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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.

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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 Apr 19, 2013

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Easter season is a time when we rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection. We celebrate God’s great love in becoming human, living a totally human life, and being faithful in obedient love even through torture and a shameful death on the cross. We speak of salvation for all resulting from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet sometimes we also beat ourselves up for our sinfulness and responsibility for Jesus’ sacrifice and death. But beating ourselves up is not what Jesus wants for us. Jesus comes bearing forgiveness and that forgiveness requires a response. The evidence is clear in Scripture and we need to remind ourselves of it regularly.

Jesus’ disciples did not expect that he would be raised from the dead. In those first hours and days after the crucifixion, they must have been terribly upset with themselves. If only I had …   If only I hadn’t …  We should have …. We should never have allowed him to … What will I say to my family when I go home? I’ve been such a fool. I should have known it was all too good to be true. They all said I was chasing a dream. On and on their thoughts must have raged. When the first reports came in regarding the resurrection, from the women of all people, their response was natural. The women must be hysterical. Such a thing could not happen.

Nevertheless, throughout that first day of the week, the risen Jesus came to them. They did not recognize him at first. He looked like a gardener. He looked like a fellow traveler on the road and potential dinner companion. Once they recognized him, — when he came into the room despite locked doors it was pretty clear who  he was, — but the feared they were seeing a ghost. Always, however, Jesus reassured them. “Peace,” he said to those hiding behind locked doors.  “Do not be frightened,” he said to the women in the garden who first found the empty tomb. “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced!” he said to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. Then at supper with the travelers, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it and they knew it was the Lord. Immediately they walked back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

As the days passed, the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee as he had told them to do, through Mary Magdalene and the other women. They had been fishermen and so they went fishing. Anything to bring some sense of normality again! Yet early in the morning, after fishing without luck all night, a man in seen on the shore. The man calls out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They do and the nets are filled. “The disciple Jesus loved” told Peter, “It is the Lord” and Peter threw on some clothes and jumped into the water to swim to the Lord. The others brought in the boat with its marvelous catch. Jesus may not have looked like the man with whom they had lived for the past three years, but this time they knew it was he. He cooked breakfast for them and then spoke directly to Peter, three times asking “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responded that he did and Jesus instructed him with slightly different words each time, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”

Each time Jesus appears, he reassures his friends and he reassures us as well. All is forgiven. All is OK. We need not dwell on the past. We must move ahead and tell others what we have seen and experienced. We are not to beat ourselves up about what we have done wrong or the times we’ve failed to do the right thing. We must recognize those times as having happened and accept forgiveness for them. Forgiveness is always offered to us. Then we must move forward rejoicing — carrying that peace, love, and forgiveness that comes from our Lord God into our world.  There’s plenty of bad news there already. Our job is to carry the Good News, spreading it far and wide through our actions and our words.

Alleluia! He is Risen!

 

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Posted by on Apr 1, 2013

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Easter_Lily_by_Boston_Public_Library

Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this week. We sing “Alleluia, praise the Lord,” with great gusto. We rejoice in God’s power over death and the promise of new life. We call out to all who will hear, “He is risen.”

In the midst of such celebration, I find myself thinking about the experience of the disciples during the  final hours before Jesus’ passion and the first days following his resurrection. As Catholics, we don’t skip over those experiences in the race to celebrate Easter. Begining with Palm Sunday, we spend an entire week remembering those crucial events of salvation history, as well as the promises and prophecies that were fulfilled during that week so long ago.  From the excitement of seeing Jesus greeted with hosannas and hailed as the one who had been so long expected as he entered Jerusalem in a procession, to the devastation of his death as a condemned criminal in a place of public execution, his followers then and now experience a roller-coaster of emotions. By the time we reach Holy Saturday morning, there is a certain emotional numbness that sets in. What more could there be that will happen?

