Dec 8, 2016

"Hail Full of Grace! The Lord is with you"

The Immaculate Conception

Luke 1: 26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled by what he said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
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 the Son of the Most High
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold Elizabeth, your relative
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.


And then I've personally imagined the rest:

And when the angel returned to God the Father
God asked him:
"What did she say?"
The angel said, "She said Yes!"
And the Father smiled.

The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary though formally defined as an Infallible teaching of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1854 was a belief of the Church for centuries before. We see it implicit in the Gospel from today above as the angel states Mary's condition before he calls her name: "Full of Grace."  Mary experiences what we ourselves can only wait to experience after our own death and at the time of the resurrection of the dead.  To live totally and completely in a state of pure grace, redeemed from all stain and tendency towards sin by the redemption accomplished by her son and the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.  

Mary's condition is a future hope for us but she remains for us a powerful example and a significant intercessor before God. Conceived and born the natural human way, she is one of us, singularly chosen by God to bear his own Son who had taken on human nature, born from a human mother.  The perfect Mother for the perfect Child; the new Eve and the new Adam.  

God offers us the grace we need to set out on the road towards holiness.  In the end, Mary is our example of following the will of God; to do what he asks of us, which will be far less than what he asked of Mary but the point is the same.  "Let it be done to me as you will."  

In your married or single life we are all called to the same - to carry out his will for us.  In my ordained ministry and for any vowed religious man or woman, we too must particularly do what he has asked of us. Yet, how do we know we are on track?  

To live by the Gospel, by his Commandments, to do good and avoid evil, to sacrifice for others, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and to always seek what we know is right and good.  That is his will for us, it seems. To pray regularly and simply to ask him.  

Hail, Mary full of grace - pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Dec 6, 2016

An American poem:


A Visit from St. Nicholas
(Clement Clark Moore, 1822)

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
the stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
the children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
and mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter,
away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the luster of mid-day to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer, 
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! Now Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! 
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
whey they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas too.
And then, twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, 
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! 
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
and the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, 
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly, 
that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. 
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, 
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all  a good-night!"

Dec 3, 2016

Advent: 2nd Sunday: "Prepare His way!"

"A voice of one crying out in the desert."

Is 11: 1-10
Rm 15: 4-9
Mt 3: 1-12

“Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” or so said the town crier as he strolled down the street and rang his bell calling all to attention. For those who could read a public announcement was posted at some central location and all would eagerly gather to read the latest news of importance. Maybe it was an edict from the King or Martin Luther’s famed objections to the Catholic Church nailed to a Cathedral door.  Or closer to our own time the days when newspaper headlines were displayed on newsstands or in public windows to announce some late-breaking news.  Today, it’s just a turn of the television, the read of a text on your cell phone, or a browse on the endless internet websites to be informed.  However we hear what is of importance we always have a reaction that calls us to action.

In the time of Jesus, it was primarily the spoken word, oral tradition that passed on the latest information. Because the literacy rate was so low people were eager to hear. The Gospel writers were accurate conveyors of the oral tradition passed on to them by the Apostles and the early Christian communities as they developed a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and cemented those memories in writing.  

So, on this Second Sunday of our Advent journey we hear “a voice crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord . . .” John the Baptist (the dipper)  preaches along the Jordan River, crying out to various groups of people such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, gathered along the river shore. 

His reputation, despite his unconventional and strange appearance in camel’s hair and his yummy food choice of grasshoppers and honey, was deeply charismatic.  In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, his message cuts to the truth: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  His warning to the Jewish elite makes one squirm.  He labels them a: brood of vipers (children of snakes!) who presumed to be above reproach due to their birth right as children of Abraham.

Obviously, John was far from politically correct and used these images of a “coming wrath” and the tree that does not bear good fruit “will be cut down and thrown into the fire” not to frighten people as much as to wake them up!  We may become settled and enamored by our complacency and a false sense of security and self-righteousness, that God slaps us on the cheek for our own good.  John knew his time was limited and he had a sense of some great person about to appear and he had a mission and a message to deliver. God is at work and we had better be ready or loose the whole point of his coming.

So, in the wilderness John preached.  And it may still be true today.  The wilderness of our day may not be a geographical location but more a pervasive attitude of indifference towards God.  One commentator once said that the danger today is not so much hostility towards religion, although we know how real that may be in some part, as it is simply indifference and the fact that many live as if there is no God, rarely if ever bringing the truth of his presence to mind or heart.  The casual attitude towards sin and evil today should be enough to wake us up and consider the ultimate consequences of a life detached from our Creator. 

The crisis of faith today has created a spiritual desert and I am often taken aback at such gatherings as funerals, baptisms, and weddings when it is evident that extended family members and friends who attend are either uncomfortable with religious ritual and its purpose or simply somewhat clueless as to how to pray or what to say even something as fundamental to Christianity as the Lord’s prayer. And that just reveals the deeper reality out there in the spiritual desert for many.  The parched land needs to hear the good news indeed.

Our first reading from Isaiah the prophet, about 600 years before the coming of Christ, speaks to such spiritual emptiness with a word of hope. “On that day, a short shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”  What may seem small and nearly lifeless will, through the intercession of God, bring about greatness.  This savior will be verified by the nations, peace will prevail, natural enemies will reconcile and even the Gentiles will come to acknowledge this “signal” for the nations.  It is, then, John the Baptist, who appeals to our deepest hunger for wholeness and peace, to prepare the way for that person who is imminent. 

