The sixth day of Christmas December 29th
The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus and Mary and Joseph
(The eighth day of Hanukkah and the sixth day of Kwanzaa
Let’s start with some notes on today’s gospel which is from Matthew once again. Herod was searching for the child and wanted to kill him. And an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and directed him to take the child and his mother and flee in Egypt.
That flight was entirely natural for many a Jew as soon as some persecution would arise many would seek refuge in Egypt. The result was that every city in Egypt had a colony of Jews and Alexandria had over a million of them, so when the holy family arrived there, they would not have been altogether among strangers.
When Herod died, the angel again appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and directed him to return to Israel and they went and settled in the town of Nazareth.
What do you know about Nazareth? Most of us think of it as a sleepy little berg. Not so. It sat at the crossroads of the Eastern world and afford the young Jesus a metropolitan education. It lay in the hollow of the hill in southern Galilee, but a lad had only to climb the hills for half the world to be at his door. He could look west and see the blue waters of Mediterranean. Looking down around the foot of the very hill on which he stood, the road from Damascus to Egypt, the land bridge to Africa. It was one of the greatest caravan routes in the world. On it, Jesus would see all kinds of travelers from all kinds of nations on all kinds of errands.
But there was another road that left the sea coast and went out to the East. Once again the cavalcade of caravans with their spices would be on it as well the Roman legions out the frontier. This would become the Silk Road. (Barclay Gospel of Matthew, Volume I pp. 33-34;39-40.)
I met a young couple at a welcome station in the mountains of Virginia a few year ago. I saw Joseph and Mary and Jesus in them. May there be a touch of holiness ~ of wholeness ~ in their lives and in your family too. I pray for them and all young families ~ indeed all families on this traditional day in the Christmas season when we reflect on the hidden, ordinary life of Joseph, and Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. They are a model of simplicity for us.
But for many of us, our family life can be quite dysfunctional. I think of those families today, Lord. Children (some of them friends of mine) who grew up with alcoholic parents and were in favor one moment and cast aside the next, and had little normalcy, and perhaps little stability.
Be with all families that struggle, Lord. Be with us who are imperfect, weak and selfish and perhaps capable of little love because we may not have received it ourselves as children.
We’re trying, Lord. Strengthen our capacity to love, to be present to our own children and our spouse. Help us realize, Lord, that our most important role is not to have a successful career but to love our children and our spouse. Help us to be a community of love so we can call forth the gifts, the love, the moral courage and strength in our children for the next generation.
Last year, Pope Francis wrote an important document that arose from the two Synods of Bishops dedicated to discussing the issue of family life. It was entitled Amoris Laetitia ~ The Joy of Love.
Here are a few quotes of Pope Francis himself from the document. You’ll note his often down home folksy style.
Every family should be an icon of the family of Nazareth.
The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
When we have been offended or let down, forgiveness is possible and desirable, but no one can say it is easy.
The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy experienced by the Church.
Just as a good wine begins to ‘breathe’ with time, so, too, daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and ‘body’.
Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope.
I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way.
We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me.
In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love, which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another.
Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life.
Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family I honor you, Jesus and Mary and Joseph and all our families. I also honor that young couple in Virginia whose name I never knew because I saw in them an image of God in their simple, ordinary love. Lord, keep us all in your loving care.
And now before you go, do you remember that poor little family in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol who had a little son on crutches named Tiny Tim? Well, here he is with the four words he made famous. Click here.
GOD BLESS US EVERYONE!
And here are the Mass readings for this feast. Click here.
Today, December 26, is the second day of Christmas, the fifth day of Hanukkah and the first day of Kwanzaa (African-American). May we learn about our own and each other’s celebrations. It’s easy, just Google the word Kwanzaa.
For us Christians the mystery of Incarnation (God-becoming-human in the person of Jesus Christ) needs more than one day to celebrate. Here is the second day of Christmas: The Catholic liturgy centuries ago placed the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, the day after Jesus’ glorious feast to show that our faith is not sentimental but requires of us heroic, sacrificial love. Stephen fearlessly witnessed in court (the word martyr means witness) his conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, knowing that his testimony was his death sentence.
Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59)
How heroic is our love, Lord?
Do we abandon people — our friends, our lovers, our spouses, our children when the going gets rough?
And I ask you please to be with those who’ve been abandoned by loved ones, Lord ~ children of alcoholic parents or kids who have gone through the foster care system and may never feel Your Love or those who have to prostitute themselves in order to survive.
Are we only concerned about our own survival? What’s best for Number One — Me?
Are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of a friend in need — for You, Lord?
Are you, elected officials willing to show any kind of heroic love for the sake of our American people ~ black or white, rich or poor, Muslim, Christian or Jew, North, South, East or West, Wall Street or no street?
And what about the DACA children or the immigrant children lost in the system? What about the Rohingya people who are stateless and suffering untold violence and immigrants and refugees the world over?
