Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflecting in Her Heart

By Diane Bayne

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (Gal 4:4)

“The angel Gabriel said to her, “Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:35)

“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[n] should come to me?”  (Luke 1: 41-43)

“And Mary said: “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 all ages will call me blessed.”  (Luke 1:46-48)

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”  (Luke 2:7)

“The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and 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 2:33-35)

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Mary certainly had a lot on which to reflect.  All of the world’s major religions emphasize the importance of taking the time to reflect on what is happening in your life.

Anthony de Mello, SJ, was famous for his emphasis on “Awareness”: “Come home to yourself. Observe yourself. That's why I said earlier that self-observation is such a delightful and extraordinary thing. After a while, you don't have to make any effort, because, as illusions begin to crumble, you begin to know things that cannot be described. It's called happiness. Everything changes and you become addicted to awareness.”  Anthony de Mello, SJ

Mary practiced awareness by reflecting on the events occurring in her life.  God is present in our world at all times and in all places.  We just need the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  We need awareness.  Without awareness of God’s presence in everything that was happening to her, Mary would not have been able to make sense of what was to come later.

As we begin a new year that promises to be filled with many challenges, take time each day to sit in the quiet and reflect on the events of your day.  Like Mary, look especially for those events which helped you be aware of God’s presence in your life.  Look for the patterns in your life that are helping you find joy and to bring joy to those around you.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Light Shines in the Darkness #PeaceOfChrist

(New Year’s Eve)

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. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number. But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.   1 John 2:19-20

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

Our lives are made of days and nights, of seasons and years,
for we are part of a universe of suns and moons and planets.
We mark ends and we make beginnings and, in all, we
praise God for the grace and mercy that fill our days.

Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.
You are our God, living and reigning, forever and ever.
(From USCCB website)

On this last day of the year, the Magisterium serves us up quite a combination to contemplate.  The “last hour” referenced in the First Letter of John is not written in anticipation of the Tiffany Ball dropping in Times Square. It refers instead to the time when we prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. 
We do this even though the much-anticipated commemoration of the First Coming was only seven days ago. We hardly have had a chance to contemplate the miracle of the Nativity with all the feast days of martyred saints following Christ’s Mass.

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

It is almost as if the Magisterium itself is waging a war on modern Christmas.  Is the message “Don’t get too happy and merry!” 

Writing in The Washington Post last week -- Christopher Hale quoted Pope Francis as saying “Christmas is a charade.”  At Mass in 2015, Pope Francis said: “Christmas is approaching: There will be lights, parties, lighted Christmas trees and manger scenes. … It’s all a charade.” Hale (and I) wonder why the pope would wage a proverbial (rhetorical) war on how modern society celebrates Christmas. Here is how Pope Francis explains it:

“The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path. There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” Francis said. “We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it. God weeps; Jesus weeps.”

The secular ways by which the holy birthday has come to be marked might be a charade.  However, the real meaning of Christianity is not in the bright lights and finely wrapped presents. The central meaning is found on our other high holy days -- Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The rejected, crucified and executed Jesus Christ is still somehow Lord of the entire earth.  Not the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes with three gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh, but the battered and bloody and bruised and pierced adult hanging from a cross by three huge nails. Christ’s mortal defeat by this inglorious death and triumph over it in the Easter Sunday Resurrection is the central tenant.  We need to enjoy but snap out of the carols and cookies and be reminded – quickly and harshly – that we must focus on Christ’s real presence in the world then, now and in the future.

The real meaning of that presence is learned and felt in our action -- reaching out to the excluded and downtrodden, and humbling ourselves before others like Jesus.  Like Mary.  Like John.  Like Stephen.

Hale writes:

Yet God didn’t send a military leader or a politician to save his people, but a child born to an unwed mother, who even fled violence as a refugee. This child did indeed bring liberation, but not just for the people of that time and place. He was to be a savior for all of humanity and for every age, destroying death forever and restoring life through the means of a shameful death upon the cross. No one would have expected the messiah to be born in poverty, obscurity and exclusion, far from the cultural and political centers of the world — but such is God’s logic.

At Christmas, Jesus came all the way down into the grittiness of human dysfunction — its violence, its disloyalty and its sinfulness — to bring everyone up. The very essence of the holiday calls us out of our comfort and into discomfort.

In Jesus’ birth and in his story, we can begin to understand Christmas for what it really is: God’s invitation to a revolution of tenderness.

Tonight, Christians do not focus on how chilled we should get the Bollinger’s.  As we ring out the old year and ring in the new, we can focus on the Pope’s annual message for the World Day of Peace (tomorrow). 

