continues to show us His great light.

And as a hopeful people every morning we look to the east and rejoice in seeing the cosmic sun rise because it reminds us of the continual rising of the eternal Son to meet us, to heal us.  Each morning we greet the day and Christ with Zechariah’s prayer the ‘Benedictus’ which ends with:

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

We are a hopeful people, you and I, for we belong to God, and He has assured us of His love with nothing less than His Son, who comes to us, like the sunrise, especially in every Mass.

O come Son and warm the earth;
O come Son and brighten our lands;
O come Son and shine within our hearts;
O come Son and enlighten your people;
O come Son and we shall reflect your light;
O come Son and be our beacon to eternity;
O come Son of God and fill us with you mercy;
O come Son of my heart and burst forth to those I meet.

Tonight we can be satiated with the greatest of joys!

Today, Holy Mother Church points the faithful to the joy of being a Christian.  She urges all who come to celebrate, to celebrate the joy of Christ as a gift to mankind.  The joy of being loved so much that we are given chance after chance after chance to gain eternal salvation through our Lord.   The Collect (the Opening Prayer) puts this desire for this gift up front in the liturgy today and in our lives:

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

The desire and anxiety for such a gift is palpable in these words.  Reminiscent of our youth as we long for Christmas day to arrive so that we can see what lies hidden under the tree, what gifts have been given to us.  This eagerness is the what Christians, when they are truly open to God’s love, should be feeling – for the joy promised is ultimate and everlasting. The great 4th century doctor of the Church St Ambrose writes:  “He who welcomes Christ in to the intimacy of his house will be satiated with the greatest of joys.

But, our fallen nature gets in the way, we are sinful people and as such we fall short of the appreciation of this gift – we need helps to attain what the collect prayer asks for.  Again St Ambrose from one of his hymns: ‘If the son of God is born in you, keep your life blameless.’ We need to clean ourselves of these barriers to God’s joys – we need to be healed of our sins.  We need to turn to Christ – because as St Ambrose writes ‘Christ is everything for us: if you desire to heal your wounds, he is the doctor; if you are parched by the heat of fever, he is a fountain; if you are oppressed by guilt, he is justice; if you have need of help; he is strength; if you are afraid of death, he is life; if you wish for paradise, he is the road; if you flee from darkness, he is light; if you look for food, he is nourishment.

And Christ comes to us always to be those things for us – especially in the Sacraments and most powerfully in the Eucharist.  Tonight we have the chance to receive Christ’s healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; tonight, brothers and sisters we can clean our lives of the things that keep us from the hope and joy that today’s Collect asks from God, tonight we can be satiated with the greatest of joys!

Gaudete in Domino semper!

The other week I was watching a morning news show.  On the show was a priest, Father Jonathan Morris, of the Legionaries of Christ.  He was part of a discussion about the war on Christmas by the atheist and secular groups within the United States.  The commentators spoke with agitation about this onslaught against the meaning of Christmas and our ability to publically celebrate it.  Towards the end of the discussion Father Morris said them “You guys look so angry about this War on Christmas — I can tell.”  He had been commenting to them about absurdity of the attack on Christmas; but he also said: “If our Christmas is going to be all about getting upset at people who are trying to take away our Christmas, isn’t that silly, too?”  He wasn’t down playing the need to defend our faith and its expression; on the contrary, he thought it an important activity however Fr. Morris said people should speak up “but without losing the peace.

His comments rang very deep in my heart. I could almost see St. Peter writing in his first letter:  “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.

Christians are, by their nature, a hopeful, joyful people; or at least we should be if we understand the gifts given to us by our Lord.  At every moment of our lives we should always hold within us a peace and joy that is given to us by God. It is part of our being because we are made in His image.  If we truly understand and live this faith we proclaim, the Holy Spirit will burn within our hearts.  At times it might be a small flame, and other times it burns brightly and strong.  But, if we are living the gift of faith we will always have peace that hope brings and the joy that comes from it somewhere within us. Because when all is said and done we know that God came to us, lived among us and suffered and died for us; we are loved that much – we are not alone.  Our faith assures us that we are not waiting and hoping that God will accept us – He is there – He is always there. Timothy says as much in his second letter when he writes: “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”  The only real uncertainty we should have is: are we responsive and faithful to the love God gives us – that is our struggle.

It is a struggle that Holy Mother Church has helped us with every day since Christ ascended into heaven.  It has been Her mission since that day in the upper room on Pentecost.  Holy Mother Church walks with us throughout our lives to reinforce the teachings of Christ; to heal and strengthen us through the actions of God in the sacraments. Through the celebrations set within the Liturgical year we are taught and exhorted; with her help we look within ourselves as, together, we immerse ourselves in the revelation God entrusted to His Bride.  By the liturgical seasons we come to feel the pain, the joy, the sorrow and the exultation that Christ himself experienced and by doing so we open ourselves to be purified and sanctified.  In short the Church puts a light on Christ so that we can become more like Him.  That light, of course, is the light of His resurrection. Everything we do as Church has this light of peace and joy in it – sometimes it is subtle other times it is in forefront; like today, Gaudete Sunday, where in the middle of the season of Advent we stop with our relatively sober reflection on our lives to celebrate the joy of being a Christian.  We can’t help it; joy needs to be shared.  We know the end of this story, Christ in all His glory.  It is an ending that can’t be changed, God triumphs over all.  Eventually, if we accept the gift of His love, in all its aspects, we will be there with Him. It is a peace and joy that is foundational.

So, I believe this is what Fr. Morris was trying to impress on the commentators and the listeners on that morning; it is an understanding that we should have too.  Regardless, of how we perceive our situation in life.  In spite of how we think our actions have been received.  In spite of seemingly overwhelming odds against our faith, we should radiate the joy of a people who knows peace – knows Christ.

May the Lord bless our hearts and minds with the peace and joy that He alone brings. May each of us follow St. Paul’s exhortation “Gaudete in Domino semper!” – “Rejoice in the Lord always.”