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Posted by on Apr 5, 2014

“No Prophet Arises From Galilee”

“No Prophet Arises From Galilee”

“No prophet arises from Galilee.” This statement from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 7:53) reflects an attitude that is all too common even today. It arose in the context of the growing controversy over the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Some were saying he might be the long-awaited Christ. Others remembered that the Christ was to be of the family of David and so should come from Bethlehem. Even among the religious leaders, there were differences of opinion about Jesus and whether he could possibly be the One. Finally the matter was closed with the observation that all of the predictions of his coming said that the Prophet was not to come from Galilee.

The finality of this statement struck me today as I listened to the Gospel. In the context of their traditions and their centuries of reflecting on those traditions and prophecies, the Jewish people and their religious leaders had developed a very specific expectation of how God would fulfill the promises made through Abraham and the prophets. The Messiah was to come from the line of David. David’s city was Bethlehem. No one raised and educated in the Galilee could possibly be the Christ.

Yet Jesus was from Nazareth, a small Galilean town. And he came teaching with authority. He didn’t say, “Scripture says …” and simply quote the Law or the prophets. He said, “You have heard it said … but I say …” He taught with authority and what he taught did not necessarily conform to the established understandings of the Law. Sometimes his teachings clarified that the Law is a guideline but that respect and care for humans and their needs comes before literal obedience to a law. Sometimes his teachings went beyond the demands of the Law and called for a much higher level of love, mercy and care that are more like the way God deals with us. Sometimes he reminded his listeners that not the smallest aspect of the Law was to be ignored, but rather that he had come to fulfill the Law.

Who Jesus was and is, the source of his authority, his mission as savior, God’s vindication of his teachings and life in the Resurrection, and how we are to carry on that mission today are all important things to consider. But those concerns were not what struck me. The question that struck me today is, How often do I/we make judgements about people and what their role in life could possibly be? When we assume that a person who comes from an economically poor area cannot speak words of truth to us, then maybe we are missing Christ speaking to us. When we decide that a family member or friend has always acted in a particular way and will never do otherwise, what kind of chains are we putting on the person? How are we trying to limit what God is doing in a brother or to trying to do through a sister to reach us?

Incarnation includes the fullness of humanity

With the Incarnation, God became fully human. Jesus is fully divine and fully human. In his humanity, he is the most perfect human who ever lived. His divinity supported his humanity. It did not in any way blot out or diminish his humanity. But that humanity is one he also shares with each of us. Being human is not a bad thing. Humans have amazing potential to become ever more perfectly human, just as Jesus was human. God wants to bring us as humans to a closer relationship and intimacy within God’s own life as Trinity. When we put up a hand to dismiss someone or stop someone from following the divine call to become ever-more immersed into the Trinity and the out-flowing of love that such immersion brings to the world, we may be putting up a hand to try to stop God’s action in our lives and our world. What a tragedy that would be!

In the remaining couple of weeks before Easter, let us pray that we will not join those honest men of so long ago in trying to stop or limit God’s initiatives because they don’t fit the model we envision of how and through whom God will work today. Let us take great care not to declare, “No prophet (teacher, mystic, messenger. leader) arises from …”

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2014

Candlemas: Light Candles to Celebrate the Light of the World

Candlemas: Light Candles to Celebrate the Light of the World

On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas, we remember that Joseph and Mary took their firstborn son to the temple to present him to God, according to the traditions of their faith. An old man and an old woman met them at the temple. Each recognized the baby (only forty days old) as the One who had been promised from of old.

The man, Simeon, who had come “in the Spirit” to the temple, took Jesus in his arms and gave thanks to God, saying, “Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The old woman, Anna, was a prophetess who lived in the temple. Her words are not recorded, only that she gave thanks to God and spoke to all she met of the child she had seen.

In this feast we see a continuation of a theme begun in Advent and celebrated through the Christmas season. “A light shines in the darkness.” (Jn 1:5) “A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is 9:1) “Rise up, Jerusalem, and shine forth” (Is 60:1) “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands.” (Ps 110:1b) “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:2) “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) We hear these strains again and again in the first months of our liturgical year, calling to us to listen and understand what has come to pass.

The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to see the coming of the Promised One among us, just as was the case with Simeon, Anna, the Magi, and John the Baptist. When our eyes have been opened, we see the light shining through and overcoming the darkness. It is a light for all peoples; no more “us vs. them”, no more exclusion of anyone simply because he or she is different or a stranger. The Spirit fills Jesus and leads him into his public life. The Spirit fills Simeon and leads him to the temple. The Spirit leads the Magi to notice the star and set out on a journey to find the child it heralds. The same Spirit calls us too. We are to be lights for our world. We receive a candle at our Baptism and we are told to keep it shining brightly until the day the Lord comes for us.

