Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Word Made Flesh

Questions about Jesus Christ didn’t end with Mary and Joseph who brought him into the world and raised him in Nazareth. They continue. The birth of Jesus has consequences not settled in a day.

The 3rd century Roman theologian Hippolytus faced questions about Jesus Christ asked in his time– similar in many ways to what some ask today.

Why pay attention to Jesus Christ at all?

In Hippolytus’ day some believed there was a supermarket of revelations about God, a pantheon of divine beings, all acceptably true. The Roman empire tolerated many beliefs and systems, as long as they did not threaten the empire and its institutions.

Hippolytus called Jesus Christ the unique Word of God. “He is the Word who made the universe, the Savior you sent to redeem us.” Words of Hippolytus found in our 2nd Eucharistic Prayer.

Addressing the Jews, the Roman theologian claimed  the prophets spoke “dimly” about God’s Word. Now the Word made flesh speaks clearly through his humanity, and so listen to Jesus Christ.

To the gentile world, Hippolytus also spoke about the Word, Creator and Redeemer. Yet, like today, his world was awash in various philosophies and beliefs. What’s his message among so many?

We turn away quickly from the Christmas story today, too quickly, and return to the “real world.”  Practical concerns have to be dealt with. Yet, how can they be dealt with if we neglect the great fundamental truths that anchor everything.

So speak out, Hippolytus and those like you, even if you’re not heard. Truth must be told, and told insistently.

Still Wondering

 

We don’t stop wondering at the Christmas crib. Christmas is over for most people today. The tree’s taken down, decorations put away. But the Christmas mystery is too big for a one day celebration; that’s why the church prepares for this celebration through the four weeks of Advent and continues through the days of the Christmas season till the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas Day may be over, but our celebration and reflection on the Christmas mystery is not over.

This mystery raises questions and has consequences, which the feasts that follow Christmas Day explore. Since ancient times churches of the east and west have celebrated the feast of Stephen, one of the first disciples of Jesus and the first to die giving witness to him. (Acts 6,8 ff) on December 26.

When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) But Stephen would be stoned to death when he told about the One who was sent. The message will not always be heard, yet still must be told. 

“The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven,” St. Fulgentius says of the martyr Stephen.

December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents;  little children from Bethlehem put to death by Herod the Great so no rivals would challenge his power and throne. (Matthew 2, 13-18) When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) Yet Herod the Great heard the message and tried to end it. The birth of Jesus does not bring an end to evil in the world. The Child is born “for to die for poor orn’ry creatures like you and like I.”  

December 27th is the feast of St. John, the apostle. This is another feast celebrated along with the Christmas feast by all the churches of the east and west from earliest times. It explores the great question: Who is this Child born of Mary? Writings identified with John the Apostle– the 4th Gospel and letters–  are read at Mass on Christmas Day and days that follow the feast. 

Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is true God and true man, “the Word made flesh, the Word of God who made all things, dwells among us.”

Like the shepherds who watched in the darkness we need to keep our eyes on this sign of light:  “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Like Mary, we need to keep reflecting on this mystery in our heart to appreciate what it means for the world and for us. Like Joseph we don’t stop wondering.

 

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December 24: The Dawn from On High

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The birth of John the Baptist. Luke’s gospel says, is closed connected to the birth of Jesus. today. We celebrate the two births as we draw near to Christmas.  Struck dumb by doubt,  John’s father Zechariah speaks again as he agrees to the child’s name. “John is his name.”

John Baptist birth

Artists often portray the birth of John in a room with midwives attending Elizabeth at his birth, but Luke’s gospel portrays Zechariah his father singing a song at his birth.. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us. For you, my child,  shall go before the Lord to prepare his way, by the forgiveness of sins”  He sees the birth of John in a larger perspective.

“The dawn from on high shall break upon us.” A new day can dawn in a spectacular way at times. I saw daybreak over New York City a few years ago from our house in Union City. Shortly before, the city was dark, then the day broke to bathe it in gold.  What promise daybreak holds!

These days, darkened by political unrest worldwide, poverty,  terrorism, racial problems and homelessness, we need grace from on high. Christmas comes at a good time.

Readings here.

O King of all nations and keystone of the church,  come and save us whom you formed from the dust.

Friday Thoughts: Pure Extra Virgin

by Howard Hain

william-dyce-the-garden-of-gethsemane-1860

William Dyce, “The Garden of Gethsemane”, 1860*


To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night.

—Psalm 90:4


.One good olive.

There are so many factors.

The altitude. The light. The soil. The temperature. The rainfall. The wind. The dew point and humidity. The age of the tree.

Then there are those factors that we can control: pruning, watering, fertilizing, fanning, netting, and wrapping chilly trees with burlap or fleece.

And of course there are those other factors, those that fall somewhere in-between, between our control and our complete lack thereof: most of these relate to the sneaky work of numerous little thieves—animals, birds, insects, and perhaps even fellow farmers or other hungry travelers who just happen to pass by.

But when all is said and done—when all the factors are poured into the olive equation, mixed-up well, and left to unify or settle out—the fruit that’s produced by the world’s most nostalgic, symbolic, and romantic of trees means very little (at least in digestive terms) if it’s simply left to shrivel up and fall to the ground.

———

Picking an olive is perhaps the highest part of the art.

———

When to do so? And toward what end?

If too early, great potential is squandered.

If too late, great taste is lost.

