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Posted by on Jan 29, 2016

Entering into the Mystery

Entering into the Mystery

people-walking-on-streetAs the Church’s New Year began in Advent, in communities around the world, men and women took a huge step into  a special journey: a journey that will take them deeply into the mystery of God’s relationship with humans. These people stepped forward with their sponsors and were introduced to the people of the communities they will join. Welcomed with blessings and prayer, they entered a time of study and reflection through which they will become increasingly aware of God’s call to journey on The Way.

The Way?

Christian life in earliest times was known as The Way: the way to the Kingdom of God, begun here and now with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and unfolding through time to its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns and all are reunited in the mystery of God’s life. This way of living differs from the ways of others who have not chosen to follow it. It requires loving and forgiving enemies, caring for the most vulnerable in the world, acting with justice and mercy, being stewards/caretakers of the environment, and trusting that God will bring good out of all that happens, even if what happens is not what God would have wanted to see.

That doesn’t sound easy. It might even be dangerous!

Following the Way has never been a safe or easy option. Jesus, who called Himself the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6), was tortured to death, hanging naked on a cross, reviled and mocked by passers-by and abandoned by most of his friends and followers. Many of those who have followed Him have witnessed with their lives to His resurrection over the past 2000 years. The martyrs (witnesses) we remember from those early centuries are still being joined by Christians around the world today who choose death rather than renounce their Lord.

Whether called to witness with our blood or not, each of us will face times when we must speak out, saying unpopular things to people we know and whose respect we treasure. Our choice of lifestyle, leisure activities, business/work behavior, sexual ethics, and treatment of the poor and ill will all be shaped by our faith. Not all of those choices will be understood or endorsed by our peers.

Then why do it?

Despite the counter-cultural nature of a life of faith, the call to enter into the mystery is profound. The joy, peace, mercy, love, and comfort of a hug from God surpass anything of human origin. Some doors open while others shut. Funds materialize just in time to keep a project going, or they don’t come at all and something else must be done to move forward in service. Prejudices get overturned as we meet and get to know folks from other social or ethnic groups in communities of worship and service. We are continually challenged and helped to grow in wisdom and grace as we grow in age.

A life of faith is not for the faint of heart. It’s a great adventure into realms not often noticed through everyday eyes. As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “All of Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God; but only those who see take off their shoes.”  The glory of God shines forth in all of creaton. Those called to enter into this mystery are truly blessed. We journey forward together — those just beginning and those who’ve travelled long. Difficulties, doubts, second thoughts, and times of desolation will arise, but the promise and faithfulness of God, the overwhelming power of love and mercy, will accompany us and welcome us to an even richer life when we reach our journey’s end.

Away we go together — on The Way!

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Posted by on Dec 6, 2015

Advent Chant – Creator of the Stars at Night

Advent Chant – Creator of the Stars at Night

supernovae

Conditor Alme Siderum — Creator of the Stars at Night — is a 7th century hymn commonly sung during Evening Prayer (Vespers). Redemption comes not only for humanity but all creation. In this rendition, both the Latin and English words are sung.

Image: Supernovae, NASA, public domain

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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Why Mary is Important

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

 

Presents-under-the-Christmas-treeby Petr KratochvilGifting, the giving and receiving of gifts during the Christmas season, serves to remind us of God’s great gift in coming to live with us personally. In Jesus, the Word of God, became a human, like us in all things but sin. God chose to enter into the vulnerable, imperfect, uncertain, but wonderful reality of life as a fully human being, starting as a baby with normal human parents, family, and friends in a small village. Through the gift of incarnation and redemption, God healed the division between the divine and the human, giving humans the chance to be re-united with their source.

Christians have celebrated this great gift from the very beginning through their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Sharing of gifts of time, talent, and money has also been a hallmark of the Christian life, not just within the community but also reaching outside to the most vulnerable members of society. The world has never been the same since God entered personally into our human experience, because now God lives as Holy Spirit within each of us and reaches out to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Diverse gifting traditions

Traditions for giving and receiving gifts vary around the world. In some areas St. Nicholas brings gifts on his feast day, December 6. In others Santa Claus or the Christ Child bring gifts at Christmas. In still others, the gifts arrive at the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany in early January, when the coming of Jesus was shown forth to the Gentile world as well as to the original children of Israel.

