Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

In celebrating the Holy Family, we reflect on the fact that God cam into our lives in the messiness and chaos of a human family.  The image of the Holy Family invites us to take Jesus into our homes, and to sanctify the communion and unity that exists in its members.  In particular in Paul's letter for today, we are given a protocol of how we might live in union and peace with each other.  The essence of love stems from the ability to bestow reverence and respect towards each other.

In the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, John Paul II letter on the Human Family, and even in the U.S. Bishop's letter on Stewardship, faithful communities are challenged to take responsibility for the community.  Certainly the texts from Sirach and Paul make this apparent, as does Matthew's Gospel.  Being set in a community, especially in a family we take care of each other through a life-giving participation in each other's life.  The care and respect we show for the other in our family unity, reveals the love of God, and ses us towards the Kingdom of God.

We know that there are many destructive forces out there in the world.  A consumer mentality that substitutes "stuff" for loving relationships. addictions, anger, misguided sexuality, all cause fractures in the love and unity that should be a family.  Not unlike Jesus, Mary and Joseph we can be like strangers in a foreign land.  A family unity always centers itself on the mystery of faith which it celebrates, and shares those values and virtues that are from God.  We endeavor to create a community of faith under our roof, honoring the integrity and dignity of each member.

The family is the springboard by which we are taught to love our faith, those things that are good, beautiful, and just.  Prayer and reconciliation continues to allow the union and unity in a household to thrive.  While we like to believe we are like the 'Brady Bunch,' more often than not we are like the 'Munsters.'  But with Christ Jesus in our midst we can overwhelm Sin and Evil.

Our families are a vital part of the fabric of our faith and the larger community.  As Christ became human, in the family we learn how to become divine.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Today is born our Saviour

John begins his Gospel describing the mystery of the Word which becomes flesh.  The Word of God, which brought all creation into being has now taken human form and dwells in our midst.  We forget sometimes how spectacular this really is.  In the Incarnation human flesh, men and women, are blessed and are made sacred.

The infant calls to mind for us the fragility and vulnerability of the human person.  Not unlike infants we are in the need of care and compassion.  I recall a family that I had been counseling, the older son mentioned to his mother that I was more like a 'father' to him than his biological father.  I did not hit the child or swear at him.  Humanity is sacred and is deserving of integrity and dignity.

John's first chapter goes on to decry the evil and darkness that pervades the human family.  We truly live in a culture of death.  The faithfulness of the Advent people, and the coming of Jesus Christ asks us to consider that we are about something more, something that is greater.  We have a culture that would be happy for all of us to follow our more base instincts.  We need to respond with faith and faithfulness to all of the trials and chaos that our world offers us.

On this most solemn feast we Christians need to make a joyful noise, to be sure, but more so a noise that what we are has a divine and human nature.  The presence of Christ should not and cannot be folded away at the end of Christmas week.  As in earlier in the season our demeanor must be that voice which cries out in the wilderness.

Today Christ hopefully finds a home in our midst.  The humility and poverty of Jesus invites us to bow down before him, to cradle him, and to consider that he has come into our midst to be part of our life, that we might become part of his life forever.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream we are told, and tells Joseph not to have any fear in taking Mary as his wife.  And Joseph obediently takes Mary into his home.  It seems that Gabriel encounters a lot of fear and anxiety.  The Word of God tends to unsettle us, to be sure, but Zachariah, Mary, and Joseph are fearful and anxious.  Perhaps they are not used to having angels around the house.

But the reality of fear and anxiety is that it causes us to make bad decisions, and hinders the Word of God.  Later in the Gospels we will see folks who are afraid at the words and actions of Jesus and desire to put him to death.  In the Acts of the Apostles Stephen is executed because his words cause fear among the religious authorities.  Much of the reaction towards the Church and its teachings are based in fear and uncertainty.  This sort of reaction causes us to close ourselves off from others, we become very apprehensive and uneasy.

What Joseph does have in his favor is that he is a righteous man.  Decent, moral, and virtuous, Joseph will do 'good' things because they are good things to do.  For us too the more we come to know that our holy God loves us, and are engaged in the holiness of God, the easier it is to move beyond fearfulness and respond to God freely, and out of love.  Humanity is broken and messy.  But God continues to love us and gathers us in mercy and in love.  Joseph knowing this kinship we have with God embraces the plan of salvation which God offers.

