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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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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 Nov 15, 2015

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

woman-and-child-RenoirFamilies today are struggling with the challenge to fit in a day all the things they need to do. School, childcare, meals, commute, work, marriage, parenting, pets, athletics, extended family, finances, church, house, local and broader civic issues, friends, medical needs, and recreation all require thought and planning. Everyone wants their children to be happy and, for parents with faith, this includes wanting their children to be close to God, part of a community of believers, and to have a faith-filled life.

Parenting Styles

Usually families adopt some form of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive or Dialogue. The style used may vary based on situation and/or age of the child.

Some rules, such as “No running into the street,” start out as authoritarian with a very young child but with older children there can be a dialogue about the reasons. Brushing a two-year-old’s teeth is a decision from the top down (authoritarian). Later on there can be conversations about it. Permissive parenting, in which the children run the house and are allowed to break the rules or to not do the chores is usually never helpful. At times, when a child has exams, she can skip her chores or go to bed late, but that can be decided in a negotiation about the special situation. Going to church for parents with faith will be at the top of the hierarchy of choices about the family schedule. Hopefully the parents know that they need to be there — to hear the Scriptures, the preaching, or to receive the Eucharist. There may be exceptions, but being consistent will make the liturgy a natural and essential part of the rhythm of life. Church can also be a place for other involvements for children, such as religious education, roles in the liturgy, youth group, outreach, or choir. Making the liturgy more meaningful for children by providing a book to read or color can also help them engage in the Mass and enjoy it more.

But all of this will not necessarily help children to have a relationship with God or stay in the Church. A big help in this direction is if the parents have a living relationship with God, can naturally talk about it, and enjoy spending time with their children. The best approach is both organic to the parents’ entire orientation and planned strategies. Parents who know and experience God and the saints in their lives think, feel and do everything out of a spiritual orientation and discernment. In their adult relationships, home/family, work, and the world, everything hopefully is referred to God and what God is loving for them to love (even learning to trust him in little things like losing your keys). Feelings and actions that come from fear can be recognized and given to God (Discernment). If a parent grows in discernment and asks for wisdom and courage, God will give it and everything goes much better. Planning, conversations, and family problems — all are more productive. Everyone in the family can grow in peace, understanding, generosity and trust in God.

Stress and worry are a part of family life. Painful things will happen. Feeling loved by God will not prevent or remove all suffering. It will reduce anxiety and even anger. For the faith-filled family, unavoidable forms of suffering can be understood as a sharing in Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. (Mk. 10:44 ff.) We also know that he never leaves us. He asks us to lean on him and ask him for the grace to bear the heavier loads. Daily prayer — both talking to God and listening to God — can help parents to keep perspective and not take personally the problems that will come. (For work and faith ideas, see: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press: Chicago, 2005. Excellent, well written.)

Protecting Children, then Letting Them Go

One of the biggest issues that comes up in child-raising is that of control. Parents are responsible for working through the process of protecting their children and then letting go of them. Parents pour love, energy, resources, and sacrifices into family life but do not “own” their children, who in fact are gifts from God. At some point, offspring will start making their own decisions and these may not reflect the values of the parents. They may have abilities and desires that are foreign to the parents. There will be a period of time when children are learning who they are and trying out many experiences available to them. If the child has been exposed to a healthy and holy way of dealing with decisions (e.g. trust in God and discernment) in the family from infancy, they have a very good chance of seeking what God wants for them.

Adults and children can develop an interior life with God in which they recognize when they are doing actions from fear, insecurity, laziness, and/or to impress others. Children encounter many negative things in their lives both in themselves and others. Bullying, cheating, and lying are all around them. There is no harm is letting them know about the influence of the Evil Spirit too when they are older. In middle school they will encounter many forms of social climbing and meanness right next to kindness and generosity. Parents can spend time by both listening to the child and talking about the fact that God will be with them as they make the choice to be friendly to an outcast or to own up to a bad choice.

