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Posted by on Dec 23, 2022

Sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Have you ever had one of those days when you get up in the morning with all sorts of plans and almost immediately they start getting derailed? I think they happen to all of us from time to time. Sometimes the plans can be picked up again the next day. Other times they are simply gone and we have to move on to the next step.

This kind of experience is not unique to people of our time. Ahaz in the eighth century BC was king of Judah. The Assyrians were moving south, conquering any nation that wasn’t willing to be one of their territories. Ahaz had to decide whether to ally his kingdom with that of Israel to the north, which was planning to resist Assyria, or whether to trust God to help and protect his kingdom and its people. The Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign, anything at all, to indicate that the Lord would be with Judah in the days to come. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign and Isaiah spoke a prophecy of what would be the sign. “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

Many generations later, a young woman was visited by an angel and agreed to become the mother of a child. The challenge was that she was only engaged, not yet married. The man to whom she was engaged cared about her enough that he didn’t want to denounce her to the authorities as having been unfaithful before she was even married. He decided to end the engagement quietly, so she could go away, have the child, and continue to live. The penalty otherwise could have been stoning.

Joseph went to sleep after making that decision and was visited in a dream by an angel, a messenger of God. The angel reassured him that Mary had not been unfaithful. The child had been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angel told him the name he was to give the child. It was the same name given to Mary for her child when Gabriel visited her with God’s request. Jesus. The angel quotes the prophecy from Isaiah in which the child is called Emmanuel. The name Emmanuel means “God is with us.”

Joseph believed the words of the angel. He took Mary into his home as his wife. This descendant of David became the father of Jesus by choosing to accept him as his son. The ancient promise made to David that the Messiah would come from among his descendants was to be fulfilled. The sign given to Ahaz was also fulfilled.

Like Ahaz, Joseph, and Mary, we don’t always know what will come of the unexpected in our lives. We can only trust that somehow, God is in charge and will make things right.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

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Posted by on Dec 11, 2022

Here is Your God

Here is Your God

Today is the Sunday known as Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday! The Third Sunday of Advent. The readings all point towards the coming of God’s kingdom.

Isaiah (35:1-6a,10) speaks of the God coming with vindication and recompense to save the people. When that happens, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared.” The lame will walk freely and those who are unable to speak will sing. Those ransomed by the Lord will return singing to their land. These words were spoken to a people invited to return to exile from captivity in a foreign land. Many needed a lot of convincing. They are in invitation to us as well. Will we need as much convincing?

Here is Your God.

Where? A question asked through the ages.

St. James (5:7-10) encourages the people of his time, “Be patient … until the coming of the Lord.” Farmers must wait for their crops to grow and mature. We too must wait for the kingdom to grow and mature. Don’t complain. The Judge will be here soon. Remember the prophets. The words they spoke reflected a reality that was to come, not a reality they were already experiencing. We too must be patient.

John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus point blank, “Are you the one who is to come?” (Mt 11:2-11) John had preached repentance and the coming of one who would judge wrongdoers. Was Jesus this one?

Jesus responded by referring to the words of Isaiah: “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, … and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” This is the sign. These are the things that will happen when the Lord comes to rescue all of us.

Jesus did not repudiate John. He praised his cousin for his faithfulness to his calling – to be the one calling from the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.

Jesus concluded his answer to John’s disciples with the words, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

How do we recognize the coming of the Lord? Will it be through the advent of great signs and wonders in the sky, or floods and earthquakes, or other frightening things? No. It will be as we see God’s little ones receiving care and attention. Healing, education, shelter, adequate nutrition, and the chance to live with the dignity of the children of God.

Blessed are we when we do not take offense at the efforts of our sisters and brothers who work to bring social justice and peace to our world.

Rejoice! The Kingdom of God is near! The Lord is coming into our midst!

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

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Posted by on Dec 4, 2022

“A Shoot Shall Sprout from the Stump of Jesse”

“A Shoot Shall Sprout from the Stump of Jesse”

Redwood trees in California grow to tremendous heights and can live for thousands of years. Their bark is highly fire resistant. Even when fires come, the trees historically have lived on, scorched, but still standing. They have very tiny cones for such large trees. Folks who visit redwood forests sometimes assume that these giant trees must have very deep roots in order to continue to stand tall through the centuries, sometimes supporting other trees and plants that grow high in their crowns. They wonder how such small cones can lead to the sprouting of such massive trees.