And so we take candles and light them again, as we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World and the presence of the Spirit among us, helping us to recognize His coming.

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2013

O Emmanuel – Come and Save Us

December 23 — O Emmanuel

“Our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

Where are you?
Can’t you come any faster?
Do you not see the innocent slaughtered?
Do you not see the hungry starved?

When will you come O God With Us?
Where will your forces land?
Where will you hold the war crimes trials?
When will you take the greedy who took our food and hope?

O God of Justice
When will we get our justice?
Surely you will come as our Warrior
And make them pay.

How can a child give us
Our revenge?
How can a maiden
Shake off our oppressors?

What good is it
To share our lives and our suffering?
Our drive-by crimes of casual slaughter
Our hopes dashed by greed and addiction

O Come God With Us
And soften our hearts
To know you have chosen to be one of us
To know our victory is in compassion

O Child of Grace and Comfort
O Child of Pain and Division
Show us the Star that leads beyond Calvary
and Lead us into peace.

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2013

The Week before Christmas – A Time for Stillness

Please join us in the joyful anticipation of Christmas during this time of stillness and waiting that is Advent. We remind ourselves that the celebration of Christmas begins on the Eve of the Nativity, the 24th. There are two weeks to celebrate this great feast of God with us. Leave the hustle and bustle and share the gift of peace with your loved ones.

The O Antiphons which are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers set the tone for each day of this special week.

December 17 – O Sapientia

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

 


 

What wisdom is this folly?

That God should come to share our death?

What Word of God, the Fullest Godself Expression on High

That governs all, would come for us in such lowliness?

O Wisdom? O Foolishness of Divine Love,

You seek us out, O Wisdom from on high.

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Posted by on Dec 15, 2013

Rejoice and See God Present

Rejoice and See God Present

Joy

The prayers for the liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) begin with a command: Rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” (Phil 4:4) In the prayers and readings we are reminded again and again to be joyful people because our God has come to save the people. And not just the people; Isaiah tells us, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” (Is 1:1-2)

What is the reason for all of this rejoicing? Is it because Christmas is near? Is it that the end of the world is near and God’s justice will burn away all evil? Is it that God will reward good people with abundant gifts of money and material security, while punishing sinners by leaving them poor? Is it that Christian believers will succeed in getting Nativity scenes displayed in more public places? Is it that Christmas shopping is almost over and life can return to a more normal pace?

All of these notions have been expressed at various points through the years, but none of them is the real reason for our rejoicing on this day. The apostle continues his instruction to the Philippians, “Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Phil 4:5)

Isaiah declares:

“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.” (Is 35:3-6)

We rejoice because the Lord cares about us — about each one of us: the rich, the poor, the handsome, the ugly, the smooth talkers and those who struggle to communicate, the wise and the foolish, the clever and those who understand more slowly. We find the Lord present especially among those most often overlooked by the wise and powerful. He came to us and continues to come to us from among ordinary people.

What does he do when he comes? John the Baptist, alone in his prison cell, wanted to know if his cousin truly was the One whose coming he had been sent to announce. Jesus answered the question posed on John’s behalf by his disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Mt 11:4-5)

As promised so long before Jesus’ birth, God comes to protect the poor and weak. Jesus proclaims the good news to all of the people, beginning with those at the bottom and continuing to the very top rungs of social and political power. God cares about all of us. No one is too small or insignificant in God’s eyes.

As we recognize the wonder of God’s coming into human history and live out our own calling to share in the proclamation of good news and God’s care for the poor, we rejoice. “The Lord is near.”

 

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2013

“Life, the Universe and Everything”: The Ultimate Question and Jesus the Christ

“Life, the Universe and Everything”: The Ultimate Question and Jesus the Christ

Christ the King - From Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral

Christ the King

What is the most fundamental question in my life? For what personal “ultimate concern” does the statement “Jesus is the Christ” provide the answer? Is this concern peculiar to me or can it be generalized to others? Do we ask this question about Christ differently today than people have asked it in the past because of any elements of our present situation?

These questions, asked as part of a class in Christology, bring to mind a novel by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In one part of the story, Adams tells of an ancient people who decide to create a computer that will give them the answer to the question of “life, the universe and everything.” The computer, known as Deep Thought, takes millions of years to ponder the question, finally coming up with the answer: forty-two.  When challenged by descendants of the people who had commissioned the work to explain why the answer was simply a number, Deep Thought explains that the problem is that perhaps they don’t really know what the question is.

