Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Her Heart

January 1, 2009

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. Galatians 4:6-7

When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. Luke 2: 17-20


The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace! Numbers 6:24-26


The shepherds have almost a more important role in this unfolding story than that of the Kings or the Angels. Like Mary and Joseph, they are just regular folk…people…workers like you and like me. Yet the angels came to them too. The message was not reserved for just the rich, the powerful, the well-educated or the elites. Yet, despite their responsibilities, they obeyed. Just like Mary obeyed. Just like Joseph obeyed. The Bible doesn’t even give a hint that they grumbled. Maybe they did but even if so, they followed their instructions.

Not only that, but after carrying out the plan to see the baby-king in Bethlehem, they returned and continued to evangelize. In the Acts of the Shepherds, we see boiled down the two lessons from St. Stephen and St. John – act in obedience and then follow through your action by spreading the Good News.

After underlining those two lessons, there is one more gem (at least) to uncover here. And that is Mary’s reaction.

Mary followed out her commitment to the angel and to God by bearing a son. She followed instructions to name him Jesus even though there was no ancestor by that name listed anywhere in the family tree written down by Luke or Mark. But Mary never preached with words. Mary preached with her presence, her actions and her heart. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Luke 2:19

There are seventeen “solemnities” in the liturgical year. Three of these feasts center on Mary’s life: today when we celebrate her role as Mother of God and then on the dates when we celebrate her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven.

Mary kept all the activity surrounding Jesus’ birth in her heart and reflected on them in her contemplation. As Christ died on the cross, she remained with him in contemplative prayer until the bitter end. There, Jesus commanded her to be our Mother. At that moment, what she kept in her heart shifted from the birth, life and death of her son to us. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” John 19:25-26


Turn your prayer to Mary today and celebrate the Mother in your life.

Read Peggy Noonan’s column on last year (A Year for the Books, Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2008). Ms. Noonan recalls some important points in Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire by Joseph Langford which she read last year. Noonan asks what made then Sister Teresa leave the convent “with only five rupees in her pocket, in order to work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of the city?”

She goes on to write:

On Sept. 10, 1946, on a train to Darjeeling, on her way to a spiritual retreat, she had, as Father Langford puts it, “an overwhelming experience of God.” This is known. But its nature? It was not “some dry command to 'work for the poor,'“ he says, but something else, something more monumental. What? For many years, she didn't like to speak of what happened, or interpret it. So the deepest meaning of her message remained largely unknown. Says Father Langford, “What was deepest in her . . . is still a mystery even to her most ardent admirers. But it was not her wish that this secret remain forever unknown.”

In this book, based on her letters, writings and conversations, he tells of how she came to serve “the least, the last, and the lost,” not as a female Albert Schweitzer but as “a mystic with sleeves rolled up.” Father Langford tells the story of her encounter on the train, of what was said, of what she heard, and of the things he learned from her including, most centrally, this: You must find your own Calcutta. You don't have to go to India. Calcutta is all around you.
(emphasis added)

Let the examples of our own mothers, Mary and Mother Teresa hold lessons for us as we forge into this New Year headstrong and optimistic. As Ms. Noonan writes, “All can change, that a life—and a world—can be made better all of a sudden, out of the blue, unexpectedly. But you have to be listening. You have to be able to hear.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This Is the Last Hour

December 31, 2008

Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

By Melanie Rigney

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. … I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth. (1 John 18, 21)

Sing to the Lord, bless his name; announce his salvation day after day. (Psalms 96:2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1, 4-5)


Lord, let this be the last hour in my present darkness. Hold my hand as I sing Your song and bless Your name. Open my eyes to Your Light.


“Annunciation” by Denise Levertov

Well, here we are, at one of those people-created last hours. The six weeks before New Year’s Day can be a sort of reverse Lent: too much sugar, too much spending, too much liquor, and too much “busy”-ness that culminates tomorrow with resolutions to eat less, spend less, drink less, and spend more time in prayer and with family.

Opinion Research Corporation says 62 percent of Americans set New Year’s resolutions at least sometimes. Of those, 8 percent say they always achieve their goal; 68 percent are successful every other year or less, and the remaining 24 percent say they never are successful.

If the success rate is so low, why do so many of us keep making resolutions? Perhaps for the same reason we start each day with a pledge that our walk will be a little bit closer to Him, even though we know we will come up short in some way. We go on, to paraphrase today’s readings, not because we do not know the truth, but because we do, because we know the Light shines even in the darkness and will vanquish the darkness. It might not happen quickly enough or slowly enough to suit our mood of the moment, but it will happen. We need only say yes and wait.

