Saturday, December 31, 2011
Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas
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. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. 1 John 2:18-19
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. John 1:9-13
Father, help us to see and know the Light that you sent to the world. Strengthen our foundation for hearing, believing and acting upon the consistent ethic of life that is at the core of the teachings of your Son. Send forth your Holy Spirit to grant us the gifts that will help us to stay on the right path to peace for the next year…in the beginning and through the end. Amen.
In the beginning…
As we watch the sun come up and set on the last day of this calendar year, it is ironic and fitting that the Gospel reminds us of new beginnings. In the cycles of our years – solar and liturgical – we have come to rely upon the repetition of cycles spinning around and around. These familiar cycles and lessons remind us repeatedly of what we too quickly forget.
The anti-christs want to have their way. They want us to follow a different path. But we need to be strengthened by these story-cycles to avoid being drawn away. Or, if we have been drawn away, we need to be pulled back to the light.
For all our collective intelligence, we seem to not have the simple nature of a moth – who is always drawn to the light. Sometimes, the light can be right in front of our eyes, and we go the other way.
Who or what is the anti-christ in your life? Who or what is trying to lead you in a different direction? The forces working against the truth are similar today to the forces working two thousand years ago: anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. In fact, each of these sins has been paired with a Biblical demon. They take different forms today but the lies that they represent tempt us in similar fashion to the ways that they tempted Adam and Judas, Peter and James, Job and Moses, Noah and Abraham.
As you contemplate the “resolution” you might make as we start a new year, consider not just trying to give in to these sins less but instead resolve to follow the opposite path and increase the good choices that you make – choices about being more chaste in mind and body, being more moderate in your patterns of consumption of food, drink and consumer goods; providing more charity of time or treasure to those in need; being more diligent in following the path of peace; being more patient, kind, and humble.
Choosing to instill more of these virtues in your life will ultimately help you succeed in all those resolutions that get shelved after less than 30 days by building a stronger foundation that will keep out the demons. Not that there is anything wrong with trying to lose weight, smoke less, spend wisely, invest more or other typical resolutions.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
December 30, 2011
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
By Melanie Rigney
The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.” (Genesis 15:1)
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalms 24:2-3)
(The prophetess Anna) gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)
Shield me, Lord, from the challenges of this world. Guide me safely to Your dwelling place.
“Jesus: The Early Years.” It sounds like a great TV miniseries. Except we don’t know much about those early years, beyond his presentation at the temple, the subject of today’s Gospel, and then when they go to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus is twelve and is separated from Mary and Joseph.
There’s something lovely about that lack of knowledge. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s time together may have been as unremarkable as most of our childhoods were—meals together, prayers together, love and laughter together, maybe a few skinned knees. Perhaps of those who were present for the temple presentation wondered at Anna and Simeon’s words: could this helpless infant truly be the Messiah?
On second thought, “Jesus: The Early Years” might not make a great miniseries. There might not be much violence or intrigue or drama or tragedy. But without it, we wouldn’t have the sequel that has fascinated the world for centuries.
Put away life’s drama, and spend some quiet time with your family this evening.
The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
“The way we may be sure to know him is to keep his commandments.” 1 John 2:3
Sing to the Lord a new song. Psalm 96:1
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-30
Father, Simeon told Mary and Joseph that this Child – the little bundle of joy they held in their arms – is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted. Send your Spirit to reveal to us the joy that Simeon felt when he encountered the Kingdom of God at hand despite these ominous warnings.
Today, we have another of the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary to contemplate. Our Advent season just completed included the Annunciation and the Visitation. Then on Christmas Day, we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Now we consider the presentation of the Lord back to His Father in the temple and the Epiphany of Simeon.
None of these mysteries – nor any of the other episodes of the Holy Rosary occurred in isolation. Man encountering God and people encountering Jesus as he walked on the earth were central to every mystery. Elizabeth’s confinement would not be complete without the visit from her sister and the encounter with the fruit of her sister’s womb. Simeon’s story would not be complete without the encounter in the temple.
