The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

St Paul's Methodist Church
at Douglass and Bardstown Road
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The prelude of Saint John’s gospel was, before the Second Vatican Council, read at every Mass after the Eucharist. It was called the “Last Gospel” although it might as easily have been called the first gospel for it begins in the beginning.
On this last day of the year the Church takes us back to our beginnings, and we remember the Word is God. He has “pitched his tent” among us and become one of our own children.
Today’s first reading also summons the mysterious presence of time, Children, it is the last hour….”

T.S. Eliot introduced his reflection on time with:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

But our faith teaches us that time is redeemable because God has come to stay with us in time. He lived among us as a man, in a time not so long ago, in a place not very far away. It was a world familiar to us, where people paid taxes, worried over politics, struggled for their daily bread and danced with their neighbors as often as they quarreled with them.
Philosophers and scientists have struggled to understand this fourth dimension called time. David Hawking has said that in the universe he understands every point is the center of the universe, and it has no edges. Every moment too is the beginning and the end of time; and its now is endless. Somehow that makes sense as we finish a year and plunge into another.
The New Testament is steeped in an apocalyptic awareness of time. “Now is the final hour!” Every moment is critical – a crisis! -- and its weight feels both eager and anxious. It is anxious if I am fearful; it is eager if I am ready to listen.
Saint Francis, toward the end of his life, wrote to his friars, “Let us begin again for up until now we have done nothing." 
No one can say, “I have done enough, I have earned my salvation.” Rather I must embrace the present moment and welcome the Holy Spirit who directs my life through each moment of each day. True, I make plans, because planning is what I must do at this moment as the Spirit directs me. And I assess the past -- but not with the authority of a judge for there is only one judge and I am not Him. I assess the past so as to see the present more clearly and plan more carefully.
Traditionally we like to make “New Years Resolutions” on this last day of the year. Hopefully, they will be realistic and optimistic. Hopefully, they will not be much different than the ones we made last year, for we’ve not changed that much since last year.
I hope that I will see beauty in 2011. I think there can be few privileges granted to mortals greater than the contemplation of beauty. I want to see it in the friars with whom I live, and the Veterans I visit in the VA hospital. I want to see the beautiful Holy Spirit clearing my head and my eyes, my ears and my nostril, my tongue and my skin so that I might sense beauty all around me and thoroughly within me.
Life is too short to put off the vision of beauty. Even when I am toiling over a work that cannot be finished today or this year or in one lifespan, I should see the beauty of the labor.
I say should intentionally because I want to do what I should do and I want to be what I should be. I need not be afraid of the shoulds that hang over me continually. They persist like the furies and they get me down at times but they’re part of the eager/anxious human experience. And if human experience was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. You recall how eager he was: I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

May God bless you today, on this last day of 2010, and throughout this impending 2011. Let us begin again for up until now we have done nothing." 

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Do not love the world or the things of the world. 
... the world and its enticement are passing away. 
But whoever does the will of God remains forever.

Although we are in the middle of the Christmas Season, we are rapidly approaching the end of our civil year. We can take this opportunity to assess (not judge, there is only one Judge) our passage through the past year. What of the world have I loved? How much did I suffer when I lost something that belongs only to this world? How did that suffering change me? Was I changed toward greater or less freedom in losing it? 
I think of Elizabeth Bishop's magnificent villanelle, "One Art:"

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

As the poet tries to make light of her losses -- and one in particular -- the loss of that lover crashes a devastating blow upon her.
We can lose things of this world – the door keys, the heirloom, even a beloved house – and shake off those losses. But the loss of a spiritual treasure – a friend, a child, relative or spouse – is hard to bear. And there are heavier losses yet: innocence, trust, respect, integrity, and so on.
It is hard to bear the loss of physical or mental health. They are anchors that fix us firmly in this world and when they’re shaken our whole world comes unglued.

In today’s gospel we hear the last paragraph of yesterday’s story. Anna, a poor widow of many years, has lost everything but her faith in God. Waiting for the Messiah she has done the will of God, and she remains forever. We pray that we will enjoy the same satisfaction as we practice the art of losing. It’s not too hard to master. 

