Baptism is our call to be holy. Do we consider ourselves holy persons? How would we know if we are holy? Our readings for this weekend suggest and encourage us to be just that—holy! In these readings we experience the call to be servants, to be a light to the nations, to give evidence of our attentiveness to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The prophet Isaiah promises Israel that they will become a “light to the nations.” That’s a pretty great calling, a huge commission. What does it mean to us to receive such a commission? How and where do we see our St. Francis faith community commissioned to be a “light”?
Let us pray this weekend that we will be servants, individually and collectively, who say with great integrity and firm resolve, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”
This Sunday marks the end of the Christmas season! Are you surprised? The baptism of Jesus is the beginning of his public life of ministry. Jesus is baptized by John and in the depths of the Jordan River takes on the sins of all and begins the journey to the cross, the cross that brings all of us salvation. The will of the Father becomes his focus, even unto death.
At St. Francis, the community baptizes children and adults during the liturgy. The assembly, the community gathers to welcome this new “holy child of God.” We all renew our baptismal promises, we invoke the saints to help us lead a new life in Christ. We sing, “You have put on Christ” and “You have been baptized.” The newly baptized is given a candle, the light of Christ. We pledge to help the parents, to be the community that surrounds and uplifts them.
What happens to us then, when we witness and experience Baptism in the midst of the gathered community? What memory of our own baptism do we have? How and when do we reclaim deeply the meaning of our baptism?
Our baptism is the most important credential we own. How do we give witness to that? Recently, I framed my baptismal certificate as a reminder. How will we remember our baptism this week? How will we “begin again” our ministry of proclaiming Christ?
We all rush to see the birth of a new family member, no matter how near or far they may be. Sometimes we vie for who sees the baby first. Jesus’ first visitors were Jewish shepherds and pagan astrologers, not counting the animals, the angels, and the star that were present at the birth.
Although they were led by a star, the journey of the Magi was troublesome, interrupted by a devious, jealous ruler. You might say they struggled with terrorism—Herod’s destruction of all boys under the age of three.
Do we find “Herods” in the world today? Who are Joseph, Mary, and Jesus running from today?
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis emphasizes that Jesus came to us in human form so that all might have access to him.
We must never forget that we are all pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face. Trusting others is an art and peace is an art.
Today we all look for a star, a light in the darkness. We seek wisdom and guidance in the midst of confusion. We ardently desire to be filled with the radiant love of God, often made known in the birth of a child. We yearn for epiphanies—new understandings of what it means to have wonderful care for each other, to dare to listen to each other in the midst of differences, and to boldly choose paths that lead to life.
Just as the Magi followed the star, may we seek out and be inspired by the spiritual work of musical composers, artists, writers, and poets.
For the Sake of Children
Can you think of any experiences where parents have to be brave to help their children? Joseph once again pays attention to a dream and flees to Egypt for the safety of his family. He is faithful and courageous. His is a radical action. The trek is long, mostly through wilderness, without provisions of water, and filled with danger from bandits.
Joseph and Mary immediately exercise their role as protectors of their child in dire circumstances. They become refugees, escaping the tyranny of King Herod, who had ordered the death of their child.
As you read and watch the news, see if you discover men (and women) who are willing to be both bold and brave for others, especially for the sake of their children. We learn about refugees/asylum seekers who are escaping the tyranny of governments and leaders who prey on the poor, the unwanted. We hear of women and children who flee abusive family relationships—sexual, psychological and verbal abuse that threaten their lives. Often they too have to leave without provisions or assurance of a place of safety as their final destination.
In his homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis points out that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees. Why would a savior arrive as a baby, when he could have come as a king? as a refugee? as homeless?
… Therefore, as we fix our gaze on the Holy Family of Nazareth as they were forced to become refugees, let us think of the tragedy of those migrants and refugees who are victims of rejection and exploitation, who are victims of human trafficking and of slave labour.
… Jesus wanted to belong to a family who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God.
Today we pray and act to accept our responsibilities as families to provide for the safety and security of our own children as well as those of strangers. We also pray for the many “angels” who warn of danger and guide others to safety. And we pray for new understandings of what it means to flee danger and act with courage, to sacrifice anything and everything for the future of children everywhere.
Doing the right thing! How did Joseph decide what to do when he discovers that Mary is pregnant? Common sense? The rules of the day? Doing what is proper? Protection from shaming? Joseph apparently is pretty sure what he has to do. But it all changes when an angel appears in a dream, when God enters the picture. Joseph receives new information, new understanding, new courage. What makes Joseph such an honorable man is his capacity to rethink his actions once God enters the picture in a surprising way.
This Sunday’s Gospel gives us an opportunity to reflect on what “fathering” involves today. In all family relationships, I am sure that each of us is caught in dilemmas about what the right thing to do is.
Have there been occasions when you were sure of the proper course of action and been forced to rethink things when you have come to a new understanding of the situation?
How do situations look different once we put God in the equation?
And so we pray: God of possibilities, deliver us from the presumption of thinking we know ahead of time the proper response to your surprising presence in our lives. Help us to remember that you are at work at all times, creating with compassion and mercy, in action for justice.
