Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Threshold

The words of the gospel reading for the end of the year and the first days of the next year speak much about knowing oneself in the relationship with the Son of God, the Word made flesh.  Evangelist John's famous first chapter, verses 1-18 go well with words written by Saint Hippolytus.  This bishop of the 2nd and 3rd centuries himself became a heretic but was brought back to the Church for which he became a martyr.  The quotes used in this blog today are taken from the breviary for the 30th day of December.

Hippolytus referred to God first speaking to the people through the words of the prophets.  However, he sees the writings as using "obscure language."  To assist the people better understand his will, the Father "sent the Word in person, commanding him to show himself openly so that the would coud see him and be saved.

The Word, Jesus, "wanted us to see himself as no different from ourselves ..."  Jesus endured the same humanity we endure so as to give us the strength to prevent our losing heart when challenged by sufferings.  Likewise he was so much like us in order to help us expect the same reward he received.  It is the reward of his kingdom of heaven.  There we shall be free from "any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine." 
As we consider serious resolves for a new year, perhaps the saying "Know yourself" sshould be the basis for our actions in each new year.  What we should know about ourselves is this:  the need to "recognize and acknowledge in ourselves the God who made us in his own image."  If we know this about ourselves, God will recognize us. 

Hippolytus calls us to avoid being "at enmity with ourselves."  He urges those of us  living in ways that put us at odds with out Creator should take the time to know ourselves well and to change tourway of life.  From John's words we are assured that "God made man in his image."  If we obey his commands and "learn to imitate his goodness," we will share his divinity.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Advanced in Years

Respect.  So often the lives of older people are not given the respect afforded others who have not reach the moniker, "advanced in years."  Why?  Perhaps it happens that their fortunes changes, their physical strength is not what it was for so many years or, unfortunately, they become we might describe as "cranky."  Yet never forget, buried in those lives there is so much treasure - if the younger folks do not fail to discover the talents and insights captured over many years by these grace-filled men and women.

Anna may seem to have become a "has been" in Jerusalem, a woman "advanced in years," or a senior ready to be put on the shelf.  BUT, thanks to Saint Luke, we see that Anna realized she had the opportunity to serve Yahweh and the people through her prayer, her fasting and telling people about the child who was to come, who was to bring the long-awaited "redemption of Jerusalem."  

So what should we consider the "message" we can take from this story?  There is much in the story for contemporary folks on both sides of the "advanced in years" divide!   First, there is the matter of respect.  Do we really take time to discover great values in the men and women who are "advanced in years"?   Our super seniors today are gifted in my ways.  How many are the parishes that are as strong as they are because of the "Advanced In Years Army"?    Secondly, we should consider how we encourage and take note of their prayer and fasting?  their wisdom? their loving words for those in trouble?  How many young folks have found great consolation in seeking support and care from Granny or Great Nanny?  Thirdly, how do we encourage this Army to continue what that had been doing in different ways?

A true friend, a leader in the Advanced in Years Army, pictured here, can no longer do the driving that she did in her earlier Senior Years to visit the sick, the disabled, the homebound or those in the local hospital.  However, not being able to drive any longer did not stop her:  she got a new kind of automobile!  She telephones and emails wonderful photos to encourage others.  Age and some illness have not stopped this remarkable woman.

Is there someone you know or live with who is "advanced in years"?  Have you helped him or her see the great treasures still possible in their lives?  Don't forget this:  often-times there is gold in those years even when they are "advanced."  Sometimes that gold is only three fee away.

Perhaps we can thank the lady most we say they do not know, Anna, for the inspiration she give those who read about her some 2000 years after her work in the Jerusalem temple! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh, That Human Condition!

Let's consider Simeon's role in the history of salvation.  This elder of the Jerusalem temple serves God as another of his messengers -- standing at the service of his God, his Yahweh.  The scripture we have teaches us about  many such "angels."  In our time we also have angels but usually without wings!  These are the men and women, and sometimes children, who are clearly agents of the Holy Spirit, faithful followers who have made it their practice to take a "hands-on" approach to their relationship with God.  As Evangelist John wrote in his first letter, "whoever claims to abide in him (Jesus) ought to walk just as he walked."

In the months ahead believers in the Lord Jesus will be tested in a very public way if  political pundits are correct.  They are already putting "out there" the expectations that the leaders of our national government will soon start serious debate (read argument)  about a very serious and sensitive message: immigration.

