Monthly Archives: November 2012

Come and See

There’s not much said about the apostles in the New Testament; they walk in the shadow of Jesus. Because of that, we have only a few details about Andrew, the brother of Peter, whose feast is today.

One detail is his name, Andrew, a Greek name, which may be due to the fact that the area around the Sea of Galilee was multi-cultural and Jewish families sometimes took gentile names.  His family was from Bethsaida where a lot of trade went on. Did Andrew speak some Greek?

Maybe he did, because later in John’s gospel he and Philip bring some Greek pilgrims to Jesus before his death. Jesus sees their coming as a sign of his approaching passion and glorification and he rejoices. (John 12, 20-28) We have to be careful of seeing Jesus’ apostles as poor uneducated fishermen, not likely to get along in a bigger world.

Andrew must have been religious. Early in John’s gospel, he’s described as a disciple of John the Baptist who points Jesus out to him. Jesus then invites Andrew and another disciple to stay for a day with him. “Come and see.” Afterwards, Andrew “found his brother Simon and said to him ‘We have found the Messiah.’” (John 1,35-41)

The Greek Church honors Andrew as its patron and considers him the first apostle because he was the first to see Jesus and follow him; then he called his brother. Tradition says Andrew was crucified on the beach at Patras in Greece and during his martyrdom extolled the mystery of the Cross of Jesus. He’s also the patron of Russia and Scotland.

A number of saints and feasts are celebrated during Advent. Certainly, saints like Andrew belong in our celebration of the Incarnation.  Jesus, the Incarnate Word, drew people to himself who, in turn, drew others. His grace can’t be contained.

“Come and see,” Andrew says.

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time, but are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC.

After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it. Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and their Savior through time. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2)

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives

You wish they would read it instead of looking for a headline. I mean the pope’s new book “Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives”  Image Books, 2012. From the headlines the last few days you would think all the pope said was that the ox and the donkey weren’t around the manger at Christ’s birth, and he’s joining others who question the historical reliability of this event.

The contrary is true. As in his previous books on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict engages what modern scriptural scholarship says about this section of the gospels. (True, he depends on German and French scholarship for the most part) But if anything, the pope sees a swing from not accepting a history behind the infancy narratives to a recognition of historical facts.

But he does more than affirm history. He sees meaning behind the facts. So the manger of Jesus to him is the Lord’s first throne, the humble temple where he comes to feed the poorest of the world.

“So the manger has in some sense become the Ark of the Covenant, in which God is mysteriously hidden among men, and before which the time has come for ‘ox and ass’–humanity made up of Jews and Gentiles–to acknowledge God.”

I downloaded the book yesterday. A good book to read in Advent. Here’s a theologian and mystic at work. I think his three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth will stand as his lasting contribution to the church.

Elizabeth of Hungary

November 17th, is the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. At 14 she married Louis, ruler of Thuringia, and lived happily with him for 8 years until he died in 1227. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, she made the resources of her kingdom serve the poor, especially when floods, famine and plague struck that land in 1226.

Her spiritual director, Conrad of Marbugh, wrote this masterful little biography of her after she died:

“She was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious’ possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.

On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Saviour in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive.

Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.

Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman. When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvellously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun.

Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.”



Noah’s Flood

The floodwaters of Noah’s time that Jesus speaks of in Friday’s gospel (Luke 17, 26-37) evoke some vivid memories for some of us of the surging waters we experienced when Hurricane Sandy struck our shores recently in the northeast part of the United States. A disaster like that changes your  life and the world around you instantly.  Natural disasters show how impermanent life is.

The images Jesus uses in this passage from Luke’s gospel catch vividly what happens in a catastrophe like Sandy. We can’t believe life changes and something like a storm will cancel our next meal, or a scheduled party, or a regular talk with a friends or our family on a cell phone. We shrug off the danger: everything will be the same–till the flood comes and the lights go out and the phone goes dead and water, food and shelter are taken away.

We like what we have and what we’re used to it. But we don’t have it forever. If you want to survive when a storm comes you have to give up things. Like Noah, you have to head for the ark; it’s the only thing that promises to save your life.  Like Lot’s wife, you can’t look back; you have to go forward or you’ll end up destroyed.

So the message of Jesus is clear. Look to God, our stronghold and our life. Place your trust in God, who gave you the gift of life, and will give you greater life if you give yourself to him.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over


I’m rereading a book by one of the leading theologians at Vatican II, Yves Congar, OP called “The Mystery of the Temple, Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland 1962.” As I noted in a previous blog, Congar wrote out of his experience of increasing secularization in France in the 1950s. People were abandoning God and the church.

I’m only realizing it now (I’m a slow learner) that his treatment in this book of the Presence of God in sacred history, beginning with the patriarchs and extending to the time of David and the prophets, was a way he was figuring out the Presence of God in this period of time. Where is God now?

These sentences struck me: “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise.”

Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.”  (p 31-32)

We may look at the church or our world at this time and think it’s the end, but it isn’t.  It’s only a “preliminary achievement” in God’s plan. We need prophets to “draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises” by successive stages of fulfillment.

God is the Pillar of Cloud leading us on, Emmanuel, God with us. “It ain’t over till its over.”

Sandy 2012

Natural disasters like Sandy, the hurricane that struck the east coast of the United States, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and other nations of the Carribean provoke the question: Where is God in all of this? “It’s a wake-up call,” a woman ahead of me at the polling booth on election day said.

Jesus said the same thing when he spoke of a falling tower that killed 18 people in Siloam. (Luke 13,4-5)  Natural disasters are part of the “signs of the times” that call us to repent.

They keep us real about life. The storm surge from Hurricane Sandy came in from the ocean and hit my sister’s house in Lake Como, NJ, around 9:30 PM, Monday evening, October 29th, 2012. Power had gone off around 5PM. I heard what I thought was a clap of thunder, but actually it was part of the foundation of the house under the bedroom where I was sleeping falling down before the surge of water. Looking out the back window I could see waves of waters breaking against the house and I could hear driving winds shaking the trees.

In the front of the house facing the street I could see the surge of water breaking over my sister’s car parked in the driveway. The waters came up to the first step on the porch of her house and then stopped. In the dark I couldn’t see anything beyond what was lit by a small flashlight.

The next day the waters subsided and you could see fish from Lake Como jumping in the streams of water on the street. Outside my bedroom window I saw a heron diving for fish in the waters in our backyard.

Most of the people on 21st Street stayed through the storm; a number of them had generators. They were out on the streets the next day cleaning up and assessing the damage which along the Jersey Shore must be in the millions of dollars. They were thankful to be alive. My sister abandoned the house.

There was kindness that day. Dave from down the street came with two cups of coffee. Richie from across the street pushed my sister’s car from the watery driveway to a higher part of the street. Bill and Joe tried to get her car started but to no avail. Susan and Bob came to drive her to a friend’s house and me to the rectory.

There were offers of food, shelter, showers. Cell phones were charged, water was provided. So much was lost, but it also brought a sense of reality: “Naked I came into this world, and naked I shall return.”

Also, I could hear a favorite saying of my mother: “We got this far.”

Here’s a video of that storm: