Tag Archives: Advent

The World Waits for Mary’s Reply

The world waited for Mary’s reply, St. Bernard says:

“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

“The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
“Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
“Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word…
“And Mary says, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.'”

December 20: The Annunciation

Annunciation 

St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary, read today at Mass,  follows the announcement of the birth of John to Zechariah in yesterday’s advent readings. An angel announces that Jesus will come as her son, but Mary receives the angel so differently than the priest Zechariah. (Luke 1, 5-25,)

In the temple, where great mysteries are celebrated, the priest won’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He doubts.

In  Nazareth, a small town in Galilee and an unlikely place for a major revelation, the angel approaches Mary with a message far more difficult to grasp. “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Mary believes and does not doubt, and so by God’s power she conceives a Son who will be born in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

The Annunciation scene pictured above was placed at the beginning of a medieval prayer book with the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” Most medieval artists assumed that Mary was at home in prayer when the angel came and so they put this scene at the beginning of an hour of prayer. Prayer enables Mary to believe and accept what would come.

Isn’t that true for us all? As with Mary, prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills. “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

My community, the Passionists, still begins the prayers of the liturgy of the hours by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries beyond us. As a woman of faith, Mary knew that, and we learn from her.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.

Readings www.usccb.org

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain
durer

Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


(Dec/21/2017)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519

 

December 17: The Tree of Jesse

treeofJesse

Tree of Jesse, Chartres Cathedral

From December 17th until Christmas, we read on weekdays from the infancy narratives  of Matthew and Luke to prepare for the  Christmas feast.

Today the gospel is  Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing his ancestry as “the son of David and the son of Abraham.” Jesus’ descent from Abraham fulfilled the promise God made to him: “in your descendants all nations would be blessed,” As a descendant of David, Jesus is a royal Messiah.

Matthew’s genealogy offers a Messiah whom Jew and Gentile can claim for their Savior. His roots are worldwide, his ancestors reach beyond Palestine.

He’s not just a Jewish Messiah in Matthew’s listing. His bloodline includes women like Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba– foreigners, but also women with questionable backgrounds. In his humanity,  Jesus didn’t come from perfect ancestors or untainted Jewish royalty ; he’s rooted in all humanity. His bloodline includes saints and sinners, or can we say he comes from a line of sinners and some saints? He shares our human DNA.

Matthew obviously wants us to look at Jesus’ family tree and see it as our own. We can be at home there. The Tree of Jesse, based on Matthew’s genealogy  was a favorite subject for medieval artists working on illuminated manuscripts or creating stained glass windows for churches. A great way to see the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Luke in his genealogy goes further and sees Jesus beyond Abraham, descended from Adam. He becomes the new Adam. We are born from his side, we share his blood; he is the first born of many like us. So we pray in today’s opening prayer:

“O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature…your Only Begotten Son, having taken to himself our humanity, may you be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.” (Collect)

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


(Dec/16/2016)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Feast of St. Nicholas

You would do a little friend, or child, or relative of yours a favor if you would introduce him or her to the real Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, whose feastday is today. My good friend, Mauro DeTrizio, whose family comes from Bari, Italy, has had a lifelong devotion to St. Nicholas. He’s also a good videographer and his dream has been to produce a video on St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus.

So we teamed up to produce a couple of them as part of our campaign for saving Santa Claus. Santa’s more than a salesman; he’s a saint, and his gift for quiet giving is in the spirit of our coming season of Advent and Christmas. He mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways to save him from being captured by Macys and Walmart. Previously, we offered a version for little children. Now here’s another modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs

Saints of Advent

In the revision of the church calendar after the Second Vatican Council an effort was made to reduce the celebration of saints feast days and emphasize the celebration of the mysteries of Christ in seasons like Advent and Christmas. Why then, are we still celebrating feasts of the saints, for example, St. Francis Xavier (Dec 3), St. John Damascene (Dec 4), St. Nicholas (Dec 6), St. Ambrose (Dec 7) and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Dec 8)?

The reason is that saints are signs of holiness, and holiness is not found only in biblical times, but in every age. Holy people are not only people of the Bible, they’re found yesterday, today and tomorrow. They reveal God’s plan unfolding in time. Expressing the mystery of Christ in their time and place, saints ask us to do the same in our time and place.

St. Francis Xavier (December 3) in his time fulfilled a message powerfully  proclaimed in Advent, especially by the Prophet Isaiah– God wills his saving message be brought to all nations. He says to us “Portuguese merchants and officials brought me to the Indies in the 16th century. How are you bringing the gospel to all nations today?”

St. John Damascene (December 4) is an 8th century saint of the Eastern church whom the Roman church included in its calendar as a doctor of the church in 1890 during the pontificate of Leo XIII. By recognizing him and his teaching, the Roman church recognized the holiness and teaching of the Orthodox churches. John Damascene is a sign that God works, not just through one church, but through other churches as well. He asks us now: “How do you recognize God’s teaching in churches other than your own?”

