Radiant Beauty of Unnoticed Minutes

This past Thursday, the senior staff of the parish where I work, along with the pastor, sat in a classroom and celebrated our year in serving the mission of the parish, and of course the upcoming Christmas. There were just the five of us, celebrating in an empty parish since we closed the office at noon. The main part of our celebration was watching the movie ‘The Nativity Story’.  We ‘gifted’ this movie to the rest of the staff, but we sat together and watched it.

I have seen this movie a few times, it is always a beautiful and spiritually fruitful experience.  Today, however, I was struck with something that, though obvious now, I seemed to have missed in the past. What we were watching was a movie about individuals trying to follow their faith in the daily trials of their lives. Towards the end, at the birth of Christ, the movie powerfully showed two people, man and wife, who had gone through so much together, enduring the fear and joy of childbirth, alone. They were facing the next trial of their lives which was parenthood, and they were also facing a new phase of their faith life. Could they raise the child of God? Could their wisdom and love bring to adulthood God Himself? Were they worthy of such trust? I kept reflecting on that throughout the rest of the day and during the evening I remembered the Responsory of morning prayer that day in the Liturgy of the Hours.

You will see his glory within you;
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.[1]

Brothers and sisters, as we enter the celebration of the Nativity of Lord, as we gaze with our hearts in amazement and humility at the baby in the crib, God Himself, let’s remember that it was the daily lives of Mary and Joseph, that brought us this celebration. It was by struggling through each day of their lives, through the temptations and hardships of life, that Mary and Joseph participated with God in His incarnation and nativity. No great plan on their part, it was just living their lives as best as they could by following God that mankind is given the chance to receive God’s gift of salvation.

Let’s remember and follow their example. It is not doing great things that we bring the Kingdom Heaven to earth as much as it by living our lives in faith, day by day, seemingly unnoticed, that the great things God offers comes about. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine love also consists of little things.[2] It is by living as Mary and Joseph did, and the countless saints since, that we will truly see His glory within us, and by doing so the Lord will continue to dawn on us in His radiant beauty.

May the God of mercy and love reign in our hearts, especially in those ‘unnoticed minutes’ of our lives.

Merry Christmas!

———————————————————————————————

[1] Responsory for Advent Lauds (Morning Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours.
[2] St. Josemaría Escrivá ,The Way #824

He, Who Can Heal Us

One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that the secular holiday season of ‘Xmas’ has gotten more and more withdrawn. In spite of the increased decorations and festive environment the interaction among the people out and about has become less. People used to smile and wish each other good will; there were events that drew them together and they were well attended. There was fellowship, regardless of any religious meaning. This has seemingly diminished greatly – and I have to ask myself why.

There is a societal numbness today that is the result of a loneliness, an isolation that comes from, as Fr. Thomas White writes: ‘the negative peace of nonjudgmental tolerance.[1] Modern society has built itself into a great amalgam of views and attitudes, life styles and choices. This amalgam of life philosophies allows each of us to find our own path to happiness which is a false happiness – a false peace of heart. It offers a ‘peace through coexistence’ by allowing each of us to detach ourselves from those around us because they don’t adhere to our understanding of truth and happiness. In reality it is a false peace of coexistence by not co-existing. There is nothing to bring us together in a healthy fellowship. There is no internal fulfillment, because mankind is meant to be together. So, as evidenced in the holiday scene people pass each other by oblivious to anything except their selves – a social numbness.

As I just mentioned, this mindset of individual philosophies of life doesn’t bring us to fulfillment and mankind needs to be fulfilled in order to have real peace in our hearts. This is shown by the manic tint of the daily experience that comes from the hunger for wholeness not addressed by these individualistic philosophies of modern society. Why? Maybe because philosophies are cold, lifeless exercises of the mind not the heart. Maybe because philosophies look within and away from others. Maybe because philosophies don’t offer and accept human emotion. Maybe because philosophies can’t affect the soul. In short, maybe because philosophies don’t offer love. Men and women need to feel loved, they need to embrace and be embraced. Mankind needs to realize the true value of each other and celebrate it. We need relationship not philosophy.

