NEW YEAR’S DAY 2016
Where are we, this New Year’s Day 2016, my friends?
Are we better off than we were a year ago?
What will 2016 bring for us?
Are we prepared for whatever the year will bring?
Will the economy get better or worse?
Will I keep my job? Get a raise? Be able to pay my mortgage and bills?
Will some crisis happen that will affect our country, our state?
Who will be our next president?
Do we realize that “We never know” . . . what the next moment will bring?
Pope Francis has declared this year an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
To tear down the walls of that separate us from one another: to have mercy and receive mercy.
Who doesn’t need a little mercy in their lives? Don’t you?
Try offering some mercy towards others this year.
And so I pray . . . .
Give us hope, Lord, this New Year’s Day.
A realistic hope that we might be a little kinder,
a little less self-centered,
a little more willing to go the extra mile for someone, even for a stranger.
We’re also in need of your mercy, Lord.
You are the all Merciful One.
That is why you sent your Son into our world to live among us and die for us.
Help us to be merciful too.
Give us the strength to be ready for whatever may come.
Give us the grace to be truly thankful, truly humble this New Year’s morning.
This is my prayer, Lord, for me, for our country, for our world.
And now, may we pray as St. Francis taught us . . .
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen!
May it be so! may it be so!
And now here’s this prayer sung by Angelina at Assisi. CLICK HERE. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
A Happy and Blessed New Year overflowing with good health
~ and many good things for you and your family!
The Birthday of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
While all things were
in quiet silence,
And that night was
in the midst of
her swift course,
Thine Almighty Word,
Leaped down out
of thy royal throne,
~ And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:14
WE Christians tend to sentimentalize the Christmas story.
And yet the whole message is there beneath the charming Christmas pageants with the cute little girls holding baby dolls and boys dressed up in bathrobes as St. Joseph.
Yes, it’s all there. Now let’s think about what it means.
John sums the whole story in one sentence(!) saying “the Word became flesh and lived (dwelt) among us” or as the Greek word actually translates as “pitched his tent among us.” Thus, he intended to move in with us and stay with us a while!
He is Emmanuel ~ God with us!
Now there are two words here that Christians generally don’t like. One is “flesh” as in “the world, the flesh and the devil.” And the other is in the middle of the Christmas part of our faith story in theology. That theological word is “Incarnation. The “carn” part is carnal. A lot of Christians don’t like that word. We think it ~ um ~refers to sin!
But there you are, folks “flesh” and “carnal” referring to what our God has taken upon himself.
Let’s look at what this charming Christmas story means ~ what its implications mean for your life today . . . .
If God accepted our “fleshiness” (by becoming flesh, by taking on a human body) – then so we should (must) accept our own bodies and, yes, our sexuality, our “fleshiness.”
This was the reason he became Man: to throw his lot with the human race and show us how to become fully human, fully alive!
Our waiting is over.
Christmas is here
I think I’m ready to receive whatever gift Jesus chooses to give me this Christmas.
Christmas is not about giving. It’s about receiving. Receiving as Mary received.
Open your heart, dear friend.
Take some quiet time today and tomorrow to prepare yourself to be ready receive . . . .
Just be receptive to God as Mary was. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word.”
And I pray so very earnestly that you receive the special gift God wishes to give you.
Cleanse your heart of resentments ~ of preoccupations with unnecessary things.
Ask yourself what really is the meaning of life ~ your life.
For me the answer is to love as best I can.
I also have some wisdom to share that arises out of my own crosses I’ve carried over the years.
But it’s all gift!
So, I hope you have received something nourishing and sweet in the 22 posts I’ve been able to create this Advent.
They are my gift to you.
Have a wonderful Christmas with your family.
And if your Christmas is lonely with no one really special with whom to share,
know that you have someone here who understands and who reaches out to you from my heart to yours.
And be sure to open yourself to the holiness ~ the wholeness ~ the peace of Christmas.
