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Posted by on Jan 7, 2024

Epiphany – Seeing God’s Presence Anew

Epiphany – Seeing God’s Presence Anew

Some years it’s easy to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord and hear the prophet’s words, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” (Is 60:1-6) This year, with war raging in the Middle East, it’s more challenging to hear these words and remember that they have both physical, political meaning and symbolic, religious meaning. Those meanings are not meant to be taken as equivalent.

Jerusalem in this context is not just a city in the Middle East. It is not just a city revered by members of three great faith traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The prophet Isaiah was speaking of a restored city, a center of life and faith for the Jewish people as they returned from exile. Yet even in this prophecy, Jerusalem is more than just a capital city. Jerusalem is the center from which God will rule the entire world. The city itself is shining in the glory of the Lord – a glory that shines in the darkness and attracts all to itself. This is the city in the symbolic, religious perspective.

Peoples from all over the world will stream to the Lord, made manifest in this Jerusalem, bringing rich gifts with them. The prophecy is not just speaking of the people of Israel as included in the glory of the Lord. This is a vision for all the peoples of the world. All will be welcome in this city of the Lord.

The Psalmist sings of a similar reality. “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The rulers will govern with justice, peace will flower forever, all rulers will bring gifts in tribute to the Lord and the poor and afflicted will find help – “the lives of the poor he shall save.” (Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13)

Another theme enters the picture with this notion of the Lord protecting the poor. The Lord’s glory shines forth and the Lord brings justice and peace and help for the poor. Not the standard expectation of the coming of a deity or a ruler!

Both Saints Luke and Matthew tell of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Matthew (2:1-12) notes this happened “in the days of King Herod.” (That phrase in Matthew’s Gospel has allowed scholars to set an approximate time frame for Jesus’ birth and life based on known facts about the time in which each king and emperor ruled.) While they were in Bethlehem, wise men (magi) came to Jerusalem in search of a “newborn king of the Jews.” Jerusalem was the capital city and Herod was enthroned there, so they naturally assumed Herod would know of the birth of his successor and be happy to have an heir. Herod was surprised by the news and not a little dismayed by it. He had no newborn heir! Jerusalem was not alive with joy over the birth of a new prince.

The wise men, astrologers, had seen a new star in an area of the sky associated with Israel. It was one that indicated the birth of a new ruler, according to their understanding of the movements of stars and other heavenly bodies. The priests whom Herod consulted explained that the child whose birth was long ago foretold would be found in Bethlehem, the city of King David. This was even more disturbing. Absolute and autocratic rulers then and now don’t like to know that ones who will oppose or replace them are out and about. They tend to try to imprison or kill them first. Herod was no exception. He instructed the magi to find the child and return to him with the address at which the family were living. Why? “That I too may go and do him homage.” Yea, right! His plan was to kill the child.

The magi went to Bethlehem and found the family. They presented their gifts for the child and bowed down to honor him. This was a child born to be king, after all. Not fooled by Herod, and warned in a dream not to return to Jerusalem, they returned home by another route, rejoicing in the success of their journey.

The magi were the first non-Jews to visit the newborn child and his family. Prior to that, only local people, including shepherds, knew they were in Bethlehem and that a child had been born. But with the visit of the magi, the Gentile world got its first glimpse of the child who would open the door wide for all peoples of the earth to share in the kingdom of the Lord, the Holy One shining in the new Jerusalem. The glory of the Lord shone forth through the child they found. It was an Epiphany, seeing God’s presence anew.

St. Paul takes the story a bit farther. He is working with Gentiles after having been tossed out by the Jewish communities in which he first preached the Good News revealed to him at his conversion. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6)

The Lord has come. He has come to Jerusalem. He has come for the poor and the rich – for all peoples of the world. Jerusalem is no longer a city belonging to any one people in the religious sense.

Epiphany refers to seeing God’s presence in a new way. In the Christian community around the world and in many cultures, this day of celebration includes not just the magi. It also includes the celebration of the Lord’s baptism, in which the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, revealing him as the one whose coming had been promised from ancient times. (Mk 1:9-11 and Jn 1:29-34) In some communities, it is also a celebration of the first miracle, performed at a marriage in Cana when water was turned into wine and Jesus’ first disciples began to realize that he might be more than just a great teacher. (Jn 2:1-11)

What do we see at Epiphany today? A war is raging, though not yet in Jerusalem. Peoples in the Middle East are fighting and dying once again. Peoples in Europe and Africa are as well this year. Where do we see the Lord’s presence? How does his coming change the equation in these days of so much pain and struggle. How is he present in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers? Where will they find safe homes, where their children will not be menaced by gangs or political parties seeking their own benefit rather than the common good?