On Holy Saturday morning, I usually feel a bit detached and quiet. There’s so much to be done before Easter Vigil and then Sunday morning’s celebration. Yet there is that numbness that follows Good Friday’s liturgy and the recognition of what happened to Jesus, as well as what continues to happen to so many who follow his lead in serving the poor and announcing God’s command that we love and care for each other and our world.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows the numbness that follows. Whether death was the final moment of a long or painful illness, or release from a period of mental/physical decline, or the peaceful final breath of a person who has lived long and well, those who remain experience a certain emotional pain and numbness to other concerns and activities. When death occurs unexpectedly, through violence or accident, the devastation is extraordinarily powerful. We question how God could let something like that happen. We may yell at God or turn away. We may also turn to each other in faith: giving and receiving support.

For the disciples on that Saturday morning, when they couldn’t even hold a proper funeral for Jesus, I suspect “numb” would not begin to describe the way they felt. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed. They feared for their own lives. They didn’t know how they would ever be able to face their families and friends, many of whom had probably warned them against leaving home and jobs to follow an itinerant preacher around the country. Unlike our experience, based as it is on knowledge of the Easter event, there was no hope of redemption in the suffering they were experiencing or that Jesus had endured.

Yet into the midst of this experience, on the first day of the week, the women took spices to the tomb and discovered that death cannot hold the author of life in its snares. The stone had been rolled away; the tomb was empty; angels asked why they sought the living among the dead; Jesus met them in the garden and sent them to tell the others that he was risen and would meet them in Galilee. The news was greeted with disbelief. The women must be mad with grief, maybe a bit hysterical. The men went to see and discovered for themselves that the women had not been mistaken about the tomb: it was definitely empty. Later that day, Jesus came into the locked room where his disciples were gathered: fear and sorrow had by this point been joined by confused concern about the story told by the women and others who claimed to have seen the Lord. He invited them to touch him. He ate with them. He instructed them about the new reality that had burst forth into their world and all of creation. Life does not end with physical death. God is not defeated. We are children of God who will share in new life forever.

The numbness of loss turns to the numb wonder of gain. Could it really be true? Could God really love us that totally? Can all be forgiven? Does life continue unended? Is death really a passage into newer, more abundant life? Are we really the ones who will bring the good news of this reality to our world?

If all of this is true, and with the early Christians we believe it is, then thankful rejoicing is the most appropriate response. So we move from the rejoicing in a promise of earthly power (Palm Sunday processions), through the mandate to serve each other and feast on the Lord’s own Body and Blood (Holy Thursday), into the mystery of death (Good Friday), and out the other side to the assurance of new, more abundant, unlimited life in the Resurrection. For this we shout, Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! The Lord is risen, He is ruly risen!

Happy Easter – all fifty days of it!

 

Easter Lily by Boston Public Library – George Cochran Lambdin 1830-1896 (artist); L. Prang & Co. (publisher)

 

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2013

Singing Leaves Time and Palm Sunday

Singing Leaves Time and Palm Sunday

 

Palm Sunday Fronds

Palm Sunday– “Singing Leaves”

Faith is passed from generation to generation through simple gestures, songs, foods, and activities. As children live the activities of daily life in the cycles of the year, they notice more than we realize. Life, especially for the little ones, is heavily focused on the present moment, but they too become aware of the changing seasons in our church life and come to look forward to the next celebration.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a sweet four-year-old boy asked me if it were time for the “singing leaves” yet. It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to Palm Sunday. In our parish, as Catholics do in parishes around the world, we all gather in a courtyard outside the church on Palm Sunday. Each person has a palm frond and members of our parish youth group wave large palm branches, leading the congregation out of the church building to hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on that Sunday morning so long ago. Then, singing “The King of Glory Comes,” we all process back into the church for the Passion Sunday liturgy. (Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday occur on the same day.) This little boy remembered waving the palms last year and the singing as we re-entered the church. He was quite excited when I responded that this was the Sunday for the singing leaves.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, or simply friends, we share our faith best through the examples of our lives. Do we pause to thank God and ask a blessing before we eat? Do we greet the morning with a prayer? Do we remember to give thanks for our day and ask God’s blessing on our families, friends, and activities before we go to sleep at night? Do we gather regularly as a community of faith to celebrate Eucharist? Is Reconciliation (sacramental or simply interpersonal) a part of our lives? Do we pause in times of joy and times of sorrow to call the Lord into our midst? Do we time our holy day activities to match the liturgical timetable, not jumping to celebrate major feasts before their time but rather savoring the periods of anticipation and preparation for the feasts as well? Do we do these things with the children in our lives?