It is there beneath all the craziness and hype. It is yours if you seek it and ask for it.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will!
Here is a very special Christmas music video for you. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
If you would like the Scripture readings for the Scripture readings for any of the several Masses for Christmas. Click here. You’ll find a list of the Vigil, Mass at Night, at Dawn, etc.; click on the one(s) you want.
“O Rising Dawn, splendor of eternal Light and Sun of Justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
~ O Antiphons
Yesterday evening at 11:49 pm EST, we observed the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and celebrated by our pagan brothers and sisters. I do not use the term pejoratively; they are the peoples who are reverently close to the earth.
Actually the date of Christmas was taken from the winter solstice because it marks, in the northern hemisphere, the beginning of the ascendency of the sun. It connotes the phrase from John 3:22-30 in which John the Baptist says the “He must increase, I must decrease.” And the Baptist’s feast, likewise is near the summer solstice on June 24th. Thus, the church did not hesitate to borrow from the existing pagan customs. Christmas trees, for example, came from Germany and the wreathe symbolized eternity. Again, these were pagan customs.
Did you know that in the middle ages they lit real candles on their Christmas trees? How ’bout that?
Some Christians today misunderstand our “cross-enculturation” of things that once had a pagan origin and sometimes berate those of us who celebrate Christmas.
Here’s my prayer for today . . . .
O John, In your humility,
you knew there was One to come ~
that you were only to prepare the way for Him.
Help me ~ help us to prepare my heart ~ our hearts for Him this Christmas.
Help us to prepare a way for Him in our world today.
COME LORD JESUS!
Now before you go, here’s a terrific music video of Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone” from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, composed and sung by Andrea Bocelli. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
And here are today’s Mass readings. if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
O come, thou dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
~ O Antiphons
MONDAY OF THE FOURTH WEEK OF ADVENT
There sometimes can be a lot of depression swirling around at Christmas.
People can feel lonelier because we’re expected to be cheerier and some of us just don’t feel it.
This blog is meant for us to pray and reach out and notice these folks.
Let’s be with folks who have lost a loved one and still miss them.
With kids who are shuffled back from one parent to another to “celebrate” the holidays.
With soldiers far away from home and their families at home without them.
With refugees and immigrants far from their homelands and loved ones.
And so, may we pray:
There are sometimes dark clouds in our lives, Lord.
Pierce the gloominess of our lives with Your very own Light.
May we allow You to dawn in us this day.
May we be ready for Your dawning in a new way in our lives this Christmas.
May this celebration of Jesus’ birth bring meaning and joy in the midst of our worries and concerns.
And may we BE the dawning of your light and love and justice
in our homes, our neighborhoods, our work places, our world.
And there are dark and ominous clouds over our world right now, Lord.
Pierce our greed and hate, fear and complacency and violence with hope, Lord.
May we pray earnestly for a new dawn for our beloved country and our world.
May we BE the dawning of your light and love and justice in our land.
Lord Jesus, come! May we be ready for the dawn of your coming in a new way this Christmas,
May the light of that dawning transform our lives and our land.
We need Your Light and Your Love more than ever.
Now, before you go, here’s an enjoyable music video for you. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Today’s Gospel story is a beautiful one. When the angel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child, she was given a way to confirm that message: to go visit her “kinswoman who has also conceived in her old age.” (Lk. 1:36) . . . .
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
Our Scripture scholar friend William Barclay says, this story of Mary’s visit is “a kind of lyrical song on the blessedness of Mary. Nowhere can we see the paradox of blessedness than in her life. To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. Well might her heart be filled with a wondering, tremulous joy at so great a privilege. Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart. It meant that some day she would see her son hanging on a cross.
“To be chosen by God so often means at one and the same to me a crown of joy and a crown of sorrow. The truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task. God chooses us to use us.” (Barclay / Luke p. 17.)