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled…

As Christmas Week unfolds we come to Saint Luke’s story of Simeon and Anna, two devout old citizens of Jerusalem.
Historically, we know that Judaism was ripe with expectation at that time. Although prophecy had ceased apocalyptic fever replaced it, replete with cryptic literature and frenzied songs. Throughout the world from India to Spain Jews expected something big to happen. It might be military, political or economic but it would certainly mean the end of exile, homelessness and suffering for the Jews. And there should be a concurrent humiliation of their enemies. It might well be a cosmic event to purify the earth, sky and waters of all evil.
Although history marched on and the Jewish religion evolved in other directions, Christianity assumed that mantle of anxious, eager expectation as our birthright.  It is our posture and our practice always to be ready for the Judge. When we hear Jesus' muttering “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” we decide again to be found among the faithful. 

Simeon and Anna represent that eager longing satisfied. They are the anawim, “the devout poor,” who await God’s mercy. Ignored and despised by the powerful, the influential and the intelligentsia, they cultivate faith in their daily life with pious practices and simple acts of kindness. They don’t expect to be wealthy. With the sages they might pray,
Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches;
   feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
   and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
or I shall be poor, and steal,
   and profane the name of my God.
 (Proverbs 30:8-9)

If they are wrongfully accused they have no legal representation to defend them. When they are robbed or attacked they receive no recompense. Powerless, the anawim know nothing of revenge. That belongs to God alone and God alone is their vindicator.
Simeon and Anna represent these beloved of God. We can easily imagine the old man holding the baby in his arms and dancing slowly, ecstatically around the temple. Anna also will coo with pleasure to look on the child.
The Lord has heard the cry of the poor. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

As we hear the gospel today we should allow their feelings of gladness to well up in us. Whatever troubles we feel or heartaches we endure, we are also present in the temple. We witness Mary and Joseph bringing God to his temple. 

Feast of the Holy Innocents

This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
St Francis worships
the Child at Greccio,
a window at Mt St Francis
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

It is hard to approach this feast day without remembering the abortions performed in this country and around the world. Hypocrisy kills the unborn. The most beautiful act of marital love, abused, has become a cauldron of death for unborn children. This cynicism runs so deeply we wonder if the earth and its people can be saved.
This feast, like its setting in Saint Matthew’s gospel, is like the hammer and anvil used to harden tempered steel. Just as we are glowing with the delightful heat and satisfying joy of Christmas, we are smashed by this memory of the Holy Innocents.
Historians might not regard this particular story as authentic; there is no substantiating, secondary witness in the few documents we have of that time. But they readily admit King Herod the Great was vindictive, vicious and erratic. To defend his status as a puppet king of the Roman Empire he murdered several of his own family, including his own sons.
But the story is not about King Herod or the slain children. Rather, Saint Matthew describes the scandalous failure of Jerusalem to welcome its savior. Perhaps it will help to contrast his description of the city with that of Saint Luke. In Luke’s gospel the city provides a ready welcome to Mary as she visits Elisabeth and to Jesus when he is brought to the temple. When John the Baptist is born and named the entire city is abuzz with the story. When Jesus arrives in the temple, Simeon and Anna welcome him and tell everyone about him. As a twelve year old, Jesus wanders freely about the city and questions the elders in the temple. There is neither darkness nor secrecy about the child in Saint Luke’s gospel.
But Saint Matthew’s Jerusalem is as horrid as the Whore of Babylon. It is so dark the magi lose sight of the star when they enter. The city is perturbed by their eager question, “Where is the new born king of the Jews?” Its scholars readily conspire in naming where the child might be found. And the king’s reply to the magi is so sinister it makes the hair on your neck stand on end: “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him -- homage. "
Finally there is the bitter irony of Jerusalem’s savage search for the child, driving him back into Egypt, just as their Hebrew ancestors were driven out of Egypt by the pharaoh and his people. The “flight into Egypt” indicates God’s total and final rejection of Jerusalem as the holy city, especially as His blessing has been transferred to the New Jerusalem, who is Mary, where the magi find the Babe.
Thirty years later we hear Jerusalem's reply as they again condemn him to death, “His blood be upon us and upon our children."

