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Posted by on Dec 15, 2013

Rejoice and See God Present

Rejoice and See God Present

Joy

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

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

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

Isaiah declares:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Posted by on Dec 1, 2013

Stay Awake! See the Power of Hope!

Stay Awake! See the Power of Hope!

Hope

 

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

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

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

 

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Posted by on Dec 20, 2012

Las Posadas: Food, Fiesta and Community

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

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

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

Evangelization in a New World

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

Days of Prayer and Celebration

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

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

Piñatas, Sin and Forgiveness

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

Sharing Food and Creating Communitas

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

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

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

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2012

Rejoicing When our Hearts are Breaking

Rejoicing When our Hearts are Breaking

Gaudete!

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

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

“Rejoice … Always”

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

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

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

Photo (Three Candles) by Alice Birkin – public domain

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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 Dec 18, 2011

Waiting and Listening for the Coming of the Lord

On this last Sunday of Advent, as excitement for Christmas builds, it’s time to listen carefully for the ways God speaks to us as we go about our daily activities. Christmas is coming, but not here yet. It’s still Advent, with the Advent imperative to wait in quite wonder as our God transforms human existence and all of creation through the Incarnation. We heard the story of the Annunciation as told by St. Luke (1:26-38) in our liturgies today. A song I learned as a teen echoed in my heart through the rest of the day. “Our Lord has come today, let us rejoice now. Our Lord has come today, let us rejoice. The whispered ‘Yes’ of a lowly maid brought life to dying world, so rejoice now, my friend, rejoice now.”

This week, as we go about our work, whether in offices, factories, fields, homes, or other locations, let us keep our ears open to hear the voice of God speaking through our family members, co-workers, friends, children, senior citizens, and strangers we meet  along the way. Each person we meet can be God’s messenger to us, reminding us of who we are as God’s beloved children and calling us to be greater than we ever dreamed possible. In our dealings with other people, may we be patient, kind, thoughtful and understanding, so they too may receive the gift of peace at this time of preparation and be able to wait and listen to hear the Lord coming through all the excitement and hubbub. As we give and receive this gift of peace, our world can be transformed again, as the Lord lives through us, continuing to bring life to the world.

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Posted by on Dec 24, 2010

A Pilgrimage on the Pathway of Peace

In Advent we journey with our sisters and brothers around the world, all children of the same God, to the Kingdom of Peace and Justice. Christ, as Key of Knowledge is our guide along the pathway of peace.

O Key of Knowledge, guide us in our pilgrimage,
we ever seek, yet unfulfilled remain,
open to us the pathway of your peace.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.

My Soul in Stillness Waits by Marty Haugen, 1982

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2010

Advent – The Coming or Arrival of Something Extremely Important

Advent is a liturgical season for Christians. It’s also a term that means arrival or the coming of something extremely important. One of the O antiphons refers to Christ as the Root of Life who draws all to Himself, giving birth again to hope through His dying and rising. May we welcome His advent in our lives.

O Root of Life, implant your seed within us,
and in your advent, draw us all to you,
our hope reborn in dying and in rising.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.

My Soul in Stillness Waits, by Marty Haugen, 1982

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Posted by on Dec 22, 2010

Still Waiting

Continuing to wait in joyful expectation for the coming of the Lord in all the many ways we meet Him, we pray:

O Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits,
our thirsty hearts are yearning for your Word,
come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.


*My Soul in Stillness Waits – Marty Haugen, 1982

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Posted by on Dec 21, 2010

Waiting in Stillness

The final days of Advent are often filled with activity and anxiety. Where will I find the perfect gift for Uncle Joe? Will Aunt Susie be bringing her “famous” casserole (that no one really likes)? How will I be able to smile and seem merry when I’m still grieving the loss of my husband/child/friend?

There are so many cares and worries in each of our lives that it can be hard to set them aside and be at peace as we approach the feast of Christmas. Yet what we are celebrating is the coming of the Prince of Peace into our world – into our personal lives.

The hymn by Marty Haugen, My Soul in Stillness Waits, based on the O Antiphons and Psalm 95 is a special reminder of what really matters in these final few days before Christmas. Today I share the first verse and refrain as a point for meditation and peace.

O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,
your radiance shines in all who look to you,
come light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.

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