Children learn by observing and imitating. Only in later childhood and early adolescence do children begin to hunger for the meatier reasons for why we believe and do certain things. For a young child, “because that’s what we do now” can explain quite acceptably the timing of an activity. An older child will want to know that we do it “because that’s what Jesus told his friends to do before he died.” As adults, we too have opportunities to learn and grow more deeply in our faith and understanding of it — through both intellectual and spiritual practices. However, to reach our children, we do well to rely on activities, stories, songs, and celebrations.

As we move into this Holy Week and then on into Easter-tide, let’s remember to celebrate each in its own time. Holy Week is a good time to make and enjoy traditional Lenten dishes including Hot Cross Buns. It’s not time yet for Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies!

Mass on Holy Thursday can be a special time to celebrate caring for each other and the gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Have a special meal, enjoy time together on this day, then join with your community to celebrate Eucharist and enter into the mystery of Jesus’ Passion — His great love for us.

Good Friday brings many opportunities to share faith with children. Little ones don’t need to know in great detail of the tortures inflicted on Jesus. They just need to know that Jesus loves them totally. So as we fast and reflect on the events of the day, let’s remember to be patient and peaceful. If the Solemn celebration for Good Friday is going to be too late or too “heavy” for the little children, then do something peaceful and loving at home with them. As they get older, take them with you to enter more deeply into the mystery.

Holy Saturday is a quiet day of preparation and anticipation. Coloring eggs, baking special breads or desserts, getting the house in order for the Easter celebration — all will become part of the faith tradition for our children. Happy memories or sad ones will remain with them based on the love they see through our bustle of activities and the times we stop for reflection or story-telling.

Easter Vigil brings the story of salvation history and its culmination in the Resurrection alive. Children from 3rd or 4th grade and older can appreciate this celebration, particularly if the passages from Scripture are proclaimed in an engaging fashion.

If we remember to celebrate each of these mysteries of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and  Resurrection during this week each year, our children will learn to treasure them as well. They may not always celebrate them as they move through adolescence and into adulthood. There may be times in their lives when they move away from the community and travel their own road to God, but the foundations will be there, always calling them to the Lord.

May this week, from the Singing Leaves to the Alleluias of Easter Vigil be a time of rich blessing for you and for your families and communities.

 

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Posted by on Feb 15, 2013

Deserted Places and Deep Waters – Lent 2013 Begins

Deserted Places and Deep Waters – Lent 2013 Begins

transportation-boat-on-water_w725_h485

The Gospel readings for the Saturday and Sunday immediately prior to the beginning of Lent 2013 speak deeply of two themes that can sustain us as believers during Lent and the transition of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church that will result from the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Theme one is the importance of taking time to rest and be with the Lord in prayer. Theme two is the call to go with the Lord into “deep water” to find an abundant catch.

In Saturday’s reading from the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mk 6:30) They all get into a boat and head off across the water. The people see where they are going and follow along by land. By the time Jesus and the disciples arrive at the “deserted place” they find it full of people. Jesus takes pity on them and begins to teach and heal. It was a very short time that he and the disciples had to rest and recharge their energies, yet with God’s help it was enough.

