Monthly Archives: December 2016

A New Year Is Coming

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Looking at the New Year, Karl Rahner speaks of our need for “a mysticism of everyday life.” It’s not in big things God’s grace will be found, but in steady, commonplace living. Accepting time in small dimensions readies us for its big moments.

“The New Year is coming.  A year like all the rest.  A year of trouble and disappointment with myself and others. When God is building the house of our eternity, he puts up fine scaffolding in order to carry out the work. So fine, that we may prefer to live in it.

The trouble is we find it is taken down again and again. We call that dismantling the painful fragility of life. We lament and become melancholy if we look at the new year and see only the demolition of the house of our life, which is really being quietly built up for eternity behind this scaffolding that’s put up and taken down again.

“No, the coming year is not a year of disappointment or a year of pleasing illusions. It’s God’s year. The year when decisive hours are approaching me quietly and unobtrusively, and the fullness of my time is coming. Shall I notice these hours? Or will they be empty, because they seem too small, too humble and commonplace?

“Outwardly they won’t look different and can be overlooked: the slight patience it takes to made life slightly more tolerable for those around me; the omission of an excuse; risking good faith in someone I’m inclined to mistrust because I’ve had an bad experience with them before; accepting someone’s criticism of me; allowing an injury done to me to die away, without complaining, bitterness or revenge; being faithful to prayer without being rewarded by “consolations” or “religious experience”; trying to love those who get on my nerves (through their fault, of course); trying to see in someone else’s stupidity an intelligence that is not mine; not trading on my virtues to justify my faults; suppressing my complaints and omitting self-praise.”

Rahner doesn’t glamorize everyday mysticism. It can be both tough and boring. “Even the saints yawn sometimes, and have to shave.”

K. Rahner, The Great Church Year, New York 1994  p. 85

Readings here:

The Holy Family

 

Luke 2,41-52

For most people, Christmas is over– the music’s stopped; Santa Claus is gone from the malls. The decorations are down and put away. It’s over.

But in church Christmas isn’t over. We’re still singing  carols and continue to celebrate as we think  about what it means when we say “our God was made visible.”

Today’s the feast of the Holy Family. The Word was made flesh, and as the child of Mary and Joseph Jesus was part of a family in the small town of Nazareth in  hills of  Galilee.

For one thing, families then were extended families or clans, living close together and working side by side. Archeological excavations in Nazareth and Capernaum (pictures below) make that clear. Families worked together in the fields or in  business, they ate together and moved together, as they still do in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere today.

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It’s safe to say that nuclear families didn’t exist then. A nuclear family– mother, father and children– is a modern form of family life. Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus were not all by themselves in a small house in Nazareth. Rather, Jesus was raised in an extended family where  grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles, aunts and cousins lived together and were involved in bringing him up.

That doesn’t take away the part Mary and Joseph played in his upbringing, of course. They weren’t props, standing by while angels brought him up. Some of the apocryphal gospels – early stories about Jesus which the church rejected  – seem to say that.  One  story describes the Child Jesus forming  the figure of a bird from clay, then breathing on it, and instantly it becomes a living bird and flies away. Stories like that presented him exercising  miraculous powers as a child.

The church rejected those stories because they gave a  false picture of Jesus growing up. He “was subject” to Mary and Joseph, the gospel of Luke says. He grew up in their care as an ordinary child would.

Like mothers and fathers everywhere, they saw to his needs, they held him in their arms,  fed him, clothed him,  stayed up at night when he was sick. They taught him his first words,  guided his first steps,  nudged him along this way and that.

They  brought him to church–the synagogue, the temple–as we see in today’s gospel from Luke. They instructed him in his tradition. They taught him to pray,  interpreted events for him,  listened to his questions,  encouraged him over and over. They had their misunderstandings, as today’s gospel  indicates. In fact, they  influenced his life.

Yes, angels were there, but at a distance.  Mary and Joseph and that larger family and village around him raised the Child.

Today’s  feast of the Holy Family takes in the years of Jesus’ childhood and early adult life called his “Hidden Life.” His  years in that nondescript town among those ordinary people were truly hidden, yet were they less important than his Public Life, the few years he taught and did great miracles,  suffered and died and rose from the dead? In those hidden years “he humbled himself.”  A hidden life is important; it’s what mostly characterizes life in a family.

