Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31st: Te Deum ... We thank you, God!

Today an ancient prayer, the Te Deum, has special significance for the Church.  This prayer is sung today in any one of several styles to express gratitude to God for the year that is ending today -- with an extra second added at 18:59:59!

The photo above:  can be a sun rising or a sun setting; a new year beginning or an old year ending.  The Te Deum prayer that follows is more than enough for your prayer or reflection today.

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.

To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy , holy, Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship, and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You Christ are the King of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.

When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin's womb.

You overcame the sting of death,
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers,

You are seated at God's right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and be our judge.

Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints 
to glory everlasting.

May the goodness and love of God become so manifest in your lives during the new year that most of us would find you almost too good to understand!!!

In the seminary we had a wonderful custom for ending our letters.   We would write
Oremus pro invicem!
 In English:
Let us pray for one another!
Amen!  Amen!  Amen!

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 30th: 6th Day of the Christmas Octave

Now let us continue the reflection offered yesterday, a few thoughts that arise when going through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola or reading them.  You are invited along this path for the following reasons:

New Year's resolutions are in the air
Sinful habits weigh upon many seeking true freedom
Daily use of the Examen helps overcome a fault or sin that has become a habit

The following paragraphs describe a way to get the very best to use the Examen.

Through a brief time of prayer, each evening, I come to a far deeper insight into my sins and their malice.  How?  The graces help produce a greater fervor and openness to the healing power of Christ in the sacrament of Reconciliation (at a later time).

This is what Ignatius proposes for someone who wishes to remove a fault or a sin from his/her life.  There are five steps that make up the Examen.

+ offer thanks to God for the favors granted to me;
+ seek help from the Holy Spirit to enlighten me so that I may see my sin or fault as God sees them;
+ look back over the events of the day to see sinful act whether in thought word or deed, whether omission or commission and the tendencies or roots of such sinful behavior;
+ express my sorrow and ask God's forgiving love to heal me;
+ pray for the graces to amend my life.

Being a very practical man and one who seemed to be endowed with the gift of an organizer and a psychologist, Ignatius offers the following structure that actually is a part of the third part of the Examen -- recording the faults or sins of the day.

Ignatius suggests a recording using the following structure ... the "dots" representing the count of failures for the day.

          Week One          Week Two          Week Three          Week Four
SUN     .                        . .                     .                            .

MON   . .                           . .                      .                              . .

TUE     . . .                         .                           . . .                          . .

WED   . . . . .                     . . . . . .              . . . . .                       . . . . . . .

THU    . . .                         . .                     . .                             .

FRI      . . . . . .                   . . . . .                . . . . . . .                   . . . . . . . .

SAT     . .                           .                           . .                             . . .

SUM    22                         19                    18                            14

It seems progress is being made ... even after one month.  But notice Wednesdays and Fridays seem to be "bad" days.  Ignatius would suggest you review those two days to see what is there that is bringing you to fail.  Perhaps Wednesdays is a day when a boss or family members make special demands on you ... e.g.  reports due, taking the kids to soccer.  Friday may be a day when you are just tired or a day when you are annoyed because you cannot do something special on the weekends, etc. etc.  You have to look and see.

A page such as this is an excellent way to gradually erase a bad habit or a fault or a sin from your life.  Likewise, this kind of charting can be used if you are trying to build up a special virtue in your life.

Back to reflection on New Year's Eve resolutions:  if you make resolution to use the Daily Examen each evening, determined to employ its purpose to remove a fault smoking, drink, cussing, misuse of the Internet, immoral activity, respect for a spouse or children or a coworker, fidelity to Church obligations, etc. etc., in short time you will begin to see success.

Good luck and may this instrument help you in the new year.

December 29th: 5th Day of Christmas OctaveAs

As strange as it may seem, St. John's letter in the readings for today's Eucharistic Liturgy has prompted a review of St. Ignatius Loyola's "Examination of Conscience" as laid out in the Spiritual Exercises.

What brought this about?  The Evangelist makes clear that we best come to know Jesus when we know and live the life of "his commandments."  As we begin to consider thoughts of a new year and the annual "game" of resolutions, we might turn to our spiritual lives.  Perhaps we should examine whether our spiritual lives have suffered during this past year because we lack a sense of the importance of the role the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus should have in our lives.

