On this coming, Monday, January, 21, 2019, we will 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 took an assassin’s bullet that he knew was waiting for him at any moment. It came while he was leading a strike for sanitation workers in Memphis. He inspired and led the Civil Rights movement that acquired great change in our land. This man is one of my mentors. I was in his presence once in 1963 when I was in the seminary in Baltimore. Our Rector arranged for a lot of us to hear him speak when he came to Baltimore. Today, I have an image of him near my desk.
He was a man who committed himself to nonviolence like Mohandas Gandhi and Jesus my Lord who died on the Cross for us, as 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 of police and others in their racial hatred. His organizers trained them to have the courage to go to jail for what they believed.
On, the day after his assassination, I formally entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as an ordained deacon. I was a seminary student at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in 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 of our chapel with my brothers to be ordained. In the shadow of this man whose ideals of justice and peace and freedom I also wanted to absorb into my body and soul, I sucked in a deep breath and pledged my life to Christ.
Today, in this land of America, we seem to be allowing 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 to slip away from us.
Racism that was covert has reared its ugly head and been condoned when it should have been severely condemned, beginning with Charlottesville, Virginia, the very home of Jefferson’s great University of Virginia and, recently, infecting the halls of the House of Representatives itself. The number of race-based killings and other incidents in our country in the last two years has been astounding — some by officers of the law. It has taken our young people to lead the way to and advocate for real change once again.
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 have 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 2019.
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 and realize 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!
May we call each other more than a generation later to the principles of Nonviolence Dr. King instilled in his followers.
They were trained to sit down on the ground and take 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 willingness to give his life for what he believed in ~ no matter what.
Is there anything you are willing to give your life for?
I continually ask myself the same question and pray the answer is Yes! (Or at least I hope so.)
It has been a generation since Dr. King delivered his most powerful and eloquent speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 that led subsequently to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law on June 2, 1964, I offer this brief excerpt of “the I Have a Dream” speech. It’s the original given at the Lincoln Memorial. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen as it’s not a good quality video. Click here.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ~ Sunday, January 13, 2019
This feast is part of the epiphany cycle of feasts ….
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.
Pope Benedict XVI has an interesting commentary on this feast . . . .
The Baptism of Jesus was held in great importance by the apostolic community, in that circumstance, for the first time in history there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads of Palestine. The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the cross and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.
This is why the early Church Fathers have dedicated such great interest in this feast, which is the most ancient after Easter: “Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy,”sings today’s liturgy, “he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.” (Antiphon to the Benedictus)
There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened to indicate the Savior has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5) accomplished in baptism. The commitment that springs from baptism is therefore to “listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.
(As recorded in the “Meditation of the Day” in the Magnificat liturgical magazine January 2019 issue, p.179.)
Thus, God sent his 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 got in line with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John by the River Jordan.
In this we see Jesus’ humility. He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition. He willingly presents himself for baptism.
There he is: John 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 unknown at this time 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’s a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John. Jesus is to receive his baptism of repentance ~ not because there’s sin in him, but in order to model for us the authentic way to approach the Father.
He goes to the Baptist as a beggar because the Mystery is mercy. Jesus surrenders to mercy by submitting himself to baptism in order to invite us to share in his relationship with the Father announced from heaven:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Lord Jesus lowers himself in his baptism and, as Nothingness, acknowledges his Father so that we will never hesitate to do the same. (Source: Magnificat /Jan. 2019 issue p. 173.)
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 a while. 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 Burl Ives singing the traditional spiritual “Shall we Gather at the River.” Click here
The Feast of the Epiphany ~ Sunday, January 6th, 2019
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.
St. 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, 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 and 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 where some leaders 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 and theologian Søren 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, the Jesuit priest imprisoned and executed by Hitler in 1945, whom we recently quoted in a powerful Advent article before Christmas, The Shaking Reality of Advent 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.
Where is our desire? Where is our risk to set out to find the meaning of our life? To find Jesus at our center? Where is our yearning? Hunger? Thirst? What star do you follow?
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 enshrouded by darkness.
At this moment over 800,000 government workers must go to work without pay and don’t know when they will be paid. That’s very worrisome for them and their families and for all those who depend on them. That is darkness.
And we know that there is darkness in the world. Israelis refuse to seek peace with the Palestinians. And there’s troubles in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. People have been displaced by the Tsunami in Indonesia and the wildfires in California. 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.
And finally, dear friends, 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 receivethe gift 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. Maybe we adore a favorite movie star or our favorite sports team when they’re winning at least, or a new sports car, a new home, a gifted child of our own.
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.
You can find today’s Mass readings at this link. 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.
And if you’d like an extra treat, do you remember the little drummer boy? Here he he is! Click here.