In actual fact, redwood trees have shallow roots. Their roots intertwine with those of the surrounding trees and together, they hold each other up. Their cones and tiny seeds are not essential to the continuation of the forest either. Though some trees can grow from seed, most do not. More commonly, new shoots sprout up from trees that have reached the end of their days and fallen to the ground. These new baby trees grow to new heights of their own. The fallen trees are sometimes called nurse trees.

Redwoods came to mind when I read the words of Isaiah (11:1-10) about the coming of the one who will restore peace among all creatures and with the Lord who made them. “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

Jesse was the father of David, the shepherd who was secretly anointed to become the second King of Israel. Many years had passed and the kings of Israel were not always faithful to the Lord in their role as leaders of the nation. It was as if the tree of Jesse had been cut down or had fallen and died. Nothing remained but the stump – descendants of Jesse and the promise that the messiah would come from his line.

Isaiah reminded the people that the promise still remains. A new leader will arise from Jesse’s line. This new person will not be a corrupt king. No, the spirit of the Lord will rest on this one, bringing gifts that will set him apart from others. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, awe in the face of the wonder of the Lord. This person will judge justly, care for the poor, strike down the ruthless, do away with the wicked, and bring peace to the world. Even the world of the animals will become a place of peace in this vision. When this time comes, the Gentiles will see the signal set up from the root of Jesse and seek out the dwelling of the Lord.

It’s a wonderful picture, one which is still in the process of development. Like the growth of a redwood tree sprouting from the root of a fallen mother tree, it takes time and patience. Fortunately for us, the Lord has all the time in the world!

St. Matthew describes the mission of Jesus’ cousin John. (Mt 3:1-12) John was born about six months before Jesus. As an adult, he spent time in the desert. When he emerged from that sojourn, he began to call the people to repent and turn back to God. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He spoke of himself as a voice “crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord.” People came from far and wide to the Jordan River to hear his message. He baptized people there, symbolically washing away their sins by plunging them into the water of the river.

Religious leaders came out from Jerusalem to see what he was doing, and probably to tell him to stop. But he spoke out against their assumption that because Abraham was the father of the nation, God would not hold them to account for the wrongs they had done. “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” What was really needed was repentance for wrong-doing and a choice to live justly.

John spoke of the coming of his cousin, the one who actually was the promised messiah. “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I … He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” A new day is coming. A new presence of the divine is coming into the world. Be ready. The shoot has sprouted and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him.

Many years later, St. Paul encouraged the Romans to endure in hope and in harmony as they live as a community of faith. There is to be no distinction between those who are Jewish and those who are Gentiles. Christ welcomes all. He came first to the Jews, in fulfillment of the prophecies and promises made over two thousand years of their history. But that doesn’t make the descendants of the first Israelites better than those who were not the children of Abraham, Isaac and his line. It simply means that the ultimate goal has now been reached. Gentiles are drawn to “glorify God for his mercy.” God’s actions among the Jewish people have borne the long-promised fruit. Humans are unified as one people again and all sing praise to God.

We are in the second week of Advent now. The coming of the Lord among us is both a remembered historical event that we will celebrate at Christmas and a daily event in our lives, as we meet him in the people with whom we interact each day. One day, we will also meet him when the angels lead us into the eternal kingdom.

How are we preparing? Are we taking time to notice the Lord’s presence? Are we rejoicing in the little things? Can we trust that everything that truly needs to be done in the next days and weeks will get done and what doesn’t get done is maybe not all that important?

Let’s promise each other that we will try to stop for a few minutes each day to reflect on the ways in which goodness sprouts from roots hidden deep in the ground, high in the trees, or within each person. May we be blessed with a recognition of the presence of the Lord in each day of our lives.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

Here’s a good article on Redwood trees.

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Posted by on Nov 27, 2022

Time to Wake Up!

Time to Wake Up!

A new year begins today! Much of the world around us is focused on big sales and preparing for Christmas. But with the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new year. We light the first candle on our Advent Wreath. We turn our focus to preparing for the coming of Christ. We look forward to a new set of liturgical readings as well. This year we will hear from St. Matthew as he shares the story of the coming of the Messiah.

How does the Messiah come into our lives? How do we prepare for his coming? Is there something different we should be doing? Why do we need to do anything differently at all?

The beginning of a new liturgical year is a bit like the beginning of a school year, after a long summer vacation of sleeping late and playing outside long into the evening. It is not always a welcomed thing to have to get up on time to get to school again. And yet, there is an excitement to be back together and to start doing and learning new things.

We have come through a year of hearing St. Luke’s stories, both those told by Jesus and those told by others about him. What new things will we learn this year?