When Vatican II and the social revolution that occurred in the 1960s, Roman Catholics experienced upheaval in their Church and personal lives.  The rigidity of past centuries were quickly tossed out because Catholics liked changes permitting hot dogs on Fridays, for example!  Many of us felt a new kind of freedom when that famous "window" of Blessed Pope John XXIII was opened by the Council Fathers.  In the minds and lives of many Catholics little was left untouched by the changes.

Since those shaking days, have we not turned away from a true respect for the Commandments?  The communal life of the Church and reaching out to those who are different than ourselves -- the poor, the lonely, the sick, the marginalized -- in our society and Church. 0 Unfortunately, so it seems, the Commandments, the laws of the Church and some of Jesus' teachings seem to have been "tossed under the bus" of our forward rolling society and Church.

Today's first reading begins with a rather strong reminder:  "The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).  And just a few words further in the letter we read:  "This is the way we may know we are in union with him:  whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked" (emphasis mine).

The birth of Jesus is the beginning of a new relationship between God and his people.  Here we see how God pours out his love upon all of us, his children.  We call it a new covenant.  We come to recognize a new reality, a new responsibility if we are to be "in union" with Jesus, if we are "to walk as he walked."

So today we might ask ourselves the following:  (1) Do I seriously consider my union with Jesus as made better when "his commandments" are guiding my daily life? and (2) Do I honestly consider my way of life within the "holy family" of the community of believers as guided by "his commandments"?

Tomorrow the reflection will look specifically at Ignatius' proposed practice of the daily Examen

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holy Family Sunday: What is Our Community Today?

Yes, for you record keepers:  a picture used once before!

Working my way through the readings for today's Eucharistic celebration, I felt as though my journey had taken me to AARP or the local office of the Social Security Administration!  We are introduced to Sara and Abraham, Anna and Simeon.  If you don't know the facts, here they are: Sara was in her 90s and Abraham was 100.  Tradition or fact, who knows which, has it that Sara continued her secret of long life until her death at 127 years!!!  So, imagine the reaction of their families (if they were alive??) and friends when either would say: "We're pregnant!"

St. Luke's gospel presents Anna and Simeon.  The Evangelist reminds his readers that Anna in no spring chicken.  She "was of great age."  But nowhere do we learn or have an indication of Simeon's age.  Artists often present him as good old St. Nick or Santa Claus.  We do know that he was "righteous and devout."  Like many others, Simeon was awaiting for freedom to come to Israel.  His waiting was special as he experienced a revelation from God that informed him that he would "see the Christ of the Lord."  When the Child Jesus was presented in the temple, Simeon knew.  This was the long awaited Messiah.  And with this the curtain closes on Simeon.

However, on this day of the Holy Family, let's play with the experience of Simeon for a few moments.  Let's ask "What if?"  What if Simeon was a younger person that any of the other three people in today's readings.  From artists' renditions of Simeon, one could easily surmise that Simeon was not ancient.  Rather, it seems he was a man in the "prime time" of his life. Just perhaps the Evangelist and the Holy Spirit were offering us a model for living life in our own "prime time."

Did you ever lives through a part of your life when you were captivated by a powerful dream? Simeon had that experience.  The revelation or dream daily must have given a particular impetus to Simeon's life.  He could not but wonder when God would fulfill the promise of the prophets who spoke for the Divine Power.  Holding the Child Jesus in his arms, Simeon "held the dream that had held him from childhood."  And don't all of us have a dream or two that gives us the inspiration or power to go forward, to live the dream?  Dreams like starting up one's own business, like having a family, like becoming a doctor, lawyer or candlestick maker. And on the day when the dream becomes a reality, were you not like Simeon, holding a diploma, a license, a new child --whatever -- probably looking up to the heavens with words of gratitude and perhaps "release."  Release?  Remember Simeon-like words:  "Lord, you can dismiss this follower -- not to die but to live life to its fullest.  The dream is no longer fantasy. It is real.  Now you go forward into life with a realization of new purpose.

How relate this to the Holy Family feast day?  One dimension of Simeon's experience relates to community.  The readings draw us into a very special and different family:  Abraham, Sara, Anna, Jesus, Mary and Joseph and, of course, Simeon.  We stand together with him.  We are part of that family.  As he held the baby, Simeon said:  "... my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and a glory for your people Israel"  Our new-found friend, Simeon, looked at the infant face and saw much more than a baby.  He saw "the face of God for the whole world."

