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Posted by on Jan 16, 2022

Scarcity or Abundance – The Transforming Presence of God

Scarcity or Abundance – The Transforming Presence of God

Exile, triumphant return, wine run out, empty water jars filled,  water changed into wine, brides and bridegrooms, a variety of gifts – many images are presented in the readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The readings begin as the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon is drawing to a close. People are beginning to return to Jerusalem and Isaiah speaks the Lord’s words of joyful triumph: “I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, her vindication shines forth like the dawn…” (Is 62:1-5) Jerusalem, the remnant of those exiled to Babylon, will shine again before all the nations. The Lord will bless her with a new name – My Delight. She will be a beautiful crown held by her God. The Lord is as delighted with her as a bridegroom is with his bride. This is all fantastic news to a people who have felt abandoned by God in bitter defeat and exile from their homes and homeland. From the depths of loss to the triumph of the abundant love of God, their return home is filled with reasons for rejoicing. God is again present with the people of Israel and they are home.

We see another case of scarcity transformed to abundance in the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, not too far from Nazareth (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus and his friends have been invited to a wedding feast. His mother is there too. It’s a wonderful party and all are having a great time. All, that is, except the hosts. The wine is running out. Someone miscalculated how much people would drink or how many people would be there, or something. It really didn’t matter. Running out of food or drink at a wedding feast is a terrible issue, a shameful thing, even today.

Jesus’ mother notices the problem. She’s probably been involved in planning many weddings and other parties with family and friends through the years. The families of the couple are friends or relatives. What can anyone do to help in such a situation?

In St. John’s telling of the incident, there is something important that she can do. She can tell her son and in so doing, she nudges him to begin his public life. Jesus essentially asks her, “What am I supposed to do about that?” Yet in John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as one who is in control of what is happening in his life. He is God become human and very much actively in charge of events. He adds, “My hour has not yet come.” It’s not the point in his teaching and ministry to begin doing extraordinary things and showing forth the glory of God, at least he doesn’t think so. But Mary is not deterred. These people need help and they need it right now. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servers.

And so, what to do? Jesus looks around and there are six water jugs in the room. These jugs were used for ritual washing ceremonies when people gathered. Jesus, using what was available, directs that the jars be refilled with water. When this has been accomplished, he instructs the servers to take some to the headwaiter. It was now wine. Not just any everyday, watered down wine, but really good wine. Better than what had been served earlier. The headwaiter even sort of scolds the bridegroom for not serving the best wine first. Folks who have been drinking for a while won’t fully appreciate how good this stuff is!

John ends this story with the comment that in this first of the signs of his coming (as the Messiah), Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples and they “began to believe in him.” He became more than someone John the Baptist thought was important. Maybe he really was someone different and important. Maybe the Promised One had come.

Scarcity had been replaced with an abundance of wine, an abundance of life. God’s presence is revealed.

St. Paul presents another image of abundance (1 Cor 12:4-11). He’s dealing with a community in Corinth that was very diverse and whose members didn’t think of themselves as all being equals. There were many divisions in their society and those divisions didn’t go away when they gathered as a community.

Paul reminds them firmly that there are many kinds of gifts, many kinds of service. All come from God. There is only one Lord. There is no need to argue over which gift or which service is more important. None is more important or more valuable than any other. All are important and all are distributed by God. The Spirit’s presence is seen in each person’s gifts as that person uses the gift for the benefit of all.

A list of different gifts is found here. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All of these are important, but only if they are used on behalf of the community. No one gets a gift because it is earned or deserved. Gifts are only given as they are needed and they are given to the person who will best be able to use them in service. Yet, there is an abundance of gifts within the community when they are all shared.

The key to each of these stories of scarcity and later abundance is the presence of God. We each have known times that are hard. Times when it seems like nothing will ever get easier. Little or no hope is visible, even on the horizon. Yet when we let the Lord into our hearts in those times, hope begins to blossom like a small flame. As we move forward in trust, serving the Lord and our fellow people with the gifts we’ve been given, however small they may seem, that scarcity falls behind us. We begin to see the abundance of love that fills the world, even when it is masked by “ordinariness” in our days.

Today let’s ask ourselves where the Lord is present, transforming the difficulties and challenges of our ordinary human lives into the beauty of new life, of diadems in the hands of God, of new love between bride and bridegroom, of joyful celebrations of love and new beginnings, and of the growth in wisdom, age, and grace to which we are all called in life.

The Lord has come. Where will we meet him today?