Sunday’s Gospel reading (Lk 5:1-11) presents the story of Jesus’ call of Peter and his brother. Jesus came to the seashore. People were crowding closely about him, so he asked Peter to pull his boat out a bit from the shore and sat there to teach them. When he’d finished, he told Peter to “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Peter and his crew had been working all night and caught nothing. He informed Jesus of this fact, but agreed to do what had been requested. When they lowered the nets, the nets were filled with fish to the point of breaking. They had to call another boat to help bring in all the fish and get safely back to shore. When Peter asked Jesus to leave him because he was not worthy to be with such a powerful person, Jesus instead called Peter to follow him and become a “fisher of men.”

Time out to rest and pray

As a people, we have dealt with some difficult issues in recent years, in our Church and in our local communities. Taking time to rest and pray a bit seems a good place to start the next chapter of our story. Many of the world’s people have experienced more difficult economic times than normal. Far too many live lives of dire poverty despite working long hours. The poor, the elderly, the children, the ill, and so many others struggle simply to survive. Yet despite the great needs of the world around us, we are called to take time to find deserted places where we can be alone with the Lord. Only with the Lord can we hope to reach out consistently with compassion to serve those most in need of help. Only with the Lord can we hope to find wise solutions to the economic and environmental challenges we face. Only with the Lord can we strengthen our families in the many forms they take and support each other in our commitments of fidelity, mutual love, and support for a lifetime together. Only with the Lord can we choose life consistently from womb to tomb: safeguarding the lives of women, children, the elderly, the ill, the imprisoned, the immigrant, and all others who are most vulnerable.

Deep waters and transitions

And what of that “deep water?” Deep waters are places of danger. Storms develop quickly. Waves can overwhelm a small boat easily. Psychologists note that deep water in dreams stands for the depths of our unconscious mind — places where we deal with difficult issues and create a new synthesis and basis for our daily activities and beliefs. The expression, “He’s gotten himself into deep water,” is used to describe a situation in which there is some real risk of failure, regardless of how sincerely or with what good will the person embarked on a course of action.

Times of transition are always times of being in “deep water” in one way or another. Certainties of the past may no longer hold. Future patterns and realities cannot be described with any assurance. Old ways pass away. New ways are not yet here. We are in a liminal or threshold state: neither here nor there, waiting to see what will unfold and what new wisdom will be gained as we move into the next phase of our lives. The truly great news is that the Lord is here with us in our little boats out in deep water. Because the Lord is here with us, an abundant catch awaits our labors. As we trust his word and move ahead, the Lord calls each of us with Peter and his brothers, to  become fishers of men, following faithfully and moving beyond the life we know and with which we are comfortable into the unknown future of service in God’s Kingdom.

As we move forward towards Holy Week, the celebration of the Triduum, and Easter, may we remember to take time to be alone with the Lord and then move with him back into our worlds to care for God’s people with His compassion.

Let this be our prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Rekindle the fire of love within each of us and our Church. Guide those who will elect the next Bishop of Rome to carry out the mission of St. Peter as leader of the community. Gift them with wisdom and understanding as they evaluate potential leaders, as well as the courage to trust that the Lord will always be with the Church as we move into the future with all its challenges and joys. Help us to be people of prayer and reflection, as well as people willing to move out of our comfort zones into the deep waters of faithfulness in discipleship, knowing that with the Lord’s help, regardless of who is chosen to be the next Holy Father, all will be well in the end.

Happy, Joyful, and Peaceful Lent!

 Public domain image: Transportation boat on water by John Cossick

 

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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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Posted by on Apr 18, 2012

Divine Mercy – Entering the Locked Rooms of our Hearts

Divine Mercy – Entering the Locked Rooms of our Hearts

 

Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius

Divine Mercy Sunday falls each year on the second Sunday of Easter. On this day we hear the story of Jesus’ appearance on Easter evening to his disciples who were hiding in the locked room where they had celebrated their last meal with him only a few days earlier. They were confused, frightened, bewildered, incredulous, and all the emotions in-between. They knew he had been executed. They knew that for the most part they had deserted him in his time of suffering. Yet the women had come bearing the message that he was risen from the dead. Peter and John had found the tomb empty. And now … here he was before them.