However, I hear a double irony in that final statement, for it echoes Moses’ blessing when he sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial ox on the altar and on the people. The hysterical mob in Jerusalem unwittingly blesses itself even as they seem to invite a curse.
In another dark hour the Spirit of God had challenged Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these dry bones live?” He wisely replied, “You know, O Lord.”
You and I might wonder as we ponder the horror of abortion, “Can this world and its people be saved?” Certainly, with man it is impossible. We continually dig ourselves more deeply into evil. But reading of the joy the magi felt upon finding the child with his mother, we remember the words of Saint John, the light shines in darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. And just as the Church canonizes these Holy Innocents, we hope that God will sprinkle his blessings upon us and upon our children.

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist

Niece with cat
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.

On this third day of Christmas we celebrate Saint John the Evangelist. Here in America he enjoys another association with Christmas: each year thousands of people gather in Saint John the Divine Cathedral in New York City to welcome the winter solstice with wolf howls.
When I explored Saint John’s Cathedral in Lafayette Louisiana I was surprised to find over twenty windows dedicated to Saint John. I did not know he appears so often in the New Testament. They begin with:
The next day John (the Baptist) was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
A few verses later one of the disciples is named (Andrew) but the other remains unnamed and barely noticed. Eventually he begins to emerge from his anonymity as the Beloved Disciple, “the one who had also reclined upon his chest during the supper and had said, "Master, who is the one who will betray you?" He alone stood with “the Mother of Jesus” at the foot of the cross. He heard the words, “Behold your mother” and, from that hour, took her into his home. He ran with Peter to the tomb and found it empty. But, unlike Peter, when he saw the empty tomb and the burial linens neatly folded, “He saw and believed.”
Finally, “It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.”
Saint John is a kind of Horatio to Jesus' Hamlet. Like Horatio he appears often in the drama of Jesus but he is only a witness to the events. Saint John might say with Horatio, "And let me speak to the yet unknowing world / How these things came about...." 
Legends say that John was the youngest of the twelve apostles. He is usually depicted as a beardless boy. Legends also tell he was not martyred but died a natural death as a very old man. They say he had become so feeble he could only whisper to his congregation, “Love one another!” and that was sufficient.
The Patristic Origen said of Saint John’s gospel, “A mouse could wade across it; an elephant could drown in it.” The gospel invites the Christian to see Jesus’ signs and hear his teaching. His narrative often reads as simply as a short story, but there is such depth of wisdom in its simplicity one can spend a lifetime contemplating its mystery. If any book could win a convert without the aid of a church, it might be this one; but, of course, John insists there can be no love of God without a church:
If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 
(I John 4:20)

John’s gospel challenges us as Jesus challenged his opponents. They want signs of his authority but he knows they will not believe any signs. His lack of credentials is not the problem, it’s their cynicism. In the end we must set aside every doubt and hesitation and take his word for it. He is the Lord, take it or leave it. Believe it, or not. 
In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus invited Saints Andrew and John to “come and see.” On Easter Sunday John “saw and believed.” But he saved the greatest blessing for you and me when he added, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Feast of the Holy Family

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

People like to know where you’re from. If they care about you they want to know your family.
I attended seminary with a certain classmate for ten years, but I learned more about him in one weekend with his family than I had ever picked up in those ten years. At last, I saw him within the context of his father and mother and siblings. I understood his preferences, mannerisms and style after seeing where he had developed those familiar traits. They were familiar!
And so we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus. We are most familiar with Mary and Joseph because of their prominent positions in the early chapters of Luke and Matthew. We also know of his cousin John the Baptist, and John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, though we don’t know how closely they were related by blood. John and Jesus surely knew one another because their mothers were close. 
The scriptures mention other brothers and sisters of Jesus, especially “James, the brother of the Lord.” Catholics believe these others were not children of Mary, for she was always a virgin; and many Protestants scholars concede the Greek words brothers and sisters may include cousins. Perhaps they were children of Joseph by a former marriage. Mixed households were no more unusual then than they are today. We also know of Jesus’ ancestors, as both Matthew and Luke give us his genealogy, though the lists are not identical.

