Tag Archives: Advent

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.

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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

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

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.

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originated early on in the church of Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem tradition claims Mary was born there near the temple where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann, old and childless, were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, situated today next to the ancient temple site, is built on the place where Mary was born, tradition says. Other places, like Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also claim to be her birthplace.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition has some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. Was Mary’s family connected to the temple?

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says they brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Jesus calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

The apocryphal  gospel of James suggests Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and suggests she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. The four gospels seem to place Mary in Nazareth, far from the temple, for most of her life. That’s where the angel speaks to her.    

Can we say that for Mary the temple where prophets and wisdom can be found  signifies God’s presence. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary.(cf. John 4, 22-26) “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. Three hundred years ago today, he received the habit of a hermit from Bishop Gatinara in northern Italy, and a few days later entered upon a 40 day retreat where he experienced the presence of God. He named the first retreat of his congregation after the mystery of Mary’s Presentation and returned to that retreat each year, when he could, to pray there during her feast.

Please pray for the Passionists, the community he founded, that we may find God’s presence today and gain wisdom from Mary, the Mother of God.

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!

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent

Isaiah


Yesterday, Second Isaiah said to the exiles in Babylon: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” In today’s reading Jesus says:“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” A favorite reading.

Notice Jesus speaks to the “crowds” in Matthew’s gospel, not just to the disciples who know him or to the Jewish Christian church Matthew wrote for at the end of the first century.  God’s love and God’s promises reach far beyond the circle of disciples or the church.  Jesus Christ reaches out to refresh the world that labors and is burdened, even if it doesn’t know him.

Who does Second Isalah speak to? Scholars say today’s readings that begin with the 40th chapter of Isaiah come, not from Isaiah the priest who spoke in Jerusalem as Assyrian armies threatened the city in 8th century BC, but from an unknown prophet speaking to Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries later. He urges them to return to Jerusalem and build it up. He uses Isaiah’s name and language, perhaps,  to avoid trouble with Babylonian’s leaders for suggesting such a thing .

Not many Jews returned to Jerusalem at his call. historians say. Some did, but others were not interested in the prophet’s invitation. Taken captive to Babylon centuries before, they’re part of the place now. Babylon’s their home. They have families and jobs there; Jerusalem is far away and its future uncertain.

Yet, many remain faithful Jews in Babylon, and in Rome and other parts of the world in exile. Later, the Christian church became established in the world through them. 

We need to study Judaism more fully as a template for our own church today, I think, especially the mystery of Exile. We’re now experiencing an exile in our church– in the United States for every one person who join’s us, six leave. We need to study the exile of the Jews. 

Will those we lose be our way to become a more universal church?

The unknown prophet in today’s readings warns Jewish exiles not to abandon God for Babylon’s gods. 

“To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One…
Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.”

We have to pray for our own exiles. God still holds them in his hands, sustains and comforts them, even if they do not know him or seem to care.  God’s Spirit is still within them.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We tend to see the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, which says that Mary was preserved from original sin from conception, as a gift just for her and not affecting us at all,  a gift that makes her unlike us.

St. Anselm, the 12th century monk, later archbishop of Canterbury, sees it differently. Mary shows us what being human and being part of God’s creation was meant to be. She’s the first to be blessed by Jesus Christ, her son. All of us, yes creation itself,  benefit from the gift:

“Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to our power or use – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless to us or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by human acts of idolatry. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices.

“The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God, its Creator, it sees God openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

“Through the fullness of the grace given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

“Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.”

2nd Sunday of Advent: “Go with Joy”

In the time of Jesus pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. A picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s shows that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.Jericho Rd  3
Jericho road modern

Now travelers go that route in air-conditioned buses. It took ancient travelers four days. Not it’s a few hours.

The bible sees the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding desert road as a symbol of our journey to God. We’re pilgrims on our way, The way’s still hard, even with air-conditioned buses.

John the Baptist preached where that winding, climbing road began. His father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told him at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)

John invited weary pilgrims into the refreshing waters of the Jordan river, that they might be strengthened for the journey.

John Baptist preaching

Last week readings warned about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week readings remind us the day by day journey can tire us,  Life can wear us out, even a life doing good.

Then, unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments, come along, robbing our energy. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on this road to Jerusalem. Unexpected things happen.

John the Baptist, and the Prophet Isaiah before him, spoke to weary pilgrims. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…They spoke words of hope to those on the way:

With God’s help, the winding, climbing, wearying road becomes a highway; every valley  filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the rugged land  made plain, the crooked way straight.

The Lord is ” a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11) So don’t be afraid.

Advent is a beautiful season. “Go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”

What You Find in the First Week of Advent

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged..

In the Old Testament readings,  the Prophet Isaiah speaks as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.

The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says.  They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday),  the poor will triumph (Thursday),  the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet  challenges us to see our world in another way.

In the gospels  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday)  Jesus praises the childlike;  they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday)  He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday)  He gives sight to the blind to find their way.  (Friday)

Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope.

Lord, help us see what you and the prophets see.

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