The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

 

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” We’re drawn to that gospel reading today, but notice, Jesus speaks to the “crowds” in Matthew’s gospel, not just to the disciples around him. God’s love and God’s promises reach far beyond the circle of disciples. Jesus Christ reaches out to refresh the world that labors and is burdened, even if it doesn’t know him.

Scholars say today’s first reading from the 40th chapter of Isaiah comes, not from Isaiah the priest who spoke in Jerusalem as Assyrian armies were closing in to destroy the city in the 8th century before Christ, but from an unknown prophet who spoke to Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries later urging them to return to Jerusalem to build it up. The unknown prophet uses Isaiah’s name and language lest he be killed by the government for suggesting such a thing .

Not many of the Jews in Babylon are interested in the prophet’s invitation, it seems. Taken captive to Babylon centuries before, they’re part of the place now. Babylon’s their home. They have families and jobs there; Jerusalem is far away and its future uncertain.

The unknown prophet speaks for God who’s rejected in favor of life in Babylon:

“To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One…
Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.”

A woman teaching in a parish religion class told me recently she asked a young boy who obviously wasn’t happy being there why he came. “My mother told me to come.”
“Don’t you want to know about God?” the woman asked him.
“I don’t believe in God,” the boy answered.
“Don’t you want to know about the church?”
“I never go to church. None of my friends do.”

“Come to me, “ Jesus says.

“Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The Lord is an eternal God,
creator of the ends of earth,” the unknown prophet says.

Come to Me

by Orlando Hernandez

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourself. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

This Gospel leads me straight into the very heart of Jesus. It leads me to prayer. It leads me to seek Him deep within me. I hear Him call me. He is calling me softly, saying “Come to me, come to me. I am right here within your very soul. Be with me. I am reaching out to you. You are the lost sheep that I was seeking. I can feel your pain, your guilt, sorrow and fear in each one of my wounds. Come lay your burdens on my Cross.”
Then I realize that I am not alone, because He says, “come to me all of you”. I am one of many, so many tired, wounded followers and apostles throughout the centuries. I think of my Parish community. I remember all the people in the prayer groups that I belong to. All the many pleas that are made to Him. And I know that He is big enough to take into His heart every one of us, because He is our Lord and God.
There, in that Holy place we come into His rest. He embraces us. He soothes us. He heals us, as we stay with Him in the peace that intimate prayer can bring. But then He offers us a new burden. He offers us His yoke. A yoke is an implement that is placed over the shoulders of two bulls so that they can pull a burden, like a plow or a wagon, together, as a team. When I tie myself to that yoke I see Him next to me pulling with me, inviting me to be like Him, to learn from Him. What is He teaching me?
He teaches me that He is the meek and humble one. Do I want to be like Him? He is unresisting one, the non-violent one, allowing Himself to be crucified so that I may place all my burdens, all my sins, my fears, my doubts upon His Cross. He unburdens my heart. I feel the relief that comes from His touch. I rest.
Then, again I feel the yoke He places upon me, the burden of love. It can be so easy to fall in love, so unexpected. You can feel as light as a feather in the presence of your beloved, your husband, your wife, your child, your mother, your father, your dear friends, those you come to help and you fall in love with. Sometimes it can feel like such a heavy burden. Sometimes we fail at it. Sometimes we lose the ones we love. And yet the greatest gift that was given to us along with life was this opportunity to love. And so, when we don’t resist, when we let ourselves be swept by this love we feel ready to do anything for the beloved, to be Simon of Cyrene for them, to help them carry their cross, or even carry it for them.
Our hearts feel lighter, life feels easier when we are practicing good. Our God, who is the Eternal Good enables us to do this in our best moments. Please, don’t let me go.  Come Jesus, rest in me so that I may rest in you, as I strive to give my life to You and to Your people.

Orlando Hernandez

An Honest Environment

by Howard Hain
four-swifts-with-landscape-sketches-1887(1).jpg!Large

Vincent van Gogh, “Four Swifts With Landscape Sketches”, 1887


If a child is wasteful, what should the parents do?

Give them more?

More toys?

More snacks?

More disposable goodies?

Should they inflate the number and insignificance of what the child already has?

If the child’s room or backyard is full of waste, scattered remnants of “grown-bored-with” toys and doodads, what’s the answer?

