Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

The Immaculate Conception

 

Audio homily here: 

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.

 

Advent’s Coming

 

READINGS FOR THE FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT 

Nativity

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent, beautifully arranged,  are filled with a blessed promise.

The Old Testament readings, from the Prophet Isaiah, are set in a bleak world: a fierce Assyrian army is heading towards Jerusalem, laying waste the towns and cities of Israel and Judea. Yet Isaiah sees something else: God’s plan which is stronger than human armies. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain and “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2,1-5) Wars end; a divided humanity becomes one.

All nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet  says.  They will  be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday), there the poor will triumph (Thursday), there the blind will see (Friday). The people will be safe on this rock, where children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet’s imagery of promised peace, challenging the way we see things, is strikingly beautiful.

In the gospels  for the 1st week  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. All nations come to Jesus represented by the  Roman centurion who humbly approaches him in Capernaum.  (Monday) Jesus praises the childlike; little as they are 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 that they may find their way.  (Friday)

Many of our Advent readings come 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. Jesus gives us hope beyond human hope.

Mary and Joseph,

Help us see what you and the prophets saw. Amen.

 

Saving Santa Claus

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

IMG_1506

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

Telling his story is one of the ways to save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the others. 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

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

The Presentation of Mary is an ecumenical feast celebrated by churches of the east and west. It began in Jerusalem where tradition said Mary was born near the temple. Her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. Joachim and his wife Ann were childless until, at the promise of an angel, they were blessed with a daughter. They presented her in the temple when she was three, traditions says, and she was raised among virgins. The present church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, almost adjacent to the ancient temple site, marks the place where Mary was born.

This isn’t the only tradition about Mary’s birth, of course, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also make that claim.

What should we think of this tradition? Basically it tells us Mary was closely connected to the Jewish temple, a claim Luke’s gospel supports. He says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. So, was Mary’s family connected there too?

Luke links Mary to the temple a number of times. Forty days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Jewish custom did not demand that they do this, but they did.

Luke also says Mary and Joseph brought Jesus from childhood to the temple to celebrate the feasts. For Mary, the temple was a place where from childhood she came into God’s presence. It was not a cloister, but a place of spiritual teaching; prophets spoke in its courtyard and the world came for wisdom there. The old man Simeon spoke to her and the old woman Anna praised God’s deeds there.

In words constantly repeated in the psalms:   

“The Lord is in his holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Psalm 11)

Mary introduced her Son to this holy place which later he called “his Father’s house.” He engaged its teachers and spoke about his own mission as he celebrated its feasts. He celebrated the last supper nearby and died as the lambs from the temple were being sacrificed.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy, to the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. He wanted the places where his religious lived to be places that imitated this mystery– where God was present; where prayers were said; where prophets and teachers could be met; where the world found wisdom.

The Temple of God

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees and the Gospel of Luke bring us to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Three years after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes, about the year 167 BC, the Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, which was at the heart of their religion. The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers were certainly aware of this historic event when they wrote about Jesus cleansing the temple. Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

It was a symbolic act. Jesus himself is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God. Luke says he taught in the temple “every day.” He teaches us every day; he is our high priest brining us to his Father and our Father, “every day.”

He is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple, he was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he would be raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” We’re a sacramental people; we need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.

An Unpeaceable Kingdom

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Luke 12,49-53

Most of us don’t want to live in the house our Lord describes in today’s gospel, where fathers fight with their sons, sons with their fathers; where mothers fight with their daughters, daughters with their mothers.”

Not a nice house to live in.

Same way with a world on fire. A little fire is all right, but a world on fire? Too much.

We’d rather live in a world Isaiah describes: a holy mountain where the lion and the lamb lie down together and a child can put his hand into a snake hole and not get bit. A peaceable kingdom.

But maybe the situation Jesus describes is a form of the cross he endured. Maybe it’s the cross he asks us to endure today: a world on fire with strife, confusion and misunderstanding. Can the cross take the form of confusion and misunderstanding? It’s hard to live in a world where things are not clear and hard to understand.

Maybe that’s the cross we have to carry today.

Guardian Angels

Ángel_de_la_Guarda

 

We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. That’s what Jesus does in the gospel reading for their feast on October 2nd. You can’t get into heaven unless you become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

 

Artists picture Guardian Angels with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a world that has its dangers.

 

Yet, St. Bernard reminds us that angels are with us all our lives because, whether we know it or not, we’re always children. “They are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.”

 

However smart or independent or grown-up we are, we’re still little kids, and God, who knows we are always little kids gives us “loyal, prudent, powerful” protectors and guides. “They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray.”

 

I was thinking of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads  power around. I was also thinking that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

 

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.