Isaiah tells us about the time when the exile of Israel in Babylon was drawing to an end. (Is 2:1-5) The people had received permission and encouragement to return to their own land again. Folks who had seen Jerusalem destroyed and who had begun life anew in Babylon were not necessarily excited about returning to a ruined city and once again starting over. They had become comfortable in their new homes.

Isaiah calls them back. “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain… All nations shall stream toward it…” He foretells a time when people from all over the earth will listen to the Lord’s voice, ruling from Jerusalem, judging the nations, and bringing peace to the world. He calls, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

It’s a new time, a new day, a new hope for the peoples of the world.

The psalmist, in Psalm 122, speaks of Jerusalem as well. “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Jerusalem is the city in which the Lord’s house is located. There the people give thanks. There the judgement seats are set up for the house of David. There the prayers are offered for peace, prosperity, and good things for all peoples. Truly a place for rejoicing.

St. Paul also speaks of waking up in his letter to the Romans (13:11-14). “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Salvation is at hand. The time of darkness, with all the awful things that can happen in the dark, is passing away. It’s a time for light and life, for conduct reflecting the light of the Lord Jesus. So “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” in this new day and age. Wake up! Let go of the past. Decide each day to live in the light of this new day.

Finally, St. Matthew (24:37-44) relates Jesus’ instructions regarding the final times – the time when the Son of Man will come at last. He begins with an example familiar to all. “In the days of Noah” it was like it will be when the Son of Man comes. Folks lived their daily lives. They ate and drank. They married and gave their children in marriage. They had no clue anything was going to change in their lifetimes. If they noticed Noah’s preparations for a changed reality, they didn’t believe it or change their way of life. The kept on keeping on and enjoying their lives. And then the flood came and they were unprepared.

Similarly, says Jesus, when the Son of Man comes, it will be a surprise. Some will be taken and others will remain behind, living life as they are accustomed to live it. He says, “Stay awake!” Would those left behind have remained behind if they had been paying attention and noticed that the Son of Man had come?

We do not know the day or the hour when we will meet the Son of Man. It doesn’t need to be a great earth-shaking calamity in which the world is destroyed or Jesus comes on a cloud to judge all the people of the world. The day will come on which each of us meets the Lord in person. There are no guarantees when we get up in the morning that we will go to bed at night. And vice versa.

As we begin this new year, it is good to remember that all can change in an instant. So we must remain alert and prepared for meeting the Lord. It may be that we meet him in another person. It may be that we see the Lord’s hand in a beautiful sunrise or sunset or in the smile of a child. It may be that we meet him as we make that final transition into eternal life. Wherever and whenever we meet him, pray with me that our eyes will recognize his loving presence.

Wake up! Get ready! A brand new year of life and growth in love awaits us.

Happy New Year!

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Cycle A


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Posted by on Dec 19, 2021

God’s Recipe for Change: Start Small

God’s Recipe for Change: Start Small

Imagine with me for a moment what might happen in a world in which the rich and powerful controlled all the resources and took advantage of those who were weak or in a position of less power on a regular basis. In this world, maybe no one thought twice about whether this was the right thing to do or not. There was a sense that those who had the power and wealth had earned it through their own hard work and those who had little were in that situation because they didn’t work hard enough.

Now suppose a group of folks who have lived lives of privilege in this world began for one reason or another to think that maybe with a little help, those who had barely enough to survive would have a better chance of earning enough to live a more secure life if they had just a little bit more money for food, or maybe got to attend better schools, or had a roof over their heads. So they declare a War on Poverty and begin spending money to make big changes in availability of food, housing, and education. And things begin to get better for those at the bottom of the ladder. Poverty doesn’t go away. Those at the bottom still have little chance of jumping clear up into the top ranks of their society, but their lives get easier and more secure.

Often we think that change has to come through formal programs, with large amounts of money being spent. In fact, for that kind of broad economic and societal change, large amounts of money are necessary in a big society. But what leads those who can put such sums together to take such steps to help?

We get a hint in the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In these readings we see what might be described as God’s recipe for change. The Lord God often wants to see big changes in the way we interact with each other and with God. But God doesn’t come riding onto the scene like some sort of hero in a movie, with guns blazing and large numbers of soldiers on either side. God works very quietly through ordinary people.

Micah was a prophet around the same time as Isaiah and Jeremiah. He came from the hill country and called the people of Judah back to faithfulness to the covenant. This was during the time when the Assyrians were conquering the kingdoms to the north. Micah warned the people and their leaders that God was not happy with their worship of idols and failure to take care of the poor and unprotected of their world. He warned that Judah would also be conquered and the people sent into exile. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed as punishment for their unfaithfulness.

