Thursday, December 31, 2015

Jesus’ Light Shines through the Darkness

By Beth DeCristofaro

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 2:21)

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)

Oh Brother Jesus, grant me the grace to recognize you when you are near.  Fill me with the conviction to act with praise and gratitude no matter who wears your face each day.  May your light shine through me in the darkness and may you be glorified in all.

As parents, we and friends enjoyed speculating whether it is nature or nurture which shape our children.  One of our daughters read numbers and did simple addition in her head as a six-year-old while our other daughter can make a friend within minutes no matter where she travels.  Mozart was born in harmony with music.  Einstein seemed to view into the secrets of the universe and be able to interpret them for others.  Both Serena and Venus were early athletes yet with persistent practice Serena Williams has become great.  It appears that we have talents beyond what we might understand, buried deep within who we are.

During this sacred season we have met those who “knew” the Messiah even before John, who testified to the Light, began to proclaim.  Elizabeth, Anna, Simeon and John himself all recognized Jesus’ presence.  Perhaps it is a talent we all actually have because the Word, through which all Life came to be, is at our core as children of God.  If we but knew how to see would we find that we have God’s light encoded in our DNA, powering our cells, nourishing our genes?
To hone the talent calls for us to spend time with Him, asking for grace to be in His Light always.  St. John Chrysostom spoke about the radiance of living Christ-like.  He pointed out the real impact of all people living like real Christians would be that there would be no unbelievers at all. How are we developing our innate drive to be Christ-like?  In this New Year, review prayer practices and consider how we can better embody our time with God through our everyday lives.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Upon Him

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

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Luke 2:40

O sweet Child of Bethlehem, grant that we may share with all our hearts
in this profound mystery of Christmas. Put into the hearts of men and women this peace for which they sometimes seek so desperately and which you alone can give to them. Help them to know one another better and to live as brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. Reveal to them also your beauty, holiness and purity. Awaken in their hearts love and gratitude for your infinite goodness. Join them all together in your love. And give us your heavenly peace. Amen. Pope John XXIII

After Jesus was born, there were several Hebrew rituals to fulfil.  The old law was still upon him.  First, Jesus was circumcised.  Second, Jesus had to be formally named (even though he was named at the Annunciation).  Finally, Mary returned to the temple forty days after the birth of her son for her ritual purification.  When all this was done to fulfill the Old Law, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple where the encounters with Simeon and Anna took place whose Advent season came to a close when they encountered the baby and his parents. 

Michael Card, in his book Luke: The Gospel of Astonishment notes that of the nine times that the word “law” appears in this book, five instances are here in Chapter Two.  These old laws will start to pass away after Jesus grows into adulthood and starts his public ministry from the same place we see him now – in the temple. However, that bridge has not yet been crossed. 

No one would argue that the years in Nazareth were formative years.  However, we know little about what happens after Mary and Joseph return home with the unrecorded blessing of Anna upon them and the Spirit upon their son.  Anna never left the temple.  But once Jesus reads from the Torah, his ministry goes beyond this protected zone but always filled with the Spirit upon him.

According to a story in the National Catholic Reporter today, during his weekly address,[i] Pope Francis called on Christians to take time during the continuing Christmas season to contemplate the mystery of the child Jesus, saying his infancy shows us the importance of being humble and letting go of our pretense of control in life.  The pontiff said that while the Gospels do not tell us much about Jesus’ youth, we can learn much about his childhood if we look at the life of the children around us.

“We discover, before all, that children want our attention,” said Francis. “Why do they want to be at the center?” he asked. “Because they are proud? No! Because they need to feel protected.”

Francis suggested that when people go home they take some time to contemplate the nativity scene in their house and to kiss the representation of the baby Jesus.  The pontiff suggested people could pray: “Jesus, I want to be humble like you, humble like God.”


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Present Him to the Lord

By Melanie Rigney

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. (1 John 2:9-10)

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!  (Psalm 96:11a)

(Simeon said to Mary:) “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)

Lord, help me to stay in the light of Your love in the coming year.