The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates Jesus’ human origins. He was not an isolated hero who comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, like such American heroes as Shane, the Lone Ranger, Superman and Phillip Marlow.  Our God wrapped himself in the fabric of human relationship before his birth and remained there until he died.
And he was obedient, as any child must be to his parents, elders, and religious leaders. Our God is an obedient God! What would be the point of his becoming human if he were not obedient?
We’ve seen too many super heroes who do their own thing, make their own justice, and punish those they regard as enemies. Jesus would not be that kind of Messiah. To be human is to be obedient and that’s where Jesus began his earthly ministry. As Saint Paul says in Philippians 2, because he was obedient even unto death God greatly rewarded him….

As we get to know Jesus we cannot help but know his family. He lives among them. and so we study those brief, rich texts about Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist and the others.
But to know someone well you have to do more than learn about them. You have to spend time with them. And so Catholics recite the rosary. It’s a way of being with Mary. Contemplating the twenty mysteries of the rosary we walk with Mary and Jesus through their lives. Even as our minds wander during the recitation (as they always do!) we’re still in the endearing presence of the Holy Family.
Spending prayer time with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we become familiar – that is family – with them. It is a mysterious process, not easily described and not widely appreciated. In human relationship there are no quick and easy shortcuts to intimacy. There is only the invitation that Jesus gave to two of John’s disciples as he was returning to his mother’s house – come and see.

The Nativity of the Lord Christmas Mass During the Day

Fr Ken and niece Katie
wishing you a Merry Christmas
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways 
to our ancestors through the prophets; 
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son…

The liturgies of Christmas are rich with pageantry and symbolism. It is impossible to say everything that might be said of the feast, and foolish to try. So I’ll be content with a few words about the second reading from the Mass of Christmas Day – Hebrews 1:1-6
I have been struck this year by the effort the Church makes to place Christmas and Jesus in the context of salvation history. If Jesus comes as a surprise, he is a long-awaited surprise. Since the day Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, we have waited for the savior. The church counts as the first announcement of the gospel, God’s words to Eve:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel."
This might be read as a comment on the dread we often feel about snakes. Many people get the heebie-jeebies at the very mention of Scolecophidia and Alethinophidia. But from ancient times we have heard God’s intention announced to Adam and Eve that a human being, one of their own descendants, will save us from the Serpent. And we have seen the serpent reappear as mankind’s nemesis in Revelation 12 and 20 ( Rev 12:9; 20:2) when he is decisively vanquished by the Lamb of God. 

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures in partial and various ways we find God’s innumerable promises to save us. Those promises appear in the heroes who prefigure Jesus: 

  • Adam is the first man, Jesus is the only son of God; 
  • Noah saves his people by the wood of the ark, Jesus by the wood of the cross; 
  • The water that wash over Noah's ark purify the earth, Jesus saves with the baptismal water gushing from his chest; 
  • Abraham is the father of faith, Jesus is the object of Abraham’s faith; 
  • Isaac is a sacrificial offering, as is Jesus; 
  • Joseph goes to Egypt, as does Jesus – and so forth.
Every word of the Old Testament is a promise that finds its fulfillment in the Word made Flesh. That is why we can never dismiss the Hebrew Scriptures. In our endless quest to know Jesus better we scrutinize every word.  
The Letter to the Hebrews will expand its opening statement, celebrating the gift we have received from God, the privilege of knowing Jesus as his ancestors did not. They longed to see his day but did not.

Christmas should reignite our fascination with Jesus and our eagerness to know him better. We should be especially eager to find him in the Old Testament and to worship in the New.
May that same Blessed Child live in your heart today, and in the hearts of all your loved ones. 

Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent Mass in the Morning

Introibo ad altare dei
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.

There are so many songs in the opening chapters of Saint Luke’s Gospel it might be a musical. Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, Jesus and a heavenly choir sing. We often sing all but one of these songs in our liturgy: Zechariah’s canticle at Morning Prayer, Mary’ Magnificat at evening prayer, Simeon’s prayer at night prayer, and the song of the angels with the Gloria at Mass. On this day before Christmas the gospel proclaims Zechariah’s canticle.
His express purpose is to bless God: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! It is a song of union with God. Zechariah’s heart is fully in tune with the Lord’s purposes, and also with the people of Israel. As he praises God he recounts the history of salvation, remembering David, the prophets and Abraham.
To know God we must belong to God’s people, and to belong to God’s people we must find ourselves in the history of God’s people.
Some years ago I participated in the merger of several parishes in western Iowa. I invited parishioners to come together and share memories of their five churches. Some of them were rural churches standing alone on a vast landscape of open prairies. Others enjoyed the position and prominence of life in the small towns. Theirs would not be a single-stream history. Rather, it would combine many different stories in different settings. Each parish had its own tales of pastors, musicians, catechists and “characters.” Of course, many of these people knew one another already. There were related by blood and by religion. 
The story telling would be a kind of gift-giving as each parishioner gave and received the past to one another. Eventually, I hoped, the stories would be braided together into a continuous history. A new member of the unified parish might be given a chronicle of the various churches. Like a child learning about her mother’s and father’s different families, she would be initiated into the complex, beautiful story of faith in western Iowa. Eventually she could say, “This is the history of our church.”

In today’s gospel Zechariah recaps the story of Israel and gives it to the newborn Christian Church. As we celebrate Christmas once again, we thank God for our Jewish forebears, their courage and fidelity and intense love of God. We pray that we may be worthy to receive their gift and enter the history of God's people. 

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Mary Lou the Moose

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
expectratio gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos,
Domines, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations, Savior of all people:
Come and set us free, Lord our God.

Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

The gospels insist upon the unexpected nature of God’s mercy. From small, domestic matters like the naming of a baby to cosmic events like earthquakes, God acts in unforeseen, unpredictable ways. That is why Saint Luke describes such wonder and astonishment about the naming of John. We can just hear the old folks saying, “Well I never..!”
Throughout all four gospels there is the irony that Jesus is so unexpected; and yet his confounding habit of demanding, “Why don’t you understand?” He implies, “You should have seen this coming!” and yet, obviously we did not. If some people foresaw the recession that is upon us now (and most of us should have), no one expected the Messiah to be Jesus of Nazareth.
Working with high school teens some years ago, we asked them to put away their watches and “Participate, don’t anticipate.” We urged them to let go of the control that calculates when the next meal, next break and bed time will come.
Can you expect without knowing what to expect? 
There are still some couples who refuse amniocentesis because they don’t want to know the gender of the baby until it’s born. Nor do they need to know its IQ or abilities. They are prepared to let God guide them day by day as the child is born and develops, and they disavow any authority to abort the baby if it does not fit their specifications. They will welcome the infant to participate in her own infantile way in her formation. They are prepared to be surprised by her gifts, talents, likes and dislikes. 
And they probably meet the same skeptical criticism from neighbors, friends and relative as Zechariah and Elizabeth encountered, “Well I never…”
The fun of Christmas is not knowing what the Gift will be, or how it will come, or when. We know the sun will shine on Christmas Day as it always has, though we might not see it through the clouds. We know the solstice will pass mysteriously over the earth and the Spring will inch its way back into the northern hemisphere. We know we’ll grow older as the days advance. But we don’t know how God’s mercy will appear to us, nor do we know how we’ll receive it.
Christmas teaches us to pray that we are ready, open and eager when That Day comes.  

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

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.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed...