“Jesus is the Christ”

In order to identify an ultimate concern for which this statement would be the best answer, the first question that must be addressed is what is meant by “the Christ.” As in Deep Thought’s response, to a very real degree, the meaning of “the Christ” depends on what concern is being addressed.  Literally and historically, the term “Christ” refers to the one who is anointed with oil: a ruler, an athlete, or a messiah/savior.  The anointing sets the individual aside for a special role.  Yet today, in industrialized societies, this meaning is generally not understood. “Christ” is all too often used as if it were the surname of Jesus rather than the title that explains who he is for us. The simple notion that the Christ will come and restore an earthly monarchy or re-establish a people in a powerful and independent homeland is not particularly relevant to most of us today. The notion that the Christ will come at the end of time to punish sinners and reward the good offers only slight consolation to those who are suffering from today’s injustice. While this vision may seem to fit with the story of the Last Judgment – Jesus was very clear in teaching that the criterion for admittance to the presence of the Father was having cared for the least of his brothers and sisters – the implication remains that something more than simply waiting for the end of time and space is at stake here. Even the notion of “savior from our sins” does not move many contemporary hearts – hearts that demand to know how a god who is supposed to be a loving parent could demand the bloody sacrifice of an innocent victim to make up for the sins of others.

“Where have you been, Lord?”

The question of ultimate concern in my life that is answered by the question, “Jesus is the Christ,” is this one: “Where have you been, Lord?” Coming from a Catholic family, nurtured in faith in the traditions of that family, and having experienced the presence of God in my life from a very early age, I still found myself asking God that question with great sadness and not a little anger one night following the loss of a long-desired pregnancy.

The response came immediately. My mind was flooded with images of the care-givers who had been so kind to me as they told me of the baby’s death; the woman at the local family planning clinic who made the appointment for me to have a D&C; the nurses and doctors at Kaiser who ended up performing the D&C when I began bleeding a few days before my clinic appointment; the nurse who reassured me that losing this child did not mean we would never have another because she too had miscarried but later had a successful pregnancy; my mother who sent flowers (she rarely ever does that); the babysitter who stayed with us and helped take down the Christmas tree that first awful day when I knew I was carrying a dead child; the friends who remained after our son’s birthday party so we wouldn’t be alone with our pain; another  child’s teacher (a young widow) who dropped by one afternoon to share a cup of tea and be with me; the husband who held my hand through it all and matter-of-factly cleaned up the blood that splashed on the floor when I stood up to dress to go home from the hospital; the friends who had cared for our children after school; and so many others who had cried with me and supported me in that first week. I understood then where the Lord had been. He had been with me in all of those people – his Body here and now. It was not any easier to have lost that child, but I knew I was not alone. And perhaps more importantly, I knew that God cries with us in such moments and wants nothing more than to hold us close, as a parent holds and comforts an injured child.

How does this relate to Jesus as the Christ?

Through the incarnation, God became truly one of us. As a result of the incarnation, Jesus is the most human of all human beings who have ever lived or will ever live. Jesus’ life is the most authentically human life ever lived. Because God entered totally into human existence and experience through the life of Jesus, our human experiences have become part of God’s being in a very real way. God did not demand that we suffer or that Jesus suffer in order to bring us back to the unity of love overflowing from which all of creation sprang in the first instant of creation. Suffering can bring us to the point of noticing that we do not really control much in our lives and that we need to be part of a greater reality, but in and of itself, suffering is not what God wants for us. Sometimes suffering comes as a result of our own choices, but often it comes because of forces outside our control. Sometimes suffering even comes because we choose to remain authentic to who we are and what we are called to bring to the world. In the case of Jesus and many other good men and women through the ages, that choice resulted in death – a death that was/is the entry into eternity and a different degree of life. Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, is the Christ, the one “anointed” or called and set aside by God to open our eyes to this wondrous reality of a God who is Love and who cannot be anything other than Love. In this, he is our savior from the more common notion of a deity that is angry, vengeful, rejoicing in the misfortune of its subjects, and eager to punish them severely. His coming, and the sharing of his experience, is truly good news for the world. He is the one through whom Love enters directly into our lives, including the times of pain and suffering. He is the one who reaches out through each of us to ease the pain and suffering of others. He is the one who turns tears into dancing as healing comes to battered hearts at his touch.

Does our present situation change how we ask this ultimate question?

To the extent that we are more aware of the suffering of people around us and around the world, we may find ourselves asking this ultimate question more frequently than did people of past ages or people in non-industrialized communities. Why do children get killed at school by a person who should never have had access to guns? Why do people get blown up by suicide bombers? Why do humans so quickly resort to wars, both with physical weapons and with words and actions in our homes and workplaces? Why do bad things happen to good people? Shouldn’t becoming a Christian mean that everything should be fine and dandy from here on out? How can good Christian people lose their homes and savings and livelihoods as a result of bad decisions by investment bankers or real estate speculators?

