Thursday, December 18, 2014

RETAKE ON CHRISTMAS STORY

Here is a bit by James Martin SJ,

"Now, if there’s one story that every good Christian knows (and plenty of bad Christians, too), it’s the Christmas Story. (No, not the one with Ralphie and the BB gun. The other one with Jesus and the manger.) We all have pretty set ideas in our minds of what that story looks like, and it frequently involves images we’ve had stuck in there since childhood. You know the ones: the baby Jesus center stage, sleeping peacefully in the perfectly manicured manger, while Mary sits behind him, looking on dutifully with Joseph at her side. The wise men are kneeling in ladder sequence before the infant, while the shepherds are sitting docilely off to the side.
It’s a beautiful tableau, but it’s also pretty, well, dull. I mean, come on! The woman just gave birth, for the love of God!
If the traditional, staid nativity image works for you, by all means, keep on keeping on. However, if you find the traditional images to be not particularly relevant to the contemporary world, difficult to relate to, and rather — dare I say — lifeless, then by all means recast your Christmas story!
And I’m not saying to put in Jennifer Lawrence as Mary or Ryan Gosling as Joseph (though if that brings you closer to God, who am I to judge?). What I’m saying is that Scripture needs to be meaningful for us, and just because somebody 500 years ago thought that the nativity scene looked a certain way doesn’t mean that you can’t create images that are meaningful for you.
Here’s the thing, Mary was poor, young, pregnant and unwed. Sound familiar? Just as today, there were few positions in society less desirable than being a poor, unwed, pregnant woman. Okay, she was “betrothed” to Joseph, which is kind of like an engagement on steroids, but the fact remains, when she found out she was pregnant, she was still living with her parents. Though we don’t know how young Mary was exactly, it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that if she were around today, she very well might be on 16 and Pregnant. She could also be an undocumented migrant worker, an unwed urban mother, or any of the various images of poor, unwed, pregnant young women we see in the media. You don’t have to look to a medieval painting to find Mary — she is with us today.
Now, what about Joseph? First of all: Not the father! That’s like an episode of Maury, right there. We don’t know much about him, other than that he could trace his lineage back thousands of years to King David, but clearly that and a denarius would buy you a cup of coffee in first century Judaea. He was a craftsman or a carpenter (depending on how you translate the Greek tekton), and beyond that not much else is known. Oh yeah, except, of course, for the fact that he was going to marry a woman who was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his.
And then there’s Herod, also known as Herod the Great, who, in fact, wasn’t so great. Imagine Tony Soprano with more competent underlings and you’ve got Herod. He was a man of brutal, blinding ambition who would not hesitate to kill anyone in his path, including wives and various members of his own family. Stable, he was not. So, it really isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine him ordering the murder of boys under the age of 2 in his kingdom because they were perceived as a threat to his role as the King of the Jews.
And then there are the wise men or the magi, take your pick. There’s a lot of speculation about who and how many of them there actually were, so let’s just keep things simple: they brought three gifts. Also, the Greek word magoi, which is the term used in Matthew’s Gospel, primarily refers to priests of the Zoroastrian religion, who were noted for their gifts in the field of astrology. Whatever we might think of astrology in a contemporary setting, the important thing to keep in mind is that the magi were respected men from another religious tradition, who, utilizing their own spiritual resources (the stars), had come to recognize a child born outside their own religion as someone very special. Picture the Dalai Lama — actually, picture three Lamas — but the important thing to remember here is that the infant Jesus transcended the boundaries of religion.
And what about the child? Well, first of all, he wasn’t just a child. He was a newborn. Jesus was not three months old, or a year or two old. Jesus was a weirdly shaped, squinty, pink-hued, squawking, coughing newborn. I know it’s easier to imagine him as a couple of months old, since that’s the age when babies stop looking so much like aliens and start looking like what we think babies should look like. But Jesus probably did resemble an alien, at least, sort of, and he probably cried and coughed. And yes, I’ll say it, Jesus soiled his diaper. And the swaddling clothes thing probably came about because it kept him quiet, because he was probably crying. A lot. He probably spit up after suckling his mother, and then he probably slept, and then woke up, and then slept again, and then woke up again and slept again and on and on that first night. Because that’s what newborns do. Or at least, so I’ve been told.
Perhaps this is a little too gritty, a little too earthy. And again I say — if more celestial images do it for you, than by all means use them. However, it’s important to remember that the Christmas story is first and foremost a human story, with very real people with very real hopes and fears. It’s the story of young parents, far from home, trying to find their way."