How many days did Simeon wait in the temple after it was revealed to him that he would not die until he encountered Christ? Yet wait he did, just as the people of Israel waited. How many boys were presented in the temple over the years? Yet until this day, none were the Christ Child – the One Simeon and the people awaited. Each time that door of the temple opened with new parents a baby boy and two birds, how Simeon’s heart must have leapt in anticipation – like John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb – only to realize that his Spirit-imposed wait would continue.
As we consider Simeon’s mission completed, what happened to him next? After years of waiting, did he run out into the streets of Jerusalem announcing what he had just witnessed? If he had, would his message have been received with the same joy that he had received the new baby in the temple? Or would his comments have amazed the people in the streets the same way they amazed the mother and father of Jesus?
After all, this is a Joyful Mystery. Yet the message to Mary is that her heart will not just break – but will be pierced. Where is the joy in that? What amazed the parents? Was it that Simeon knew the secret kept from Herod? Simeon knew what only Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah knew. Without the revelation of an angel or a prophet, Simeon knew that the Kingdom of God was at hand. In this squirming, crying hungry baby presented in temple, Simeon knew he could sing a new song!
Simeon was a man of faith. If we consider only the Good News from Luke alone, we might think that our model of faith is a man waiting in the temple to encounter the Lord. Simeon waited and prayed. Yet when the Lord was finally revealed to him, he praised God and then reached out to those around him and shared that Good News.
Our First Reading also encourages us to be not just people of faith, but also people of action. Not just people in contemplation waiting for our encounter, our Joyful Mystery, our Presentation in the Temple.
As we encounter the Christ Child during this holiday season, what are we to do next? What message does this encounter bring to us to pass along to the world? Each encounter with the Lord brings with it the responsibility to have an equal and opposite encounter with the world. Each Mass culminates with words of action -- to bring the peace of the encounter from the sanctuary to the streets. Simeon did not tell Mary it would be easy. But they both knew in their minds, in their hearts and in their souls that such pain would be necessary.
The world does not revolve around a small device in our pocket or purse made of metal, glass and silver. It is not about our encountering the Lord in the virtual world of artificial intelligence. It is about encountering the Lord in the real world – the Word was made Flesh after all – and how we respond. The fourth Joyful Mystery was about Simeon’s wait and how he responded. Today’s Joyful Mystery is about our wait and how we respond. So turn off your iPhone, iPad, Android, or computer and respond to the event that happened two thousand and twelve years ago and again five days ago and again with the next person you meet.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
By Colleen O'Sullivan
Beloved: This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. (I John 1:5)
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (Matthew 2:13-16)
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
(refrain from “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” by Kathleen Thomerson)
Every year I have trouble finding a religious Christmas card that I would like to send. Some are too cute, as though they were meant for small children. Others, mostly famous religious paintings, have the infant Jesus looking like a little shrunken down adult. But this year, I found one I liked on the first try. It’s not particularly pretty. The card is dark; it’s night in the town of Bethlehem. Almost the only light in the picture comes from the rude shelter where Mary and Joseph have found refuge with their newborn son, Jesus. How appropriate, I thought. The birth of Jesus as described in John’s Gospel, the Light shining in the darkness, the Light which no darkness can overcome. The card captured the Christmas message for me.
I was reminded again of the contrast between light and darkness as I read today’s Scripture passages. John, in his first letter, says that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” Joseph is a man walking in the light. From the very first mention of him in the Gospels, he strikes me as a kind person. Confronted with a pregnant-by someone-else betrothed, he doesn’t seek to embarrass her. He’ll quietly divorce her. He’s also a faithful person. He’s open to putting his plans aside and allowing his life to unfold according to God’s plan. He listens to the angel’s message in a dream and marries Mary after all. He will help to raise this Child of God. Joseph is a courageous and obedient man as well. When, in another dream, an angel tells him to protect the child Jesus from the machinations of Herod, he doesn’t question how they will live as undocumented aliens in a foreign land. He obediently takes his little family and flees to Egypt, where they will stay until Joseph receives the all-clear signal to return.