Pray with me for peace this day. For justice and mercy. For a willingness to listen and find common ground with our opponents. For a day in which we can joyfully cry out, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” May this Jerusalem be the one in which we are living each day, working for justice, peace, and the good of all of the Lord’s people. May we see God’s presence shining forth anew in our lives and our world.

Readings for The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Dec 31, 2023

Families Come in Many Shapes and Sizes

Families Come in Many Shapes and Sizes

When one of my children got married, the photographer was ready to take family pictures of the bride and groom with each of their families. The pictures were to be outside in a lovely courtyard. Somewhere around three quarters of the people in the reception hall got up when called to report for the picture. The couple’s friends who were not family had to reassure guests who didn’t know us well, that the party wasn’t over and we would all return soon!

As family members approached the courtyard for the photo session, the photographer first took pictures of the couple. Then, as people kept approaching, he asked if the families were all present now. No, they were still coming. A few more photos of the bride and groom and the question was repeated, followed by a question about whether the groom’s family were all there yet. No, not yet. How about the bride’s family? Yes, those people sitting at that table over there, was the response. So that set of family and couple pictures were taken.

Finally, all of the groom’s family arrived on scene. There were so many of them that the photographer put all of them up on a large outdoor dining area “balcony” and he went down below to take the photos.

The contrast in size of family has played out in many weddings through the years. Once in a while, both families will be large. Often, one will be large and one will be small.

Families come in many shapes and sizes. It’s a fact of life. Some large families are close. Others are not. Some, whether large or small, have members who have differences of opinion on many topics. Siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents – all can find themselves at odds with others in the group over many things. Sometimes relationships become so strained that they break. Sometimes it’s possible to mend the relationship. Sometimes it’s not possible or advisable to do so, especially if there was a history of abuse in the picture.

Looking beyond the immediate picture of nuclear families (Mom, Dad, children), there are larger family structures. The kinship structures of peoples around the world are not identical. In some, kinship is defined by relationships along only the male line. In others kinship is based on the female line. These are quite different from the bilateral, nuclear family kinship system that is characteristic of the majority of families in Western societies today.  In some kinship systems, the family is multi-generational, with the eldest members of the family making the decisions for the younger generations. We call these corporate kinship systems. In nuclear family kinship systems, the individual adults make their own decisions for themselves and their families.

Fictive kinship adds another layer to the picture as well. Godparents, sponsors, people who are close friends of a family, can play roles like those of biological relatives. These systems provide extra support to the family as they raise their children.

This complexity comes to mind as I hear the readings for the Feast of the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a family. Parents and child together, making their way through life. Their family was a part of a larger corporate family. Kinship included relatives beyond Mary and Joseph. These relatives worked together to support themselves and their children. Kinship passed through the male line, so Jesus was raised as a member of Joseph’s extended family. Fortunately, for those who keep track of such things, the line of King David was quite large by that point in time, so Mary was also descended from David’s line.

Family dynamics – who is in charge, whose authority is primary, who takes care of whom and when – all play a role in how healthy family relationships are. Sirach presents a picture of family relationships that bear imitation. (Sir 3:2-6, 12-14) The reading is all phrased in terms of the parents and their sons, but that’s a feature of the culture of the time. One could easily substitute our less specifically male terms today to make it more inclusive.

“God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her children. Whoever honors their parents atones for sins, and preserves themselves from them.”

Sirach admonishes his listeners to be kind, respecting and supporting each other. Older folks care for younger ones. Those younger ones in turn care for the older ones as they age. “Kindness to a parent will not be forgotten…”

St. Paul speaks to the Colossians about living as a community. (Col 3:12-17) The same advice he gives regarding communal relationships applies to successful families too. (Successful in this case is a term referring to loving, supportive families.)

Members of the community are to “put on,” (to wear) compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience, and willingness to forgive as the garments that enfold their lives. In their dealings with each other, grievances are to be forgiven because the Lord has forgiven all. Love is the bond of perfection. And above all, the peace of Christ forms all into one body.

We respond to the word of Christ dwelling within us with prayer, songs, and gratefully living in the Lord’s name.

Returning to the family of Joseph and Mary, we again see a loving family living within their tradition. (Lk 2:22-40) After the birth of a son, the family brings the child to the temple. The child is seen as belonging to God. The parents offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for him. Poorer families offered two turtle doves or pigeons. Wealthier families offered more elaborate sacrifices. Joseph and Mary were not rich, so they offered the two birds in sacrifice.