We often talk about or hear about the "unconditional love" of Jesus.  Return to the final sentence of the first paragraph above.  John, inspired by the Holy Spirit of course, is very clear:  if you wish to be with Jesus, you must live the Commandments.  John's words are right on for the immigration issue: "Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in darkness ... because the darkness has blinded his eyes."  And buried beneath so many arguments in the immigration debate will be clear and simple prejudice, sometimes even hatred.  Oh, how difficult is the human condition!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Greetings (Belatedly)

Christmas Greetings

Many "things" have been taking  place in this blogger's life during the last two weeks ... the most demanding and strenuous has been a move to a parish, St. Matthias, located in Lanham, Maryland.  As a retired priest, I will be assisting the Pastor in various ways but it will not be a return to full-time ministry. Fr. Jeff has been alone at the parish -- which has a school -- for five years.  Securing help on short notice has been a difficulty for him.  He asked me if I would consider helping for a while.  Who could turn down such a request from a man who has worked so hard to make the parish the wonderful community that it has become?  Certainly not me!  Fr. Jeff was the first Assistant Pastor that was assigned to work with me at Mother Seton Parish in the early 90s.  It is wonderful to see how he has matured as a priest and Pastor.  Now I truly hope that age and wisdom will be my principal gifts to him in his ministry.

The blog entries may be sporadic over the next week as unpacking and finding the items and books I need takes place.  My hope is to return to the regular day to day reflections.

Today as we reflect on the Holy Innocents, those first martyrs, the young boys who were slaughtered by King Herod in his effort to make sure that the savior promised the Old Testament people would not survive and diminish his power, we might recall with gratitude the great numbers of men and women and children who have died because of their faith.  We do not have to look backwards very far:  there are a number of men and women who have sacrificed their lives just in the last ten years.  Martyrdom is not a long-forgotten reality in our world.

Consider, as well, the various kinds of martyrdom that occur in our culture today --- in our communities and in our families: abuse of children both physical and sexual; spousal abuse; children without both parents; struggling single parents; those broken by poverty, loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of self-esteem.  There are a significant number of "innocents" among us today that need our prayers.

The photograph above was taken by a friend who attended Mass at St. Matthias on Christmas Day.
Let this be a reminder to you of my priesthood shared with you in liturgies and in the words of Prayer on the Hill.  May the new year that lies ahead be for you and your loved ones an abundance of days when you realize the presence of Jesus Christ in your life with countless graces.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Protective Parent

Today's gospel reading, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23, draws attention not to the infant Jesus but to Joseph.  Perhaps a surprise!  Jesus and Mary are referred to simply:  "the child and his mother."  Let us consider Joseph and his role as Matthew describes them.  No mention of his vocation as carpenter.  Today we see him as protector.

Surely Joseph had little imagined that the days after the unusual marriage to Mary and the very different birth of her child would be directed by the directions of an angel in a dream: "Rise up ... flee to Egypt."   What was this about?  It would be a very long walk to guarantee safety for "the child and his mother."  But Herod, the king,  driven by the greed for power, had ordered the deaths of all boys under the age of two years.  He was told that a new born child would grow to be a king, threatening his power.  Joseph was fulfilling the directions he learned in the dream.  He may not have known how fatal it would have been to have remained in Bethlehem.  He did know that the protection of the "child and his mother" was a primary responsibility for him.

Today's parents realize their new offspring are threatened by various kinds of violence and dangers.  Today's parents may not have to walk almost as far as New York City from our DC area.  Nevertheless they realize that they must take extraordinary precautions in raising their offspring.  There are predators, culture practices and diseases that surround today's children and their well-being.

Parents today, like Joseph, many times must walk in the dark while raising children.  It may be in the darkness of doubt or unknowing or the lack of family or community support.  Today's parent must be a man or woman of prayer.  Yes, prayer.  For it will be the teacher, the instructor that leads along the right course.   Prayer can become the rising sun that sheds light upon the best path for the journey.

Just as a parent wants athletics, cultural skills and so forth for  their child, the parent  must also be the prayer who teaches children right from wrong, who leads the child to a knowledge of God.  However, there will be times when a parent, like Joseph, may grow tired along the roadway of the parental journey.  There will be times when walking just a short distance may feel like 1000 miles.  However, they should not forget Joseph and the model he is for them.  He walked to a place he did not know.  Most likely he knew no one there.  Bust, as we know, his "Egypt" did not last forever.

If parents pray and trust God, the moments of darkness will end, and,  like Joseph, they will take their family where God wants them and where they will live in peace.  Joseph believed God would not abandon him nor the child and his mother.   So, too, a parent who makes prayer and God an important part of their lives will realize that God will not abandon them and their children.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What's In A Gift?

On this day we celebrate the giving, especially the giving of gifts to loved ones and friends.  Whether early in the morning or at another time during the day, fully understanding the giving of a present can set the tone for the entire day ... indeed for many days and weeks to come.

Today there will be some gifts that bring disappointment because the gift was not what was expected.  Likewise another gift can bring something totally unexpected that creates in the heart wonderful happiness and much surprise.  It is in looking at these two kinds of gifts that we can, I hope, come to more deeply appreciate "the reason for the season," as we hear every now and again.

Considering these two kinds of gifts, perhaps the message might be as surprising as the unexpected gift itself.  The first gift may cause disappointment because there is little more than "what can I get for myself."Too much focus upon my wants, my needs surely takes the air out of the balloon, we might say.  The second kind of gift, the one that surprises, is  one that make the receiver stop and see beyond the gift to the heart of the giver.  Unfortunately the first may relate to the size of the giver's wallet or purse whereas the second speaks of the giver's heart, the giver's affection for the recipient.