There is a gap between what mankind is striving for and what they are meant for. This gap has been around since the fall of Adam and Eve. That our society has taken it to new and aggressive limits is worrying, but in varying degrees and intensities it has always been there. We can see it in the great and ancient O’Antiphons that we started to celebrate yesterday. We can also see in the O’Antiphons the answer to this philosophical malady – Jesus Christ. Christ is the love that brings all other love together and makes it healthy. Christ is the fulfillment of mankind’s needs and goal to their journey. Christ is the center of what mankind needs the most – relationship – love! It shows us the realization of what is important – Jesus Christ – a person, not a philosophy. When we proclaim the O’Antiphons we are calling out to a person who is the:

Guide of creation,
Giver of law,
Sign of God’s love,
Opener of gates,
Splendor of eternal light and sun of justice,
King and keystone.
Who is: God with us.

We call to Him who are these things, and we ask Him to do something for us, to:

Teach us,
Rescue us,
Save us,
Free us,
Shine on us,
Come to us,
Be with us,

Brothers and sisters, we have now reached the time in the Advent season when we turn our minds and hearts to the great medicine for modern society. We start to focus on the start of what gives us hope and shows us total fulfillment – Christmas. When the transcendent God, aloof from mankind and almost an abstract indifferent ideal, made Himself present to us, real. When the true philosophy of life, the one that makes everyone whole, became touchable and touching, lovable and loving.  Let’s prepare ourselves to allow His touch, His love, tangible and real, to affect our hearts, to affect our minds, and maybe just as important to do the same, through our witness, to those we encounter. The O’Antiphons, after all, are not just titles of Christ and petitions to Him, they are also charges to each of us and actions required of us. Because, Emmanuel, God with us, is more effective, more fruitful, when we bring Him to each other as gift.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

May your Christmas be a blessed one.
May the infant Christ reign in your hearts and minds, and guide you in your witness of His love.

 

The O’Antiphons

December 17
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

December 19
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

December 20
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

December 21
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.

December 22
O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

December 23
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
————————————————————————————————————

[1] Catholicism In An Age Of Discontent, Thomas Joseph White, O.P., First Things, November 2016

Memory and Hope

I am always on the lookout for those ‘cute and clever’ church signs that are supposed to get you think. They do, but probably not in the way the volunteer intended. Last week a church in town had the following ‘Looking back keeps you from moving forward’ Considering that we are in the season of Advent I couldn’t help but reflect this message.

Modern society is all about today, never yesterday. Not just today, but what today can do for tomorrow. The past is the past and isn’t that important; a curiosity at best, but irrelevant to my life now. It is truly all about the goals of tomorrow.  I have to plan, act, react and struggle today for what I have planned tomorrow. There is not much ‘enjoying the moment’ in society today.

There is no better example of this then the secular holiday season Xmas (Xmas as opposed to the holy celebration of Christmas). Hectic activity pointing towards a special day ahead of us.  Not just the great gift-giving day of Xmas, but the parties and events that lead up to it. Pressure, deadlines, responsibilities, and the ever-present fear of not being able to make that certain day special. We put up holiday lights, make holiday food and treats, listen to holiday music in an almost manic way. But to sit back and actually enjoy the moment, remember times past, relax and be at peace with the present – well – that is something in books and movies.

This so-called modern understanding is also why it is so hard for people to embrace the religious season of Advent. Two reasons come to mind:

The first reason is that the Advent season comes in middle of this secular Xmas Season. More accurately, Advent was always there but this manic secular season has pushed Advent out of the way.

The second reason is that Advent is counter intuitive to those who live within this ‘memory disconnect malady’ because Advent looks to the uncertain future with a certainty from what happened in the past. As we enter into the Advent Season the message we are confronted with are the last things of life: death, judgement, heaven and hell; but we are given an assured hope with the message Advent brings us towards the end – memory of our past. Christ the judge has already shown us His love and mercy by coming among us. He knows us and He desires a positive outcome for each of us. The Advent season brings the great and good news that what happened is still happening, and what will happen is already happening.

Christ, who came among us 2,000 years ago and showed us the way and His mercy, is among us today continuing to show His mercy and give us His grace. We are not alone on this journey to the final judgement, we still have the benefit of His presence. And, of course, the end of days, the final judgement, eternity, is not something that is to come so much as it is the end of what is happening now. We are living in eternity right now – Christ’s judgement is what is guiding us on the true path home. Christ gives us the knowledge of how to achieve Heaven, He gives us His love to strengthen and urge us on and His mercy when we stumble.