While at the temple for Jesus’ circumcision and to offer the sacrifice for him, they met two older people who had been promised the great gift of seeing “the Christ of the Lord” before their death. The first was named Simeon. He took Jesus into his arms and praised God for having sent the child who would become “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

The other person was an old woman, a prophetess named Anna. She too gave thanks to God for having seen the child. She told all she met that this child had at last been born.

None of the people involved in these events knew all that would happen to this family and this child. But Simeon and Anna knew he was special, through the gift of the Spirit’s revelation to them. Joseph and Mary knew they had a beautiful baby boy. They gave thanks for his birth and returned to their home to raise him in a loving family and community. We are told that he grew “and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”

As we live and grow in our families, may the blessings lived by the Holy Family be with us too. May we grow strong together in faith, trust in God, and loving kindness. Does this mean we go around with our eyes cast down and a serious look on our faces? Absolutely not! We are children of a loving God who has a fantastic sense of humor. We are to be joyful and hopeful. We are to laugh at the funny things that happen and at our own foibles. We are to sit around and tell stories of family and friends, and the amazing things we have seen and heard. We are to care about and for each other, not throwing away anyone. All are loved by God.

On this day and in the new year that is fast upon us, may we grow in wisdom, age, and grace as well. May our eyes be open to see the Lord in each other and in those around us. May we grow hearts that are larger and more inclusive, bringing people who have no families or whose loved ones are far away into our circle of love. We are members of biological families, yes, but we are also members of the family of the Lord. That one is HUGE! May we enjoy meeting and growing together in God’s family of love.

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Jan 8, 2023

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

A great light shining forth in the darkness. A manifestation of something unusual. A new understanding of something. All are included as meanings of the term epiphany and are not mutually exclusive. More than one meaning can apply to any particular situation.

Since ancient times, Christians have referred to various events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as epiphanies. He was born. He was visited by wise men from the east. He was baptized. He was seen after the resurrection. All of these events have been described by the term Epiphany.

The Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on the first Sunday following January 1, is the day we remember the visit of the sages from the East. These scholars watched the skies for signs that something important was happening somewhere in the world. Each part of the sky, each constellation, carried a meaning. If something changed within that section, it meant something was changing for humans too. Accordingly, when they noticed a new light appearing in a region of the sky related to the land of Israel and to royalty, they went to see who had just been born. (They lived close enough to this event to go for a visit!)

St. Matthew (Mt 2:1-12) tells of their visit and gives us an historical time frame that also tells us approximately when Jesus was born. “In the days of King Herod …” Herod was king from 37 to 4 BC, so Jesus was born during that time. The travelers stopped at the royal palace to inquire for the new child, a reasonable thing to do, given that the child was born to be a king according to the stars.

The wise ones were sent on to Bethlehem, where indeed they found the child and his parents, no longer in a stable, but in a house. Their gifts were shared and they returned home without checking in again with Herod. An angel had warned them in a dream that Herod was not to be trusted.

This event was and is seen as the first time non-Jews were welcomed into the new manifestation of God’s kingdom of love for all humans. In the past, it had been understood that people would come from all over the world to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. But the full meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah (60:1-6) was not totally obvious. “Nations shall walk by your light … your sons come from afar and your daughters in the arms of their nursemaids.” These words originally were spoken in terms of the return from Babylon to Israel. But the early followers of Jesus understood them to refer to people of all nations who would become part of the people of God, children of the covenant centered in Jerusalem.

On this day we celebrate that we are included among the many nations that rejoice at the light dawning with the coming of Jesus. We bring the gift of ourselves to the community of faith. Together we offer our gifts and talents along with the bread and wine on the altar. We sing of three kings coming to visit a baby. May we also sing with reference to our own lives. “Star of wonder, star of night … guide us to the perfect light.”

If you have time and are so inclined, it’s fun to make a Kings Cake / Rosca de Reyes to share with family and friends on this day.

Illustration: The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow – 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Look for the magi in the lower left corner of the painting!

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Posted by on Jan 1, 2023

Mary of Nazareth – Mother in Faith

Mary of Nazareth – Mother in Faith

The first day of each new calendar year we celebrate the wonder of God’s blessing in becoming one of us. Without the consent of a young woman, barely past girlhood, it could never have happened. This is not a case of a deity forcing himself on a woman or seducing her. The child is not a demi-god. This child, born of this young woman, is fully human and fully divine. It’s a mystery that we can’t explain and it took many years before it was established as the formal, uncontested, belief of the community of Followers of the Way, the Christians.