What is there that makes the second gift so special?  The answer is ever so simple you so easily overlooked:  It is the care and love of the giver.  The childhood gift I will always remember, probably because it was the most unexpected gift came form my paternal grandparents when I was seven or eight years old.  It was a note in a Christmas card that read, "we see now you are big enough and good enough to have the present that is in our car outside waiting for you."   Asking if I could go outside to their automobile, I was already putting on a coat to discover that gift ... not realizing that the most special gift was the sentiments:  I was now old enough and good enough to have something obviously very special.  My grandfather told me to go to the car and bring the gift in for everyone to see.  I couldn't believe it:  there on the seat of their car was the most wonderful and shivering golden cocker spaniel.  When I came back into the house, I don't know who was more surprised:"  me or my Mom and Dad!  Nonetheless that note and the gift will always be a part of my understanding of gift giving.

So, this is the meaning or, as we say, "the reason for the season:"  the gift of Jesus for me.  And, as we know, it is an awareness that comes about only as we grow older, as burdens weigh upon us, as we recognize our tendencies to offend God, to bring hurt or harm to others.

Only as we grow older, do we discover the wisdom to recognize in the birth of a child in great poverty the tremendous love that our God has for each one of us.  As we leave the years of childhood and the yearnings for "things" at Christmas time, only then will we sense with each passing year  a genuine hunger for love, fulness of life and forgiveness.

Yes, Christmas is a time of giving and receiving.  Each of us, as we advance in age, hopefully will recognize the awe and wonder that can be experienced in the giving of ourselves to our God and to others --  not just our family and friends but to those God puts before us in their great needs.  In our adult years we may not experience the excitement of childhood Christmases.   Hopefully our giving to others will help us grasp more fully each year the wonder and awe of this God of ours, the God we call "our Father,"the God who loves us so much that he gave us his Son to bring us peace and joy.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joy to the Wold

Once again, not "In Royal David's City," but in our hearts we have arrived at the threshold of the Savior's birth.  A question we might ask this morning: does this moment find me different from where I was last year on December 24th in my awareness of God's gift to me of his Savior Son?

Later tonight we celebrate the birth of the Savior who is God.  This young child will begin to be the great teacher not some thirty years later in his life but from this very night of his birth.  He will teach all of us "Our Salvation."  There will be neither class notes nor text books!  As we read in the gospel of today's liturgy,  He will use the writings of the Old Testament, more often than not the words of the prophets and the Book of Psalms as his "textbooks."  

Most especially, as noted in the words of Zachariah, he will teach us about our salvation by showing the consequences of our sins.  This is how Jesus will guide us to the salvation we ned.  In the months ahead beginning today our challenge is to be open to what Jesus teaches us.  Ours is to see in this birth the beginning of the forgiveness of our sins.  To deepen within our hearts and souls the daily awareness of this salvific event is to see the destruction, the unhappiness and the pain that sin can bring into our lives.  This is the Christmas gift that brings us inner peace.  This is the gift that brought "Joy to the World." 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude

Imagine yourself standing aside, watching the conversation between Mary and Archangel Gabriel.  "God has chosen you to be the mother of his Son."  Mary, a very young lady was astounded.  We know the rest of the story:  "Fiat"  Let what God wants of me happen!  Nothing is impossible for God!  Then Mary learns about her kinswoman, Elizabeth, also pregnant even in her elder years.  Yes,  nothing is impossible for God!

Shortly thereafter Mary makes the journey to see Elizabeth, to be with her for a time during the days before John was born.  Again imagine yourself standing aside as Mary and Elizabeth greet one another.  Miraculously Elizabeth knows she is in the presence not simply of Mary but also of Jesus, the Son of God.  When Mary hears the words of Elizabeth, again her faith is tested.  But, again, Mary reveals to us the gift of her humility as she says words to Elizabeth that we have come to know as "Mary's Prayer," the Magnificat.  It is classic recognition by someone that whatever she/he has done or chosen for is God's work.  Throughout the words of the Magnificat, Mary has become the teacher of true humility.  True humility is, she shows us, is nothing but a recognition of how GOd has acted in history as well as in individual lives

If we truly wish to understand God's place in our lives as well as in the life of our world, we must develop an appreciation of the many wonders that God has created and done for the world and for us individually.  Without our understanding, first and foremost, the generosity of God toward us, we will have great difficulty in building a strong personal relationship with him.  It is that simple:  we need to realize how blessed we have been despite setbacks, losses, etc..  "Attitude Is Everything" is a small but powerful book that reminds the reader that there are different ways of being content with life.  Having a positive attitude is essential and that is built on gratitude.  Who cannot be happy, at peace with oneself, if there is no recognition of God's power in our lives and our need to be ever thankful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Come to My Heart

The scripture readings for today's liturgy together, especially these words

For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.

