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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Blessed Christmas to all--For Unto Us A Child Is Born

 This past year has been filled with so many incredible blessings and great experiences. The list includes another trip to Honduras, the publication of my book, The Wandering Friar, as well as the great reception the book has received at parish missions and various book signings, the opportunity to appear on Catholic TV to celebrate Mass and to be interviewed about the book,  the great send-offs given to me by the parishes in northern Wisconsin that I have served over the past 18 years. As wonderful as all of these events were, the top moment of the year by far was the birth of my grandniece Madeline Elizabeth Donahue on May 11 to her proud parents Kevin and Michelle, that along with her Baptism in August.

    Although I have only been to Boston twice since Madeline's birth--her baptism in August and again on a family visit at Thanksgiving--I have delighted in the impact that she has had on her parents, grandparents, and everyone in our family, an impact that I became keenly aware of when I began to prepare this Christmas reflection.  One of my favorite parts of Handel's Messiah is the chorus, For Unto Us a Child is Born, based on a prophecy found in Isaiah.

     What happens when a child is born unto us?  In the case of the arrival of Madeline she certainly brought great joy.  She has a beautiful smile to heighten that joy and like any little baby she just draws the love right of of you.  The pictures below of her and of her with her grandmother Laureen illustrate all of that.  In addition a little baby has to be cared for and nurtured, a 24 hour job of feeding, changing, bathing, soothing and so much more.  I admire the way that her parents share that responsibility, which is also shared by her four grandparents and her aunt Laurie.

 
Loved by Nana
  Now what does all of this tell us about Christmas?  A great deal I think.  We gaze upon the newborn child in the manger.  He is sent by the Father as a gift of love to all of us, but he also evokes love from us, just as Madeline and any newborn baby does.  The challenge for us is that Jesus needs to be cared for in all kinds of ways.  In humbling himself to come down to us as a baby born in a manger He trusted that He would be cared for.  Think of that, God needing us to provide care.  Now Mary and Joseph did a great job. they did all the things that Madeline's parents, Kevin and Michelle, are doing and even more because there were no modern conveniences. The apostles took a while before they stepped up to the plate  .  But
Madeline's winning smile

      Do we realize that He also trusts us to care for Him today?  How is that so. We often think of the great mystery of the Incarnation, of God taking on flesh, as a 33 year event that ended with the Resurrection and Ascension.  But that was only the beginning.  That mystery continues today in the Church and in the sacraments. Jesus is among us and through the Spirit dwells in us.  We care for Him well in our life of prayer and in reverently approaching Him in the Eucharist.  But there is another way in which He is so often neglected.  In the oft-quoted 25th chapter of Matthew we are told, "I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, sick or imprisoned and you visited me." How is the Christ being cared for in that way?  By many that job is being well done, but by others not so much.  I have to admit that I have lived on both sides of that equation.

      This Christmas may our hearts be filed with joy because unto us a child is born.  We celebrate not only that He was born all those years ago in Bethlehem, but that He desires to be born in us today, in our own lives and most especially in the lives of the so many poor and needy where He awaits our loving care.

    Merry Christmas Everyone!
As a special treat listen to the London Symphony Orchestra Rendition of For Unto Us a Child is Born
                                            

Monday, December 23, 2013

Friar Alessandro--An Angelic Voice





  I'm getting my Christmas blog message ready but in the meantime I just thought I'd share with you a beautiful rendition of the popular Italian Christmas carol by Friar Alessandro, a young friar who lives in Assisi and has hit the world stage with his beautiful singing voice.
  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rejoice in the Lord always, Gaudete Sunday

 The word joy has been in the Catholic mindset quite often in recent months mainly due to the influence of Pope Francis, especially after his recently published apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Guadium (The Joy of the Gospel) Today the Church officially brings "Joy" to the forefront with the Third Sunday of Advent being called "Gaudete" or "rejoice" Sunday.  Along with Laetare (which also means rejoice) Sunday which comes in the middle of Lent we have two days placed in the middle of penitential seasons that call us to have joy, to rejoice.  On both of these Sundays the priest is asked to wear rose colored vestments to indicate this call to rejoice.