We hear the blessing the Lord God instructed Moses to bestow on the people. (Num 6:22-27) “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” And how does God do that? In the fullness of time, God comes among us as a child, his very own Word made flesh, a son. And because of this great gift, we too share in the reality of being children of God. (Gal 4:4-7)

Was this just for the rich and powerful of the world? No. It was first announced to a teenage girl, who agreed to become the mother of this very special child, then to the man who would be his earthly parent, and when he was born, to shepherds. Shepherds were not admired or particularly respected folks. They lived with their sheep. But they heard the words of the angels and believed. They visited the child and his parents, then returned praising God for this gift. (Lk 2:16-21)

The Gospel today concludes with the statement that on the eighth day after his birth, the child was circumcised (making him a member of the Jewish community) and given the name Jesus, as instructed by the angel before his birth.

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

We too are called to reflect on them. Mary became Mother of God. She wasn’t protected from the hardships of daily life. She didn’t always understand what was happening. She certainly didn’t expect this baby to grow up to become an itinerant preacher and miracle worker. Her heart was broken as she saw him die. Yet from the beginning, she agreed to be his mother, raising and loving him, reflecting on it all in her heart.

We honor her today and imitate her faith in our daily lives.

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Posted by on Dec 30, 2022

Family In Its Many Facets

Family In Its Many Facets

Families come in many shapes and sizes. It’s something of a cliché to say that, but it’s true. We are each part of a family. Some are born into the family in which they grow up. Others are chosen and adopted into a family. Some are sheltered and loved by a family into which they were not originally born. But families are an essential part of the healthy development of any human being.

And about that many shapes and sizes part – there’s a lot of variation there too.

In some cultures, only one’s father’s side of the family are considered to be relatives. In others, it’s mother’s side. In a few (our own included), both sides of the family are relatives.

Then there are the “fictive kin” – the folks with whom relationships are established by choice of adults in the life of a child, or later by the individuals themselves. Godparents are fictive kin, for example, considered to be sharers in the responsibility of raising the child.

There are folks to whom we give kinship titles simply because they are older adults in our community or the network of friends of our relatives. We had several older women whom we called Grandma when I was growing up. One was the mother of an uncle by marriage. Another was the mother of friends who generously shared her love with us too. In some cultures, adult men and women are addressed as Uncle or Aunt.

And then there are the families that grow together in close friendship through many years spent together. We shared our lives with another family as children. Our parents became very close friends over the years. We traveled to see each other often and spent Thanksgiving together nearly every year. (The roads were too dangerous for regular travel again until February or March after that weekend.) When they moved to our community, we shared meals and time together at least a couple of times a week. We are still fond of each other and enjoy our time together.

These thoughts come to mind as we celebrate the Holy Family. Jesus was born into a family. When Joseph accepted Mary as his wife, he became the legal and social father of Jesus. How the conception of Jesus occurred didn’t matter. Joseph became Jesus’ father, responsible for loving him, teaching him, raising him to be a good man. Joseph did a fantastic job of being a father, just as Mary did a marvelous job of being a mother.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not an isolated family. They lived, loved, and grew together within a community of other people in their village. This foundation prepared Jesus to go out when the time came and share the news that each of us is loved as a child by the Creator of all. We are so loved that we are to call that creator Dad/Daddy/Papa/Father. The term he used is Abba and is used by children to this day to speak to their fathers.

On this Feast of the Holy Family, let us rejoice in the gift of family and pray that in our lives we too will grow in wisdom, age, and grace through our days spent in ordinary activities and the special times that we share. May we each become part of a Holy Family too, dancing our way into eternity.

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family

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Posted by on Jan 9, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord – Beginning with Prayer

The Baptism of the Lord – Beginning with Prayer

Baptism of ChristThe Sunday after the Epiphany is celebrated as The Baptism of the Lord. On this day we transition from the first two special seasons of the Church year (Advent and Christmas) to the counted weeks of the year, Ordinary (meaning Counted) Time. Our focus shifts from readings preparing us for the coming of the Lord and those telling of the fulfillment of the prophecies of his coming with his birth, to those that detail just what he did when he came. What he taught and how people responded will be the focus of our readings in Ordinary Time.

Through the years, I have often heard it said that Jesus “submitted” to John’s baptism as a model for all of us. Jesus was without sin, so there was really no need for him to enter into the Jordan River and receive the baptism of repentance that John preached. As we look back on these events, it’s tempting to see them with 20/20 hindsight. We believe that Jesus is sinless, an unblemished human, who gave himself as the perfect model of fidelity to God’s will. Christian writers through the centuries have reflected on the image of Jesus as the perfect and final lamb offered in sacrifice to God, for the “expiation of sin,” an offering in blood to make up for Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

Yet I find myself thinking there might be something else here to notice. Jesus grew up in a family in a small village. His father was a tradesman. His mother was a homemaker. These were both full-time jobs. Both worked to support their life as a family and Jesus would have been part of that working community, doing his share of the chores along with his parents. As a child he learned of his faith and celebrated Bar Mitzvah, becoming a man in his community. He learned a trade and began working as a carpenter, a tradesman like his father. His life was so completely unremarkable that when he came home to Nazareth later to teach the members of his community of faith, they were not able to see past the normality of his life as they had known it and recognize the gift he was bringing to them.