may provide an opening of the heart to the graces that are God's gift to you as we draw so close to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  If we genuinely make the effort to open our hearts to God's desire for us to accept his Son, our lives could be at the outset of a change.  With the coming of Jesus among us, with the opening of the heart to accept what this gift of God truly is, we can consider ourselves as having the same experience that occurred in the life of Elizabeth when her pregnant relative, Mary, has traveled to be with her during her most unusual pregnancy.  God has come to us time and time again.  By why is there, at times, the longing in our the heart to experience the joy that Elizabeth felt when Mary called to her as she arrived at Elizabeth's home.  "The winter is past ...."  Indeed it is past when we open the door of the heart to welcome the "Panis Angelicus," we hear sung by (hopefully) angelic choral voices.  When we receive that "Bread of Angels" in the Eucharist, we do receive the possibilities to have peace return to our hearts.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making Ready for a New Birth

We know that Advent is a time of great preparations.  When I think of that, my mind is brought to the situation in the lives of Mary and Joseph as well as all soon-to-be mothers ( and fathers ). Surely for Mary and Joseph this was a difficult time in their relationship ... for Mary to be pregnant before the three-part Jewish marriage rite.  What was being said by wagging tongues as the young couple walked the dusty roadways of their town?  The pressure of the law must have been so strong that Joseph was considering divorcing Mary before the conclusion of the betrothal period that occurred before the bride-to-be moved into her husband's home.  It required an angelic dream to encourage Joseph to take Mary into his home sooner than expected.

Likewise in these pre-Christmas days of preparation, think about young couples, or older couples, who are preparing for their first child.  Many people are involved in helping the couple select a name for the soon-to-arrive gift.  Special rooms in the home are made ready.  Moms and Mothers-in-Law are afuss helping the new Mom get ready for the great day ... the birth of the new grandchild.

So what is this for us today?  It is a time for us to be afuss, as it were, seriously considering what we might be ready to give birth to in our hearts, in our own spiritual lives.  These days of preparation, when so many Catholics to remember the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are concerns about particular practices, sins, weaknesses, failures, that seem to weigh more heavily upon individuals.  "Father, it seems that it is always that same sins that I bring to the Sacrament.  What can I do to avoid these repeat performances?"

There is one reply to consider: Did you truly spend some time considering how you may have sinned, been week, or failed?  For sure most of us are creatures of habit ... and our human weaknesses usually don't change.  But often, it seems to this confessor, individuals feel the need for confession but do not take the time to get ready for the moment.  Imagine the feelings of a soon to be mother who husband spends little time in helping her get everything in order for the baby's birth.  While we do often fall off the same wagon, as it were, most of the time, we can grow spiritually if we seriously take time before a confession to consider our actions related to the 10 Commandments and the laws of our Church.

We need to realize that overcoming faults or sins is very much a strategic operation.  We have to seriously look at ourselves and how we allow ourselves to "fall into the same sin patterns.  We have to be afuss about our overcoming the faults.  We have to realize that we have the opportunity to give birth to a newness within our own hearts, our own souls.  We have to look to what is necessary in our own spiritual homes, our souls, to regain the peace that we seek, the peace we may have lost by sin or too much routine!  We may not be able to as public about our getting ready for the new birth in our souls.  Nonetheless, in our hearts we may feel a new repainting, new pictures on the walls, etc.

Today it would not hurt to find a time between shopping and football games, to seriously ask ourselves if there really is a way that we can change our lives, bring new life into our hearts and souls.  And when you attend Mass the next time, at the sacred moment of Consecration, speak to God with your resolution(s).  Pledge to him your intention to live out the new birth you wish in your heart.  Don't wait until December 31st to whip together a resolution that perhaps quite ephemeral.

TOMORROW, MONDAY, THERE WILL NOT BE A BLOG.  I will be involved in moving to St. Matthias Parish, Lanham, MD.  The blog will resume on Tuesday.  Use Monday to get your heart ready for the new birth you wish to bring to it on Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Challege to Awe And Reverence

How many times have you read or heard read the words of Isaiah 7:14?  Most likely a majority of Roman Catholics would have no idea what the verse handled.  Let's look and think.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall call him Emmanuel. 

"Oh, yes.  I have head that line before!" might well be the response of most.  Do you think or feel that Mary and Joseph as well might have been embarrassed when walking the dusty roads in their village?  And why might that have happened?

Jewish law, at that time, had a three-staged marriage plan:  engagement, pre-marriage betrothal and marriage.  Sexual relations prior to marriage were forbidden.  Adultery resulted in stoning.  (A thought if the adulteress was stoned to death, was there any recognition of the death of an unborn child if the woman/girl was pregnant?)

So Mary and Joseph had challenges.  Joseph, it seems, had decided that he would follow the law and apply for a decree of divorce from Mary.  However, as we know, an angelic dream advised Joseph to take Mary into his home; to accept her has his wife ... and to have no sexual relations with her until the child Jesus was born.

What meaning is there for us today?