“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers”.  In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace”.

Stake your claim on social media to your status as an Artisan of Peace thanks to the Franciscan Action Network and Pax Christi.  Look for resources on @PaxChristiUSA web:

Print out the Artisans of Peace sign and pose with it.  Post that “selfie” as your profile picture to ring in the new year.

Here are some other suggested actions by Pax Christi that you can take for the 50th World Day of Peace.
  • Invite your pastor and church members to renew the Vow of Nonviolence.
  • Hold a holy hour for peace.
  • Organize an interfaith or ecumenical prayer service on peace.
  • Do something with those who have been victims of hate and violence
    in your community.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Being Like Joseph

By Colleen O’Sullivan

My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives.  Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins - a house raised in justice to you.  (Sirach 3:12-14)

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.  (Matthew 2:13-15)

Lord, help me to be like your servant Joseph, always looking out for the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

Once, on a retreat, we were each invited to draw the river of our life.  Where is your river's source?  Where is your river headed?  What / who are the tributaries flowing into your river?  Does your river flow smoothly or are there rocks and rapids at some points?  It was a thought-provoking exercise.  One day, I began to ponder the river of Jesus' life on earth.  I realized before long, that were I to draw that river, I would have clouds hanging over it from the moment the angels announced the birth of the Savior. 

Joseph, too, must have felt the clouds gathering and realized that the angels' announcement of glad tidings, the shepherds' adoration, and the magi's visits were all bringing a dangerous amount of attention to Mary's little babe.  The angel's message in his dream probably confirmed what this loving foster father already suspected:  He needed to move his family to keep the infant safe. 

Joseph willingly left his work, his extended family and friends to move to a safer place, although it meant becoming a refugee in a foreign country.  He did what he knew was right.  He followed the angel of the Lord's instructions. So many times in the Hebrew Bible, the prophets spoke of seeing to the needs of the poor, the lonely, the helpless.  And there is nothing as helpless as a newborn.

In terms of belief and behavior, Joseph is a model for us to follow.  He shows great care and respect for life.  He may not be Jesus' biological father, but he loved Mary and Jesus and he gave up everything to lead them to a safe refuge. 

Our first Scripture reading today is also about caring for the helpless, albeit it at the opposite end of the spectrum of human life.  Helpless babies are cute and naturally, draw admirers, but when we grow old and are physically and/or mentally helpless, we are not so revered by much of society.   We live in a throw-away world and, having cared for my father over the last few years of his life, I would have to say there are many who regard elderly people with failing health and dementia as trash they wish they could discard.

Just as God asked Joseph to care for his Son and to keep him from harm, God asks us to wrap the vulnerable of any age in our love and concern and compassionate care.  After all, Christmas is about God sending his Son into the world to save us from the helplessness of our sin and suffering.  Reach out and do something to help someone who can't take care of themselves this week.

Light and Mercy

By Beth DeCristofaro

This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:  whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked. … Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.   (1 John 2:5-6, 9-10)

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.  He came in the Spirit into the temple… (he 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 2:26-27, 29-32)

Lord, may I, your servant go in peace to assist in acknowledging and embody your Word fulfilled.  May I walk with Jesus, my Brother, in the light, reflecting your love not hate or division.  I ask for mercy, Lord and I ask that I might act mercifully in your light this day.

We tend to think of the Holy Spirit first entering the neighborhood of our world on Pentecost, filling the followers of Jesus with the fire of his love, truth, and courage to walk just as he walked.  But Simeon is a holy man, one of many men and women who preceded the coming of the Anointed One who, in the silence of their faith-seated hope heard the Spirit’s voice.

Simeon was blessed to hold the sacred infant in his arms.  Now, in our lifetime, we can be witnesses to the Spirit even more directly in the world than he was because that infant became the Risen Christ.  Jesus challenged us to walk his walk and provided the Spirit to fill us and guide us toward choices of light, not darkness.  No matter the gloom, cacophony, discord of the world we can be lights set on a lampstand revealing the Savior to the nations.

How is your lamp burning?  Does it need some scrubbing of its exterior to make it shine brighter?  And to allow you to see your neighbor right in front of you asking for love?  Ask the Spirit for guidance and, if necessary, nudges in the direction the Lord wants us to walk.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

She Would Not be Consoled

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 1:5-7

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. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.  (Matthew 2:16-18)

Awake from your slumber! Arise from your sleep!
A new day is dawning for all those who weep.
The people in darkness have seen a great light.
The Lord of our longing has conquered the night.

Refrain: Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing!
For the Lord, our light and our Love,
has turned the night into day!

