Humility and the Epiphany
The Magi followed the light of a star to find Jesus, the Light of the World. They came from nations far away—without passports or documents. They are a reminder to us that God loves and calls to himself all his people, wherever they come from, whatever language they speak or customs they have, however they look or dress.
These foreign kings needed humility to pay homage to a “king” who was so different from themselves. For me, this is a reminder that I often have a difficult time accepting other people’s positions on things. The Magi were “stretched” in their understanding of what another kind of “king” can be about. And so can I, if I dare to visit and be in the presence of the difference. Even if I don’t end up changing my mind, I can always reflect on what I learned and see differently from before. I too might have an epiphany—God’s way of revealing something I didn’t understand before.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser has a wonderful reflection on King Herod’s response to the birth of a new “king” at http://www.liturgy.slu.edu/EpiphanyB010718/reflections_rolheiser.html. Herod’s jealousy is a reminder to all of us of how we sometimes become threatened by new life or the gifts of others.
This is a rich story with a powerful challenge: what is my own reaction to new life, especially to life that threatens me, that will take away some of my own popularity, sunshine, and adulation? Can I, like the wise men, lay my gifts at the feet of the young, and move towards anonymity and eventual death, content that the world is in good hands, even though those hands are not my hands? Or, like Herod, will I feel that life as a threat and try somehow to kill it, lest its star somehow diminish my own?
To bless another person is to give away some of one’s own life so that the other might be more resourced for his or her journey. Good parents do that for their children. Good teachers do that for their students, good mentors do that for their protégés, good pastors do that for their parishioners, good politicians do that for their countries, and good elders do that for the young. They give away some of their own lives to resource the other. The wise men did that for Jesus.
How do we react when a young star’s rising begins to eclipse our own light?
Who are the “Herods” in life today? What is it that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would be running from today? What warnings do we get that lead us to continue our journey home “by another way”? What is that other way?
What Makes a Family Holy?
Do you have a favorite image of the Holy Family? What makes it your favorite image? Do you think of your own family as a “holy family”? What is it about your family that is holy? Would you consider putting your family’s picture in this frame with the title “Holy Family”?
As you read and listen to the readings this weekend, you will hear countless examples of what makes a family holy. Abram and Sarai are uncertain and afraid as they ponder the loss of a future when they are childless and old. God promises them that their family will be as countless as the stars in the sky. Imagine it! Faith and an understanding that family is expansive and includes many who are not even related by blood makes God’s promise reality. Faith isn’t intended to be a personal achievement only; it is meant to be cultivated and grown to include others as brothers and sisters. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called into an unknown future. By faith, he received power to generate children. He found God to be trustworthy. Do we have a faith strong enough to believe that seemingly impossible things will come to be in our own families?
Simeon and Anna, at the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple, highlight all that was promised by the birth of Jesus. Jesus brings peace. He fulfills God’s promises that a Messiah would come. He is one of us, human, and totally a part of the whole world, sent to the Gentiles as well as to Israel. Anna has been fasting and praying for 84 years and lives to see the coming of Jesus through waiting, learning and patience. In our holy families, we too are called to practice waiting, learning and patience.
In a sense, we “present” ourselves to the Lord each and every Sunday, each and every day! We offer ourselves to God, unfinished as we are, expecting to grow in faith and trust that God’s promises to each of us will be fulfilled in our own waiting, learning and patience. At times, we too are called to discern what God is calling us to, to obey something we don’t entirely understand.
This Christmas season gives us an opportunity to celebrate family in so many ways. May it be for us a time to rejoice in our own families. May our love and hope be as strong as that everyone felt for the infant Jesus at his birth.
And so we pray: Teach us, Holy Spirit, how to love as you and the Father and the Son love. Make each and everyone part of your holy family. Let our Nazareths be places of kind words, patience and compassion. Help us all work together for all that is good and pleasing to God who dwells in possibility.
Yes, Yes, and YES!
Mary’s YES changed everything! Can we, like Mary, say “May it be done to me according to your word”? If we really listen to God’s voice, if we are quiet and still enough to be receptive of that word, that voice, what might God be asking of each of us? We have been “living in watchfulness and waiting in wonder.” We have been faithful to those promises. What wonder awaits us this Christmas season?
