And earthy religions celebrate the Winter Solstice, the beginning of the ascendancy of the sun in the northern hemisphere today, Wednesday, December 21 at 4:47 pm-est.(Christianity subsumed pagan celebrations into its own. Christmas trees came to us from Germanic pagan customs.)
There sometimes can be a lot of depression swirling around at Christmastime. I’ve talked to several friends who spoke to me about their loneliness in during the holidays
Some of us can feel lonelier because we’re expected to be cheerful and we may just not feel much Christmas joy, but instead may feel plain down in the dumps or like diving into the bottom of a bottle.
This blog is meant for us to notice and reach out to our friends and pray for them.
Let’s be with those who have lost a loved one and still miss them.
Let’s also remember kids who are shuffled back from one parent to another to “celebrate” the holidays; that’s got to be a terrible thing to do to children.
And what about service men and women away from their families and others who have to work long hours and come home to an empty house.
And so, may we pray:
There are sometimes dark clouds in our lives, Jesus.
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 Your 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 jobs, our world.
And there are dark and ominous clouds over our world too, 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, your love and your justice in our land.
Lord Jesus, come! We need Your Lightand Your Love now more than ever.
And before you go, here’s Handel’s “His Yoke is Easy” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
The symbol for St. John is the eagle because he soars to the heights of mystical love
Wednesday of the Third 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 youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.
– Isaiah 40:30-31.
So many of us become discouraged by life, especially after months and months of sheltering in place because of this pandemic. Many of us may lose our job or have been told that we no longer have the health benefits we once had for our family.
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.
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 ceases 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.
The Advent season provides many texts to comfort us and offer us hope. God knows we need hope in our land today! and throughout the world.
I praise you, Lord, because you’ve restored my vigor in marvelous ways.
You have renewed my strength again and again.
Please allow our young people to soar as if on eagle’s wings,
and our older folk to be borne up on the wings of Your love, Lord.
Yes, as I grow older, I’m ready to renew my priestly service to You, Lord,
as long as you grant me the grace, the vigor and the strength.
Whatever You will, Lord. Whatever you will – for all of us! Amen.
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.
Here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. It’s the lovely feast of St. John of the Cross. Click here.
(Below, I’ll provide you a link if you’d like to know some more about this lovely poet and co-founder of the reformed Carmelite Order alongside St. Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century.)
St.John of the Cross is known especially for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Avila. Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of all Spanish literature. Read more.
“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 St. Augustine and Jacksonville one misty December Sunday morning about 2 AM. I was living in St. Augustine at the time (2006).
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 off 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 yesterday’s (Sunday’s) gospel:
“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 I sometimes think 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.
Are we getting rid of the roadblocks that stop us from making progress. Our addictions. Our resentments. Our selfishness?
If we don’t make an effort to do that, our Christmas will be hollow, empty, Lord.
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? Reallydoing with our lives?
Where is our life’s journey taking us?
What is life really all about?
I-95 at 2 AM can help us 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 many commuters would return to their frenzied ~ furied ~ hurried ~ harried ~unaware ~ unreflected lives going to and fro and not knowing really where they’re going or what they were doing or why.
Time for You to change, dear friend? Time for a change?
Now before you go, here’s another video from Godspell: Where are You Going? Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. (The First reading from Isaiah is a wonderful piece of prose; try reading it aloud.)Click here.
Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nicholas. We’ll explore the real St. Nicholas–the man and the legend.
Isaiah dreams of a bright future for us; he also chastises us for our idolatry and unfaithfulness to God and encourages us to be our best selves.
But today he shows us a wonderful vision: the animals lead the way to peace!
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb . .
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest:
the lion shall eat hay like an ox
The baby shall play in the cobra’s den (Isaiah 11:5-10.)
Let’s muse about peace and harmony today.
About the animal’s leading the way to peace.
(I have a Christmas short story about an owl from the banks of the Shenandoah
and a young lion from the Serengeti Plain in Africa leading the way to peace.
It’s a delightful story. Why not download it and save it for close to Christmas?
My puppy Shivvy (of happy memory) demonstrated a love for fellow creatures of all sorts.
I have stories of him with turtles and little doves with broken wings and bunny rabbits and ducklings on our walks around our condo.
What is so new about the promised “mountain of the Lord” is not that the wolf and the lamb are there, but that the wolf remains a wolf and the lamb remains a lamb and yet they dwell together without hurt in God’s kingdom. Under God’s rule, conversion and obedience do not mean the loss of identity, but the discovery of our true identity as one in Christ.
Think about it.
What can we do today to bring more harmony into the places in which we live . . .
– at home, at work, at church, in my neighborhood, in our world?
In America today, we are so polarized and torn apart, this story can be an inspiration to us to help bring us together. Maybe this week you and I can make a little effort to reach out to someone across a divide and make a new acquaintance.
Behold a broken world, we pray,
Where want and war increase,
And grant us, Lord, in this our day,
The ancient dream of peace.
Bring, Lord, your better world to birth,
Your kingdom, love’s domain,
Where peace with God and peace on earth,
And peace eternal reign.
