Thursday, December 28, 2006

Honor Mary January 1

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Mother of God

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

(Psalm 67)

May God be gracious to us and bless us;
may God's face shine upon us. Selah
So shall your rule be known upon the earth,
your saving power among all the nations.
May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you!

May the nations be glad and shout for joy;
for you govern the peoples justly,
you guide the nations upon the earth. Selah
May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still;
that the ends of the earth may revere our God.


January 1 is a triple header in the liturgy of the Church. It is the octave of Christmas, it is the feast of Mary, Mother of God and it is the feast of the giving of the name Jesus. For the Jesuit it is the titular feast of the Society. It is the day Mary is honored as the Mother of Jesus Christ and because he is both God and man by his two natures that make one person, she is also mother of Jesus who is the Eternal Word of the Father. Truly a special day for us to honor Mary!

We celebrate the continuing work of Mary in the Church. She recognizes the Church as the Mystical Body of her son. She began her work for the Church with the “Behold your son” words of Jesus on the Cross. John stands in as the Church being entrusted to Mary. Our Spiritual journey has Mary as our best role model for the way she took care of her Son. How we should cherish Jesus we can learn by looking at Mary in her mother’s love for her son.

This is the time when we make resolutions for the New Year. Some suggestions are in order. It is a good time to make plans on how we can love better those who are in our lives. Love is practiced by how we give ourselves. Mary is the model of love in how she was present to Jesus. We need to recognize the Christ of each other. Daily Mass is one way to be present to Jesus. It is a real gift we can offer up for those we love.


Doing something special for one person you love each day is a good plan to have. The living out of love is not an accident. It needs a plan that gives form to good intentions. A helping hand takes many forms. Letting your fingers do the walking on the phone makes it possible to say hello to another each day. The smile of happiness flows out of the special ways we reach out to those we love.

Make this New Year special by the intentions of your heart. Begin this New Year aright by celebrating God’s love for you in Mary.

Happy New Year!

We Are God's Children Now December 31

Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

By Beth De Cristofaro

“…kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins—a house raised in justice to you” (Sirach 3:14)

“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12-13)


Joseph, earthly father to the Son of God, be my model of courage when my desire to follow Jesus calls for me to go against the cultural grain. Mary, Mother most Holy, be my model of love too deep for words which kept you at the foot of the cross, not understanding perhaps, but realizing that the promise of your ancestors would be fulfilled and the world renewed despite your bleeding heart. Jesus, my brother, be my model of fidelity as I struggle to know and do the will of our Father, just as you did every day of your human life. Help me, Holy Family, to realize that rather than wanting more in my life, I want only God. Amen


How many “yes’s” did it take for God to become human and dwell among us? And how many “yes’s” does God give to us – despite our many “no’s” or “maybe’s”. These readings resound with God bestowing hope, joy, promise, expectation and over-abundance to those who say “yes.” To “those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Ps 128:1)

Mary’s Infinite “yes” and Joseph’s quiet, resigned “yes” gave the infant a human family. These “yes’s” assured that he would be wrapped in comfortable, sustaining mortal love which is vital to the well-being of any human baby. Jesus’ Divine Father gave his beloved son what is most important for a human life.

Sirach and Paul instruct us to step out of ourselves and put others first as did Mary and Joseph. Fidelity to parents is a high virtue. Paul declares that those who would follow Jesus must answer a call for fidelity to others. The family has expanded.

Mary and Joseph did not always understand: “ ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them.” (Luke 2:49-50). But a committed “yes” does not depend on understanding. A committed “yes” comes from love, trust and being: and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51). How much of life do we understand? Yet how precious is life.


Think of each “yes” we say during liturgy or prayer with our “Amen”. From where does this come? Rote memory? Unconscious reaction? A comfortable ending that makes prayer right? Our thought that prayer is a good idea? Our hearts, cleaving to the only answer which the core of our being can possibly give?

Where in your life does your “yes” play out? Do you keep a “yes” for your earthly family? What about for your heavenly family? Do you need to reconsider your “yes”?


Do the Will of God December 30

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him…Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever. 1 John 2:15, 17

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Luke 2:40


Let us pray: God, please connect us to the things that matter in this world…your love and our way to express our love of you through piety, study and action. Help us to live the prayer: “Here I am Lord. I come to do your will.” Amen.


Time is a limited gift. We only have so much but none of us know exactly how much. So what do we do with our time? Two choices: Love God. Don’t Love God.

If we don’t love God, then we will love other things. The world. Our toys. Our cars. Our houses. These are all made of the world. John warns us. They are passing away. It’s called planned obsolescence. Your car will break down. At night. In the middle of the highway. The tow truck will cost you $163 and the repair will run another $2,000. So much for that clutch. Once it’s done, its done. You fix it or trade it in on another model.

It’s a good thing God doesn’t treat us like that. Jesus would never trade us in on a newer model that doesn’t sin as much! The relationship we have with Jesus, His brotherhood with creation, goes beyond time and physical dimensions. If we walked the Earth 2006 years ago, we might have known Jesus as a friend if we lucky enough to be born around Nazareth. Maybe even we could have been his cousin or sibling. But we don’t have a physical relationship with Jesus. We can’t reach out and touch him like we can the keyboard in front of you. We have a meta-physical relationship with him. It goes beyond the physical world.