Then when he was about 30, his cousin John came out of the desert and began preaching up and down the Jordan River. John spoke of the coming of the Messiah, the one so long ago promised. He taught about caring for each other and living justly. People went out to see him. John spoke of repentance, a long-time theme among prophets. Return to living as the people of the covenant! Make straight the way of the Lord! Many wondered if he might not be the Promised One himself.

Now, wander in your imagination with me for a moment.  Let’s assume that Jesus was an ordinary man. He didn’t know the full implications of anything he did in the course of his life. He didn’t know he was God become human. He didn’t know that he had never sinned, never deliberately hurt anyone or broken the Law. But I wonder if there might not have been times when he was uncertain whether his actions had been the right ones or not. Might he have thought that there were things he would have done differently if he had been given a chance? A sort of “do-over” that we humans often could use? If this was indeed true, then it makes sense that Jesus, a good and just man who was trying to be the best person he could, always faithful to his God and the covenant, would go to the Jordan to hear John preach and enter the water to be baptized, to be renewed in his life of faith.

We know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and we celebrate that today. When he came out of the river, dripping wet, he stopped to pray, to reflect on what he had experienced there in the water, and maybe to recommit himself to God and his life of faith. St. Luke tells us that as Jesus was praying, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” The coming of God’s Holy Spirit was palpable. It was like a dove gently landing on his shoulder might have felt. It was physically noticeable. It could be felt. Then Jesus heard a voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” The coming of God could be heard too. (Lk 3:15-16, 21-22)

This experience changed the course of Jesus’ life. It was a kind of conversion experience, though he was not a person who had lived a life of great sin or disobedience to God’s commands. He left the Jordan River a different person than when he had come. His consciousness had changed. He still didn’t know that he was the second person of the Trinity. He didn’t know that he was God become human. He didn’t know that his life would change much of the human history that followed. But he knew something had happened. He was praying and he experienced God’s presence and touch in his life in a very special way. His response was to pray some more. He went to the desert to reflect and pray. When he returned, he began to preach, teach, and heal. We’ll hear much more about that as the year goes on. The point today is that his life was forever changed when he entered into a time of reflection and symbolic washing. He emerged as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, foretold by John and the prophets who had come before.

The first and second readings also speak of the role of the Spirit in the life of the Messiah. Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying he has put his spirit upon the chosen one, the one in whom he is pleased. This chosen one will bring justice to the nations, but peacefully, without shouting or crushing anything that is less than perfect and healthy (bruised reeds or smoldering wicks, for example). (Is 42:1-4,6-7) There is an alternate first reading as well, also from Isaiah. In this one, the Lord speaks words of comfort to those in exile, promising they will return to their own land, with the Lord himself leading them. A voice cries out in the desert, “prepare the way of the Lord.” (Is 40:1-5, 9-11)

St. Paul, in his letter to Titus, remarks that when “God our savior appeared…he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7) This bath of rebirth is our baptism with water. It’s not the same as John’s baptism of repentance, but something even better. It brings an entirely new life, a sharing in God’s divine life through the Holy Spirit.

In another optional reading from the Acts of the Apostles (10:34-38), Luke tells us about Peter’s experience with the household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who was instructed in a dream to send to Peter and have him come to his home. Peter was hesitant, but when he arrived, he discovered that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon Cornelius and his family. This confirmed for Peter that the Gospel was for all people, not just for Jews. And the rebirth of baptism was opened to all of us.

In each of these readings, we see the importance of prayer and the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring out on the one who prays, opening up new vistas for life. If even Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray and open himself to God’s gifts, how much more important is it for us to do the same? We won’t all have dramatic experiences of God’s coming into our lives more deeply. For some it will be a much more gradual, silent, gentle deepening of awareness of the Presence. For others it will be more dramatic. (Those dramatic moments and encounters still happen in our day, sometimes during experiences of prayer or meditation.) The important thing is to remember to pray.