Throughout both Old and New Testament writings we can find one of the roots of creation: God's people need community each and every day.  It is community that gives our Church its life.  And most people long to experience genuine community in our cities, our neighborhood, and in our homes.  Even in our nation today, following the recent elections, there has grown strong the hope and desire for a United States of America, from one coast to the other. Perhaps this has been God's dream, Simeon's dream -- yes, even our dream -- that we are a truly bonded family.

Like Simeon who left the temple with a new purpose, we leave our respective churches today not to die but to live out more fully our reality as a salvation people; to live as the family, the community God has planned for us to be.

Just a little game of "What if?" can truly bring us so much closer to our God.  Strange isn't it?
I don't think so!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


How often is the phrase "seeing is believing" used to give a confirmation to something not easily accepted as it is? Today the Church celebrates the feast of the apostle and evangelist, John.  This is the person who has made known to us the mystery of faith in so far as faith can be "known."

John affirmed forever in his writings the mystery we celebrate at Christmas, the mystery of Emmanuel, God is with us.  Remember that our ancestors were promised a messianic figure. Many of them could not get beyond the notion that this promised messiah would be a kind.  But John would remove the regal expectations with a few words that have brought the faithful to their adoring knees:  "et Verbum caro factum est."  "And the Word was made flesh."

John's experiences and his words share with all believers and all who are seeing to know their Creator the reality of the eternal life of God the Father present in the person of the child Jesus. In this Jesus God became visible to all those who had been seeking to know the true God.

Throughout the days of the Christmas season the daily readings in the Eucharistic liturgies will give us reflections on this extraordinary gift -- Go being with us.  The danger we must over come or avoid is a failing to recognize this reality because it can easily be lost in history or because we simply take it for granted.

May these days of Christmas celebration -- until the feast of the Epiphany -- afford us the opportunity to encounter a genuine awareness of God's gift to us in the birth of Jesus.  Looking at a representation of the manger scene, how strongly does the event impact our very being, our soul?  When John found the tomb to be empty, it was then that "he saw and believed."  And you, blog reader, when did you truly see and believe?  Can you remember ... or do you take your faith for granted?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday, Dec 26th: Feast of St. Stephen: We are in a Season of Miracles


Surely most of us remember Erma Bombeck.  Her words often could lift us from whatever was weighing heavily upon our shoulders.  These words that follow speak much about St. Stephen, the first of martyrs after the death of Jesus.

When I stand before God at the end of my life,
I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left,
and could say,
'I used everything you gave me.'

We respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in different degrees.  Some of us have excellent hearing.  Others are not so gifted.  Today's saint, Stephen, was a man who gave all he had to being a follower of Jesus.  He must have been quite the person to encounter:  "St. Luke describes him, in the Acts of the Apostles, as "filled with grace and power, (was) working great wonders and signs among the people."  Opponents challenges his preaching and teaching but (again from Acts) "they could not withstand the wisdom and spirit which he spoke."  His presentations so enraged the opponents that they "threw him out of the city, and began to stone him."  The opponents just couldn't hear whereas Stephen heard so very well and was committed to his God.

Recently I wrote about a young man whose aorta ruptured during a heart procedure.  More than ten minutes were required to make a restructured vessel because of the deterioration in the aorta.  John's doctors eventually determined that he was in a permanent vegetative state.

Today, while distributing Holy Communion, John's dad, Bob, came forward to receive the Eucharist but first said:  "Father, he's no longer in a vegetative state.  Pope John Paul is helping us."

On one of my visits to John, I entrusted a zuchetto (the small white cap the Pope wears) that Pope John Paul had worn to Bob.  It is a gift I truly treasure.  When Bob told me that the doctors felt that only a miracle would work, I brought the zuchetto to him and suggested that he put it on John's head and pray to Blessed John Paul II for his intercession on John's behalf.