We’ve just finished up Advent and the confidence of Mary’s yes and waiting. In a couple months, we’ll ponder anew Christ’s yes and waiting. In this time in between Advent and Lent, in between 2008 and 2009, and smack in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas, we might consider some of our own responses to the Lord. The following is from “Annunciation” by Denise Levertov, the activist poet who converted to Catholicism in the decade before her death in 1997:

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

I’d like to believe that the gates do not close and the pathway does not vanish, that there is always another opportunity to say yes. But perhaps it is wiser to approach each of God’s requests as if we are at John’s last hour because, in some way, each hour is a last hour, never to be relived. Let us resolve, knowing we will not always succeed, to say yes to the light—and to an extraordinary journey in the hours that remain.


Consider making The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis your user’s manual for 2009. This five-hundred-year-old standard is alive online or at most bookstores. By turns wise, challenging, amusing, aggravating, simplistic, and deep, this little guide can inspire action for a day or a lifetime.

Monday, December 29, 2008


December 30, 2008

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. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever. 1 John 2:15-17

She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:37b-38


In Honour of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;

And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield

Should tongue that time now, trumpet that field.

And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.

On Christ they do and on the martyr may;

But be the war within, the brand we wield

Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,

Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,

Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,

Veins violets and tall trees and more and more)

Could crowd career with conquest while there went

Those years and years by of world without event

That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

This simple poem about Brother Alphonsus, the doorkeeper at the monastery, really helps drive home the fact that simple service (like his hospitality) stand in stark contrast to the passing away of the world and its enticements.


Who is waiting now?

The prophetess Anna is a perfect Biblical transition from Advent to Christmas. After becoming a widow, she waited in the temple daily until she encounters the Christ-child and the Holy Family at the Presentation. Like the Advent people we are, we waited in hope until Christmas morning. God promised us his son so she waited and waited and waited.

After her encounter, we imagine that Anna went away to tell others what she had seen…carrying out the evangelical mission from St. John. She spoke “about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” After presenting Jesus in the temple, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth. However, with the presence of Jesus, the favor of God rested upon the family. Jesus grew strong in wisdom.

What about us? Are we resuming our old way of living now that Christmas Day is past? Are we using this time to grow in wisdom and to re-energize our Fourth Day? Or have we returned to the malls, offices and schools like another secular holiday passed?

St. John, in the first reading reminds us that the world represents “all that is hostile toward God and alienated from him. Love of the world and love of God are thus mutually exclusive.” Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

If we really examine our lives and our ideals, how many of us are not leading lives filled with the behaviors that John warns us against -- sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, a pretentious life? The notes to the New American Bible warn that arrogance or ostentation in our almost-rich and want-to-be-famous lifestyle reflects a conscience turning away from what God wants from us and others.

Who is waiting now?

After we spent all this time waiting for God, if we don’t change, God must sit around waiting for us to change. Like the father in the Prodigal Son story, picture God sitting in his window, watching and waiting for us and our Advent. God now hopes to see us turning home even if we are a long distance away.

Who is waiting now?


There are two days left in the calendar year. How have your contributions to charity been tracking this year? Take a minute to assess your status now and consider making a year-end gift to those charities that you feel make a difference in your Church, your community, your nation and the world. (If you use programs like Quicken or Microsoft Money to track your finances, you can run a quick report comparing current spending for charitable giving and past giving levels. You can have a snapshot in seconds and use the information to make any last minute giving decisions.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Walk in His Light

December 29 2008

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

By Beth DeCristofaro

…the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:8-9)

Sing to the LORD a new song…Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice. (Psalm 96: 1, 11)

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses,
the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord … (and Simeon said) “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:22, 29-32)


Lord, let your servant go in peace today. Your word has been fulfilled. Let my own eyes see the salvation which you prepared. Make of me a light to reveal you to all. Make me love not hate. Allow me to walk in your light and give up darkness all the days of my life. (Based upon Simeon’s Prayer.)


“He is the apple of his father’s eye” people will say about a new baby. Or “She is the light of our lives.” There is something about a baby which brings about warm feelings, caring and an almost uncontrollable urge to babble. A baby brings up our own hopes and dreams as well as the potential we envision in her burbling and his wiggling. Babies, for the most part, make us feel good although the responsibility which goes along with one can be overwhelming. Jesus’ parents went to the temple to fulfill their part of the Law of Moses. He comes directly from the ancient heritage but as Simeon sings, he is a new light not an old one.

Jesus’ father puts it another way: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22). Jesus, through the “yes” of his mother and stepfather, fulfills the old and is the beacon for the new potentiality of humankind. Simeon hoped, waited and was complete. In our study, piety and action, we too open ourselves to Jesus’ presence of light. We can hope in God’s promise fulfilled and act in certainty that Jesus’ presence today means we must choose His way not our own, or the way of nations, or the way of an incomplete and fractured world.