Understanding the developmental stage of your child is important for both their moral understanding and experience of faith. The work of the religious psychologist Dr. James Fowler is very helpful. His work is summarized in an article entitled “How God Invites Us to Grow: the Six Stages of Faith Development” by Richard J. Sweeney, Franciscan Media, Catholic Update, No. CU1087.

Discernment as Part of Family Life

God dwells within us and will help us sort out destructive feelings from those of courage, strength, hope, and self-worth. If parents are doing this themselves day after day and sharing this at times with their family, the children will share their successes in being strong and discerning too. Listening to our kids, wanting to know their interests and worries, will help them to feel understood. The goal is not control. The goal is that we surrender to God our desires, worries, and problems and let him tell us how best to work with them. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen is very helpful in going over each day what is working and not working in my thoughts and behaviors and what I can ask God to help me with. There are many modern versions of this prayer available. Children can be taught to do this little review without dwelling on the mistakes but simply asking Jesus to be there when I am feeling pressure.

It is not by accident that our present Pope Francis speaks constantly of dialogue and seeking understanding. According to Francis, we should never be frightened of being open to understanding those who disagreed with us. (Pope Francis, homily October 4 in the Mass opening the Synod on the family, St. Peter’s Basilica) To the pope that does not mean that we cannot condemn certain philosophies and behaviors, but it does mean that we must understand and love others no matter what. Once we surrender our lives and our children’s lives to God, we can expect and ask God to help us. (E.g. blind Bartimaeus, Mk. 10:46-52) In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that in creating a new human ecology ​​in which we all nurture the Earth, marriage ​and family are a natural base for this kind of universal solidarity. The self-giving of marriage can be taught to children, who can learn to care for the Earth and share its resources with others. Parents and children can forge a strong bond while living these values together. Parents can communicate the ways in which God reveals his love in the beauty, mystery and rhythms of Creation.

Practical Suggestions

Some practical suggestions for family life are to selectively sprinkle in your talk how you react to problems or make decisions out of your relationship with God, find times for family prayer, and ask your kids individually how things are going. One time for prayer is before dinner. Take a little time to ask people at the table if there is someone or something they would like everyone to prayer for. This can also be a bedtime ritual. It is great if parents purchase appropriate lives of the saints and read parts to younger children each night, etc. Acknowledging to a child that you know they have a concern: an exam, tryouts for a sport, a difficult subject at school, a dance coming up and saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is a good thing if it is not constant. Children are very perceptive. If you are sincere and are seeking God, they will be too. But, if God is abstract for you, children will sense this. You might consider seeing if there is a spiritual director in your parish to talk to or a retreat center in the area where you can go on a retreat, spend a few hours, or see a spiritual director. There are also wonderful websites to visit regularly, even for just 10 minutes, that have articles, mini-retreats and music. A wonderful article on prayer,  “Never Lose Heart” by Robert P. Maloney, CM, for example, is found on the America Magazine website.

Discussion (or Reflection) Questions

1. Have I experienced God or the saints ?  In what ways?

2. Do I pray? What kinds of prayer am I familiar with? Speaking and listening?

3. Can I share my faith or thoughts about spiritual things in a natural way or is this difficult?

Image: “Woman and Child” – Renoir – public domain

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

800px-Petersdom_von_Engelsburg_gesehen - public domainThe Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis have asked members of the Catholic community, from both the Western and Eastern churches, to read the draft document prepared at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October in Rome and to respond with comments and insights drawn from their own experience of the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.

Generally, members of the hierarchy do not consult ordinary members of the community regarding establishment of policies for dealing with pastoral issues such as how to help people prepare for marriage, how to support married couples in their life commitment, how to care for families that are wounded or broken apart, how to help members who are not heterosexual in their orientation, how and when to welcome children into the lives of a family, and how to pass on our faith within our families.

Nevertheless, all of us have some experience in this regard, since all have lived as members of a family. The bishops are asking us to share our experiences and the wisdom we have gained through the  practical challenges of living in families as people of faith.

