Sunday, November 21, 2010

A New Hymn Before the Throne

November 22, 2010
Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They were singing (what seemed to be) a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth. Revelation 14:2-3

When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood." Luke 21:1-4

Father, help us to learn the lessons of the poor widows we have encountered in Luke gospel. The first looked high and low until she found her lost coins. Let us treasure the people around us so they may never be lost. The second persisted in her requests from the local judge. May we prayer with her persistence. The third gave all she had. May we be inspired by her spirit of altruism as we hear from charities that are helping people who really need help throughout this Holy season and next year. Bless us in these pursuits so that we may approach the throne of Christ the King. Amen.

There is something different about the people described in the readings. Something sets them apart from everyone else. Who can ascend the mountain of the Christ the King?

First, we must sing a different tune. It was the American writer Henry David Thoreau who wrote the line, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

The people described in the vision of Revelation are out of step with the rest of culture. They are singing a new hymn before the throne. They are not defiled. They are not following false gods of money and material possessions. Their purity is because they have rejected the sexuality (adultery and fornication) of society. Only these people of purity can approach the throne of Christ the King.

Second, we must free ourselves from the pursuit of money and worldly possessions. In the Good News, Jesus is singling out the poor widow and her two small coins. This widow – who might be the same widow who searched high and low when a coin was lost, is now ready to part with two of those coins and clink, clink, they fall into the temple treasury. This widow does not let her pursuit of a secure retirement, a better car, a bigger house, an Division I college education, or the gift registry at Williams Sonoma get in the way of her relationship with Christ the King.

The answer is right there in the song the psalmist sings. The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely. They will receive blessings from the LORD, and justice from their saving God. (Psalm 24: 4-5). They can ascend the mountain of the Lord.

How can we cultivate the disposition that will allow us to approach the throne of Christ the King? Our King started the liturgical year as a poor, cold, naked baby in a barn with hardly the surroundings of a prince. Our King ended the liturgical year hanging on the cross, refusing to save Himself but freely offering paradise to the thief on his side.

We must resist the prevailing popular moves in our culture just like the people in Revelation resisted the temptations in their world and like the poor widow resisted getting too attached to her two coins.

The ads packing today’s newspaper and filling the airwaves of television and radio scream out for us to get a jump start on the holiday shopping season. Total Beverage. The World Market. Penn Camera. They have all made us the “target” of their “best buys.” The challenge of the season which begins in six days is to resist the marketing of the money-takers and plan for a season that will bring us closer to Christ the King.

Plan to make your season a stretch of holy days that will extend from Advent to Epiphany. What will you do? Consider these three steps.

1) Enhance your prayer life. Do something special throughout Advent to keep the meaning of the season present in your life. Get out some fresh candles for your Advent wreath and keep it shining.

2) Focus your study. Put down the “plastic pack” from your newspaper and pick up a book to help you through this season. Two to consider are “Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas” and “Oh Come Emmanuel: A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas.”

3) Shop for your favorite cause: Plan to make charitable gifts long before you are faced with the year-end tax deadline. Give from your heart not because it makes your tax return look better. All charity is local whether you are making your gift to the Campaign for Human Development Catholic Charities in your hometown, or your favorite cause.