I know. When I was a young priest I threw myself into my work helping our new diocese develop the good liturgy, faithful to the guidelines of Constitution on the Liturgy that just given us the “New Mass.” This was the early Seventies. I was enthusiastic about this work. I was initially happy. But it became overwhelming for me. I became a workaholic and then an alcoholic. And in a few years, in 1978, I had a breakdown, eventually diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder that brought limitations to my priesthood that at times have been difficult to accept.
The prayer of Reinhold Neihbuhr and Alcoholics Anonymous is still by far the best prayer and advice in this regard:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
And now back to Mary and my prayer to her this Sunday . . . .
what courage you had for a young girl!
You travelled to visit Elizabeth;
they said she was your cousin.
What did you want to know?
But you found a surprise, didn’t you?
They baby in her womb leaped for joy.
There was your confirmation.
Mary, so often I need, I want confirmation
for the decision I have to make.
You believed that the word that was spoken
to you would be fulfilled.
Mary, Jesus, help to have that kind faith,
that kind of trust.
I praise and thank you, dear Lady
for bringing Love into our world.
And now before you go, here’s the ancient Christmas carol “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” with a slide show. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Acknowledgment: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke
Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville KY / 1975, 2001
THURSDAY OF THE THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT
Advent themes are all about waiting for light to shine in our darkness.
For we who are Christians we await, Jesus, Yeshua, who is for us the Light of the World.
We prepare a place for him to shine in our own hearts this day.
We invite you to search out your own inner meaning whatever that might be.
In the Catholic liturgy just before Christmas, one of the magnificent O Antiphons appears:
O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel,
you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.
Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.
And my prayer . . .
O Adonai*, we need you in our world more than ever!
You appeared in the burning bush long ago.
I remember this awesome sunrise several years ago over the ocean at St. Augustine Beach.
I’m reminded of the old sailor’s maxim: “Red at night, a sailor’s delight; red in the morning, sailor’s take warning.”
Come with your refiner’s fire and burn your way into our hearts.
so that we can prepare the way for the Messiah to come into our lives,
into our homes,
our workplace and marketplace,
our beloved country,
our waiting world!
Come Lord Jesus!
What are the “O Antiphons?” One of the most cherished collections of our ancient liturgical chants are the seven “O Antiphons” which are sung each of the seven nights before Christmas at Vespers. They have beautiful chant melodies. I am using some of them interspersed in the next 7 days before Christmas. Here is a web site that has information and recordings of all seven. Click here. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page; when you see the little speaker symbol with a music note next to it, click on it and it will give you the recording for each O Antiphon you want.
Here is an audio slide show of O come,O Come. O Come Emmanuel for your reflection. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings (they’re great!) (Click here.)
* Adonai — one of the names the Jewish people use for God.
Note: If you’re wondering why Day 17 is following after Day 18, I miscalculated in my numbering. (I never was very good at math.)
WEDNESDAY OF THE THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT
Luke tells us the charming story that God became incarnate ~ enfleshed ~ as a little vulnerable baby boy.
It truly is amazing to really think about that.
Even if you’re not ready to accept the story as true, the meaning of that story can really grab you if you let it.
But, sadly, so many of us celebrate Christmas all our lives without really reflecting on the implications of the story for our lives.
Jesus was not only vulnerable in his birth, but also in his death.
He chose to stand before Pilate, bound, scourged and silent.
He chose to say nothing or do anything in his defense.
What’s the message here?
St. Paul gives us a clue:
“When I am powerless then I am strong” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9-10.
How can that be?
I think about that a lot because I was powerless a lot dealing with depression.
Some days I wasn’t able to get out of my chair.
Jesus is showing that in our vulnerability,
in our weaknesses,
in our poverty of spirit,
in the brokenness of our lives
we will find God.
You came into this world as a little child
as needy as any other baby.
You sucked at Mary’s breast
and received your nourishment as God from a human mother.
You became one of us and with us.
You accepted our fleshiness, our misery, our joys and sorrows.
You came down to our level to raise us up to the dignity of God.
Thank you, Jesus!
Come into our world this day.