The document prepared in October 2014 has been published. Each diocese has been asked to distribute the draft document and a questionnaire regarding the information included in the document. The dioceses are to collect responses, and prepare a summary of the thoughts of those who live with its geographic region.

The time frame is short. Responses are needed by the end of the first week of March so there will be enough time to summarize them and return them to Rome before the bishops assemble again in October 2015.

Please read the document carefully and respond to the questionnaire honestly and prayerfully, based on your own experience. Pope Francis and the bishops really want to know what the thinking of the People of God (the Church) is on these matters, because the Holy Spirit speaks through the everyday experiences of ordinary people.

Links to the document in several European languages are included in the sidebar to the right. For readers in other countries, check with your local diocese for the document in other languages.

Surveys for the Diocese of Monterey, California are available at the diocesan website.

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

Why Do Children Suffer? Pope Francis Speaks to Filipino Youth

Why Do Children Suffer? Pope Francis Speaks to Filipino Youth

 

The video and the text are largely in Spanish, though a simultaneous translation into English is included. This is a summary of a small part of the Pope’s extemporaneous speech.

During a presentation to young people in the Philippines, the Holy Father set aside his prepared text to answer a question that had been raised by a 12 year old girl who had been rescued from the street. Tearfully weeping, Glyzelle Palomar, recounted the miseries of her life in a few words and asked, “Many children are abandoned by their own parents, many are victims of many terrible things such as drugs and prostitution. Why does God permit these things even though the children are not at fault.Why do so few people come forward to help?” In this video we can view the scene and the Pope’s compassionate embrace of the child.

What response is possible to the perennial problem of evil? Pope Francis did not try to evade the question with platitudes. He took the question head-on, educating about 30,000 of the faithful and challenging them. First, he noted the shortage of women among those making presentations and he emphasized the importance of the point of view of women. The Pope said that women pose questions which men could never stop trying to understand, that is, never grasp.

We can understand something, added the Holy Father, “when the heart reaches the place in which it can ask the questions and cry. Only through tears do we arrive at a true compassion which can transform the world.” Pope Francis described a common, worldly type of compassion as one in which we just take a coin out of our pocket. He added that if Christ had shown this type of compassion, he would simply have spent a little time with a few people and gone back to the Father. Jesus could comprehend our lives, the Pope said, when He was able to cry and did cry.

He notes, “In today’s world, there is a lack of crying. Although the marginalized, the poor, and the outcasts cry, those of us who do not lack anything essential do not cry. Only those eyes that have been cleansed by tears are able to so see things as they are.”

The Pope challenged the faithful. “Let us not forget (this young woman’s) testimony. She asked the great question ‘why do children suffer?’ crying. And the great answer all of us can give is to learn how to cry.”

 

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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 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 Mar 25, 2012

The Church: LA Religious Education Congress

Hello from Los Angeles!

The Religious Education Congress has been excellent — energizing and enlightening.  There has been a decided focus on some basic topics and themes that have been unpopular with most Catholic progressives — things like sin and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It’s all been integrated in a very interesting way.  I believe it may be in reaction to the accusations of the Catholic Right that everyone else in the Church has fallen off the deep end into perdition.  It is also probably in response to the reality of the need for evangelization regarding the need for God in the first place.

Religion is very un-PC at the moment.  “Sin” as a topic is a “no-no.”  Taking responsibility for hurtful acts is very difficult for most people.  The connection between sin and evangelization is that one cannot be a credible witness to the need for faith if one is living a chaotic or destructive life.  Many of the speakers pointed to the need for good decisions, being able to hear God’s voice in the midst of all the competing voices in our culture — security, money, appearances, status etc. —  and having a spiritual director or a personal spiritual coach in the person to whom one goes for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Matthew Kelly noted, “Holiness is attractive.”  We have so many Catholics outside the Church who have been hurt by someone in the Church that we have to look at how committed we are to our own faith — does it really matter?  We are attracted to a Mother Teresa.  She was only one person — a small one at that.  So, Kelly rightly asked — “What’s with the rest of us?”