As a people called to holiness we can allow the hurts, pains, frustrations, and anxieties of life dissuade us from hearing God's voice, and taking upon ourselves the course of salvation.  More so we do not always seek healing or peace as we try to nurse our wounds on our own.  So we seek quick and easy solutions to difficulties, or worse yet try to hide away.

We really have to take time and meditate on the meaning of Emmanuel - God is with us.  This is the same God who forgives, supports us, and fills up what is lacking in our life.  When we can "Proclaim the greatness of the Lord" in every aspect of our life, we are less persuaded by fear, and are more strengthened by goodness and love, so as to participate in the story of our God.  Mary and Joseph, hearing the Word of God, nurture that Word and bring it into the world.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent 3

A few weeks ago Pope Francis promulgated Joy of the Gospel.  In it he spelled out the need of the Church to unfold the Word of the Gospel in very real and practical means.  Pope Francis comments that he wants a Church that is "Bruised, Broken, and Dirty for having been ministering in the streets."  John the Baptist tries to ascertain whether on not Jesus is the Messiah. The response that Jesus gives is that the blind, lame, afraid, and leprous are cured.  The poor and the anawim have the Good News preached to them.

Bringing Christ into the world is serious business.  But it means that we have to recognize the signs of God that are in our midst.  Like the disciples we 'Come and See' where the works of Christ are accomplished.  When we find healing, forgiveness and the beginnings of peace and healing, then we will also discover the Messiah.

I have had the humble opportunity of watching young people all fired up over the faith.  It is awesome to watch them simply going to church, and recognizing that they have a place in the Church.  They have come to recognize that faith, religion, and Church, are not about a series of rituals and rules, but rather a relationship established in the Paschal Mystery.  To be sure they understand that a faith life is messy, and it is certainly not about unicorns and cotton candy.  We exist with God because God exists with us.  This intimate relationship we have with God draws us onto a journey in which we are always seeking the Christ, the Messiah, who gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

In so many of the places and spaces that I have been, I have com to recognize the need to evangelize and catechize.  The are a lot of folks, who like John the Baptist, who are wondering about Jesus.  We church-people need to confirm that Jesus is Lord as we worship in spirit and truth, and seek justice and healing for those around us.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent

From the Mystic, Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and every manner of thing shall be  well.

I like to tell the story of the "mean old man" who lived up the street from us.  He seemed to be always angry and distressed.  I have often wondered how people become that way.  What has happened in their lives where anger, rage, and animosity seem to be the only response to the world?  Was it abuse, neglect, a dream not realized, that causes them to fly into a tirade?

One of the wonderful readings in Isaiah muses that "On this Holy mountain God will provide for all peoples."  (Is 51)  What we need to realize that Isaiah is speaking to men and women who have just returned home after years of exile.  They come back to a place of devastation.  And yet the Prophet speaks boldly and confidently that the God of our forbearers would see them through this crisis, and ultimately all would be gathered on the mountain of the Lord.  This was not a rainbows and butterflies pep talk given to a sad people, but a profession of faith which acknowledges that God is bigger than any of us.

Once upon a time I went running during a break on a high school retreat.  Several of the youngsters went with me.  At one point in the run one young man began to speak about how much the retreat grounds reminded him of his grandmother's farm.  He went on for several minutes about a woman who obviously had a powerful impact on his life.

Faithful lives inspire us and help us to hold on to what is good and holy.  Perhaps this is way saint and martyrs are so important for us catholics.  The stories of their lives are an assurance that God provides for all people, in particular the poor, anawim, anxious, and afraid.  I think that it is in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer where it is stated, "When we were lost and could not find our way to you .. you called us back.

As communities of faith the Eucharist and the Word remind us that we can hope for the glory of the Kingdom of God.  People of hope do not wallow in despair or shame but build a holy edifice out of the building blocks of faith.  More so they are true disciples who share in the task of sharing Good News.  Hopeful people can inspire families and nations  - and call for a conversion of heart.