John's dad is truly a man who determined to listen to every opportunity from the Holy Spirit for his son.  Each day he places the zucetto on John's head and prays to the great Pope for his intercessory help.  At the same time he has been so clearly willing to accept whatever John's future might be.  But he, too, believes that Christmas is a season of miracles.  In a way we might see that there is no way of restricting the power of God.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nativity of the Lord, Jesus 2008

Piazza St Pietro --- Citta del Vaticano

From St. Joseph's Parish on Capitol Hill I send you my Christmas greetings and a promise that tomorrow morning at our 10:30 AM Mass I shall remember all those who read these words either tonight or tomorrow.

These are days when all of us, I believe, feel close to our families and friends or, if there are divisions there, we have that feeling deep within calling us to do what we can to bring about division.

These are days when emotions run on high.  The Christmas music, the gatherings with family and friends, the decorations on homes and in stores --- all remind us once again that we are not a forgotten people ... not one of us is forgotten by the Lord Jesus.  The creche in St. Peter's Square is a reminder of that promise of the Lord that he would always be with us.

Enjoy these days with the Lord in whatever way you can find time just to look at a creche. Trying to imagine what it would be like if your could be one of the men or women who stood at the scene that change the history of the world.  How would you speak to that child?  Let me share the story of the experience one of our readers, a very special friend of mine, who lives in a Chicago suburbs.  She is a wonderful lady, a woman of incredible faith and determination to be as strong as she can in fighting a illness that brings her low too often.  Yet, there is something about the Nativity that reminds me of my friend.  Because she is a blond, let's just call he "Blondie."

Just a day ago I received a box in the mail from Blondie.  There were three items in the box:  an account of a very special moment; a box of home made cookies; and a "glittery, messy, weird little star" sprayed with gold paint.  Here's the story and the reason for the star.

An Episcopalian Pastor told a story about her childhood.  In those formative years, she want proof that stars exist in the daytime too.  Follow some research and when adults were not around, the young girl stood up inside the chimney of the large family-room fireplace.  To her surprise, through the chimney opening she could see the stars shining brightly during the day.

The Pastor told his congregation the purpose of the story to trust what you cannot see but is surely there.  So the stars in all their various configurations become symbols of faith.

What are stars all about?  These huge, powerful "islands in the sky" are always there.  When the clouds hide them, there are always there.  On the brightest day at noon they are there.  My friend, like the little girl, knows that the stars are always there -- even without trying to look up the chimney of a fireplace.

It was a star that led the wise men and shepherds to the most extraordinary moment of their faith journey.  Today there are stars in my life that I cannot see every day.  One is Blondie who shared the story about the little girl.  There will always be "stars" that lead us on in our faith experiences.  Like the little girl, like Blondie we have to be strong enough to believe the stars are always there for us as reminders of God's grace acting in our lives ... surely through the stars in our lives.

A Christmas star brought people to see the long-awaited Messiah.  There are many stars in our lives that are trying to lead us ever closer the the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God with us.  So find yourself a star you can hang in one of the rooms in your house.  Let it be a reminder that there are many good things in your life even though they may not always be easy to see.

Don't be afraid or think it silly to be a star gazer.  Try it.  In a short time, you will come to understand how remarkable God's love and care are for you.  Probably you will soon find that you could be hanging many, many stars above your head somewhere in your home because as Christmas teaches us.  God allows many stars to shine in our lives.s

Merry Christmas, dear readers.  May these days be a time of peace and happiness for you.  May you find stars, huge and powerful, in your life, all along your journey to the Lord.

The O Antiphons in Reverse: Tomorrow, I will be with you.

The Benedictine monks arranged the O Antiphons in the order presented for a specific reason.  "If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one  a unique Latin phrase is formed.
E  Emmanuel
R  Rex (king)
O  Oriens (radiant dawn)

C  Clavis (key)
R  Radix  (root) 
A  Adonai (Lord)
S  Sapientia (wisdom)

The two words ERO CRAS can be translated as "I will be tomorrow," or "I will be with you tomorrow."  What has been the object of our prayer for the last seven days concludes with what would be the words of Jesus himself:  "Tomorrow I will come."  Thus the octave end with great joy and peace:  Emmanuel, God, is with us.

Thanks to Rev. William Saunders who published an article on the O Antiphons in the Arlington Catholic Herald.  

The Christmas Octave: Day Eight -- O Emmanuel

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

In the Book of Isaiah the prophet had foretold of the birth of Jesus: "The Lord himself will give you this sign:  the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel."

