MONDAY OF THE SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
“Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” Isaiah 40:3
This image was taken on I-95 between Jacksonville and St. Augustine one misty December Sunday morning about 2 AM. I was living in St. Augustine at the time.
On my way home from “Father Bob’s night out,” I was so taken by the magic of the vista before me I had to pull on the shoulder and capture it on my Canon Power Shot.
For me, even the interstate can be a place for reflection. . .
I was thinking of John the Baptist’s message that also appeared in the gospel for that Sunday:
“Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.”
And this was what I wrote back then, inspired by that moment on the side of a highway at 2 AM on a magical ~ mystical Sunday morning.
Where are we going, Lord?
Every day we’re on a journey that will not be complete until we meet You.
In our daily commutes, stuck in traffic, are we making progress in our spiritual journey, Lord?
Are we making a straight highway in the spiritual wasteland that America is today, Lord?
John’s message was one of repentance.
When he said, “make straight His paths,” he meant to clear a way for the coming of God into our hearts and souls.
Help us get rid of the roadblocks that stop us from making progress. Our addictions. Our resentments. Our selfishness, Lord. Our incivility toward one another.
If we don’t make an effort to do that, our Christmas will be hollow ~ empty.
In all of our pre-Christmas bustle and hustle are we preparing a straight path for You to come
into our hearts, our homes, our workplace, our land, our world this Christmas?
What are we doing, Lord? Really doing with our lives?
Where is our life’s journey taking us?
What is life really all about?
I-95 at 2 AM helped me ponder that question.
I realized that was a special moment for me, a moment I seized.
Or rather seized me.
Thank you, Lord.
On Monday morning there would be a return to frenzied / furied / hurried / unaware / unreflected lives of many going to and fro and not knowing really where they were going.
Time for a change, dear friend? Time for a change?
Here’s a video from Godspell: Where are You Going? Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d care to reflect on them. (The first reading from Isaiah is a very beautiful piece of poetry. Check it out). Click here.
The symbol for St. John is the eagle because he soars to the heights of mystical love
Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah is so amazing. He offers hope. He sees imminent possibilities for the human race.
At times, he also warns and sometimes chastises.
I’ve always loved this scripture that appear in the Advent Mass texts:
God gives strength to the fainting,
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youth stagger and fall,
They that hope in the Lord
will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagle’s wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.
– Isaiah 40:30-31.
(This was the first reading of yesterday’s Mass) So many of us become discouraged by life. We may lose our job or are told that we no longer have the health benefits we once had for our family. And many of us are now worried how we’ll be affected by the Republican’s tax bill, if it becomes law. We grow older and have more aches and pains and worry more. Some of us are couch potatoes and don’t exercise enough and get more depressed. And are, indeed, in need of an infusion of renewed strength.
In these latter days of Advent, think about the ways you can restore your vigor ~ or better ask the Lord to renew your strength! He will! As he has done for me again and again and again! I’ve been down many times; but he never cease to raise me up again.
And you might note that the symbol for John the evangelist is the eagle, because he soars to the heights of mystical glory in his writings.
I praise you, Lord, because you’ve restored my vigor in marvelous ways.
You have renewed my strength again and again.
And I’d love to soar as if with eagle’s wings,
if you would grant me that grace even now.
Soar to the heights of the mountains,
and dive to the depths of the ocean of Your love, Lord.
Yes, as I grow older, I’m ready to serve You, Lord
as long as you grant me the grace, the vigor and the strength.
Whatever You will, Lord. Whatever you will.
Now, before you go, here is one of our great Catholic liturgical songs ~ “On Eagles’ Wings” Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite mystic and reformer Here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Monday of the First Week of Advent
If you’re new to this Advent blog, I recommend reading Welcome to Advent 2009 to get a sense of why we want to spend four weeks preparing for our Christmas celebration and how it can help you deepen your (our) spirituality whether you are a Catholic or even a Christian.
I’d like to call your attention to yesterday’s first reading (Isaiah 2: 1-5 ) because it’s an important Advent theme:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. — Isaiah 2:4.
All of my adult life my writing and my prayer has been against war —
Viet Nam / the Balkans / the Gulf War / Iraq / and Afghanistan.
