Saturday, December 31, 2011

“Happy New Year ” First Week of the Year, January 1-7, 2012

To understand all this week’s readings — and human life itself — see this world as a staging area. That is what it is. To see it as anything else falsifies human existence from top to bottom.

God created humans for one reason only: to share his own divine life and happiness with them forever. But he puts us first in a staging area where we will have time to integrate the human life we receive at birth and the divine life we receive at Baptism. Doing this, helping others to do it, and creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to do it, is what human life is all about. The beginning of the New Year is a good time to remember this. A good New Year’s Resolution would be to decide on ways to keep ourselves aware of it.

The basic principle is: We make all that is human in us divine by making all that is divine in us human. This began with the Incarnation and birth of Jesus, which we celebrate, fittingly, on January 1, Feast of Mary, Mother of God. Jesus made a seed of Mary’s human flesh divine by making the divine in himself human in her. And when we give our human bodies in Baptism to become the divine body of Jesus on earth, his divinity begins to work with, in and through our human acts of thinking, choosing, speaking and acting, gradually conforming all we are to all he is.

This is what the staging area is for. We use our time on earth to grow into Christ, or let Christ “grow to full stature” in us, by putting to human use all the divine gifts we receive with grace (the life of God in us). The gift of faith lies dormant in us until we put it to work in human reflection, and express it in human thoughts and words: for example, calling God “Our Father” with awareness of what we are saying and pondering what it means.

As we absorb the mysteries of faith, they give us hope, which we express in action by striving for the “perfection of love.” As we translate these divine gifts into human action, all that is human in us operates more and more as divine, by the power of Jesus in us.

This world is a staging area in which humans help other humans to arrive, survive and thrive. We are constantly shifting, and helping others to shift: first from the “arrival dock,” where we become aware of who we are and what our divine-human identity is, to the “instruction area,” where we commit ourselves to learn what the five stages of progress are and how to advance through them (discipleship). When we are mature enough to work, we advance ourselves by helping others advance: first by dedication (as prophets) to making known the Good News of the Kingdom that is our destination; then by surrendering more deeply (as priests) to the reign of Christ in us, letting him express himself through our bodies to enhance the divine life of others; finally, by totally abandoning ourselves to live, work and long for nothing else (as stewards of his kingship) except to bring all in the staging area to the “point of embarkation” for the city that is our true home, that God has prepared for us.

Try keeping this explanation in mind as you read the Scriptures for this week.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

“Merry Christmas ” First Week of Christmas, December 25-31, 2011


Christmas brings families together — at least in memory, when they cannot be physically. And this is what Jesus came to do: to bring the whole human race together as one family whose Father is God; in whom Jesus as Son is visible and growing to “full stature” by the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit.

Christmas is togetherness. And that is the mystery of God’s Being: God is the togetherness of Father, Son and Spirit: the Trinity.

It is striking to see how the roles of each Person of the Trinity appear in the Mass readings for Jesus’ birth:

Vigil Mass: “For the child [Son of the Father] conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Midnight Mass: A son is given to us.... called: Wonderful Counselor [Holy Spirit], Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince [Son] of Peace.”

Mass at Dawn: They shall be called “The Holy People” [Holy Spirit, Sanctifier], “The Redeemed of the LORD” [Son, Jesus]; “Cared For,” “A City Not Forsaken” [by the Father, God of the Covenant]. And “He saved us... through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he [the Father] poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ [Son] our Savior.”

Mass during the Day: “They see the LORD [Yahweh, Father] restoring Zion.... for the LORD comforts his people [Holy Spirit, the Comforter], he redeems Jerusalem” [Jesus, Son]. “The Word [Son] was with God [the Father].... In him was life, and the life was the light [Holy Spirit] of all people.”

The readings all week tell us what this family is in which we find — and need to be constantly aware of — our identity. We are different. Stephen’s martyrdom reveals us as a people who live to die and die to live forever in Christ. John’s feast focuses us, as he does, on the “koinonia,” “communion, fellowship,” that should not only exist but be visible among us — which requires that we keep ourselves aware that we are all alive in Christ and as Christ.

