Wise Ones Still Seek
We conclude our Twelve Days of Christmas with the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Some refer to this day as the Feast of the Three Kings. In my childhood home, we brought blessed chalk and holy water from church and blessed our home with prayers for safety and security for all who came into our home. We blessed our barns and our cattle too, asking that all activity would prosper and be for good. We marked the doorposts with the initials of the three wise men. The practice is etched in my memory. The meaning of the practice grows in me each year, especially when I focus on the images surrounding the three Wise Ones.
One of those strong images is the star—a star of wonder, a star of light that leads! We celebrate light—the light that comes in our darkness, the light that is the glory of God that shines, the light that is an invitation to walk in the light. Light also brings out the “radiance” of things. Look in the faces of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Kings, and we see radiance all around. What star leads us? Where does the light in our lives come from? And where does it lead us? Are we wisely seeking?
Another image in this story is journey—not knowing the destination, having to pay attention, looking for signs and knowing when to trust and whom to trust. Herod did not have good intentions. And the magi were crafty and clever, wisely choosing another way home. When do we struggle in knowing who to trust on our life journeys? What evidence do we use for choosing right paths? And when to we choose “another way home?”
A third image is that of gifts. The wise ones brought gifts to the child; they opened their treasures for the child. That image of “opening their treasures” is described as physical gifts in Scripture. For some time now, I have been discovering what it means to open my treasures for the sake of someone else. Do you remember O’Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi?” The moral lesson in the story is that people are willing to give up what means the most to them for the person they love. In the story, the couple acts on impulse as each strives to please their spouse. Both the husband and the wife want to buy their love a meaningful Christmas gift, so they sell their most prized possessions. They do not consider the consequences of their actions as they are determined to make the other person happy. The wife cuts and sells her long hair to buy a fob and chain for her husband’s watch. And he sells his watch to buy her combs for her hair. In sacrificing possessions, they end up possessing an even greater, irreplaceable treasure: affirmation of their love.
What are the treasures that I want to open up in this new year of life? How will I offer them to the Christ child? To the Church? To my St. Francis community?
An epiphany is a moment of revelation, a moment that can occur when something long expected finally happens, or when something completely unexpected breaks into our lives. What are the epiphanies in my life? What is the light I seek? Where is the journey taking me? And what treasures do I open up out of love for others?
If you’d like to do the Chalking Ritual in your home, you can find the prayers and explanation by clicking here.
Becoming Artisans of Peace
One of the gifts of Christmas is peace! And peace is what we often long for in our families, in our communities, in our offices, and in our world. On this feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace, we focus on Mary’s role in our salvation. At various times in our faith formation, we have come to know her as our Mother, Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. We also remember that she has the title, “Mary, Queen of Peace.”
Pope John Paul II recognized Mary’s role in his “Sollicitudo rei Socialis” (The Social Concern), an encyclical promulgated on December 30, 1987, the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples). It is part of a larger body of writings known as “Catholic Social Teaching.” In that teaching, Pope John Paul II says:
“We present to the Blessed Virgin difficult individual situations, so that she may place them before her Son, asking that he alleviate and change them. But we also present to her social situations and the international crisis itself, in their worrying aspects of poverty, unemployment, shortage of food, the arms race, contempt for human rights, and situations or dangers of conflict, partial or total.”
When we read in Luke’s gospel that Mary pondered these things and treasured them in her heart, we imagine what those things were. This Sunday, we too are given the opportunity to give voice to the blessings in our lives, to name the things that we are pondering and wishing for, and to treasure with gratitude what God is doing in our lives. Praying the Magnificat and pondering the words, taking them to heart, would be a great response
At the birth of Mary’s son, the angels gave glory to God and wished peace on earth to men and women of good will. We pray to Mary today for guidance in living that peace. Pope Francis wrote this in his World Day of Peace message for 2017:
“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. Nothing is impossible is we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.”
May the Lord look upon our St. Francis community kindly and give us peace in 2017. May we, like Mary, take God’s actions in our lives to heart, ponder them, and give praise and gratitude. And let us commit ourselves to being artisans of peace in 2017.
Happy New Year!
Love Came Down at Christmas
When I was in formation, learning to be a “Sister”, this was the title of one of our favorite Christmas hymns. We practiced it daily. The harmonies were beautiful and I can still remember the lyrics. This year, that hymn is on my mind. I hope it speaks to you as well.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
This Christmas we pray that we might first hear the Word that is Jesus. We pray that we might understand this Word, and that we might live out of our understanding. We pray that this Word is imprinted deep in our hearts and souls and that when we speak, others hear the spirit of Jesus singing its love song to the world.
Joseph and the Nativity
Meet a man with a plan! Joseph has the situation in hand! Finding out that Mary, his fiancée, has become pregnant by another man, he prepares to do the right and proper thing—quietly break off the promise to marry. In his day, this was not only the “proper” thing to do; it would also spare her from shame. From his understanding of the situation, he is being merciful. He is being a good man.
