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.

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

Rejoice!

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

This beautiful line from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is today’s Introit and gives this 3rd Sunday of Advent its name.  The full introit is:
‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.[2]

We rejoice that Lord is near as we look ahead to the 25th of December, less than two weeks from now.  With the birth of our Lord we can take strength from He who made us. With His gift of coming among us we see Him and know Him better. We can take on His attributes of gentleness and patience; we can live within His love. We can attain the desire of our hearts. The celebration of the nativity of Lord is getting so very near – we can hardly keep within our skins, as the saying goes.

But for us, this evening, we can repeat: ‘Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: Dominus enim prope est.’with an even more immediate focus.  We can rejoice that in a few minutes we can meet the Lord and reconcile with Him.  We can take part in His gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – we can turn towards Him and embrace Him in humility as He once again embraces us in loving welcome.  No worries should cloud our hearts and minds, He will embrace us!  Our Lord is waiting; His presence is among us and He desires our embrace.

St. Paul, in today’s Second reading tells us:
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.[3]

All we need to do, each of us, to make this hope, this prayer of St. Paul happen, is to return to Christ tonight – allow our Lord to give us His gift of mercy, forgiveness, healing.  Push away any uneasiness about this meeting. It is not a meeting of punishment; it is one of thanksgiving – ours for His gift to us – His for our homecoming.

Let’s not miss this opportunity, this special and beautiful moment of embrace with Christ.

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: Dominus enim prope est.[4]

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[1,4] Philippians 4:4
[2] Philippians 4:4-6
[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Welcome to our family.

Though not a liturgical event, this evening is the vigil of the Nativity of our Blessed Mother.  For me it emphasizes the historical aspect of our faith.  Christians, especially Catholics celebrate the humanness of our faith and birthdays are one aspect.

As does Christmas, the Nativity of our Blessed Mother reminds me that the origin and the object of our faith entered into history, walked among us; and is still coming among us through the sacraments, through His real presence in the Eucharist and through family members (all we need do is look to Lourdes, Fatima, Champion Wisconsin, and on and on to see this).  We are not trying to follow some abstract set of mystical philosophical ideals to better ourselves or cleanse ourselves or escape from the physical realities around us – we are very much part of the world and we look to God who was and is also very much part this world as well.  This is very important for us to keep in mind as we introduce people to our faith – it isn’t a what; it is a who.  We aren’t adherents we are family members – we don’t ascribe we belong.

For me the first part of today’s gospel[1] reinforces this, Christ is actually giving his disciples some practical rules and procedures to deal with situations in their community.  He understands mankind since He is part of the human race.  It shows me that God is extremely reachable, knowable (to the extent that He lets us know Him) and relatable.

Reachable,
God is not only reachable He actually reached out to us first and eventually came among us.  He desires to walk with mankind in their struggles on their journey home.  He could have just stood at the goal line and waiting to see who among us would reach Him – He didn’t because of His love for us.

Knowable,
Walking among us God came into history and let Himself be known.  He allowed us to participate with Him in time and thus come to know and love Him in an intimate way which couldn’t have happened if He remained in heaven, aloof from us.  He allowed us to know (taste and see if you will), the object of our faith; the goal of our journey. God made Himself small and we can learn much from this act.

Relatable,
Because our God came among us, allowed us to know Him, be becomes relatable.  Our God doesn’t cause us to shy off fearfully into corner shadows; He exudes familial concern and approachability.  He desires a relationship with those He loves – us.

All of this boils down to some very, very good news: we are loved children of God. He desires this intimate relationship with each of us and He gives us family to help with this.  We have just come from (what I consider) a family celebration of birthdays, anniversaries, friendships, and shared lives; and now we are together celebrating as family with God.  It makes us joyful and gives us peace. It allows us to feel, albeit vaguely, what God has in store for us and that makes us hopeful.  This is why we should feel within us the need to bring our friends, who don’t know him, to him.  Our family can never be too big; our celebrations have room for many more.  In my heart I know of no better way to ‘love your neighbor as yourself[2] than to welcome them into my family.

Dear family – let’s bring our other friends to meet our reachable, knowable, relatable Father; let’s bring them into our family.

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[1] Today’s readings Ex 33:7-9,Rom 13:8-10, Mt 18:15-20
[2] Rom 13:9

Lesson from the Road

In today’s Gospel[1] we see that the two men walking on the road were confused, disoriented, depressed; demoralized by the events of the previous week. However, they still were gracious enough to allow this other man to journey with them; and they related to him what had just happened.  Events didn’t turn out the way they had expected.

But, eventually these two men, in spite of all of their confusion and uncertainty, encountered their true desire.  As they walked they heard that what happened was not a surprising defeat; it was expected.  The events of the previous days were in fact a victory. Christ defeated Satan and death, and even more, He was right next to them; they were walking with their hope, their joy; their savior.

We are these men.

Our lives encounter all the feelings that they were feeling as we react to the events and actions around us. Rarely do we see things go the way we desire; we would be rich, healthy and happy all the time if they did.  However, we can achieve what they achieved. Our life’s goal is to be next to Jesus Christ; but instead of us struggling to find the way to Him we just need to look next to us for He has never left us.  He is in the word we hear, the people we meet and the Sacraments He gives us, especially the Eucharist; we just need to open our hearts to see.

With this knowledge, in spite of all that is happening around us, we should be joyful; we should be youthful in expectations and rejoicing for they have already been met – Christ has come to us; never to leave! Because of this we should also be energetic and go to those who haven’t met Christ and introduce them.  We know, and so should everyone, that nothing fills us with joy more than our relationship with Christ because nothing completes us but Him.