It’s a good question — one that we would all do well to take as our focus during these final days of Lent and as we go into Easter.

 

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Posted by on Dec 21, 2011

Advice and Encouragement from St. Peter Canisius

Advice and Encouragement from St. Peter Canisius

St. Peter Canisius, S.J.

“If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all.”

St. Peter Canisius, an early Jesuit, lived during the Reformation. He was active in teaching, ministering to the sick and the poor, in addition to being entrusted with implementation of the decrees of the Council of Trent. He was assigned to work in Germany following the Council, teaching and establishing colleges and seminaries. He developed a catechism for ordinary people, one of the first of its kind. He was a popular preacher and prolific writer, who was not afraid to write to Church leaders to encourage them to live up to their calling.

As we approach Christmas, with all the busyness of the season, we could do worse than to remember St. Peter Canisius’ words and ask God to help us do the things we need to do, and to let go those that really don’t matter.

Image in the Public Domain – painted in 1699.

 

 

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Posted by on Nov 26, 2011

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Icon of St. Catherine of Alexandria

 

St. Catherine of Alexandria was born towards the end of the 3rd century. According to legend, she became a Christian at the age of 14 following a vision. She was known for her wisdom and is said to have successfully debated 50 non-Christian philosophers when she was only 18. Responsible for the conversion of hundreds of people, she was eventually martyred (around 310 AD). Condemned to death on the wheel, instead she was beheaded because the wheel broke at her touch. Catherine is remembered since the 14th century as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers saints to whom people prayed especially for healing and protection from diseases.

In the middle ages, a tradition arose of celebrating her feast by visiting neighbors, singing songs requesting food and drink (cakes and breads or apples and beer). I came across this recipe for Catherine’s Cake (Kattern Cakes or Catterning Cakes). It is simple to make and would make a great project to do with children to help make it fun to be Catholic Christians. The detailed recipe on the web is written in metric system, however, there’s a basic description with quantities in the old English system we still use in the United States.

Catherine’s Cake

2 pounds yeast bread dough
2 oz  (1/4 cup) butter
2 oz  (1/4 cup) sugar
1 egg, beaten
A few caraway seeds

Frozen bread dough may be used, or make your own. Soften the butter and mix with sugar, egg, and caraway seeds, then knead into the dough. Allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, either divide it into tennis ball sized loaves or form it into a larger loaf and place on/in a floured baking pan. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. If you have made the smaller loaves, flatten them slightly to make “cakes” for individual servings.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for two hours. (Smaller cakes may require a shorter baking time.)

Invite in the neighbors and enjoy with sparkling cider or other festive drink!

Image in the Public domain –
From St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt

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Posted by on Sep 29, 2011

St. Lioba – An Extraordinary Woman in the History of German Christianity

St. Lioba – An Extraordinary Woman in the History of German Christianity

 

St. Lioba of Tauberbishofsheim - by Kandschwar

Saint Lioba (aka Leoba) was born in Wessex, England in approximately 710. Her given name was Thrutgeba and her surname was Lioba, a name meaning Beloved. According to her biographer, Rudolf of Fulda, her birth to aged and formerly barren parents was foretold to her mother in a dream. Her mother promised that her child would be dedicated to the service of God and so Lioba entered the abbey at Wimborne as a child. In a delightful biography, Rudolf provides details about the abbess Tetta who was responsible for the monastery and the women who lived within its walls, as well as of the sources for his narrative of Lioba’s life. He then goes on to tell of Lioba: her life and accomplishments.

Lioba took full advantage of the opportunity to study and learn within the monastery. Girls were not generally given the opportunity to study in the 8th Century. Nevertheless, within the monastery, Lioba learned to read and study Scripture, as well as learning through observation and practice how to get along with others and manage a large enterprise/household such as an abbey.