Pope Paul VI, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly made an impassioned plea:
“No more war! Never again war!
And Pope John Paul II said the Iraq war was A defeat for humanity.
And Dwight David Eisenhower, the great general of Word War II and President of the U.S. said: “When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.”
And now Pope Francis has gone even further. The Vatican had a conference recently about building a world free of nuclear weapons. Pope Francis has inferred that the global political system has become irrational, describing his decision last month to shift papal teaching away from an acceptance of nuclear deterrence as partly due to the world’s instability.
In an hour-long press conference aboard the papal flight to Rome Dec. 2, the pontiff also said it is his “convinced opinion” that the world is “at the limit of licitly having and using nuclear weapons.”
Asked what about the world situation had changed that caused him to break with the church’s previous acceptance of nuclear deterrence, and if recent saber-rattling between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had played a role, the pope replied: “What has changed is the irrationality.”
Pope Francis pauses as he answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome Dec. 2.
Comparing his November 10th statement at the Vatican conference that the “very possession” of nuclear weapons is to be “firmly condemned” to Pope John Paul II’s determination in 1982 that deterrence was “morally acceptable,” Francis said: “Many years have passed since the time of John Paul II.”
“Today, we are at the limit,” the pontiff continued. “Why? Because with nuclear arsenals that are so sophisticated today, the destruction of humanity is at risk, or at least the great part of humanity.”
Francis then told journalists he wanted to ask a question “not as part of the papal magisterium, but as a question made by a pope.”
“Today, is it licit to maintain nuclear arsenals as they are?” he asked. “Or, today, to save creation, to save humanity, is it not necessary to go backwards?” (National Catholic Reporter / Dec 2, 2017 online edition / Joshua J. McElwee)
And now, what about you and me?
Advent is a time to wish for peace / pray for peace / work for peace.
The Christmas story is about peace. One of the titles of Jesus is “Prince of Peace.”
But we become cynical about peace.
Many of us have our private little wars that we engage in every day with a sibling or a friend or co-worker.
Let’s “Practice peacefulness”, as a friend put it to me once. Let’s stop the gossiping, giving people a chance. Try to be kinder to the folks you interact with today.
The legend of St. Christopher carrying a child across a stream on a stormy night invites us to greet every human person as if they were Christ himself.
Think thoughts of peace. Be peace. At least try it today, the second day of Advent.
I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people and his friends.
and those who turn to him in their hearts.
Mercy and faithfulness have met;
Justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
and justice look down from heaven.
The Lord will make us prosper
and the earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before him
and peace shall follow his steps.
Before you go here’s a simple hymn about peace with a slideshow. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen. And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.
While all things were
in quiet silence,
And when night was
in the midst of
her swift course,
Your Almighty Word,
Leaped down out
of your royal throne,
~ And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:14
Our waiting is over.
Christmas is here!
I am ready to receive whatever gift Jesus wants to give me this Christmas. You see, 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 and prepare yourself and be ready receive . . .
Try to be receptive to God as Mary was. She just said, a simple Yes! to the angel.
”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 wants to give you.
Cleanse your heart of resentments ~ of preoccupations of unnecessary things.
Ask yourself what is the real 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 the crosses I’ve carried over the years.
But it’s all gift!
So, I hope you have received something nourishing and sweet in the 25 posts I’ve been able to create this Advent.
They are my gift to you.
But I’ve already received a wonderful gift.
As I was writing these blogs over the past month, I found Jesus calling me closer to him. It was truly an ineffable experience that I hope enriches my priestly life and my way of relating to other people. I’m singing more and I’m happier, though my life circumstances are not so great.
May 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.
Dearest Lord Jesus,
O how wonderful you are to me—to us.
I feel like a child again for you said
that we must be childlike before the Father
and you called him Abba—Daddy,
thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus,
for my priesthood, for my home
for the food on my table,
for my little furry friend Shoney,
for my readers and so much more!
Please bless my friends and readers,
especially those who have lost a loved one this year,
or who are lonely or sick or in need in any way.
We ask you this, Jesus, always,
in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
But you know what? We share this holy day with our Jewish friends! Christmas Eve as the evening star is noticed in the sky our Jewish boys and girls and Moms and Dads will light the first candle on their Menorah for the eight days of Hanukkah.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Now, before you go, 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 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.