Yes, we listen! Yes, we tell about what we are hearing! And yes, we like Mary can hardly wait to go visit our cousin, or our BFF or another family member to share the good news, even if we don’t fully understand the implications. We discern together, we explore together! And we say YES to all the wonders of new possibilities in our very real, very human lives! May our YES be strong!
Living in Joy
What does it mean for us to always live in joy? How is that possible when so much of life today is troubling? When so many are suffering? It seems that St. Paul gives us several ways to work at finding and maintaining hope. It is almost like a recipe in four parts. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all things. Do not quench the Spirit. Discern what is good and what is evil and refrain from the evil. WOW!
Our other readings for the day give us other hints. Isaiah presents us with a very urgent mission, a very concise job description for being followers of Jesus. We too are to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.
Our psalm reminds us of Mary’s Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Our joy is real when we can proclaim the greatness of the Lord in our own lives. How will we do that this week? Who will hear our proclamations? To whom will they be directed?
We continue our Living in Watchfulness—as a community and as individuals—searching for Jesus in our midst. He is already born and borne in us! And he is also yet to be found in unlikely places. We are Waiting in Wonder! May our wonder never cease! God fills us with awe!
Using Our Voice to Prepare the Way
Our Scriptures for this weekend are all about speaking, about being a voice. They are called exhortatory texts. In other words, they make an urgent appeal to listeners. They encourage, warn, or challenge and often include a call to action.
When a voice cries out, what does it sound like? When we cry out at the top of our voice, what does that sound like? And what do we use our voices to cry out about?
I can think of many things. When I think of what our voices can do, I know that they can hurt and I know that they can heal. I know the words of comfort that I witness at funerals. I also know the urgent voices of people marching in solidarity with those who are suffering discrimination or injustice. I witness the pleading voices of those suffering from raging fires in California, of those wanting to protect our earth, of the “Me too” victims of sexual harassment and assault, of those trying to escape domestic violence, of the Rohingya people experiencing persecution in Myanmar.
How do I use my voice and become one who, like the prophets, cries out in what seems to be a wilderness? I can challenge those in power, I can stop keeping secrets, and I can speak out for someone. I can listen to the voices, and I can act on what I know.
Ours is the task of being messengers of peace. We are also advocates, like the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist. We too participate in “preparing the way of the Lord and making straight his paths.”
Our Advent journey of Living in Watchfulness and Waiting in Wonder continues. Jesus is coming. Freedom is coming. The desire to experience Advent hope and Advent peace challenge us to use our voices.
Living in Watchfulness!
Our parish’s theme for Advent is Living in Watchfulness; Waiting in Wonder. Watching is different than waiting. Waiting is rather passive; watching implies activity and engagement. When we watch we pay keen and sharp attention. We are alert with all of our senses and ready for Jesus to come into our lives and into our world. We don’t just wait for life to happen, we are helping with the building of the Reign of God on earth.
Watching and being ready for Jesus to come into our lives means that we are spending some extra time in silence and in prayer. We pray that we become more and more aware of what is being born in our personal lives, in our family lives, in our community, and in our parish. How is Jesus coming to life in me? How am I awakening a knowledge of Jesus in my children and in my marriage or my vocation? What light is the coming of Jesus shedding on the events in our world today? Are we passively waiting for it all to get better or are we working to be beacons of compassion and voices of justice?
Jesus tells his disciples and us to not be found sleeping! Living in watchfulness means being a light in the darkness, creating paths to peace, promoting reconciliation and generating new hope for all. One way to do that is to participate in our Taizé prayer experience this evening, Dec. 1 at 7 pm in the church. It’s an excellent opportunity to practice living in watchfulness.
To See as Jesus Sees
Who are “the least”? And who is “called to serve”? These are the questions to be answered as we reflect on the Scriptures for this Sunday. Jesus is King of the Universe, but Jesus’ royalty turns everything upside down. We are invited TO SEE royalty in the least and the lowly. And we are invited to pay honor by giving aid to them.
Jesus is very clear in his directive—“Whatever you did for one of the least…of mine, you did for me.” Jesus defines the least as those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, imprisoned, and strangers in need of welcome. Many of us recognize our response to these needs as doing the corporal works of mercy. Jesus says that if we don’t care for these who are least, we do not care for him! That’s the criteria for judgment at the end of our earthly lives—actions of mercy on behalf of “the least.”