LITANY OF RESCUE

Jeremiah 23:5-8; Ps 72 Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever; Matthew 1:18-25

We continue to through this octave before Christmas, it is a count down of sorts with the O antiphons.  Yesterday we encountered 'O wisdom" and today it is "O leader of the house of Israel giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!"

Advent is about realizing we need rescue.  We need saving.  Only when we embrace our neediness can we truly enter into the spirit of Christmas.  There is much about each us that is in need of transformation.  Perhaps today take a few moments and make a mental list of things that are out of whack in your life, things that need redeeming.  Let those become your Christmas offering to the Christ Child.

In the first reading today, JEremiah reminds the folks of his time that a litany of rescue will become the chorus line for Israel.  They will no longer just focus on the rescue from the land of Egypt but they will recall how God rescues them in the present age as well from their current oppressors.  We too can enter actions of God in a list of how he has rescued us in our present age. God's power to redeem is always contemporary with our current lived situation. Yes he brought them from Egypt.  Yes he rescued them from the people of the North.  Yes he rescued them from Babylon, Assyria and the Persians.

Even today God's redeeming actions continue to unfold for us daily.  Create a litany of God's rescue in your life.

Don't neglect JEsus in the manger.  This is the ground breaking event that enables us to be set free in each age, each moment, through all trials.  As Joseph experiences in his dream, this child shall save his people from their sins, he is God with us.  Thus begins the litany of rescue.  From the womb, to the manger, to Nazareth, to Galilee, to Calvary, to our homes and on our streets, the saving mission of JEsus continues to unfold.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

HEAVEN IS! REALLY!

Over the past few weeks with the Deacon's help we have been going through a series of homilies on the last things: Death, Judgment, Purgatory, Hell.  This week and Next week I will spend a few moment reflecting on Heaven.

We have all or at least most of all of us have been bombarded with books about heaven.  The most recent is the book entitled Heaven is for Real.  I have not read the book.  I have read commentaries about the book, though.  I  have read other books about people having the so called "near death experiences" and describe what they saw and heard in their metaphysical romp through heaven.

It has been fascinating to read.  Over the next few weekends I will be reflecting on heaven.  The four main resources I will be drawing from is scripture, the Catechism, CS Lewis and Peter Kreeft.  None of what I write will be original, besides how can one be original abut heaven.  Heaven is the only thing that is original and everything we had or subtract is just a cursory footnote for as scripture points out, "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him… "1 corinthians 2:9

Psalm 16:11 states pretty clearly, "You will show me the path of life, abounding joy in your presence, the delight at tour right hand forever."

But we hold firmly to the words of Paul his letter to the Colossians, "we give thanks to the Father, who has made us fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light…" Colossians 1:12

Heaven is joy and light.
So we begin.

What difference does heaven make?  If something doesn't make a difference then it is a waste.  What difference does heaven make?   It seems to make a difference between hope and despair or as some say 'chance or the dance.'  Does it all go the down the drain or do all the loose threads final get tied together  into a perfect tapestry to be revealed?

Heaven is the meaning of earth! Heaven is ultimately about reality.  Heaven reveals just how is reality.

Our greatness dépends on the greatness of reality.

Take the sum total of all past and present human experiences, the entire universe, all of time and space and history of matter and mind.  Add everything that anyone and everyone has ever experienced, the future possibilities, all creature can or may experience; think about other planets, billion of years and universes.  Add all of that together.    Ask the question: Is that all there is?