Brothers and sisters, Advent is the cure for this ‘memory disconnect malady’ that affects the world today. It gives us peace about the future because of what happened in the past. It brings joy to our hearts because of the knowledge that our past is with us in the present and won’t leave us in the future. The phrase that I saw on the Church sign can be answered with another phrase: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’[1]

——————————————————————————–
[1] HEB 13:8

Liturgical Tinnitus

Over the years there have many discussions about various aspects of the Holy Mass. What are the roles of the various participants, architectural importance, vestments, furniture and their positioning and on and on.  What might seem to some as just opinions or theological sparring or unimportant minutia can have a profound impact on how the faithful view the Mass; this in turn can affect how the faithful view the Church and her place in the ministry of Christ and how the faithful live their lives. Lex Orandi, lex Credendi, lex Vivendi is more than just a cute saying. All of this has a profound impact on us, and in turn we on the Mass. Tonight I would like to reflect on one of these aspects, one that, thanks be to God, is not an issue with our Vesper prayers.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time of preparation, an almost hushed season where we look within and look both backward and forward to the comings of Christ. But, for me this is always battered by the clang of the secular holiday season. Noise and action and bright lights that drive us to distraction.

Holy Mother Church is not immune to noisy activity, and not just in Advent. At another parish, the month of November is when they sing the Our Father; not chant, but sing. And between the Our Father and the congregation’s final response where, according the rubrics[1], the priest, by himself says: ‘Deliver us Lord from every evil…[2] there is also an instrumental bridge, in short there is background music during the priest’s words where it isn’t allowed. And if the priest and the music don’t match up correctly, then the congregation has to wait for the music to finish before they start their response: ‘For the Kingdom the power…[3] For me, this takes away the congregation’s participation in the prayer our Lord taught us and makes it a tune – of course this is my opinion.

This is not an isolated incident; in many parishes, impromptu musical interludes happen during baptisms, confirmations, post communion time and in almost any moment of quiet. For example, during the sign of peace, where it isn’t allowed[4] many congregations have an instrumental background.

This highlights a very troubling trend in the Mass; one that has been creeping into not only the corporate celebration of the Holy Mass, but into the understanding of the active part of the faithful’s participation – lack of silence. An important part of the Mass is silence, the time that each participant can enter more personally into the presence of God – can hear God within their soul.

The prophet Elijah learned on the mountain that God can be found in: ‘a light silent sound[5]. And this makes so much sense. For us, creatures, to be in the presence of the almighty and total other, who is beyond our own comprehension, the reaction should be one of humble acquiescence and silent adoration, an almost stupefied posture, one that allows only the senses of our soul to be open and receptive.

At the Holy Mass we are in the closest proximity to God that we can achieve on this journey. We are watching God the Son in humble obedience offer Himself to God the Father, and we are watching the action of the Holy Spirit between them. There must be time where the din of noise, both within our hearts and minds, and around us in the celebration stops so we can listen to that ‘light silent sound’[6].

Brothers and sisters, let’s try to resist this ‘noisy participation’ that seems so prevalent in our celebrations and find that quiet time to open ourselves to God. The Tinnitus that has found its way into the Mass must be met with decisive resolve to bring back those moments of peaceful and holy silence. Liturgical Tinnitus numbs the senses whereas holy silence opens the soul to the beautiful symphony that is God. Let’s pray and strive for such times. Even if we can’t affect changes in the Masses that we participate in, we can affect change within each of us in how we look for silence in the midst of the noise. We can try to improve our ability to hear the symphony through the noise – be present in front of that most holy ‘light silent sound’[7].

———————————————————————————————

[1] Roman Missal pg 664 – ‘With hands extended, the Priest alone continues, saying:’
[2] ibid
[3] Roman Missal pg 665
[4] Pacem relinquo vobis -Circular Letter on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass  #6c: In any case, it will be necessary, at the time of the exchange of peace, to definitively avoid abuses such as: the introduction of a “song for peace,” which is non-existent in the Roman Rite.
[5] 1 Kgs 19:12 (nab)
[6] ibid
[7] ibid

Our Gift Back To God (and Mary)

So we come to the core period of Advent, the nervousness from what we have reflected on at the beginning of this season (the eschaton and the second coming) should now be waning as we see with the coming celebration of the Nativity how much God desires us to succeed. He came among us to help us get home. We now focus intensely on the gift of Christ – as we should.