What would he say? “You blankety-blank sorry excuses for friends — I don’t know what I ever saw in you!” “How could you abandon me?” “Go take a long walk off a short pier.” “I’m done with you!”

The rest of us might have said such things. Such feelings would be accepted as only human. But Jesus said nothing of the sort. What did he say? “Peace be with you.” Not just once. He repeated it that night and again the next week, when he came again, with a special mission to reassure Thomas of his resurrection.

The early disciples were ordinary men and women like all of us alive today. Like them, we hide away, locking our fears, hurts, anger, doubts, shame, and uncertainty deep within. We hesitate to let anyone see or touch us in our pain, even our Risen Lord. So he comes to us too and offers peace. The mercy and absolute forgiveness of God are ours through Jesus. As our deacon, Patrick Conway, reminded us all Sunday morning, our best response is to allow Jesus to enter into our lives in their deepest, most hidden and hurting areas with God’s loving mercy and healing power. When we receive Communion, we, like the disciples in that locked room, find our Lord and Savior in the midst of our lives and we too receive the power to forgive and the gift of being forgiven.

As we bask in the gift of Divine Mercy this week, may the mercy, love and peace of the Risen Lord be with each of us. Then may we carry God’s mercy forward with us to all we meet in the year to come.

Painting by Eugene Kazimierowski.
Photograph by Alma Pater.
GNU Free documentation license.

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Posted by on Mar 18, 2012

Asceticism and Mysticism: The Two are Linked

The point of all efforts to change and grow is happiness. Happiness  involves becoming more and more conscious of who we are, what we want and need, and how to get these.   A lot of life is spent exploring all of this. We enjoy ourselves and suffer in the journey to try things out, learn new skills, problem solve, experiment.  We also react to phenomena,and defend and harm ourselves and others at times.  In the midst of this we learn to distinguish between gains and satisfactions that are short term vs. long term and things that may feel good and are helpful and things that feel good and are toxic.  I may love ice cream but if I eat a  lot of it I may trade away my joy because it can make me sick.

Identifying how I feel when I do things is important.  If I feel peaceful when I make a decision, the decision is probably going to be beneficial.  If I feel uncomfortable when I make a decision but decide to do the activity or acquire the commodity anyway, the end will probably be harmful for me.  If I do something out of fear it probably will ultimately harm me – i.e. marrying someone so I will not be alone is  not a good reason to marry someone.   Taking a job one loaths because the money is needed is something one should only do as a last resort.  It would be wise to ransack one’s soul, talk to every friend, pray and brainstorm about any weird angle on jobs before just settling for a terrible job.  It is often the case that our lives are forcing us to look at possibilities that up to this point we have had a closed mind about.  These interior markers are very reliable if one learns the art of discernment and is also given the grace of discernment.  The famous historian of religion, Joseph Campbell, was asked by Bill Moyers if he had a sense that he was guided when he made decisions.  Campbell replied that he felt the helping hands of many beings when he had the courage to do what he knew was right.

So, making a commitment to live an honest, non-addictive life – a life in which I can be my true self – requires the skills to discern the right path for me.  That kind of life is surrendered to the truth.  It is a life that is not grasping, fearful or egotistical.  It can be a life that is loving, just, courageous.  This is not an easy thing.  From the Catholic point of view, it is impossible unless one is empowered by a love that keeps one from despair.  The more one seeks love and justice, the more one also sees insensitivity and selfishness. We also become acutely aware of our own entanglement in fear, loneliness, pain, anger and disappointment.  We want to feel safe but we want to be creative and compassionate.  How to do that?