But Micah didn’t stop with the prophecy of destruction of the nation, he spoke God’s promise to restore the land and its people (Mi 5:1-4a). A new ruler would come, born of an ancient family, and lead the people to true peace and prosperity. The family of the new ruler would be from Bethlehem, a very small town close to Jerusalem, but so small that conquering kings wouldn’t bother with it. Bethlehem was the hometown of David, the second king of Israel. The Lord had promised that the Messiah would come from David’s line.

Jeremiah, another prophet from about the same period, mentioned that Micah’s teaching influenced King Hezekiah to begin some reforms. The early Christians remembered Micah’s words promising the coming of the Messiah and recognized Jesus as the one whose coming had been predicted so long ago.

The author of Hebrews (Heb 10:5-10) also speaks of the work of one who comes with little fanfare or wealth, but is responsible for bringing about major changes. Jesus comes not with an army of angels, but rather with only his own human body and the willingness to obey the will of the father. Jesus speaks the words of the Father so faithfully that it leads to the cross. He continues to obey, faithful even in the face of a terrible public execution. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,” he says, quoting the prophets. But he gives his own body, his own life, in fulfillment of his Father’s will. This sacrifice replaces the old tradition of animal sacrifice. Doing God’s will is what matters in the end, not how many animals are sacrificed.

Again, we see one person responding to God’s call and spreading the news of God’s care for all people. The faithfulness of that one person has been multiplied countless times in the centuries that followed his life.

Finally, today we hear the story of Elizabeth and Mary (Lk 1:39-45). Two cousins. One an older woman who had never been able to conceive and bear a child. The other a girl barely old enough to have a child. A girl who is not even married or making a home with her husband yet. The girl, having received news of her cousin’s pregnancy, hurries to visit her cousin and rejoice with her. When Elizabeth sees Mary approaching, she calls out a beautiful greeting, inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is blessed because she believed the promise delivered by God’s angel and consented to be part of God’s recipe for change in the world. She would bear and raise a son who would grow up to be the long-awaited one through whom God would change the world. Elizabeth, pregnant with the final prophet, the one who would introduce Jesus to the world through his own followers, salutes her cousin as the child in her womb leaps for joy.

Each of these stories tells of individuals whose response to God’s call set in motion changes that have affected millions of people. Much of what we take for granted today did not exist before people received God’s message of love and care for the least protected or powerful among us. Schools for all. Hospitals that care for all who come in need of help. Public libraries. Women’s rights. Representative government. Health care for the poor and middle class, as well as the rich. So many, many blessings we all take for granted.

Is it all done yet? No. Is there more that needs to be done to make this world more in line with God’s vision? Absolutely. Do we need to have armies or major financial backing to begin to make a difference? No. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open to hear the messages sent to each of us by our God. We each have a role to play in God’s plan. Like a good recipe for bread or stew, many things come together to make a rich and satisfying dish. The work of many individuals alone and together also bears fruit.

In this final week of Advent, let’s take a little time to listen for the call of God. What is it that God is calling us to do? What gifts and talents do we have that we can share? What are we already doing?

Few of us will ever be famous or recognized for major changes to the structure of society or to the sum total of human knowledge. But each of us is called to do something. It may be something very small. That’s OK. Just be open and do what the Lord sends that needs your touch. And together we can begin to bridge the chasms of disagreement, anger, distrust, and even hatred that so afflict our world today.

God’s recipe for change: Start small.

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Posted by on Dec 12, 2021

Our God Rejoices and Renews Us in His Love

Our God Rejoices and Renews Us in His Love

Gaudete Sunday is another name for the Third Sunday of Advent. The name comes from the first words in Latin of the Introit, the psalm or hymn at the beginning of the Mass. Today’s Introit begins with words from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:4-7), “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The passage in this letter is filled with hope and joy. Rejoice! The Lord is near. The Lord cares about us. So don’t be afraid of anything. Ask God with confident thanksgiving for what is needed. And our hearts and minds will be filled with God’s peace. This is truly wonderful news.

We can see a similar theme in the reading from the prophecy of Zephaniah (3:14-18a). Zephaniah was another of the prophets who lived during the time of King Josiah (640 – 609 BC). This was a time when the kingdom of Judah was allied with the Assyrians and had adopted many of the gods and practices of their allies. Zephaniah’s prophecy came during the first 10 years of Josiah’s reign. It’s a short piece, just three chapters. The unfaithfulness of the people of Judah and some of their leaders is set forth. The statement that the unfaithfulness would be punished follows. Yet there is hope after all, because a small remnant of those faithful to the Lord remain. In the end, those faithful ones will survive. Zephaniah cries out, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!” Why? Because the King of Israel (who is the Lord) is present among them. This Lord “will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.”

