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Posted by on Apr 5, 2020

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday has arrived once more. In 2020, as we deal with the challenges of a worldwide pandemic, it seems a good time to look carefully at the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as he began the last week of his public ministry.

Here’s a word search puzzle to try, share it with children and friends, and reflect on what it all meant then and now. If you can’t find all the words, check here for the solution, but spend some time searching for them and reflecting first!

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Posted by on Jun 4, 2019

Ascension and Rituals of Farewell

Ascension and Rituals of Farewell

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Shakespeare wrote. We have a chance to contemplate what that means as we celebrate Jesus’ leave-taking, also known as The Ascension of the Lord. We certainly can relate at this time of year with so many goodbyes happening. Graduates are saying goodbye to the schools that have educated them as they look forward to new and exciting experiences in high school, college, graduate school, or a career. Parents are saying goodbye to the young people they’ve protected, supported, and guided at home, watching them start their own lives.

Each goodnight prayer and kiss is a promise to your children that your love stays with them through the night, just as God’s love stays with them through life. Goodnight and goodbye rituals are important for the development of spiritual strength and faith.  They teach us that there is a connection between the loved and lover that doesn’t end when one is invisible to the other.

The words goodbye, adieu, and adios all mean “God be with you.” They are words of blessing that commit another person to the care of God. Jesus exemplifies this power of blessing when he greets his disciples in Galilee after the Resurrection. He assures them of his presence as he directs them to “go and make disciples of all nations.” His final words are clear and powerful: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew’s Gospel ends with these words.

“I am with you always.” This is what a child knows when parent kisses or signs her with a cross at night or when leaving for school. It’s what is understood by a friend’s hug, a blown kiss, or hands waving. One of our family rituals involves standing on the curb waving until the people leaving have disappeared around the corner, taking our blessings and presence with them.

The final blessing at Mass is the liturgy’s goodbye. The words empower us to go forth and make disciples of nations, to be God’s peace in the world, to serve and love one another. The words acknowledge that between the entrance and dismissal rites, God has been present to us in a wonderful and mysterious way, and we are now being commissioned to do what we gathered to do. Poised at the threshold of the church, we are ready to bring Christ into the world. Everything we have experienced at Mass – our gathering, listening to the Word, and coming to the Table – has prepared us for this moment of departure.

Let’s try to acknowledge the importance of those last moments of Mass by paying attention, listening to the words of the final blessing, and taking them into our hearts. Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he would be with them always is our promise too. Let’s receive that promise with gratitude and pass it on to others, letting each “goodbye” become a promise of our love and presence.

God be with you.

Public domain image – Ascension of Christ

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?


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Posted by on Dec 31, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

A Prayer at Christmas time



Almighty God and Father of light,

a child is born for us and a son is given to us.

Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven

in the silent watches of the night,

and now your Church is filled with wonder

at the nearness of her God.

Open our hearts to receive his life

and increase ouf vision with the rising of dawn,

that our lives may be filled with his glory and his peace,

who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

From Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Growing: From the Celebration of Light at Candlemas into Lent

lent-cross-trinity-park-forestThe arrival of Lent always seems too fast. Christmas season is so short yet so intense following the four weeks of Advent. We get a brief few weeks of Ordinary Time to ponder the baptismal experience of Jesus and his response, and then, BOOM, here we are in Lent again! It sometimes feels like maybe we should just postpone it for a few more weeks. Maybe Easter wouldn’t really have to be the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Would that be such a big deal? But then I think a bit further and decide that maybe 2000 years of tradition have something to tell me/us today as well.

February begins with the celebration of Candlemas on February 2. This day recognizes events in the life of Jesus and his parents when they visited the temple both for the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after childbirth and the presentation of Jesus, as her firstborn son, to God. It is also known as Candlemas because the prophet Simeon recognized Jesus as the Promised One and foretold that he would be a light to all the nations. Candles have been the primary source of light for most of the history of Christianity, so they became associated with these feasts.

As we listen to the Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus, we see him discovering the special relationship he has with God as Father and the mission for which he has been sent. He accepts that mission, to gather the people of Israel and bring them back with him to the Father, beginning with the poor and marginalized of his land. It’s not without reason that he calls fishermen and tax collectors to be his special friends or that he uses images of farming, tending flocks, baking bread, keeping house, and fishing to explain God’s love for the people. These are realities deeply understood by his audience.