Mary’s Magnificat has a very special place in our liturgy. We recite or sing it every day during our Evening Prayer, or Vespers. That places it right up there with the Our Father, as a prayer of importance.  (By the way, the Church recommends the Liturgy of the Hours to everyone, not just priests and religious, and not just Catholics! It is more than a private devotion like the rosary or Bible reading; it is the “prayer of the whole church.”)
         My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
        my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
The Magnificat (Latin from the first word of the song meaning magnifies or glorifies.) describes that ideal which we would all love to have, a confident sense of self-worth which is able to acknowledge blessings received and favors granted, and to forget oneself in the love of God.

Mary sings, “All ages to come will call me blessed!” But her statement is not arrogant, it is simply an expression of the astonishing truth. As the Mother of Jesus, she will be remembered as the woman who received him and knew him as only a mother can know a human being. She knew his body forming in her womb and his decision to be born in the fullness of time. She knew the pull of his nursing and the mess of his diapers. She knew his tender cheek on her neck and the gentle weight of his infant body. Can anyone be more blessed than she who received and gave her only son for the salvation of the world?
But Mary soon forgets about herself:
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
Her life and her songs are for God. A thousand years later Saint Francis would say of God, “You are good, all good, supreme good!” If we cannot look on the face of God, we can look in that direction, as Mary does, and sense the infinite goodness of God. It is so fascinating and delightful and beautiful we forget ourselves.
Mary remembers God’s mercy and justice, two qualities which seem opposed in human affairs. A judge who shows mercy to a convicted criminal may not be acting with justice, and vice versa. But God’s mercy is for the powerless, the despised, and the faithful -- and that is justice:
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Mary lived among the despised and powerless. She saw, even as a girl, Roman soldiers sweep through her village in search of rebel Galileans. She knew what the poor have always known, there is plenty for everyone if only everyone will share. There is no need to hoard.
And she knew that God provides for his little ones whom he has made from the dust of the earth.  

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

My sisters: from left:
Peggy, Becky, Cathy, Mary Lou, Janet

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

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

Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth. 

With Christmas just around the corner, we hear of the young lover, springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. The lover is like a gazelle or a young stag – but in this case it is the young woman, Mary, heading for Jerusalem. Traditionally writers and preachers have said she is going to assist her unexpectedly pregnant, elderly kinswoman.
She wants to see the sign the angel has revealed to her! Now some people would take that as a sign of doubt on Mary’s part. She should not need “to see signs.”
I say, of course she doesn’t need to see the sign. Do people do things only because they need to or have to? But if someone says, “Come look at the beautiful rainbow!” won’t you get up and walk outside and look at it? Will you say, “I’ll take your word for it. It’s beautiful?” No, you’ll go out to look at it and be elated at its splendor.
So Mary goes to Elizabeth to see the wonderful sign of God’s mercy.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the center of Saint Luke’s Infancy narrative, for in this delightful scene he unites two different stories – one about John the Baptist and the other about Jesus. These two women celebrate with ecstatic joy something the world cannot see or imagine. With their labor a new age will be born. The Prophet and the Messiah will appear.
Just as Saint Matthew’s infancy narrative is dark with foreboding, Saint Luke’s is filled with light. There is little suggestion of sorrow or suffering. Even the poverty of Jesus’ birth in a manger seems charming and comfortable, especially as he is welcomed by his own, the shepherds.
The gospel of Mary and Elizabeth has often been told in icons. It finds an echo in the many apparitions of Mary. Like Elizabeth we greet her with joy, for she bears the Christ Child and all ages to come will call her blessed.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Let the Lord enter; he is the King of Glory

Modern readers of the New Testament would like to have more information about Mary. Who was she? How did she feel about becoming Jesus’ mother? What did she think of her son and his development? What did her neighbors make of her unexpected pregnancy? Whatever became of her? If she is so important, why do we have so little information about her?
The evangelists were not disinterested in these matters; they simply never thought of them. Introducing Mary, Saint Luke wants to tell us of the ideal Christian who is, in a sense, the Church. In today’s gospel passage, when Gabriel tells her “the power of the Most High will over shadow you” he is recalling the Cloud of Glory that filled the Temple of Jerusalem when Solomon dedicated it:
…the glory of the Lord filled the house. But the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. All the Israelites looked on while the fire came down and the glory of the Lord was upon the house, and they fell down upon the pavement with their faces to the earth and adored, praising the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. The king and all the people were offering sacrifices before the Lord.  (2 Chronicles 7)