The readings for the feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us we are a community, not of the righteous, but of the redeemed. Our “innocence” is not in our “perfect record,” but in our incorporation into Christ’s death that “takes away” our sin. When Jesus is held up at Mass as the “Lamb of God,” we are all invited to Communion. We receive Communion, not to proclaim we are “innocent,” but to say we are sinners with hope. Thursday’s readings tell us that to “keep the Commandments” means, first of all, to keep God’s words, his laws, in our hearts. We judge ourselves by the deep faith and desire we find in our hearts, not just by the success or failure of our external law observance. It is “Phariseeism” to judge ourselves or others simply by behavior.

The feast of the Holy Family — three persons united, like the Trinity, in the “communion of the Holy Spirit — promises us a “posterity” from the Father (blessed will be the fruit of our lives). It calls us to embody in our family life the love and truth Jesus embodied as Son, the Word made flesh. And it calls us (in the full text of the alternate reading from Hebrews) to design our family lifestyle by interaction with the Spirit in faith, so that our family life will bear witness to the world that we live here “as in a foreign land,” looking forward to “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” John tells us, on the last day of the year, that we “know we know God” when our “anointing” by the Holy Spirit keeps us united to one another in the expression of our faith.

Being family is what the life of the Trinity — in God and in us — is all about.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

“Let the Clouds Rain Down... ” Fourth Week of Advent, December 18-24, 2011


This is the week before Christmas. What it is all about is awareness, which is the first phase of growth into the fullness of life that Jesus came to give. Advent alerts us to look forward to the “blessed hope and the manifestation (the liturgy says “coming, advent”) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Christmas is all about Jesus as Savior.

Saturday (O Wisdom) focused on Jesus as the measuring rod of perspective who “shows us all things framed between their beginning and their end.”

Sunday’s readings make the point that Jesus is a divine Savior who came to give us divine life — not just human wellbeing.

Monday (O Offspring of the Root of Jesse) tells us Christ’s human-divine presence in our up-and-down world (and Church) as a contining member of our sinning race gives us hope.

Tuesday (O Key of David) says the Key to Christianity and Christian living is Jesus leading us out of the “prison” of merely human perspectives and into the freedom of “divine-dimensional” life.

Wednesday (O Rising Dawn) tells us God made human in Jesus is the divine, eternal light of God shining in a new way every day through the changing atmosphere (circumstances) of human life on earth — and through the diversity of his human members’ responses to different situations.

Thursday (O King of Nations) shows us Jesus “politically involved” in bringing unity, peace and happiness to earth by giving us divine gifts that work independently of human power and circumstances — if we remain aware of them and use them.

Friday (O Emmanuel – “God-with-us”) caps our preparation for Christmas by pinpointing the essence of Christianity, which is “God with us.” Paul said the mystery he preached was simply “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The Christian greeting repeated in the Mass liturgy as “God be with you” is an edited version of the Latin “Dominus vobiscum,” which simply says, “God with you.” That is the whole Christian message in a nutshell. When we answer, “And with your spirit,” we are not narrowing our focus to some kind of spiritual presence of God just in our “souls.” We are calling each other to be aware “in spirit” that God is present in our bodies as well as in our minds and hearts. By Baptism we became the “body of Christ.” He speaks in our human words, touches people with our human hands, helps them through our human actions. We are “Emmanuel” — God still with the human race, God still in the world in human flesh as one of us.

When we say the WIT prayer — “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me” — we are reminding ourselves of the core truth of our religion, “God with us.” God with us, not just as a companion by our side, but as dwelling within us, acting in us and through us as his own body.

The body born at Bethlehem was just the beginning. Jesus is “born again” every time a baby is baptized.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

“Blessed be the Lord... He promised of old” : Third Week of Advent, December 11-17, 2011


This week is the mid-point of Advent. Three things change. 1. This Sunday the presider’s “chasuble” (“little house” – the all –covering Mass vestment) is rose-colored to express joy. The opening Scripture verse is “Rejoice... the Lord is near.” That is why this is called “Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday.” 2. On Saturday, because it is December 17, we begin using the second Advent Preface, and also 3. the weekday prayers and readings go into “countdown mode,” ruled by the “O Antiphons.” These are seven special “Alleluia” verses that introduce the Gospel, all beginning with “O” and a title of Jesus: “O Wisdom,” “O Lord and Leader,” etc. They invite rich reflection on who Jesus is and what he came to be for us.