Jesus had three years in which to grow into the man who would stand before the religious and political leaders of his country and testify to the truth of who he was/is. During that time he preached and healed many of those who were brought to him. He also retreated regularly into the hills or off onto the Sea of Galilee to pray. We are told more than once that he slipped away to pray early in the morning and his disciples had to go looking for him. To their insistent reminders that people were waiting for him, Jesus responded that time to be with his Father was even more important. That time away with his Father was what made it possible for him ultimately to face and accept his death and the apparent failure of his mission.

We are called to live in the light of the Resurrection, but we are also called to live as Jesus did. That means we must deal with many of the same realities faced by the people of his time. Poverty, injustice, hardship, the unfairness of life — these things are not unique to the ancient world nor to our world. It is through prayer, fasting, and other activities of Lent that we grow in strength to follow the Lord. When Easter arrives, we rejoice with the newly baptized as we once again rise with the Lord in our daily lives. All is renewed and hope springs forth eternally. From the Light come into the world, through the time of deepening prayer and growth in faith, to the joy of the Resurrection.

It’s time to celebrate Lent!

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Posted by on Jan 17, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry


Hubble's View of NGC 5584Vatican astronomers, Br. Guy Consolmagno and Fr. Paul Mueller have penned this provocative question as the title of their new book. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? deals with the most common questions they receive. Generally the questions assume a conflict between science and faith. Their first task is to reduce the assumption of conflict and to look at the information in an analytical and thoughtful way.

For example, they take on the star of Bethlehem and rule out many of the scientific explanations. It was most likely not a supernova as Kepler had proposed. It may have been a conjunction of planets as proposed by Molnar in his 1999 book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. However, limiting the question to how it occurred and which laws of nature were violated can miss the point. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles don’t always mean a suspension of the laws of nature. The point of the star of Bethlehem is that God gave a great sign. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles, whether they accord with the laws of science or not, are some great sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Br. Consolmagno defines science as an ongoing conversation about facts. It is not a book of rules. Likewise religion is conversation we have within our church, among ourselves, and with God. He concludes, “One of the joys of science and philosophy is learning how to live and enjoy a mystery.”

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2014

Candlemas: Light Candles to Celebrate the Light of the World

Candlemas: Light Candles to Celebrate the Light of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2013

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Transfiguration: Letting the Glory of God Shine Through


The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration

On the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) we celebrate the day when Jesus, having taken three of his disciples to the top of a mountain to pray with him, experienced the presence of God so dramatically that the disciples saw the glory of God shine through his very being. The disciples witnessed Moses and Elijah visiting with Jesus and offered to build three tents so Jesus could stay in his glory with these representatives of the Law and the Prophets. Then a cloud covered the mountain top and those standing on it. The disciples recognized God’s presence in the cloud and heard the Father’s voice proclaim Jesus to be his chosen Son to whom they were to listen. The next moment they were alone again with Jesus. All were left feeling speechless to describe the experience. (Lk 9:28b-36) Only later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, were the disciples able to speak about what they had seen and experienced that day.

Did it really happen?

Looking back at the event with the perspective of nearly 2,000 years, we might wonder at the description of what happened and question how literally Jesus’ face “changed in appearance” and how his clothing could have become “dazzling white.” This is especially true because such statements are commonly used in apocalyptic literature when describing a Son of man or the Ancient One, as for example we see in the Book of Daniel 7:9-14. Was this simply a literary device to tell an audience familiar with such images that Jesus was truly the chosen one of God? Or is there some literal basis for the narration?

I have to admit that I don’t know which interpretation is factually true. I suspect, however, that what is reported in the gospels actually happened to Jesus pretty much as described. The reality of the divine is so much more vibrant, powerful, encompassing, radiant, loving, compassionate, respectful and gentle than we can imagine that, in a moment when Jesus was facing the probability that things might not go well for him in Jerusalem, the Father’s encouragement and gentle caress might well have such an effect.

Could it happen today?

Often when those who have had a “close encounter” with the divine speak of their experience, their faces shine with the joy of what they experienced. The newly baptized have a glow about them for weeks after their baptismal experience. Jesus himself told us that only those who became like little children would enter the kingdom of his father. The simple joy and wonder with which young children explore and enjoy their world, trusting that all they need will be provided for them, is the attitude presented as the ideal for the child of God. Though ordinarily most of us don’t consciously notice the radiance of the divine shining through each others’ faces and the wonders of creation, at special moments we do sometimes notice something different.