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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 Aug 15, 2021

Layer upon layer of meaning for the Feast of the Assumption

Layer upon layer of meaning for the Feast of the Assumption

The Feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary pre-empts the usual celebration of the Sundays of Ordinary Time when it falls on a Sunday as it does this year. It is a feast that has been celebrated by the Church for many centuries, but it was only officially promulgated as a feast in 1950. The Assumption refers to the belief that Mary’s body was taken into heaven at the time of her death. In the Eastern Church, the feast is called the Dormition and the belief is that she when she died, she simply went to sleep and was taken, body and soul, into heaven.

The readings begin with one from the Book of Revelations (Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab). This book is an example of apocalyptic literature, in which there are many layers of meaning. It is not to be taken literally, because the characters and events described are symbols of other realities. Numbers, colors, objects – all carried deeper meanings than their face value. Revelations was written during a time of persecution of the Christian community. Those for whom it was written understood it as an encouragement in time of trouble. Through all the suffering and trials, Christ and the Church would prevail, because God was on their side.

In today’s reading, first a sign appears in the heavens – a woman laboring to give birth. Then comes a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, ready to devour the child. There were said to be seven diadems on its seven heads, each of which had ten horns. Seven and ten were numbers signifying completeness and power. Horns are symbols of power. The diadems also referenced power. Red symbolizes war, destruction, and bloodshed. This dragon symbolized the forces of evil, arrayed against the woman and her child. The woman herself relates to two layers of meaning. She represents both Israel, from whom the savior would be born, and Mary, the Israelite mother who would give birth to Jesus and the church.  The child born and saved from the dragon was both Mary’s son, the Christ, and the community of believers who form his body today, the Church.

The triumph of the forces of good does not appear seamlessly in this story. There are many ups and downs, many triumphs and tribulations. However, the focus is on the ultimate victory of God, brought to fruition through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the faithfulness of the Church. The inclusion of a woman in the mix, as the one giving birth, makes clear the importance of the feminine and of matter in the story of salvation. God is not one who despises matter or the feminine. God unites heaven and earth, male and female in the story of salvation.

The readings continue, with St. Paul reminding the people of Corinth that Christ was raised from the dead. Christ is the first of “those who have fallen asleep” and been raised to new life. (1 Cor 15:20-27) Death came through the first human, Adam. All humans die. Now, because Christ is the new Adam, all humans will rise as he did. This will happen at the end of time, when all enemies of life have been conquered, including death.

The role of women is again featured in the Gospel according to St. Luke (Lk1:39—56) In this story, a newly pregnant Mary leaves Nazareth shortly after her encounter with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel has informed her that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, is having a baby and is now six months pregnant. This is a miracle because Elizabeth was past child-bearing age. Mary hurries to Elizabeth’s side to help her in the final months of the pregnancy.

When Mary approaches Elizabeth, her cousin cries out to her in the words we use in the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The child in her womb had leapt with joy when Mary greeted Elizabeth. This child grew up to be the final prophet, John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus as the one who was to come. Elizabeth praised Mary for believing the angel’s words and consenting to God’s request of her.

If you or I heard such a greeting, we might well focus on our good deed or we might be embarrassed and brush off the greeting as excessive. Mary responded differently. Her response takes the form of a Canticle, a song of praise to God. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” This song is sung by the Church every evening as part of Evening Prayer. She sings of God’s great love and mercy throughout history, of the way the Lord comes to lift up the lowly and cast down the mighty from their thrones. She rejoices that the Lord has always come to the aid of his servant Israel and remembers the promise made to Abraham and his children forever. We too are children of Abraham in faith. She sings our song.

On this, the feast of the Assumption, let us rejoice in the courage and faithfulness of Mary, a teenager who met an angel, believed the messenger of God, and accepted a role that would bring danger, hardship, and sorrow, but also joy as she shared the journey of Jesus’ life. She understands what it is to be a mother, a wife, a faithful woman. She is ready to help all who ask for aid.

See you at Mass.

P.S. Many years ago I wrote another blog post for the Feast of the Assumption. If you’re interested, you can find it at:  https://blog.theologika.net/feast-of-the-assumption/

Image: Dormition of Mary – unknown artist – public domain

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2016

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

The Holy Year of Mercy can seem a little abstract. Here is a wonderful video with a beautiful adaptation of the Ave Maria. What struck me was the emphasis on recovering lost dreams and hopes not so much for ourselves but those on the street, those seeking justice, the suffering. This is contrasted with the faith of the pilgrims and the churches and sites of Rome.

This is a moving presentation of the core belief of Christianity that we cannot say that we love God whom we do not see when we ignore our neighbors whom we can see. It is consolation and a challenge that persists in the proclamation of the Gospel from generation to generation. Today it comes in a beautiful  voice, a beautiful song, and the faith of beautiful people.

 

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.

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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

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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