But divine intervention comes to Joseph in the form of an angel and a dream. He learns that Mary has not been unfaithful, but rather has conceived her child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph is challenged to re-think his plan. Part of what makes Joseph a truly honorable man is his willingness to rethink how an honorable man acts once God enters the picture in an unexpected way. Joseph makes room for God and makes it possible to be a family.
As Advent moves toward Christmas, we are reminded of God’s capacity to surprise us, forcing us in turn to act in surprising ways.
Joseph is a model for all of us! He was receptive and flexible. Sometimes we too are asked to leave our well-thought out plans behind and to be flexible and receptive. Holding on too tightly to what we plan can keep us from being able to receive God’s unpredicatable, wonderful gifts.
Rejoice in God’s Blessing of Love
The lighting of the pink candle on our Advent wreaths is a sign of JOY! We are midway through the season of Advent and our reading from the prophet Isaiah promises: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” Are we ready to be joyful, even when our hearts aren’t in it? If we are paying attention to the news these days, we read and hear about fires and earthquakes, wars and violence, and all kinds of suffering. The pictures of a Mennonite church filled to capacity with refugee women and children tug at our hearts. This is today’s Nativity scene where there is no room in the inn. Many in our families are suffering from the loss of loved ones this year, from anxiety, and from the end of meaningful relationships. Maybe our hearts aren’t into real joy!
When will I experience joy again? I hear this profound and anxious question often, especially during this season. Perhaps the readings this weekend will restore and heal, renew and give life again. While happiness is based on externals and transient experiences, joy comes from our interior life, from deep rootedness. How is our relationship with Jesus growing? Do we believe in God’s lavish love? God’s blessing? Can we BE hope for others? How do we give and receive mercy?
In Advent, we envision the desert blooming, in fullness and abundance! What a contradiction! We see natural enemies in nature, the lion and the lamb, lying together in playful peace. We wait patiently, like the farmer, for the land to yield fruit. And we watch hopefully for those same signs Jesus offered his followers: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is proclaimed to the poor. Joyful waiting is very different from Christmas’ instant gratification. What has brought us joy and gladness thus far in this Advent season?
We ask God to give us that joy that the world cannot give, a joy that is deeply rooted in our faith in God, in our trusting that God will bring us to fullness of life. May our hearts rejoice and bloom with joyful song. May we recognize in Jesus the one whom we await, the one who has come to heal and to save. And may God’s grace draw us closer and closer as a community.
Isaiah’s Dream for All
Each of this Sunday’s readings is so rich in meaning for us. The season of Advent brings together so many images of harmonious creation and human activity as God created them. Isaiah the prophet describes the dream of a “peaceable kingdom” of primal paradise where the animals did not follow their predatory instincts. Images of the “wolf and the lamb,” “a child playing near a cobra’s den,” and natural enemies living in harmony with each other. The lyrics to Glenn Rudolph’s “The Dream Isaiah Saw” inspire us: “Little child whose bed is straw, take new lodgings in my heart. Bring the dream Isaiah saw” described in the last line of the three verses: “life redeemed from fang and claw, justice purifying law, and knowledge, wisdom, worship, awe.” Oh, how we need this today!
In the second reading, Paul prays for the community challenged by universal salvation—both Jews and Gentiles. He asks for three different expressions of unity: “to think in harmony,” to be in “one accord,” and to glorify God in “one voice.” This unity does not obliterate the differences between Jew and Gentile; it is a unity in diversity. Oh, how we need this today!
And in the Gospel, John the Baptist’s preaching is filled with passionate fire—a cry from the heart calling for life-altering change. What in today’s world would arouse John the Baptist’s wrath today? What in our lives can be considered as worthy wheat and as chaff to be swept up and tossed into the fire?
Does the dream of Isaiah with its pairing of opposites offer hope in our own day, when there is so much division in the world, in government, and even in the Church?
Can we restore a “peaceable kingdom?” Can we see “difference” as a blessing, as an opportunity rather than a threat? And can we gather some kindling and throw it on the fire for justice? We too can be led by the little child whose bed is straw. May Jesus take new lodgings in our heart this Advent!
Staying Awake to God’s Presence
Stay awake! Walk in light! Be attentive! War no more! Beat swords into plowshares! Live not in rivalry or jealousy! Wow! The readings for this First Sunday of Advent are a call to escape the darkness, pay attention, and act!
Walking in the light and staying awake to God’s presence in our life and in the lives of others demands that we embody God’s universal unconditional love. The Advent season gives us time to begin to prepare for re-birth of little virtues and practices that will help us to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas.
About those little virtues and practices—here are some ideas. Find an Advent Calendar that suggests random acts of kindness for each day of Advent. Most of them ask us to expand our circle of those included in our love of God and love of neighbor. We can “wake up and stay awake” by being attentive and seeking ways to strengthen our relationships with God, family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers—the friends we haven’t met yet.
In these divisive times, we can seek out and engage in intentional conversations with those who are different from ourselves and try to identify common ground, or unity in the community that characterizes the making of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Not one of us knows when God will call us to make an accounting of our lives on earth! Will we be found ready? The Advent season provides us with a checklist of attitudes and actions. We ask God to help us pray, help us act, and help us achieve and live in peace. And then hopefully we will sing with joy as we go to the house of the Lord.