Our access to news and information on a 24/7 basis is a blessing and a curse. We hear far too much of the suffering humans inflict on each other, whether directly or indirectly. We also hear too much about the suffering that results from natural disasters. The simple formula that promises happiness once they have died to those who suffer (“Life is hard and then you die”) rings hollow. We become numb to the suffering of those in other lands or those whose experience of life and faith even in our own nation is different than ours. We still cry out in sadness, anger, fear: Where have you been, Lord? How can a loving God let such things happen?

Into this reality, Jesus continues to come as the Christ, the anointed one. Jesus is the one who understands the pain of human life from the inside. Through the incarnation, through Jesus’ life, God too understands the pain of human life, as well as the joys and wonders of it. In Jesus, God reaches out and touches each of us and all of creation in a new, deeply intimate way. The everlasting, ever-living, all-powerful One can touch and raise up the created ones to share in the divine life of Love, to become fully human. The light of Love shines in the darkness, a darkness that cannot overcome it. So for this age and the ages to come, “Jesus is the Christ” still answers the ultimate question(s) of human existence.

 Image from Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral

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Posted by on May 26, 2013

A Fundamental Mystery of Our Faith: The Trinity

A Fundamental Mystery of Our Faith: The Trinity

orion nebula space galaxy

The first Sunday after Easter (the whole season) is Trinity Sunday. We celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter for fifty days, beginning with Easter Sunday and finishing with Pentecost. Before we move ahead with the counted Sundays known as Ordinary Time, we pause to celebrate the mystery of the interior life of God, the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

With our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, we Christians believe in one God. However, as Christians, we believe that God is a very complex Unity. We speak of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three persons yet still one in being. Efforts to explain this reality in any sort of logical fashion always fall short. God is so much more than we can conceive. Nevertheless, through the centuries, Christians have offered many models and analogies to help each other appreciate the wonder of our God’s life — a life which we are gifted to share. Some early models speak of the Trinity as a dance. Some speak of a God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Some speak of the Father as knowing “himself” so totally that the divine self-knowledge becomes the Son, with the Father and Son so accepting of their relationship of knowing and being what is known that that acceptance itself becomes the Holy Spirit. We are told that God is Love, with the Holy Spirit then being the Holy Spirit of Love. Add in the notion — a fundamental belief of the Church — that God became a fully human being in Jesus and we have even more to ponder. How can the Divine One become human? What is it to be human and divine? How does divinity make a human even more fully human? How can it happen that through the life and death of the man Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, God pours out God’s own life into the lives of all humans?

Fr. Ron Shirley suggests that our efforts to understand the Trinity are much like those of the proverbial blind men who try to describe an elephant based on feeling only one aspect of the animal. Each of us has a unique experience of God and brings that experience to the community to share. God is bigger than any one of us can comprehend and none of us can put God into a box and tie it up with a ribbon of satisfied comprehension. God will always burst out from our boxes and surprise us with another facet of the reality of what it is to be God.

For a scholarly consideration of the Trinity, the history of development of our understandings of the Trinity, and the importance of understanding God as a community of being inviting us to enter into the Divine community, Catherine LaCugna’s work, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life is well worth reading. For a thought-provoking exploration of the Trinity in the life of individuals today, William P. Young’s novel, The Shack, offers a compelling vision of the Trinity and the divine perspective on human life, death, suffering, and forgiveness. C.S. Lewis’ novels of Narnia offer yet another vision of the relationship between God and all of creation, including the insight that the divine is not tame. Jose Antonio Pagola’s work, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, offers an engaging look at Jesus’ life in the context of his culture and religious tradition, with the contemporary scholar’s eye distinguishing among factors such as known historical facts, the probability of accuracy in quoting Jesus’ words, and the theological reflections that combined to form the Gospels as we know them today.

Regardless of how we try to explain the interior life of God, we are continually invited to enter into that life. May we have the courage to step forward and let ourselves be drawn into the wild dance of Love.

Orion Nebula – Space Galaxay – NASA image

 

 

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Posted by on Dec 20, 2012

Las Posadas: Food, Fiesta and Community

Singing echoes through the softly lit streets of the towns, cities, and neighborhoods of Mexico as residents prepare for Christmas, through the para-liturgical tradition of Las Posadas. Processions of townspeople, led by a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph, wind their way through the streets, going from home to home asking for “posada” (shelter). Finally, the procession is welcomed into a home, and the people pray together as the “fiesta” commences.

Las Posadas is a Mexican Catholic Advent tradition that marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Taking place from the 16th-24th of December every year, Las Posadas is a nine day community celebration in preparation for the birthday of Christ; a novena that is a mix of religious devotion and relaxation. Ultimately, Las Posadas is about accepting Christ, the Bread of Life, into one’s home and heart. It functions as an extension of the Eucharist, catalyzed by the fiesta culture. Food, both physical and spiritual, is an important element of the fiesta, because it is nearly impossible to have a Christian festival without food.