We know that pre-marital sex has resulted in many "surprise" or "unwanted" pregnancies.  Many families and friends have had to deal with this situation.  How do we react today?  "Oh, that is the way it is today?"  Or, at the other end of the spectrum:  imposed separation from the community; hiding in an unknown location until the signs of pregnancy no longer exist; rejection, rejection, rejection.

Yet how many ask about the impact of the "scarlet letter" assigned to the pregnant one?  Rejection, ridicule, condemnation:  these are the trophies awarded with the "scarlet letter."  How can a young woman, or any woman feel once the pregnancy is known?  Perhaps at least two directions are possible for her (and her child): either "forever" estrangement from family, friends, society and even her church or an extraordinary journey into "Shame, despair and solitude [Sparknotes, Nathaniel Hawthorne].  What a classroom!  By the time of the birth, this new mother will have learned much from rejection but she will have grown in strength and determination.

What can it mean beyond pregnancy?  How do we deal with a family member or a close friend who comes and says, "I am gay or I am a lesbian."   A lot to think about!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Power Charge

Isaiah 54:1-10.  These are important verses for anyone who has even experienced the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Read these verses two, three or four times.  In encourage you to find these verses on the Internet and print them before you read them.  As you go through these verses the second time, underline the verses that seem to have meaning for you.  On the third read, slowly read the underlines verses only.  The following are the verse that have given me a charged and renewed faith.

The shame of your youth you shall forget,
the reproach of your widowhood no longer remember. (v4)

The Lord calls you back
 like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, (v6)

For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great tenderness I will take you back. (v7)

So I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you,
My love shall never leave you.
nor my covenant of peace be shaken. (v10)

These words leave me completely overwhelmed, especially when I afford them complete attention and an open heart.  Most especially these words do bring about a realization that a genuine relationship with the Lord God is built upon my awareness of needed dependence upon the abundant love of the Lord God.  How remarkable God's desire to bring about a loving relationship between himself and me, a sinner.  And surely I suspect you may feel the very same after you fead the verses that mean much to you.  That done you may then experience Christmas as never before!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where the Truth?

 Today we can consider the words of two of John the Baptist's followers who were sent to Jesus with this question:  Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? It is the question of discernment once again. For us today there are those moments when we want to know if something we think about doing, something that seems to be "calling" us to follow in Jesus' footsteps or someone who is suggesting a way of walking the correct roadway to meet our Lord God.

Like John's disciples we are looking for the clues that are the best directions for us on our journey of life.  Even now it is not too early to consider seriously one or two New Year's resolutions.  Perhaps if we do start this early, we might come upon a practice that is significant and one that we will make a serious effort to achieve.  The resolutions made on December 30 and 31st rarely survive the heat of the day.

The real question is this:  how do I recognize how do we recognize evil, illusions, charlatans, or just misperceptions?  Jesus provided the best answer:  look at what I have been doing.  Apparently before these two disciples of John and others, Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits; he also granted sight to many who were blind.  Jesus was teaching through his actions that doing the Father's will is caring for others, especially the needy, the marginalized of society.

But how do we know what is best for ourselves in what we should be doing while attempting to strengthen our own spiritual lives?  How do we discern where God is calling us?  First, of course, there has to be some times with your Lord God in silent prayer, in moments when the heart is opened to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Secondly, and surely in this we are blessed:  reading Sacred Scripture.  Thirdly, and again we are blessed by the number of saints and sinners who have written letters or books that can help us hear what God is calling us to do.  We live in a blessed time when there are a significant number of men and women who are writing books about contemporary spirituality.  Most recently, as mentioned even in yesterday's blog, we are blessed to have the writings of Saint John Cardinal Newman.  Some of his works are deep but there are many, especially his sermons that are a gold mine of helpful thoughts.  Likewise some of the writings of St. Augustine are treasures.

So, there are a number of avenues available to all of us that can help us know with more certainty what it is that God asks of us, where it is that God is leading us each day of our lives.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Change: Oh, necessary act!

Show me a man or woman who has been steadfast with one's highest moral and ethical aspirations and you will have presented, well, let's say a modern-day saint!  Surely, if nothing else, he or she will be seen as a most unusual person.

Recently in several of these blogs you have read words from the pen of Saint Henry Cardinal Newman, the most recent British saint.  Here are words that aptly fit the sentiments of the first paragraph:  " below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."  Such is the life of a son or daughter of Adam and Eve, the bearers of Original Sin!

How many times have individuals, like ourselves, driven their lives along a path that ultimately is recognized as the incorrect or improper roadway.  Perhaps nothing could be more disappointing, frustrating or exaspirating.  Then how easy it is to begin the blame and guilt trips that accomplish little more than useless pain.

Wrong choices are not unusual.  Isn't that the reason for U-Turns and erasers?  Consider these words from the first reading in today's liturgy:  "You need not be ashamed of all your deeds."  Zephaniah's words, given him by the Lord God, should affirm us in our needed U-Turns, our use of needed erasure marks.

