Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Today, Monday, January, 15, 2018, we honor a great American ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was 39 when he was martyred on April 4, 1968.
On that fateful day, Dr. King was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet while he was leading a strike for sanitation workers. He inspired and led the Civil Rights movement that achieved great change in our land. This man is one of my mentors. I was in his presence in the spring of 1963 when I was in the seminary in Baltimore. Our Rector sent a lot of us to hear him speak to a nearby college.
We remember him most for his most eloquent “I have a dream” speech on August 28, 1963 delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before crowds of many thousands on the National Mall.
That event and that speech led subsequently to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law on June 2, 1964.
As a seminarian, I soon became interested in what I could do. In the spring of 1968, I sloshed around the mud of the tent city of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign on the National Mall in Washington which was set up to “lobby” Congress regarding the needs of the poor people of the country. I was interviewing folks for The Florida Catholic newspaper back home.
Dr. King was a man who committed himself to nonviolence, as did Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus. They believed nonviolence to be the only way that justice and peace can be achieved. Dr. King inspired ordinary folks, black and white, to stand up for their rights and to sit down and accept the vicious blows by police and others, and to have the courage to go to jail for what they believed.
On, April 5, 1968 ~ the day after he was martyred ~ I formally entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as a deacon. I was a seminary student at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in the northeast part of Washington, D.C.
The shrill sound of sirens all over the city mingled with the ancient chant melody of the Litany of the Saints as I lay prostrate on the floor with my brothers to be ordained. As I sucked in a deep breath, I wanted to absorb into my soul and body the ideal of justice and peace and freedom this great man idealized for me, I pledged my life to Christ.
Today, in this land of America, we have lost many of the freedoms and ideals of that other great man Thomas Jefferson that all men are created equal and have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Isn’t the gap between the one percent and the poorest getting even wider as the result of recent legislation?
And isn’t incivility and racism becoming uglier through tweet storms and other discourse?
Will immigrants in this country ever be able to live in peace without fear of a knock on the door?
The questions Dr. King still asks of us are . . . .
Where are those today who inspire us and lead us out of our complacency?
Who are those inspire us to stand up and put our lives on the line for what we believe in?
Who still dreams the dream of Martin Luther King and Thomas Jefferson?
Who is willing to sacrifice to restore those ideals to our beloved country?
O God of Justice,
raise up men and women in our day who will inspire us and restore us to the original ideals of our nation.
Enable us to wake up from our slumber and see what we’ve lost, and safeguard our freedoms.
Give us the strength and courage to pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to win this spiritual revolution of justice, peace and love that now lies before us in 2018.
We pray to you, God, for You are the God who cries for justice for your children
and who still hears the cries of those who know they are poor without You.
We pray ~ for only You can can restore us to the ideal of freedom and justice FOR ALL. To You Glory and Honor and Power, now and forever, Amen!
But we are called, more than a generation later, once again to the principles of Nonviolence Dr. King instilled in his followers.
They were trained to sit down on the ground and accept blows of the police because they knew that Nonviolence was a more powerful weapon than guns and bombs.
Dr. King held no public office. He persuaded us by the power of his words and the depth of his conviction and his character.
And his willingness to give his life for what he believed in ~ no matter what.
Is there anything you and I are willing to give your life for? What will be your legacy?
I wonder. , . Am I willing to make that kind of commitment? I pray earnestly that I will.
I’m nearly 75 years old, and have no way of knowing what my legacy will be. All I know at this point is that I’ve tried to be faithful to my song and my prayer and to love as best I can.
For a brief excerpt of “the I Have a Dream” speech, Click here. It’s the original.
And before you go, here’s the song “Abraham, Martin and John. Click here.
This feast marks the end of the Christmas season. In the Eastern Churches, it is the primary focus of the Epiphany celebration, the primary focus of their Christmas.
It reveals further the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that is. our God entering our world and becoming flesh and blood.
God sent is only Son to become one with us.
What better way to do this than to show acceptance of the human condition by being baptized for the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus has no personal sin. Yet he lined up with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John in the Jordan.
In this we see Jesus’ humility. He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition. He willingly presents himself to baptism.
There he is: John in his camel-hair shirt at the edge of the desert, wading out into the waters of the Jordan River.