It’s hard enough to maintain friendships with old college chums for a few years after everyone graduates, starts careers and goes their separate way. Even with letters, e-mail, pictures and videotape, we grow apart in distance and in love.

Jesus doesn’t want us to grow apart. That’s why every day, he makes his friendship with us move from metaphysical to physical through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

As we reflected earlier this week, if we love God, we will obey his laws and commandments through our piety, study and action. The payoff: You’ll remain with God and God with you forever.


Click here for the story of cardiologist Jeffrey Warner, a man who has the gift of knowing that his time left on Earth is very limited. So he wants to make the most of it.

Jeffrey Warner’s “To Do” list (copied below) may not be the same things you would put on a similar list of you were in his situation. But it certainly gets you thinking. What would be on your list?

Jeffrey Warner’s To Do List

Capture the wind of Hawaii with a gourd
Rent Villa in Tuscany
See Dan Dickau make a three-point basket

To do
Be with family
Spend time with friends
Take a few trips
Do a good deed

Live as Jesus Lived December 29

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live (just) as he lived. 1 John 2:5-6

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34-35


Jesus, help us to walk as you walked, love as you loved, serve as you served, live as you lived. You are God’s Chosen One. Help us to choose your ways. Amen.


Jesus changes everything…including the commandments. The New Commandment is delivered to us today – a commandment so old that it seems new. Following this commandment puts us into a relationship with Jesus that goes beyond the physical to the metaphysical. That commandment is, “Obey.” Obedience to the Word of God is the mark of the family of God. We saw it in Mary (“I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to God’s will.” We saw in Joseph listening to the messages from the angels, not once but several times.

Jesus came to dwell with us and in us in order to live a new covenant. Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, said in one of his Easy Essays, “to create a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new, which is not a new philosophy but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new.”

We learn this new commandment from John and from those around at the birth of Our Savior and at the Presentation of the Lord. Later in the Good News, Jesus himself echoes the prophecy of Simeon and the new commandment of John. When crowds gathered around, Jesus was told:

“Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Luke 8:20-21

Not just his direct relatives, but an extended metaphysical family. In another scene from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reinforces this sisterhood and brotherhood we have with the Son of God.

While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Luke 11: 27-28


How do we abide in Him today? In our families? In our communities? In our parishes? In our workplaces and schools? In small group meetings?

What is the Word of God asking you to do today?

PS: Happy 27th anniversary Beth!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fulfilled December 28

Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

Out of Egypt I called my son. Matthew 2:15


Jesus, where are we going? Where will you take us? No matter the destination, protect us and all your Holy Innocents today and always from walking in darkness. As you fulfilled the prophecies of yesterday, teach us how to fulfill your Word in our modern lives. Open our ears so we may learn how to be the protector of your spirit in the world as your protect us from temptation, deliver us from evil and grant us peace. Amen.


All history pivots on the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The Before. The Now. The Future.

In our first two days after Christmas, the Church gave us readings that looked forward. These reminded us of where the salvation story leads – action/evangelization, martyrdom and conquering sin and death. Today, through the Feast of the Holy Innocents and the flight to Egypt, Matthew looks back to see what the prophets said as fulfilled in this Birth. He connects the Jesus Story to what has come before and weaves the present reign of Herod (and his heirs) with that of Jesus.

The NAB notes explain that Egypt was a traditional place of refuge for those fleeing from danger in Palestine.[1]

When Solomon tried to have Jeroboam killed for his rebellion, he escaped to King Shishak, in Egypt, where he remained until Solomon's death. 1 Kings 11:40

When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and princes were informed of his words, the king sought to kill him. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt. Jeremiah 26:21

Just like Ahikam protected Jeremiah, Joseph protected Jesus and Mary so the baby was not handed over to death. On a literal level, the flight to Egypt is another example of Joseph’s humble, unfailing protection of the Holy Family and obedience to God.

In an historical context, the story is fulfillment of prophecies mentioned. However, perhaps the main reason why Jesus is taken to Egypt is so that he may relive the Exodus experience. Moses obtained the release of Israel from imprisonment in Egypt. Jesus goes beyond Mosaic Law. Jesus will release us from a different imprisonment – the prison of sin. In his life is a new covenant. On this deeper level, this development allows Jesus to share a common heritage with the people when He emerges out of Egypt as the “New Moses” taking his people in a whole new direction.


Where do you dwell? In the virgin womb. In a manger. In Egypt. In the village of Nazareth.

Just as Joseph is lead to Nazareth, we can be lead there as well. Here is a link that opens a door on a letter by the executive director of Nazareth Village, a site in Israel that recreates life when Jesus lived there. It provides contact information to support the village, help it continue operations (until you can visit) and rebuild from the rockets that land around it when tensions in the region heat up.

What other doors can you open to let Jesus in?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Seeing is Believing December 27

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist

What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us. 1 John 1:3

Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. John 20:8


Behold the Lamb of God!