~ Timothy Dudley Smith / 1985
If you’re new to this Advent blog, I recommend reading Welcome to Advent 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 spirituality whether you are a Catholic or even a Christian.
I will be posting most days of Advent, (God willin’ n’ the creek don’t rise.)
You can make yourself mini-retreat for five minutes a day and have the best and most meaningful Christmas ever! It’ll relieve your stress. Calm your nerves. Put a bounce in your step and a smile on your face. And it’s free! So, what are you waiting for? Come on board! Put your email address in the hopper and you won’t have to think about it again.
And now, for your listening pleasure from Handel’s Messiah here’s “And the Glory of the Lord” from Robert Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
“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
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 us to prepare 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.
As we examine the gospel of Luke this year, we see that for this gospel writer, the emergence of John the Baptist was one of the hinges on which history turned. He dramatically dates it in three different ways. Here’s the text . . .
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Lk. 3:1-6)
First of all, he begins by citing Roman, that is, Gentile—not Jewish history. Tiberius was the successor of Augustus and therefore the second of the Roman emperors. Luke thus begins by setting the emergence of John against a world background, that of the Roman empire—this according to scripture scholar William Barclay.
The next three dates are connected to the political organization of Palestine, mentioning Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip.
And then turning to the religious situation, he dates John’s emergence in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the actual high priest, Annas was still the most influential priestly figure in the land. (All these men, of course, were also to be actors on the stage of Jesus’ trial and execution a few years later.)
Barclay suggests a unique way of understanding the quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5:
“When a king proposed to tour a part of his dominions, he sent a courier before hi m to tell the people to prepare the roads. So John is regarded as the King’s courier or herald. But the preparation on which he insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. ‘The King is coming,’ he said. ‘Mend. Not your roads, but your lives.’”
In the Magnificat edition for this month, St. John Chrysostom notes that John received the Word of God “like a commandment.” God’s word impelled John to prepare the way for Christ that was a powerful, efficacious grace that filled his whole being since he was dedicated to this work from his womb.
That was his sole mission in his preaching, teaching and baptizing. The grace of repentance similarly moves us to overcome hopelessness and fear-perhaps during the trying years the pandemic–in turning to the Lord for the Passion of the Lord is not forbidding but forgiving.
There’s also an interesting point about Luke’s quotation of Isaiah here that’s different from the other three gospels. He brings it to its logical conclusion: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke is the gospel for the Gentiles—the gospel for everyone; he excludes no one, like our Pope Francis.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.
Not, as of old, a little child,
To bear, and fight, and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings.
And, before you go, here’s a rendering of Handel’s And the glory of the Lord that contains the line quoted in Isaiah. Click here, and be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
And here are this Sunday’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Acknowledgment: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975-2001
There’s a powerful sentence in Isaiah that has been quoted by statesmen seeking disarmament throughout the Twentieth Century . . . .
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks
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 now this never-ending war in Afghanistan. I, for one am thankful President Biden finally brought it to an end, even though it was distressful and chaotic.
Pope Paul VI, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly made an impassioned plea:
“No more war! Never again war!”
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.”
Pope Francis in his New Year’s message at the beginning of this year wrote:
Peace, a journey of hope in the face of obstacles and trial
Peace is a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family. Our world is paradoxically marked by “a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.
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” as you see in this image on this side altar in the Anglican National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
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 third 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.
And if you’re new to this Advent blog, or want to refresh your understanding of the season, I recommend reading >> Welcome to Advent to get a sense of why we spend four weeks preparing for our Christmas celebration and how it can help us deepen our spirituality. It can work whether you are a Catholic or just interested in your spirituality. (In order to return to this page, you’ll need to use the back arrow < on the top left-hand corner of your browser.)
Before you go here’s a great music video from people gathered from around the world ~ “Let there be peace on earth”. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings; it’s the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. (Wish everybody you know whose name is Andrew a “happy name day!” Click here.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
(Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36)
It’s kinda funny. We begin our liturgical year by thinking about The End ~the end of history. Our Gospel today isn’t very comforting; in fact it’s pretty scary ~he’s putting all that stuff before you!
Our Scripture scholar friend William Barclay, whom I’ve referenced from time to time, points out that there are two main points for us to take away from today’s lesson:
First, this Gospel’s talking about the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The Stoics regarded history as circular. They held that every 3,000 years or so the world was consumed by a great conflagration , then it started all over again. That meant that history was going nowhere.
There are a lot of folks out there who want to tell us when that’s gonna happen. And even where to show up. You’ve seen the billboards and the TV preachers stomping out their predictions. But . . .
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mk 3:32). Not even Jesus. Think about that. Jesus himself doesn’t know when it’s going to happen–only the Father.
So, when it will be and what it will be like are not ours to know. The major lesson of this first Sunday of Advent is that history is going somewhere. History has a goal and that goal is Jesus Christ who will be the Lord of all.
Second, today’s Gospel stresses the need to be on the watch. But we are not only to be vigilant for our bodily safety but, as Barclay points out, we must live our lives in ‘a permanent state of expectation’.
