Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

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?

Peace.

Read More

Posted by on Dec 8, 2012

Does Immaculate Conception Mean Virgin Birth?

Does Immaculate Conception Mean Virgin Birth?

 

The Immaculate Conception – Murillo

Does Immaculate Conception mean Virgin Birth?

No. These two concepts, Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth, are frequently confused. Many assume they are one and the same, leading to the notion that Mary’s conception was the result of the same type of divine intervention as that of her son. In fact, the Church has never believed that Mary was conceived without marital relations occurring between her parents. Normal physical relations between a husband and wife are not seen as sinful. They are, in fact, seen as a source of divine grace, a sharing in God’s life of love, a sacramental experience.

What is the Immaculate Conception?

If Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the notion that our sexual expression is evil, however necessary for the continuation of the species, nor is it some kind of impediment to holiness, then what does the concept mean? To understand the notion, we must start with an ancient story, one of two creation myths found in the Bible: the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This second story of creation begins in the second chapter of the book of Genesis, halfway through the fourth verse. It tells of the creation of a human and then of a garden in Eden in which he would live. The garden was located in the land bordered by four rivers: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. In this garden, there was a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which the man was forbidden to eat the fruit. Knowing the man would be lonesome alone in the garden, God created many animals and birds to accompany him. However, animals and birds were not suitable companions for a human on any long-term scale. So God created another human to be his partner; a human created from the man’s rib to signify equality with him. The man was named Adam (man), a play on words in Hebrew between “man” and “ground.” The new person was called woman because she was formed out of “her man.”

As the story continues, conflict enters. The woman, walking alone in the garden, encounters a serpent who cunningly entices her to taste the forbidden fruit. She gives some to her husband as well, and suddenly they recognize they are naked. They become afraid to see God and hide in the garden from their creator. A separation between God’s overflowing love in creation and the humans created to be part of that creation has occurred. According to the story, the man and woman must leave the garden and now make their way in the great world outside it. The woman was called Eve by her husband “because she became the mother of all the living.”

Enter Original Sin

From this story, told to explain the entry of sin into human experience, the notion of original sin eventually developed. According to this notion, not found in Judaism or Islam, all humans inherit a “fallen nature,” a nature that is not strong enough always to resist sinning (separating from God). We don’t inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve. God’s image is undiminished within us, always calling and helping us to choose life over death. Yet we all fail in the quest to live without sinning through our decisions to act or to fail to act in loving union with God.

How then could God’s Son be born of a human woman without inheriting that fallen nature? It was from this dilemma that the notion of the Immaculate Conception developed. Through the centuries, theologians wrestled with it, especially as the idea of original sin became more and more strongly developed. Originally Mary was seen as like all other humans, a normal woman who played an extraordinary role in salvation history through her total openness to God. By the Middle Ages, however, as we began to focus more on human sinfulness and less on the presence of God within each person, an idea developed that Mary was saved from original sin at the time of her conception to prepare a perfect “new Eve” from whom the long-promised savior would be born. This savior would be the first-born of God’s new creation, of God’s new people.

A Formal Dogma

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the Immaculate Conception became a formal dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. This feast is celebrated nine months before we celebrate the Nativity of Mary (September 8). The readings for the liturgy celebrating the Immaculate Conception include the story of the encounter between God, the serpent, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:9-15), Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describing God’s choice to adopt all of us through Jesus (Eph 1:3-6, 11-12), and the story of the visit of the Angel Gabriel  to Mary in which Mary gives her consent to become Jesus’ mother (Lk 1:26-38). Perhaps the confusion between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth stems from this traditional selection of readings. They are connected only to the extent that God’s grace is needed by all humans to help them make loving choices and help bring the new creation to birth right here, right now!

Read More

Posted by on Aug 15, 2012

Feast of the Assumption – God’s Gift through a Special Woman

Feast of the Assumption – God’s Gift through a Special Woman

Assumption of the Virgin

The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15. This feast has ancient roots and is celebrated throughout the Christian community. Some speak of the Assumption of Mary, others of the Dormition (going to sleep), the Commemoration, or the Passing of Mary.

In the Roman Church, today’s readings begin with the vision from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab) of the woman clothed in the sun with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of stars on her head who appears in the sky. She is in labor and threatened by a great dragon. The woman gives birth to a boy who is caught up to Heaven to rule the nations, while the woman finds refuge in a safe place in the desert.

The second reading is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul (15:20-27) speaks of Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” and notes that the last enemy of God to be conquered by Christ is death itself.