St. John, from the day you encountered Christ in the desert until you stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, you were always the first to recognize Jesus. Your writings helped us learn the Good News and spread the message of the Word made flesh. You taught us so much that Jesus did and said in your presence. You taught us that the sun of righteousness would rise with healing wings. You taught us that Christ is the vine and we are the branches. You taught us to love one another. Continue to teach us today and help keep our eyes open, our ears tuned, our hands ready, and our hearts loving so we can pass on this faith to others. Amen.


Seeing is believing.

Scriptures have taken us on a bumpy ride this week from Christmas on Monday…to Martyrdom on Tuesday…to Evangelization and Witnessing on Wednesday.

Yesterday, the day after we commemorated the living incarnation, the Joy to the World, we had a reminder of the cost of grace in the martyring of St. Stephen stoned. He was attacked by a group of people who were not challenged with the words, “He without sin may cast the first stone.”

In Stephen yesterday we saw what happens when people reject the message and the price paid by the followers of Jesus. They could not see what had happened and did not have faith.

Today, we mark the life of St. John, often described as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In John, we have eyewitnesses to the historical Jesus. We instead see people who accept the message of Jesus and act on that…seeing is believing for them.

John celebrates waking in light and truth, not merely on an intellectual level but on a moral plane as well. Fellowship with God (vertically) (║) and with one another (horizontally) (═) consists in a life according to the truth as found in God and in Christ. The sum total of both experiences (╬) is another dimension on the joy and fullness of Christianity made possible only through the birth of the innocent baby in Bethlehem.

So although these two feast days seem to divert our attention away from celebrating the incarnation of God made flesh, in reality, they fulfill the picture of faith, hope and charity symbolized by that solitary moment in the quiet night of Bethlehem so many long years ago. And they remind us of the need today and always to grow in and through Piety, Study and Action.


Peace on Earth?

The news is certainly mixed on this front.

World leaders continue to say the right things and do little to intervene in the genocide happening in Darfur.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has ordered the removal of many roadblocks and checkpoints in Palestinian territory. Plus he has unfrozen some of the financial assets of the moderate elements of Palestinian leaders and met in summit for the first time with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Newspapers and broadcasts on Christmas morning announced to us that Ethiopia has joined in the attacks on a faction trying to unseat the weak, UN-supported government of Somalia. Refugees are fleeing to already over-crowded camps in Kenya. Analysts tell us they fear the fighting could spread to the entire Horn of Africa.

Poor and indigent families in Nigeria trying to tap into the oil-rich resources of their country which are not available to them ended up victims of an explosion as the pipeline burst into flames.

Iran and North Korea continue to seek nuclear weapons.

Taiwan is reeling from a 7.2 earthquake and stories of the aftermath of this natural disaster have yet to reach us in the west. Ironically, the earth quaked on the second anniversary of the South Asian Tsunami.

The world certainly is in need of the Prince of Peace today. Christ has "no body" and nobody now but you and yours, St. Therese teaches us. We are his arms and legs. While we can not do everything everywhere, consider where your time and voice may lend support to struggling organizations, your talent can assist workers helping in affected areas and your treasure can provide much needed support to people truly in need of relief and development efforts here and abroad.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Receive My Spirit December 26

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr

The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:58-59

You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr


He never promised us a rose garden.

One day after celebrating Christmas, the message is martyrdom. The Church sure doesn’t let us celebrate the joyful birth of Christ for too long. Would 48 hours be too long to celebrate? Apparently so.

Stephen’s ministry jumps the salvation narrative ahead three decades and followed the Crucifixion. As the notes to the NAB point out, in his words and deeds, Stephen, like Christ, challenged the law and the prophets. Stephen understood the fuller implications of the teachings of Jesus and the cost of discipleship. St. Stephen’s message was quite simple: You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it. (Acts 7:53) His was a plea for the hearing the Word announced by Christ and passed on to the Christian community and acting upon it.

Furthermore, with Stephen’s ministry, not only extenuated the differences between Judaism and Christianity but also shows how the major impetus behind the Christian movement moved beyond Jerusalem. Looming at his execution is the shadow of one Saul of Tarsus…soon to be struck off his horse…who will pick up the mantle laid down.

Martyrdom for Stephen is paralleled with the death of Christ as Stephen’s cries echo the last words of Christ on the cross. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit; and when he had said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

Today, we commemorate the Church’s first martyr (after Christ) right after we celebrate the joyous birth because one (birth) without the other (death) is not the full picture of Christianity.


As we consider the fate of St. Stephen, also consider the fate that has befallen the “little town of Bethlehem.” It is no longer just a nice song and picture on a card. It is caught up in the conflict over occupied Palestine. The following web journal entry details some statistics about the exodus of the Christian population from the area where the Church was literally born.

The author asks, “Will we in the West only see Bethlehem as a quaint town on holiday cards and nativity scenes? Or will we open our eyes to the present realities that affect our real, though distant, relatives?

Read what Bethlehem's mayor said this week and today's letter from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.”

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Jesus, the light, shines in the darkness December 25

Merry Christmas!