So, here we are, less than a week out from Christmas, and we’re already hearing prophecies of the eventual earthly fate of Jesus—and Mary. Note Simeon’s use of language: Jesus is destined not only for the rise of many, but also for the fall. And none of the happy talk most of us give and hear when it comes to a baby. No, Simeon tells Mary that she will suffer right along with her son—Mary, not Mary and Joseph, who’s right there with her during Jesus’s presentation at the temple. What does Mary do? Despite the foretelling of pain, she keeps right on loving both Jesus and his Father, because it’s what she’s called to do.

It’s an important lesson. Yes, the baby is beautiful. Yes, God sent his Son in quite possibly the most helpless, least threatening form He could have. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for Jesus. In the same way, today’s first reading reminds us that the road to the Lord isn’t going to be easy for us. We will need to love… that most beautiful, most challenging word… regardless of what how justified we may feel to hate, regardless of how others may hate us. Truly, love conquers all—hate, pain, falls, piercings. And so we begin anew, each day, to do so.

Consider the way Mary loved the Lord despite what Simeon had told her was to come. How can you emulate that in your time with someone you find difficult to love?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Walk in the Light

God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5B-7

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. Matthew 2:13-14

Today the Church remembers the innocent children slain by Herod in his attempt to kill Jesus, the newborn king.  Let us pray for all innocent children who are victims of gun violence, war, abuse, and neglect throughout the world today.

Protection.  Watching over has been a constant theme of our liturgy and study since Advent began.  We watched over the dark days and long nights and weeks with candles burning until the Savior emerged to walk with us. Now teh Lord is entrusted to the care of others -- principally to Mary and Joseph.  They get a big assistance at the holy day care center from angels who announced the pending news.  Even after birth, the angels assisted in the protection of Jesus with today’s warning. 

In spite of his initial doubts about the first message of the angel, Joseph is clearly now walking in the light of truth.  A change has come over Joseph, not just fatherhood, but faith. This time, after the message from the angel comes to Joseph in a dream, he wakes up the very next day and prepares for the journey to Egypt – leaving, we assume, the next night. Even though they were travelling under cover of literal darkness, the Holy Family was walking in the light.

The notes in the NAB explain that “Egypt was a traditional place of refuge for those fleeing from danger in Palestine.  When Solomon tried to have Jeroboam killed, Jeroboam fled to Shishak, king of Egypt. He remained in Egypt until Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:40).  When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and princes heard [Uriah’s] words, the king sought to have him killed. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt (Jeremiah 26:21).  However, the main reason why Jesus is taken to Egypt is that he may relive the Exodus experience of Israel.”[i]  The angel will appear to Joseph one more time to notify him that the coast is clear and they can return to Israel fulfilling the prophecy of the new Exodus.

Whose protection is in your hands?  Children certainly.  Now increasingly, families also have responsibility to care for aging parents, grandparents are raising grandchildren, spouses caring for an ill husband or wife, and foster parents are raising children who have no parents.

Our responsibility for care extends to the whole planet as explained by Pope Francis in his encyclical letter LAUDATO SI’ (“On Care for Our Common Home”).

The USCCB site reminds us that as we put away our Christmas gifts, think about giving away things that we do not use anymore and adopting a “simple living” mindset for the new year!  For inspiration, reflect on these words from Pope Francis:

True joy does not come from things or from possessing, no! It is born from the encounter, from the relationship with others, it is born from feeling accepted, understood and loved, and from accepting, from understanding and from loving; and this is not because of a passing fancy but because the other is a person. Joy is born from the gratuitousness of an encounter! It is hearing someone say, but not necessarily with words: “You are important to me”. This is beautiful.... And it is these very words that God makes us understand. In calling you God says to you: “You are important to me, I love you, I am counting on you”. — Pope Francis, Address at Meetings with Seminarians and Novices (7/6/13) 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Put On Heartfelt Compassion

By Jim Bayne

Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, 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.” Hannah left Samuel there. 1 SAM:26-28

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD. PS 84:1-2

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, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. COL 3:12-13

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions....”Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “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. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. Luke 2:46, 48-52

O Lord, I so want to experience the loveliness of your dwelling!! Help me listen and ask questions as Jesus did and to be open to new ideas so that I too can grow in wisdom and knowledge and grow ever closer to you and to your dwelling. Help me to live with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with and forgiving those around me. Amen.

I read recently that if you ask three Jewish scholars for an explanation of a particular passage of the Torah, you will get four different opinions. No one opinion is considered better than the other. It is assumed that each has merit and should be considered.