Isn't our God a marvelous God?  Are we not blessed by this forgiveness, his outpoured love?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Planting Seeds

This morning let me reflect with you on some of the writings of a favorite saint:  Augustine.  In one of his sermons we can read about his using John the Baptist and Jesus to clarify for believers the distinction between "the voice" and the "Word."  Obviously this is a suitable consideration as we prepare to celebrate once again the birth of Jesus -- the Word made flesh!  Augustine says that we have to understand John as the voice, the voice that all have heard since the years of Jesus' public ministry, but who is never the word.  Furthermore, this philospher-theologian from the Roman Africa province, taught that "Christ is the word that lives forever.

So what is the distinction besides the two early first century figures?  In any action between voice and word, if the word is removed, the voice is nothing more than sound without meaning.  Speak a sentence like this for example.  "I love you," a spouse, parent or dear friend might say to the person who is object of his/her love.  From that loving person, a unique meaning travels from his/her heart to the ears, mind and, hopefully, the heart of the other person.  However, if the same person encounters the person to whom he/she could say, "I love you," but does not say that even though the thought is in his/her mind, the object of love will not be able to understand the movements in the other's heart.

When anyone wants to share a thought, an idea, a vision, a hope, a desire, that reality first has to be in the mind and heart of that person.  If you don't have money in your bank, how can you financially enrich another person.  So, for a voice to be able to share a word with another, there has to be a thought in the mind and heart that the giver wishes to share with another person.  While you cannot hear my voice as I write these words, your reading them is allowing the page before you "speak" the thoughts in my heart and mind.  If I were to sit before this computer screen and stare at the space in which I am now typing, you would never know what I was weighing in my own heart.

The spoken word, once it is delivered, evaporates, as it were, into the air.  It is no longer heard.  But the word was spoken so that it could carry to those receiving it the message, the thinking in my heart and mind.  So, the thought is spoken, it remains in my heart and mind while at the same time,  because of the voice, it settles into your mind and heart.  It can, if the hearer is open, be a thought that is now in two hearts and minds.

Then Augustine puts forward a very interesting description of what the voice was actually doing, if we can express the word as acting, doing something.  "When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say:  The word ought to grow, and I should diminish."  What has happened?  The voice has served the word that was conveyed.  The voice then disappears, leaves, evaporates.  It leaves, Augustine teaches, "as though it were saying: My joy is complete."

And so, what does this mean for us today?  There are more than a few ways to provide an answer.  For us it might be understood as a teaching that we should treasure what we hear from others who are seeking to help us along the journey of life.  Likewise from this example we might realize how what we say should be carefully phrased so that the message from the heart will be understood by the person hearing us.

John the Baptist was the voice that we spoken to those following him and to generations after that. The message was simply:  Jesus is the Christ.  I am not the Christ.  Jesus is.  John clearly taught who he was:  "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord."

Are not the words of Isaiah and other prophets who continue to speak to us through their writings the voice bringing us the Word, Jesus.  Are not some of the hymns we sing at Christmas words that are "spoken" in song to be taken into our hearts, words that speak or remind us of Jesus Christ?

Take a few moments today to ponder in your heart and mind what Augustine is teaching ... because his message to us is one that can radically change our way of thinking and living if we truly open our hearts to the "voice" we hear from others who are bringing us the Word, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  These words we hear, are they not the seeds that the Holy Spirit is planting within us so that we can grow closer in our understanding of Jesus and the gift of love we have received throughout our lifetime?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Great Need Today

On this third Sunday of Advent, let us reflect on two words from the second reading, a part of the Letter of St. James.  Our world, our country, our personal lives have become the victims of one particular fault or failure that reaches into every way of life.  Listen to or read carefully and slowly the two words that initiate the 7th verse of the 5th chapter of the letter:  Hear them as you say them out loud to yourself:  BE PATIENT!

The ever-increasing presence of impatience has been and will continue to be a cause of harm to ourselves, our sisters and brothers in our families, in our communities and our nations.  Before pointing to moments of impatience we might overlook that bring damage into our existence, let me offer one particular reality we live with that I believe has become a major drain on my patience reserve.  First, however, what do you believe to be one of the major reasons or causes for an impatience that has changed the lives of hundred of millions of people around the world?  This is my answer:  it is one of the most rewarding inventions of the 20th century!  Let's hear a drumroll and draw back the curtains on the answer:  it is the COMPUTER!  Yes, the magnificent key that unlocks so much information, learning and entertainment for the entire world.

In addition to addictive behavior this treasure has created in so many lives a new way of learning and discovery -- all done within nanoseconds (speedier speed!).  But catch this consequence:  did you ever notice your own impatience when your computer fails to respond within the blink of an eye?  Have you looked at yourself in a mirror when your computer system is down?  It become more evident each day that this "wunder ding" has nurtured an impatience in me that I carry over into other parts of my life.