So it is with joyful hope we await the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Saint Nicholas of Myra

St. Nicholas, Bishop and Pastor, is honored in the West and East, was Bishop of Myra, part of present day eastern Turkey.  The opening prayer from the Byzantine Liturgy commends Nicholas for his pastor zeal, "O Father and Pontiff Nicholas, the holiness of your life was set before your flock as a rule of faith ... an example of meekness and teaching of temperance."  In the document on the role of Bishops, from the Second Vatican Council, Bishops are exhorted to be one wit the flock that they serve.  The emphasis of course is on the serving.

The best known story of Nicholas is his providing a dowry for the daughters of a poor man in his village.  Traditionally children would set their shoes outside their rooms on the eve of the 5th of December, and find them filled with candy and small toys on the feast of Nicholas.  Bad children would receive coal in their shoes.  What this significant about this feast, and to be sure about this man, is his self-less giving to all who are in his charge.

The Gospel for today, from St. Matthew, reports the healing of some blind men who follow after Jesus.  Jesus poses the question to them, 'Are you sure I can do this for you?'  They assure him that they believe in him.  Not only are their eyes opened but their hearts are as well.  Holy men and women, like Nicholas, are open to the needs and concerns of their brothers and sisters, and respond with compassion and kindness.  We recognize in folks like Nicholas a sense of humility which allows their lives to become instruments of Christ in the world.

We are not all called to be Mary and Joseph on the journey of salvation.  Last night it bothered my to see a mother and son leaving a store not properly dressed for the frigid temperature.  My sister's family could use some financial help this season, and I worry a lot about what our children see in the world around them.  The challenge we have is to be the face of Christ in the world around us.  Our ministry is to unbind one another and se them free.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier was one of the first to make profess vows in the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1534.  Three years later Francis and three others were ordained and sent to the East Indies.  From there Francis Xavier and his companions established missions in the Indies, India, and in Japan.  His success is legendary and it is reported that all that he did was celebrated with enthusiasm and joy.

St. Francis Xavier is a great Advent saint in that his mission unfolds the Word of God to those who had never encountered the God of all creation.  His zeal and faithfulness indicate the great love that he had for the Word made flesh, and more so the love of the people he ministered to.  In a letter to Ignatius, Francis Xavier wrote that many people were not becoming Christian because there had never been anyone to proclaim the Word of God, nor celebrate the sacraments.

In many ways we are in the midst of pagan territory today.  In matter of fact there is certainly an aggression towards all things Christian.  But like Francis Xavier we have to hear the Word of God deeply in our own hearts, nurture and nourish it, and share what we have received in love and charity.  As Jesus had reminded us in the Gospels we have to love one another, including our enemies.  As Christians we are called and challenged to be missionaries in our own culture.

To be sure there is something to be said of waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus Christ as opposed to shaking a catechism at people.  People will be more inspired when they can witness what faith means to us.  So we continue to proclaim all that we have seen and heard.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Watchful Waiting

The people that we will hear from, and about, are somehow involved in watchful waiting.  Now I have noticed that when I end the Presider prayers at Mass, or even distribute the Eucharist, there is this muted response from the congregants.  Isaiah would recommend that we become bold and forceful in our response to the covenant.  St. Paul tells us on this first Sunday of Advent to distance ourselves from a lifestyle of non-God-like living.  Watchful waiting is a matter of full and active participation in the mysteries we celebrate.

In my very first Pastorate the Pastoral Council would have long and detailed conversations about the budget, lawn care, and building issues.  But come the topic of evangelizing or pastoral care, these peoples became very quiet.  And yet this is supposedly the mission and ministry of the Church - to proclaim the "Good News." 

While the Advent season directs us to prepare for the upcoming Christmas season, and the coming of Christ himself, I would seem that we are always in this season of preparation.  To be sure we are not always going to be kneeling nor have our eyes rolled heaven-ward, we are called to make great efforts to rid ourselves of Sin and sinfulness, and to learn habits that will lead to salvation and peace. 

Sadly for many our faith life, and certainly our spiritual lives, are only slightly deeper than a finger bowl.  Too often many of us tune out the Paschal nature of our faith and reflect only on the idea of a "Happy Jesus" who smiles and says nice things to us.  This is why todays scripture is such a challenge for folks.  If we take what we have received seriously that we have to boldly and loudly profess all that we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ.

Our faith really has to be a stumbling block for ourselves and others.  The Good News should re-orientate all of our choices and decisions.  So we watch, pray, and do Kingdom stuff.