So, let’s take this as our plan for Ordinary time this year. Make time for prayer. There are lots of times and ways to pray. Need to wash your hands for 20 seconds for COVID prevention? A “Hail Mary” and a “Glory Be” will take about 20 seconds. The Angelus is traditionally prayed at in the morning, at noon and at 6 pm. Keep a copy of it inside a cupboard door in the kitchen and pray it as you fix dinner. Eventually you’ll remember it and can pray it in the morning and at noon too! The rosary can be prayed any time, even without a set of beads. Our five fingers on each hand make a great decade counter. Having trouble going to sleep at night, pray the rosary and don’t worry if you fall asleep as you pray (a.k.a. “praying with Jesus in the boat”). Mass is celebrated every day except Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Visit a church once in a while for Mass on a weekday if you are able to fit it into your schedule. Liturgy of the Hours was developed a long time ago for people who couldn’t gather with the Christian community on a daily basis to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s available on-line now or in books such as Christian Prayer. Download Liturgy of the Hours to your phone and it’s ready whenever and wherever you are.

As we celebrate The Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of Ordinary Time, let’s dedicate the same attention to prayer as we do during the special seasons of the year. God is here now, just waiting eagerly to hear from us.

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Posted by on Jan 2, 2022

Epiphany – The Glory of the Lord is Revealed

Epiphany – The Glory of the Lord is Revealed

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord was traditionally celebrated on January 6. However, since 1969, we have celebrated this feast on the Sunday following the celebration of Mary, Mother of God. This celebration is part of the Christmas season, which officially ends with the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after January 6.

The word Epiphany tells us what the celebration is all about. Epiphany means manifestation or appearance, particularly of a deity. It also refers to a sudden realization. The reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12) tells of the visit of wise men, astronomers and astrologers from the east, who saw a star rising in the heavens signaling the birth of a king in the land of Judah. These men traveled to the capital city and asked about the birth of the child who would be King of the Jews. Herod was not thrilled to hear of a potential rival. He found out where such a child might have been born and instructed the wise men to go to Bethlehem in search of the child, then return with the information to him. He planned to have the child killed, to eliminate his rival.

The wise men found Jesus and his family. They offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, then returned to their own land by a different way, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Joseph was also warned of Herod’s plan in a dream. He took the family and fled to Egypt until after Herod’s death, but that part of the story is not part of today’s reading.

These were the first non-Jews, the first Gentiles, who learned of the coming of Jesus. It was an Epiphany.

St. Paul speaks of this great news in his letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a, 5-6). He proclaims that God has revealed to him an amazing mystery which had been unknown to those of earlier generations – The Gentiles are members of the same body and promise in Christ Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by Jesus was not just for Jews. It was for all people. Salvation has come for all. Another epiphany!

The light of Jerusalem has come and the glory of the Lord shines forth. Just as Isaiah (60:1-6) wrote to the exiles returning from Babylon, the Lord shines on his people. Sons and daughters return from afar. The riches of the sea are emptied out for all and the wealth of nations comes to Jerusalem, to God’s people. It is a time of great rejoicing. Out of a time of darkness, the Lord’s light has shone forth – an epiphany.

What does all of this mean for us? As we remember and rejoice in the coming of the wise men in search of the Lord, revealing the promise of salvation to all the world, may we too be open to the ways God’s presence is seen in cultures and peoples around the world, particularly those on the margins of society.

We hope and pray for the gift of openness to the rising of new generations of leaders as we get older. Can we rejoice in the wisdom and insights that come from our children and grandchildren as they experience life in a world very different from the one in which we grew to adulthood? Or will we be like Herod, clinging to power and fearful of the future?

Will we share the many blessings we have received with those who need a hand to meet the daily necessities of life? What gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh do we have to offer? The gold of respect and encouragement? The incense of loving support and prayerful accompaniment? The myrrh of compassion and understanding during difficult times?

The Lord has come. The wise ones traveled far in search for him and they found him. Now it’s our turn to look for him in the days and weeks to come. Where will we find him?

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Posted by on Jan 1, 2022

A Day for Celebration – January 1, 2022

A Day for Celebration – January 1, 2022

January 1 is a day for celebration and hope. Of course, we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year that we share world-wide. We hope for health, friendship, peace, prosperity, good fortune, love, and so on. We know that challenges will arise and losses will occur. But we look forward with hope.

After two years of global pandemic, with a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly, we face another year of uncertainty and challenges. Still, we are cautiously optimistic. Vaccines have been developed. They seem to be working. Human immune systems, in those vaccinated, are going beyond just forming anti-bodies against the virus and are now awakening the T-cells that provide longer lasting protection. We know much about the virus, including preventive measures and treatments that help. We’ve come a long way.

