Monthly Archives: December 2011

Becoming a Child

The mystery of Christmas is a call for all of us to become like the little Child. Is that what it means to be born again? St. Leo tells us in today’s reading it was the first act of humility that God’s Son made as he came among us and we need to renew this mystery in ourselves as we celebrate his birth.

“ God’s Son did not disdain to become a baby. Although with the passing of the years he moved from infancy to maturity, and although with the triumph of his passion and resurrection all the actions of humility which he undertook for us were finished, still today’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary.

“In adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

“Every individual that is called has his own place, and all the children of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time. Nevertheless, just as the entire body of the faithful is born in the font of baptism, crucified with Christ in his passion, raised again in his resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so with him are they born in this nativity.”

Age, race, sex, social status, temperament, individual gifts separate us, but “the entire body of the faithful” come during this holy season to be born with him in his nativity.

The Humanity of God

You can’t say it more beautifully than the way St. Bernard says it in this sermon.

“The kindness and love of God our savior have appeared.  Thanks be to God, through whom we receive such abundant kindness in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.

” Before his humanity appeared, God’s kindness lay concealed. Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is eternal, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster.

” What reply did we make, we who felt the affliction, and knew nothing of peace? ‘How long will you keep saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace?’ And so the angels of peace weep bitterly saying Lord, who has believed our report?

“But now at last let us believe our own eyes, because all God’s promises are to be trusted. So that it cannot escape the notice of even troubled eyes, He has set up his tabernacle in the sun. Behold, peace is no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed.

“Behold, God has sent down to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. A small bag, perhaps, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead.

“After the fulness of time had come, there came too the fulness of the Godhead. He came in the flesh, so that at least he might make himself manifest to our earthly minds, so that when this humanity of his appeared, his kindness might also be acknowledged. Where the humanity of God appears, his kindness can no longer be hidden. In what way, indeed, could he have better commended his kindness than by assuming my flesh? My flesh, that is, not Adam’s, as it was before the fall.

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself that very thing which needed mercy? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?

“Let us infer from this how much God cares for us. Let us know from this what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Do not ask about your own sufferings; but about what God suffered. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you, so that his kindness may show itself to you from his humanity.

“The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”

 

I Love Christmas

I Love Christmas

 

I love Christmas – all about Christmas –

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and happy,

and light-hearted…

Oh, go away Spirit of Christmas Past,

You fill my eyes with tears,

You make my heart cry,

With a longing for loved ones.

And places and events which are no more.

But I do love Christmas – all about Christmas –

The gift wrapping, the “secrets,”

The beautifully decorated stores,

The choosing of the tree,

 Bringing out the “Christmas box,”

The carols, the parties and get-togethers…

Oh, Spirit of Christmas Present,

Why must you show me visions of starving children,

Of the homeless,

Of old people alone and lonely,

Of all those who have lost hope?

But I do love Christmas – all about Christmas –

The visit to Santa Claus,

The excitement as the day approaches,

The cookie baking,

The magic reflected in the children’s faces,

The joy and warmth of family and friends…

Oh, Spirit of Christmas Present,

You persist in showing me visions of those children

Who have never felt that warmth,

Whose eyes will never reflect that magic,

Who are already old and wise

In the harsh, unloving ways of our world.

But, I do love Christmas – all about Christmas –

For the treasures you have given us,

Oh, God, we thank you.

And we ask that you guide us

And teach us how to share them.

I love Christmas

Because through the tears and the glitter,

Shines the LIGHT!

 

Teresita J. Blake

I Wonder as I Wander Out Under the Sky

Of all the gospels, St. Luke’s gospel gives the most complete account of the birth of Jesus and events leading up to it.  Luke also points out the historical importance of his birth, not only for the Jews but for the world itself. He does it by noting at the beginning of his gospel that it was in the days when Caesar Augustus ruled in Rome. Previously, he noted that King Herod the Great ruled in Judea in those days.

Those men were well known to Luke’s first readers. Caesar Augustus brought about an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity in the Roman empire. He was considered godlike. Herod the Great ruled with an iron fist in Judea; there were fearful signs of his presence everywhere.  People kept out of his way.

The child born in a stable in Bethlehem was more important than them and the great ones who followed them. He brought greater peace than any emperor could bring. He was more powerful and more present than Herod or anyone like him could possibly be.

Luke in his gospel gives an orderly account of Jesus, from his birth to his resurrection, and he also wrote a further account–the Acts of the Apostles– about  how his message was spread by his followers from Jerusalem to the great cities of the Roman empire, and finally to Rome itself. His message went out to all the world.

I was thinking of the spread of the gospel as I read the report issued a few days ago from the Pew Research Center about religion throughout the world. There are approximately 6.9 billion people in the world in 2010. There are 2.18 Christians in the world, about a third of the world’s population.

The report notes that since 1910 a great shift has taken place among the religions of the world. Instead of being concentrated in Europe, Christianity has grown enormously in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century.  “Christianity has become a global religion. Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.”

A third of the world’s population call themselves Christian. Half of them are Roman Catholic.

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, of poor unknown parents. He grew up unrecognized in a small discounted Galilean town called Nazareth. For a few years he taught, he healed people of illnesses, he raised the dead to life, he gathered disciples who followed him. They abandoned him when he was put to death on a cross. Then he rose from the dead.

He shot across the sky of time like a meteor. However, you would might expect that history would forget him as it does so many others. But Jesus Christ hasn’t been forgotten.   Over two billion people in our world today remember him and follow him.

We believe he’s still present and his promise of peace is still waiting to be fulfilled.

This causes me  to wonder at the mystery we celebrate at Christmas when we come to the stable and see the tiny Child.