A crowd has gathered on the banks. Jesus is among them. He is relatively unknown because he has yet to begin his ministry. He has chosen this meeting with the Prophet to inaugurate his own mission.
Jesus waits patiently amidst the crowd. There is a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John and to receive his baptism of repentance.
It’s almost Jesus’ turn. John catches his eye as he talks with the young woman ahead of Jesus.
As Jesus walks up to John, his cousin objects, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
I wonder why John said “I NEED to be baptized by you.
There’s a crowd around but a bit of an intimate conversation between cousins.
I wonder when the last time the talked.
I wonder how close they were.
Did they ever have “guy” talk?
But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.
John probably admired his cousin a lot and found it difficult to play this role of “holier than thou,” so to speak. Consenting he probably did reluctantly.
But if I were John, I would have doused my cousin GOOD!
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
I have a strawberry conditioner I put on my hair as a reminder of my anointing at confirmation. It’s a ritual I do every time I shower to remind me of my baptism.
At times I very much feel a Beloved Son, with whom my heavenly Father and my Lord are pleased.
Jesus fulfills ALL of the proscriptions of a penitent. He does everything that he is supposed to do. He does not ask for special favors. He does not expect any courtesies or privileges.
(I can learn a lesson here. In the days that there were special privileges for priests ~ not any more ~ I sometimes relished being whisked to the head of the line or getting a “clergy discount.”)
But back to our story. An astonishing thing happened; the two of them were privileged to a vision. The sky opened up and John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove and hover over him.
With that, a voice from the heavens said,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In our immersion into the waters of baptism, we are consecrated, set apart and made holy. In Jesus’ immersion in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the opposite becomes true. Jesus consecrates, sets apart and makes holy the waters of baptism. Jesus as Man consecrates the movement of divine grace that flows just as rivers flow.
Sometimes the river has abundant waters that give life to all living things that share its banks. But sometimes the waters dry up and become like a desert.
So, too, with grace. Grace flows like a river bringing wonderful fruit to all who drink and are immersed in it. But sometimes grace seemingly dries up and we live in a desert for awhile. But the river is still there — unseen; it just moves below the surface.
So we have to be willing to be immersed. To be immersed in divine grace. To be immersed in God. To be immersed in love.
But that precisely is the problem. We are scared of being immersed in love. We are scared of being immersed in God. We prefer to stand on the banks of the river and watch the waters of grace flow by, without having direct contact with it.
So this feast day is about us as well. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in God. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in love.
If we are immersed in God, in love, we will hear the voice of God say to us.
“You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.
Now, before you go, here’s the traditional spiritual “Shall we Gather at the River.” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.
Today’s feast day has several meanings. In the Roman Church we celebrate the story of the Magi visiting Jesus and offering him gifts. In the Eastern churches, they focus on the story of the Baptism of the Lord. Both celebrate the manifestation, the revelation of Jesus to the whole world.
Paul in today’s letter to the Ephesians proclaims that
“The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph. 3:6)
We focus on the story of the Magi in our celebration today. In the Gospel of Christmas, the angels proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, who were uneducated and poor folk. The story from Luke indicates that the gospel is to be preached to the poor.
Today’s story is from Matthew. The Magi are scholars and learned men. They discern from their study of the heavens that the Messiah was to be born in their time; they would risk the search for him and offer their treasures. The Magi represent all the peoples of the earth outside and beyond the Jewish experience. Jesus is the Christ for everyone!
This Gospel story is about darkness and light. Brilliant light and terrible, fearful darkness.
The Magi were comfortable with the dark. They knew how to find their way in the dark, because they could interpret the lights of the sky. They were adventurers ~ seekers ~ explorers.
They represent all people who are at home in the world of the intellect. All people who are willing to journey far to seek and find the truth. (Unfortunately, we live in a world of leaders who don’t bother with seeking truth.)
The Magi went out into the night following the light, the great star which marked a singular event in human history.
They stopped to see Herod, expecting that he would welcome the light. He couldn’t; he was filled with diabolical darkness; he could not abide the light of truth. He tried to snuff out the life of the God-Man ~ Jesus the Light of the world.
Herod, the guy in charge, a king, was worried about the birth of a baby. Herod was powerful, and yet, as Matthew says, “ . . . he was greatly troubled.”
What was Herod afraid of? He knew that Jesus was going to make a difference in his world and was afraid that a change would mean losing the power he had. He wanted Jesus gone before any of that could happen. He liked things just the way they were.
So Herod decreed that all firstborn males under two were to be killed. Jesus and Mary and Joseph would have to flee into the night to find a safe place in a foreign land, the land of Egypt. And so a shroud of violence would invade the innocence of the Christmas story. Jesus and his family became political refugees. (Remember that fact if you are inclined to quickly condemn other political refugees.)
I’d like to try to penetrate the meaning of this sacred event by sharing excerpts of two articles that really impacted my faith and understanding of this great feast.
The great 19th Century Danish philosopher ~ poet ~ theologian Soren Kierkegaard, in an article entitled, Only a Rumor, states,
Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him. Similarly we may know the whole of Christianity, yet make no movement. The power that moved Heaven and Earth leaves us completely unmoved.
What a difference! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it moved them to make that long journey. The scribes were much better informed, much better versed. They sat and studied the Scriptures like so many dons, but it did not make them move. Who had the more truth? The three kings who followed a rumor, or the scribes who remained sitting with all their knowledge?
What a vexation it must have been for the kings, that the scribes who gave them the news they wanted remained quiet in Jerusalem. We are being mocked, the kings might have thought. For indeed what an atrocious self-contradiction that the scribes should have the knowledge and yet remain still. This is as bad as if a person knows all about Christ and his teachings, and his own life expresses the opposite. We are tempted to suppose that such a person wishes to fool us, unless we admit that he is only fooling himself.
Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest imprisoned and executed by Hitler in 1945, concurs . . .
The wise men. Whether they were really kings or just local eastern chieftains or learned astronomers is not important. The secret of these people is as plain as the shepherds. they are the men with clear eyes that probe things to the very depths. They have a real hunger and thirst for knowledge. They subordinated their lives to the end in view and they willingly journey the ends of the earth, following a star, a sign, obeying an inner voice . . . . The compelling earnestness of their quest, the unshakable persistence of their search, the royal grandeur of their dedication ~ these are their secrets.
And it is their message for us and their judgment of us. Why do so few ever see the star? Only because so few are looking for it . . . What are we looking for anyway? And where will we find a genuine yearning so strong that neither fatigue, nor distance, nor fear of the unknown, nor loneliness, nor ridicule will deter us? Only such passionate desire can prompt the persistence which is content to kneel even when the goal happens to be a simple stable.
And so, listen to these powerful words from Isaiah in the first reading:
RISE UP IN SPLENDOR, DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD, YOUR LIGHT HAS COME.
THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHINES UPON YOU.
This feast is about a light that penetrates the most stubborn darkness of our lives.
This feast brings a Light to us all, if only we, like the Magi, would seek.
SEE DARKNESS COVERS THE EARTH
AND THICK CLOUDS COVER THE PEOPLES.
Violence seems to shroud our whole planet at times.
Some of us too are swallowed up by darkness, enshrouded by night.
Some of us live in dysfunctional families. That too can be terrible darkness, though we may not recognize it. We may think that yelling and screaming are quite normal.
Some of us get up and work hard day in and day out. Perhaps it is work that we do not enjoy, perhaps even hate. Perhaps our spirits are far away from our jobs. We go to work trying to eke out a living, hoping to not be engulfed by such darkness.
And we know that there is darkness in the world. Israelis refuse to seek peace with the Palestinians. And there’s troubles in Sudan, Iraq, Syria. The Rohingya people are no-where people. Our President doesn’t want to give a fair shake to our DACA kids unless he gets his wall. Hate seethes deep in the souls of neighbors a few blocks away from each other.
BUT UPON YOU THE LORD SHINES
AND OVER YOU APPEARS HIS GLORY.
Don’t despair of the darkness, dear friends. Know that there is a Light that can penetrate it.
There was sadness and a thick veil of darkness over my own life for many years. I had the good sense to move to the little bit of light that I could find.
A candle flame can be as bright as a great Nova when one is looking for light.
WE need the light of God’s truth in the world today.