What a wonderful image! How hopeful for us all – Our Lord God rejoices over us and sings joyfully because of us.

This theme is repeated in the Responsorial Psalm, which today is actually a passage from the prophet Isaiah. “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”

With such a long history of faithfulness on God’s part and varying periods of being faithful and falling away among the people, the appearance of a new prophet in Israel was always of interest. This is especially true when the nation has been conquered and the people are ruled by foreign powers. Who will come to lead the nation to freedom this time? Will this be the time that a new kingdom begins and Israel again becomes a powerful nation? Who is the chosen of the Lord this time?

When John the Baptist arrived on the scene, people were ready for a change. They hated paying taxes to Rome. The riches of their nation were being taken for the use of others in the empire. Foreign rulers were making sure no dissent could safely be voiced. Those who opposed their rule were executed. Who would come to save the people?

John came speaking of repentance and paving the way of the Lord who is coming. He quoted the ancient prophets who spoke of the Chosen One coming to restore the glory of Israel. “What should we do?” the people ask. How do we prepare for the coming of the Chosen One? How do we make straight the path?

John gives very practical answers. If you have two cloaks, give one to a person who has none. If you have extra food, share it. If your job is to collect taxes, only collect the amount owed. Don’t take extra for yourself (a legal and common practice that made tax collectors particularly unpopular). If you are a soldier, don’t use threats to make people pay you. Don’t accuse anyone falsely. Be content with what you are paid, don’t go around making people pay extra to be left in peace.

These are all things that most of us would say make perfect sense. In fact, much of our social contract is based on these types of behaviors as the rule for all. However, then as now, there are always those whose approach is different – those who want to see how much they can get for themselves. John’s words gave great hope to his listeners. Could this be the promised one? Could he be the Christ?

Again, we might not phrase this question in terms of promised ones or messiahs. We live in different times. Our challenge is to evaluate the latest fads, the celebrity of the day, the newest consumer goods or leisure activities. Is any of these going to prepare us for the coming of the Lord in our midst? Is any of these what will make clear that the Lord is already in our midst?

John told the people that one mightier than he was coming. This one would fill them with the Holy Spirit of God and gather them safely like a farmer bringing the harvest into a barn at harvest time. St. Luke tells us, “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.” (Lk 3:10-18)

Words of encouragement. The Lord is coming. The Lord rejoices with us. The Lord takes delight in us. Truly good news for all.

Today let us rejoice. The Lord has come and is joyfully among us. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to see and share this joy.

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Posted by on Dec 5, 2021

The Lord Comes in Historical Times

The Lord Comes in Historical Times

Once upon a time …  Many stories we tell begin with a reference to a time long ago and far away. These stories relate important truths, but the actual facts of what happened may or may not be true. As storyteller and theologian Megan McKenna likes to say, “All stories are true and some of them actually happened.”

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent differ from many of the stories we encounter in the first books of the Bible. The first books were written hundreds if not thousands of years after the events they describe. Some of them are clearly not historical – “In the beginning …” Others present a picture of how things came to be, somewhat like fables we learn as children. Some tell stories of the first families from whom all are descended. Details of these stories are hard to document in terms of our modern understanding of history. But in the readings today we have historical details that support the narrative, the story being told.

The first reading comes from Baruch (5:1-9). Baruch was an aristocrat, a member of the court of King Zedekiah just before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. He was also a scribe for Jeremiah the prophet. We know this from a history written by Josephus, a Jewish historian in the first century. In the book of Baruch, Jerusalem is described as a woman mourning the death of a loved one – sitting in clothes that indicate she is mourning during the first seven days after the death. A woman “sitting shiva.” Baruch speaks words of hope. “Take off your robe of mourning and misery, put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” She is to put on a cloak of justice and wear a mitre (a special turban or hat) proclaiming the glory of God’s name, like that worn by Aaron when the Israelites traveled with Moses through the desert.

Jerusalem will see her children returning from exile, being led back by God. As they come, the mountains will be leveled and the gorges will be filled ahead of them, so the road back will be smooth and secure. Fragrant trees will protect the way and welcome the travelers, as Israel is led by God in glory, with mercy and justice personified as their companion.

What a glorious hope for a people suffering exile in the land of their enemies! This book was probably written long after that time described, but the person whose name it bears is known to have lived during the time just before and during the exile. It is a book of prayers, poems, and prophecies filled with hope.