Continue with the celebration of Christmas! On this “Fourth Day” of Christmas, what can we give or do for someone to show our true love, based in the light of Jesus?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Put on Love

December 28, 2008

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:14-15

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “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


Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name; make known among the peoples his deeds! Sing praise, play music; proclaim all his wondrous deeds! Glory in his holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD! Rely on the mighty LORD; constantly seek his face. Recall the wondrous deeds he has done, his signs and his words of judgment, You descendants of Abraham his servant, offspring of Jacob the chosen one! The LORD is our God who rules the whole earth. He remembers forever his covenant, the pact imposed for a thousand generations. (Psalm 105:1-8)


A father and a mother make each of us possible. Without our parents we would not be. The baby completes the circle that is called family life.

Every family reflects in family life the Trinity. Love given and received brings the union that births the love child into the world. The feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph models the truth that the most important time of life is family time. The readings for the feast cry out the sanctity of family life. It is the ordinary of family life which constitutes holiness. Our Religious beliefs call us into the family of God. The union of father, mother and child is called family.

The Sacrament of Matrimony brings God’s presence into family life. God blesses the happiness of family togetherness as a taste of what heaven is meant to be.

The Family of Nations should reflect the best of what family life is all about. Living together in peace requires sacrifices that imply giving our lives for the sake of each other. Natural disaster calls forth love from the human race. Nations taking advantage of the weaknesses of one another destroy the fabric of human existence. When family life in a nation is attacked by divorces, separations and unions of convenience, the very distance from one another makes family life nigh unto almost impossible. Distance does not really lend enchantment.

Rather it makes us appreciate closeness. Willingness to put up with the sacrifices needed for family life shows the love of couples that makes family possible. Love strengthens family life and shows the strength of Family life. Love flows out of the willingness to give one’s life for the sake of the other.


Intimacy is the sharing of self with others. Family intimacy is built on the reality that blood is thicker than water. The blood that flows from the wounded side of Christ from the heart pierced on the Cross bespeaks the reality that true love costs. All the pains of childbirth of the mother gives way to the beauty of the child feeding at its mother’s breast as the pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of life that is one’s own. Intimacy takes down the walls that breed separation. Sharing more and more of life together gives meaning to family life. The family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph make of our family life the most important parts of our lives. What we do in making the celebration of Christ’s birthday important underlines the importance of our family life. The Hidden Life Grace has its fullest meaning in all the statements of Family togetherness. All the ways we tell the members of our family we love them are the fondest expressions of the love of God who gives the bottom line meaning to all we do for our family. So the Holy Family becomes our family.

Friday, December 26, 2008

He Saw and Believed

December 27, 2008

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; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:3-4

They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
John 20:4-5, 8


Jesus, let us come to see you through our sisters and brothers with our own eyes.
Jesus, let us hear your Gospel with our own ears through the cries of the poor.
Jesus, let us taste your goodness in the Eucharist of life with our own mouths.
Jesus, let us touch you as we reach out to lift up those around us who have fallen.
Jesus, let us smell you in the flowers of the season decorating your Earth.
Help us to find the ways and means to share the joy of you with others. Amen.


How do we get to know something? Maybe we read something about it. Maybe we hear about it. These are second hand ways of knowing – what the lawyers among us would call “hearsay.” However, when we are first-hand witnesses to something our experience is more direct. Maybe we encounter it personally through our senses (seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, and/or smelling). Have you ever been an eyewitness to a car crash? Have ever been called to testify at a trial? When you go outside during the winter months, can you smell your neighbors burning wood in their fireplace? Have you ever gotten hands-on career experience like an internship or a fellowship?

St. John had a graduate level seminar in Jesusology. The admissions officer called him away from his current position (fishing with his father and brother James) and asked him to follow along. John obeyed. John was there as a firsthand witness to all of Jesus’ miracles from the curing of Jarius’ daughter to the Transfiguration. I imagine he also tasted the wine in Cana and the precious blood at the Last Supper. John was with Jesus in Gethsemane. John remained at the foot of the cross and inherited the care and love Jesus’ blessed virgin mother Mary. John was the only one of the original twelve disciples to die a natural death in old age. He tasted the breakfast of smoked fish on the side of the Lake after the Resurrection. Consider the Psalm “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” St. John can say with authority, “Been there. Done that.”

After his life experiences and fellowship with his friend, John is the first person to see the burial clothes on the floor of the tomb. He saw them. Maybe for St. John, that moment was his Epiphany -- the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of Jesus’ life and all that he had witnessed. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. John 20:8. In a nanosecond, all that he experiences with Jesus from the lakefront in Genesareth to the garden in Gethsemane came into focus.