NATIONS SHALL WALK BY YOUR LIGHT,
AND RULERS BY YOUR SHINING RADIANCE.
To whose light does the President of the United State of America and members of the Congress follow? Whose truth do they obey? To whom do they bow on bended knee?
Out of the darkness came the Magi bringing gifts for the Light of the World. Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Holy Child who was the Light.
But before we can give a gift, we must ~ often in the midst of the darkness ~ open our hands and our hearts to receive the gift that God would give to us. We must first receive before we can give.
Out of the darkness of your lives, you also can find gifts to give to the Lord and your family and friends.
What gifts do we bring?
Do we bring Jesus the gift of our adoration that the Magi did? The gift of our hearts?
These learned and influential people got down on their knees before this little child.
What or who receives the gift of OUR adoration and allegiance?
The world does not know how to adore God. We adore so many other things ~ a new sports car, a new home, a gifted child of our own, good-looking women or men. Maybe we adore a favorite movie star or our favorite sports team when they’re winning at least. Maybe we adore our career path, willing to do whatever it takes, even as we embrace the darkness along with it.
And so, this Epiphany Sunday, I pray . . . .
When I get down on my knees on Sunday morning,
I’ll be humbled by this story of the Wise Men who traveled from afar and fell to their knees with their gifts for you.
Please allow me ~ allow us – to be renewed in your love this day.
May we live in your Light and share your Light with our families, friends and neighbors, and, indeed, all the world!
And please, as I’ve pleaded for years and years for our country, dear Lord,
help us to remember that it is in You we trust,
and are the source of our justice,
and the reason for us to live in civility and good will.
Renew us in your justice, love and peace.
To You be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever. Amen.
And before you go, here’s an inspiring Celtic version of O Holy Night. Click Here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Further, if you’re interested in the star of Bethlehem, you might read this article “Synchronicity and the Star of Bethlehem” Click here.
If you’d like an extra treat, do you remember the little drummer boy? Here he is! Click here.
The seventh day of Christmas December 31st — the Feast of the Holy Family
(and the sixth day of Kwanzaa.)
I met a young couple at a welcome station in the mountains of Virginia a few year ago. I saw Joseph and Mary and Jesus in them. May there be a touch of holiness ~ of wholeness ~ in their lives and in our families. I pray for them and all young families ~ indeed all families on this traditional day in the Christmas season when we reflect on the hidden, ordinary life of Joseph, and Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. They are a model of simplicity for us.
But for many of us, our family life can be very dysfunctional. I think of those families today, Lord. Children (some of them friends of mine) who grew up with alcoholic parents and were in favor one moment and cast aside the next, had little normalcy, little stability.
Be with all families that struggle, Lord. Be with us who are imperfect, weak and selfish and perhaps capable of little love because we may not have received it ourselves as children.
We’re trying, Lord. Strengthen our capacity to love, to be present to our own children and our spouse. Help us realize, Lord, that our most important role is not to have a successful career but to love our children and our spouse. To be a community of love in which to call forth the gifts, the love, the moral courage and strength of our children for the next generation.
Last year, Pope Francis wrote an important document that arose from the two Synods of Bishops dedicated to discussing the issue of family life. It was entitled Amoris Laetitia ~ The Joy of Love.
Here are a few quotes or quips of Pope Francis himself from the document. You’ll note his often down home folksy style.
Every family should be an icon of the family of Nazareth.
The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
When we have been offended or let down, forgiveness is possible and desirable, but no one can say it is easy.
The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy experienced by the Church.
Just as a good wine begins to ‘breathe’ with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and ‘body’.
Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope.
I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way.
We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me.
In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love, which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another.
Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life.
Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family may we as I honor you, Jesus and Mary and Joseph. I honor that young couple whose name I never knew because I saw in them an image of God in their simple, ordinary love. Lord, keep us all in your loving care.
And now before you go, here’s a hymn to Mary that tells us about Nazareth. Click here.
And here are the Mass readings for this feast. Click here.
(Below, I’ve included some information from America magazine that describes some of the important points of this document if you’re interested that goes beyond the spiritual interests of this blog. I do suggest you look it over.)