Psalm 126 repeats the refrain of the joy of exiles returning from foreign lands. Those who watch them return marvel, “The Lord has done great things for them.” They return carrying the fruits of the harvest that has grown during their time of exile. They have not remained helplessly suffering and stagnating. During their time of exile, they have grown.

The Gospel of Luke begins before the birth of either Jesus or his cousin John, but today we hear some of the story of the prophetic travels and activities of John (Lk 3:1-6). This section begins with a long list of political rulers, the timeframe in which it occurs, the regions they governed, and their leadership positions. We get a very real sense of what was going on in the Roman empire, Palestine, and Jerusalem as John and Jesus come onto the scene – two cousins who will unexpectedly become influential in their world. Both men are from families that would not ordinarily have attracted any attention at all. John’s father was a priest at the temple. Jesus’ father was a tradesman in the town of Nazareth in the north of the country near the sea of Galilee. Yet both men played critical roles in the drama of reconciliation between God and humans – salvation history.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea … the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” John had been living as a hermit in the desert for many years, but the Lord called him to action. He began to call people to repentance, to change their way of behaving towards each other and move towards the freedom of living in God’s forgiveness and justice. As a symbol of this transition, he used baptism, a ritual of purification with water that was deeply rooted in his Jewish tradition. He spoke of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Valleys are to be filled and mountains leveled. Everything that can get in the way of those who seek the Lord is to be leveled. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Many years after John the Baptist announced the coming of the Lord, St. Paul sends a letter to the community of believers in Philippi (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11). This is a community to which Paul has brought the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They are people he knows and loves. They are also people whom he is not likely ever to see again. He writes while he is a prisoner in Rome, awaiting the judgement that will result in his release or his execution. He shares the joy he feels in their faith and commitment to the life of the gospel. He expresses his deep-seated love for them and prays that their love will grow and deepen each day, so they will be pure and blameless at Christ’s return. Love in the sense of the word he uses is love with no limits and no strings attached. Love in the best and deepest sense of the word, a love that leads to purity of heart.

Paul’s words speak to us too. We too are called to this deep love and to growth in love throughout our lives. Hearing the word of the Lord is only the first step on the road to salvation, the road to the fullness of life in God’s kingdom. We grow each day as we practice loving and caring for each other and those whom the Lord sends our way. The child who bumps into us in the grocery store. The stranger who doesn’t know the roads in our town and makes sudden moves to get into the lane just ahead of us to make a turn. The family member who will never (insert your pet peeve here). The man on the street who cries out in madness, unable to find release from the illness that torments his mind. The uneducated woman who travels from another country with her young daughter, seeking a safe place to live and protection from those who would kill them both because her husband is a police officer.

Many opportunities open up each day, calling for us to reach out in love. God is coming. God has come. God lives among us. How do I make the ways straight for others to experience his presence? Do I notice the valleys that have been filled and the mountains leveled to help us to pass? Will I continue to grow in love? How will you and I spend our Advent time? Will we be bearers of peace and hope in our world?

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Posted by on Nov 28, 2021

A Time for Hope and Expectation – The Lord is Coming

A Time for Hope and Expectation – The Lord is Coming

One of the wonderful things about being a mother and grandmother is the chance to read stories to children. So many wonderful stories I have read to children at bedtime and in the car as we were traveling – stories that I would never have even known existed had I remained always in the adult world. Just last night I sat up and re-read the final chapters of The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. It is a story I read with my daughter when it was new. Now my grandson has just finished reading it and I re-read it so I could talk with him about it as he enjoyed it for the first time. (Besides that, it’s a really good story with a lot of unexpected twists and turns that I had long ago forgotten.)

The Lightning Thief is the first of several series of stories that take as their inspiration Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian mythologies – the stories of the gods and their interactions among themselves and with humans. This particular story is about a boy who discovers he is a demi-god whose father is Poseidon, god of the seas. A favorite tool of one of the gods has been stolen and a war is about to break out among them if the tool is not found and returned. Among the gods, it is widely believed that our hero has stolen the tool. The story goes from there as he discovers who he is, what has been stolen, who is believed to have it, where it actually is, and whether it can be recovered in time to prevent the war. A marvelously impossible and improbable quest for a group of children in middle school to engage upon, it is an engrossing story for the reader to share.

This story came to mind this morning as I was thinking about the readings for the First Sunday of Advent. It’s a brand new year for us as Church and once again we hear apocalyptic writings of things that are to come at the end of time. We’ve had a lot of these readings lately. One year ends with them and the new year begins with them.