Teach us to accept our own vulnernabiity as something positive.
Teach us to recognize Your face in the most vulnerable among us
for they can be our most radical spiritual teachers.
Help us understand, Lord. Help us truly understand.
Now to get us in the mood here is a section from Handel’s Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
Tuesday of the third week of Advent
I’ve decided to take a deeper turn in this Advent blog.
As I get closer to Christmas, my prayer is opening up to two things in the last few days.
(1) a deeper realization of my sinfulness and frail human nature.
and (2) an ongoing surrender to the process of transformation that is occurring in me as I turn my life and my will over to God.
That, ongoing dual process ~ “a kind of coincidence of opposites,” dear friends, is what gives meaning and joy to my life.
The Church invites us to enter into that process of ongoing repentance and conversion each year during Advent.
To step out of the rat race. To take a look at our maneuvering ~ scheming ~ elbowing for status or power or success or prestige. Or any of the things American society tells us we’re supposed to “have” to make us happy.
The wise person realizes they won’t!
Let’s reflect a little more on what we can learn from John the Baptist what it’s all about . . .
He was a pretty successful preacher. People were streaming out into the desert to listen to him; he was persuasive. People were willing to change their lives after listening to him.
But he didn’t let it go to his head. He realized what his role was. He was just the “advance man.” And was content with that.
He knew who he was. He didn’t want to be the star. Even though many thought he was “The Man.”
The saying of John that I love and pray often myself is:
“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
My spiritual director reminded me to stay focused on Jesus. To make all my plans provisional.
I was a young, cool, creative priest. I was a rising star. I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
A bishop once told my father, “He’ll be a bishop someday.”
But God had other plans.
Today, I’m just a little guy, content with a tiny flock to care for and writing a little blog few know about.
Arrogance was my greatest character defect and it has taken till recently to whittle that away.
And so today I pray inspired by the one who was content to live in the wilderness . . .
Jesus, You are the light of my life.
Without You I would be nowhere. Nada. Nothing.
And that’s fine with me.
I want You to be in all my relationships,
in all of my writing,
You help me to be humble, Lord.
You cast me down and raised me up again.
You chastise me; You heal me.
With St. Paul, You have helped me realize that in the midst of my brokenness,
it was ~ and is ~ You who make me strong.
Not in the ways of this world, with ambition or striving for power or success or influence,
but in knowing You are right here: You are enough for me, Lord!
Whatever flows from my relationship with You will be good
as I allow You more and more to increase
and allow my false self, my little (Big) ego to fall away.
To be humble is to be close to the “humus” — “muck”.
So, I’m content with the muckiness of my life.
And yet, You have surprised me ~ delighted me ~ ravished me with Your love.
And you know what?
There, I found You!
You raised me up! You drew me to Yourself!
You bound up my wounds! You clothed me with Your LOVE!
What a joy!
And now I’m eager to share Your Love.
To help others realize that You love each and everyone ~ no matter what.
But You want us to love You in return.
Yes, Lord Jesus, You must increase; I must decrease.
Let me never ever forget that. No matter what.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
In the coming days I will try to have us take a deeper look at the mystery of the Incarnation — God’s love affair with our messy ~ mucky ~ crazy human race as it appears in Luke’s story that God came into our world as a vulnerable, homeless baby who cooed and pooped in his pants like the rest of us. That story ~ even if you just accept as a story ~ has much to teach us. Let’s take a fresh look at it and go down to a deeper level. We’ll do that in the coming days.
Here is an inspiring YouTube orchestral and voice arrangement of J. S. Bach’s lovely Advent piece sung by Josh Groban. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Prepare to be goosebupped!
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that Pope has called and has already begun. Here is what he has what he has said in his proclamation about the Holy Year . . . .
Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.
We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.
Tear down this wall: Holy Year calls for human barriers to tumble down
~ writes Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service . . . .
In Catholic tradition, the Holy Door represents the passage to salvation ~ the path to a new and eternal life, which was opened to humanity by Jesus.