Mary is the Temple, the Holy City, the Church and the Earth. Her yes is more than a personal decision. She speaks for the whole church and the entire Earth. She, like her ancestors Abraham, Moses and David, welcomes God into our world. God has been waiting a long time for this invitation. But more blessed and more generous than her ancestors, she welcomes God to take possession of her body.
Salvation is of the body, as well as the soul and spirit. It is a physical event like eating and drinking and sleeping; different only in the sense that it is of even greater importance. It is a healing beyond any healing of disease because we are born with an incurable sickness that overwhelms our bodies, minds and hearts. It corrupts our familial, social and political relations, paralyzing our ability to care about anyone. That Grace which Mary welcomes is a healing of each and all of us, and of the entire earth.
Mary, like all of her people, prayed daily for that salvation and the Lord found her prayers irresistible. Intending since time began that creation should be worthy to receive such a gift, God blessed her with the grace of Immaculate Conception, so that she was worthy – “full of grace” and “blessed among women” – to be the Mother of God.
To give God the honor and praise he is due, and to give Mary the honor and praise she is due for her eager obedience, we know everything we need to know of her. We thank God with every Hail Mary for the blessings he showered upon her and upon us, her beloved children. 

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Chaplain Al and his wife Cathy

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

The 19th century historian hoped to predict the future. He believed he could do this in the same way other scientists make predictions. Scientists first develop an explanation for the reason things happen and test their hypotheses by setting up tests and predicting outcomes. If an electrical charge binds oxygen and hydrogen to form H20, then a scientist should be able to demonstrate that principle in the lab or classroom a thousand times over.
Historians wanted to do the same thing in their science. In America they predicted Manifest Destiny. Americans believed the United States should control and govern all the land from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans. And so it happened -- despite the objections of our neighbors to the south who controlled Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and California.
Communism predicted a workers’ revolution to unite all the nations of the world under one form of government. Nazis would rule the world as the superior race.
Many people think there should be no poverty in the world. They predict everyone will someday enjoy the middle class benefits of opportunity, education, health care and leisure. Some people expect all nations will have democratic governments; others predict we’ll colonize outer space. 
All of these hopeful projections are enmeshed in ideologies that strangle realistic thinking and do more harm than good.
Recently, as I understand, historians are giving up the art of prophecy. Some entertain themselves with silly projections like “What if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor?” But serious historians are content to explain what happened and why.
Perhaps they failed to predict too many things that should, in retrospect, have been foreseen -- like the 1979 revolution in Iran, the collapse of Communism in 1990, and the bursting of several economic bubbles. If they could not predict those things what can they predict? The future remains opaque at best. Beyond tomorrow's sunrise I don't believe anyone knows the future. 

All of these historical theories were inspired by our Christian tradition. Enlightened thinkers hoped to replace faith, religion and mystical promises with hard science,  predictable results and universal prosperity. They thought sin could be erased with enthusiasm and propaganda. In many cases the Church could only stand by and watch as idealistic zealots made war and murdered millions in the name of peace. 

In today’s gospel we hear how ancient prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled. He should be the child of a virgin, because he would be the Son of God. He should be born in obscurity, raised in exile, and live in poverty because the brilliant light of God can be recognized only in profound darkness. He would be honored only by the faithful as the faithful were always the first to welcome the Word of God. And he would be despised by the powerful, who always fear change. He was born among us because God could not remain aloof from our world and our lives. He would share our fears, our dangers and even our tragedies as he had always been Emmanuel, God with us.

The ancient prophecies were fulfilled but no one could foresee beforehand how that would happen. The future will remain surprising and unpredictable. It will be graceful and good because God is with us, as in the beginning, so now, and forever. 