John did NOT stop there with the moment of his great “Ah ha!” While he had joy with this revelation, his joy would not be complete unless he shared it. What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:3-4


We are still basking in the glow of the Christmas season and in this second day, the Church has us turn our attention from the martyrdom of St. Stephen to the evangelization of St. John the Apostle. If the first lesson of Christianity is the humbling of our glorious God into the body of a frail, crying baby in a cave, then the next two lessons are in sharing the suffering of the cross and proclaiming God’s Good News today.

Before we can share the Gospel, we have to have it in our heart. The Gospels give us no reason to think that the spirit did not leap out of Jesus breast and into the heart of the disciple Jesus loved most at the Last Supper. John has always been there in places where Jesus asked him to follow. John ascended above all other writers in the New Testament. Because of the beauty and heights of his prose, John is symbolically depicted by an eagle among the other evangelists. From such a close and special relationship with Jesus, the Church places his feast day only two days after Christmas.

Credo…”I Believe.” Think about each line of the Creed that we recite as a community each Sunday in Mass or the Apostle’s Creed used when we begin meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Can we say we have firsthand knowledge of each line of this prayer? Do we know this personally like St. John knew Jesus?

Meditate on something that you personally know. Maybe you can choose a flower or a tree. Maybe you can choose a person or place. What does that item tell you about Jesus? What Epiphany does it lead you to? Share your joy with the community in your group reunion, diocesan Ultreya or parish Ultreya.

Consider this for a New Year resolution: share your joy with the Cursillo community. Select a date and write your reflections about Piety, Study and Action on the daily readings which can be posted and shared with the community on Your Daily Tripod. Contact the Lighthouse Keeper and check a date to see if it is available. Even if you just want to write once the format is pretty simple. Then your joy will be complete.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Heavens Opened

December 25, 2008

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr

When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. Acts 7:54-57

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


Suspice: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own, You have given to me; to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me. St. Ignatius Loyola


What’s next? It is the day after Christmas…the day after one of the holiest and most joyful days of the Christian year. White vestments. Poinsettias. Gifts abounding. God-is-with-us. After we visit the babe-God-king in the Bethlehem cave, we ask, “What’s next?” In our joy-filled moment, Jesus gives us a story that hardly promises a rose garden.

The stone walls of the cave become the stones of death for Stephen. In carrying on the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus, we are promised hatred and death in the name of endurance. The first gift of Christmas is the Son-Savior, Wonder-Counselor. God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. The second gift is the cross. Without the incarnation, there can be no resurrection. However, without the Passion, there also can be no resurrection. The cave of the Nativity and Joseph the carpenter gives way to the cave of the crucifixion and Joseph of Aramithea.

The choice before us is to follow the Holy Spirit or to follow the wholly unholy world. Trust God or trust man – which shall it be? If we desire closeness to Jesus, we have to let go of all the obstacles which will get in the way of our following Him. Without this cocoon of comfort, our desire for closeness to Jesus will bring the world rushing to our doorstep not to share in the message but to stifle the messenger. As the world gets closer, it gets to much easier for it to stone us to silence. See what happened to John the Baptist. See what happened to St. Stephen.

The heavens opened to deliver to us a savior. Those gates will reopen to welcome us home after a job done well, even if the world disapproves and tries to suppress the Word. People are not necessarily eager to do what is good. These same people certainly do not like to be reminded of the error in their ways.


What message must you speak to the world today? What risks are you willing to risk?

We know what is coming…We are not asked to like the prospects of life-giving death. We are only asked to endure it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Grace in Place of Grace

December 25, 2008


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, And the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian. Isaiah 9:1-3

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 (Midnight Mass)


From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17


B.C. Before Christmas. Before Christmas there was just Mary and Joseph. Each half of the Holy Couple was visited by the angel Gabriel who delivered essentially the same message. Do not be afraid. The problem was, they also got word from the emperor that they had to go to their own town to be counted in the census. Mary and Joseph have agreed to welcome the baby but probably wanted to do so in the privacy and “relative” comfort of their own home. Now, that would not be possible.

Fortunately, today we have Google maps. So we can easily research the best way to get from point A (Nazareth) to Point B (Bethlehem) for the census. At 157 km, (97.5 miles) we could make the trip for our morning commute – taking under two hours. On foot today with modern sidewalks, maybe two days would be enough to cover the distance. However, on foot or donkey, Joseph and Mary would have required quite a bit longer. [Anyone traveling with a pregnant woman or any other person with a tiny bladder and a baby pushing on it would find the journey taking longer…but I digress]

The journey 2008 years ago would have been via a fairly direct route once the Holy Couple got on the main route to Judea from the north. Three or four days of traveling would have brought them to Bethlehem although it might have taken as long as a week. Scholars tell us that the route would have taken them through various towns. Megiddo, Ibleam, Shechem, Shiloh, Ai and Jerusalem would have provided potential stop over points along the way. However, today, Bethlehem is located in the West Bank. The route is interrupted at several points along the way with security check-points and fences erected by the Israeli government as they have partitioned (walled off) parts of the Palestinian controlled region and its precious water supplies for use and control by Israel and away from the rest of the Palestinian people.