Las Posadas is a fiesta; a religious fiesta in the sense that it provides sacred time and space to show a sacred event.  The fiestas of Las Posadas reenact Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, a journey that is considered sacred because it directly led to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Also, the fiestas gather the community in a ritual that parallels the structure of a Mass, emphasizing two more sacred elements of Las Posadas: the community and the Eucharist.

Evangelization in a New World

Las Posadas began in 1578 in Mexico in the village of San Agustín Acolman. Augustinian missionaries received permission from Pope Sixtus V to celebrate special Masses in order to make Christianity more attractive and  to evangelize the Aztecs. Because of the syncretism that occurred when the missionaries introduced Catholicism to indigenous Americans, Las Posadas resembles the Aztec celebration of the birth of the sun and war god, Huitzilopochitli. The missionaries wanted a way to teach the gospel and extend the Eucharist to a large, illiterate population and needed a way that the Aztecs would accept, so they took advantage of the timing of the birth of Huitzilopochitli to introduce the birthday of their own important, sacred figure, Jesus Christ. In las misas del Aguinaldo (special Masses for the Advent season), they included nativity scenes and lights, sang villancicos (Christmas carols), and broke a piñata. The celebration of Las Posadas grew from these original Masses. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, as told in Luke 2:1-7, is featured in Las Posadas, a celebration that includes elements similar to those of the celebration for Huitzilopochitli. (All night and during the day after Huitzilopochitli’s birthday, people customarily had parties in many houses throughout the town, at which guests delighted in foods and statues of their gods made from blue corn dough.)

Days of Prayer and Celebration

Las Posadas begins on the evening of December 16th and ends on Christmas Eve. These nine days dedicated to prayer are called a “Novena.” Originally, a novena referred to the nine days of prayer before the Feast of Pentecost, but in Las Posadas it also represents the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. Each night, a young woman and a young man – usually teenagers – dress as Mary and Joseph and go to three different, predetermined houses, asking for posada (shelter). They are accompanied by a candle-lit procession that includes musicians, children dressed as angels and shepherds, and anyone else who would like to join. At the first two houses, the procession of peregrinos (pilgrims) is turned away by groups of people inside the houses, who play the part of the innkeepers who denied Mary and Joseph shelter. The interactions between the peregrinos and the “innkeepers” happen in the form of call-and-response songs. Through several verses, the peregrinos ask for shelter and are denied entry by the innkeepers. The last verse is sung only when the procession is welcomed into the last house.

At the last house, the peregrinos are welcomed and the whole community gathers for prayers and a party. Once all the peregrinos have entered, everyone prays the Act of Contrition, asking for forgiveness for their sins. Often, they will also pray the rosary, and/or hold a short prayer service. This part of the fiesta mirrors the Liturgy of the Word (the first part of a Mass). Soon the prayerful ritual gives way to food, games, and dancing. Nevertheless, ritual that promotes spiritual communion is still present in the fiestas, and parallels the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the second part of a Mass) — sharing a meal and celebrating the forgiveness of sin in the Eucharist. The fiestas grow in excitement with each passing night, but at each are ritual elements, including food and drink, candles, Nativity scenes, and piñatas filled with fruits, nuts, and candies.

Piñatas, Sin and Forgiveness

Traditional piñatas are shaped like stars and have seven points, each point representing a cardinal sin. People swing at the piñata with their eyes covered by blindfolds to signify their true faith in God and His mercy. Thus, when they break the piñata and are showered with sweet candies, the people act out the experience of conquering sin and receiving forgiveness and blessing from God. This is also a dramatization of how everyone’s sins are forgiven during the Eucharist, when Catholics remember how Christ died so that the sins of the world would be forgiven and confess their own sin through the Confiteor. Although perhaps not broken every night, the piñata nevertheless demonstrates the way food is used to teach religion, extend the message of the Eucharist into the home, and catalyze the fiesta spirit.

Sharing Food and Creating Communitas

The fiesta spirit continues through each of the nine days, never seeming to lag. On Christmas Eve, the final stop for the peregrinos is the church, where they celebrate La Misa de Gallo, a Midnight Mass, in which they share in the Body and Blood of Christ – a shorter but still powerful religious fiesta in which a sacred meal is re-enacted. After the Mass, the longest fiesta of Las Posadas commences. Along with a piñata and the small dessert items served at the fiestas on each of the previous nights, people prepare and share their favorite foods at the reception after Mass. Typical foods include tamales, pozole (pork soup), sopa de albóndigas (meat-ball soup), pollo con mole (chicken in mole sauce), bacalao (codfish stew), natillas (a type of thick custard), and buñelos (deep-fried pancakes sprinkled with sugar). Champurado (spiced hot chocolate), atole (a corn based drink), and ponche (punch) are also served. Although these are some of the more traditional foods consumed during the Advent and Christmas seasons, there are no foods that are specifically reserved for Las Posadas. Therefore, it does not matter what food is served, since the sharing of food itself symbolizes and strengthens the community.