A Christmas Crib

These days as we prepare for Christmas, why not offer some prayers at the crib?

St. Francis of Assisi first popularized the Christmas manger. He wanted to see how Christ was born with his own eyes, and so he had a stable and some images made before Christmas and then invited his neighbors and friends to come and join him at his “Bethlehem.”

As we look on our manger, may the Christmas story unfold before our eyes, too.

Some reflections from the Gospel according to Luke:

In those days a decree was issued by the emperor Augustus for a census to be taken throughout the Roman world. This was the first Registration of its kind; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone made his way to his own town to be registered. Joseph went up to Judaea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to register in the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent; and with him went Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting her child.

The figures are then placed in the manger, and after a short period of quiet, the reading continues.

While they were there, the time came for her to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7

O God,
whose mighty Son was born in Bethlehem
 long ago,

lead us to that same poor place 
where Mary laid her tiny Child,

a
nd as we look on in wonder and praise,

help us welcome him in all new life,

see him in the poor,

and care for his handiwork. 
the earth, the sky and the sea.

O God, bless us again in your great love.
We pray for this through Christ our Lord.
 Amen.

 

Tuesday, 4th Week of Advent

Annunciation

“In the days of King Herod,” six months after Elizabeth conceived, the “Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

One of St. Bernard’s most beautiful sermons reflects on this great moment:

“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

“The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

“Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

“Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

” Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator.

“See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

Saturday, 3rd week of Advent

December 17th the Advent season begins to focus on the infancy narratives, New Testament readings taken from the gospels of Matthew and Luke that deal with events immediately leading to the birth of Jesus. For the next week, they’ll prepare us for the celebration of the Christmas feasts.

Matthew and Luke do more than trace his Jewish ancestry back as far as they can go. The evangelists want to show to their gentile and Jewish readers that Jesus has worldwide roots; he’s not just a Jewish Messiah, though David the King is there.  His ancestors were exiles in Babylon as well as part of successive Jewish dynasties in Palestine. He had foreign blood from women like Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba, all of whom have something questionable about them. Tamar became a prostitute to win Judah’s favor; Ruth honored many gods, Bathsheba was sexually involved with King David.

In his humanity, Jesus did not come only from Jewish royalty; he’s rooted in all humanity;  he has the blood of saints and sinners. He shares our DNA. He has “taken to himself our humanity, may he be pleased to share with us his divinity.” (Collect)

“Behold, the Desired of all nations will come, and the house of the Lord will be filled with his glory.” (Communion antiphon)

Readings here.  Homily here.

Friday, 3rd Week of Advent

Prophets like Isaiah promised that all nations would come to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. And so the temple in Jerusalem provided a Court of the Gentiles, and extensive place surrounding the Holy of Holies for foreigners whom God would call when the time had come.

“Them I will bring to my holy mountain

and make joyful in my house of prayer;

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

will be acceptable on my altar,

For my house shall be called

a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56)

Jesus’ symbolic act of cleansing the temple was a sign that that time had come. The Gentiles were called, and they were called to him. In the gospel today, Jesus speaks from the temple, most likely from the Court of the Gentiles. He’s the One whom John the Baptist has pointed out and his mission will be confirmed by his Father who will glorify him in his Kingdom.

One of Pope Benedict’s recent hopes is that all of our Catholic holy places have a “Court of the Gentiles” where we can speak to  the world around us in dialogue and respect.

Readings here.

Thursday, 3rd week of Advent

Tonight is the last evening of our mission at Holy Family in the Bahamas. During the week, I spoke about the three great witnesses of the Advent season: Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary of Nazareth. They prepare us to receive Jesus Christ.

Let’s remember the Prophet Isaiah again, and those who followed him. He tells us to remember God’s promises. They seem far beyond what we think possible and greater than we can imagine, but God promises to fulfill them in the world and in us.

The prophet speaks to those most likely to distrust, yet God wants them most to hear:  the poor, the sick, the blind, the lame, those wearied from the journey. He speaks tender words of comfort. His words to the barren woman in today’s reading are among his most beautiful.

John the Baptist is the voice in the wilderness. We’re to be that voice too. It’s far easier to speak God’s word in a church or in a temple than there. That’s why Jesus praised John, and why he praises all who are his voice in the wilderness. You may not be able to say much, but if you speak what you can and remain faithful to God in the wilderness that’s yours, God will bless you as God blessed John.

Finally, we reflected last night on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  You have a wonderful custom here in this parish at the end of daily Mass, I notice, of praying the Angelus, which recalls the coming of the angel to Mary and her response. That’s a mystery we share with her, and so we recall it each day to make it our own. “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Each day is important because the promises of Christ come to us day by day. They are not always obvious, so we must become aware of them. Like Mary, we question what they mean. For that reason, we enter that mystery that happened once in small, unnoticed Nazareth. The angel still comes and goes., and with Mary, we say each day “Be it done to me, according to your word.”

Emmaus Centre

Crucifix, St.Anselm Church

Yesterday I gave a presentation on preaching to the priests, deacons and lay ministers from the Bahamas at Emmaus Retreat Center in Nassau. Like John the Baptist, by our “voice’ in preaching and catechesis we point out the Word.

Preaching and catechesis should be an expression of our “personal search for the face of the Lord,” to use Pope Benedict’s words. We should let the scripture readings, the liturgy, the seasons, as well as the life of the people give us the material for our preaching and catechesis.

Those participating were from the Bahamas, Haiti, India and North America, reflecting the Catholic population here.

Afterwards, Fr. Tom and I visited St. Anselm’s church with its pastor, Msgr. Preston Moss. Only two years old, the church is in one of the earliest villages on the island and reflects its traditions and art.

Archbishop Patrick Pinder and Passionists

St. Anselm Church