The gifts arrive in different ways as well. Some are placed in shoes, others in stockings. Some are placed under a tree, others arrive carried by family or friends. Some are wrapped, others shine in all their glory to delight children who wake early to find them. Some even come via the postal service and other freight delivery trucks! However they arrive and however they are packaged, they carry love in their wake.

As we have moved through Advent and into the Christmas Season this year, I have also been noticing the ways that traditional holiday foods arrive in or as packages. Many candies and baked goods arrive in lovely containers. The tamales we enjoy at Christmas and New Year’s Day have meat or vegetables seasoned with chili hidden inside the corn dough. Chinese dumplings eaten to celebrate the New Year have a mixture of meat and/or vegetables hidden inside the noodle dough that we see. King cakes have a figurine or other surprise hidden inside. Steamed puddings have nuts and raisins inside. Each of these traditional forms of gifts and food (and others from around the world) is a way that we as humans express the wonder of God’s gift of himself to us through the birth of Jesus.

May the joy of Christmas and the wonder of Epiphany be yours now and into the year we have begun.

 Image by Petr Kratochvil – public domain

 

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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 22, 2013

O Rex Gentium – King of All the Nations

December 22 — O Rex Gentium

“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

Dust thou art — to the Stars you are called
Leave the dark of agony
The cold of loneliness
Go out to welcome your King

King of All Hearts
King of the World
Line the runways
Announce His coming on the loud speakers

You have only your chains to shed
Your shackles to break
By your word of forgiveness
By exchanging your heart for His

Death has no more claim
Open the gates to the Stars of Grace
Welcome in the joy and peace
Of mercy given, mercy received.

 

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Posted by on Dec 21, 2013

O Oriens — Splendor of Eternal Light — Dayspring

O Oriens — Splendor of Eternal Light — Dayspring

December 21 — O Oriens

“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 shortest day gives way
to the Unconquered Son
The darkness of wrong
Gives way to the Sun of Justice

The sun returns
A pale reflection of Eternal Light
On those in the darkness of
Addiction, greed, and fear

Darkness underneath the bright lights and
Colors of the Christmas tree
Shines in blurriness of the winter heart
Seated by the fire in 500 watts of dim.

In the bright Santa Cruz sun
Bouncing on the bright slate blue
Open our hearts to singing sails
Of salt breeze setting all of us captives free.

 

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Posted by on Dec 20, 2013

O Clavis David – Key of David – Key to the Gate of Heaven

December 20 – O Clavis David

“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

And lead us into Freedom
The promised land
Out of our darkness
Fear, anxiety, and certainty

Break down the prisons
of our making
Those with wall to wall carpets
Harboring unforgiven hurt

With swimming pools
and security cameras
with sweeping vistas
Fending off death with denial

O Sol Invictus, Unconquered Sun
Fade the street lamps
of our night
With your dawn O Risen Son.

 

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Posted by on Dec 19, 2013

O Radix Jesse – Flower of Jesse’s Stem – Not So Fast My Friend

December 19 – O Radix Jesse

“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

Logged clean, the chosen people swept away,
Isaiah announced that even the stumps would be blown away.
Yet from the root God would restore His people,
The chosen ones the Cedars of Lebanon

But that flower of Jesse, David’s line,
Was lifted high on a tree
With the mocking sign, King of the Jews,
Proved true on the third day.

Your Kingdom come, O victorious one.
But maybe you should tarry – be fashionably late.
Things are pretty well handled.
We have no kings anymore.

Have another drink, watch some TV,
It’s all good.
Why should I be saved from my comfort?
Why leave Egypt when I can starve here?

This saving thing and your coming
Mess up my schedule.
Gotta pick up the kids and feed them styrofoam.
A disciple’s cross is too hard a price to pay.
 

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Posted by on Dec 18, 2013

My Soul in Stillness Waits – Truly My Hope is in You

December 18 – O Adonai

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

Be careful what you pray for.
The Lord Adonai is not tame.
The Fire that burns but does not consume,
That utterly calm voice that strikes our guts,
The One who sends us to the captive and oppressed,
No More Nice God;
Take off your shoes, you are in the shadow of the Holy.
 

Will Stoller-Lee on History Channel’s Upcoming Series, The Bible | Moses and the Burning Bush from Fuller Seminary in Colorado on Vimeo.

 
The following Burning Bush segment from the movie the Prince of Egypt is a beautiful and challenging theme. How will we recognize the coming of God if we have not been at the Burning Bush? We are the people we have been waiting for. We are Moses.

If you get an error message when playing this video, please refresh your browser.
 

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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 Dec 1, 2013

Stay Awake! See the Power of Hope!

Stay Awake! See the Power of Hope!

Hope

 

The First Sunday of Advent brings a direct command from the Lord: “Stay awake! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:42) Our eyes are to be open. Our hearts are to be hopeful. Our hands and feet are to be active in preparing for the Lord’s coming. In the face of all of the anger, pain, violence, and darkness in the world around us, we are to be people of hope  who “put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). Rather than being a people overwhelmed by darkness, we are to focus on the power of hope and light.

Stay Awake! Look to the Lord’s mountain. Listen to the Lord’s words. Learn the Lord’s ways. Walk in his paths. Become a people who turn swords and spears into useful tools for providing food and shelter for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable. Be a people who respect each other, refusing to exploit children or women for our own pleasure. Be a people who treasure differences in learning styles, abilities, talents, intelligence, gender identification, cultures, physical abilities. Seek out the lonely; learn how to be present in the moment; notice the gifts of the people the Lord sends into your life.

We sing, “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.” Will we be awake when He comes? Will we see Him? Will we recognize Him? As we go rejoicing on our way up to the house of the Lord, see the little ones on the city streets who travel with us. See the those who hunger for physical food. See the people on the street who hunger for someone to talk with them or simply smile a greeting to them. See the old man or woman who longs for the touch of a gentle hand or a patient ear to hear a story for the umpteenth time. See the one who needs health care. See the one who needs help to learn how to read. See the one who struggles to walk. See the Lord, present in His most desperate reality. Reach out and welcome Him. Lend Him your hands, feet, and voice, so together we may see the power of hope transform our world.

 

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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 Dec 17, 2012

Rejoicing When our Hearts are Breaking

Rejoicing When our Hearts are Breaking

Gaudete!

During the third week of Advent, we are called to rejoice because the Lord’s coming is imminent. The very name of the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, comes from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for the day’s Mass, “Rejoice.” The prayer continues, quoting St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). That little word, “always,” is not to be ignored.

Sometimes terrible things happen in our world. This past week we’ve seen the killing of many innocent children and adults at a school in the United States. In other parts of the world civil wars are raging, religious persecution is taking the lives of people as they gather for worship, girls and women are beaten or shot for daring to seek an education, and more mundanely, people die as a result of accidents, miscarriages, illness, or old age — holiday season or not! We find ourselves asking how a loving God can do that to us. How can God take the lives of innocent people? Where is God when we are hurting?

“Rejoice … Always”

Yet St. Paul is there to remind us with that little word, “always,” that there’s much more going on than we might actually see or recognize. Perhaps we’re not even noticing that it isn’t God who’s doing these terrible things to us. In our pain, with our hearts breaking, we don’t always see God present in the ones who step forward to help, in the ones who risk and sometimes give their own lives to protect the lives of others, in the ones who must help individuals and families pick up the pieces of their lives and continue onward despite the great hole left in their hearts. Yet that is exactly where God is. God is there with each grieving person, present in the friends and family who gather to be with those who have suffered a loss. God is there in the doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers who care for the sick or injured. God is there in those who send flowers because they can’t come in person. God is there. God is here. God is present in the silence of hearts that cannot speak because the pain is too great. God is present — crying with them and holding them close.

So we struggle to trust in God and find ways to give thanks through our tears for God’s presence. We try to rejoice that God notices each life born, each life lived, and each life that reaches its point of transition to new birth into eternity. We sing through our tears at funerals. We gather in family and religious communities to remember those who have passed on and to support and encourage each other in faith. We rejoice for the gift of life, however short, that each person has brought to our world. And we remember another one who died too young, taken in His prime, subjected to terrible torture, and publicly executed on trumped up charges. One whose birth we soon will celebrate. One who was raised up and will never die again — the Firstborn of the dead. And because we remember, we can begin to rejoice even when our hearts are breaking.

May peace and joy return to each of our hearts as we remember God’s great love. May we recognize God present in each other and work to help bring about the changes necessary to reduce the numbers of new people who will have to experience tragic deaths of loved ones and somehow find their way to seeing and rejoicing in God present, Emmanuel, among the ashes of their dreams and hopes.

Photo (Three Candles) by Alice Birkin – public domain

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