Allow me the grace to witness to your love for me, Lord, to share it when I can.
Allow me the grace to do that this day, St. Stephen’s Day and every day. Stephen, a young man, has always been one of my heroes, Lord.
We need such heroic love in our time, Lord, heroic young people all over the world.
Inspire young women and men to be there for their friends in the hard times ahead.
Teach us to never abandon a friend, Lord.
And let my readers know that you love them, Lord, and You will never abandon them either ~ no matter what.
Now, before you go, here is Mariah Carey’ s “Hero” Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Dear Friends, have you ever wondered about what how the celebration of Christmas came about?
Well, thanks to a fellow blogger, I have a little video to share with you that you might find quite interesting. Just Click here.
And be sure to enter full screen so that your not distracted by the the the other stoff on the side bar.
And then for your listening pleasure, here’s Tiny Tim’s “God Bless us, everyone, like you’ve never heard it before. Click here Prepare to be Goosebumbed!
And here’s a reprise of my Christmas blog . . . MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Read more of this post at this link > > > https://wp.me/pnZLb-1ux
And there’s a music video with a thousand voices that’s had over 24 million views.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
The Birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – 2019
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!
This Christmas I want to share with you an excerpt from one of my favorite Advent authors ~ Brennan Manning entitled Shipwrecked at the Stable.
God entered into our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to him.
God comes as a newborn baby, giving us a chance to love him, making us feel that we have something to give him.
The world does not understand vulnerability. Neediness is rejected as incompetence and compassion is dismissed as unprofitable.
The Spanish author José Ortega puts it this way:
The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from fantasy and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth—that to life is to feel oneself lost. The shipwrecked have stood at the still-point of a turning world and discovered that the human heart is made for Jesus Christ and cannot really be content with less.
We are made for Christ and nothing less will ever satisfy us. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created by him and for him.” And further on, “There is only Christ: he is everything” (3:11). It is only in Christ that the heart finds true joy in created things.
Do you hear what the shipwrecked are saying? Let go of your paltry desires and expand your expectations. Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than himself and his name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling next Christmas to settle for anything else. Don’t order “just a piece of toast” when eggs Benedict are on the menu. Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of himself. Don’t be contented with a ‘nice’ Christmas when Jesus says, “It has pleased my Father to give you the Kingdom.”
The shipwrecked have little in common with the landlocked. The landlocked have their own security system, a home base, credentials and credit cards, storehouses and barns, their self interest and investments intact. They never find themselves because they never really feel themselves lost. At Christmas, one despairs of finding a suitable gift for the landlocked. “They’re so hard to shop for; they have everything they need.”
The shipwrecked, on the contrary, reach out for that passing plank with the desperation of the drowning. Adrift on an angry sea, in a state of utter helplessness and vulnerability, the shipwrecked never asked what they could do to merit the plank, and inherit the kingdom of dry land. They knew that there was absolutely nothing any of them could do. Like little children, they simply received the plank as a gift. And little children are precisely those who haven’t done anything. “Unless you… become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The shipwrecked at the stable are captivated by joy and wonder. They have found the treasure in the field of Bethlehem. The pearl of great price is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
So here we are at Christmas once again,.
And so, dear friend, it’s time.
Open your heart.
Take some quiet time over the weekend to prepare yourself and be ready receive the Lord into your heart as if for the first time—in humility and the joy and wonder. As you see from Brennan Manning’s wonderful story, Christmas is really not about giving gifts, but about receiving the one that Jesus want to give you.
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.”
I pray so very earnestly that you receive the special gift God wants to give you.
Cleanse your heart of resentments—of preoccupations with unnecessary things.
Ask yourself what is the real meaning of life—your life.
For me the answer is to love as best I can, as meager as my life may be in the sunset years of my life. But I suppose I have some wisdom and compassion to share arising from my own crosses over the years. But it’s all gift; it’s all grace!
So, I hope you have received something nourishing and sweet in the posts I’ve been able to create this Advent. They are my gift to you.
May you have a wonderful Christmas with your those you love.
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 across these pages. I will remember each of you and your intentions and your needs in my Christmas Masses.
Be sure to open yourself to the holiness—
the wholeness—the peace of this 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.
May we feel like children 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 you my readers and so much more!
Please bless my friends and readers,
especially those who are missing 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.
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.
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 Bishop Robert Barron, I’ll try to help 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 obscurely 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 as 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,
My own dad was silent and hard-working too.
And I seldom think of you or pray to you, St. Joseph,
but I’ve come to love you even more
while preparing this blog.
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 about you today.
What a grace!
And what about you, dear friends?
What do you take away from this story?
We only have two more days to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord and Savior.
Are you ready?
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
Advent Day 18 ~ Wednesday 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.
During Hanukkah later this month we will honor our Jewish brothers and sisters with these words
that appear in the Catholic liturgy just before Christmas, one of the magnificent O Antiphons:
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 over the ocean when I lived some years ago on St. Augustine Beach, Florida.