My suggestion for this week is to read prayerfully every morning the Benedictus. That is Zachary’s hymn (Luke 1:68-79) found in the Pocket Prayer Guide bound into your reflection booklet entitled “Our Father... in Heaven.” This is a wonderful way to start each day of Advent and Christmas.

It reminds us — and remember, the first phase of spiritual growth embodied in the first phrase of the Our Father is awareness — that God has “come to his people and set them free.” Think of all you would like to be freed from. God has freed you from any and every thing that can really harm you or keep you from “life to the full.”

He has done it by “raising up a mighty Savior” — a man who is God: Jesus. And he is “accredited” — “born of the house of his servant David.” Jesus is still saving us, present and acting through “in house” saviors, the members of his body on earth today. Through sons and daughters of the Father who can trace their lineage back through all the generations of Christians to the community who gathered around the first Twelve Apostles and the historical Jesus.

“Through his holy prophets he promised....” and is realizing the promise through the prophetic voices still being raised in the Church. Voices that speak truth, denounce corruption and call for reform. Voices in which we hear God promising still to “free us from the hands of our enemies,” whoever and whatever they are.

“To show mercy to our ancestors.” Look at the mercy God has shown to his Church! To his sinful Christians who in “Catholic” Europe slaughtered each other for centuries in endless wars, many in the name of religion. Who persecuted Jews and heretics, oppressed the poor, bought and sold ecclesiastical positions and honors. The priests were ignorant, the bishops often without any religious spirit at all: political lords who plundered and fought petty wars for power. Yet God has maintained his mercy toward us— because of “his holy covenant.” Why doubt he is doing it today?

“Free to worship him.” Nothing can prevent us from that. Whether the liturgy is done well or not, we know who awaits us at Mass and what he does for us — and invites us to do with him. We are always free to worship him, without fear that anything or anyone can prevent us. “Blessed be the Lord... He has promised.”

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

For “Those with a Journey to Make”: Second Week of Advent, December 4-10, 2011


Advent calls us to look forward to the Good News. What this really means is to get serious about faith formation.

What Isaiah calls the “Holy Way” is for “those with a journey to make.” It is an axiom in the spiritual life that there is no such thing as standing still. If you are not going forward, you are falling behind. If not growing, you are stagnating.

The “comfort” God offers in Advent is the proclamation that there is a way. We can grow into a more exciting, enriching life if we want to. Jesus designed the Church to be a hotbed of energy, enlightenment and growth. If your parish is not that, someone needs to exercise some leadership. Why not you?

We may have grown up with a distorted, because incomplete, “Fear of the Lord.” True Fear of the Lord is simply perspective. It is the gift of seeing how good God is and how unsatisfying everything else is in comparison. How powerful God is and how insane it is to oppose him. But the Good News is that God uses his power “to give strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.” It is the Pharisees who pass off “heavy burdens” as religion. Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” Whom do we believe? If we believe Jesus, why are we not eagerly shouldering the “light burden” of growing into the fullness of life?

What is the alternative? If I don’t choose the way of growthful discipleship what am I choosing? To just react haphazardly to stimuli, bouncing blindly off of life’s experiences like a pinball? To follow the values of the culture? To make myself — my opinions, my desires — the criterion of truth and goodness? This is the definition of the capital sin of Pride. It is a straight shot to insanity.

Some say they are leaving the Church because of the priests or the congregations. If so, they were never there because of Jesus. It is really the message they can’t stand, not the messengers. People criticized Jesus himself more than we do the clergy. To accept Jesus we have to accept everyone. And accept to be crucified by them. This is what turns us off.

Our prayer in Advent is, “Lord, make us turn to you.” But we should not expect him to do it by scaring us. God did this through the Old Testament prophets. But when Jesus came, the time for fear tactics was over. Instead of killing his enemies to show us his power, he died to show us his love. The perspective that “Fear of the Lord” reveals to us in Jesus is the difference, not between God’s power and ours, but between his unbounded love and anything we can imagine.

If we accept to follow the “Holy Way” of faith formation — of committed discipleship — we will come to know our Father as he is. And this is “eternal life”: to know the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.

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