In an address to the bishops and cardinals of the Curia this past week, Pope Francis told them that charity and truth are “inseparable virtues of the Christian existence.”

“Charity without truth becomes an ideology of destructive do-gooding and truth without charity becomes blind ‘judicialism.’”

Luke tells us that when at the temple, Jesus listened and asked questions. He then went home and was obedient to Joseph and Mary. As a result of living in this healthy and observant Jewish family, Jesus grew in “wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

Samuel in the first reading also grew up in the temple area where he was exposed to a variety of different Jewish ideas. He too listened to Eli (and others) and grew in wisdom and age, and became the first great Jewish prophet. It is through a commitment to study, openness to new and sometime conflicting ideas, and obedience to the prompting of the Spirit that we, too, can come to see "how lovely is the dwelling place of the Lord." In this way we grow in wisdom and favor before God and man. Charity and Truth meet and become Mercy.

As we grow in wisdom and knowledge and in our love for God and neighbor, it becomes easier to live out Paul’s admonition to “put on...heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility and patience;” attitudes sorely needed in our world today.

Make a New Year’s resolution to increase the amount of time you spend this year being open to the ideas of others with an eye to growing in wisdom and knowledge before God and man. Perhaps by listening to, respecting, and working with others we can begin to find answers to some of life’s most complex questions. 

Take time to consider how well you have been living Paul’s admonition expressed in COL 3:12-13. How does exhibiting the inseparable virtues of charity and truth help you do this?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Whoever Endures

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 

“Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 10:21-22

Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

The tinsel has not fallen from the tree.  The trash is not even out at the curb filled with torn paper, disposed ribbons and turkey bones.  Yet we find ourselves already contemplating the first martyr.  The baby who was part of the marginalized poor of Palestine is marginalized on his second day of life – taking the side stage while St. Stephen moves to the center.  This faith cannot be confined to Bethlehem.  This faith must move in, move on and move out. 

The redeeming Incarnation is one of the two great mysteries of Christianity. This birth cannot stand alone without the message of the Cross of Jesus – complete with his trial, execution and Resurrection. As a pair of mysteries, they become Stephen’s inheritance and our inheritance. 

Spoiler Alert:  On one day (Christmas) we see the baby of the poor couple laying in the feeding trough used by cattle.  Angels fill the sky with light and love.  On the next, St. Stephen tells us, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  Everything that happens between these two events are made for our faith. St. Fulgentius of Ruspe tied these two events together:

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the King, it later shone forth in His soldier. [St. Stephen’s] love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey's end. [i]

Like John the Baptist, Stephen criticized the people for not following God’s commandments.  Committed, fearless, and forgiving, St. Stephen died as Christ died – asking God to forgive his enemies. The patron of stone masons is stoned to death at the feet of Saul the Persecutor, foreboding a fearful chapter in the life of the church until Saul experiences his own conversion. 

The secular joy of Christmas cannot be separated from the pain of crowded shopping, gifts to be returned, paying too, much. 

An anonymous poet once wrote that the sky would have no rainbow if the eye had no tear.  Christmas would have no joy without Good Friday to give it meaning.  Good Friday would have no meaning without Easter Sunday Resurrection.  Easter Sunday would have no meaning on its own unless we picked up our cross daily, like Stephen, to follow Jesus.

Charity at Christmastime is a custom that goes back to the earliest

Because St. Stephen was the first Deacon, and because one of the Deacons' role in the Church is to care for the poor, St. Stephen's Day is often the day for giving food, money, and other items to servants, service workers, and the needy (it is known as "Boxing Day" in some English-speaking parts of the world).[ii]

In the carol about Good King Wenceslas, we have three critical roles -- the good king, cruel weather, and a man so poor he is driven to scrounge for firewood on one of the coldest nights of the year.[iii]  The carol tells the story of a Wenceslaus I (actual named Duke Vaclav) courageously braving harsh winter weather to give alms to the poor the day after Christmas. His page almost gives up the struggle against the harsh cold, but is enabled to go on, motivated by the fortitude of his king. As the poor man is aided in this hymn, so too are we called to action. We also recall the last verse of the Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas:”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

“You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.”  May you find blessings this holy season.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Born for You

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone…For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:1,5

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 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 Christ 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 2:8-12

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. 

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace!