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Entrance to Saint Anthony's Church
Angola Indiana
The windows were preserved from
from the original church. 

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home. 

The Church has reflected upon this gospel story about Joseph for many centuries and still we find more to ponder. Joseph, the husband of Mary, strongly resembles his ancestor, Joseph the son of Jacob and Rachel, the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah. Both are dreamers and interpreters of dreams, they go to Egypt and return; they are politically savvy. And both Josephs are models of fidelity and wisdom. As Mary is the prototypical Christian in the Gospel of Saint Luke, Joseph is the model Christian in Saint Matthew’s gospel.
Joseph is the wise man “who listens to these words of mine and acts on them.” A devout Jew who lives his life by the Law of Moses, he is no blind observer of religious doctrines. Rather, when he is confronted by a difficult situation – Mary’s mysterious pregnancy – he ponders and prays and does nothing rash. If necessary he might “divorce her quietly” but he will prefer to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Humility does not rush to judgment. Finally, an angel appears as he is sleeping and explains the mystery. She is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, “her son will save his people from their sins” and “you should name his Jesus.” Joseph hears the word of God and does it. 
Joseph honors the mother of Jesus. She appears in this gospel as an object of veneration. Having decided to welcome Mary into his home, he will protect “the child with Mary his mother” through hair-raising adventures. We will hear the phrase the child and his mother five times in the second chapter. The words seem to represent the child and mother as a kind of icon, bound together by the frames of the story, as the Saint carries them back and forth.
His silence is also remarkable. There is not one recorded word of Saint Joseph in the Bible. He hears the word of God and he does it. He doesn't need to talk about it, or persuade anyone else of his righteousness. 
As we reflect on Saint Joseph, welcoming his patronage, praying with him for guidance and courage in our lives, we honor the God who is with us and the woman who bore him in her arms. 

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Saint Meinrad's Chapel

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviter disponensque omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come and show your people the way to salvation.

Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.

Beginning on December 17, the church celebrates the second half of Advent. The gospels are taken from the “Infancy Narratives” of Saint Matthew’s and Saint Luke’s gospels. Before the gospel, the “alleluia verse” of each day is adapted from the ancient “O antiphons,” which are proclaimed during the eight Evening Prayers until Christmas. (These antiphons are also the eight verses of Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel.

This latter phase of Advent is no longer about penance. John the Baptist falls silent before the Hush of God’s coming. There is no further need to consider the enormity of our sins for we are about to see the overwhelming Mercy of God, which makes the worse of our sins seem nothing at all. The Tide of God’s Goodness is flooding the beach and erasing our sand castles of sin. There will be no trace of evil and no stain of sin when the Lord comes.

Our gospel, the opening words of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, is rich with meaning:
  • The genealogy reminds us that Jesus is truly a descendent of Abraham and a son of David.
  • The numbering, three times fourteen, tell us God’s plan has been fulfilled precisely. If we didn’t notice those fourteens unfolding as they happen, they are obvious in retrospect. Graceful events in salvation history always happen like that. They’re obvious; we realize we could be saved in no other way, though we hadn’t a clue before.
  • Wisdom, which governs all creation, is now appearing in the person of Jesus.
  • If we’re wondering why we missed the clues, and why people still don’t see what is so obvious, we understand that human wisdom cannot see Revelation, only faith.
  • Jesus is a human being, born of a distinguished but troubled line. Like the rest of us, he has rogues in his family.
  • Despite the carefully scripted plan there is a surprise; Jesus is born of a Virgin. Although he is truly of David’s house, he was not exactly Joseph's son. The Evangelist elides this dilemma by saying, “Of her was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.”
  • Four women in the genealogy remind us that women have played an important, even heroic role in Salvation History.
  • The genealogy celebrates the humanity of Jesus. We know where he came from, in a sense; he is one of us! But we know nothing at all.
  • Finally, the genealogy, with its sonorous repetitions and its solemn liturgical setting, reassures us that God is the Lord of all and there is no other.