Well, we have reached the end of the Advent journey.  The Octave before Christmas is fulfilled today.  Perhaps faster than ever before, the time of preparing to celebrate the great day of salvation has come upon us.  More quickly than most would have preferred we stand at Christmas Day.

Malachi's words also foretell of this great event:  "And when the time comes ... I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his Kingdom firm.  I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me.

David is concerned about building a structural house for God.  God, however, is more concerned to build for David a house of a different type.  God's kingship is to be established in David and his descendants.  It is a kingship established on a moral relationship ratified by mutual covenant.  The creation David wanted constructed would be but a "pale image" of the kingdom God expected.  And this kingdom, as God wished, would be prophesied by none other than John the Baptist who would prepare the way of the Lord.

From this parish on Capitol Hill let us continue our prayers for our families on this day that there will be a genuine rebirth of Jesus Christ in their hearts.  May the Child to be born tomorrow be a source of extraordinary blessings for them in these extraordinary trying days and times.  Let us pray that Zechariah's words will become a reality in their lives:  "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and guide our feet into the way of peace." 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Christmas Octave: Day Seven -- "O King"

O king of All nations and keystone of the Church;
Come and save humankind, whom you formed from the dust!

The prophet Malachi makes the coming of the Lord seem imminent.  For us who know the full story we can share the excitement that is in his words with more awareness and gratitude than the Jewish people who were still longing for the arrival of the new Lord, the new King.  While Malachi speaks of hard times that this new King will bring to be a day of judgment for the sins of the past.  He says another prophet will come, Elijah by name, who will help the people not endure such hard times.  His mission is to be the prophet who encourages the people to reform their lives, to change their hearts.  The true reformer will be John the Baptist.  He will fulfill what all the ancient writers have promised.  With the birth of John and his beginning of his ministry of preaching the Messiah is announced.  He makes the final call to repentance.  He wants the people to know that through their repentance all the nations, all the peoples have received salvation in God.

Excitement is in the air today for all of us, I suspect.  No matter how many Christmases we may have celebrated, there is something special that takes over in our hearts.  It is, this blogger believes, a genuine hope.  We all, all of us, beset with worries and genuine concerns for family members, neighbors and friends during these days of most unusual stress.  Some have sons and daughters in foreign lands serving in military assignments or diplomatic posts where war is a very close neighbor to those loved ones.  Many have known or know dedicated people who gave their lives for the freedom the new King brought when he was born but which has been lost because of greed, division, hatred, and the simple lack of genuine human trust between the men and women created by a loving and caring God.  The excitement of hope is very much alive with us today.  Let us allow that hope bring all humankind ever closer to the God who created our world, to the King whose desire is that all live in unity. 

Today from this parish on Capitol Hill, let us pray for all waring nations and tribes.  Let us ask the Lord to bring peace to these nations, especially to those areas around the very lands where Jesus lived and plied out his ministry.  So, let us pray:  "O King of the nations, come and save all humankind.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Deacon Gary Bockweg has prepared a reflection for all of us today.  It is the sermon he will be preaching this Sunday at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Irangot a lot of attention a few months ago

By saying that the Holocaust

never happened.  

Others on the radical

fringe—including some Christians—agree.  

They profess that belief

despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s untrue.

The testimony of witnesses,

the movies and photos taken by the liberators.

The records kept by the Nazis


We can’t judge how genuine

the belief of those radicals might be.

But we know that deep faith

is a powerful force.

Even if that belief is mistaken.

The rest of us have no doubt

that the Holocaust really did happen.  

Nearly 6 million Jews – wiped


In a methodical plan to engineer

the extermination of all the Jews in Europe.

Considering today’s reading

from Samuel, 

We might wonder just how that

Holocaust was allowed to happen.

Didn’t God make promises to David?

I will fix a place for my people Israel

Where they may dwell without disturbance.

Neither shall the wicked afflict them.

I will raise up your heir after you.

He shall be a son to me.

And your kingdom shall endure forever.

When we look at the evidence

of history.

Those look like empty


The Holocaust was about as

extreme a disturbance and affliction as we can imagine.

And of course, that’s just one

modern example.

Endless afflictions have

plagued the Jews throughout history.

As for a kingdom that will

endure forever,

The Jews were already a

subjugated people long before Jesus was born.