Finally, Luke’s (1:39-56) account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth treats us to Mary’s hymn to the great love of God, the Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…”

Through Mary, God came “to the help of his servant Israel,” remembering his promise of mercy, “the promise he made to … Abraham and his children forever.” Today we honor her for her faithful response to God’s call and pray that we too (descendants in faith of Abraham) may be faithful in our response. Please join me in praying:

Like the woman in the reading from the Book of Revelation, women around the world today and their children face many dangers. May we, like the angels who protected her and her child from the dragon, act to protect women and children from the dragons that threaten them today, including violence, hunger, lack of education, and poor access to health care.

Through the “yes” of a young woman, Jesus came into our world, becoming the one through whom death would be overcome. May we too answer “yes” when God asks us to participate in the works of the Kingdom.

Like Mary, may we receive the courage to believe that God is really in charge when it seems that the desires of the powerful will once again outweigh the needs of the poor and vulnerable — and act accordingly.

As we evaluate the many possible paths into the future that we as a nation may choose, may we listen carefully to the voice of God within our hearts, rejecting fear-based choices and instead choosing to work for the good of all.

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, currently in the Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp) – Public Domain

 

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 2, 2012

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Three Candles

Stepping carefully as she crossed the intersection, the older woman, wearing a warm coat and knitted hat despite the unseasonably warm weather and carrying a shopping bag of groceries, stopped suddenly, a look of delight on her face. She stepped back and slightly to the side, shifted her purse and bag, and bent to pick up a coin from the street. From my vantage point in the car waiting for the light to change, it appeared to be a quarter — just  twenty-five cents. Yet the delight I saw in her face could not have been greater if it had been a thousand times more valuable. She had found something of value, just laying there on the ground in plain sight, waiting for someone to notice it. She picked it up carefully and placed it into her purse. Then she continued to make her way across the intersection on her way home to her apartment down the street.

As she walked on her way and I went on mine, I reflected on what I had seen. A very ordinary item, found in the course of a very ordinary activity, brought great delight to a seemingly very ordinary person. Yet she was a person who was alert and aware of her surroundings. She noticed what was going on, despite the ordinariness of the day and its activities. She saw more than many saw who crossed that intersection on that afternoon, and when she saw, she acted on what she had seen.

Perhaps this anonymous woman has something to teach us as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast also known as Candlemas and/or as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as Anna and Simeon recognized Jesus when his parents brought him to the Temple to offer the traditional sacrifice required for a first born son, so we are called to be alert and aware so we will recognize Jesus when he comes into our lives. No one was expecting the Christ to come as the infant son of a normal, non-wealthy, non-royal family from Nazareth. Just a carpenter’s son!  The Christ was to be a military hero who would drive out the Roman conquerors and establish a new kingdom like that of David. Yet, Anna and Simeon recognized him and blessed God for the gift of seeing him before their deaths. Indeed, Anna went around happily telling everyone she met that the Messiah had been born and had been presented at the Temple … and she herself had seen him!

The challenge each of us faces, I believe, is to see the Christ in the people with whom we share our lives, as well as in the people who formally represent the Christian community, and to celebrate that coming  into our lives. The fellow who sits begging on the street downtown, the woman who stops joyfully to pick up a coin in the middle of the crosswalk, the guy who laughingly dances down the street, flirting with all the ladies as he goes to round up some buddies and head off to dinner before the cold night catches up with them, the frightened teen who finds she’s pregnant and is certain her parents will beat her and throw her out on the street if they find out, the doctor who cares for a child without charge when the parents don’t have insurance and can’t pay for the care, the little boy who delightedly strips off all his clothes because he’s learned how to do it and revels in the freedom of being alive and unfettered. Each of these is Christ coming to someone. How do we respond?

Image by Alice Birkin – Public domain

 

Read More

Posted by on Sep 9, 2011

The Feast of the Nativity of the Mary – September 8

The Feast of the Nativity of the Mary – September 8

 

The Birth of the Virgin by Giotto, ca 1305

Since the fifth century AD, beginning in Jerusalem, the feast of the Nativity of Mary has been celebrated in Christian Churches. It is celebrated exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast and others like it are a reminder that those remembered as holy ones in our community got their start the same way all humans do. They were born of a woman, into a family and a larger community of fallible, imperfect humans, who nevertheless managed to help them grow to adulthood and eventually to sainthood.  This should be a source of great hope to all of us.

Mary was no exception. Her parents, Joachim and Anna, had long awaited the birth of a child. Her coming to them was a great gift from God. According to tradition, she lived with them only three years before they took her to the temple to be dedicated to service there. They visited her regularly at the temple as she was growing up until they passed away when she was about 10 years old.