The Joy of Waiting
With joy, we look to Jesus as we wait. What a simple expression of what this Third Sunday of Advent is about. Isaiah encourages us to be strong, to keep imagining the future. He nudges us to be creative, to see what isn’t there yet but could be. So we are asked to imagine a rose blooming in the desert! Whatever desert place, whatever wilderness we are experiencing can lead to something beautiful.
The hope, the vision of something beautiful comes in God’s time, not ours. So we wait. Sometimes we wait with patience. Most of the time, however, our societal pressures insist on “instant” results. How do I learn to wait? What has been my experience of waiting during this Advent season? Have I been paying attention to my capacity to wait? What are the things I wait for?
What kind of home within myself am I creating for Jesus? As I reflect on who I am becoming, am I preparing to give birth to new expressions of Jesus in me, in my soul, in my spirit? How is my soul magnifying the Lord? And what has brought me joy—great joy during this Advent season?
With joy, we look to Jesus as we wait! It won’t be long now…
Can you imagine a baby playing with a cobra? Or a wolf or lion welcomed by a lamb? What is Isaiah trying to say to us? The prophet Isaiah’s vision is depicted in an artwork entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. Isaiah’s vision was one where dangerous pairings would make peace and together they would grow in safety.
The word “peaceable” and the reality of dangerous pairings give us lots to think about. How are we today engaged in making peace? Where in our world is peace most needed? Isaiah talks about turning swords into plowshares. Peacemakers and artists today create art pieces from automatic weapons of war. Today’s prophets facilitate conversations where people come to the table to enter into dialogue in order to discover common ground. Such conversations attempt to find harmony and unity rather than protracted discord or hate speech or even the now familiar “agreeing to disagree.”
What sort of dangerous pairings are we encountering in life today? What examples of the “lion and the lamb” or the “baby playing with the cobra” are we familiar with?
And so we pray: God of endurance and encouragement, guide us in imagining a peaceable kingdom. Create in us hearts that welcome the stranger, the person or any way of thinking that we don’t yet understand. Help us to grow in our capacity to be able to make peace (peace-able) and to bear “good fruit” in the process.
More of Isaiah’s vision is described in this musical presentation, “On That Holy Mountain.”
Stay awake! Be ready! Welcome the stillness! Be with us Lord to breathe within us and let us be ready to receive you. Strengthen us! Abide with us! Cleanse our hearts of all that keeps us distant from you and from each other!
God of surprises, shower us with grace to see the light, to see more clearly, to love more dearly and to follow you more dearly. Help us to see the light in all of our human situations. Give us hope!
Wash away our anxieties, especially during the next few weeks. Abide with us in new, profound ways. Help us to have the Best Advent Yet!
King of Our Hearts
When I was very young, the feast of Christ the King was special. All the girls wore their white First Holy Communion dresses again and strewed flowers, often picked from their grandmothers’ gardens. We were at the head of the procession, followed by a hand-carried canopy over the priest who carried the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. My grandmother grew rows of flowers in the vegetable garden, right next to the beehives. Pollinators galore! Sometimes we would see flowers in her house. Most of the time, she grew them to be admired from her back porch or from the large kitchen “picture window.” Ultimately they were grown to be included in the liturgical environment of the church.
The procession went outside to all the church grottos, also all decorated with flowers. We sang and inhaled lots of incense. It was the feast of Christ the King!
Kings can be rulers, monarchs, lords of lands. By contrast, our Scripture readings describe Jesus on the cross flanked by thieves. And we learn about the good thief who simply asks, “Remember me.” Jesus promises him good company among those who enter heavenly bliss.
Several years ago, Ronald Rolheiser described Christ as the good king: “strong enough to be weak…who has a heart big enough to accept pettiness, who cares enough to accept humiliation, and who is faithful enough to do what’s right even when it’s misunderstood…who is tall enough to let himself be small, secure enough to disappear in anonymity, and mature enough to not be put off by immaturity…who is selfless enough to absorb selfishness, loving enough to be gracious towards what’s bitter, and forgiving enough to bless what’s killing him…who makes those around him feel safe, who carries others rather than ask them to carry him, who feeds others rather than feeds off of them, and who affirms others rather than asking them to affirm him. A good king looks more like Christ on the cross than like an earthly superstar in his glory. But that is what made Jesus’ life and death redemptive.” (Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, In his Reflection for Christ the King, in Give Us This Day, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 56321-7500; Nov. 2012; pp. 266f)
May this be the King who reigns in our hearts on this great feast.
Stubble or Healing Rays
Stubble is the leftover stalks in a field that has just been harvested, painful to step on, especially if you are bare-footed. Stubble is also what male facial hairs are in between being clean-shaven and growing a full beard. I’m told that this in-between time is pretty scratchy, itchy, and generally uncomfortable.
None of us would choose to be stubble, but Malachi tells us that the proud and evildoers will be stubble. How then do we rid ourselves of pride and evil-doing? Malachi tells us, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
To fear the Lord’s name is to be filled with awe and praise at the works of God. As for justice and healing, we are all wounded in some ways, and justice can help us heal. What would the “sun of justice with its healing rays” look like in our lives? For what work of justice-making do we have a passion? What will bring about healing? Healing, health, wholeness, and holiness are all related.
Let’s listen to the words and actions suggested in our Eucharistic liturgy this weekend. May they be “healing rays” for all of us, for our families, our parish community, our country, and our world.