He is the one who will bring baptism in “the Holy Spirit and in fire” and bring about mighty change in the history of humankind.  Not by means of violence and fear but by the power of God’s mercy, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.  In order that we too might be ready to receive him, we must identify what may be keeping us from making his path straight for we can be an integral part of personal conversion and repentance.

Change in our lives as individuals, which comes about only through embracing the person of Jesus, and change in the whole of society is a more challenging event indeed. Still, we need such perspective in our busy, often distracted lives. So, we begin with ourselves. 

It brings us to the heart of the matter.  That this is no ordinary child whose birth we prepare for each year.  It is a graced time as we journey through Advent to basically get our spiritual and moral lives in order so that we may welcome the Christ born for us.

We welcome him in the Holy Eucharist, in the power of his sacred Word, in the faith we share, in the mercy he extends to us despite the sin we find in ourselves, in the many opportunities that come our way to serve selflessly in his name. Pope Benedict XVI once said that our Catholic tradition is not so much street corner evangelization or house to house visiting but rather to create a community of attraction that those who visit find the Church attractive enough to take a look, to come home, to bring about a change of heart and life. But, we must begin with ourselves first and find the desert in our own lives that needs to hear that voice.  

Prepare your way for the Lord!

Almighty and merciful God, 
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son, 
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company. 
Who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Opening Prayer for Sunday Mass)

Nov 26, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent - Are you ready?

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares . . ." 

Is 2: 1-5
Rm 13: 11-14
Mt 24: 37-44

The Word for Sunday:

"For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
. . . we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope . . ."

(From Preface I for Advent)

Always at this time of year just after our national day of Thanksgiving and the famed “Black Friday” retail rush towards Christmas we find ourselves confronted with the Advent season which seems to put a damper on the growing Christmas spirit. Colored lights are shining, Christmas carols are heard over car radios and in stores, trees are decorated in public places, people are sending electronic Christmas e-cards over the internet or still doing it the old fashioned way by actually buying Christmas cards and writing in them and lines are noticeably  longer outside the post offices. The annual month long season of Christmas is upon us.  

But in our Churches we see the more subdued color of purple and a wreath with four candles that is only lit gradually over four weeks.  No nativity scenes yet and the signs of Christmas “out there” are yet to appear in all their beauty in our worship space.  To make matters even more challenging our Sunday scripture readings take on a more “not yet” theme.  If we listen carefully we hear a tone of longing and waiting rather than “here it is” celebrating.  So, we find a tension between our faith and the secular world.  It’s Advent in our Christian faith but do we simply leave that at Church and get on with everything else that is Christmas when the Mass is over? If we do, we haven’t yet captured this time. Advent provides us that reminder and opportunity to spiritually prepare for the coming of Christ. 

With the beginning of this new liturgical year, we have another opportunity for personal change. The mystery of God made human, the Incarnation, is truly an astounding belief. To say Jesus is our Savior is to look back thousands of years to a time when the ancient Jewish people heard the words of Isaiah in this Sunday’s first reading: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain . . . all nations shall stream toward it .  .”

In rich imagery Isaiah, the prophet of the Messiah, hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus, offers a divine promise that God will set all things right; that a broken world will be healed, that, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise their sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” God will intervene and bring about a profound change in human history or so it sounds.

But, we wonder if and when that time will be because the world around us has not yet become that “highest mountain” of light. For the ancient Jews they held on that God will eventually flesh out his promise. Now, four weeks before Christmas 2016 Advent once again reminds us both to get ready and to reflect on what has happened but also to hope for what hasn’t yet – for that same Christ to come again.

So, the Gospel from Matthew this Sunday is rich with “be prepared” images.  We hear of Noah, aware of God's warning yet those around him who were simply complacent and imagined a never ending life of satisfaction and pleasure.  While Noah was tuned in to the signs of his time, the voice of God in their midst,  the general population was asleep.  Jesus states, “Therefore, stay awake!”  Be ready and watchful for the coming of the “Son of Man.”  

What God has done to humankind when he sent his Son, our Savior, has offered us the power to make the image of Isaiah a reality. As Isaiah speaks today of a city where “the Lord’s house” is established as the “highest mountain.”  Jesus referred to his followers as a city on a hill where “your light” should shine for all to see.  He called himself the “light of the world” and that we should not hide our light “under a bushel basket” but the good works we do in his name become an inspiration to others and that by doing so we draw others to that mountain.  

He said that we must “forgive our enemies” and be“peacemakers.”  Isaiah speaks of a time of peace and reconciliation between waring forces that will lay down their arms for the cause of peace and will “walk in the light of the Lord.”  Jesus told his followers to find non-violent ways to respond to violence rather than add fuel to the fires of hatred, division and fear. To imagine such a transformation in human history is to realize that we alone do not have that power so we invite God to work in and through us.  The point of all this is that God is constantly at work in our midst and that in Christ Jesus he has visited his people and invited us to a new way of life. Therefore, the warning against indifference and laziness in the Gospel is forever timely.  

So, this time we have called Advent is the moment to wake up and reflect on the mission Jesus has given to all of us and to slow down a bit rather than be frenetic about all the stuff of Christmas. To be missionary disciples in the world is our invitation so when he comes among us again we are ready to welcome him.

While we transform our homes we can shine the light of good works to bring joy, the ornaments of prayer should be hung on our days this December and the tinsel of patience can shimmer as we slow down a bit and take time to reflect on who has fulfilled the hope of Isaiah and how we can play a role in making that seen in our world. 

Christ is among us in our celebration of the Eucharist.  Grab this season of longing and hope. May we transform ourselves in his light so that the coming celebration of God’s personal intervention in human history will be different than last year. 

"Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day . . ."

(From the Second Reading: Rm 13: 11-14)