We need to think about family life today, because it’s in trouble.  For one thing, the nuclear family– father, mother, children– is  in trouble. I read some disturbing statistics recently. In every state in our country, families where children have two parents have declined significantly in the last 10 years. One of three children live in a home without a father. Almost 5 million children live in a home without a mother. A single mother may have an income of $24,000. Two parents are likely to have an income significantly greater.

What can we do? How can we help? Feasts  like the Holy Family focus our attention on important things.  They remind us what’s important in God’s eyes. The feast of the Holy Family focuses on the family. It’s important, it says.  At the same time, it tells us God’s grace will be ours when we work to make families go and when we support them all we can.  God points to family life today. It’s vitally important in our world.

Friday Thoughts: Portrait of the Catholic as a Middle-Aged Man

 

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Georges Seurat, “Aman-Jean (Portrait of Edmond Francois Aman-Jean)”, 1882-83, (The Met)

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So much is not seen.

What is heard hardly tells the story.

The hairline leaves little to gaze upon.

A good sergeant, he worries little about appearances.

He often feels what he believes is slipping away beneath his feet.

The commands barked from above seem detached from the situation on the ground.

He follows orders anyway.

To many he is somewhat of a joke.

A puppet. A man who cant think for himself.

Some may even use the word ‘coward’.

But none of this is accurate of course.

No, he is a man of honor.

A noble-man.

He takes his vows and commitments seriously.

He will protect his wife. He will raise his children.

He will stand when others hide.

He will walk forward when others turn away.

Firm and steadfast.

He lives out daily the faith of his fathers.

Quietly and efficiently as possible.

No, he’s certainly not perfect.

And of this he is very conscious.

So much so he wonders often if God has chosen the wrong man.

And this is saving grace.

Humility is purgatorial.

It burns away the dross.

It polishes the trophy.

It propels him to love to heroic measures.

It keeps him around, in the game, engaged, alive, an active participant.

As much as it hurts, he knows it’s true, and he carries on, toward the goal.

Toward what he cannot see, toward what he certainly does not understand.

This man is a hero of faith.

And at the same time he is just another Joe.

Another Tom, Dick or Harry.

But in heaven, when all is said and done, he shall receive a crown.

His cross finally laid down, he shall finally see it as a walking stick.

A beautifully-crafted staff in the hand of a just and upright man.

A righteous upholder of God’s eternal law.

Then he shall take his place, very close to the King and Queen, right beside that other unknown man named Joe.

That common nobody led by angels and mocked by men.

The one chosen by God to raise the Messiah.

For where you find the anonymous man of whom I speak, you too shall discover the Holy Family.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

On earth as it is in heaven.

A little humble home in the middle of nowhere.

An eternal kingdom emanating all that is good.


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—Howard Hain

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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/339751.

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* Dedicated to my good friend, who I greatly admire.

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Morning Thoughts: Wise as Doves

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Rembrandt, “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”, 1634

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Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

—Luke 2:8-9


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Perhaps the scariest thing to those of us who cling tightly to the things of the world is to accept the job that the Lord assigns us.

Oh, how so many of us are so quick to long for greater adventure!

Yet, when it comes to those humble, little shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, we are perhaps even quicker to long to be one of them—sitting quietly upon a gentle hillside, effortlessly tending to a passive flock, while the always-full moon provides a soft, ever-so-appropriate illumination from above.

But we are liars. For there’s nothing less romantic in each one of our daily lives, or more mundane. We simply have to be honest, or at least consistent. It all depends on how we look at it. If we see the shepherds in such a delicate light then we also need to see ourselves in the same. For before the angel appears, the shepherds were hardly posing for picturesque landscapes. Perhaps it is for this very reason—their realness, their authenticity, their holy simplicity—that the Lord chose them to be present when He revealed His glory.

It is exciting. We have a wonderful choice, then. Either our “boring” lives make us just the kind of people to whom God prefers to reveal Himself, or our lives are a lot more “exciting” than we ever imagined. Either way, what is vital to making such a decision is true sincerity and genuine gratitude. We need to thank God for who He has made us, for where He has placed us, and for what type of task He has assigned us.