The mere presence of Jesus on earth begins to bring forth hostility long before he preaches a single word.  Although God sent His son into the world, from the first breath of the baby in the Bethlehem, there were two visceral reactions.  First, there are people drawn to him.  Angels.  Shepherds.  Magi.  But, there also are people opposed to his very words, actions, and presence.  Herod.  Pharisees.  Scribes.  Judas.

In our first reading, the allegorical “Light” is to be understood here as truth and goodness; darkness here is error and depravity. The notes in the New American Bible remind us that “to walk in light or darkness is to live according to truth or error, not merely intellectual but moral as well. Fellowship with God and with one another consists in a life according to the truth as found in God and in Christ.”

Because the presence of Jesus commands us to come out of the darkness of our comfort zone, many are threatened by the promises of the Magnificat. 

Never was there a more corrupt depiction of a two-faced person saying they want to walk in the light while remaining connected to darkness than King Herod in today’s Gospel.  Herod reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. (and he is different from his successor Herod Antipas – the Tetrarch – who condemned John the Baptist and Jesus to death.)

At King Herod’s order, we learn of the first attempt to remove Jesus physically from the world.  While ultimately, we know that the physical separation will occur, the impossible task is to remove his light and spirit.  One might succeed for a little while, but eventually, the Son/sun will come out. The Light cannot be kept under a bushel. 

Followers of Jesus have an absolute duty to live in the light and resist the temptation to retreat back into darkness.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  (Ephesians 5:8-14)

Credit: Getty Images
(From Charity Navigator) The Syrians impacted by the ongoing, bloody civil war depend on humanitarian aid for food, clothing, and shelter. The highly-rated charities listed here are providing these services and more (such as medical assistance and schooling for children). Be sure to consider what it is that you want your donation to accomplish and to find a charity offering that specific type of aid. To do that, simply click on the charity’s name and view its rating page (where you can learn about its Financial Health, Accountability & Transparency). Once you are satisfied with its rating, then you can go to the charity’s website (we link to each charity’s site from its rating page) to learn more specifically about the type of assistance the charity is providing in relation to the Syrian crisis.  

You can help by supporting your choice of the three- and four-star charities listed on this page.   Give through your workplace campaign until it ends or directly throughout the year. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

So That Our Joy May Be Complete

By Giovanni Francesco Romanelli 
(Italy, Viterbo, circa 1610-1662) 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Melanie Rigney

(We) proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us—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)

Rejoice in the Lord, you just! (Psalm 97:12)

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. 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. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. (John 20:1A, 2-8)

Lord, help me to love my brothers and sisters.

They are perhaps some of the most human passages in the Gospels, the times that Peter and those sons of Zebedee are bumping up against each other. Clearly, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, there’s some tension and conflict there. Who will sit at the right hand? Who gets to the tomb first? Who does Jesus love best? That’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? It’s all right for Jesus to love Peter… as long as he loves John just a little more. It’s all right for Jesus to get along with John… as long as he gets along with Peter just a little bit better.

The tone changes after Pentecost, as we see in today’s first lectionary reading. Whether 1 John was written by the apostle himself or one of his followers, there’s a difference in worldview. No longer is there a desire to boast or compete. Rather, these are the words of an evangelist, a follower devoted to carrying the Word to the world rather than keeping it to himself. Joy is found only when the Love is shared.

And as we prepare for the changes 2017 will bring in our lives and our world, may we remember that message. May we strive for fellowship with all, and may our every word, thought, and action inspire others to have fellowship with the Lord. May we limit the bumping up against each other as much as humanly possible, and instead share Love.

Contact someone with whom you’ve found it difficult to have a conversation since November 8. Spend some time over dinner or coffee talking about your union in Christ. Leave earthly political discussions for another day.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Remain in Me

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.”  Acts 7:54-56

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

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing. John 15:5

God is with us. The Christmas promise is fulfilled. However, we are jolted the very next day by the martyrdom of St. Stephen. It is a stark reminder of how far society will go to silence the prophets among us who push us out of our comfort zone. 

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts-Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders-held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis. (Image Credit: NASA)
On Christmas Eve 1968, I remember being amazed at the Apollo VIII astronauts reading from Genesis during their flight to the moon.  The reading and the awesome image of “Earthrise” propelled many to get active in the environmental movement when they saw our blue marble, our common home, floating in the darkness.