Las Posadas makes the Gospel come alive in a cultural experience of spiritual communion in which the people welcome Christ into their homes and lives. This spiritual communion results from the transformation of Jesus’ body, “…the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51), in the Eucharist into spiritual food. The ritual of Las Posadas reflects the mystery of the Eucharist because the people of the community act as living bread through their acts of hospitality and generosity in caring for others. Additionally, the fact that Las Posadas is a religious fiesta, and thus directly tied to Catholic Hispanic fiesta culture, draws the community together and builds the spirit of communitas. Communitas is a deep spirit of community – a spiritual communion where all the members are united in the same consciousness, usually through a ritual. Las Posadas is a way in which Mexican Catholics realize communitas through the Eucharist and fiesta. Thus, the fiesta catalyzes, yet also results from, the ritual of Las Posadas and is thoroughly intertwined with food, both spiritual and physical; physical food is the visceral symbol that gathers the community and provides the base for rituals, in which it is transformed into spiritual food. Therefore, it nourishes the body and the spirit.

Although there are traditions around the world in many different religions that fulfill the same functions, Las Posadas is one of the best examples of the way Mexican Catholics have taken the Eucharist and made it part of their cultural experience through the fiesta. Today, the fiesta spirit is spreading beyond Mexicans and Latinos. In some cases non-Latinos are attracted to the religious and spiritual aspects of Las Posadas. For others, Latinos and non-Latinos, a more secularized version of Las Posadas, in which the prayerful aspects are downplayed or ignored and the focus is on family and community, is more comfortable and attractive. Nevertheless, although those who celebrate a secular version of Las Posadas think that they are leaving Catholicism behind, they cannot escape the fact that even in any secular form, Las Posadas is still a religious fiesta celebrating and strengthening the spiritual connection between community members. Despite dropping all of the prayers, they are living the communitas of the Eucharist in their celebration, since even the secularized ritual parallels the structure of a Mass. Thus, without realizing it, many people are attracted to the religious and spiritual aspect of Las Posadas. What they experience is a community dimension of the Eucharist as seen in the transformation of profane (non-sacred) food into sacred nourishment for the spirit and community. Through that shared experience of celebrating a religious fiesta, people of all cultures strengthen their bond with their communities, uniting community, religion, and food.

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2012

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Three Candles

Stepping carefully as she crossed the intersection, the older woman, wearing a warm coat and knitted hat despite the unseasonably warm weather and carrying a shopping bag of groceries, stopped suddenly, a look of delight on her face. She stepped back and slightly to the side, shifted her purse and bag, and bent to pick up a coin from the street. From my vantage point in the car waiting for the light to change, it appeared to be a quarter — just  twenty-five cents. Yet the delight I saw in her face could not have been greater if it had been a thousand times more valuable. She had found something of value, just laying there on the ground in plain sight, waiting for someone to notice it. She picked it up carefully and placed it into her purse. Then she continued to make her way across the intersection on her way home to her apartment down the street.

As she walked on her way and I went on mine, I reflected on what I had seen. A very ordinary item, found in the course of a very ordinary activity, brought great delight to a seemingly very ordinary person. Yet she was a person who was alert and aware of her surroundings. She noticed what was going on, despite the ordinariness of the day and its activities. She saw more than many saw who crossed that intersection on that afternoon, and when she saw, she acted on what she had seen.

Perhaps this anonymous woman has something to teach us as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast also known as Candlemas and/or as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as Anna and Simeon recognized Jesus when his parents brought him to the Temple to offer the traditional sacrifice required for a first born son, so we are called to be alert and aware so we will recognize Jesus when he comes into our lives. No one was expecting the Christ to come as the infant son of a normal, non-wealthy, non-royal family from Nazareth. Just a carpenter’s son!  The Christ was to be a military hero who would drive out the Roman conquerors and establish a new kingdom like that of David. Yet, Anna and Simeon recognized him and blessed God for the gift of seeing him before their deaths. Indeed, Anna went around happily telling everyone she met that the Messiah had been born and had been presented at the Temple … and she herself had seen him!