(Readings from the Nativity of the Lord, Mass During the Day)

By Beth De Cristofaro


Light, Word, Salvation, Brother, God…As an infant, Your beauty is a personification of Love. I thank you for the beauty and blessings in my life. Thank you for your presence in my home. Thank you for your presence in the darkness. Thank you for your presence in my confusion and doubt. Thank you for loving me and others around me so very much that you chose to become one of us. Help me each day to give you glory by my piety, my study and my actions.


Celebration! Victory! God is With Us! Isaiah exults in lyric poetry of the ending of exile. The Israelites, through the intervention of their God, return from Babylon to their promised land. Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem. …all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.” (Is 52:9-10)

Triumph for the people of God is commemorated in the psalm: “his right hand has won victory for him…in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.”, (Ps. 98:2, 3)

Paul explains that the Chosen People, through the prophets, were given fragmentary visions of what would come in the person of Jesus, Son, redeemer, mediator of creation who existed with his Father before he appeared as man. [1]

And John names him. Here is the one who comes to heal the chasm between mortal and immortal, between divine and corporeal, between Wisdom and the all-too ephemeral choices that I make each day. God is With Us, enrobed in Flesh invoking Light, Life and Truth.

Victory! Adoration. Joy!


Find some quiet today to picture yourself at the Nativity. Look at the beautiful baby (are not all babies beautiful!). It is quiet as the Holy Family rests. The scents of a barnyard and recent birth fill the chill daytime. But, as part of the family, you are welcomed to hold your new baby brother, this Holy Child. You delight in snuggling him to your chest and watch as He sleeps, twitching as babies will, wrinkling up his lips, stirring and raising a tiny hand. Wonder in holding this baby. Rejoice in the Hope he represents. Be glad that your Brother, who is now grown and come into his inheritance with the Father, wants to hold you close in an embrace of forgiving love. Celebrate in the fact that your Brother chooses to spend time with you. Give great thanks for His presence in your life. Spend time with Him.


Beth DeCristofaro

[1] New American Bible; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops;

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Infant Leaped in Her Womb December 24

4th Sunday of Advent

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

He shall be peace. Micah 5:4

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Luke 1:45


(Psalm 80)

Turn again, LORD of hosts; look down from heaven and see; Attend to this vine, the shoot your right hand has planted. Those who would burn or cut it down – may they perish at your rebuke. May your help be with the man at your right hand, with the one whom you once made strong. Then we will not withdraw from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. LORD of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. Amen.


Mary is asked to do more than she ever dreamt it was possible for her to do. She is asked to open her life to the dream of her people. The Messianic expectations of Mary did not include herself. To be told she is the one makes Mary the patron of all the impossible dreams of the human race. How easy it is to look at the peace the world needs so desperately and to wait for someone else to bring the peace we dream of.


Our hearts remind us of what we need to do that our world be a better place for all. Mary accepts the destiny that belongs to all of us. We bring Jesus into our life even as we bring Mary into our prayer. Nativity is almost upon us and all the last moment preparation expresses the joy we hope for in the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Refiner’s Fire December 23 (#300)

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner's fire, or like the fuller's lye. Malachi 3:2

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:66


Let us pray: As the cold of winter sets in, we welcome your refining fire, O God. It will warm us like a close friend, it will light the Way, and it will purge all the underbrush that threatens to separate us from you, our God and the life You wants us to lead. Help us go through life with the fortitude of Joseph, leading his young family-to-be down through the mountains, across the river and into the desert in the quest for his hometown of Bethlehem where he would come face-to-face with God. As the Star burns over Bethlehem, help us to look east to the sunrise and prepare for the Son to come into our lives. Amen.


Like the Advent candle ablaze near the end of this season, images of fire burn into today’s readings. The scene has the potential to be a pretty gruesome sight of doom and gloom.

For centuries, the priests have been offering sacrifices in the temple. But these have not been due sacrifices to God” as in the old days. Christ is sent to purge the world and clean things up. He wants to chase away those who do not believe, those who would put commercialism before faith, those who say one thing and do another. In the refiner’s fire, we will burn to ashes. We will be bleached pure with the fuller’s dye.

Such ritual purification will atone for turning aside and rejecting God’s commandments and giving lip-service to the commandments – espousing values without acting on them.

Yet who can stand such scrutiny? We will not, we can not, survive this fire alone.

That is why God promises to send his Son to be “with us,” to lead us to believe. Like John the Baptist, the hand of the Lord will be with us and save us. Both Malachai and Luke (through Zechariah) remind us on this Eve of Christmas Eve of the entire salvation narrative that traces the Hebrew Bible.

The plot and promise: God loves us. Yet, since the earliest days, we have turned aside from God’s statutes, and have not kept them. Through pride, disobedience and other sins, we have chased God out of our lives. God wants us to return like prodigal daughters and sons to receive his blessing, grace and love. He promises to first send Elijah/John the Baptist to announce the arrival of the LORD of hosts.

Who receives the blessings: God shares his love with those who, like Mary and Elizabeth, believed that what was spoken by the Lord would be fulfilled. He blesses those who fear His name and who trust his name. “And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day I take action.” (Malachi 3:16-17). God’s love returns faster than we do.