So what are we to make of

those promises?

In our Gospel, Luke tells of

Gabriel’s message to Mary.

Mary’s child, Jesus, will be

the Son of the Most High.

He will be the Messiah.

God will give him the throne

of David, his father.

And his kingdom will have no


But then, Jesus himself is severely

afflicted and disturbed by the wicked.

And he fails to meet the

expectations of those looking for a powerful earthly kingdom.

He’s not the type of messiah

the people had hoped for.

It looks like the promises

made to Mary are empty too.

But surely, God does keep His


So there must be some deeper

meaning here.

Paul helps us toward an

answer when he speaks (in our second reading)

Of the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages.

The mystery that was revealed

through the coming, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We’re fortunate to have

already received that revelation.

The mystery revealed by Jesus


Through his life and his


That indeed the Kingdom is

real and will never end.

That not only the Jews, but

all of God’s people, will find peace there.

Peace from disturbance and


We can now understand, as

those who lived before Jesus’ revelations could not,

That the Kingdom is not of

this world.

Jesus revealed that he came

to open that Kingdom to us.

To establish its beginnings.

To show us the way.

And he revealed that he will

come again to reign over that Kingdom forever.

We already understand at some


And believe at some level

That the Kingdom awaits us.

And that when Jesus comes

again we can enter fully into it.

But that’s not all the Good

News of God’s promises.

It’s true that the Kingdom is

not of this world.

But it’s also true that we

are not entirely of this world.

We can’t yet fully enter into

the Kingdom.

But we can, even now, enter

to some extent.

We can already enjoy some of

its protection from disturbance and affliction.

The more deeply we believe in

the truth of the Kingdom,

The more deeply we understand

that the disturbances and afflictions of this world

Pale in comparison to the

joys of the Kingdom.

And with that understanding

we enter more deeply into the Kingdom

And we enjoy real relief from

the disturbances and afflictions of this world.

So, God’s promise offers even

more immediate relief than we might expect.

In our few remaining days of


As we prepare and wait to

celebrate Jesus’ first coming 2000 years ago,

We also prepare and wait for

his second coming.

And, as Mary pondered the

words of Gabriel,

We can ponder the promise of

the Kingdom.

And as we ponder, we may well

find that we are entering deeper into the Kingdom.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Christmas Octave: Day Four (Saturday)-- "O Key of David

 O Key of David
opening the gates of God's eternal kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

The fourth antiphon brings our attention to Christ's power which is made evident in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus speaks to Peter about the power of the keys.  The "You are Peter and upon this Rock ... etc." can be understood more clearly after a reading of Isaiah 22.  In that chapter the prophet wrote:

I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; 

when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.

Here the key of the House of David is conferred upon Eliakim as a symbol of full authority in the Kingdom of Juda.  Jesus' use of the phrase with Peter to express his intention of conferring on him the supreme authority of his Church.

In the two scripture readings of today's liturgy, God makes a communication with two people, Ahaz and Mary.  These two are introduced in a strange way to the authority of God over his people.   Ahaz, King of Judah from 736-716 BC, was a failure in responding to the various ways he could have served God and the people.  On the other hand, Mary, confronted with a challenge message from the angel, is somewhat confused.  When the angel finishes explaining what God wanted, she uttered her word that spoke volumes of her simplicity and her holiness:  "Fiat!"  Let it be done!  She recognized the power of a supreme being, her God, and was willing to live as he wished.

From this Capitol Hill parish today, let us remember to pray for the men and women who offer protection to all who visit, live or work on the Hill -- the Capitol Police force -- as well as others who serve the various publics in our country.  These civil servants carry a key (usually) -- a key that represent authority.  Like the Key of David, they are charged with knowing the laws of the land just as Jesus was sent to make known the will of the Father.  At this parish we are fortunate to have The Capitol Police Department membership as our neighbors across Second Street from the residence and church.

On Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the "O Antiphon" is not included in the antiphon for the Gospel. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Christmas Octave: Day Three -- "O Root of Jesse"

O Root of Jesse's stem,
sign of God's love for all his people:

come to save us without delay!

A close study of Old Testament history will make clear that a miraculous birth of a child is intimately linked to people of importance in the Israelite story. Today we hear of the miraculous encounters with an angel making known to Manoah and his unnamed and barren wife of their future.  No doubt the birth of John the Baptist comes to mind.

