The Whole Family

At a meeting with the Pontifical Council for the Family Pope Francis, once again, spoke strongly about the importance of the family within the greater society.  The Catholic view of family is widely and well known, and because of this; attacked strongly. Groups who are trying to change the ‘make-up’ of the family have accused us of being everything from out of touch and restrictive to homophobic and hateful of freedoms.  To discuss this at a Vesper service would both take too much time and just be plain a waste of time since this group is a strong supporter of the Catholic sensibility of family – we all trust in God who defined what a family should be.

No, I won’t try to reinforce in us that which is already strongly ingrained – praised be to God.  However, what caught my eye and heart in this reflection of the Holy Father was this line: ‘A society that neglects children and marginalizes the elderly severs its roots and darkens its future.’ He goes on to say that caring for these groups is a choice for civilization.  This is a common theme in the first eight months of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

Brothers and sisters what is a choice for civilization starts as a choice within a family.  How do we, catholic families, regard our youngest and oldest?  Do we give the time to play, to teach, to love the children of our family, and by doing so show them their importance in the ongoing building of the family?  Theirs is the future, the strength that will continue this most fundamental building block of society.  Do we embrace and include the elderly of our families in its activity?  Theirs is the past, the memory of what made the family what it is and who we are.  They have the wisdom of a life of lived in loving sacrifice that teaches the rest of us what it means to live a full life of love of God and neighbor while living in the society around them.  Both groups are important for us as families to be living witnesses to the Holy Family’s example.

On this great Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph we do well to desire what the Collect (opening prayer) from today’s Mass prays for:

‘O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.’

Eternal rewards.  Eternity starts right now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out in his book Jesus of Nazareth Volume 1 – echoing the Jewish understanding of eternity. The rewards start now if we live this prayer within our families, the whole family from our most young to our oldest; the whole family from those closest to us in our immediate family to those in our Catholic family and beyond. When we do this, people will notice the love we have within these families; and when they take notice the other alternatives being promoted in society concerning family will shine at them with a cold, glaring, harsh light – and they will turn to the warm glow of our choices.

To you all, those here at this Sunday Vesper Service (and those reading this online); may your Christmas celebrations continue in the warmth of the Holy Family’s loving embrace – Merry Christmas.

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A Mother’s Embrace

This past October 18 Pope Francis preached about the apostles’ lives; he compared their initial and youthful entrance into discipleship to their twilight. He spoke of Moses, St. John the Baptist and St. Paul in their twilight; and then broaden their experience to all retired clergy and religious.

I would add each of us to this meditation.

As faithful followers of Christ; we have the same road. We too have moments of youthful energy that drive us to witness to our Lord’s Gospel, and we too have moments of feebleness and dryness in our journey as disciples. As we travel down our life’s road we lose some of the energy that we had, but we accumulate even more experience and wisdom – we grow! Never lose heart when one of our talents diminish; look to the others that God builds within us, and always exercise the most important one – love! We never lose that gift if we keep close to Christ.

Look to the saints, they are good examples to follow. Keep to your prayer life, it is our dialog with our Triune God. Keep close those who are close to Christ, they are our family. And finally, always look to our Blessed Mother Mary!

So, my Christmas wish for everybody is the ability to keep Christ close to their hearts. I would suggest to each of you that every morning, indeed every moment of the day, we ask our Blessed Mother that while she cradles her infant son she includes us in her motherly embrace, protecting us with her son and nurturing us as well. She always desires to keep us close to her son throughout our lives; may we, in return, be good and faithful children.

May Lord bless you all this Christmas Season and forever.

The Gift

Mary- we get the mental images of this sweet, young, quiet maid with a strong will.  A young adult who resolutely moves forward with the plan God has announced for her without fear for the Lord is with her. That is about as deep as think about her life.  We sanitize her experience, just as we do with lives of the saints.  We tend, unconsciously of course, to make them celluloid heroes – not quite real, and in the words of musician Ray Davies: ‘celluloid heroes never really die’ – meaning their life isn’t real.

But while watching the movie ‘The Nativity’ last night I was struck by a conversation that Joseph and Mary had.  They were well on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Joseph and Mary really didn’t know each other that well.  They were struggling on the journey while they were introducing themselves to each other on the way.

The Jewish custom of the time was that after being married the bride lived with her parents for a year, and since soon after her betrothal Mary went to visit Elizabeth for many months she had been out of contact with her husband.  Then of course she came back noticeably pregnant and you know the story. So during the trip to Bethlehem for the census they were still coming to know who the real Joseph and Mary were. At this point in the movie, Joseph asks Mary if she was afraid and she said yes, then in return he said the same.  It dawned on me the unknown that they were experiencing.