The challenge each of us faces, I believe, is to see the Christ in the people with whom we share our lives, as well as in the people who formally represent the Christian community, and to celebrate that coming  into our lives. The fellow who sits begging on the street downtown, the woman who stops joyfully to pick up a coin in the middle of the crosswalk, the guy who laughingly dances down the street, flirting with all the ladies as he goes to round up some buddies and head off to dinner before the cold night catches up with them, the frightened teen who finds she’s pregnant and is certain her parents will beat her and throw her out on the street if they find out, the doctor who cares for a child without charge when the parents don’t have insurance and can’t pay for the care, the little boy who delightedly strips off all his clothes because he’s learned how to do it and revels in the freedom of being alive and unfettered. Each of these is Christ coming to someone. How do we respond?

Image by Alice Birkin – Public domain

 

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Posted by on Jun 8, 2011

Waiting in Anticipation for the Holy Spirit

Waiting in Anticipation for the Holy Spirit

Fresco from St. Charles Church, Vienna

Easter Season is drawing to a close this week. The season itself lasts fifty days. It begins with Jesus’ Resurrection and concludes with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The last nine days, from the Feast of the Ascension until Pentecost, are a special time of prayer to invite the Holy Spirit to come into our lives ever more deeply as well.

Jesus promised his followers that when he returned to his Father, he would send a Paraclete to them. Some translations use the term Advocate for Paraclete. The choice of word, as is generally the case in translating, gives a slightly different sense to the promise and its implications.

Advocate is a term used to describe lawyers who plead the case of persons accused of wrongdoing. Advocates are also people who argue on behalf of people who are at a disadvantage in a social setting or a negotiation. Advocates are people everyone needs at one or another point in life. Having an Advocate sent from Heaven on our behalf is not a bad thing. It can be quite encouraging. Yet the term carries with it a sense of our unworthiness and sinfulness. We need someone to represent us in dealing with the Father.

A couple of weeks ago, our pastor suggested that the word Paraclete might actually be better translated as Cheerleader. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is the one who encourages us, seeing the good we do, how hard we try, how we keep falling and yet encouraging us to get up and try again. Fr. Ron explained that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is our cheerleader, our biggest fan. God got excited enough about humans to become a human (Jesus). And Jesus returns to the Father, fully God and fully human, promising to share that spark of Love, the Holy Spirit, with all of us too.

What a wonderful promise! Not only do we have an advocate who’ll plead for us when we mess up; we also have a cheerleader who’ll be there to cheer us on as we keep trying and keep believing that we really are lovable.

In these final days before Pentecost, lets hold on to this promise, waiting for the gift of an even deeper relationship with our God. A relationship that doesn’t depend on how well we manage to live our lives, but rather on how crazy God is about each of us and how much God wants us to respond in love to that gift of love.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

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Posted by on Mar 25, 2011

The Annunciation – Celebrating Incarnation and a Young Woman’s “Yes” to God

The Annunciation – Celebrating Incarnation and a Young Woman’s “Yes” to God

The Annunciation - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1850

March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the visit by the angel Gabriel to a young woman in Nazareth to ask a great favor of her. The Lord of Hosts, Creator of all that is, was and ever will be, requested her consent to becoming the Mother of God (Theotokos or God-bearer), Mother of the Incarnate Word of God, Mother of His Son. The story of this visit is recounted in Christian scriptures (Lk 1:26-38, Mt 1:18-21)  and also in the Qu’ran (Sura 3: 45-51).

With Mary’s courageous decision to consent to the Lord’s request, a new era in the history of human relations with the Lord opened. In a time and place where women were little valued or respected and had fewer rights than men, the consent of a woman who was little beyond childhood and was still unmarried was solicited and respected by the greatest power of all – her creator and ours.

This feast has been celebrated since the earliest days of the Christian community, probably even predating the celebration of Christmas. Celebration of the Annunciation (and therefore of the Incarnation) coincides with the general time frame of the celebration of the Passover and Exodus, events that formed the Jewish community into a nation, beginning their history as a people. With the Annunciation and the Incarnation, the life of a new community began and the history of salvation took a new turn that eventually led to inclusion of all peoples on Earth.

Selection of the date for the celebration was not random. It coincided with the timing of the birth of John the Baptist, conceived following the time of his father’s service within the Holy of Holies on the Feast of Atonement in the fall. The Annunciation took place six months later, putting it in early spring. Based on those dates, John the Baptist’s birth was celebrated in June and Jesus’ birth date came to be set as December 25.

Setting the date of the Annunciation in spring also followed the Jewish tradition of celebrating beginnings and endings on or around the same date. It was known that Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred at Passover time. Setting the beginning of his life, his conception, at the same general time made sense to the early community. The big innovation was that for Christians, his conception marked the beginning of life, rather than his actual physical birth. (The “womb to tomb” tradition thus has ancient roots as well.)

Moving forward a few hundred years, in 525 when the new calendar was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, the Anno Domini calendar, March 25 was set as the first day of the year. The Christian community considered it to be the beginning of a new era of grace.