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
(My Advent Wreath)
Where are you, Emmanuel?
Are you here?
Are you here in the messiness of our lives?
Can you really ransom us from our captivities,
our slaveries to addictions, our hatreds and grudges and jealousies
that eat us up and spit us out?
Our guilts, our “coulda, shouldas, wouldas — our druthers and regrets?
Our lethargy, our hopelessness, our slumber, our rage?
O Israel! O America!
Do You really want Emmanuel to come?
Do We want you to? (Do I?)
Many languish in mourning, Emmanuel
in exiles made by Wall Street and homelessness and sickness
and loneliness and selfishness.
Many a young heart yearns ~ aches for direction and meaning and love.
Prisoners waste away. Such a waste of young lives!
Will you ransom their hearts, and souls, Emmanuel?
~ our hearts and souls?
Will you change our justice system to be truly just?
Will you truly rain down justice as the psalmist says?
Yes, Emmanuel, come!
Even though we can sometimes hardly be with ourselves.
Captivate us! Inhale us with Your love.
Dazzle us with hope and new life and possibility.
Yes, Emmanuel! We believe you will come.
Maybe not today or tomorrow.
You will transform the secret yearnings of our souls.
We will dance and sing and embrace You and each other
because you came among us, Emmanuel.
You ARE with us, Emmanuel.
You are LOVE ITSELF!
Because of You our own being becomes “being-in-love!”
We rejoice! We give thanks! We believe!
Come, Lord Jesus! Yes, Lord Jesus, come.
Brothers and sisters, this Christmas let each of us give thanks
— and receive again in a new way
such a precious, wondrous love,
such a wonderful gift.
Here is a YouTube presentation of the powerful hymn sung by Steve Green “What wondrous love is this? Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen,
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
We have two days remaining to prepare our heart to receive the new gift Jesus wishes to give us this year. Be sure to take time to prepare. As for me, this Advent, as I’ve written these blogs and my new Reflection / Letter, in spite of the personal life difficulties I’m going through right now, the joy and happiness I feel as I approach Christmas is truly amazing. I live alone with my dog Shoney and my Lord as a companion as well. My hope, my prayer, my desire is that in some small way I am able to share that with you, my beloved readers. Tomorrow I will publish my blog for Christmas.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
Come and free the prisoners of darkness!
~ The O Antiphon for December 20th
As I approach Christmas,, I feel shaken up, as Father Alfred Delp, S.J. aptly wrote two years after I was born. He wrote with his hands in shackles in his prison cell in Berlin, just before he was hanged for high treason in 1945, three months before the war ended. His ashes were scattered on the winds; Hitler wanted him forgotten. (His writings were smuggled out of prison.) In a widely published article, The Shaking Reality of Advent, he wrote:
There is nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up.
Where life is firm we need to have a sense of its firmness;
and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation,
we need to know this too and endure it. (emphasis mine.)
We may ask God why he sent us in this time,
why he has sent this whirlwind on the earth,
why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless
and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight.
I found Father Delp’s message considerably consoling in the light of what our country and our world situation is in at the moment. Why not read his words again in that light?
Here is the message of Advent:
faced with him who is the Last,
the world will begin to shake.
Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see this Last One and get to the bottom of things.
Only then will we be able to guard our life from the frights and terrors into which God the Lord has let the world sink to teach us,
so that we may awaken from sleep, as Paul says, and see that it is time to repent, time to change things. It is time to say, “All right, it was night; but let that be over now and let us be ready for the day.”
We must do this with a decision that comes out of these very horrors we have experienced and all that is connected with them; and because of this our decision will be unshakable even in uncertainty. [. . . .]
The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him,
even if they are hounded from the earth. [ . . . . ..]
If we are inwardly unshaken, inwardly incapable of being genuinely shaken,
if we become obstinate and hard and superficial and cheap,
then God will himself intervene in world events and teach us what it means to be placed in this agitation and be stirred inwardly.
Remember, that Father Delp was talking about the disastrous times of war-torn Germany in 1945.
God of mercy and compassion,
our times are very much like the days Father Delp was writing about.
We, too, need to be shaken from our complacency.