The result: God loves us again. When we have faith and act on the Word, we will again see the distinction between the just and the wicked; Between those who serve God, and those who do not serve him.


Today, we think almost nothing about taking a 100-mile journey. To celebrate Christmas, many of us or our family members will easily travel 50, 100, or even 250 miles to be with relatives and friends.

Nazareth – site of the Annunciation and starting point for this journey – today is located in a predominantly Arab section of Israel. Last summer, the area was the target of rocket attacks launched from Lebanon. You might have seen it profiled on Nightline. The trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about one hundred miles, descending down out of the mountains, over Mount Tabor and following a southerly route along the Jordan River. With no Hummer, Land Cruiser, Ford Explorer or Jeep, the young Jewish family would make the trek on camel, donkey or horseback.

The route along the Jordan River would have required Joseph and Mary to cross into what is now the disputed West Bank, territory which then was unfriendly Samaria and is now part of the Palestinian territory based on the 1967 borders. Today, Joseph and his pregnant wife would have had to wait at numerous checkpoints like the Al Khader checkpoint, when entering the West Bank – to reach his hometown of Bethlehem.

If Joseph was on his way home to register for the census today, he even might discover that the land of his family’s ancestral home was expropriated by Israel to build the separation wall.

Spend some time thinking about the Holy Land. The journey would have taken Joseph and Mary about ten days by some estimates. Where will it take you?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

His Promise to Our Fathers December 22

His Promise to Our Fathers December 22

Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD. She left him there. Samuel 1:28

He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. Luke 1:54-55


God, as you approach and prepare to deliver your Son to us in the coming days, please hear us pour out our troubles to you. As you heard and answered the prayers of Hannah, please lend an ear to our prayers. Remember your promise to us and give just consideration to our petitions. Give us the fortitude of Hannah to stand by our commitments to you as you stand by your commitments to us. Help us to deliver on the deeds we promise – active love – not just values espoused but in values put into life. Amen.


Let’s go back a few verses before moving ahead. In the Hebrew Bible book of Samuel, we are first introduced to his parents. In Luke’s Gospel, we first meet the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus. The author presents Elkanah and his two wives![1] One wife was blessed to provide Elkanah with many sons but the other – Hannah – was barren, like Elizabeth. One day in the temple, she prayed while crying:

“O LORD of hosts, if you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the LORD for as long as he lives; neither wine nor liquor shall he drink, and no razor shall ever touch his head.” Samuel 1:11

Hannah joins a line of faithful Biblical women whose personal story narrative shares and foretells numerous elements which point our salvation narrative toward the Nativity in Bethlehem.

· A barren wife unable to bear children.

· A prayer to God from his “handmaiden”.

· A woman pouring out her troubles to the Lord (in Mary’s case the trouble was learning she was pregnant before her wedding, in Elizabeth’s it was her age and physical state and a now mute husband).

· A pledge of obedience and surrender.

· An offering of a child.

· A loving and forgiving God who answers prayers and remembers the plight of His people.

· Grateful people who do not forget that God answered their prayers and they owe him some consideration in return.


Hannah’s mindset when she prayed in the temple was certainly not one of centering prayer, contemplation, or meditation. We learn that her disposition was rather resentful. “In her bitterness she prayed to the LORD, weeping copiously.”

Think how you feel when unfairly and unflatteringly compared to a rival. How have you gotten over or gotten past those feelings?

When have you poured out your troubles to the Lord, like Hannah? What do you need to ask the Lord to correct in your life?

The humility of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist reveal important examples that may help us get past our indignation.

Zechariah was not portrayed as angry with the loss of his voice even knowing that his child would never hear his voice. Elizabeth was not jealous of her most holy cousin Mary. And John was not jealous that people thought he was the Messiah when he was not. John prepared the final steps along the way. He talked about Jesus and said that he (John) was not fit to tie the thong of Jesus’ sandal.

We see many instances in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament where those who pour out their needs to the Lord have their prayers answered. Go ahead. Try it. Don’t be afraid. Be prepared to get that gift for which you pray.


[1] Yes as in bigamy. Fortunately, Jesus changes everything including the view of marriage. Times and customs changed so we don’t need to dwell on bigamy as a family value!

Come to Me December 21

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! Songs 2:11-13

And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:43


Praise and love be showered on all who are filled with faith. The Lord is with you like the dove of peace and the sweet fruit of the spring. Loved are you among people and loved is all that you create. Holy lovers, you are children of God. Pray for us despite our sins. Love us always from the dawning springtime of our Advent love to the hour of our death when God appears the farthest apart from us.

We look with hearts full of hope, notwithstanding the dangers and difficulties that surround us. Mary show us, in your Son, the Way of peace, and enlighten our vision, so that we can recognize Christ's face in the face of every human person, the heart of peace![1]



Lovers don’t want to be alone or apart from each other. They have trouble hanging up the telephone on each other. They can stand to be separated and in today’s terms, when physically apart, they will send text messages, e-mail, phone calls, “IMs (that’s Instant Messages for anyone born before the Sacco and Vanzetti trial)…anything possible to stay connected, together. In the past, there would be the daily letters from one person to the other…telegrams…gifts and more.

