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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Emmanuel, God With US

   A Blessed Christmas to one and all. I had promised a video for Christmas but let's just say that due to technical difficulties it wasn't meant to be, but there are certainly many thoughts on my mind as we celebrate this wonderful feast of the Lord's birth.
 
   Over nearly 40 years of ministry as a priest some words that I often hear as Christmas approaches go something like this, "It's been tough lately. There won't be any Christmas for us this year." While I certainly resonate with and have compassion towards those who express these sentiments I would like to suggest
that there is another way to look at Christmas.  Modern advertising presents us with images of Christmas that are unreal.  There is almost always snow, but just enough and no one has to shovel it.  Families are always happy and healthy.  Alcohol is consumed, but never too much.  What happens is that we compare our lives to these images and then conclude that "There is no Christmas for me this year."

   We also mistakenly think that we are merely celebrating Jesus' birthday, and we are, but we are celebrating much more.  By only thinking of the birth of Jesus, as wonderful a moment as that must have been, we are merely commemorating a past event.  Theologian Ronald Rolheiser reminds that that the Incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by God, is not a one day, or even a 33 year, reality.  It is a mystery that continues in us to this very day.  As we celebrate the birth of Christ we are challenged to let Christ be born again in us today.  To the extent that the Christ comes alive in us  repeatedly we indeed have great cause for celebration. The nativity story told by Luke and Matthew presents us with a Christ who came in humble love to humble surroundings.  That same Christ looks to be born into our own humble surroundings, into the brokenness, pain and suffering that we experience, to bring us healing, comfort and strength and set us free.  When we understand this we can never think that there won't be Christmas for me, but rather rejoice that while we won't have a Christmas card picture Christmas we can have that special cause for real rejoicing because we know that Emmanuel, God with us, is indeed with us, in our real lives, just as they are.

   The next challenge of Christmas is realizing that through us, through our actions on behalf of the poor and marginalized of this word, Christ can be born over and over again in the world today.  If more of us take up that challenge then perhaps the words, "Peace on earth" will be more than a nice theme for our Christmas cards.

  Merry Christmas to all and a Blessed New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Surprise: Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection

   None of us likes to be called out of our comfort zone. We tend to resist change.  Yet the message of the Scripture over and over again is that our God is always calling us to change, to a new place, where God can be revealed to us more fully.  As we come to the end of Advent this truth is brought before us.  This year the Gosepl reading for this Sunday is the annunciation to Joseph. (Matthew 1:18-25) In other years the annunciation to Mary is featured, but in both cases we have people who have their wedding plans made, everything all figured out, and God intervenes calling them in a new direction, a wonderful direction to be sure, but nonetheless in upheaval in each of their lives.  The Scriptures are filled with such stories--the calls of the prophets, the call of the apostles, etc.
   Granted that you and I are not likely to have anything happen to us quite as dramatic as what happens to Mary and Joseph in these Gospel accounts, but I do know that in my own experience over the years that my greatest times of opening to God have been times of change, whether it was going to Bolivia, and then returning, accepting an assignment to the Ministry of the Word which I thought would be temporary. (It is now 23 years and counting, and constant change within that 23 years.), or having injury and sickness come my way, though fortunately not too much so far.
   Christmas is coming, a time up gift-giving.  Most of us say that we like to be surprised by the gits we receive. Perhaps true, but are we open to God's surprises in our life.  Those surprises, though mixed with challenge and difficulty, are times when our relationship with our God truly deepens and grows.
   Come Emmanuel, we say and sing, but do we really mean it?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our Lady of Guadalupe

   For the second year in a row I am on the road for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Last year I was in Paduca, KY, this year in Pahokee, FL.  As I have pointed out previously those who know me know that my preferred style of spirituality is not highly devotional, yet when I participate in this feast I am fully drawn into it. I beleive that the reason for that is the sincerity and authenticity of the people, and the power that this feast represents in their life and culture.   We Americans can be so much in our head as we worship and pray.  We hesitate to clap, sing and express our faith emotionally.  None of that here. Everyone is fully into it.  The little video clip was made at 5 AM today, not an hour when I'm usually awake, before most of the folks headed off to work in the sugar can fields around here.
  
   This feast is so important in the lives of people from Mexico and Central America because it represents a moment when God clearly was revealed as on the side of the poor.  At a time when the Spanish missionaries and Church leaders were debating as to whether the native peoples even had a soul the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego and imprinted an image of herself on his cloak for him to show to the bishop.
  
   While many of us who are of a scientific bent may raise questions to how this may have happened, I leave those questions aside and simply see it as a sign that God was saying, "You cannot neglect these wonderful people. They need to hear the Gospel too. They are part of my Church."  Today as well as we struggle with issues of immigration reform we would to well to heed the message of Guadalupe.
 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

 I'm at Mary Immaculate Parish in West Palm Beach, FL, ending a parish mission here on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Two of my brother friars offer interesting perspectives, one by a fine student friar from my province, Br. Dan Horan,OFM can be found by clicking in the link to his Blog which interestingly enough is called Dating God  Friar Dan's Blog.

The other I have copied below from the daily meditation of Richard Rohr, OFM.  Dan's is more scholarly and historical, Richard's is a meditation, but both suggest that finding meaning in this teaching is a work of continued reflection. You might note that Richard Rohr's page offers a chance too receive his daily meditations.  I highly recommend them.

Richard's Daily Meditations

 Sunrise in Honduras, (photo detail) by ©Henry Hoffman  

ADVENT

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Feast of the Immaculate Conception


As Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, he will always love one and ignore the other” (Matthew 6:24).  Our first and final loyalty is to one kingdom:  God’s, or our own.  We can’t really fake it.  The Big Picture is apparent when God’s work and will are central, and we are happy to take our place in the corner of the frame.
Because I am a part of the Big Picture, I do matter and substantially so.  Because I am only a part, however, I am rightly situated off to stage right—and happily so.  What freedom there is in such truth!  We are inherently important and included, yet not burdened with manufacturing or sustaining that private importance.  Our dignity is given by God, and we are freed from ourselves!
Today’s often misunderstood feast of the Immaculate Conception is saying that even Mary’s dignity was totally given by God from the first moment of her conception, and all she could do was thank God for it.  It was nothing she merited.  In that she is a metaphor and archetype for every human life.
Prayer starter:
Thy kingdom come!
If you are inspired by Fr. Richard's daily meditations,
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Mustard Seed Resource Center and supporting Radical Grace, the publication of the CAC!