So whether you were trying to get close to Jesus two millennia ago or today, the task ahead is not easy. Obstacles abound. Yet the message is still the same. Do not be afraid to make room for the baby in our lives. Mary did. Joseph did. So, too, did the shepherds. Do not be afraid to make it happen.


“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

If you have children, you can recall with joy the miracle of their birth or adoption and the emotions which overwhelmed you on that day of days. That gives you some sense of how joyful and frightened Mary and Joseph felt in the cave outside Bethlehem. The miracle of the birth can not stay in the cave, in the manger, in the Nativity. It must be spread. So the angels went to the workers and implored them to participate in the joy. So despite everything they had to do to tend their sheep, they set it all aside and they went to the side of Jesus.

Where is our Bethlehem? To where and whom are we called? Our Bethlehem is every place where someone is lonely. It is every place where someone is sick. It is every place where someone is imprisoned. It is every place where someone is rejected. It is every place where someone is hungry. Our Bethlehem is in the nursing homes, hospitals, jails, unemployment lines, food pantries. Yet it also is in the offices and factories and schools and homes throughout the land. Let us welcome the baby and pray through Him, with Him and in Him. Because today, God dwells with us, in us and works through us.

Without the incarnation, there would be no resurrection. The baby grows up and leaves the manger. He leaves the carpenter’s home. He leaves his mother and works throughout the world. Since the resurrection, the mission of going out to the world now passes to our hands. Accept this gift of mission today and get ready to go out in the world and proclaim the good news to all the shepherds and all who are God-fearing and will listen. Be eager to do what is good.

Christmas is a beginning. Yet this new beginning includes the same mission that is proclaimed at the end of every Mass. Go in peace to love and serve the baby who grows up to be a man after your own heart. Even though we probably have plenty of reasons to be afraid, to be hesitant, to be perplexed, to be anxious. Set them all aside. Be Merry. It’s Christmas once again!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Tender Compassion of Our God

December 24, 2008

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
Mass in the Morning

By Melanie Rigney

“I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.” (2 Samuel 7:9)

The promises of the Lord I will sing forever, proclaim your loyalty through all ages. (Psalms 89:2)

On the day of John the Baptist’s circumcision, his father prophesied: “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)


Lord, help us to understand the profoundness of Your presence in our world each and every day, in each and every second and in each and every person.


That’s one amazing prophesy by Zechariah. His son will go one giant step beyond the Old Testament prophets. He will announce not that salvation is coming; rather, he will be the one who says salvation is here.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Franciscan Capuchin priest who serves as Preacher to the Papal Household, two years ago provided a commentary on this theme, that John’s mode of prophecy is new: “(it) does not consist in proclaiming a future salvation [‘in the last times’], but to reveal the hidden presence of Christ in the world.”

Father Raniero goes on to say:

What does all of this have to say to us? That we too must hold together those two aspects of the office of prophet: On one hand working for social justice and on the other announcing the Gospel. A proclamation of Christ that is not accompanied by an effort toward human betterment would result in something disincarnate and lacking credibility. If we only worked for justice without the proclamation of faith and without the regenerative contact with the word of God, we would soon come to our limits and end up mere protestors.

From John the Baptist we also learn that proclamation of the Gospel and the struggle for justice need not remain simply juxtaposed, without a link between them. It must be precisely the Gospel of Christ that moves us to fight for respect for human beings in such a way as to make it possible for each man to ‘see the salvation of God.’

Take time tonight and tomorrow to worship the baby in the manger. But let us not lose sight amid the crèches and candles and carols of what the living Christ calls us to do every day: work for justice and proclaim the Word.


Welcome the stranger on this day—at Mass, as you finish last-minute shopping, or as family and friends bring people you don’t know well to gatherings. See God’s salvation in and with us all.