It also symbolizes an entryway to God’s mercy — the ultimate and supreme act by which he comes to meet people. Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness,” the pope wrote in “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), instituting the Holy Year of Mercy.
Doors have always had a special meaning for the Catholic Church, according to the late-Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the former archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“The door of a church marks the divide between the sacred and profane, separating the church’s interior from the outside world. It is the boundary defining welcome and exclusion,” he wrote in the book, “The Holy Door in St. Peter’s” in 1999.
The door is also a symbol of Mary — the mother, the dwelling of the Lord — and she, too, always has open arms and is ready to welcome the children of God home. Pope Francis was scheduled to open the door Dec. 8, the feast of Mary’s immaculate conception.
But the door especially represents Christ himself — the one and only way to eternal life. As Jesus said, according to the Gospel of John (10:9), “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
The Holy Year traditionally begins with the opening of the Holy Door to represent a renewed opportunity to encounter or grow closer to Jesus, who calls everyone to redemption.
Jesus knocks on everyone’s door; he yearns to accompany and nourish everyone. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me,” the Book of Revelation quotes him as saying.
But doors are also narrow, Cardinal Noe wrote, and people must stoop with humility and “be brought down to size by conversion” in order to be “fit” for eternal life.
That is why passing through a Holy Door is part of a longer process of sacrifice and conversion required for receiving an indulgence granted during a Holy Year. A plenary indulgence, the remission of temporal punishment due to sin, is offered for pilgrims who also fulfill certain other conditions: reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, visits and prayers for the intention of the pope and performing simple acts such as visiting the sick.
This spiritual process of encounter and conversion is made tangible in the elaborate rituals developed over time for the opening of the Holy Door.
The symbolic ceremony of opening a Holy Door came more than a century after the first Holy Year was proclaimed in 1300.
Pope Martin V, in 1423, opened the Holy Door in the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the first time for a jubilee. Next, Pope Alexander VI called for all four Holy Doors in Rome to be opened at Christmas in 1499 for the Jubilee of 1500.
Starting in the 16th century, the ceremony to open the door in St. Peter’s Basilica included the pope reciting verses from the Psalms and striking the wall covering the Holy Door with a silver hammer three times.
Masons completed the task of dismantling the brick and mortared wall, which represents the difficulty and great effort required to overcome the barrier of sin and to open the path to holiness.
Some have found meaning in the fact that Jesus had five wounds and St. Peter’s Basilica has five doors. Opening the Holy Door recalls the piercing of Jesus’ side from which poured forth blood and water, the source of regeneration for humanity. The Holy Door of St. Peter’s, in fact, is decorated with 16 bronze panels depicting the story of Jesus, in his mercy, seeking his lost sheep.
The symbolism of the hammer in the hands of the pope represents the power and jurisdiction God gives him to cast away the stones of sin, chink open hardened hearts and break down walls separating humanity from God.
The removal of the wall also conjures up pulling away the stone that sealed the tomb of Lazarus, whom Jesus resurrected from the dead.
For the closing of the door at the end of the Holy Year, the traditional rite included the pope blessing and spreading the mortar with a special trowel and setting three bricks for the start of a new wall — a symbol of the spiritual rebuilding of the Lord’s house as well as the ever-present human temptation to put up new barriers against God with sin.
While there have been some changes to those ceremonies over time, the Holy Door is always a reminder that because of God’s mercy, any obstacles can always be removed, and the door to hope and forgiveness is always there waiting.
Each diocese has designated certain churches with Holy Doors for people to make a local pilgrimage. But Pope Francis has made all this easy. Those who are housebound may still receive the blessings of the the Holy Year. Prisoners may do so by stepping over the door of their cell!
And recall what Jesus has said . . . .
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved.” (Jn 10:9)
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”(Lk. 11:9)
And now before you go, here is the official hymn of the Year of Mercy. Click Here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like them; today is the Memorial of St. John of the Cross. Click here.