The Power in Remembrance
This Sunday is commonly known as the Feast of Christ the King, and the image that is used is Jesus on the cross, surrounded by two other crucified thieves and countless, raucous soldiers with shields and spears. Not very “kingly” imagery!
There are two thieves with equal access to Jesus, equal opportunities in the event, equal choices. One thief taunts and rails against Jesus, participating in the chaotic demonstration of crucifixion, a seeming unity with the mob below. In fact, Jesus was taunted to exert royal powers on many occasions in his life. Hanging on the cross, the most unlikely throne, seeming to be totally without power, Jesus answers the humble, simple plea “remember me” of the other “repentant” thief. Jesus utters these compassionate words: “…today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus took the message “remember me” seriously!
We too are challenged by ignorance, force and fear, false opinions and prejudice, out-of-control emotions, and mob mentality. We too have choices. Today, Jesus our King invites us to measure our use of power against his: Do we serve others or manipulate?…build a more just society or secure our own interests?…cause pain to others or help to alleviate it?
Looking forward to Advent, let us open ourselves to God’s power of love, mercy, compassion, and sense of justice, and then reach out to empower others, just as Jesus did in the midst of his own redemptive suffering. What a novel use of power—the power of remembrance—the power of taking all the people seriously.
Life After Life
As Catholics, we believe in the resurrection, or life after the present one we are living. The Gospel for this Sunday poses some questions about what that life will be like, the afterlife or resurrected life. Are the two related? Some people believe that happiness is part of resurrected life while our life on earth is filled with trials, tests, suffering, unhappiness, and misery. Heaven then becomes a reward for our long-suffering.
Others believe that we have choices to make about how we live on earth. Heaven is like the eternal promise or a reward. Hell is punishment. Which are we choosing?
According to John Kavanaugh, SJ, there is a third option. I tend to believe what we says:
What if there is no discontinuity between this life and the afterlife? What if there is just life, some of it eternal, some of it temporal? If that is the case, then the way we live now is the way we will always live. How we live is the promise of our destiny.
In this option, God does not threaten us with hell. We fashion it for ourselves by the choices we make: enclosed, egocentric, untrue, uncaring, unloving. That’s a hellishly mean existence, whether in this life or the next.
Thus, as we live and die, so we become eternally, outside the limits of space and time. There may not be marriage in the afterlife, but there is the fulfillment of what we have been becoming.
All of us, from the moment we begin, are endowed with an openness to God. But those of us who live long enough to exercise our freedom actually take part in determining our fate.
Like the Maccabees, we become what we have most loved, most believed, most hoped.
Thus, Lewis’s fascinating parable of The Great Divorce is a story of people confronted with the deepest choices they make. Those who cling to their fears, who hug for dear life their resentments, who refuse to let go of their prisons, can only be given what they endlessly demand.
Those, however, who give their lives in hope and trust, who cast themselves into the arms of the living God, no matter what their shame or sorrow, find what their hearts desired.
They encounter not only the graces of the earth and the faces of the beloved, but also the one in whom they lived, moved, and had their very being.
Sun of Justice & Its Healing Rays
Some events in our lives change us irrevocably, causing us to lose for good a sense of invulnerability. One of those events was 9/ll. That day we learned that we were no longer secure; our world was turned upside down. Many were left in a world of fear, insecurity, and anxiety. Unfortunately, such experiences characterize so much of human history.
The destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. was an “end of the world” experience for the people of Jerusalem. The temple was for them the heart of the city, the most sacred place, God’s dwelling place among the Chosen People. That which they valued so much, that which gave them strength was destroyed. Additionally, Luke’s community also knew the persecution and hardship Jesus speaks of in the Gospel today. What was important then and remains important now is a willingness to give witness to Jesus in all that we do, in all circumstances, in all that we see as threats to our way of being. Jesus gives us comfort in these words, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”
In the next days, months, and years, we acknowledge that in the midst of fear, insecurity and anxiety, we are totally dependent on the wisdom that God reveals to us in Scripture and other sources. How are we called to live as witnesses to the Lord in our lives? How does Scripture inform us about right relationships with all of God’s people? How do we live with diversity of thought, with differences that we don’t yet understand? Where do we seek wisdom, counsel, understanding, and peace?
What are we to do? We are to persevere by staying focused on the teaching and example of Jesus who reminds us that “by your perseverance you will secure your lives.” We are to fear (live in wonder and awe of God’s power), keep busy doing God’s work of justice freedom and love, and trust that each day the sun’s rising brings healing rays of God’s love.
Today and perhaps every day, we can pray the Prayer of St. Francis for unity and healing.
Lord, make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow your love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may seek
Not so much to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
On the “Day of the Lord,” we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, in each other, and in the community gathered. There we receive the grace to persevere through whatever trials and upheavals come into our lives. And when we think of that final “Day of the Lord,” the one where God calls us to eternal life, God will find us ready. Peace to all!