Herod, on the other hand, is definitely walking in darkness. He’s full of himself, in love with the power he wields. He’s used to making life happen in fulfillment of his own desires. Herod isn’t seeking the will of God. On the contrary, he seeks to rid the world of God. He wants to do away with the baby Jesus. He’s ruthless in pursuit of that goal. He goes so far as to order the murder of all male children two years old and younger in the Bethlehem area, the Holy Innocents we remember today.
Just as the song title says, I want to walk as a child of the Light. I want to be like Joseph - kind, faithful, obedient, courageous, open to discerning and following the Lord’s plan for my life. Sometimes, though, I walk away from the Light and into darkness of my own making. Like Herod, I want things my way and I don’t want anything getting in the way of my desires. I want to be lord of my own life.
When you are praying today, ask for forgiveness for the times you have strayed from the Light into darkness. Lay before the Lord the erroneous paths you have followed. In his letter, John goes on to say that if we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and make us clean.
Ask for the grace to follow Joseph’s example, to live our lives in the Light of the Lord. Pray in the words of the songwriter: “I want to see the brightness of God; I want to look at Jesus. Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path, and show me the way to the Father.”
Monday, December 26, 2011
December 27, 2011
Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
By Beth DeCristofaro
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it (1 John 1:1-2)
… he saw and believed. (John 20:8)
by the names
I give you,
in the silence
that I may know
who I am,
hear the truth
you have put into me,
trust the love
you have for me,
which you call me to live out
with my sisters and brothers
in your human family.
— “In the Silence Name Me”, Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle
For the first time that I ever remember, late Christmas morning after Mass and a delicious quiche breakfast, someone asked, “So are we going to open presents now or wait until everyone arrives?” I was secretly delighted because I’ve always enjoyed lengthening the day’s festivities. When our children were little, they had to wait until after Mass for any presents. As they grew a bit older, I caved in and allowed stockings to be emptied before Mass. And most years we all ate breakfast together before gathering under the tree.
We certainly enjoyed a peaceful, laughter-filled day this year with family. I must admit that afterwards I’m a little sated and ready for some space. The gift-giving, food-preparing, house cleaning, planning, decorating and all leaves me content but ready for a break. But in this Gospel we see that Jesus was not ever ready to take a break from fulfilling his love and redemption for us. Not two days ago we read of his humble yet holy birth and today we learn of the great gift to humanity of his triumph over death.
Jesus continues to love each and every one of us through His life, through His church, through the communities of faith and service which we join and act within, through the Sacraments most especially through the Eucharist. We see Jesus in the love of families and friends, in the poor and oppressed, in the resilient people who choose peace over conflict, in the caring for those hurt, sick and imprisoned. Jesus never takes a break modeling for us how to go about loving God and loving others.
On this feast of John the Apostle, what have you seen and what do you believe? To what would you go running? Is Jesus there? How do you share Jesus with others?
December 26, 2011
Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
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 7:55-57
When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:19-20
In you, L, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me; incline your ear to me; make haste to rescue me! Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to save me. For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me. Free me from the net they have set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, L , God of truth. Psalm 31:2-6
Throughout Advent, the readings for Mass have overflowed with models for our Christian behavior. Now that we have celebrated the birth of the Lord, today, we return to the lives of the saints whom we are called to emulate.
Stephen picked up his action right where Jesus left off. But the people did not want to hear. Just like the people did not want to hear what Jesus had to say, they had a similar reaction to the witness of Stephen. And Stephen remained constant in his action, emulating Christ until the very end. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” echoes the dying words of Christ spoken on the cross.
How ready are we to set aside our plans and pick up the plans that the Lord has for us? St. Stephen may not have known in advance what was in store for him in the same way that Christ knew the fate he was destined to fulfill. Yet, the first martyr stayed the course to its inevitable end nonetheless.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
Mass during the Day
By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, "Your God is King!" Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the LORD restoring Zion. Isaiah 52:7-8
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. Hebrews 1:1-3b
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. 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 1:1-5
The creation of God is wonderfully begun and still more wonderfully restored. Christmas opens for us the plan of God for our salvation. Piety is how we share in the divinity of Christ. He humbled himself to share in our humanity and we take upon ourselves power and glory when we share in the essence of Christ. Christ has given us his life by our baptism. He takes us more deeply into his life by Eucharist. We see his littleness as the baby born into our world of grandiose things and enjoy his littleness when we marvel at his birth. The baby needs the parents' care. Christ’s life within us needs our loving care. He does not force himself on us with wise words and powerful signs. What could be more normal than a baby born into our world? What could be more wonderful than the marvel of each birth calling us to the presence of Christ? Christmas forces us to take ourselves seriously as images of God in the Christ we are born to be. Christian means another Christ. Christmas means Christ is with us.