If people are connected to a reality that is larger than themselves – a community or a transcendent being – that person can go beyond his/her fears and trust.  The ability to do this has to be rooted in experience.  Faith/trust in life cannot be totally blind.  It has to be based on an encounter with goodness/love.  In the Catholic context people have experiences all the time of peace, the presence of the Sacred, being blessed and guided.  No one can prove the existence of God.  Experts of all stripes can reduce religious belief to a projection of one’s neurons or psychology.  The scientific method can be paraded out and empiricism presented as the only acceptable measure of whether the spiritual is real.  In the end all of those super respectable criteria are a chimera.  We don’t have to accept the idea that our reality fits itself into an instrument of measurement that we have created if the reality we want to define is greater than the instrument – i.e. if God is infinite yet personal, that Sacred Reality is well beyond the physics of our situation as we know it.

In the normal committed spiritual life people educate themselves and have important insights and growth.  But, within the context of meditation and a reflected upon life people also have periodic religious experiences.  These experiences sustain and guide them.  They are not addictive but energizing, healing and challenging.  These experiences are not just for the Saints.  And, becoming closer to God is not a “crutch.”  It is a break through to the way reality is.  Asceticism and mysticism are brother and sister.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Posted by on Mar 14, 2012

Lent: How Could Asceticism Be Helpful to Me?

Catholics who grew up in the 50′s and 60′s and before often heard: “Offer it up!” We might have blown that idea off but we knew it had a deeper meaning. The heart of the maxim was closeness to the person of Christ – with a being of unconditional love and compassion.  No one wants to just torture oneself to rack up a extra “Brownie Points” with God. But, being with Christ and the poor is another thing. Even minor deprivation reminds us of how blessed and addicted we are.  We are all interconnected, in solidarity with every living thing. Knowing we are blessed and not complaining over the inconveniences of life makes us more compassionate. Being grateful can’t help but contribute to a holier world.

Some people  seek ways to actively promote their spiritual growth and more freedom from attachments by simplifying their lives or cultivating an awareness of what is controlling them  One term for this is “asceticism.”

“Asceticism” comes from the Greek words “Ascetikos” and “Askein” which refer to exercise.  It does not have anything to do with inflicting pain or enduring something just to prove that one is committed or is strong. The point of asceticism is to learn to identify one’s unhelpful attachments or addictions and to then learn ways to not have these rule us – to strengthen our ability to make conscious choices.  So, for example, when I eat I can observe what I want to eat the most and then see if that kind of food is good for me.  It is amazing how often or quickly we can see what is in charge of our lives.  I can at times feel an over whelming need to eat something to tamp down upsetting feelings.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola advised retreatants doing the retreat called the Spiritual Exercises to observe their attachment to things that led to unhappiness in their lives in general through the vehicle of observing their desires at a meal.  He pointed out that we usually want what he called “delicacies” rather than the healthier staple foods of the day (curly fries with cheese sauce as opposed to chicken and salad?)  Our desire can be fierce.  He also pointed out that at meals we may not be interested in being present to the other people.  We may converse but we may not be listening or really care what the other is expressing.  All of this is a potential goldmine for growth.  If we desire to know ourselves and to be of service to the world then we can consciously reflect on our attachments, desires and feelings.  In the Christian context, freedom from denial and negative patterns is not achieved by sheer exercise of one’s will.  Deciding to stop doing something does not necessarily change one’s interior life.  So authentic growth is not just on the surface.  Authentic growth in the Christian context is about moving away from something negative because one is moving towards something positive.  In technical terms asceticism cannot be separated from mysticism (meant as religious experience).  So, knowledge of what is going on at the microcosm of the dinner table which might be very self-centered or destructive can be transformed for even the most helplessly addicted foodaholic  into a victory of freedom.  That freedom though will be effected for the Christian by an encounter with the Sacred – a very positive experience of unconditional love.

Okay, but how does one have these experiences?!  (Stay tuned for more!)

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