Towers And The Cross

Today, we remember back 15 years ago to the horrific events that affected those of us who can remember and color the worldview of those who came after. It was one of those moments that shook us to the core, what was certain and secure before became less so. Our peace of mind was ripped from us, we reeled about looking for something solid to grasp.  As horrible as the events of 9/11 are, sadly, they are just another in a long line of life shattering moments that mankind in general, and each of us in particular, go through on our journey.

Living in this world is a journey full of turmoil and sadness, there is just no way around it. Just when we think that things are moving forward as we expect or hope, something barges in that throws us for a loop. Many events are great, world shaking events; some are natural such as: tornados, hurricanes, volcanos, tsunamis, and some are manmade such as 9/11 and terrorism, state declared wars such as WWI, WWII, holocausts such as the Shoah, Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda. These are great and devastating events that affect us all to varying degrees; but there are the more common and more painful personal events that affect each of us as well; the ones where our personal pain is intense, interior, and they isolate us, make us doubt. The journey of our lives here on earth are paths between and through these horrible great and personal moments that take our sensibilities and throw them and us to the ground.

But, we have hope, indeed a hope that is more powerful than any and all of these tragedies. Every time we are thrown down and our eyes are blurred by fear and tears as we search for meaning and security; we can look up as Mary and John’s eyes did to behold that greatest hope – the Cross with Christ upon it.

The Cross, the central point of all that is unshakeable, all that is foundational.  The Cross, an instrument of destruction which became the center of creation – because it holds the creator upon it.  The Cross, a means of humiliating defeat and death, which is now the tree of life. The Cross, that should drive away our hope but now holds eternal hope. The Cross, in which is now enshrined Love eternal, for all to see.

Brothers and sisters, let’s stand next to Mary and John and look up at the Triumph of the Cross. Let’s never take our eyes and hearts off of the pillar that holds creation together. If we do that, all that we endure will gain for us a closer communion with Jesus Christ. If we do that, then all the tempests that buffet us will not drive this victory from our hearts, indeed they will bear fruits from God.

St Paul of the Cross: ‘Oh cherished cross! Through thee my most bitter trials are replete with graces![1]

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[1] St. Paul of the Cross

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Advent’s Light

With the start of the Advent season also comes the glitter and sparkle of the secularized Christmas Season. Lights are put outside, trees are decorated; neighborhoods start to glow; all in the name of the ‘Holiday Season’. Some Catholics lament over the lost importance of Advent – and with good cause. Many of the faithful succumb to this secular season and give little, if any, regard to the importance of Advent. Some of these lamenting Catholics urge us to sweep aside these ‘secular traditions’ so we can bring back the meaning of Advent. There is some import in what they urge. This initial season of the new liturgical year is multilayered with spiritual realities; but it can be easily swept aside by the busy-ness, anxiety, and even despair (of varying intensities) that comes with this time of year. As it stands now, for many Advent is the lost season.

This evening I want to reflect on one of those important spiritual realities that can be missed in the blaring and glaring of the secularized season. So I ask myself and you: what comes with Advent? What comes with the beginning of the presence of our Lord in our minds and hearts?

Hope!

As Catholics we should be a continually hopeful people. In a very real way each day should start with the Advent of, the beginning presence of, hope. Hope should be the persona that everyone sees in us. St. Peter tells us in his first letter: ‘Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…[1] He takes for granted that it is hope that people see in us. And why? St. Peter tells us that in his first letter as well: ‘By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…[2] We have hope; indeed, we are ontologically hopeful because God has given us hope through and in his Son. The Holy Spirit dwells within us – hope is part of our being.

Holy Mother Church’s celebration of Advent places an intense focus the two great hopes – one is eschatological and the other historical, but both are in the present; the final coming and the nativity. We are waiting for both; the former in anticipatory hope and the later with a retrospective hope. We are comforted with both; one because of a longed for homecoming and the other because of the realization of God’s love for us[3].

Brothers and sisters in Christ – let’s start this Advent season by prayerfully looking into our hearts and bringing forth the hope that God instills in us. Let’s reflect on our station in life and what the hope of Christ brings to us at this moment. Let’s pray for the ability to, as St. Peter urges; ‘make a defense for the hope within us.’ Let’s reintroduce ourselves to the hope of Christ.

Finally, in difference to those lamenting Catholics I mentioned earlier; this return to an Advent frame of mind doesn’t mean we need to shut ourselves off from the secularized atmosphere of the season. Our ability to fruitfully participate in the Advent Season doesn’t preclude us from participating in the secular glitter and tinsel of this Holiday Season. St. Paul in 2nd letter to the Corinthians wrote at length about living in the world, not of it. We are called to do the same. Christ’s last words on earth commanded us ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations[4] In obedience to His command Holy Mother Church throughout Her history went into the world and took what the local populations held as traditions and, if they could, they enriched these traditions with religious understanding – gave them their fullest meaning. This new evangelization, initiated by Pope St. John Paul the Great, not only calls us to reintroduce Christ to those who have forgotten His message – but to do this it also calls us to revitalize our secular traditions with divine intent.

So let’s put this into practice – let’s repurpose society’s celebration. As you drive down darkened streets and come upon one or two (or more) glowing houses – think of our heavenly home shining through the darkness of the world. Feel the excitement that we have for these colorful displays and elevate it to heaven where, as St. John writes in Revelation: ‘night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light[5] Look to the beauty and dazzling effects of a Christmas tree and the curious anticipation felt for the gifts under it and allow it to restore in us true hope for not only the celebration of Christ’s incarnation but our final homecoming. Allow the sights, sounds and energy of society’s celebration to enter our hearts so we can place a sacred meaning to them – a meaning that will enliven our hope given to us by Christ. A hope that will energize us to bring others with us on our journey in this new liturgical year.

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All bible quotes taken from RSV
[1] 1 Peter 3:15b
[2] 1 Peter 1:3-4
[3] St. Augustine: “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” http://www.ncregister.com/blog/dan-burke/an-augustine-christmas-10-comments-on-the-incarnation-of-christ
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Rev 22:5

Advent and a Christian’s Hope

One of the marks of a Christian is the palpable joy that radiates from their being; it separates them from the rest of humanity.

In general, each member of human race moves through their life from one unknown to the next.  We make plans and hope that they come to fruition – the future is in the shadows.  But that is a fearful hope; we are worried it won’t happen and hope the fear does not come true.

Christian hope, on the other hand, is a joyful hope; it is based on knowing what will happen and desiring it; it is based on Christ Himself.  This hope is based on knowing what will happen because of what He guaranteed to us in the past. It is waiting for the promise in His final appearance because of what He revealed in His first appearance.  It is embracing the future now because the future is here – now – His presence isn’t returning – it is here now. The future is not in the shadows; it is light itself.

A Christian’s hope is based on knowing that God’s love surrounds us and guides us and energizes us regardless of what is thrown at us on our journey. ‘Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.[1] we hear from Isaiah today. This is not a proclamation of the fearful hope for those who wait for a shadowy unknown – it is a peaceful, joyful, assuring hope of someone who waits for Christ – with Christ – within His light.

The only fear a Christian will have is that we forget that Christ is with us every moment of our journey – that we fall into the numbing fearful hope that mankind is mired in when they turn within, shutting God’s light out.  This is why Jesus gave us His bride, Holy Mother Church, to make level the path, to keep us from being lost in the shadows of our own making, to lead us to the heights of love so His light will warm us and lead us.

Rise up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights … see the joy that comes to you from God! … For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory.[2]

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[1] Isaiah 40: 11
[2] Baruch 5:5; 4:36; 5:9