Unfortunately, NASA was sued by some prominent atheists at the time upset over Bible passages being read on a space flight. So, the next time a NASA astronaut wanted to read from the Bible, the “suits” at ground control ask him to make it a private moment that got little immediate publicity.  Fearing another lawsuit, NASA asked Buzz Aldrin to turn off his radio during the following scene which I will quote directly from Aldrin’s essay in Guideposts.[i]  

For several weeks prior to the scheduled lift-off of Apollo 11 back in July 1969, the pastor of our church, Dean Woodruff, and I had been struggling to find the right symbol for the first lunar landing…"One of the principal symbols," Dean says, "is that God reveals Himself in the common elements of everyday life." Traditionally, these elements are bread and wine–common foods in Bible days and typical products of man’s labor.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (Image Credit: NASA)
After Neil Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon, no one witnessed the scene which proves again that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, God is there.  Here is more from Aldrin’s first person essay in Guideposts:

"Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way."

For me, this meant taking communion. In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine.

I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.

And so, just before I partook of the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ.

I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere.

I read: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me." John 15:5 (TEV)

Buzz Aldrin’s Presbyterian communion service and his group reunion with Neil Armstrong did not get the publicity of “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  However, this communion service was one small humble step for Christianity to be the first religion to be celebrated on another planetary object.

Despite the NASA lawyers keeping the microphone silent during the ceremony, hearing about it later does not minimize its impact or importance. 

When God sent his Son into the world on Christmas Day, the Lord fulfilled his covenant with us. He asks that we do our part no matter where our journey takes us.  He asks that we do our part in building a kingdom worthy for him to live – whether that kingdom is in our hearts or in our world…and maybe even in other worlds as we build one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

The “and” of that expression really hits home to me.  This is not one, holy, catholic or apostolic church.  It is all of the above.





How will you meld these four characteristics into the church you project to those around you?

[i] Guideposts Classics: Buzz Aldrin on Communion in Space by Buzz Aldrin

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Find a Child

By Jim Bayne

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:1)

Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord. (Lk 2:11)

The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age (Titus 2:11-12)

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  (Luke 2:12)

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
– Prayer of St. Francis
In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, John calls the people to Baptism and repentance.  He warns the people that the Messiah is coming and “He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11-12)

Wow!!  Sounds like the end times from Revelation (e.g. Rev 6:12-17).  Reminds me a bit of the song we learned in childhood: “You better watch out, you better not cry....” or the old Nat King Cole song: “Straighten up and fly right...”

We need to get our act together or we’re in trouble!!

But then John gets locked up and begins to hear stories about what Jesus is actually doing.  His actions don’t fit the scenario above.  So he sends out his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Mt 11:3)

And what does he hear back: Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on:
The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. Is this what you were expecting?  Then count yourselves most blessed!”
 (Mt 11:4-6 - The Message)

God in the form of Jesus is clearly on the side of the “wretched of the earth.”  Right from his birth, there was no room for him in the inn.  He then becomes a refugee in Egypt. 

He became one of the outcasts and the lowly of the earth.  He was truly one of us.  To almost any trial you can imagine, Jesus can say “been there, done that.” 

His public life was devoted to serving the people listed in the above quote from Matthew 11. Jesus is the ultimate example of unconditional love;  an unconditional love available to every man, woman, and child on this earth.  The only way we will experience “unquenchable fire” is by refusing to accept the unconditional love offered by God by refusing to follow Jesus’ example.  God gave each of us a free will.  We choose heaven or hell by how we use that free will.

Today we celebrate the birth of the “great light” that has shown in our darkness and modeled the behavior that will keep us standing in the light.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Jesus provided a model for us to follow.  Jesus is the “way-shower.”  In Matthew 25, he gives us some very specific things to do in order to reach heaven:  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ (Mt 25:35-36) Each time you do one of these things, you will experience a bit of the kingdom to come - heaven - in the here and now.

Many people will be reaching out to feed the hungry this weekend, but the hungry are there every weekend. If you can’t find a hungry person today, try again next week. The Lamb Center and SOME are always looking for people to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger.  VITAS can give you an opportunity to visit the sick and dying. My KAIROS team and the Arlington Diocese Jail Ministry are always in need of a few good folks to visit those in prison.      

Many people get very depressed at this time of year.  We can reach out to those we know who are depressed and bring the love of Jesus to heal their wounded spirits. Sometimes a hug and a smile can work wonders.  Have that relative you can’t get along with over for Christmas dinner.

On this very special day as well as every day of the year, when we make room in the Inn of our heart for the least of these, we make room for Him.


Guide Our Feet into the Way of Peace

“…when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom.  He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments.”  2 Samuel 12-14

“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

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The waiting is virtually over.  One more day remains for us, like David, to contemplate where the Lord will dwell in our time.  One more day remains for our soul in stillness to wait.  Then, we expect that the Savior promised throughout this season and in today’s scriptures will fulfill the promise. 