Should the parents implement specific and tedious rules detailing what the child should do and not do in order to preserve the cleanliness and neatness of the home and outdoor space?

Should the parents provide the child with even greater means to continue to live so wastefully, with such little appreciation?

Or maybe, just maybe, the answer begins with the child possessing less, less toys, less privilege—especially when the family budget doesn’t allow for them in the first place—wouldn’t that be more beneficial to all involved?

Maybe if the child had only a few but well-loved toys, the child would be less wasteful, less likely to discard them and negatively affect the family environment?

Isn’t it the same with the overall environment? With the care of the earth and its resources?

If we are really serious about the environment, is the answer really man-made laws from “up high” limiting the freedom of individuals and localities? Or would it be better to begin with embracing a liberating reality that would help foster a more natural and organic conservancy?

Put it this way, if the government actually had to balance the budget, I mean really balance it on an annual basis—spending only what it brings in—and they didn’t continue to print more money (especially when the new “currency” is not based on any real asset, but instead out of “thin-air”) don’t you think that spending on the national level would change?

It would have to, period.

And don’t you think that the debate over what we do spend on would tighten up, become quite serious, efficient, and effective? And don’t you think that on the local level it would be the most freeing? For it would create an environment where individuals wouldn’t be handed false paper to purchase false products (designed to be disposable), and then maybe we’d have a commercial reality that is truly sustainable—where we have perhaps fewer items but items we cherish, are grateful to possess, and protect and care for—goods we wouldn’t just throw away.

Would that perhaps change the pollution problem?

Would it perhaps address our reckless use of natural resources?

In short, no “environmentalist” is serious about the environment (and values individual rights and freedom of local choice) if they do not deal with the biggest polluter of all: runaway debt, rising inflation (with concurrent deflation of valued consumer-driven product), and false and perpetually self-emptying currency.

Because without the false means of consumerism, consumerism would have to return whence it came: nonreality.

For imbalanced budgets, large deficit spending, and reckless printing of currency are the most non-organic, the least natural, and most non-locally-supporting factors concerning the health of our rivers, soil, trees, and, quite frankly, ourselves.

So let’s be real. Real as dirt. Let go of the hidden influences, agendas, and political prejudices, and be serious about what is truly causing waste and environmental destruction.

The truthful alternative is certainly refreshing: an unwavering allegiance to God’s most natural law of truth, beauty, and divine efficiency. For while God is certainly exuberant in His abundance and provision, He is never wasteful. He never lies. He never “cooks the books”.

The Creator of the Universe is honesty to the utmost degree. Pure harmony. Pure integrity. Pure accountability. Not a trace of fallacy or fiction.

If you doubt me, well then just ask the local bird. Ask him if he can borrow against bad credit, if he can feed his babes with worms that are printed merely on paper, and if he ever worries about his offspring buying and buying and throwing out and throwing out—or is it precisely his non-inflated natural resources that actually keep his local environment in harmonious check?

It is as long as some bureaucratic bird, puffed up with unrealistic good intentions (and other people’s money) doesn’t come along promising freebies and handing out nests that he and his other fine-feathered friends pay for with bad credit or currency based on a non-existent reality.

In their bird-brained world, thank goodness, that doesn’t happen. No, birds build their nests in reality. And continue to fly high because of it.

We on the other hand have many among us who try to sell us such false narratives and papier-mâché mansions. They also ironically tend to be the ones who “support” the “environment” the most.

For to discuss global warming, sustainability, and carbon credits without discussing the need for balanced budgets and disciplined currency policy is to be either a fool or a liar—both cases are unsustainable.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today’s the feast of Our Lady Guadalupe, which recalls the appearance of Mary on a hilltop near Mexico City to Juan Diego, a humble Mexican laborer, in 1591, ten years after the Aztec Empire was crushed by the colonial armies of Spain. Mary appeared dark skinned, with native features and in native dress, not at all like one from the colonial powers. Seeing her like them many of the native peoples accepted the gospel.

Keep this story in mind when the next discussion on immigration comes up.It’s a strong reminder of Isaiah’s ancient call in our Advent readings: God wishes all to be his children.

Pope John Paul II said this about St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, whose feast is celebrated December 9th:

“He has lifted up the humble. God the Father looked down onto Juan Diego, a simple Mexican Indian and enriched him not just with the gift of rebirth in Christ but also with the sight of the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a role in the task of evangelizing the entire continent of America. From this we can see the truth of the words of St Paul: those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.