So, let's consider the way so many of us have been impacted by the computer's speed.  First: complaining about other people!  People do not respond with computer speed.  Our minds are not that quick.  Therefore, is it a surprise that we find fault in others when they do not react as quickly as we "demand" of them?  Is not "road rage" another consequence of a lack of patience.  Second: not during hardships well is another example of our lack of patience today.  This is particularly true for younger people who have not been taught or who have lost the virtue of patience when what is wanted cannot be had as quickly as is expected or demanded!  Another hardship would be the enduring of sickness and the time a body requires to rebuild its powers.  Another hardship is dealing patiently with financial hardship that occur through no fault of our own.

At this point there may well be this question:  "Am I supposed to sit back and wait, wait, wait?" Not so, says St. James.  "Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."  If you can, read again the words of the Isaiah in the first reading.  There the message is this:  there will be a reward for those who wait with patience.

This is our challenge today ... especially in the weeks of waiting to celebrate the day Jesus was born: to prohibit speed from become the engine that drives us day after day.  Rely on the Lord, your God.  Learn to be patient and you will be set from from whatever it is that captivates you and your freedom!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

And Your Destiny?

In the Book of Sirach we are told about Elijah and the destiny God had planned for him.  No doubt we Catholics look to the likes of Mother Teresa, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII and Mexico's Juan Diego as individuals clearly bless with a destiny that has touched the lives of many.

But ask each of these unique individuals how they achieved the greatness society and the Church has attributed to them and they will tell you the names of many unknowns who were their inspiration.  Did you know a Fr. E. Albert Hughes, Jesuit Father Ralph Campbell, Sr. Mary St. John Trainor or Mrs. May Fisher or a Mrs. Rose Wersick?  I suspect you did not know any or most of these wonderful people.  Yet, for me, I know these great people as sources of the inspiration that led me to the priesthood.  Each in his or her own way spoke or acted in ways that made me examine what I felt as a vocation.  Of course there were others along the journey and they continue even today.

It is you who read these (almost) daily reflection who are unknown to me but who wait to use my words and thoughts to bring yourself closer to God.  Your desires are some of the reasons for my writing, for my time in prayer, and for my spiritual reading and reflecting.

Like Elijah, each of us has been entrusted with a mission by our Creator-God.  Ours in the duty to know it and to live it as best we can.  But to do that we need inspiration from others.  Can you draft your own list, as I did, of those who have helped you life your life as God wanted you to live it?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Abounding Noise Blocks Your God

Today we continue to look at John the Baptist.  Like another preacher after him, St Paul, John set a high bar for personal performance.  "He is possessed by a demon," the people said about John because of his preaching and the lifestyle he lived.  They both frightened and threatened the people. He neither ate nor drank.  Wouldn't fit too well in our society today!  Although not a demon, we do recognize that he was very different.

In our times were a St. Paul or a John the Baptist to come upon and watch our style of living both would surely criticize the technology that has become the dominant "power" in our lives.  A friend often tells me he has to check back to his cellphone and computer hourly to make sure he has not missed either a call or a message.  And who has proclaimed that slavery has ended?  Is it not a truth to say that electronic noise continues to amplify up to a decibel level that may make it impossible to hear the voice of God when he calls or mails us!

Surely all of us want to hear God speaking to us.  However, in our culture we find it difficult to hear God.  Noise abounds in so many different ways.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Immaculate Conception - Mary's Day

Today, as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, not her Son, we should be reminded that we, like Mary, were called by God before we had any idea that we were being called by God.  Paul, writing to the Ephesians, taught that God "chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world."  Recall that Jeremiah also learned that he, too, was chosen before he was aware of God's will.  "Before I formed you int he womb I knew you.  Before you were born I dedicated you."

Though we are not sinless, as was Mary, we should never forget that she was not hidden from temptations  to sin.  We gather from the gospels that Mary found the request from God a challenge.  She struggled with the decision.

We, too, may find the "invitations" that God places in our lives to be challenging ... seemingly impossible at times.  Nonetheless, we need to struggle, like Mary, to reply to God's will for us with words similar to her response:  Fiat voluntas tua!  Let it happen as you wish.

Welcoming the Wanderer

Today's gospel reading, from St. Matthew's rendition, suggests that there is a unique opportunity to everyone with a little reflection time on the story Jesus provided:  the values related to lost sheep.  We know the story quite well, don't we?  Or, really, do we?  If we know it well, would our lives be what they are today, especially if we find ourselves in a prodigal son story type situation.  Let me propose a linkage between the lost sheep and the prodigal son.  The reality of personal need for independence, the painful sense of loss, the challenge of welcoming back:  these are a few thoughts that might strengthen our own relationships in family issues and perhaps even in working situations.

When one member of the family or the flock leaves, even if it is to do good, a part of the family portrait is empty.  One member is no longer there.  Family wholeness does not exist any longer.  Imagine the challenge to the parents:  how to welcome back into the living portrait the one who may have hurt them or the other family members by the leaving.  How do they restore that lost family unity to accommodate the "free spirited" one who directly or indirectly has challenge family unity?  How do they encourage sibling understanding and acceptance?