The call to be shepherd and to care for the flock is both personal and communal. As we observe our Thanksgiving weekend and prepare for the beginning of Advent, we will doubtless see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the many opportunities to see the face of Jesus in our brothers and sisters in need.
Jesus, help us to see as you see. Help us to act personally and communally in response to the needs of all—friends and strangers alike.
Giving and Receiving
Our generous God blesses us in so many ways in our St. Francis of Assisi community. Among the blessings are the gifts and talents that each of us has been given. This week we reflect on how we can multiply those gifts in service as a sign of gratitude. We also have the opportunity to reflect on what holds us back or makes us afraid to use those talents, to offer them in service to the larger community.
We have all received mercy, kindness, and unconditional love from God. Do we give that same gift to others? We have many physical, emotional, mental and spiritual abilities that can be used to better the lives of others. We have opportunities for spiritual renewal, growth, and maturity in our relationship with God, and continual access to continuing education in our faith. Are we generous in inviting others to experience the fruits of our giftedness, of our talents?
And so we pray: Gracious God, you lavish our lives with goodness and love. Create in our hearts great gratitude for the gifts and talents given to us. May we share freely and may our sharing become our pattern of existence as we continue to learn to be disciples of Jesus and to build the kingdom of God here on our precious Earth. May the gifts we have received become the gifts that we give!
How often do we hear those words? If you were a Boy Scout, you learned their meaning early in your life. For my family, be prepared usually meant, “Go to the bathroom now. We are going to church and there is no bathroom there.” Way back then, that was the truth!
Our readings for this weekend speak of a different time, the end time! It is otherwise known as the fullness of the Kingdom arriving, or the Second Coming. Jesus tells us that we never know when that will be. In the same way, we don’t know when we will die. Being prepared for death and conserving hope is part of our long-held Christian tradition. Most of us learned early that God made us to know, love, and serve God on earth and to be happy with God in heaven.
How does one prepare for death, especially in the midst of random acts of violence and terror, natural disasters of huge proportion, or the deaths of refugees seeking a better life? How do we make ourselves ready to meet the Lord each and every day? How do we stay vigilant with hope? How do we become like the “wise virgins” who keep their lamps lit with abundant oil?
First, hope in everlasting life with God asks us to not be afraid. Our much needed “oil” comes from a variety of sources. We consistently and intentionally reflect on God’s Word in Scripture, we look to the witness of Jesus, we celebrate the liturgy whole-heartedly, we live according to commandments to love unconditionally, and we seek spiritual guides or mentors. There we will find Wisdom. Paying attention to God’s presence in our lives will be our guiding light. Our lamps will burn brightly and illuminate our path. And we won’t run out of oil!
So we pray: Fill our lamps with hope so that we might be a light in the darkness. Help us to stay awake and open our hearts to act in ways that express love. And may we do all this with our eyes constantly fixed on you, God! We live in hope that you will come again to establish justice forever. This is your promise and our heart’s yearning.
Walk the Talk
Jesus often asks his disciples to practice what they preach—to walk the talk. This is appropriate behavior for religious leaders. Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of power grabbing, of seeking greatness. “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
Instead of heavy-handed teaching and interpretation, Jesus asks them to be aware of the need to walk the talk. Instead, he counsels them to be humble in their service. He reiterates the lesson Paul teaches about the gentleness of the nursing mother. The mother’s life is inseparable from the survival of her baby. She quietly disappears into the nurturing role, a role of coaching. Paul tells us that the best leadership is the kind that vanishes into its service.
This week is Vocation Awareness Week! Each of us has a unique vocation, a unique way of knowing, loving, and serving God. Vocation awareness is not about power. It is about service. It is not about seeking greatness. Only God is great!
Today we have an invitation to name the persons in our lives who disappear behind their service. What lessons do they teach us? How can we “walk the talk” in our own lives? When we lay heavy burdens on others, how do we assist them? In what ways do we have lifting fingers?
We pray: O God, help our deeds match our words and nudge us to attend to one another as a nursing mother cares for her children. Help us to know what it means to have lifting fingers and hands of service. Amen.