Most of us will never have children following prophecies or angelic announcements of their coming. Most will not take our children to be raised in the temple or our local church. Most of us will live to see our children as grown adults with families of their own. But we will share in the task of parents such as Joachim and Anna, or Zacharia and Elizabeth, or Joseph and Mary: we will do our best to raise the children who have been entrusted to us, to help other parents to raise their own children, and to love and care for children of those we don’t know in other communities around the world. The love, acceptance, patience, gentleness, and consistency we show them in our day to day contact and care will be the qualities that help shape and mold their view of the world and of God.

On this Feast of the Nativity of Mary, may we be open to see the wonder of God’s love shining through the world’s children today and celebrate the continuation of the great chain of birth and love that unites us all in the Lord, leading us to holiness through the adventure of life as it is here and now.

Read More

Posted by on Mar 25, 2011

The Annunciation – Celebrating Incarnation and a Young Woman’s “Yes” to God

The Annunciation – Celebrating Incarnation and a Young Woman’s “Yes” to God

The Annunciation - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1850

March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the visit by the angel Gabriel to a young woman in Nazareth to ask a great favor of her. The Lord of Hosts, Creator of all that is, was and ever will be, requested her consent to becoming the Mother of God (Theotokos or God-bearer), Mother of the Incarnate Word of God, Mother of His Son. The story of this visit is recounted in Christian scriptures (Lk 1:26-38, Mt 1:18-21)  and also in the Qu’ran (Sura 3: 45-51).

With Mary’s courageous decision to consent to the Lord’s request, a new era in the history of human relations with the Lord opened. In a time and place where women were little valued or respected and had fewer rights than men, the consent of a woman who was little beyond childhood and was still unmarried was solicited and respected by the greatest power of all – her creator and ours.

This feast has been celebrated since the earliest days of the Christian community, probably even predating the celebration of Christmas. Celebration of the Annunciation (and therefore of the Incarnation) coincides with the general time frame of the celebration of the Passover and Exodus, events that formed the Jewish community into a nation, beginning their history as a people. With the Annunciation and the Incarnation, the life of a new community began and the history of salvation took a new turn that eventually led to inclusion of all peoples on Earth.

Selection of the date for the celebration was not random. It coincided with the timing of the birth of John the Baptist, conceived following the time of his father’s service within the Holy of Holies on the Feast of Atonement in the fall. The Annunciation took place six months later, putting it in early spring. Based on those dates, John the Baptist’s birth was celebrated in June and Jesus’ birth date came to be set as December 25.

Setting the date of the Annunciation in spring also followed the Jewish tradition of celebrating beginnings and endings on or around the same date. It was known that Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred at Passover time. Setting the beginning of his life, his conception, at the same general time made sense to the early community. The big innovation was that for Christians, his conception marked the beginning of life, rather than his actual physical birth. (The “womb to tomb” tradition thus has ancient roots as well.)

Moving forward a few hundred years, in 525 when the new calendar was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, the Anno Domini calendar, March 25 was set as the first day of the year. The Christian community considered it to be the beginning of a new era of grace.

May we, as we continue to live out our lives as sharers in the mystery of incarnation, rejoice with the angels and saints, and with Our Lord as well, the great blessing of a young woman’s willingness to trust that her Lord would never ask too much of her.

Let us join with our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Christian churches in rejoicing on this day.

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
Read More

Posted by on Dec 12, 2008

Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12

Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12

Once again, today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

When I was a girl, this feast was not a major focus of my life. Growing up in Eastern Washington, in a community with relatively few Mexican Americans, we simply didn’t celebrate this feast.

Then I married into a Mexican American family and all that changed. I learned much more about Our Lady of Guadalupe. I discovered the traditions associated with her feast day. I got up early one morning to join the community in Oakland in singing the mañanitas at 5:30 a.m. We celebrated together in the liturgy and then had a wonderful breakfast of posole, champurrado and pan dulce (soup, chocolate/cocoa, and sweet Mexican bread) with the Mexican immigrants who were our English language students and friends.

When I was pregnant with our first child and nervous about the course of the pregnancy, my mother-in-law advised, “Just put it in Our Lady of Guadalupe’s hands. It’ll all be OK.” She was right. More than once since then Our Lady has gotten a problem dumped into her hands. It always turns out OK – not always the way I expected, but always OK.

Tonight we’ll again celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We don’t get up for mañanitas these days, but we do celebrate. We’ll get out the nice dishes, have a tasty dinner, and eat pan dulce with champurrado for dessert. And once again, we’ll celebrate the special relationship with Our Lady we enjoy as a Mexican American family.

Read More