We study how Christ made himself small so we could see ourselves in him. All the ways we look at the birth of Christ gives us appreciation of how much Christ wants to be one with us. Our willingness to become what we study opens our hearts to the reality of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of Christ. God has spoken in our lives in many wondrous ways. But no voice is louder than the voice of the Word of God becoming flesh in the baby of Bethlehem. I live the mystery of Bethlehem every time I celebrate Mass because the littleness of the host becomes the baby born in the cave. As I hold the host of the Lord, who is the same forever during my Mass at the cave where he was born, I realize I am holding the baby of Bethlehem. We study how to worship him on the holy day that is dawning upon us. We come to adore the Lord in his littleness so that we can find him in his greatness. Christ is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. When we hold unto the Christ of today, we have the Christ of every day.
The question of what we can do for the Lord who has given us so much in the birth of Jesus has the simplest of all answers. I will give the Lord myself. How I have grown in offering him my life is seen by our presence to the little ones of our lives? Even as we do our part to make the day special for children, we discover how to love him. The light of Christ shines in the darkness of our world. We need to enlighten all our family with the joy we take in Christ.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Advent
"Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!" Nathan answered the king, "Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you." 1 Samuel 7:2-3
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 1:78-79
Father, as the sun lights our way today, help us get on the right path to be with your Son mentally, emotionally and physically. Send forth your Spirit to give us the prudence to take the right steps at the right time, the sense of justice to moderate our needs compared with the needs of others, the restraint to avoid detours from the path of Your peace, and the strength to overcome of fears and uncertainties or endure whatever confronts and intimidates us from your way. Amen.
We all know the most famous part of the journey in tonight's story. From Nazareth to Bethlehem. The map tells us that is about 97 miles on foot taking today's roads and probably at least a two day walk with decent Timberland or Merrill Hiking boots. Without benefit of those roads and today's equipment, the hills, dunes, and mountains along the way would probably take a sandal-ed carpenter, his pregnant wife and a donkey several days.
King David understood the ironic difference and distance between where he was living and God's lack of a suitable temple for the Ark of the Covenant. He chose to close that physical distance even though Nathan counseled the king that the Lord was already right there with him in the House of Cedar.
Zechariah also had a journey -- but a much more interior journey. He was in the temple when he encountered the angel with the message about his soon-to-be born son, John. Zechariah had to journey beyond his doubts to where he needed to be to witness to the miraculous birth of his son by a wife advanced beyond typical child-bearing years. Thanks to Zechariah getting over his interior obstacles, he was also able to get over the cultural obstacles such as the name chosen by the angel. This the Canticle of Zechariah (which is recounted in Morning Prayer daily) reminds us that John pointed his people and us on the way to the path of peace.
Have you spent too much time inside the malls over the last few weeks or months getting ready for the civil, commercial side of this Holy Day? Now is the time to cross that distance and consider where you will be physically with the Lord. For some it might be in a church. For others it might be snow-bound in the west under the blizzard blanket of snow in New Mexico. For others still it might be working in a hospital or nursing home where you cannot take a holiday from your service. Others they will find themselves jailed like John and Jesus also would be eventually. If not jailed by government authorities, others will be in the prison of poverty, mental illness, social isolation or unemployment. And although our friends in the military may have taken the colors down in Iraq, their colleagues remain in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and other troubled spots around the world.
On this eve before Christmas, where are you? Where is the Lord? How in the world will you come together on the same path tomorrow and every day after that?
Maybe you have to cross a physical distance to be with Him. Maybe you also have to overcome some interior obstacles. In either case, ask yourself the question of "Whose course has to change to make it so?" Nathan reminds us, "Your God is already here."