“This fortunate man, whose name, Cuauhtlatoatzin, means “the eagle that speaks,” was born around 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, part of the kingdom of Texcoco. When he was an adult and already married, he embraced the Gospel and was purified by the waters of baptism along with his wife, setting out to live in the light of faith and in accordance with the promises he had made before God and the Church.

“In December 1531, as he was travelling to the place called Tlaltelolco, he saw a vision of the Mother of God herself, who commanded him to ask the Bishop of Mexico to build a church on the site of the vision. The bishop asked him for some proof of this amazing event.

“On 12 December the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego once more and told him to climb to the top of the hill called Tepeyac and pick flowers there and take them away with him. It was impossible that any flowers should grow there, because of the winter frosts and because the place was dry and rocky. Nevertheless Juan Diego found flowers of great beauty, which he picked, collected together in his cape, and carried to the Virgin. She told him to bring the flowers to the bishop as a proof of the truth of his vision. In the bishop’s presence Juan Diego unfolded his cape and poured out the flowers; and there appeared, miraculously imprinted on the fabric, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which from that moment onwards became the spiritual centre of the nation.

“The church was built in honor of the Queen of Heaven. Juan Diego, moved by piety, left everything and dedicated his life to looking after this tiny hermitage and to welcoming pilgrims. He trod the way to sanctity through love and prayer, drawing strength from the eucharistic banquet of our Redeemer, from devotion to his most holy Mother, from communion with the holy Church and obedience to her pastors. Everyone who met him was overwhelmed by his virtues, especially his faith, love, humility, and other-worldliness.

“Juan Diego followed the Gospel faithfully in the simplicity of his daily life, always aware that God makes no distinction of race or culture but invites all to become his children. Thus it was that he enabled all the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the New World to become part of Christ and the Church.”

Pope John Paul II

Advent Readings: Week 2

Advent_heading copy 2To reach God’s holy mountain there’s a journey to make, Isaiah says, but guides will show the way. “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, to prepare your way.” Mark 1, 1. John the Baptist appears in the desert promising forgiveness  to those washing in the waters of the Jordan River. We have been baptized in the waters of baptism.

The Old Testament readings this Advent week, mostly from Isaiah, describe a desert journey,  but the desert will bloom and a highway will be there, the prophet promises. (Monday) God will speak tender, comforting words to his people on the way. (Tuesday) Those who hope in him will renew their strength, soaring on eagle’s wings. (Wednesday) Though we are as insignificant as a worm, God holds us in his hands and says:“Fear not; I am with you.” (Thursday) God is our teacher and shows us the way  to go. (Friday) On the way, prophets like Elijah accompany us. (Saturday)

Jesus is our way, the gospel readings say. He healed and forgave the paralyzed man– symbol of a paralyzed humanity– who was lowered through the roof into the house in Capernaum. (Monday) Like a good shepherd he searches for and finds the stray sheep. (Tuesday) “Come to me all who are weary, ” he says. (Wednesday) He sends us prophets and guides like John the Baptist and Elijah.( Thursday) Though rejected like John the Baptist, Jesus still teaches. (Friday)

He will save us, even though unrecognized like John and Elijah. (Saturday)

List of Readings

Monday: Isaiah 30, 1-10 The desert will bloom and a highway will be there, a holy way.Luke 5,17-26 The paralyzed man, lowered through the roof, is healed and forgiven.

Tuesday: Isaiah 40,1-11 The desert is a way to the Lord. Comfort my people. Mattthew 18, 12-14 The shepherd searches for the stray sheep.

Wednesday: Isaiah 30,25-31 God is the strength of his people. Matthew 11,28-30   “Come to me all who are weary…”

Thursday: Isaiah 41,13-20   God says, “I will grasp you by the hand. Fear not.”Matthew 11,11-15   John the Baptist is sent like Elijah.

Friday: Isaiah 48-17-19 I teach you what’s for your good and lead you on the way to go. Matthew 11,1-19   John and Jesus rejected as teachers.

Saturday: Sirach 48,1-4; 9-11 Elijah, precursor of John. Matthew 17, 9-13   Elijah and John not recognized.

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Editorial note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

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