Jesus reminds us that those who wander are as important or valuable as those who are remain in the picture.  For many that is a difficulty.  Our times so often demand that there be equality or better.  To hear that there is "more" rejoicing over the returning of a "wanderer," is not always easy to understand or to endure.

The challenge, the mission, of those who remained in the picture is understand that the "wanderer" is a part of the picture, a part of the family unity.  Giving "welcome home" to one who abandoned ship demands of us an awareness of the value, perhaps hidden, that lies within the heart and soul of each person.  Like Jesus says, God is genuinely concerned about the one "wanderer" just as he has concern for all the others in the portrait, the family portrait or the Church portrait!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

2nd Advent Sunday - 2010 Year A: Hope is A Realistic Strategy

Advent, as we know, is a season nurtured by the reality of hope.  What we read in today's words from Isaiah and Matthew a call for each of us to cultivate the presence of hope in our lives.  This is so critically important in our lives today especially here in the national capital city.  The reprehensible bickering that often reflects disregard for people in need which we hear from those who have been elected to serve the people of this nation as well as the serious financial realities that have impacted so many could easily lead people to despair.  Has there ever been a time in this country when there  has been such a need for hope?

Our challenge today is not to abandon hope.  We must see hope as a strategy that will give each of us the strength to endure the imprisonment that many believe to be their new home.  Weakness, selfishness, greed, anger:  have we not heard and seen enough of these debilitating forces bringing damage to our communities and even our nation?  Many people who view the scene, especially at the biggest holiday season of all, can be heard saying "Hope is no strategy worth pursuing."  Look at the pioneers, athletes, and other idols and leaders:  they tell us that a "get it done" strategy is more important than hope.  Of course we cannot simply do nothing:  that is laziness and the way of a coward.  

When a Christian encourages hope, there is more than naivete on the scales.  An honest Christian would be the first to acknowledge that we are surrounded by moments when many lives have caved in, when health concerns seem to multiply daily, when government leaders cannot collaborate to lead, when the grand dreams of retirement, helping the children through college, living a better life have evaporated, these are truly painful times for too many people.  At the same time the Christian should be the first to point us in a direction that many seem to forget:  point us inward.  We should challenge one another not to forget hope.  What is hope?  Have you ever seen an incubator with a three pound child struggling for life: parents standing watch, seeing in every breath a promise of hope, hoping for physical victory?  For us hope is the incubator of a strong faith!  Likewise, we should never forget that hope is the fuel that gives strength to the soul.  When all that we can do in any difficult is simple:  wait until the dawn.  And, as surely as the sun will come up in the East tomorrow morning, so, too, will hope to help us endure every painful moment.  Again, in these difficult moments, it is simply hoping in God himself for solutions when there is no workable strategy.

For us today, already at the Second Sunday of Advent, we have the opportunity to listen to the words of two men whose lives were hope-filled histories for all believers.  Isaiah and John the Baptist did not hesitate to tell the people to look within, to turn to their Creator.  They would not have to wait much longer.  Hope itself would soon be born.  A Chinese Square, a street in Birmingham, Alabama,
a bridge over a Polish river: these were venues where Christianity itself stood strong: a genuine model of hope, one of the most rewarding virtues. 

Today in so many churches around the world men and women kneel in silence, often times in tears, their hearts reaching out to God because they do believe that Jesus Christ is HOPE itself.  These men and women stand as model for us:  hope is a strategy that will never lose because we can always look upwards in our churches and see hope made real -- Jesus Christ hangs on a cross to provide reconciliation and forgiveness.

Never let the candle of hope die in your heart!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making Real a Taught Lesson and Vision

As we have grown older, perhaps some of the myths that were taught to us during our youths may come back to mind.  One in particular seems to reappear frequently -- the myth of the hero.  Today's gospel reading stirred up such memories for me.  Jesus on the mountainside and Jesus in the field -- in both instances Jesus the hero for the folks there listening to him, seeing him heal various illnesses and lastly feeding a very large crowd with just a little bread and a few fish.

Myths do not take hold within a culture unless the "message" of the myth is understood and translated into real life action.  Now, please don't think the proposal here is to see Jesus as myth.  Far from it.  But the growth of a myth among people comes about when the people create rituals or songs or plays that propagate the message of the myth.  When we are moved by mythical figures, like Robin Hood, for example, and try to be brave and bold people, the myth of the hero has taken place in our hearts and we than share the story and its impact upon us with other people.

The same can me seen in what Jesus teaches.  In the gospel Jesus is giving two specific images of heroic living ... taking care of the needs of others.  Unless we understand his purpose, unless we incorporate his intention into our lives, the event is nothing more than an historical happening.  Yet, what Jesus did for us in his dying, his sufferings, was to give us the example to change our lives to be like his.  Our Eucharistic Liturgy?  Is it not an example of a hero's activities ritualized:  his giving of himself, his dying ... for no other purpose than to gain for us our eternal salvation.

Hopefully a serious thought for this gloomy day.  A thought for the Advent season as we seek to partake in the gift Jesus gave to us in his birth and death ... entrance to the kingdom of God.