But this weekend Holy Mother Church asks to look at the other side of this gift from God – our gift back to Him. Today’s Gospel scene is one which Pope Francis has talked about a lot – it is a foundational reading in his spirituality and he desires it to be ours as well. Why? Because so does God.

Frequently Pope Francis has talked about the first thing that Mary did after submitting to the will of God; she goes in haste to help others. It is a call to Christians for Christian action, especially Catholics, who might have the tendency to celebrate feasts of the church and not put them to action.

Christ teaches that the greatest commandments are Love God and Love your neighbor[1] – this calls for action – this calls us to go in haste to others. So, I ask myself, and you; how are we doing with our gift back to God? I for one need to be better – my gift back to God is very, very, anemic.

Of course this gift of action to God and others is full of uncertainty and doubt. It is fraught with various forms of persecution from being ignored and marginalized, to being derided or rejected, all the way to being attacked and yes, even possibly martyred.

But so it was with Mary; she knew that her journey and her action would be difficult – right from the beginning. Going in haste to anywhere in Judea was not like driving a long distance today – it was dangerous and life threatening – but she did it. Advent reminds us that she wasn’t alone, Christ was with her; and as He was in her – she was brave in Him.

So, how are we doing with our gift back to God?

Once again, this past year we have seen many attacks on the personal liberty of religion – and some have shown us great acts of Christian action; worthy gifts back to our Lady and Lord. Here is one that epitomizes heroism with and for God; an example of gifting back to God worthy of His (and Mary’s) gift to us:

At Brandon High School, in Mississippi, the marching band was ordered off the field by their school board because they performed ‘How Great Thou Art’ at halftime in violation of a federal court order. Todd Starnes from foxnews.com writes what happened next:

Something must be done to right this wrong, people said. A message had to be sent to the likes of Judge Reeves. Locals gathered in coffee shops and garages to devise their plan.

And what they did — would become known as the musical shot heard around the world. During halftime of Friday night’s game – a lone voice began to sing the forbidden song. “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,” the singer sang.

Brittany Mann was there and she witnessed the entire moment of defiance.  “We were just sitting there and then one by one people started to stand,” she told me. “At first, it started out as a hum but the sound got louder and louder.” She said it was a “truly incredible” moment to watch hundreds of people singing together in the stadium.[2]

This isn’t a faraway issue; ask the football team at Naperville Central – since they too are under legal attack for quietly praying as a group. So, how are we doing with our gift back to God?

Friends, what is our story?

  • Are we intimidated by the social environment?
  • Do we sit back in the shadows and wish it were otherwise?
  • Do we allow the children of our towns who proclaim Christ publically to do it alone?

Or

  • Do we trust in the Lord and travel with Him?
  • Do we, like Mary, go in haste to bring her son to others?
  • Do we hold our heads high in the Lord to those in our communities who look at us with derision and threatening distaste?
  • Do we support those in our communities, especially our children, who proclaim Christ publically? Do we stand with them and proclaim our faith?

Brothers and sisters, we celebrate the birth of our Lord in five days. We rejoice in the great gift of God made man. We rejoice that our redeemer was born to walk among us and offer Himself for us.

But we also, celebrate another gift, that greatest of human action – ‘fiat’! Mary’s yes that allowed us to rejoice. How will we thank her? By the gifts of empty words, shallow prayers and wistful wishes; or will we follow up her example, make her actions our own and also go in haste to those who need Christ in their lives. Will we celebrate by being happy and inspired for a day, only to have the effects fade; or will we follow her and constantly hold our heads high in Christ in public and endure what she endured with her Son? Let’s give her and Him thanks for their gifts by bearing the cross of discipleship all the way to Calvary and beyond.

Let’s make our gift to Christ, and His mother, as meaningful as theirs is to us.