May we, as we continue to live out our lives as sharers in the mystery of incarnation, rejoice with the angels and saints, and with Our Lord as well, the great blessing of a young woman’s willingness to trust that her Lord would never ask too much of her.

Let us join with our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Christian churches in rejoicing on this day.

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
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Posted by on Dec 12, 2010

Lived Religion – Relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Lived Religion – Relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Lived religion is a sociological term for the way people behave on a day to day basis. Santa Clara University sociologist Maria del Socorro Castaneda Liles has written Our Lady of Everyday Life an ethnography of Mexican American women and their relation to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Joe Rodriguez, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News has summarized this research in the title of his article with the words Mother, Friend, Lawyer. Pesonally, I would not have used the term “lawyer” because it has a more legal, technical connotation than the word advocate. The Spanish term “abogado” is used for both.

These interviews documented something familiar to most of us who share a Mexican heritage. There is more of a casual, friendly, and intimate conversation between devotees and the Virgin, as opposed to a more ritual relationship embodied in formalized prayers or devotional manuals. The interviews also show that women and their sense of themselves is changing.

Younger women felt that Our Lady could relate to their economic struggles as single mothers and to their decisions to control the number of children they have. In Guadalupe, they find the Mother of God as strong, resourceful, and capable.

This theme of empowerment might seem new and contemporary but it is at the heart, literally the heart, of the Guadalupe experience for the conquered indigenous people of Mexico and the “Gran Mestizaje,” the resulting nation of people created by the blending of European, African, and indigenous American groups.

The appearance of Mary, pregnant and dark complected as the advocate and protectress of the lowly, the powerless, is also an act of heavenly recognition of human dignity and worth.

From a purely secular standpoint this is a startling phenomenon. The general pattern in times of such social upheaval and distress is the development of revitalization movements which attempt to go back to earlier better times, to plead with the gods who have abandoned a civilization, or in some cases to engage in “ghost dances” to render themselves invisible.

In many respects, the name Guadalupe is an attempt by the Spanish to claim the apparition as that of one of the black Madonnas from their homeland who was also a patron of Christopher Columbus. Yet, people who know her real name call her “Tepeyac” from the hill on which she appeared.

While it might be tempting to equate her with Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of the dawn, the woman who appeared to Juan Diego and her subsequent cult had none of the darkness and blood that characterized the Aztec and Meso-American pantheon.

The slide show from the online version of the same article conveys the intimacy of a people and their “Patrona”.

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Posted by on Oct 14, 2010

Quote of the Day – M. Shawn Copeland

“If my sister or brother is not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ. If my sister’s mark of sexuality must be obscured, if my brother’s mark of race must be disguised, if my sister’s mark of culture must be repressed, then we are not the flesh of Christ. For, it is through and in Christ’s own flesh that the ‘other’ is my sister, is my brother; indeed, the ‘other’ is me…”

From Enfleshing Freedom, by M. Shawn Copeland, 2009

Words to consider as we come together in communities for worship.

Who isn’t here? Why not? What do we need to do to be welcoming communities for all of God’s people?

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Posted by on Dec 31, 2009

New Year’s Greetings and Wishes

New Year’s Greetings and Wishes

New Year's Eve in Rio

New Year's Eve in Rio

It’s New Year’s Eve in Santa Cruz. A year has nearly ended and a new one is fast upon us. On top of that, the first decade of the new century is coming to a close. So much has happened in the past 10 years – for all of us. Some has been good. Some has been bad. Some has been just normal. That’s the way life goes.

Still, as Christians, we live with the belief and hope that God is in it all and brings good out of even the terrible times of our lives. The God who couldn’t bear to sit back in isolation from all of creation and from the human beings He created entered into our lives and history, to bring us all back into union again. It’s not up to us to become perfect and worthy of God. God became one of us and in doing so, made that re-union possible. We just have to let go of anger, jealously, hatred, fear, and all the other negative energies which we so easily hold onto and nurture. God will even help us let go of them.  It’s all a free gift!

So, at this time of a New Year and a New Decade, may the Love and Peace and Joy of God fill each of our hearts, so that no room remains for harboring the negative, life-draining spirits that lurk among us. May we look at each other and at ourselves and see the Face of God looking back at us. May we rejoice in the beauty of creation and of each person. May we trust that when the hard times come, as they certainly will, God will be with us personally, holding our hand and helping us through them. And may we move forward with confidence that we are loved and lovable, just as we are. Of course, there’s room for growth in love, patience, faithfulness, joy, and so forth, but we are each loved NOW, by our God who is absolutely crazy about us and just wants to hold us close in a huge, big hug.

What great good news that is!

Happy New Year.

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