Even after our election, hatred and bullying and fear has increased among our people.
We need you, Lord!
Come among us once again and shake us up to the reality of your Justice!
And as the O Antiphon shouts:
Free the prisoners of darkness among us ~
The poor, those imprisoned unjustly, those without healthcare,
and so so many more crying out to us, pleading for mercy and our love.
Come Lord Jesus and do not delay!
And now, before you go, here’s an appropriate selection from Handel’s Messiah, His Yoke is easy and His burden is light. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Alfred Delp, S.J. The Shaking Reality of Advent / translated by the Plough Publishing Company
Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent
Advent themes are all about waiting for light to shine in our darkness.
For we who are Christians 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, sailors 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 especially,
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 few days before Christmas. Here is a web site that has information and recordings of all seven. Click here. , if you’d like to learn more about our Gregorian chant tradition. Each of them are listed and explained. (Then if you wish, scroll all the way 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 finally, here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
* Adonai is one of the names the Jewish people use for God.
We’re quite used to hearing St. Luke’s version of the Annunciation story. But we’re in the A-cycle of readings this year that features the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew’s Annunciation story is less known, so I’ve placed the entire text here for us to look at, because it’s a bit convoluted for our western mindset. With the help of our Scripture-scholar William Barclay and others, I’ll try to help us unpack this for us.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
Here’s where the confusion lies.
First, the text says that “Mary was betrothed to Joseph but before they were living together she was found with child.” Then it says, “since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Then after the angel makes his Announcement that Mary will bear a son and told him not to be afraid of taking Mary into his home.
Barclay indicates that in Jewish marriage procedure there were three steps.
1) There was the engagement, which was often made when the couple were only children, usually through the parents or through a professional matchmaker.
2) There was the betrothal, or the ratification of the betrothal. Once the betrothal was entered into it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife. It was at this stage that Mary and Joseph were. And Joseph wanted to end the betrothal, which could happen in no other way than by divorce. Mary was legally known as his wife during that year.
3) The third stage was the marriage proper.
Barclay/ The Gospel of Matthew – Volume 1 p.18
Now let’s take a deeper look at the meaning of Matthew’s Annunciation story.
Bishop Robert Baron offers a beautiful commentary for us . . . .
When Moses asked God for his name, the Lord enigmatically responds I am who am. Hebrew scholars tells us that the root sense of the [Hebrew word] is ” I will be with you.” God identifies himself as the one who had pledged his solidarity with his suffering people Israel.
Writing during a time of particular trial in the history of the chosen people God will send a sign:
The virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which carries the sense that God is with us.
And has he wrestles with the terrible dilemma of what to do with his betrothed who had become pregnant, Joseph dreams of an angel who tells him to take Mary as his wife.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
God’s truest name and most distinctive quality is he will be with us. In good times and in bad, during periods of light and darkness, when we are rejoicing or grieving, God is stubbornly with us, EMMANUEL!
And here’s one more thought for you about our dear St. Joseph . . . .
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
The word awoke has the greater meaning of “to arise, to get up.” Gospel awakening / arising marks the beginning of a graced, personal transformation. One is struck by the rapid succession of these five verbs [he rose, he did, he took, he did not know, he called], indicating a sense of swiftness in everything Joseph did following his dream.
Joseph is the obedient man of action whose every move is attentive to the will of God.
He is the man called upon to love, cherish, nurture and protect the Mother and the Child while at the same time having to accomplish a profound renunciation of natural instincts.
His vocation is to be the visible fatherhood of God on earth.
O dear St. Joseph,
how I’ve come to love you even more
in the four hours writing this blog.
Tears are forming in my eyes.
I seldom think of you or pray to you, dear St. Joseph.
What a wonderful story St. Matthew weaves for us!
Help us, then, prepare for Jesus coming into our hearts.
And help me to be more like you.
Strong. Silent. Caring. Always there.
Thank you for what I’ve learned tonight in these wee hours.
What a grace!
And what about you, dear friends?
What do you take away from this story?
We only have five more days to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord and Savior.
Are you ready?
And now before you go, here’s the great Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Bishop Robert Baron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a regular contributor to the Magnificat monthly liturgical magazine from which this article was selected for December 18th. p. 266