Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ist Sunday of Advent


Edward Hicks (1780-1849), the Quaker painter, painted about 100 versions of the peaceable kingdom, based on the 11th chapter of Isaiah,  read on Tuesday of our 1st week of Advent.




1st Sunday Advent B

Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.  Psalm  80


Isaiah 63, 16b-17,19b; 64:2-7

God is our Father, Isaiah says, but we wander off, as if we had no father. “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.” But the people of his day are “like withered leaves, driven by the wind.”

1 Corinthians 1,3-9

A harmless looking selection of scripture, yet reading on you find that Paul is writing to a troubled church at Corinth, a seaport city filled with upwardly mobile people who want to get ahead in the world. There are factions in the church; people fighting for power and prestige. Some don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus and their own resurrection.

Yet, Paul still loves them like a father.

Mark 13, 33-37

We are in charge of a house, but it’s not ours. God has a claim on our life, so don’t fall asleep where you live, in your own house, your own family, your own work, your own situation or condition of life. Don’t fall asleep even if everything looks like it’s falling apart. That’s where God comes to all of us–where we are now. That’s when God comes, when things look like they’re falling apart.

Cf. Passionist homilies at


What kind of world is God coming to now?

How are things in your house?


Praying with Isaiah

In the four weeks of Advent the Prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary of Nazareth are messengers from God.  Isaiah, the first voice we hear, brings a message of hope.

Isaiah was a priest in the temple of Jerusalem in the eighth century, the worst of times, when the powerful armies of Assyria were ravaging the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

God came to him in a vision in the temple’s Holy of Holies (Isaiah 6) and Isaiah was overwhelmed by a Presence more powerful than mighty armies and their clever leaders. God is “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” no matter how bad the times.

This was Isaiah’s message then, and it’s his message for us today.

“I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’” (Is: 6:8)

Isaiah’s prophecies pervade Advent time. They may seem unreal to us, as they must have seemed unreal to those who saw Assyrian armies wasting their land.  All nations streaming toward the mountain of the Lord’s house, laying down arms of war?  All peoples, nations and races living in harmony and peace?

Today, the prophet’s promise may still seem an impossible dream in our splintered world,  But Advent revives our hope, not just a personal hope for ourselves and those dear to us, but hope for the whole world. The peaceable kingdom, seemingly impossible, is not impossible for God.

God is with us. Emmanuel.

Hanukkah and Christmas

Today I wrote a reflection for our province website entitled “Hanukkah and Christmas.” The Jewish and Christian celebrations coincide closely this year.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was present in the temple in a special way. For Christians God is present in Jesus Christ, who spoke of himself as the temple of God in this world. His presence remains and cannot be destroyed.

Many days, I look out my window at a great church across the street here in Union City  that my community had to let go of some years ago. As with many holy places nowadays,  we couldn’t keep it going financially.

It seems to me the ancient mysteries of Hanukkah and Christmas constantly repeat themselves over time. Buildings, places, however sacred, rise and fall. Jesus Christ does not rise and fall. The Christmas mystery reminds us of his abiding Presence. He is God with us, Emmanuel, and he always gives us life.

Still, we mourn when buildings go.

The Example of the Old

Today’s scripture reading at Mass from the Book of Maccabees tells of the bravery of Eleazer, an old scribe put to death during the invasion of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the Second Century BC. All Eleazer had to do was eat some pork to signify he wasn’t “addicted” to his Jewish belief and he was home free.  But he wouldn’t do it and so they put him to death.

Here’s how he explains why he wouldn’t give in:

“He told them to send him at once

to the abode of the dead, explaining:

“At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense;

many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar

had gone over to an alien religion.

Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life,

they would be led astray by me,

while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age.

Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men,

I shall never, whether alive or dead,

escape the hands of the Almighty.

Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now,

I will prove myself worthy of my old age,

and I will leave to the young a noble example

of how to die willingly and generously

for the revered and holy laws.” (2 Mac. 6, 18-31


The Eleazers are still with us. One of the reasons the church will survive is the example of its elderly.  I was with some of them last night.

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s making his way into Macy’s and Walmart and thousands of stores and countless television advertisements these days.  I’d like to save him and get him back to what he does best.

He’s a saint, and saints aren’t in the world to sell stuff. They give things away.  So instead of hearing Santa Claus say, “What do you want for Christmas? I’ll show you where to buy it.”  We should hear him asking “What are you going to give others, what are you going to do for others, this Christmas?”

The best way to get Santa Claus back to what he does best is to know his story and tell it to others.  I’m going to put up soon a little clip that  may help little children get to know him.

Nicholas  lived way back in the 4th century in the busy seaport of Myra along the Turkish coast. He’s honored today in the great church of St. Nicholas in the city of Bari along the Adriatic Coast in Italy. Let me tell you his story.

Nicholas likely belonged to one of Myra’s wealthy families who made a living on the sea. But he wasn’t spoiled growing up. His family taught him to be generous with others, because that makes you richer than anything else.

One day, Nicholas heard there a man in Myra who lost all his money when his business failed. He had three beautiful daughters who were going to get married, but there was  no money for their marriage and no one wanted to marry them because they were so poor.