Prepare the Way

December 23, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourth 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. He will sit refining and purifying (silver), and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD. Malachi 3:2-3

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:65-66


Make known to me your ways, LORD; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. For you I wait all the long day, because of your goodness, LORD. Remember your compassion and love, O LORD; for they are ages old. Remember no more the sins of my youth; remember me only in light of your love. Good and upright is the LORD, who shows sinners the way, guides the humble rightly, and teaches the humble the way. All the paths of the LORD are faithful love toward those who honor the covenant demands. For the sake of your name, LORD, pardon my guilt, though it is great. Who are those who fear the LORD? God shows them the way to choose. They live well and prosper, and their descendants inherit the land. The counsel of the LORD belongs to the faithful; the covenant instructs them. (Psalm 25:4-14)


Our time of waiting is almost over. The time to draw near is upon us. The fire is lit. How much closer to the purifying fire of God’s love can we get than the refiner’s fire? The donkey approaches Bethlehem with its carpenter in the lead and its precious Blessed Virgin passenger aboard…

The ways of God are not known to us mere mortals, mere Christians. The ways of God are as foreign to us as the language of a distant people. Before we can understand what these actions mean in our life, we need an interpreter. We need a docent to know the way, go the way and show the way.

We are God’s prized friends. We are God’s shining silver. As Malachai tells us, “We are God’s special possession.” God wants to care for us with his utmost love. First, God sent Elijah to prepare the way. Then, the Lord sent John to prepare the way and to show us what happens when the Lord is with us.

John the Baptist tried to polish the silver of our friendship in water. However, that does not work so the Lord takes the next step.

Everyone who has experience the Cursillo weekend has that little yellow button with the red letters. Remember it…the one which reads, “I’m Loveable. God Don’t Make Junk.” No matter what society says to us about our value as a worker, as a helper, as a kindred spirit, it can never take away God’s love for each of us. Unemployment can not take it away. Dwindling retirement accounts can not wipe away God’s love. The lack of adequate medical insurance is immaterial. No bounced check or failed credit application can take us from the love of our Lord.


We are God’s special possession. In two days (or less depending on when you read this) he will send his son, not to judge us but to save us. On December 25, we will realize that God loved each and every one of us so much that he sent his ONLY son to be our friend. He wants to be close to us. Let’s get close to him and feel the warmth of the refiner’s fire.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Soul Proclaims God

December 22 2008

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Hannah said) “I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:26-28)

Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. (Luke 1:46-49)


In humility may my soul proclaim your greatness, God. In trust, may my spirit rejoice in both your blessings and your requirements. Grant my request, O God, to be ever with you. Thank you for the great things you have done for me. May I ever keep you holy before and within me.


A friend lost a baby to severe heart disease. She held up her daughter and prayed, “She is now yours, God.” She then cradled the infant and cried and cried. Her sorrow was profound while at the same time she felt sure knowledge that God, who had made the life of this innocent, held her daughter’s life even closer and more secure than ever a mother could.

Did Mary fully understand what was in store for her son? Perhaps not. But as a woman in ancient Israel, she certainly knew the dangers of life and as a devout Jew, she certainly was aware of the very old prophecies that did not predict a long and fruitful life for the Messiah. Her willingness to put God before herself and her child is most important. Did Hannah know that her son, given over to the temple, would become a most important prophets? Most likely not. And what did these two women do but exalt, giving thanks in their words and deeds for God’s direct action in their lives. Mary stood – stands - in the fullness of God’s time. Her canticle of praise is utmost a model of acceptance and elation in the will of God. And God’s plan for salvation was furthered.


As advent, the time of preparation ends, for what have we been preparing? On Cursillo weekend, we are warned that in entering our fourth day nothing “back home” is changed. Not much in daily life is drastically changed in Advent, either. Has our Advent changed our own hearts? In our day to day existence, is our heart softer, quieter, more joyous? Do we have God deep within or do we house ourself, or fear of the economic times, or concern over global conditions, or personal pains and addictions in that central core which belongs to God? Is our faith a sustaining force in good, horrible or just plain weird times? Might we cry in agony yet know in our depths that “I am yours, God?”

Keep the wonder of Jesus’ birth by praying with Mary: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant.” With whom can you share this message today?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Build Me a House

December 21, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

“Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”…But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in?’” 2 Samuel 7:2,

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30


The promises of the LORD I will sing forever, proclaim your loyalty through all ages. For you said, “My love is established forever; my loyalty will stand as long as the heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: I will make your dynasty stand forever and establish your throne through all ages.” Psalm 89:2-5


The Lord is almost here. Do I have a place ready for the Lord? Can I say to the Lord that I am ready for his coming? How intensely do I await him? How badly do I want him? Our readings are about having a place for the Lord. The cry of Mary needs to be ours. “May it be done to me according to your word.” We all have been given a place in the plan of God. God chose of all the possible worlds that could have been the world where we would make the free decisions we have made in our lives. God calls us into his life by our baptisms. The waters of Baptism make us children of God. Even as we are baptized into the life of Christ, he comes to dwell within us. We can never be worthy of his coming. His coming is gift.

He comes as the child of Mary that we will not be overwhelmed by the power and the dignity of God. He has loved us so much that he has given his life for us. He will begin as a baby so that all our little beginnings will have meaning in his birth in the stable. What sort of a home do I have I ready for him this Christmas? We celebrate his coming in the simplicity of the stable. What am I going to do this Christmas to honor his coming?