Heaven is the negative answer: no, there is more.  This is the reality of heaven.

What we learn here, what we do here we freely create in time the baseline of our eternal identities.  We shape our souls here and a dimension of eternity is added to that shape in heaven.

Heaven matters not because we desire it but because it is real.  This is the first step in understanding heaven: it is reality, the ground of reality because it points to God.

Heaven is the definitive completeness of our human existence.  We finally get to find out what we become. We do not float free like a balloon in a enthusiastic fantasy.  We come to know the hidden presence by whose gift we truly live.

Jesus makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself.

Heaven is personal.  We will see God in our own proper way because each of us represent an irreplaceable uniqueness a irreplaceable uniqueness that received the love of God.

What will do in heaven?
Heaven  isn't so much about doing as it is about being. Normally the first question we ask when we meet someone or are introduced to someone: what do they do? What we do is not as important as who we are.  It is an error to think God only wants actions of a particular kind, rather most interested in a people of a particular sort.

We will finally  be who we are created to be in heaven!

The beatific vision is dynamic not static, exploring not staring, endless beginnings rather than merely the end.

Religion for us is like the diving board.  God is the pool.

What will we possess in heaven?
We will possess nothing and everything all at once.

Will we be free? 90 percent of life we get it backwards. We associate freedom with rebellion, doing things our own way, sticking it to the system or to the man.  We even sing songs about doing it my way.  We associate obedience with the lack of freedom.  Freedom is fully revealed in heaven.  We will be free from sin, and it is sin that make sue not ourself.  Heaven we will be free to our true selves.

Will we be bored in heaven?  We will be with God.  God is eternal.  We will never come to the end of exploring him.  Boredom requires the passing of time and there is no time in heaven.  There is no waiting.  On earth the only people who are never bored are lovers.  God is love.  God is a lover.  We will be with him.  Boredom is not an option.

Next time we will look at a few questions: what will we wear? will we have bodies? Is there sex in heaven? How big is heaven?  Are there animals in heaven? Is there music in heaven?  Is there humor in heaven?

Friday, December 12, 2014

LA VIRGEN

 
Hear the words of the Blessed Mother, spoken to Juan Diego in 1531...
"Listen, put into your heart, that the the thing that frightens you, that thing that afflicts you, is nothing; do not let it disturb you?  Am I not here, am i not your  mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the embrace of my arms? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you"
 
In these words Juan Diego found comfort and courage to continue his mission.

Today's feast is more then a commemoration of an apparition. It is looking back to a beginning of the transformation of a society, a culture, a civilization.
 

It was these words that enabled a civilization to be transformed.
 
The Aztecs went from offering human sacrifices to come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, discovering the power of the sacrifice of Christ that brings life and joy.
 
It was also these words that transformed the Spaniards.  Mary through Juan Diego taught them to welcome the natives, to welcome the poor and lowly not to mistreat them.
 
In these words and in this image, a civilization of love began.
 
How much do we need to rediscover this civilization for ourselves, for our families, for our community, for our world.
 
Each time we look upon this image we are remind of the task at hand.  The mission did not end with Juan Diego but it begins a new with each of us who call her mother, who call him savior.
 
We pray that God will trace in our actions the lines of the mother's love and trace in our hearts her readiness of faith so that we may be instruments of that transformation of that civilization.
 
Like Juan Diego we must respond to life in faith and no longer react.  It is faith it is not instinct that drives us and determines our actions and our response of love.
 
It is not fear, it is not jealousy, it is not lust, it is not selfish desires, it is not hate, it is not resentment, it is not our differences;
 
we must be ready to respond in faith so we can build the civilization of love.  This is how we become children of such a mother as our lady of Guadalupe.

As we see in the first reading Mary fights the dragon and the dragon is no match.  She comes to fight with us and for us.  Let us enter the fight with boldness and courage. 

She disperse our fear and brings us joy and hope.  This is why Mary travels to visit Elizabeth she brings the closeness of God into a desperate situation and joy burst forth for even the baby leaps in his mother's womb. 