Why do we have this kind of writing anyway? Why not just state clearly that at some future date the universe will end. At some date each of us will end our lives here. At some point we will meet the Lord. Earthquakes happen. Climate fluctuates over time. Storms come and go, both literally and figuratively. And so forth…

We have these kinds of stories because our understanding of the world is incomplete. Humans have existed for thousands of years, but much of what we know of how the geology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and inter-personal relations behind our daily experience operate has only been uncovered in the last few hundred years. There is still much we don’t know or understand.

As an anthropologist, I turn to a concept that I find helps explain our human use of stories to make sense of what we don’t understand or can’t find words to express. Anthropologists speak of “explanatory systems” that take a physical or social reality and place it within a larger context.

Humans wonder “why” things happen the way they do. Why do we have earthquakes? Why do we have storms? Why is the weather good some days and terrible other days? Why do people care for each other? Why do we have enemies? Why do some people die young? Why do old people spend so much time telling the same stories over and over? In the words of a song originally written by Woody Guthrie and adapted for children by Anne Murray, Why Oh Why, we ask again and again “Why does… Why can’t… Why won’t…” Eventually, the question becomes, “Why won’t you answer my question?” and the response is, “Because I don’t know the answer, Good night, good night.”

We don’t know the answers, so we humans tell stories and sing songs.

In our Judeo-Christian tradition, there is only one God. There are no demi-gods as there are in so many other traditions. Our God speaks through humans. Our God speaks directly to humans. God acts in human history. God loves humans and all of creation so much that God enters into creation as a human being. As a human being, God experiences a complete human life, including the joys and sorrows of life and death with family and friends, unexpected happy surprises, hope, love, suffering, fear, and death.

Yet there are things that happen in our lives and history that are hard to explain. For our ancestors in faith, the answer was clear. God intervened. In times of war, God acted to protect the armies of God’s people. When the people were not faithful to their agreement (the Covenant), God punished them by allowing their enemies to conquer and send them into exile. Yet always, God was there, ready to forgive and bring them back to a good relationship between humans and their God.

The apocalyptic literature read today tells symbolically of this relationship. Jeremiah (33:14-16) recalls the promise God made to King David that a savior would rise from his descendants and do what was right in the land. The country would be secure and the capital city, Jerusalem, site of the temple in which God dwelt in a special way among the people, would become known as “The Lord is our justice.” The people are in exile in Babylon, but the promise is made yet again. There is a reason for hope and expectation of a better future.

Our Gospel story is told by St. Luke, a man who was not part of Jesus’ original circle of friends. Yet Luke (21:25-28, 34-36) has heard and tells the story of Jesus’ description of the coming end of time, when the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven. We heard this story from St. Mark two weeks ago. Luke encourages his readers to be awake, vigilant at all times, prayerful for the strength to remain faithful when things are going badly around us. Nations and peoples, and even the physical world itself, will be in disarray, but we can be assured that redemption is at hand. It’s a time for hope and expectation of the coming of the Son of Man – the one who saves us.

The early Christian community expected the second coming of Jesus very soon after the Resurrection. After all, the final reconciliation between humans and God had been achieved through Jesus’ death and resurrection. St. Paul (1 Thes 3:12-4:2) also expected the second coming to be imminent, but in the meanwhile, it was important to live a life of loving care as a community. He reminds the people of Thessalonica to behave themselves! He asks the Lord to increase the love they have for each other and strengthen their hearts, so they will be holy and ready when God comes with all his holy ones.

We too live in difficult times. Our world is filled with strife. We argue over immigration, vaccinations, mask mandates, borders, national sovereignty, taxation, the role of government, and on and on. How do we as a Christian community live in love for and with each other? How do we deal with our brothers and sisters with whom we find ourselves in serious disagreement? How do we find ways to address problems that threaten us all, when we can’t even agree on what has caused them?

I don’t have any easy answers. I’m not sure there are any easy answers. But I know in the depths of my heart that we must continue to respect and love each other. We must care for each other and work to find common ground. We are called as members of Christ’s Body to be one with all the rest of our sisters and brothers, working together to bring the peace of Christ to this world.

Happy New Year. May the Lord’s Peace dwell deep within each of us and shine forth in our lives today and through the year we are just beginning.

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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 Dec 6, 2015

Entering into the Mystery

Advent Chant – Creator of the Stars at Night


Conditor Alme Siderum — Creator of the Stars at Night — is a 7th century hymn commonly sung during Evening Prayer (Vespers). Redemption comes not only for humanity but all creation. In this rendition, both the Latin and English words are sung.

Image: Supernovae, NASA, public domain

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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Entering into the Mystery

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015

Entering into the Mystery

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting


Presents-under-the-Christmas-treeby Petr KratochvilGifting, the giving and receiving of gifts during the Christmas season, serves to remind us of God’s great gift in coming to live with us personally. In Jesus, the Word of God, became a human, like us in all things but sin. God chose to enter into the vulnerable, imperfect, uncertain, but wonderful reality of life as a fully human being, starting as a baby with normal human parents, family, and friends in a small village. Through the gift of incarnation and redemption, God healed the division between the divine and the human, giving humans the chance to be re-united with their source.

Christians have celebrated this great gift from the very beginning through their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Sharing of gifts of time, talent, and money has also been a hallmark of the Christian life, not just within the community but also reaching outside to the most vulnerable members of society. The world has never been the same since God entered personally into our human experience, because now God lives as Holy Spirit within each of us and reaches out to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Diverse gifting traditions

Traditions for giving and receiving gifts vary around the world. In some areas St. Nicholas brings gifts on his feast day, December 6. In others Santa Claus or the Christ Child bring gifts at Christmas. In still others, the gifts arrive at the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany in early January, when the coming of Jesus was shown forth to the Gentile world as well as to the original children of Israel.

The gifts arrive in different ways as well. Some are placed in shoes, others in stockings. Some are placed under a tree, others arrive carried by family or friends. Some are wrapped, others shine in all their glory to delight children who wake early to find them. Some even come via the postal service and other freight delivery trucks! However they arrive and however they are packaged, they carry love in their wake.

As we have moved through Advent and into the Christmas Season this year, I have also been noticing the ways that traditional holiday foods arrive in or as packages. Many candies and baked goods arrive in lovely containers. The tamales we enjoy at Christmas and New Year’s Day have meat or vegetables seasoned with chili hidden inside the corn dough. Chinese dumplings eaten to celebrate the New Year have a mixture of meat and/or vegetables hidden inside the noodle dough that we see. King cakes have a figurine or other surprise hidden inside. Steamed puddings have nuts and raisins inside. Each of these traditional forms of gifts and food (and others from around the world) is a way that we as humans express the wonder of God’s gift of himself to us through the birth of Jesus.

May the joy of Christmas and the wonder of Epiphany be yours now and into the year we have begun.

 Image by Petr Kratochvil – public domain


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Posted by on Dec 23, 2013

O Emmanuel – Come and Save Us

December 23 — O Emmanuel

“Our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

Where are you?
Can’t you come any faster?
Do you not see the innocent slaughtered?
Do you not see the hungry starved?

When will you come O God With Us?
Where will your forces land?
Where will you hold the war crimes trials?
When will you take the greedy who took our food and hope?

O God of Justice
When will we get our justice?
Surely you will come as our Warrior
And make them pay.

How can a child give us
Our revenge?
How can a maiden
Shake off our oppressors?

What good is it
To share our lives and our suffering?
Our drive-by crimes of casual slaughter
Our hopes dashed by greed and addiction

O Come God With Us
And soften our hearts
To know you have chosen to be one of us
To know our victory is in compassion

O Child of Grace and Comfort
O Child of Pain and Division
Show us the Star that leads beyond Calvary
and Lead us into peace.

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Posted by on Dec 22, 2013

O Rex Gentium – King of All the Nations

December 22 — O Rex Gentium

“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

Dust thou art — to the Stars you are called
Leave the dark of agony
The cold of loneliness
Go out to welcome your King

King of All Hearts
King of the World
Line the runways
Announce His coming on the loud speakers

You have only your chains to shed
Your shackles to break
By your word of forgiveness
By exchanging your heart for His

Death has no more claim
Open the gates to the Stars of Grace
Welcome in the joy and peace
Of mercy given, mercy received.


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Posted by on Dec 21, 2013

Entering into the Mystery

O Oriens — Splendor of Eternal Light — Dayspring

December 21 — O Oriens

“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”


The shortest day gives way
to the Unconquered Son
The darkness of wrong
Gives way to the Sun of Justice

The sun returns
A pale reflection of Eternal Light
On those in the darkness of
Addiction, greed, and fear

Darkness underneath the bright lights and
Colors of the Christmas tree
Shines in blurriness of the winter heart
Seated by the fire in 500 watts of dim.

In the bright Santa Cruz sun
Bouncing on the bright slate blue
Open our hearts to singing sails
Of salt breeze setting all of us captives free.


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