Mary conceives in her womb the Son of God. She is his first home here on earth. Because she carries her son to term she becomes the model of our spirituality. Mary gives Christ to her world from the stable. We are called to give Christ from our hearts to all the people we serve. We are more than stables. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. God dwells within us. We can make Christ the center of our lives. All our actions can be his if we live our lives as real Christs. He did not think it to be too much to put aside all that belongs to him as our God to be born of Mary. He is truly by his birth one of us. We can truly be one with him by our living our lives in the fullness of his spirit. Our work is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings.


Christmas is the time we give gifts to one another. The gifts we give are to the Christ that dwells in each one of us by our rebirths in Baptism. We celebrate the birthday of Christ. “We are a Word Made Flesh People.” Putting Christ back into Christmas celebrates our humanness. The gifts we make by our presence to each other in the family makes this time special to God. Christ is never out of Christmas in the gifts we give. What gifts we give to the poor and the needy are the gifts that go directly to Christ. This is the custom of the giving tree in Churches where names are given for the chance to reach people who do not have the wherewithal to give gifts to their own family. Whatever we do for the least ones of our brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ takes as done for himself. When we give such a gift we can offer it up for those who have so much of the plenty in life that we wonder how to find them a fitting gift. The best gift for the person who has everything is a gift given by us in their name to Christ in his poor. The gifts I most remember are the ones where people reached the poor I would never know with a gift they told Christ they gave for me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Overshadow You

December 20, 2008

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:13-14

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38


“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55


Stirred, not shaken (Part two). Yesterday, the angel appeared to us through the readings and we heard how he stirred up Samson, Zechariah and Joseph. Today, we see that action move in Mary’s life.

Like Zechariah, Mary also questions the angel. “How can this be? I have had no relations with a man.” But once again, while Gabriel stirs things up, he does not intend to leave people quaking in fear. Stirred, not shaken. Grounded firmly in faith, not quivering in fear. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Mary does not skip a beat with her reply. The difference is in Mary’s faith. She may seek clarification but she accepts the action. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

We heard this reading on December 8 and now we hear it again within two weeks. Hint: We will hear it again tomorrow during Sunday Mass. Clearly, the lessons contained in this Gospel are important. Isaiah foretells that this is not just any run-of-the-mill miracle, this is an actual sign from God. So the “Church” repeats this sacred scripture three times in December. Plus, in the Holy Rosary, the first Joyful Mystery is this story, the Annunciation. How can it not affect our prayer life, our Bible study and our Apostolic action? May we imitate what it contains and obtain what it promises when we mediate on this mystery today.

Sometimes I find it ironic that the rooster has become the popular symbol of Cursillo. The rooster symbolizes pride, arrogance and flamboyance. The rooster is like the NFL wide receiver who fumbles the ball while pre-maturely celebrating before he reaches the end zone. That rooster is the antithesis of what this Gospel is encouraging us to imitate. The rooster is overshadowed by Peter denying Christ three times. Perhaps a more fitting “mascot” is the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The donkey symbolizes the tradition of humility ushered in when Mary encountered Gabriel.

Gabriel comes to Mary and meets a woman, the mother of our movement, in all her natural, God-given humility. When Jesus teaches us to pray, he tells us to go into our private room and invite the Lord to dwell there with us – the opposite of shouting at the top of your lungs from the mountaintop. When Jesus departs this life, he wills to us the care of his most humble servant, his own Mother becomes ours.

Mary humbly accepted her role as the first person to deliver Jesus into the world. She is a willing servant of God, the handmaid of the Lord. Let us accept this role and wrap ourselves in service this Christmas season. Let us proclaim the greatness of the Lord and rejoice in God our savior.


Make some room at your inn for Jesus this week. Let the Lord overshadow you this holiday season. Set aside your pride and your one-ups-man-ship and your desire for “getting.” Go into your private room and invite Jesus in there so he has a place to dwell. After all, his holy parents are about to find out that there is no room at the inn. Focus on your giving and your fore-giving.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


December 19, 2008

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

The woman bore a son and named him Samson. The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him; the Spirit of the LORD stirred him. Judges 13:24-25

“I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Luke 1:19-20


“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people. He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Benedictus from Luke 1:67-79


Stirred not shaken. The angels are here to stir things up. They are agitating the people and their spirit so that they will wake up and recognize that something great is about to happen. If not, then they deliver an even sterner wake-up call…like striking Zechariah unable to speak until his son is born. Talk about the consequences of having little faith!

Gabriel who appears to Zechariah and the angel who appears to Manoah are not here to bring the calm before the storm. They bring the first waves of the storm crashing to earth. The stirring is passed along to John and Samson and ultimately to Jesus when he is born in less than one week.