The Latin root is advenire, from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come’ and adventus meaning arrival.  The arrival will deliver us from the darkness of our worst instincts. The arrival will deliver us from the shadows to guide our feet on the path to peace. Despite the worst mankind has to offer – bombing Christmas markets, genocide in Aleppo, nuclear saber rattling, and more -- Christ continues to promise to come into this harsh world and make it better.

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.  (Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable)

When this day is complete, as night descends, the promises alluded to in today’s readings will come to fruition.  No longer will we be tempted or even asked to build a temple for the Lord like David in today’s readings or Peter during the Transfiguration.  Rather, the Lord will come to us -- to dwell in us.  The Lord promises to make us his temple. Then, we will be asked to live a life worthy of the visitor residing within us.

We will not go alone.  On this final day of Advent, let us pray for a modern-day John the Baptizer to guide our feet into the way of peace – a way that we might not find on our own.

Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
guide my feet while I run this race,
for I don't want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)

Hold my hand while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
hold my hand while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
hold my hand while I run this race,
for I don't want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Waiting in Joyful Hope

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.  (Malachi 3:1)

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.  When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No.  He will be called John.”  But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”  So they made signs asking his father what he wished him to be called.  He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.  Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. (Luke 1:57-64)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Birth of John the Baptist; from the High
Altar of St Kilian and John the Baptist in
Schl├╝sselfeld (Steigerwald); Bamberg, c. 1475
Public Domain
As I was reading and pondering today’s Scripture passages, the name of a book I read in the 70’s popped into my head – Your God is Too Small.1  It’s not that I was thinking God is by any means too small, but perhaps our expectations of what God can do are.

In the verses from the Book of the prophet Malachi, God says a messenger will come to prepare the way for God.  In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist is born, come to prepare the way for Jesus, the Lord.  Who knows what people expected or if they even remembered God’s words about sending a messenger.  But they certainly didn’t react very well to the adult Baptist’s preaching or lifestyle.  Rather than helping to prepare the way of the Lord, the people said John was possessed by demons.  Here God was, doing a great thing, and that’s all the crowds could make of it.

For many years Zechariah and Elizabeth longed for a child, but when the angel tells Zechariah earlier in the chapter that their prayers will be answered, he is filled more with doubt than joyful expectation.  Is God really up to the task of seeing them through this late-in-life pregnancy?  God is evidently disappointed when we don’t believe God can fulfill our deepest desires, because Zechariah’s lack of faith results in his being unable to speak until John is born and named according to God’s choice, despite the protests of family and friends.

All of Advent is about joyfully preparing for the coming of the Lord, whether celebrating Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, acknowledging Jesus coming into our hearts each and every day, or Jesus’ return as King in glory at the end of time.  As we approach Christmas, we remember how small in comparison to reality were the people’s expectations for their Messiah.  They wanted someone who would make Israel a powerful political entity, a nation who could defeat her enemies and be a player on the world stage.  They rejected the much greater gifts bestowed by God through Jesus – compassion, mercy, healing, forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life with God.

As you spend the final two days of Advent preparing the way of the Lord, take a few minutes to recollect the times you have asked God for something and received gifts far exceeding your hopes and expectations.  That is the way of the generous and bountiful God to whom we open our hearts in joyful hope. 

1 J.B. Philips, Your God is Too Small, Macmillan, 1971

Proclaim the Lord, O My Soul

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Hannah 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 …”  (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)

My Heart exults in the Lord my Savior” (1 Samuel 2:1)
Windsock Visitation,
Bro. Michael (Mickey) McGrath, OSFS

A dear friend of mine, Caroline, was one of those people who just seemed to exude gratefulness.  She could make lemonade out of bad newspaper headlines and she drew people to her as flies to honey because we all loved to be around her.  She had an infectious laugh and a confidence that everything would be alright in due time.  It made her a marvelous, inspiring teacher of boys in Juvenile Detention. 

St Francis of Assisi is frequently misquoted as saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”  Actually, his Monastic Rule instructed: “…All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.”[i]  And often quoted is Meister Eckhart’s “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”[ii]

Mary and Hannah both gave thanks and praised with word and deed.  How their lives changed by God’s gracious blessing bestowed on them.  Their action changed the world for all humanity.  Hannah and Mary both gave their sons to God from the bottom of gracious, faithful hearts.  Mary’s words become universal for we have all been given great things by God’s salvific presence, born in a stable.

Reflect on how my actions and decisions throughout my day will proclaim the Gospel and the impact they might have today, tomorrow, for the generations who will never know my name.