A relative of St. Boniface, Apostle to the Germans, as a young woman, Lioba wrote to him, expressing interest in his missionary work in Germany: “To the most reverend Boniface, bearer of the highest dignity and well-beloved in Christ, Lioba, to whom he is related by blood, the least of Christ’s handmaids, sends greetings for eternal salvation.”

Lioba and Boniface corresponded with each other for twenty years before he invited her to come to Germany and establish monasteries for women there. She became abbess of the monastery at Bischofsheim, leading a large number of women in the spiritual life as well as the practical details of earning a living as a community. She never stopped studying and deepening her knowledge of Scripture and the faith. According to Rudolf, “She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law.” In addition to her education, she was known for her wisdom and kindness, moderation and compassion, hospitality and humility; she welcomed and gave advice to visitors including bishops who came to seek her counsel. In turn, she was the only woman allowed to enter the monasteries for men to participate in consultations with church leaders on issues related to the rule of monasteries.

Under the advice and guidance of Lioba, nuns from her abbey became leaders of other monasteries as well, continuing the work of evangelization begun by Boniface. Lioba was a friend of Charlemagne’s wife, Hildegard, and a welcome visitor in the court of Pippin III. She was known for her learning and for the depth of her faith. Miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime and following her death. In fact, her remains were moved at least twice to protect them when miracles were reported at the grave sites. Eventually, they were buried in a church in Fulda.

Lioba lived approximately 72 years. She died September 28, 782, so her feast is celebrated to this day on September 28. While not one of the more broadly known saints in today’s church, she is certainly a woman worthy of note and imitation. She was not afraid to read, study, and learn of “holy” topics, nor to share her insights with powerful men (not all of whom would have appreciated her position of leadership and equality in terms of education and influence). Yet she did not neglect the practical necessities of life in community or of the administration of large enterprises. She was well-loved by the women whom she led and respected by both ordinary folks and the powerful leaders of her time. Not a bad role model for us today.

Image by Kandschwar – GNU Free Documentation License

 

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Posted by on Dec 19, 2007

Las Posadas – Welcoming the Coming of Christ

Las Posadas – Welcoming the Coming of Christ

las-posadas.bmp

In the Spanish speaking world, it is customary to prepare for Christmas through nine days of celebration known as “las Posadas,” literally, “the inns” or “the lodgings.” As part of this celebration, a girl and a boy, dressed as Mary and Joseph, go with family and friends from house to house for nine days in a row, singing and asking for shelter. At each house, they are turned away, until on the last night, at the last house, they are welcomed inside and all share in a party.

The song for Las Posadas is sung back and forth by those outside and those inside. Those outside speak as Joseph, asking for lodging for himself and his pregnant wife. Those inside refuse entry to the pilgrims, citing lack of room and the fact that it is late and these are unknown strangers at the door. The final plea, the one that gains them entrance, is the one asking shelter for Mary, the Queen of Heaven and soon to be Mother of the Divine Word. On hearing this introduction, those inside apologize for not understanding who it was that was seeking entrance. They welcome the outsiders into the house, singing, “Enter, holy pilgrims, receive this corner, for though this dwelling is poor, I offer it with all my heart.” The song continues with the offer of the singer’s soul as a place of lodging for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I have seen several versions of the words and the tune for the Posada, but the theme is the same. The Holy Family is traveling, needing shelter, appearing as the stranger. No one is willing to help them. The house is full; strangers can be a danger to the household; it’s late; the claims of those asking for help seem pretty wild. (She’s a queen?  Yeah, right! Why’s she out so late at night and alone?) Then comes the moment of recognition – the visitors are Heaven-sent – and welcome follows, both physically and spiritually, as the visitors enter into our homes and our hearts.

In these last few days before Christmas, whether we celebrate them with a Posada, or a novena, or simply by lighting the candles on our Advent Wreath, it is a time to remember to smile at the stranger, wait our turn patiently in the long lines at the stores, and offer a prayer for peace for ourselves and those around us. After all, who knows when the stranger we encounter will be a visitor from God who will touch our heart and who awaits our loving response.

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