John Damascene defended the use of images against those who saw them as impediments to knowing a transcendent God. He validated the work of Michelangelo and Bach and generations of Christian artists. We might not have Christmas creches today without him.

There’s probably not a saint more closely connected to Christmas in the popular mind than St. Nicholas, Santa Claus (December 6). The delightful story of Nicholas throwing pieces of gold into a house where three poor girls are threatened with slavery is a story that mirrors the story of the Incarnation. Jesus, the Word made flesh, a gift of God’s mercy, comes hidden as an infant into our poor world and quietly gives us eternal life, humbly asking nothing in return. 

Nicholas, Santa Claus, asks us to give quietly, humbly, in our time, as Jesus did.

St. Ambrose (December 7) was born in the 4th century into a Christian family and became a lawyer and high official of the Roman government in northern Italy. He was called by popular acclaim to be bishop, though not yet baptized! Eight days after his baptism he was ordained bishop and became one of the great Christian bishops of our church

He immersed himself in the scriptures and preached God’s word. He wrote once to another bishop: “Drink from Christ, so that your voice may be heard…He who reads much and understands much, is filled. He who is full refreshes others.”

One of those Ambrose refreshed with his preaching was St. Augustine, whom he awakened to the beauty of God’s word. He baptized Augustine and his friends and was an example to them. His voice was heard, the voice of Christ.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is remembered in a number of feasts in Advent and she has an important role in Luke’s Gospel which we read towards the end of Advent. She helps us understand so much about the coming of Jesus Christ. Do we need a reason to celebrate her in Advent and Christmas?

Saints are signs of Christ, yesterday, today and forever. They tell us to be signs of Christ in our time.

THE ADVENT WREATH

The Advent wreath– a good Advent devotion– originated in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who gathered wreaths of evergreen and lit fires during the cold December darkness as a sign of hope for spring and new light.

Christians kept these popular traditions. By the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From there, the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world.

Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens. Each day at home, the candles are lighted, perhaps before the evening meal– one candle the first week, and then another each succeeding week until December 25th. A short prayer may accompany the lighting.

Prayers for an Advent Wreath

The day the wreath is lit the leader may say:

Our nights grow longer and our days grow shorter.
We look at this candle and green branches–
and remember God’s promise to our world:
Christ, our Light and our Hope, will come.

Here are the words of Isaiah the prophet:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
on those who lived in a land as dark as death
a light has dawned.
You have increased their joy and given them gladness;
We rejoice in your presence.

Let us pray:

O God, we rejoice as we remember the promise of your Son,

Jesus Christ,

His light shines on us,

brightening our way, guiding us by his truth.

May Christ our Savior bring light into the darkness of our world, 

and to us who wait for his coming.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

1st Week

O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,

Desire of all nations.

Savior of all peoples,

Come and dwell with us. Amen.

2nd Week

O King of all nations, Jesus Christ,

Joy of every heart,

Come and save your people. Amen.

3rd Week

O Key of David, Jesus Christ,

Open heaven’s gates,

Come and let your people enter. Amen.

4th Week

O Wisdom, Word of God, Jesus Christ,

You know all things,

Come and show us the way to salvation. Amen.

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

IMG_1506

But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs

Words of Spirit and Life

Plaque with the Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, England, ca. 1160-80, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Feast of Saint Andrew

Romans 10:9-18; Matthew 4:18-22 

Brothers and sisters: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Not by our own strength alone can one confess the risen Christ, for no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). 

In an age of mass media and globalization, Christ is drowned out in the cacophonous marketplace of ideas. Yet the lone voice of Isaiah proclaims on the first Monday of Advent, 

In days to come,
The mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it (Isaiah 2:2).

The mountain is Christ, write St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great.1 The mountain that was plunged into the depths of hell and emerged victorious over sin and death—to this summit all nations and peoples aspire. 

An indistinct desire for the good has proliferated in multifarious meandering paths, religions  and philosophies from the dawn of conscious wonder. Christ, the Light of the world and desire of all nations, appeared without pomp or fanfare in swaddling clothes, yet drew the adoration of both shepherds and wise men from the East. Jews and Gentiles knelt before the vulnerable Divine Infant in silent awe. There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him (Romans 10:12).

The ocean of the world teemed with fish of all colors, shapes and sizes made for the ocean of infinite love and mercy beyond death and destruction. 

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-15a) 

The Word made flesh called ordinary fishermen to be his mouthpiece: Their voice has gone forth to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Romans 10:18; Psalm 19:4-5). 

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). St. Andrew, whom we celebrate today, and his companions dropped their nets and perishable bait to cast the words of eternal life into the ocean of tears.

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life (Psalm response from John 6:63).

-GMC

1 St. Augustine, Sermon 62A.3 and St. Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies 33.