Imagine how dark it was at night, in the desert, watching sheep two thousand years before Edison invented the light bulb or 1,700 years before Ben Franklin coined the term battery?  There most certainly was a live fire pit for warmth that night and for some light to watch that the sheep did not wander afar. Temperatures were likely to dip into the 30-40F range in this area with a San Diego-like climate. The sun set around 4:40 pm and would not come back up until 6:30 am Friday leaving more than 14 hours of darkness to illuminate on one of the longest nights of the year.

Is it any wonder in the middle of a cold, dark early winter night, that the appearance of an angel with a message from the Lord would generate fear in these workers raising sheep to yield lambs for an upcoming Passover sacrifice?  And what was the message? 

The belligerent army of the most powerful nation in the world had invaded a small, poor Middle Eastern backwater territory.  The leader of that nation half a world away wanted to survey the spoils of his victory and ordered all people to a census.  No need to search for weapons of mass destruction because they were not yet invented.  Old-fashioned methods of torture like crucifixion remained the coin of the realm striking fear and obedience into the populace.  A trembling poor, engaged couple walked (or rode via donkey – no Uber or Lyft) for more than a week about 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in their ancestral home.  When they get there, the hotels were booked.  No Kayak.  No Expedia.  No Air BnB.  No smartphones for toll-free reservations.  No relatives with empty beds.  After all that travelling, no wonder she went into labor.  The pregnant teenager gave birth out-of-wedlock and wrapped her new son in the only blanket handy and lays him in the feeding trough used by the cattle. THIS?  THIS!!  This is the savior that has been born for you who is Christ and Lord???  Yes.  This is the savior that has been born for you who is Christ and Lord!!! Yes! Yes!! YES!!!

William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, and JK Rowling could not come up with a more fantastic plot line if they pooled their talents. 

Are you at work today?  You might be if you are in healthcare, hospitality, food service, public safety, the military, farming, ranching and shepherding.  We still have shepherds raising sheep which need to be fed, and cleaned, and exercised, and sheared, and watched over.  If an angel appeared to them tonight, they would probably be as afraid as their counterparts were 2015 years ago. 

Waitresses and waiters today have diners to serve.  Chefs have meals to cook.  Hotel staff have rooms to clean and guests to check in and out of the rooms.  Police have roads to patrol.  Firefighters have…well, fires to fight of course. Social service agencies have homeless to shelter and hungry souls to feed. Ambulance crews have to pick up the pieces of tornadoes which have chain-sawed their jagged path through the American south.

Is it any wonder that the heavenly birth announcement for this Servant-Leader, Wonder-Counselor would go to people who already were at work serving others?  If those angels came today, they probably would not show up at St. Mary of Sorrows or St. Brendan the Navigator or Our Lady of Pity or Belmont Abbey or even St. Peter’s Basilica.  They would probably appear in the break room at a Holiday Inn or behind the Silver Diner where the staff are taking a smoking break.  Or in the bunk room at Fire Station No. 11.  

The message, though, is the same.  The baby is born for you. All he wants is some room in your inn. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

We are Gifted and We Gift as Sons and Daughters

By Beth DeCristofaro

I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever. (2 Samuel 7:14, 16)

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying … 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 1:67, 79) 

Nativity Sermon
This Nativity night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One – Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One – Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy – Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will – Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace – Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the DIVINE BEING took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of DIVINITY.
- St. Isaac Syrian[i] 
- Alternately attributed to St. Ephraim the Syrian[ii]

God let David know that it was not his job to build a temple.  Instead, God built a divinely touched lineage for David.  Continuing in that lineage, we as Spiritual sons and daughters now are asked by our Spiritual Father to build a temple within ourselves for the Spirit with whom Jesus the Christ has grace us.  And we are asked to honor any person created by that same generous God no matter who he or she might be.  In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity we must open our doors to bestow mercy, joy, forgiveness, generosity to all even Syrians, Muslims, Republicans or Democrats, poor and rich, holy or annoying.  The Sons and Daughters have already inherited, we don’t get to choose.

Take opportunities to offer the ordinary joys of loving generously today.  How might we expand our loving as we await the Birth, a Birth already alive in our hearts?