If indecisive, we might as well let nature enjoy it for the time being—for one way or another—God’s process will eventually return it to the earth.

———

And yet, we’re still not done, for even if the olive is picked at just the right time, from just the right tree—the one that has grown in all the right circumstances—when it comes to the culmination of olive production, all is moot if the precious fruit of the womb is never squeezed.

For no matter how good the olive, without applied pressure, there’s nothing left to be labeled “pure extra virgin”.


.But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a women…

—Galatians 4:4


 

* Gethsemane is the name of a garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It appears in the Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.

 

(Dec/23/2016)

 

Readings: 3rd Week of Advent


DECEMBER 16 SUNDAY THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Zep 3:14-18a/Phil 4:4-7/Lk 3:10-18 (9)

17 Monday Advent
Gn 49:2, 8-10/Mt 1:1-17 (193)

18 Tuesday Advent
Jer 23:5-8/Mt 1:18-25 (194)

19 Wednesday Advent
Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a/Lk 1:5-25 (195)

20 Thursday Advent
Is 7:10-14/Lk 1:26-38 (196)

21 Friday Advent
[Saint Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church]
Sg 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a/Lk 1:39-45 (197)

22 Saturday Advent
1 Sm 1:24-28/Lk 1:46-56 (198)

Jack Frost

Anyone who reaches 92 years, as Jack Frost did, leaves a trail of stories. Many at his funeral December 12, 2018 in Spring Lake, New Jersey, had their stories, some more than others. Jeannie, his wife of 67 years, had plenty to tell. They had 7 children, 20 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren. St. Margaret’s church was filled with his family and friends.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats tells a life story, surely his own, in a poem called “What then?” After each stage of life the question’s raised– ‘What then?’ What comes after this? The poem ends with the same question, “What then?”

What then? What comes after this? That the question we have, hoping for an answer, as we bring someone who has died to church. Is there an answer in this place of faith?

Faith is not seeing or science or reason. Faith is God’s way of speaking to us. As Christians we believe he spoke to us through Jesus Christ, and so we look for the signs we have here. Signs don’t say it all, of course, sometimes they’re not presented very well on our part, sometimes we’re not ready to see them. Even so, God speaks through them .

As we brought Jack’ body to the church the other day, the signs were there. The first thing we did was to bless him with holy water and place a white cloth on him as a sign of his baptism. What does that sign say?

Some days before he died, I visited Jack in hospice at Jersey Shore Hospital. HIs wife, five of their children and some of their children were all crowed into the room. A friend came in with a small bottle of holy water from a Marian shrine in Maryland. Jack was drifting in and out. “Jack, I’d like to bless you with this water,” I said, “ to remind you that God made you his child at your baptism and gave you gifts. You certainly used those gifts well over the years. Just look around this room. You did a good job.”

At that, everyone in the room started to clap “Good job, Dad. A good job.” Jack’s face lit up in a big smile. He was leaving this life to applause. I could still hear it as we brought his body into church. “Welcome, good and faithful servant,” the Lord must have said.

“Love makes one little room an everywhere” an English poet wrote. Jack had a great devotion to the Mass. It wasn’t something he had to do, a thing of duty; he wanted to be there. Instinctively, he understood what the poet said: “Love makes one little room an everywhere.” At his funeral Mass we brought him close to the altar in church.

“Love makes one little room an everywhere.” Every once in awhile when Jack wasn’t able to get to church and I was able, my sister and I would go over to the Frost’s to have Mass. Only the four of us, in a little room, but the world of everywhere was there. The world of the past, the world now, their kids’ world, even the world of politics somehow was in that one room. That’s what the Mass does: it brings the world of everywhere to God through Jesus Christ.

As we gathered in St. Margaret’s church for the Mass on Wednesday a wonderful grace seemed to settle on us all. A communion of saints was there, the saints now in glory, the saints struggling below. All together, we were drawn into that mystery.

When I left the dinner after the funeral Jeannie’s kids were all around their mother, their arms around each other, singing songs they sang as kids. “Good job, Jack.”

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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

by Howard Hain

.

And we have seen his glory,

the glory of an only Son coming from the Father,

filled with enduring love.

—John 1:14


.

The power of God.

A tiny leaf caught between two worlds

Suspended by invisible threads

Dancing to the still small voice.

Deeper and deeper

Into the person

The Son of Man

Who is God.

Glory.

And Might.

Power.

And Majesty.

Fully Alive.

Beautifully Human.

Walking Wisdom.

The Lightness of Fullness.

The Heaviness of Simplicity.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Honor.

Adoration.

And Praise.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Beyond praise.

The Power of One.

He Is.

We’re not.

He stands.

We fall down.

He dies.

We live.

Doxa to the Father.

Doxa to the Son.

Doxa to the Holy Spirit.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Between two worlds.

Is a man.

Who says “I AM”.

A tiny leaf suspended.

He is Lord.

He is God.

Invisible threads.

He Is.

And so now are we.

Dancing.

Still.

Small.

Voice.

The Word.

The Depth.

Beyond the signs.

To the Person Himself.

The Person of Jesus.

Deeper.

And deeper.

Into His flesh.

Into His Glory.

Doxa is Thy Name.

Dwelling among us.

Abiding within us.

Still small leaves caught between two worlds.

Suspended by invisible threads.

Dancing to the breath of God.

From deep to deep.

Depth to depth.

It never ends.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Doxa in the highest.


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(May 6, 2017)