From America magazine on Amoris Laetitia
1. The church needs to understand families and individuals in all their complexity. The church needs to meet people where they are. So pastors are to “avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations.” People should not be “pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for personal and pastoral discernment” . In other words, one size does not fit all. People are encouraged to live by the Gospel, but should also be welcomed into a church that appreciates their particular struggles and treats them with mercy
2. The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision-making. “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” The church has been “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37). Yes, it is true, the Pope says, that a conscience needs to be formed by church teaching. But conscience does more than to judge what does or does not agree with church teaching. Conscience can also recognize with “a certain moral security” what God is asking. Pastors, therefore, need to help people not simply follow rules, but to practice “discernment,” a word that implies prayerful decision-making.
3. Divorced and remarried Catholics need to be more fully integrated into the church. How? By looking at the specifics of their situation, by remembering “mitigating factors,” by counseling them in the “internal forum,” (that is, in private conversations between the priest and person or couple), and by respecting that the final decision about the degree of participation in the church is left to a person’s conscience. (The reception of Communion is not spelled out here, but that is a traditional aspect of “participation” in church life.) Divorced and remarried couples should be made to feel part of the church. “They are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part” of the church.
4. We should no longer talk about people “living in sin.” In a sentence that reflects a new approach, the pope says clearly, “It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin.” Other people in “irregular situations,” or non-traditional families, like single mothers, need to be offered “understanding, comfort and acceptance.” When it comes to these people, indeed everyone, the church need to stop applying moral laws, as if they were, in the pope’s vivid phrase, “stones to throw at a person’s life”
~ excerpted and simplified from America magazine “Top Ten Takeaways from Amoris Laetitia by James Martin, S.J. April 5. 2016
( and Day 3 of Kwanzaa)
Herod the Great had been elected “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. When the Magi told him of the new King of the Jews, Herod could think of nothing but wiping out the threat to his throne. The Holy Innocents are those children who were brutally murdered by Herod as he sought the Christ Child. At his hand, the Church receives their first martyrs, thereby this feast three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
And because of Herod’s act of terrorism among his own people, Joseph had to fly by night to Egypt with Mary and the young child Jesus. Thus, Jesus himself became a political refugee.
Today we think of other innocent children ~ some killed as the unborn are or have been. We also think of those innocent ones so tragically gunned down two years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.
Then there are children who are trafficked as boy soldiers or as prostitutes or as child laborers.
And what of the horror of children caught in war as in Aleppo as the rescue of the five-year-old child Omran Dagneesh went viral last year, while thousands ~ millions of others remain nameless.
And what of the child immigrants in our own country who are held in overcrowded, unhealthy detention camp for years without legal representation.
And what of the Daca children? What will their fate be? They have known no other country but ours.
In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning,
of bitter weeping!
Rachel mourns her children
she refuses to be consoled
because her children are no more
~ (Jer 31:15).
You know, the infant Jesus was threatened by violence himself. So, the Christmas story is not all sweetness and light. The Wise Men inquired of Herod where the newborn King of the Jews was born. Seething with diabolical fury because of his jealousy, Herod orders the massacre of all who resemble Jesus in gender and age.
The Mass texts proclaim . . .
The Innocents were slaughtered as infants for Christ;
I would think the same is true for our own dear innocent children ~ not that all of them are Christian, but that will in their own way sing for ever.
Psalm 124, also from today’s Mass, states,
“Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.”
So, for many, an eternal life of happiness and a reunion with loved ones is indeed a consolation.
And I conclude today with prayers from our dear Pope Francis . . .
Child of Bethlehem, touch the hearts of all those engaged in human trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become child soldiers.
As we fix our gaze on the Holy Family of Nazareth as they were forced to become refugees, let us think of the tragedy of those migrants and refugees who are victims of rejection and exploitation of human trafficking and slave labor.
Lord Jesus, as a little child you were a refugee yourself,
and a political one at that.
Thousands of innocent children were murdered.
Millions of children die in our world because of other despots.
Because of cruelty and brutality and bullying goes on and on.
Lord, I have no idea what the future holds for children in our own country.
Please watch over them all and keep them safe.
And please watch over all children who are refugees,
or in war-torn countries or who are migrants on the road
searching for a better home.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now before you go, here’s a Christmas carol for you that reflects on the strife of the world. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.