An unusual aspect of these events was that the mother would be expected to dedicate her only born child, a son, to the service of God.  The angel told the parents the child was to be a nazirite -- not someone from Nazareth but a person who gave some or all of his life to divine service.  As well, a nazirite would not have his hair cut nor would he take wine or strong drink. 

So Samson was born and became the so-called strongest man in the bible, saving the Isrealites from the Philistine army's attack.  Samson confronted the political oppression of the people.  John the Baptist prepared the people to make ready for the birth of the long-awaited Messiah.

The third "O Antiphon" reminds of the fulfillment of Isaiah's words "there shall be a Root of Jesse" (Is. 11:1-10).  Recall that Jesse was the father of David and he lived in Bethlehem.  Jesus we know was of Davidic lineage, recalled in the gospel of the first day of the octave.

From our parish on Capitol Hill, let us pray for the men and women who daily work in serving the Church -- bishops, priests, deacons, men and women in consecrated life as well as the laity.  We pray for their continued work in bringing the message of the Messiah to the people of God in today's world.  As well, let us pray for parents to be generous in offering encouragement to their children to consider a life of service in and to the Church.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas Octave: Day Two: "O Lord"

The second :O Antiphon" cries out:

O Lord of the House of Israel
giver of the Law of Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

The Jewish people were stirred up with the enthusiasm when they heard words from the prophet Jeremiah.  Their new Messiah will be the Lord of Justice.  He will erase all unrighteousness of former days.  The new Lord of Justice will bring salvation.

The gospel event for today's readings reminds us that both Joseph and Mary were willing, although somewhat frightened, to accept a mission from the Lord of Justice.   In our communities, perhaps in our families, our parishes, our offices, there are people who suffer injustices.  At times our challenge, the mission entrusted to us y our Lord of Justice, Jesus Christ may be to speak out, doing what we can to guarantee justice among us.  This, too, is why Jesus comes to us.

Today, as we reflect on Jesus as "Lord," let us continue to pray that the "righteousness" that Jeremiah mentions will be a genuine characteristic.  Let us, from this church on Capitol Hill, pray in particular for all the women and men who are entrusted with Leadership of our nation. In particular, let us remember to incorporate in our petitions to the Lord of Justice the newly elected and appointed members of the Obama administration and those government officials who support them.

The Christmas Octave: Day One: "O Wisdom"

Today the verse before the gospels initiates seven antiphons that had greater significance in by-gone eras than today.  These verses were sung in monasteries just prior to the Magnificat hymn concluding Vesper prayers.  These verses are included in the liturgies beginning today and continuing through the 23rd of December.

First mentioned in France in the 5th century and included in the liturgies in Rome by the 8th century, these petitions reflect the sentiments held by the earliest followers of Christ in their liturgies.

The "O Antiphons" highlight a title used in Old Testament literature for the coming Messiah.  Today the first of the antiphons is "O Wisdom."

O Wisdom of our God Most High
guiding creation with power and love:
come teach us the path of knowledge.

Isaiah had prophesied in chapter 11:2-3, "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:  a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord."  Again, in chapter 28:29, he wrote "Wonderful is his counsel and great is his wisdom."

For us today, we are reminded that God deals with each of us not using logic or power or tradition or merit.  We are the recipients of pure gift from God, pure love.  What he gives us comes from his wisdom, his principles that transcend our human inventions.

As we pray during these octave days, let us ask God to gift us with the skills of prudence in what we do and what we say.  Here, at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill, let us pray for all who serve our country in the United States Senate both Senators and Staffers that prudence may be theirs for it is the key to wisdom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 16: Advent Waiting ---

Today's readings take us to an Old Testament writer about whom little is known.  Zephaniah only tells us in chapter one, verse one, that he is the son of Cushi!  (Surely a character we all know!!!) But with that one name we know he was the great-great grandson of Hezekiah, a name we have heard before.  From his writings and knowing his lineage, scripture scholars estimate that he wrote between 640 and 612 BC.  That would have him prophesying during the reign of Josiah.