The entrance of Christ into their lives didn’t change how the world would treat them.  They still needed to live in the time.  The movie brought to force the barbarity of the Romans and their henchmen, and subsistence living that was normal life. Their struggles brought the expected anxiety and fears, pain and suffering – those same realities that we face. And yet Mary added a whole new level of struggle with her fiat, and Joseph accepted her burden as his own.  Not many of us turn to our spouse to wonder when our child would recognize their divinity.

But along with this unknown this Christmas gift brought them a partner, a companion closer to them than even themselves, it brought God to their lives – the unknown was made known.  What an amazing gift, throughout their struggles they had God with them.  Never would they need to know loneliness, together or apart; Joseph, Mary and both together would always feel the presence of God with them.

The same is true with each of us.  I hope that starting with this Christmas, we learn to de-sanitize our ideas and mental pictures of Mary and Joseph, allow some of the true life to enter our meditations.  Then we can sit back in awe and thanksgiving in their gift to God and us of allowing Him to work through them for mankind. When we meet for next Sunday’s Vesper Service we will have celebrated the Nativity, followed the next day by the first Martyr and will have celebrate the Holy Innocents – life as the world throws it to us doesn’t change because God is with us.  But we change, and maybe like the movie The Nativity shows us we can be a seemingly small event that can help change the world.  Let us look to Mary and Joseph who did it first.

Emmanuel

Every year, for the past 7 (one was missed) St. Dominic Parish holds ‘An Evening with the O’Antiphons’ a celebration of the ancient and great antiphons that proclaim Christ in different aspects of his being.  Seven deacons from the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois are given one of the antiphons and they can reflect as they are moved to. This year I was given ‘O Emmanuel’

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We arrive at the final O’Antiph0n, which in the hymn is put first; the antiphon that is, in a certain way the hermeneutic, the key, for the others; the antiphon that proclaims why we can proclaim in the first place; the antiphon that gives us the reason for this soon-to-come epiphany of love Christmas. O Come Emmanuel! O Come God-with-us.

God could have just ignored us, left us to ourselves. The Psalmist sings: ‘When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place – what is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that your care for him?’ (Ps 8:4-5) but He didn’t ignore us. God could have saved us in any fashion that He desired. He could have just willed it, spoken a word and it would be done; we didn’t need to know anything about Him – but He didn’t. God, He who is beyond our comprehension made Himself known. God, He who is inexplicable, who we are incapable of describing, came to be among us – became visible. He, the great Total Other made Himself small so that we might interact with Him and allow ourselves to be raised towards Him. He who is Love allowed love, in its fullest, to be reachable, attainable, by those whom He loves.

We have been given a face and body, a brother who makes real and tangible Wisdom; who reveals what Lordship is about; who gives meaning to why our past is important and what it means to us, who brings the light of hope and the desire of all nations. We don’t have to think in abstracts for He isn’t abstract – He is among us – He is Emmanuel. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians almost sings to us:
“Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself…”

We have a Lord who desires our intimacy more than our intellect. So God comes among us and reveals to us the incomprehensible so that, as St. John says in his first letter ‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.’ God among us, Emmanuel, has come to broaden mankind’s horizon of love by giving us the peace and joy of being loved.

What joy! What supreme and intense joy we have when we contemplate what inspired these O’Antiphons. Not as words or lofty ideas (as Pope Benedict XVI wrote) but as gifts from God our Father given to us by God our brother, given to us by Emmanuel.

We should be driven by our joy to pass forward the proclamation of the angel to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”(Luke) Our gift to God, for His gift to us, should be absolute love – self-giving love – to those He loves. We should celebrate the gift of Bethlehem by re-gifting. Like our Blessed Mother we should everywhere and always point to her Son. We should make our own her gift to God, her fiat – we should herald Emmanuel.

Why the Color Rose?

Gaudete Sunday, Advent 2013

Well, here we are starting the third week in the Liturgical year. Today is known as Gaudete Sunday and more on that in a little while.  Holy Mother Church gives us the liturgical year for, among other things, learning about the mysteries of God and trying to grasp what God means to us.  The first part of the liturgical is the season of Advent.  Advent is a season that celebrates three comings of Christ; and right up front, the first two weeks or so, it gives us the end of our story.  Christ is coming back; He is coming to accept the judgment we placed on ourselves.  By our lives we determine our outcome, Christ the judge accepts it and makes it final.  So, we take this time in Advent to reflect on our preparedness for the final coming.  We reflect on how we have lived our lives up till now and meditate on how we can improve. It is a penitential season; that is why we use purple as the color of the season as we do in Lent.  A point of historical fact: back in distant history the church celebrated this season as almost another Lent, it was 40 days of fasting – we have it easier now – which might be to our detriment – but it is what it is and I don’t second guess Holy Mother Church.

