Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

The Immaculate Conception

Some question why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has such a big place in the faith of  our church. The words of the angel in Luke’s gospel, words we often repeat in prayer, offer an answer: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Mary is full of grace, gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts from her conception, because she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

She would be the “resting place of the Trinity,” and would give birth to, nourish, guide and accompany Jesus in his life and mission in this world. To fulfill that unique role she needed a unique gift. She would be free from original sin that clouds human understanding and slows the way we believe in God and his plan for us.

“How slow you are to believe” Jesus said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus made that complaint repeatedly as he preached the coming of God’s kingdom. “How slow you are to believe!” “What little faith you have!” “Do you still not understand!” That human slowness to believe didn’t end in gospel times. We have it too.

Mary was freed from that slowness to believe. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she immediately says to the angel. Yet, her acceptance of God’s will does not mean she understood everything that happened to her. “How can this be?” she asks the angel about the conception of the child. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”  But the angel’s answer seems so incomplete, so mysterious.

Surely, Mary would have liked to know more when the angel leaves her, never to return. There’s no daily message, no new briefing or renewed assurance by heavenly messengers. The years go by in Nazareth as the Child grows in wisdom and age and grace, but they’re years of silence. Like the rest of us, Mary waits and wonders and keeps these things in her heart.

That’s why we welcome her as a believer walking with us. She is an assuring presence. She calls us to believe as she did, without knowing all. She does not pretend to be an expert with all the answers. She has no special secrets known to her alone. “Do whatever he tells you,” is her likely advice as we ponder the mysteries of her Son.

 

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We tend to see the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, which says that Mary was preserved from original sin from conception, as a gift just for her and not affecting us at all,  a gift that makes her unlike us.

St. Anselm, the 12th century monk, later archbishop of Canterbury, sees it differently. Mary shows us what being human and being part of God’s creation was meant to be. She’s the first to be blessed by Jesus Christ, her son. All of us, yes creation itself,  benefit from the gift:

“Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to our power or use – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless to us or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by human acts of idolatry. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices.

“The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God, its Creator, it sees God openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

“Through the fullness of the grace given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

“Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.”

What You Find in the First Week of Advent

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged..

In the Old Testament readings,  the Prophet Isaiah speaks as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.

The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says.  They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday),  the poor will triumph (Thursday),  the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet  challenges us to see our world in another way.

In the gospels  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday)  Jesus praises the childlike;  they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday)  He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday)  He gives sight to the blind to find their way.  (Friday)

Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope.

Lord, help us see what you and the prophets see.

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

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But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs

Clay Feet

As the church year ends we read from the Book of Daniel and the apocalyptic sections of St. Luke’s gospel about the future, the day of the Lord, when the kingdom of God finally comes and humanity and creation itself reach the goal intended by God from the beginning.

But we’re used to normal lives, like that described in Luke’s gospel. Like those in the days of Noah and the days of Lot we prefer “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.” (Luke 17, 26-30)

This week’s readings make us uneasy, because they point to a future not normal at all: “wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, awesome sights and mighty signs in the sky”  And there’s persecution besides.(Luke 21, 7-28)  Not easy to accept..

Yes, Jesus promises not a hair of our head will be harmed,  we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, we’ll be able to give testimony,  we will have the wisdom to understand it all. But still,..

Then, there’s Daniel….

The Book of Daniel recalls King Nebuchadnezzar training Daniel and three other young Jewish exiles in Babylon to serve as his advisors. The king has a lot to do and he needs a brain trust to help him see where he’s been and where he’s going. People in charge always need advisors.

Daniel gives Nebuchadnezzar an unexpected picture of the future. His kingdom will come to an end and other empires take its place. Like all great political powers, his empire has clay feet; it will collapse and fall to the ground. The only kingdom that endures is God’s kingdom, a stone hewn from a mountain.

Daniel wasn’t afraid to present the king with reality. Is that what we learn from him? God works through reality, even wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecutions. Yet, the kingdom of God will come, no matter what. So don’t be afraid of the future.

Some people may have thought Daniel was dreaming. He was really looking at reality. Some people think faith is dreaming, but it isn’t.

“When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21, 28) Look up with faith.

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) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

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.

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

 

 

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originates, not in the bible, but in an ancient tradition of the church of Jerusalem. The tradition claims Mary was born near the temple in Jerusalem, where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann were old and childless until they were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The present church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, next to the ancient temple site, is where the tradition says Mary was born. Besides Jerusalem, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris also claim to be where she was born.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition may have some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest.  Could Mary’s family also be connected to the temple?

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple.. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says Mary and Joseph brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Mary’s Son calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

According to the gospel of James Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and it gives the impression she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. But the four gospels seem to place Mary far from the temple most of her life, in Nazareth. That’s where the angel speaks to her.    

We might say that for Mary the temple signifies God’s presence, where prophets speak and wisdom can be found. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, (cf. John 4, 22-26), in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross,  founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. He saw his retreats as places where his religious, like Mary, would find themselves in God’s presence, where they could pray, where they would meet prophets and teachers, where they would gain wisdom.