Jesus doesn’t want us to walk alone on our journey. Nothing can keep us from our God nor keep our God from us.

What does such loyal and devoted love cost us? Nothing but faith. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45

Jesus has revealed to us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and that the highest vocation of every person is love. In Christ we can find the ultimate reason for becoming staunch champions of human dignity and courageous builders of peace.[2]

Mary is first portrayed as the handmaiden of the Lord. Then, at the foot of the cross, this divine loving motherhood and ancestry is transferred to us by none other than our Brother Jesus himself.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”

Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. John 19:16-17


The tradition of sending Christmas cards or holiday greetings is one way we have of acting out the love of God to send his love to us at Christmas.

This year, our shepherd, Pope Benedict XVI has sent us his message for World Day of Peace – “The Human Person, The Heart of Peace.” You can read the whole message at this link:

Pope Benedict calls on all Christians to become peace makers. He writes: Today, peace is not only threatened by the conflict between reductive visions of man, in other words, between ideologies. It is also threatened by indifference as to what constitutes man's true nature.

The lover in the garden is not indifferent to his bride. I can not imagine Jesus being indifferent to Mary and the disciples that he calls “Friends.” I can not imagine Jesus being indifferent to anyone even the repentant thief gets his love in the middle of his torture and execution.

Have we been indifferent to the Church’s teaching on peace this year? Have we not done enough to turn around the situation in Darfur? Or Haiti? Or Afghanistan? Or Iraq? Then let us all join Pope Benedict and make a resolution to do more. He calls on us as the lover in Song of Songs calls on his bride with these words:

“Let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defense of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights.”

[1] Pope Benedict XVI. The Human Person, The Heart of Peace. Part 17/Conclusion, December 8, 2006.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI. The Human Person, The Heart of Peace. Part 16, December 8, 2006.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

According to Your Word December 20

Third Wednesday of Advent

By Diane Bayne

The Lord spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!” But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” Isaiah, 7:10.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you. . . Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be called Son of the Most High. . .”

Mary said: “Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:26-27, 38

It is hard to imagine two more different answers given to God than the two above. The first response was given by Ahaz, one of Israel’s worst kings. Ahaz showed a pretense to righteousness by protesting that he would not test God with a sign when, in fact, God had told him to ask. It would seem that Ahaz didn’t really want to know what God had to say. In the current parlance of today, Ahaz “blew off” the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.

How different was the second response given by Mary. Mary was totally aware of the presence of God. Her response reflects her awareness, her full attentiveness and reverence, and her complete trust. From the first word the angel uttered, Mary heard, Mary believed, and Mary wholeheartedly obeyed. In this she is the model for all who would follow her son.

In the book A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, Albert Edward Day says: God is forever trying to establish communication with us; forever aware of the wrong directions we are taking and wishing to warn us; forever offering solutions for the problems that baffle us; forever standing at the door of our loneliness, eager to bring us such companionship as the most intelligent living mortal could not supply; forever clinging to our indifference in the hope that someday our needs, or at least our tragedies, will waken us to respond to his advances. The Real Presence is just that, real and life-transforming. Nor are the conditions for the manifestation of his splendors out of the reach of any of us! Here they are: otherness, openness, obedience, obsession.


Lord, help me today to be more and more focused on you, that even in the midst of this busy holiday season, I may hear you clearly when you speak and give you my full attention.


Lord, show me today how I may learn more about Mary’s total awareness of your presence–and how to follow her example of otherness, openness and obedience.


Lord, may the focus of my mind, and the searching of my heart, help me become more aware which positive actions encourage my awareness of your presence and which negative actions hinder it. Then help me to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Monday, December 18, 2006

An Angel of the Lord Appeared December 19

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Though you are barren and have had no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son.” Judges 13:3

He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord. Luke 1:17


Lord, help us to put aside our doubts and fears. We are, after all, only human. We are, after all, Your emotional, irrational creation. We make decisions with the minds you gave us, with the hearts you gave us or with both. Help us to be present to you and the mission you have in life for us this Advent season. Be patient with our eventual obedience. Help us, like you did with Zechariah, get over the obstacles to your friendship. Here I am Lord. I come to do your will. Amen.


Today’s reading gives us several distinct parallels.

First, we see Elizabeth is in a situation (barren) like many of the other great mothers of the Hebrew Bible – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the mother of Samson (from today’s first reading) and Hannah.

Second we see again the comparison of John to Elijah preaching preparation for the Lord’s coming. Like Samson (Judges 13:4-5) and Samuel (1 Sam 1:11), John is to be consecrated by Nazirite vow and set apart for the Lord's service.

Third, we read of Zechariah’s reaction to the angel (doubt) which can be compared and contrasted with Mary’s reaction (obedience) as well as Menoah’s obedience and offer of sacrifice.

Sometimes God just acts but other times, God sends an angel to announce what is happening or what is come. In Luke’s Gospel, we see two reactions. Today, the reading details the response from John the Baptist’s father when his son is conceived. Later we will read of Mary’s obedience. Even Mary does question the angel because she had not been with a man when her pregnancy is revealed.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the Good News, one natural reaction to such angelic proclamations is fear. So the angels spend some time comforting those who are granted such visions (“Do not be afraid.”).

The angels come to people where they are in their journey. So the shepherds see the angels while they are watching their flocks in the fields at night. Mary’s encounter happens in her house. And Zechariah’s encounter actually happens in the sanctuary of the temple where he was offering a sacrifice of burning incense.

How would you react to the announcement of angels if they came to where you are on your journey? At home? At work? At church?

I think I can relate to Zechariah. He was troubled. Fear overcame him. In his unbelief, Zechariah bears another burden when he is stricken mute for his doubts until his son is born and named John.

So many messages come at us these days in daily life. Some are carried by signs people have on the side of the road. Others by advertising. Others by those annoying little pop-up ads on the Internet. Still others through some kind of radio, TV, magazine, newspaper or alternative media. How do we sort out the good messages from the bad? How can we begin to know the messages that come to us from God apart from those who come from other, perhaps evil, sources?

Hope lies in the eventual obedience that Zechariah does show to the prophecy of the angel. John is born. Zechariah follows through on what he was asked to do just like Mary did. The obedience is rewarded with healing.

We all hope to be like Mary. But in today’s skeptical society, might it not be more realistic that we would be like Zechariah when the angel comes to us with a proclamation?


Be aware of the messages that you are sent today. How do you sort out the good from the bad? Keep track of the good messages and see how many you follow-through on right away. What good messages get a delayed reaction from your? What if these were from an angel of the Lord?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

God is with us December 18

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5)

“And they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)


Your birthday is coming Lord, and I await it with shivers of delight while knowing you are yet here, right here, today. The mysteries of You, Lord, surround me each day. May those mysteries permeate my humanity with justice and peace. May your justice and peace reach out to others through my humanity. May each day I celebrate your birth with my being there for others. Amen.


The lineage of Jesus is both human and divine. Jeremiah refers ironically to the weak king Hezekiah of Judah, – a king in name only - when he proclaims that God will send “the Lord our justice” (Jer 23:6). God will provide a king who will bring both justice and peace, neither of which comes from the rulers Jeremiah exposes. And this king of justice and peace will come from David’s line, the line which will produce the Messiah as Isaiah foretold.

In Matthew, Joseph is visited in a dream by an angel who addresses him: “Joseph, son of David…” (Mtt 1:20) Through adoption by Joseph, Jesus will be born into the dynasty promised to Abraham, Jacob and his heirs. Yet his parentage is above and beyond the human frailty of David and his sons: “ is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived.” (Mtt 1:20).

In the extravagant language of psalm 72, there is foreshadowing of Jesus’ divine heritage. In typical ancient, oriental poetry, the king is often referred to as an aspect of divinity on earth who acts in the name of God. O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice, the king’s son” (Ps 72:1). Dynasty is again established and the link to divinity: this king will be more than the representative of God. This king, Emmanuel, will see to it that “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever” (Ps72: ) by his identity as the righteous shoot of David, and the reality, in human time, that God is with us” (Mtt 1:23).

God planned for a long, long time to be present in the world using the marvelous creation called humanity. The psalmist seemed to foretell 3,000 years ago in words relevant and jubilant today: “May the whole earth be filled with his glory”(Ps 72:19) through the birth of Jesus.


God-with-us came embedded in a family. Let’s remember in this Christmas season, the need for family even though we often find ourselves at odds with those most biologically close to us. Rather than stressing over the most ideal gift or worrying what he/she is going to say at those most inopportune moments when we want our days to be “perfect”, say a prayer today for your family members – especially those who most need God’s mercy and care. Say a prayer for yourself, and be honest. You might be the difficult person whom someone else has to tolerate.

At a loss for words? From Psalm 72, try:

For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever


Beth DeCristofaro

What then should we do? December 17

Third Sunday of Advent

“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.” Zephaniah 3:17

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7


Let us pray: Come back. Lord, you have been gone too long. In your absence, we have gotten into some bad habits. We have not listened to your prophets. We have ignored your laws. But, if you come back, we will listen to you. We promise. We’ll listen this time. We will give you reason to rejoice in our love for you and in our actions to your children. Amen.


John the Baptist fulfilled the expected role of the returning Elijah. People sought out what he had to say. Everybody turns to him. They sense that he is special because they know the Elijah story and have been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to return to their midst – waiting so long that they mistake John for Jesus.

John preaches out in the desert like Elijah did. He wears the same clothes. They expect that the Messiah is coming. So everybody in town seeks out John and his advent advice. They ask John, “WSWD?” “What should we do?”

“Stop looking out for number one.” In a nutshell, John asks us to treat each other with kindness and respect. Start looking out for others. Share your coat. Stop stealing their money. John sees in each person what each person sees in their own heart subconsciously…the times when they have not been as generous as expected.