The second part of Advent, which we are now entering, we reflect and celebrate the first coming of Christ, his nativity.  As Catholics we turn our spiritual gaze towards that great event of 2,013 years ago – when God came to us.  We celebrate the birth of Christ when He appeared to mankind and meditate on whether our lives have been an appropriate thanks to this gift.  After all, He came to us to die for us!  If you go back and look at some of the early artwork concerning the Nativity (not the Renaissance artwork with a fluffy baby smiling from the manger) we see the infant Christ not wrapped in swaddling clothes but tightly wrapped in bands of cloth – from head to toe.  He looks like a mummy; and that is exactly what the artists were alluding to.  In those paintings Christ the infant is clothed in funeral wrappings – He came to die!!

In fact all of our celebrations, seasonal and specific feasts, have the shadow of the Cross on them.  In everything we do we have in our souls the knowledge that by our actions we condemned our God to death; a death freely given but death nonetheless.  We fallen creatures need for God to pay our ransom because we can’t do it ourselves.

So then, why isn’t the whole year colored in purple or black?  Well, that is why today you see Father and myself in Rose, why you see on the Reredos a pink banner (I guess rose was too hard to find).  That is why we see the same in Lent on the 4th week.  It is a joyful color and it is there because we can’t help it.  There would not be a shadow of the cross on the whole year if it wasn’t for the light of the Resurrection.  Even more than the cross, our soul always remembers Easter, the resurrection. Our soul always understands that in spite of all Christ died for our sins and rose again so that we too can journey to heaven.  From the great celebration of Easter down to the depths of Good Friday and Holy Saturday we always have in the back of our mind that Christ rose from the dead – for us.  It is a joy that needs to be expressed and during Advent we do that today – Gaudete Sunday.  The antiphon for the day proclaims joy: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.’  Today we proclaim that Christmas is near – that He to be born that day is the one who will die for us and rise.  That God will come among us to lift us up – this news is too much to keep silent with.

Brothers and sisters, if this news is too much to keep silent with – that we have to celebrate it during a penitential season it should be too much to keep silent with from those we encounter – we need to proclaim to everyone, by words and most importantly by our lives this joy.  We need to bring Christ to those in the world who haven’t heard, or having heard have turned a deaf ear. But to do this we need to be properly prepared. We need to (and this is the third coming of Advent) allow Christ to come daily and enter our hearts.  We need throw open our interior doors of resistance and allow the prince of peace to penetrate our very beings so that we can be the disciples that Jesus wants us to.  When we do this, when we allow Christ into our hearts then we are believable when we show those around us that ‘Indeed, the Lord is near.

The Third Advent

Advent, the season that starts the new liturgical year celebrates three comings of Christ.  All three comings start from His action, but one requires our constant participation. The beginning of the season, where we are right now, celebrates the eschatological coming at the end of time.  When Christ comes in glory to finish the story of mankind’s salvation.  Around Gaudete Sunday, next Sunday, we start to celebrate the nativital coming of Christ as one of us.  The incarnation and birth of God almighty as a man. When to our great amazement and gratitude He took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man. When, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote ‘the great other, God almighty, became small’; or as I am fond of saying: the action that allows to kneel in humility and look God straight in the eye.  Two powerful events that bring God among us.

But today’s Mass the Collect prays about the third coming.

May no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company

And the Gospel relates to us the same third coming.  ‘At that time Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him,

This third coming, is a constant advent – allowing Christ to come to us in our hearts every day.  For the first Advent, the nativity, to bear fruit; and for the final coming to be glorious for each us we must constantly go out to meet our lord, we need to participate in this personal coming, we need to throw open our hearts and minds and allow Christ and His message to enter, to reside within us.  Bishop Kaffer, of fond memory, once told a class that I was in that when an evangelical street preacher stopped and asked him ‘Have you been saved? He responded with the only Catholic answer – which is ‘I was saved yesterday and hope to be saved today and every day.

May this season of Advent strengthen our ability to throw open our doors and allow Christ to enter so that we can the ‘produce good fruit’ that Christmas offered to us and be ready for the final coming, a home coming.