On the religious front, we also have many things to celebrate. It’s the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is what we celebrate in our liturgies for January 1. Mary, a simple young Jewish woman, became the mother of the child who grew up to be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who gave himself totally to the will of God and in so doing restored the family ties between God and humans. Jesus, the Word of God, was fully human and fully divine. Mary was his mother, the woman who taught him and nurtured his relationship with their God. She and Joseph, her husband, did not understand all that was happening through them. They were ordinary people called to do something truly extraordinary. We hear in the gospel (Lk 2:16-21) that after the visit of the shepherds, Mary reflected on all the things she had seen and heard there in Bethlehem where her son was born.

At the end of the reading from St. Luke’s gospel, we hear that on the eighth day after his birth, Jesus was circumcised and given his name, “the one given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The circumcision of the Lord is another thing traditionally celebrated on this day. Jesus became one of God’s chosen people, a member of the Jewish community on this day. He received his name, Yeshua (in Hebrew and Aramaic), which means God saves.

As a child, Jesus grew up as a member of the Hebrew people, with all the traditions of his people. He lived under the law given to Moses and was blessed with the same words of blessing that God gave to the people through Aaron and the priests who followed him down through the centuries. “The Lord bless you and keep you!” (Num 6:22-27)

When he was grown, he was called at his baptism in the Jordan River from his career as a tradesman in Nazareth to preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. As St. Paul explains (Gal 4:4-7), he was born under the law, yet he was the one who would move beyond the restrictions of the law that kept humans and God separated. He was the one whose coming set free those born under the law, ransomed them to become children of God and heirs of the kingdom. This kingdom expanded to include all peoples, because God created and loves all peoples.

The final thing we celebrate today is World Day of Peace, a day to celebrate and work towards a culture of care and tolerance for each other. As children of one heavenly Father, we are called to reach out to each other, both in our own communities and around the world. We are to see each other as members of the same family. We can have our differences of opinion and do things differently, but we are still all God’s children. We must love each other and care for each other.

Pope Francis shares his vision for the 55th annual celebration of World Day of Peace in his message: Dialogue Between Generations, Education and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace.

On this day of many celebrations, may we continue to receive the blessing offered by Aaron for the people of God. May the Lord’s face shine upon us. May he be gracious to us and grant us peace!

Happy New Year!

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Posted by on Dec 25, 2021

God’s Recipe for Change: Step Two – Get Personally Involved!

God’s Recipe for Change: Step Two – Get Personally Involved!

Christmas is upon us. The word itself tells us much. This is the day and season during which the Mass we celebrate, our Eucharist, is specifically a celebration of thanksgiving for the coming of the Christ, God’s Chosen and Anointed One. Christ’s Mass!

Usually, I would look at the readings for the Mass of the day and talk about them. Who is featured? What is the message for us? Are there any common themes? How do the themes of the readings speak to me (and to us) today?

However, there are many Masses for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Many parishes only choose one set of them, because it’s easier to prepare just one homily, worship aid, set of hymns, etc. But which one will my parish choose? Which one will your parish choose? Will your parish celebrate each of them in turn?

The first set of readings is for Christmas vigil – Christmas Eve – and features Matthew’s listing of the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham, through David, to St. Joseph (Mt 1:1-25). This is followed by the narration of the decision of Joseph to accept Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant before they were living together as man and wife. He believed and accepted the word of the angel who came to him in a dream with the message that this was God’s child.

The second set of readings is for Christmas night (midnight Mass). In these readings, St. Luke (2:1-14) picks up the story with the decree of Caesar Augustus that all must return to the town of their ancestors for a census and taxation. There are very specific names of officials in various regions of Palestine given, which tells us historically the timeframe of the events which follow. Luke tells us of Jesus’ birth in the stable and of the message to the shepherds carried by the angels. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The Mass at Dawn has Luke (2:15-20) telling of the decision of the shepherds to go and find the child. They find him in Bethlehem, lying in a manger, just as the angels had described. When they leave the stable, they tell everyone they meet about what they have heard and seen, “glorifying and praising God.”

The final Mass for Christmas is for Christmas Day. This one gives us the Prologue from the Gospel of St. John (1:1-18). This gospel was written many years after the Resurrection. It reflects a long period of theological reflection on the mystery of what has happened in history. In John’s Gospel, the focus is more on the divinity of Jesus. What he does is done deliberately and because God is in charge of the whole process.