Is the radiance of divine love shining through a human face something that could happen to one who is not a divine person, not a member of the Trinity? I would argue that God’s love is to shine through each one of us. Perhaps not so obviously as it did through Jesus on the mountain top, yet even for Jesus, it was a brief moment that was followed by the return to what quickly became a very difficult reality. In the moments when we act with compassion and generosity to meet the needs of those less fortunate among us, the divine love shines through. In times when we hold the hand of one who is suffering, the divine love shines through. When we visit those who are in prison, or in the hospital, or home-bound, the divine love shines through. When we care for our children or go to our workplace or smile at a passerby, the divine love can shine through us as well. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me,” we are told.

God smiles in joy whenever love is given and received — and the glory of God shines through into our world!


Image by: JESUS MAFA. Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved August 7, 2013].


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Posted by on Jun 24, 2013

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

A Song of Praise as a World Turns — The Benedictus

Zechariah and John the Baptist

Zechariah and John the Baptist


On the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, I find myself reflecting on the song of praise attributed to his father, Zechariah, known by its Latin name, the Benedictus.

Who was Zechariah?

Zechariah was a priest from the family of Aaron. His wife Elizabeth was of the same family line. They were elderly and had no children. According to the Gospel of Luke, one day when Zechariah was serving at the temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer sacrifice. This was the most solemn duty for any priest and large numbers of people gathered outside to pray. Suddenly, an angel appeared to him, “standing at the right of the altar of incense.” The angel announced that his prayers and those of his wife for a child would be answered. The child would be a son and was to be named John. The angel explained that this child would be filled with the Holy Spirit while still within his mother’s womb and would bring back many of the sons of Israel to God. He would prepare “a people well-disposed” for the Lord. (Lk 1:5-17)

Zechariah found all of this hard to believe, so he asked the angel for more details about how it could happen — after all, both he and Elizabeth were beyond their normal child-bearing ages. The angel, Gabriel, responded that because he questioned the message, he would remain mute until the birth of the child. Then he would see that the Lord’s promise had been fulfilled. And so it happened. (Lk 1:18-25)

Nine months later, the child was born. Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, who had also been blessed by a visit from Gabriel, had come to help her for a few months and the child within Elizabeth’s womb leaped with the joy of Mary’s coming. (Lk 141) When John was born, all the relatives and neighbors expected that he would be named for his father, Zechariah, but both Elizabeth and Zechariah insisted that the child’s name would be John. With that, Zechariah’s tongue was freed and he spoke, praising God and uttering a prophecy regarding his son’s role in salvation history.

A Prophetic Canticle

Zechariah’s prophetic song is not a statement like that of a fortune teller. Prophecy in Biblical terms refers to speaking on behalf of God of the underlying reality of what God is doing in the lives of the members of the community.

Zechariah begins by blessing God as the God of Israel who visits and ransoms his people. God raises a savior from the House of David, the royal house, as promised in days of old. This savior will rescue the people from the hands of their foes in fulfillment of the covenant established with Abraham, delivering them from fear and freeing them to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. Only after laying out the ancient promises, Zechariah speaks briefly to his own child —  a child who will be called a prophet of the Most High because he will go before the Lord to announce the coming of salvation and to help the people prepare to receive it (the image used is to prepare straight paths for the coming savior). Zechariah concludes by noting that all of this is a work of kindness from the Lord, the Dayspring who in his tender mercy will visit Israel, freeing those who sit in darkness and guiding their feet into the way of peace. (Lk 1:68-79)

A World Turns

In the birth of John the Baptist, the trajectory of history began to turn. The final step of God’s plan to reclaim all of creation and return it to the initial unity with God has been initiated. God does not force this transition or the people involved in it to cooperate. But God persistently works with humans and through human history to bring it about. Zechariah reminds all who hear his voice through the ages that God keeps the covenant, rescues the people, gathers the community, and wants to bring all people back to joyful unity in Love.

The Christian church (community) remembers this song of prayer, praise and promise in the Liturgy of the Hours. As part of Morning Prayer, the People of God around the world recite or sing this canticle daily. Some chant it. Some arrange its words to fit other religious or popular tunes. One of my favorite versions was set to the tune of an English folk song by Ruth Duck. Those who really listen deeply to it find a special joy bubbling into their day as they join Zechariah in praising a God who works such wonders.

 Image from Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem

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Posted by on May 26, 2013

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

A Fundamental Mystery of Our Faith: The Trinity

orion nebula space galaxy

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

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

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

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

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

Orion Nebula – Space Galaxay – NASA image



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