When all is said and done, we see in this Gospel passage an encounter of a personal kind.  These men have come to realize Christ in a personal relationship, an intimate encounter – and so should we.  In echoing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI[2]: our faith journey is built on this personal relationship with our Lord, and He never disappoints.  Without our personal interaction with God our faith is weak and sterile; without this intimate relationship we are just following lofty ideas – which will eventually prove unsatisfying. But with it, with this intensely personal relationship, we are fully alive and our life is fruitful, satisfying.

Brothers and sisters, during this Eastertide lets open wider the doors to our hearts, so to allow our personal relationship with Jesus to become richer, broader, fuller.  Let’s take the time to engage our Lord in deeper and more intimate dialog and thus build on the love He gives us.  And let’s take the energy radiating from this relationship and shine it on those living in the darkness of loneliness so they too can come into His embrace.

Christus resurrexit!

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[1] Lk 24:13-35 – Road to Emmaus
[2] Inspired by Deus Caritas Est paragraph 1 – Pope Benedict XVI

Christus resurrexit!

Just four months ago, at midnight, we heard these words from Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.’[1]

As Christmas dawned, as Christ was born, the darkness of mankind was broken by a light from Bethlehem.  A solitary light, small maybe, but great in our darkness; it gave mankind a focus, a point that gave us hope.  Though He was still in His infancy, indeed just born, God brought the light of hope into our existence.  We were drawn to that light, though we didn’t know what it would accomplish, at least fully.

Today, we know.

Today, God’s light is not just a light in darkness, it has exploded in full force; it has obliterated the darkness that we knew.  Today, all is made clear to us. God has done what He proclaimed He would do, through the prophets, through Christ.  God’s light has burst into every corner and crack; it has driven the darkness out of every place; Christ has risen from the dead and Satan is howling at the brightness that love brings.

Our lives are now forever different because God has come and done battle with Satan and won.  From His resurrection Jesus shines back on the whole of salvation history, all is made clear and all is now good.  The light of the resurrection, His light, shines the truth and we rejoice.  But light only shines on us and does nothing else, if we don’t see it.  We must open the eyes of our soul to let the light in. St. Augustine said ‘God who created you without you, will not save you without you’[2].  Our hearts and desires need to be open to His light for it to bring about God’s will. This might be troubling because we will see with clarity things we don’t like about ourselves; but it brings healing. This light will show us where we need to change, what about us is far from the path of Christ.  But that is ok; it is good for us to take inventory of ourselves and our journey.

It might help us to remember that what we see about ourselves, in total clarity in this light; is what God sees and He still placed Himself on the cross for us.  His resurrection brings us this explosion of light and it also brings the warmth of love.  So let’s go forward on this Easter day, when light triumphs over darkness; when life defeats death; when God proves to be the greatest with joy and peace of mind because we now understand fully those words of Isaiah proclaimed that dark night of Christmas.

My brothers and sisters:
Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!
Christ has risen! He is truly risen!

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[1] Isaiah 9: 1
[2] St Augustine, Sermo 169, 13

Cause For Joy

4th Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday) – Cycle A

Patience
The word is small, it is common; but it is important, very important to those who desire to follow the path of salvation.  It is a word that, for me, resonates throughout the Stations of the Cross meditations.  Three times Christ falls, three times the weight our sins causes Him to crash to the ground, three times Christ rises up to finish our ransom, three examples of ultimate love and enduring patience with us.

Patience of God
In today’s readings we see other examples of God’s patience, He was patient with Samuel, as Samuel was finding the one who was to be King.  God could have just given Samuel David’s name but He didn’t, and when we look at the whole story of Samuel I have to believe that God was allowing Samuel to find his way to fulfill God’s desire.  God understands that we will have to struggle to discern His design and will, our fallen nature throws clouds into our wisdom and across our vision. ‘Not as man sees does God see…[1] God tells Samuel. Our Heavenly Father desires that we choose Him through freewill, He understands that for that to happen we need to experience and to learn, through our own senses, mind and heart what God’s will is, anything short of this would not be freewill.

God’s Light
God, though, doesn’t leave us on our own; as with any father – He teaches. In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we hear ‘Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.[2] But he also tells the Ephesians, and us, that we have been given what we need to make that happen. God has given His light to lead us and we should live in that light, indeed we become ‘light in the Lord[3]. With this light we can see more clearly.  We can see, as Father Balluf mentioned Friday night, our shortcomings; but we can also see the Lord at work around and within us.

Sin Can Teach
Father Balluf also talked on the positive side to our sin.  It makes us humble and it also makes us aware of God’s forgiveness.  God, as our Gospel tells us today, though not desiring us to sin, can and does make use of our sin to teach us, to be in a relationship with us, to heal us and prepare us to enter into His presence.

Be of Good Heart – Rejoice!
The entrance antiphon for today tells us:

     Rejoice, Jerusalem and all who love her.
     Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
     Exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.[4]

And we truly should rejoice, knowing that our God has the patience to wait for us; and He has given His Word to help light the true path when we stray.  If and when we fail in our Lenten observances, if and when we fall into sin we can rest comforted that God is there to pick us up.  And if we do start down the slope of despair for our failings let us remember the words of God through the profit Ezekial: ‘As I live – says the Lord – I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.[5]

Rejoice!

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[1] 1 Sam 16:7

[2] Eph 5:10

[3] Eph 5:8

[4] Entrance Antiphon 4 Sunday in Lent

[5] Ez 33:11

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.