I’d like to note here that today’s Gospel passage is the last one in Luke before the account of the Passion of the Lord (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36).
THE LITURGICAL YEAR has three cycles. This year we’re in Cycle C and we’ll be proclaiming and listening to the Gospel of Luke all year. (We just finished listening to the Gospel of Mark in Cycle B.)
Here are some notes about the Gospel of Luke from William Barclay that I found rewarding for my own use.
THE GOSPEL OF LUKE has been called the loveliest book in the world. It would not be far wrong to say that the third gospel was the best life of Christ ever written.
Luke was a Gentile—the only New Testament writer who was not a Jew. He was a doctor by profession and that fact may have given him the “wide sympathy he possessed.”
As a trusted companion of St. Paul he must have known all the great figures of the early Church and you can be sure that he had them tell their stories to him. For two years he was Paul’s companion in imprisonment in Caesarea where he had a great opportunity for study and research.
The book was written to a man called Theophilus. He is called most excellent Theophilus.—the normal title for a high official in the Roman government. Luke wrote it to tell an earnest inquirer about Jesus.
A Gospel for the Gentiles
Theophilus was a Gentile as was Luke himself. Unlike Matthew, he is not interested in the life of Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. He seldom quotes the Old Testament at all. He never uses the term Rabbi of Jesus but always a Greek word meaning Master.
Because of this, Barclay suggests, Luke is the easiest of all the gospels to read. He was writing, not for Jews, but for people very much like ourselves. (pp.1-2)
The Gospel of Prayer
At all the great moments of his life, Luke shows Jesus at prayer. He prayed at his baptism (3:21); before he chose the Twelve (6:12); before his first prediction of his death (9:18); at the transfiguration (9:28); and upon the Cross (23:46). Only Luke tells us that Jesus prayed for Peter in his hour of testing (22:32). Only he tells us the prayer parables of the friend at midnight (11: 5-13) and the unjust judge (18:1-6).
To Luke, again according Barclay, “the unclosed door of prayer was one of the most precious in all the world. (p.4)
The Gospel of Women
In Palestine the place of women was low. In the Jewish morning prayer, a man thanks God that he was not made “a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”
But Luke elevates the place of women in his narrative. The story of Jesus’ birth is told from Mary’s point of view. In Luke, we read of Elizabeth, of Anna, of the widow of Nain, of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. It is Luke who splashes lavish strokes upon his portrait canvases of Martha and Mary and Mary Magdalene. (pp. 4-5)
The Gospel of Praise
In Luke the phrase praising God occurs more often than all the New Testament put together. This praise reaches it peak in the three great hymns that the Church has sung throughout all her generations—the Magnificat (146:55), the Benedictus (1:68-79) and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32.)
Again friend Barclay waxes eloquently, “there’s a radiance in Luke’s gospel which is a lovely thing, as if a sheen of heaven had touched the things of earth. (p.5.)
The Universal Gospel
All the barriers are down: For Luke, Jesus Christ is for all people without distinction.
(This is the same message, by the way, as our present Pope who repeats over and over again.)
(1) The kingdom of heaven is not shut for Samaritans. Luke alone tells the story of the Good Samaritan (10:30-7). The one grateful leper is a Samaritan. (17:11-19) John can record that the Jews have not dealings with Samaritans but Luke refuses to shut the door on anyone. (p.5)
(How does that play against the background on the American agenda today?)
(2) Luke shows Jesus speaking of approval of Gentiles whom orthodox Jews would consider unclean. He shows Jesus citing the widow of Zarepeth and Naaman the Syrian as shining examples (4:25:-7). The Roman centurion is praised for the greatness of his faith (7:9) And these great words of Jesus:
People will come from east and west, north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. (13:29). (p.6)
(3) Luke demonstrates a great interest in the poor. He alone tells the story of the rich man and the poor man (16:19-31). In Matthew (5:3), the saying of Jesus is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” But Luke simply states, “Blessed are you who are poor” (6:20).
Barclay here: “Luke’s gospel has been called ‘the gospel of the underdog’. His heart runs out to everyone for whom life is an unequal struggle.
Perhaps Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would care to read our friend St. Luke and I’m certain President Joe Biden has.
(4) Most of all, Luke shows Jesus as a friend of outcasts and sinners. He alone tells of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfumed oil and bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair in the house of Simon the Pharisee. (7:36-50); of Zachaeus, the despised tax collector (19:1-10); and he alone has the immortal story of the prodigal son and the loving father (15: 11-32).
All four gospel writers quote from Isaiah 40 when they give the message of John the Baptist, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’; but only Luke continues the quotation to its triumphant conclusion . . . .
‘And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Isaiah 40 3-5) (Luke 3:4,6).
Luke of all the gospel writers sees no limits to the love of God.
As I’ve prepared this commentary, I look forward to studying and praying over the texts of Luke, and proclaiming his Gospel as the Lord allows me during the coming year, in a way that I’ve never done before. Will you join me?
Before you go,here is a section of Handel’s Messiah that fits this theme, “And who will abide the day of His coming?” 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