This is why Mary traveled to Tepeyac in 1531; she comes to scatter fear and bring joy and hope.  We have a reason to leap for joy.  

ANTICIPATION AND EXPECTATIONS

Matthew 11:11-15

Jesus speaks these words in today's gospel, "And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.  Whoever has ears ought to hear."

The anticipation and expectation of Elijah to arrive on the scene prior to the Messiah was a big deal in the Jewish Religious sensibility.


The prophet Maalchi is the one who insist on this fact, Elijah will return to point out the Messiah.

So the anticipation was great and the expectation was greater.  Either seemed to be a problem.

As people anticipated Elijah's return they expected him to come back the same way he ascended to heaven,  on a fiery chariot.

The problem was that this expectation actually hindered the ability of the folks to recognize and receive the gift of Elijah's return.  They were so insistent that it had to be one way that they closed themselves off to the immense and limitless way God works.

It was necessary to expect the coming but it was the expected ways of return that clogged the mind and prevented proper recognition of John the Baptist in the spirit of Elijah.

How often do our own expectations hinder what we expect and our ability to celebrate the arrival of such a fulfillment of expectations.

We see this at Christmas on a  small scale.  We anticipate our gifts.  We expect certain things from our loved ones.  Often times because we want what we expect when the gift comes in a different form then we don't celebrate the gift given or received.

Truth be told it isn't the gift we are after but the love of being remembered and thought about that makes Christmas christmas.

We do this in our daily journey with God.  We want God to come into our life.  We anticipate and expect this unfolding yet our expectations on how this should happen can hinder our ability to receive it when it finally comes.

We must be open.  We must let God be limitless and boundless so that when he comes we recognize it and are transformed by it.




Friday, December 5, 2014

WAR IS COMING

As we continue to journey through the Advent season and gear up for Christmas let us not get lost int he sentiment of the season and miss the meaning.

We all love the Christmas story.  We get into the helpless babe in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.  We can relate to the hard luck couple who is just trying to provide for their child.  We have all experienced troubled times, tough times, and been through the school of hard knocks.

The Holy Family is no different.

But we forget that Jesus comes to start a revolution.  A war is coming.  The star that shines bright in the sky leading to Bethlehem simply acknowledges that the commander of the revolution has arrived on the battle field and let the fight commence.

Advent is about revolution, a cosmic battle where good trumps evil, light trumps darkness, healing trumps pain, forgiveness reigns as the watershed event that transforms the world.

We have to decide which side we fight for and that decision is made in the simple ordinary moments of daily life.  Let eh revolution begin.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

WALK THE WALK

Isaiah 26:1-6; PS 118 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord; Matt 7:24-27

You have to walk the walk.  These were the words that were often used in youth group discussions to get the kids to become more viable witnesses of their faith in their life.

The Walk the Walk  was just the second part of the equation.  The first part was Do you Talk the Talk or Do you walk the walk.

Again is was a thing used to get the youth motivated.

I always hated it.  It sounded to cliche.  It was too contrived.

Though I was the priest assisting the youth minister I made appoint never to repeat the phrase.  Which brings me to the gospel.

Jesus in the gospel points out a distinction that is often missed on us.

Here is a snippet:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven,  but only he one who does the will of my Father in heaven."

My first reaction was that sounds a lot like walk the walk don't just talk the talk.  I was bit bummed until I read the next line.

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…"

What was that all about I asked myself.  IT seems Jesus has a twist for us.

The true distinction isn't between talking and doing but rather between hearing and doing.

You can talk all day but if yo never heard, truly heard what Jesus said than the action always falter.

Saying and doing is a nice gimmick.  Hearing and doing is essential for the kingdom t break through into our lives.

Listening is important.  Listening, truly letting the word penetrate our hearts is where the seed of the gospel germinates.

They say there is often a chasm between what one says and another hears.  Maybe this is why JEsus insists on us listening first then doing second.

Do you hear the word?  Only then can we know where to walk and what to do!