John asks us to change this Advent. He tells us that we can do it ourselves or it will be done to us, for us. Just as the wheat is separated from the chaff by the winnowing fan, so the good will be separated from the evil by the purifying and refining fire of the Messiah. John uses water to cleanse. Jesus will bring about baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit will be the sign of the perpetual presence of God among us.


Give more to the needy. Give Fair Trade gifts like the coffee and chocolate available after Mass today at St. Mary of Sorrows or on various web sites like

Friday, December 15, 2006

Restore All Things December 16

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours? Sirach 48:4

“Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Matthew 17:


Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. Look down from heaven, and see us in our sorry, sad post-modern state. Have pity on us sinners and take care of this vine that you planted. Give us the water of life so our branches may grow strong with the strength you gave to your Son. With your strength, this energy will draw us near to you in hope and happiness this Advent season. The closer we come, the further away we will be from the commercial interests which pull us in the opposite direction – the direction of disappointment and depression. As we move closer, give us new life, and we will call upon your name saying, “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.” Amen.


How amazing it would be if we could pose our theology questions right to Jesus as the disciples did today coming down from the mountain. What would we ask if Jesus was in our midst again?

Today we have readings that remind us again of the expected the return of Elijah from heaven to prepare Israel for the final manifestation of God's kingdom. Jesus assures us in Matthew’s Gospel that this expectation was fulfilled in John the Baptist's ministry.

Great insights always seem to take place away from society…in the desert, on a mountain, on a boat in the middle of the sea. The Transfiguration and the lessons learned by the disciples in Gethsemane were no different.

Peter, James and John went off from the crowd with Jesus. They even left the rest of the disciples behind. The same thing happened in the Garden after the Last Supper when Jesus invited the same trio to stay awake with him. By their special witness, they begin to realize how God’s promises are being fulfilled just like we do when we hear these stories.

Being away from the crowd, Kierkegaard reminds us, allows truth to seep in more fully. The crowd in our society is synonymous with sin, inequity and mob action – all bad.

Jesus wants to work with us individually and in small groups. We see in the Gospels what happens to Jesus when Pilate turns to the crowds to pass judgment. Jesus does not want us in the crucifying crowd. He wants to answer our questions with the truth. One—on-one or in a small group with Peter, James and John. He wants us to seek out His star, His Light, His Word. He wants us to recognize the message that John and Elijah brought to us to prepare the way of the Lord. He wants us to recognize Him. He wants to answer us. Indeed, the Teacher awaits our question.


Let us listen to Elijah’s message and that of John the Baptist in order to understand what we need to do. Unlike the crowds, we must not ignore the message of the prophets. Once we work on changing ourselves, how can we help others? Advent Calendar

Dec. 15
Set an example of “non-conforming freely” by using string or fabric shopping bags, a hand lawn mower, etc. Be a living witness. Show our own lifestyle changes. Give people the gift of a social justice magazine.

Dec. 16
Offer personal one-to-one testimonials, face-to-face, by letter or email. Speak up to adults or a child when “teachable moments” occur.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wisdom is vindicated by her works December 15

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea. Isaiah 48:18

For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes. Psalm 1:6

Wisdom is vindicated by her works. Matthew 11:19


God, you set the table before us and led us into the room. Then you leave the choice up to us. Send your messengers to teach us the way – to help us choose justice, mercy and right. Amen.


Dare to decide between good and evil.

When we look around, a lot of the opposing forces are really not that opposite. The sports pages ask us if we are a Red “Sawks” fan or a “Yankee” lover? Restaurants force us to choose between Coke and Pepsi? What do you drive: GM or Toyota? But these are not moral choices. One choice is not evil and the other good. These are merely preferences. Even blue state or red state is not a moral choice.

Here, in the midst of Advent – on the day that is right smack dab in the middle of the season of preparation – the first of all the Psalms clearly lays out the choice we have. Either/or. Psalm 1 poses the distinction between good and evil, the just and the wicked. If we choose the path of goodness, Isaiah and Matthew both promise vindication and rewards.

The choice, the decision is just the first step on the journey. The second step is to live the choice. We can’t just give “lip service” or talk the talk. We have to do what the choice leads us to do. Choose justice and your have to live justice. To do anything less is not to choose justice.

Every day when you wake up, you have a decision to make. Today, will I move closer to God or will I move further away? Every day of Advent we move closer to the day that Christ is born to the world.

There is nothing ambiguous about the choice. Lead us not into temptation.

The prayer does not say, “Lead us close to temptation but not too close.” It does not say, “Pull us back from the brink of self-destruction.” Let us, rather, see the apple and then decide if we can resist its seduction to taste.

“In the end, failure to decide prevents one from doing good. It keeps us from doing that great thing to which each of us is bound by virtue of the eternal.” Kierkegaard.

The proof of the choice is in the living. By the time we get to the end of the Book of Psalms, Psalm 150 clearly celebrates the choice: Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD! Hallelujah!”


The first third of the Advent calendar ends with these two thoughts:

1) Slow down. Changes require prayer, thought and time. Make time for what's most important.

2) Think about the answer to this thought, “My own way to change is....”

Post your response on the blog comment page.