The entire book is a dialog between God and the prophet about the evil, the wickedness that existed in Jerusalem and Judea at the time.  Hezekiah is often referred to as the prophet of doom and gloom because he focuses so much upon the evil of his times and before.  However, in the words of today's reading it is clear that he does believe that those who have a metanoia, a true change of heart, will be granted salvation.  This prophet did see in the virtue of humility the surest way to effect a metanoia in one's life.

Since we are more than half way through the time of Advent Waiting, let me use this occasion to speak about the avenue that Christ gave to all of us to make the metanoia that will help us gain our eternal salvation.  I speak of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

We are not a perfect people.  Most of us know that we are sinners to one degree or another. Every journey to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an experience of humility for all of us. What it should not be, however, is an experience that is charged with fear.  Recently I spoke with a person who shared with me his fear of the Sacrament ... event confessing behind a screen.  When I asked "Why?":  he would not find an answer.  My only response to such a fear-filled man was along these lines:  "My friend, do you know what the Sacrament is?  You see it so much a threat, an experience of condemnation.  The reality is that it is far from that. Confessing one's sins is a opening up one's heart and arms to accepting a loving and forgiving God.  If you truly believe that Jesus walked to the top of the Calvary hill to be tortured and crucified for you, would you not want him let him embrace you with his forgiveness?"

The Sacrament of Reconciliation surely makes us ready to celebrate the birthday of the man whose sole mission was to reconcile all of us to God the Father.  It is a Christmas gift that keeps giving us a share of God's love for us.  God invites all sinners to be forgiven.  Don't forget: it is his gift to you if you come to accept it. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Third Advent Sunday: Gaudete Sunday Day 15

Celebrating this Eucharistic  Liturgy of Gaudete Sunday, we may feel encouraged to rejoice, as the Latin verb commands us.  However, the readings, especially the gospel, are far from genuine rejoicing.  The words of John the Baptist are a direct assault upon the loves of some, if not many, of the people who were drawn to his roadside preaching.    Someone once told me about a bumper sticker seen on a car.  These are the words:  There is a God ... and it is not you.  Repeat the words to yourself.

It has amazed me that John always drew a crowd despite the harshness of his style and message. A Pastor acting and preaching the same message today would surely be the cause of an exodus from the congregation.  What attracted the people ... of all statuses of life?

John, despite his toughness, was preaching a treasure that assured the people that God was very much involved in the world he had created.  He even told them that God would soon, very soon, be with them, altering their history.  And he was to the point:  make ready for the festive celebration by repentance for their sins  Open your eyes; humble yourself:  this is an essential part of his message.

John's words were sharper than any sword the Roman soldiers were carrying.  His words cut to the heart of life and especially to those hearts that were damaged by sin and corruption.  Surely John would have a heyday preaching in our country at this time in its history.  The Baptist reminded the hearers that there was one among them who was soon to be coming, after John.

God continues to live among us despite the corruption that has existed since the times of the Baptist.  A newspaper or TV new report rarely describes evil among us in our land.  Despite immorality and unethical practices God continues to be with us.  Our challenge is to look at our lives "with insight rather than eyesight."  We are challenged "to listen with our souls not only with our ears."  We will never truly see or hear the Baptist's call to repentance in our lives until we slow down the rapid pace we live.  John would contend that those who believe God is somewhat withdrawn from us and the pains our nation experiences now have not listened.  He would charge that they have failed to look.  For John God was still with his people ... and he would say the same today.

Sometimes we cannot find God in our lives because we think or act like we are God.  We have to control our lives as we want.  Our lives, our fate, our fortune are not, ultimately, in our hands.  John would say that this is God's universe.

John's humility also attracted people.  Apparently it was a virtue rarely observed by many.  "I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal."  This caught the hearers' attention.  Consider what out of control egos have done to the Church, to the state and to the business world.  Consider how many pedestals have collapsed.  So many people became victims to their own designs.  "But we cannot count John the Baptist in that march of fools."

God is among us today.  Yes, he is.  God can restore all of us.  Ye, he can.  We have to find him again:  among the poor, the powerless; he is with those rejected by society.  He is with those who shun the spotlights that create idols.  He is with our children.  We need to look.  We can find him.  We need to listen.  He will whisper to us.  We can experience God's blessings.  Yes, we can.

But there is one simple warning I offer you as you consider these thoughts and wonder where we can find God:  Do not look in the mirror: he is not there!