As we approach the final days of Advent, are you ready to be stirred to life for Jesus? The coming of the baby in Bethlehem stirred Mary and Joseph. Jesus made his cousin John do cartwheels while still “dwelling” in Elizabeth. He certainly helped to bring Zechariah’s ministry to life.

This month, at the St. Mary’s Ultreya gathering, Sr. Sonia asked us to write Palanca to the Holy Family in the Nativity. What would you write to the puzzled carpenter, standing by his young, pregnant wife while marching to his hometown for the census? What would you write to support the virgin who finds herself with child, the handmaiden of the Lord? How will your prayers support the baby she delivers?

Forget about writing to Santa, take on Sr. Sonia’s assignment and write a Palanca letter to the people taking part in the first Noel. How do their faith, obedience and humility stir you to piety, study and action?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid

December 18, 2008

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

They shall again live on their own land. Jeremiah 23:8b

Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Matthew 1:20


The Inmost Fear

Why do I fear?

God is here,

deep within –

covering nakedness,

mothering boldness,

sustaining exuberance

restraining insolence,

siring insight,

firing lovelight,

fulfilling hallowness,

instilling hallowedness

of lung, limb, and life

with tongued fire and crossed strife –

through Christ’s indwelling,

outwelling, sorrow-quelling,

joy-swelling victory –

warm love straining

to be heard, to be loved,

yet quiet as a craning ear in silent expectation,

as simple and lonely as a man’s sigh,

as rich and crowded as God’s sea

in which I swim to eternity

alone in crowded company

I, a mere glint of God’s light,

a mere hint of his might,

yet having the mint of his Son on my heart:

a cross sweeping to God’s glorying

and a love flaming with God’s worrying –

Christ about me,

in me,

with me,

today the darkening fierce joy of god’s sorrow

and then the tranquil swift dawn of God’s tomorrow.

Why then do I fear?

God is here,

Deep within,


Life grandly vibrant,

Love scandalously flagrant,

yet heart quietly homing

and Lord wisely lording.

But, then, – why do I fear?

. . .fear. . . fear. . .fear. . .

By David J. Hassel, S.J., from Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits, edited by Michael Harter, SJ. Chicago: Loyola Press. 2005. Page 47


Do not be afraid. Fear not. This advice permeates the scriptures from the Hebrew Bible to the birth of Christ, throughout the life of Jesus and right to the entrance to his tomb. Zechariah was advised not to be afraid as he prayed that Elizabeth would bear a child. When Jesus walks across the stormy seas to the disciples, he cautions them “Do not be afraid.” As the disciples take their ministry out to the region, they also are advised not be to be afraid to speak out.

Sometimes fear and trepidation is a natural instinct. Yet the prophets, Jesus and the Holy Spirit tell us to leave our fears behind. Time after time, scripture points us one way when common sense seems to point the other way. Yet the Holy Spirit cried out, as he does today to Joseph, “Do not be afraid” to do something which might confuse and confound conventional wisdom. When we defy conventional wisdom, we may have to go outside our own personal comfort zone.


Fear is gripping the people in the Republic of the Congo. Here is a message from an e-mail alert and Catholic Relief Services web site (WWW.CRS.ORG) about how you can help them conquer the fear of modern times.

Congolese Bishops Plead for Your Help

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has erupted once again in turmoil and destruction, forcing more than 250,000 people from their homes since August 2008 and swelling the ranks of the 1.3 million people who were already displaced in the region. Armed groups have been terrorizing the population, chasing people from camps, forcibly recruiting child soldiers, raping women, attacking humanitarian convoys, and looting and destroying health centers and other infrastructure.

In response to this urgent situation, a delegation from Congo toured Canada, France and the United States to meet with government and elected officials and United Nations representatives. The delegation raised awareness about the terrible suffering of the Congolese people and advocated for more international pressure and action to address the humanitarian tragedy and underlying conflict in eastern Congo, particularly as it relates to reinforcing the United Nations peacekeeping mission there (MONUC) and its ability to protect civilian populations and put an end to militia violence.

Catholic Relief Services in partnership with the local Caritas offices in eastern Congo have been among the most active humanitarian agencies during the current crisis.

Learn More

Visit the CRS website for more information about CRS' work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Read the November 13, 2008 statement by the Congolese Bishops on the current crisis in the DRC, Congo Cries for its Children.

Read the story about the Congolese Delegation's visit to the United States in the Catholic News Service.

Visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website relating to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Take Action

Help stop the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thank your Senators for supporting Senate resolution 713 that calls on all parties of the escalating violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to implement an immediate ceasefire and work with the support of the international community towards reaching a comprehensive and lasting peace.