   What, though, does it mean to have joy, to rejoice.  The fact that both of these Sundays are placed in the middle of penitential seasons ought to give us a clue.  The word joy has several shades of meaning. We could say that there was joy in my home city of Boston this year when the Red Sox won the World Series. Indeed there was joy, but the joy of vicariously celebrating the triumph of one's favorite local athletes, though wonderful, is a fleeting joy. It doesn't really help anyone to eal with life's problems and challenges.

  More to the point is the joy of a married couple celebrating an anniversary after many years of living the Sacrament of Matrimony.  I was delighted to participate a few weeks ago in the surprise 40th Anniversary of my brother Michael and his wife Laureen.  Their joy was a deep one because they had endured many challenges over those 40 years including Michael's suffering a stroke last year. They have raised two beautiful daughters and now are grandparents. They were able to celebrate that their love for each other and their faith in God had sustained them through all the ups and downs that marriage presents.

  On the level of faith joy does not mean being in a state of bliss that removes us from our problems. If we read Pope Francis work closely we see that joy for Christians comes from encountering Christ and from knowing through that encounter that even though we may have to carry the cross there is live and resurrection on the other side of the cross. This is why we talk of "celebrating" the Mass because in the Eucharist that living encounter with Christ is renewed. The Mass is indeed both a sacrifice and a celebration because their cannot be joy without sacrifice--in marriage, in religious life, in the priesthood, in life in general.

   To sum this up I refer you to a meditation that I heard several years ago during Holy Week.  In this reflection it was stated that little children have fun. They play.  Even as adults we like to have fun, and fun is a good thing if we seek the right kind of fun.  But fun is not joy.  In late childhood and adolescence we are more likely to experience pleasure.  Pleasure is something wonderful, but also dangerous.  We can seek pleasure all to easily in the wrong things, or make it an end in itself.  Nonetheless it is good, but it is not joy.

  Finally when Jesus was dying on the cross He was certainly not having fun, nor was He experiencing pleasure.  His heart though was filled with joy because He was pouring out His love for us.
The Letter to the Philipians (4:4) tells us "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice"

  May your lives be filled with true joy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

O Come Emmanuel! It's Advent, A Time of Hope and Challenge

   I imagine that most Catholics, if asked, "What is Advent?" would reply, "It is the time when we prepare for Christmas."  This answer, of course, is correct, but it is only half of the answer, half of the explanation of what Advent is about.

  Actually as we begin this season the Church focuses our attention not on Christmas, but on the Second Coming of Christ.  In other words, as we prepare to celebrate the First coming we get ready for the next.  How are we to go about that preparation?

   Unfortunately talk of the Second coming conjures up images of "the end of the world" and many of the recent movies showing the earth being destroyed in a myriad of ways.  Thinking in this way unfortunately evokes fear and leads us to shy away from this topic.  I close look at Scripture and the prayers of the liturgy offer us another way of looking at the end times.  After the Our Father at Mass we say a beautiful prayer that states that "We await the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ."  No fear in that statement.  The Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent this year talk of "spears being turned into pruning hook.s and nations not waging war again." (from the prophet Isaiah). Other Scriptures speak of the heavenly banquet which is foreshadowed in the Eucharist.  Far from instilling fear these images offer us hope, a hope that while the world may be now in turmoil, the coming of Christ will usher in a Messianic era of peace, joy and justice.

   All of the above could be so much pie in the sky if we did not see the challenge implied in this belief. We are not called to wait for Jesus' coming in the way that we wait for a bus, biding time and getting frustrated and bored.  No, we are called to an active waiting, a waiting that is prayerful, but also a waiting that strives to pen ourselves NOW to God's kingdom by working for peace, for justice, for equality for all people, by working to responsibly use the gifts of creation that are given to us.  When we do this the Kingdom of God is already among us now, even if it is not yet here in its fullness.

   We are all aware and so delighted with the message that Pope Francis is giving the Church, a message of serving the poor, of overcoming animosities, of dialogue between peoples.  That is truly the work of Advent.

  How far we are from this message when we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving and then prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth with a Black Friday of greed and often violence.  There is no sin, of course, in seeking a bargain, to save money, but don't we need to take a look at how we do it.

   As we sing "O come, O come, Emmanuel" over the next few weeks let us strive to bring the world closer to the fullness of God's Kingdom. Let us have an Advent of prayer and Christian action rather than one of consumerism and greed.