The Hand of the Lord Was With Him

And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 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 3:1B-2

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 1:66

Father, help us to live in the spirit of Zechariah and the Catholic Workers 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. (See more at:

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Those who have seen it know that the story is set in a Jewish settlement in Imperial Russia of 1905.  The story is set forth with an early quote in the Prologue from the leading man, Tevye:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word:“Tradition.”

How can Tevye maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family's lives?  Tevye must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters.  Each daughter wishes to marry for love – each one's choice of a husband moves her further away from the customs of his faith.  At the same time as this upheaval, the people also must deal with the edict of the Tsar to evict the Jews from their village.  One the one hand people are trying to honor and continue their traditions and keep their society running.  On the other hand, the world around them is changing rapidly.

As John the Baptist goes from leaping in his mother’s womb to bouncing in his father’s hands, the traditions of the Hebrew Bible are about to be challenged in ways big and small, too.  The naming of the baby (John, not Zechariah after his father) is just one small sign to us but a major sign to the villagers that the ways of the past are changing.  Everyone in the village knows who he or she is and what God expects him or her to do.  They know that Zechariah and Elizabeth should name their son Zechariah.  But those sands are now shifting. 

But Zechariah was cut off in silence from his community while John grew in the womb.  With his son’s birth, Zechariah finds his voice and the first words of this doubting old man are: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.”  John, too, will find his voice.  Yet before he does so, he will cut himself off from the community by living in the wilderness, physically cut off from the people but crying out for change.

The naming of John symbolizes that the ways of the past are past.  Personal change (repentance) will be at the heart of the message that John the Baptist preaches when he gets his voice crying in the wilderness and he and his misfit cousin start overthrowing traditions and refining (redefining) our piety, study and action in ways no one could have guessed if they only relied upon human traditions.

What then will become of all these traditions?  They will be updated with new ones that are based on the Good News as proclaimed by Jesus – a message to serve and worship the Lord without fear, because of the tender mercy of our God.

Holy Days are a time for family traditions.  What are some of yours and why do you do what you do?  Have those traditions changed as children have come into your life or as they have grown and moved away?  What other ways are your traditions changing?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Now I, In Turn, Give Him to the Lord

By Melanie Rigney

After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull, Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: “Pardon, my lord. As you live, my lord, 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.” She left Samuel there. (1 Samuel 1:25-28)

My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.  (1 Samuel 2:1a)

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.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Lord, I break out in song of my own to praise Your goodness.

By Lambert_Doomer
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Hannah and Mary were divided by centuries… and much more.

Mary was a young girl, pregnant with a child under unusual circumstances shared with her by an angel. Talk about bewildering! Then, the significance of what was happening was reflected in the welcome she received from her relative Elizabeth. Hannah, the favored wife of Elkanah, was desperate to have a son, in no small part because of the torment inflicted on her by a sister wife. Hannah prayed so fervently for a son that it was thought she was drunk. The prayer was answered as she had hoped; she gave birth to a son they named Samuel (“Because I asked the Lord for him”), and as soon as he was weaned, left him to be reared at the temple as she had promised.

Despite the differences in their circumstances, the Lord’s generosity and trust in Mary and Hannah both responded in songs of rejoicing. Each was grateful and full of praise… even though both knew their sons ultimately belonged not to them, but to God. And isn’t that the case of the most ordinary of births and rebirths, even today? The child born to the wealthiest or most impoverished family; the teenager struggling with which prestigious college to attempt or how to stop an abusive behavior; the adult who summons up the courage to go to confession after a week or twenty years. We find true joy when we dedicate the lives of those we rear or of ourselves to God—today, tomorrow, and always.

Don’t concern yourself today with where a loved one’s life may be helped. Turn your worries over to God. Ask Him if the situation requires you to take action… or simply to step out of His way.

How Does This Happen To Me?

My lover speaks; he says to me, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! “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. Song of Songs 2:10-13B

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:41-43

The Night Before Christmas
A more spiritual version of the famous Christmas story
By Sister St. Thomas, B.N.D. de N