A faithful, humble heart dreams and believes and sees great things among the most ordinary circumstances. Just look at the young virgin and the upright carpenter to whom the shepherds “went in haste” to find in a stable, adoring a child born within the company of the “lowest” of men.

If we spend our time dreaming of being someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else, we miss the opportunity of being exactly who God intends us to be—and when that happens—we are always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and most tragically, doing that which matters very little.

For to be the first on the scene, the first to “lay hold”, the first to adore the New Born King, is as good as it gets—even for those whose “normal existence” isn’t standing around all alone—day after day in the scorching sun or biting cold, while picking fleas from matted-down fleece or scaring off hungry wolves.


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The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

—Luke, Chapter 2:10,16-18,20


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—Howard Hain

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Why December 25th?

Ever wonder why we celebrate December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth? Andrew McGowan, in an  article in Biblical Archeology, ties it to March 25th, the day some early Christian sources say Jesus was conceived and crucified. The theory contradicts a popular theory that says December 25th is a Christian attempt to replace a pagan festival honoring the Unconquerable Sun.

“ There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

“Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

Matthew’s gospel relates the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem by King Herod shortly after Jesus birth, reminding us of the fate that awaits this Child. Artists like the one who painted our picture above– which is honored by my community, the Passionists– also saw the connection.  Mary was warned that a “sword” would pierce her heart.

The mysteries of Christ are joined together. We celebrate his birth, but we also keep in mind his death and resurrection– mysteries  never far apart, in him and in us.

Morning and Friday Thoughts: Merry Christmas

the-holy-family-window

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The softest sound that could ever be.

The slightest touch possible.

The simplest gesture known to God and man.

Humility.

Nothing is more powerful.

The Word became flesh.

God became man.

God became you and me.

Now the child leads us:

Merry Christmas.

A Blessed New Year.


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—Howard and family

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The Wonder of Christmas

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky,

why Jesus, our Savior, was born for to die,

for poor, orn’ry people like you and like I

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.”

Wonder is a Christmas word;  we hear it in the carols we sing and in the words we hear and in the prayers we say.  Wonder is our reaction to something  beyond what we expect, beyond our experience and our understanding,  so big it leaves us lost for words.

We need wonder these days to lift up our minds and hearts.

Listen to the gospel story from St. Luke:

‘In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.” Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the world gives an order. “Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Quirinius , Caesar’s enforcer for Palestine, orders his jurisdiction to be counted. The mighty and the powerful of this world have spoken.

But the high and mighty, the politicians, the generals, the money people don’t impress Luke. Rather, his eyes are drawn to a couple in the multitude being enrolled,  a couple from an insignificant town in Galilee called Nazareth– Joseph and  his betrothed wife Mary, who was with child. They’re  on their way to Bethlehem.

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

Luke goes on in his gospel to tell about this child born in Bethlehem, who grows up in Nazareth, who begins to preach and work marvels in Galilee, who gathers excited followers and then goes up to Jerusalem where he’s arrested, sentenced to death, crucified, then  raised from the dead. Luke goes on to describe the followers of Jesus who take his message to the ends of the earth and to us today.

That marvelous story begins in Bethlehem,  where a Child in swaddling clothes is laid in a manger, because there’s no room in the inn. That marvelous story goes on. It changes the way we look at ourselves and the world in which we live. God is quietly at work in our world, unnoticed, unacknowledges, God is with us.

There’s wonder in this story, a wondrous love’s behind it. This Child is God become like us, like “poor, orn’ry creatures like you and like I.” So unexpected, so beyond our experience and understanding, beyond words.

Today’s a day that calls us to wonder. Let’s not lose that gift that takes us beyond where we are. Begin with the world in which we live, the world around us as we “wander out under the sky.”  However difficult and dark this world can be, there’s a wonder to it. We’ve been gifted with the wonderful gift of life, which we carry in the flesh and blood that is ours, the gift of life we have in our families and our friends and all of those around us. Let’s not take them for granted.

Then, there’s the gift of God we remember today, a God not distant but close, a God not removed from our experience but sharing it, a God who loves us so much that he wishes to become one with us, a God who would die for us and bring us the promise of life that never ends. Let’s not take God for granted.

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky, why Jesus our Savior was born for to  die, for poor orn’ry people like you and like I. I wonder as I wander out under the sky.”