The Prologue begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It goes on to say that “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him… And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”

The combined readings of all the Masses of Christmas tell the story of Salvation History from the beginning of creation through the birth of Jesus. The first and second readings of each of these Masses also differ – but the themes are similar in their focus on Salvation History. In the first readings, we see in great joy the coming of the Lord, or a return from exile, a rebirth of the community. In the second readings we hear of the early Church’s proclamation of the good news to the Jewish community (Acts 13:16-17, 22-25) and also their reflection on the effects of the coming of “our great God and savior Jesus Christ” (Ti 2:13) in the letters to Titus and the Hebrews.

In the weeks and months to come, we will learn more about the continued unfolding of that history in the life of Jesus and the birth of the Church, but for today, we stop and celebrate a wondrous reality. God cares enough about us that God chose to become one of us. This is the crux of the matter that we celebrate today. God’s plan for change included getting personally involved. God became a human being, with a name, a family history, a life story. In doing this, God shows a total commitment to making things better for all of us. We are not condemned to everlasting battles, unhappiness, struggles for justice. God got involved personally to lead the way into a new way of being human.

Let us take time today to rejoice and be glad. The Lord has come!

God’s Recipe for Change: Step Two – Get Personally Involved!

Merry Christmas!

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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Angels We Have Heard – On to a New Year

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 Feb 21, 2015

Angels We Have Heard – On to a New Year

Light

800px-Sunrise on Mt Sinai in Egypt - June2006 - by Mabdalla - public domainLight is fascinating. At Christmas time we are enthralled with the lights all around us, candles and Yule fires. We feel safe in light. Light is beautiful to us. At Epiphany and the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) we hear that a light for the nations has come into the world and that people from afar have come to witness its arrival. Light is a physical, energetic reality so fundamental that it takes on symbolic meanings as well.

An energetic force

Light is so basic and essential that we take it for granted. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. So amazingly fast. It is an electromagnetic radiation, a specific energy, that has a spectrum of forms from short waves (ultraviolet) to long waves (infrared). In the middle are the manifestations of light we can see, such as colors. Its most notable characteristic for humans is that light stimulates the organs that help us see: the retina, the optic nerve, etc. We are richly blessed to see ourselves, people, and objects. Light is so important to humans that we can become very ill if we lack it for a long time.

A symbolic image

But, light is much more. It is also spoken of as mental illumination or insight. The word itself can mean to understand. It can also be used to describe being guided, as John of the Cross describes his own journey in spiritual darkness during which he is guided by nothing “save only the light burning in my heart.” (Dark Night of the Soul).

Light has been experienced as God presence, enlightenment and strength (Psalm 27:1). God is described in the Scriptures as our light, a light that shines in our darkness (John 1:5), a light who calls us out of darkness
(1 Peter 2:9). Jesus himself tells us in turn to be the light of the world and not to hide our light (Matt 5:14).

God is our light. Our lives can be in darkness, darkness from letting ourselves be in agitation from bad habits or denial. We can give in to negative thoughts or fear. On the other hand, if we practice openness to seeing and hearing God speaking in our hearts, we can see and hear a desire in us to be illuminated and strengthened. We can feel the fog lifting and an ability to live in light. It is our choice to say yes to this. We don’t have to earn it or produce it, we just have to consent to it.

Image by Mabdalla, Sunrise at Mt Sinai in Egypt, public domain

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Posted by on Jan 17, 2015

Angels We Have Heard – On to a New Year

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 Jan 16, 2015

The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent

The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent

 

http://youtu.be/m8jHx7W-iI4
Fr. Geoffrey Plant of Sydney, Australia has prepared a multimedia homily for the feast of the Epiphany. In his homily, Fr. Plant presents the main points of the feast.

The term “epiphany” comes from the Greek meaning to “shine forth”. We tend to assume that there were three kings because there were three gifts named: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Fr. Plant notes that they were not called kings but “magi” in Greek, with stands for wise men or sages.

The gifts are symbolic of the nature and meaning of Jesus. Gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is a sign of the divine, and myrrh is for burial, indicating that Jesus will triumph through suffering and death.

Fr. Plant suggests the wise men also brought the gift of Holy Discontent. Examples of holy discontent may be seen in the character of Popeye. An example of unholy indifference is seen in the the character of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Fr. Plant sees the magi as showing a holy discontent: a willingness to search, to be changed, and not to feel comfortable again. He compares them to Herod’s wise men who despite being so close to Bethlehem fail to see the signs in the heavens though others have seen them from afar.  Quoting W. H. Auden, Fr. Plant compares the hardness of heart of Herod’s wise men to our own post-modern era:

We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die

W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

This gift of Holy Discontent — the gift of prophecy and activism — is what the wise men bring to the Christ child and to us according to Fr. Plant. It is the divine call to the kingdom through suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015

Angels We Have Heard – On to a New Year

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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