They didn’t even have enough to eat, and so the father in desperation decided to sell one his daughters into slavery, so that the rest could survive.

The night before she was to be sold, Nicholas came to the window of their house and tossed in a small bag of gold and then vanished in the night.  The next morning, the father found the gold on the floor. He had no idea where it came from. He thought it was counterfeit, but it was real.

He fell to his knees and thanked God for this gift. Then he arranged for his first daughter’s wedding; there was enough left for them to live for almost a year. But he kept wondering: who gave them the gold?

Before the year ended, the family again had nothing and the father, again desperate, decided his second daughter had be sold. But Nicholas heard about it and came to the window at night and tossed in another bag of gold. Again, the father couldn’t believe it. Who gave this gift?

A year passed and their money ran out once more. One night the father heard steps outside his house and suddenly a bag of gold fell onto the floor. The man ran out and caught the stranger. It was Nicholas.

“Why did you give us the gold?” the father asked.

“Because you needed it,” Nicholas answered. “But why didn’t you let us know who you were?” the man asked. “Because it’s good to give and have only God know about it.”

When the bishop of Myra died, the people of the city along with the neighboring bishops came together in their cathedral to select a new bishop. They prayed and asked God to point out who  would it be. In a dream, God said to one of them that the next morning someone would come through the cathedral door as they prayed. He’s the one.

It was Nicholas who came through the door, and they named him their bishop. This unassuming man, so good, was meant by God to lead them.

As bishop of Myra, Nicholas was always ready to help people. He helped anyone in need and then quietly he’d disappear, without waiting for thanks. He was a holy man, and word about him spread quickly.  He always wanted families to have enough to eat and a good place to live, that children got ahead in life, and that old people lived out their lives with dignity and respect.

And he always loved the sailors on the sea. Without their ships, people wouldn’t have food and the things they need.

Nicholas is known today as Santa Claus. I like him better as St. Nicholas. He’s an example of  a “quiet giver,” the kind of person who gives and wants only God to  know about it. That’s giving of the purest kind.

The Heavenly Marathon

The New  York Marathon was run yesterday involving thousands of people. An interesting homily in the Office of Readings today ends with a glimpse into the 2nd century when they ran marathons too:

“So, my brethren, let us move forward to face the contest before us. In the contests of this world victory does not come to all competitors but only to a few who have trained hard and fought well; but in our contest, let us fight so that all may have the victory. Let us run the straight race, let us compete in the eternal contest, and let whole crowds of us steer our course towards the crown of victory. If we cannot all be victors let us at least come close.”

So in the great run of life, it’s not just one or a few that run the race. We’re all in it, “whole crowds of us.” It’s not just my run, but our run. We have to run together, and cheer each other on toward “the crown of victory.”

Nice image for the church, isn’t it?

All Souls Day

All Souls Day, says a homily I received in email this morning from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome, recognizes our fears before the mystery of death. “From the perspective of Gospel wisdom, death teaches us an important lesson because it makes us see reality without filters.  It encourages us to recognise the falling away of all that appears great and strong in the eyes of the world.  Before death every motive of human pride and jealousy is lost and instead all that is truly worthwhile reappears.”

All Souls Day is a frank admission that we find it hard to face death in ourselves and in others. It’s an experience we cannot prepare for adequately, despite all the resources of faith and reason we have at hand.

Yes, the hope of resurrection encourages us. But as a holy bishop says in our readings for the Office of the Dead:

“As we are saying all these things some unknown feeling causes us to burst into tears; some hidden feeling discourages the mind which tries to trust and to hope. Such is the sad human condition; without Christ all of life is utter emptiness.

“O death! You separate those who are joined to each other in marriage. You harshly and cruelly divide those whom friendship unites. Yet your power is broken…We do not really belong to ourselves; we belong to the One who redeemed us.”   (Saint Braulio)

This is day that recognises our “sad human condition” as its struggles to believe.  And as our prayer for today says:

“Merciful Father, as we renew our faith in your Son who you raised from the dead, strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever an ever. Amen.

All Saints

Years ago I wrote a book on the lives of the saints honored in our church calendar. Saints like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the apostles, the martyrs, founders of great religious orders, men and women recognized for their great holiness.

It was a hard book to write and I’ve never felt satisfied with it. My dissatisfaction isn’t just  from not capturing their lives as well as I would have liked. I think it’s because we can’t capture what the saints experience at all.

A saint is someone who enjoys a completed life, a life we haven’t seen yet, a life we hope for. “We feebly struggle while they in glory shine.” We can never capture the final steps of their story.

The letter of St. John we read today on the Feast of All Saints tells us that. We haven’t seen yet what God intends us to be. We haven’t completed our lives yet; we complete our lives when we join the company of the saints.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us

that we may be called the children of God.

Yet so we are…

Beloved, we are God’s children now;

what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

The saints we honor in our calendar led extraordinary lives; they were shining examples of faith, hope and love and changed the world they lived in.  What’s interesting about today’s feast of All Saints is its promise that they’re not the only ones in heaven. There are unnumbered saints in God’s company, saints who lived obscurely, without any sign of the extraordinary.

People like us.

I like St. Bernard’s advice about saint-watching in today’s Office of Readings:

“We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory.”