——————————————————————————-

[1] Matt 22:36-40
 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (RSV)
[2] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/08/21/school-band-told-to-stop-performing-how-great-thou-art.html

Declutter not Defeat

There is a scene in the Sherlock Holmes mystery Study in Scarlet that is always in my mind. Sherlock is explaining to Dr. Watson:

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. … It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.[1]

The ‘purple seasons’, Lent and Advent, are times when we should take stock of what is stored in our own ‘attics’. Time when we take a step back from our dizzying lives and come to grips with who we are and who God wants us to be. Our lives, and the desires and wants that come with them, can have the effect of crowding what is really important in our relationship with Christ. On top of this, we too can provide useless lumber with our sophistic reasoning that we use to make ourselves feel ok; mental gymnastics that we go through to try to make us right with ourselves and right with God.  When it comes down to it – we need to put ourselves under the light of Christ and honestly and determinedly clean out the things that elbow out what is truly valuable for our journey home. We need to declutter.

Now, as we start the final two weeks of Advent let’s make a conscious effort to clean house so that when Christmas arrives we can open ourselves up to the glory of Emmanuel. Don’t plan to do it, just do it. Start now – otherwise it will never get done because tomorrow never arrives. Tomorrow is a very dangerous word when it comes to our faith journey because as St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘“Tomorrow!” Sometimes it is prudence; many times it is the adverb of the defeated[2]

—————————————————————–

[1] Sherlock Holmes, Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
[2] The Way #251, St. Josemaría Escrivá

Changing Our Gaze

December 13, 2015 (Cycle C)
Gaudete Sunday

I must admit that over the past 22 years (since I became Catholic) that this Sunday has become one of my favorites – and it is not because I can wear a rose dalmatic. No, color aside, this 3rd Sunday of Advent, for me, truly lives up to its name – Gaudete Sunday.

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.[1]

Is the proclamation of the opening Antiphon for Mass today. This specific Sunday, throughout the world takes on a special atmosphere – most especially with Catholics.

Why? Well, I suppose we can point to the fact that we are getting closer to Christmas Morning. In some countries, like Italy, families bring their baby Jesus figures to church to be blessed. Or maybe it’s that, in the northern hemisphere at least, the days are so noticeably shorter on this weekend that the outdoor lights are shining so much brighter for so much longer throughout the evening. All of these, are good reasons. But for Holy Mother Church and Her members (each of us); it has an even more important, spiritual reason.

Today we change our gaze.

Today our Advent journey turns away from reflecting on the end of times. For the last two weeks we have given consideration to the end of times and Christ’s final coming – the final judgement; and through the readings Holy Mother Church tried to assure us that we have nothing to worry about if we only hold strong to the faith. And yet? Still we have doubt.  It is only human to wonder and doubt about the unknown, the future.

What can remove this doubt? What can cause us to live the introit: ‘Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete’? What proof are we given that our doubts are unfounded?

With the whole of Christendom we now look at this proof, we draw close to the undeniable witness who proves to us what Holy Mother Church has been reflecting on. We look towards God Himself. Today our reflections and our journey turn towards Christ’s first coming. Proof that, if we only hold fast to the faith, the end of times isn’t worrisome but something wholesome. Why? Because God has come among us. He didn’t stand at distance – He came among us to raise us to the destiny that was always ours, but for the fall. If He would do that for us in our fallen state then we can rest assured of how He will greet us, His faithful, at the end. God, never left us! He will never leave us!!

But there is another important aspect to this Sunday of rejoicing amid the pensive (albeit hopeful), introspective season of Advent. This rejoicing isn’t something that we initiate. We aren’t the ones who spontaneously throw rejoicing towards heaven. We are echoing what God has done all along. Today’s first reading, from the almost unknown book of the prophet of Zephaniah rings with this reality.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
[2]

God is bursting at the seams, so to speak, with joy at who each of us are. He created each of us personally, He is proud of who we were created to be.  And through the sin-soiled garments around our soul He can see and love the beauty that is truly us. So, before, we are ever able to proclaim: ‘Gaudete in Domino semper’ (‘Rejoice in the Lord always’) God, sings: ‘Gaudeo igitur in vobis semper(‘I rejoice in you always’)

Finally, why do I use the Latin version of this introit? Because it gives me even more joy and peace knowing that this idea of rejoicing isn’t some contemporary theological mind game. This weekend of rejoicing has been around for millennia. The faithful throughout all of history have understood this reason for rejoicing and it is now our time. To celebrate, to rejoice and most importantly, to pass this celebration on to the future – our children.

Brothers and sisters, make this one of your gifts this year to those you hold dear.

——————————————————————————–

[1] Roman Missal, Introit for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
[2] Zeph 3:17