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the town,
St. Joseph was searching, walking up roads and down;
Our Lady was waiting, so meek and so mild,
While Joseph was seeking a place for the Child.
The children were nestled, each snug in their beds,
The grown-ups wouldn't bother, there's no room they said;
When even the innkeeper sent them away,
Joseph was wondering, where they would stay.
He thought of the caves in the side of the hills,
Lets go there said Mary, it's silent and still;
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Made pathways of light for their tired feet to go.
And there in a cave, in a cradle of hay,
Our Savior was born on that first Christmas Day!
The Father was watching in heaven above,
He sent for His angels, His couriers of love.
More rapid than eagles God's bright angels came;
Rejoicing and eager as each heard his name;
Come Power, Come Cherubs, Come Virtues, Come Raphael,
Come Thrones and Dominions, come Michael and Gabriel.
Now fly to the Earth, where My poor people live,
Announce the glad tiding My Son comes to give;
The Shepherds were watching their flocks on this night,
And saw in the heavens and unearthly light.
The Angels assured them, they'd nothing to fear,
It's Christmas they said, the Savior is here!
They hastened to find Him, and stood at the door,
Till Mary invited them in to adore.
He was swaddled in bands from His head to His feet,
Never did the Shepherds see a baby so sweet!
He spoke not a word, but the shepherds all knew,
He was telling them secrets and blessing them too.
Then softly they left Him, The Babe in the hay,
And rejoiced with great joy on that first Christmas Day;
Mary heard them exclaim as they walked up the hill,
Glory to God in the Highest, Peace to men of good will!

Come, let us walk in the dawning light of our God in our midst who constantly breaks through our conflicted history calling us toward and only to love, peace and justice.  The Word made Flesh in Jesus is a new call and a new beginning like no other call.  In these final days of Advent, we ask to renew this vision and our faith in Jesus who is the way, the truth and the light like it was renewed in the presence of Elizabeth and John for the very first time.

Where will you find yourself this week?
At work?
At school?
In a shopping mall?
In a traffic jam?
In an airport lounge or waiting for lost luggage at baggage claim?
At a neighborhood, church or office party?

Where ever you find yourself, Jesus will find you there just as He comes to visit Elizabeth and the leaping John the Baptist. How does this happen to us?  The same way if happened two thousand years ago…out of undeserved grace freely given. 

Put aside your anxieties and rejoice with great joy as we approach Christmas Day encounter.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Set Out in Haste

By Phil Russell
"Thus says The Lord: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth FOR ME one who is to be ruler in Israel... He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of The Lord...HE SHALL BE PEACE." Micah 5:1A,3-4A

"Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved." Psalm 80:4

When Christ came into the world, he said, “A body, you prepared for me...Then I said, ‘As it is written in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will.’” By this will, we have been consecrated through the BODY of JESUS CHRIST once for all. Hebrews 10:5C,7,10

Mary set out in haste and traveled to a town of Judah…and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice." Luke 1:39-41

The imagery and the STUDY here in this Fourth Sunday of Advent are so incredibly rich and enriching!

First off, I love word studies!!! So starting in Micah with "Bethlehem-Ephrarhah" which translates to “House of Bread-Fruitful.” WOW!   There alone is something powerful to ponder. Jesus, the Bread of Life and Fruitful, on his Heavenly Father's behalf.  Born in this place, in a Manger.  That word comes from the French, meaning: “to chew." 

Chew on that, or as Mary did, “Ponder.”  I sit in the richness of the meanings of these words, then the word Judah means, “Praise.” 

Chew on Jesus, Bread of Life, Fruitful to the PRAISE of His Father. This WILL spoken of in Hebrews, is Jesus laying down his life as SACRIFICE for me (for you).  WOW!  By this will I have been consecrated, through the offering of the BODY of JESUS CHRIST once for all. I have to declare: “AMEN!”

And all this to lead me to…

Like Mary, we are called to "SET OUT," "TRAVEL TO," "ENTER IN," "GREET," "BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT," "CRY OUT."  "Leap for JOY" and "be FULFILLED." Pondering the rich fare that we a presented in these rich, rich readings. "WOW!”

One last image that we are given by Luke, the Artist:  John, represents the Old Covenant face to face with Jesus, the New Covenant.  Incredible Image!

So in these final days before we celebrate the Incarnation of our Savior; what can we bring to him?


To our enemy -- forgiveness,
To our opponent -- tolerance,
To a friend -- our heart,
To a customer -- service,
To all people -- charity and MERCY (in this Year of)
To every child -- good example
To ourselves -- respect and
To God -- our Love!

So let's GO IN HASTE to the HOUSE OF BREAD, with our arms filled with these gifts, that we lay down at his feet.  In PRAISE!