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 we can prepare the way for the Messiah to come into our lives,
into our homes,
our workplace and marketplace,
and, most especially into our beloved country that so badly needs You right now,
and our waiting world!
Come Lord Jesus!
I have a couple of notes for you as we make our countdown toward Christmas. Hanukkah begins at Nightfall on Sunday, December 22nd and goes through sundown on December 30th.
Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication,” is the Jewish Festival of Lights.
It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp.
The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day, and yet it lasted for eight full days. Jewish children usually receive a new gift each day of Hanukkah.
May we pray for our Hebrew sisters and brothers who have suffered so much violence and fear in our country and abroad these past few years.
The other important event that we won’t be able to cover this year directly in this blog this year is the Winter Solstice that is observed in ritual form my our pagan sisters and brothers in places like Stonehenge in Great Britain and the Easter Islands in the Pacific. I don’t use the term “pagan” here pejoratively, as we actually got our date of Christmas from their celebrations of the Winter Solstice!
Actually, we haven’t the slightest idea when Jesus was born. We only celebrate it liturgically. On the Winter Solstice, the sun in the northern hemisphere is beginning to ascend again, connoting the phrase of John the Baptist about Jesus: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). This year the Winter Solstice is on Saturday, December, 21st. (My last post before Christmas will be on Friday, December 20th, since many of you may be taking advantage of the long weekend for travel.
And before you go, Here’s another prayerful rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass Readings. Click here.
* Adonai is one of the names the Jewish people use for God, meaning “Lord God Almighty.”
Tuesday of Third 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
Father Alfred Delp, S.J. aptly wrote two years after I was born about being shaken up, as so many of us feel in our world today, unsettled as we are by political events in our own country at times. 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.
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. He goes on . . . .
Here is the message of Advent:
faced with him who is the Last,
the world will begin to shake.
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 in recent years, 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,
the DREAMERS who it looks like will be deported,
and migrants all over the world in search of safe harbor.
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, I want to tell you a bit about the ancient O-Antiphons that lead us through the eight days (the octave) to Christmas Eve next Tuesday at Morning and Evening Prayer.
What are the “O” Antiphons?”
They are one of the most cherished collections of our ancient liturgical chants, consisting of seven Antiphons that begin with an embellished “O” that are sung each of the seven nights before Christmas at Vespers. They have beautiful chant melodies. I am using three of them on the next three days before I offer you the Fourth Sunday of Advent and My Christmas blog on Friday.
Here’s the hymn that’s best known as the English translation of the O-Antiphons “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” If you pay attention to the lyrics as the song is sung you’ll hear all seven of the O-Antiphons. Click here.
Here is a web site that has information and recordings of the chant melodies of all seven. (Skip the first half and scroll ALL the way down to the bottom for the O Antiphons themselves. You will notice little speaker signs next to each one. If you click on that little music note it will play for you the actual chant melody for each O Antiphon, if you’re curious about them.
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 Third Week of Advent
We’ll take a deeper turn in this Advent blog beginning today.
Christmas Eve is one week from tomorrow.
As I get closer to Christmas, my prayer is opening up and enriching from the reading I’ve been doing. I pulled an old favorite book off my shelf and reading it again after nearly fifty years was sort of like a mini-retreat.
It’s bringing me a deeper realization of my sinfulness and frail human nature.
Also an ongoing surrender to the process of transformation that’s occurring in me as I turn my life and my will over to God once again.
That, ongoing dual process ~ “a kind of coincidence of opposites” ~ sin and grace ~ dear friends, is always 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 ( and Lent as well, of course).
Advent is counter-cultural. A time 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 or or possess ” 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 tell us 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” ~ the Messenger of the Son of God. And he 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 at the time 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 to write 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 okay 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’ve helped me realize in the midst of my brokenness,
it was ~ and is ~ You who make me strong.
Whatever flows from my relationship with You will be good
if 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’ve finally learned to be content with the muckiness of my life.
And You have surprised me ~ delighted me ~ ravished me with Your love.
And you know what?
It’s there that 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 once again to share Your Love.
To help others know that You love each and everyone ~ no matter what.
Yes, Lord Jesus, You must increase; I must decrease.
Let me never ever forget that. No matter what.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
In this last week before Christmas I’d like 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 Matthew’s and Luke’s stories of how 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.
Before you go, here’s 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 goosebubbed!
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
In our Catholic liturgical calendar this is “Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Joy. We’re halfway through Advent and the vestment color is Rose, rather than purple, the color of penitence. So, we may see the celebrant wearing rose vestments.
This is supposed to be a joyful time of year but . . . some us don’t see things clearly, or can’t speak up for ourselves or are disabled. Some of us are afraid or disillusioned; confused or depressed; lonely or weak-kneed or just plain in need of an infusion of hope and joy, so . . .
today’s first reading from Isaiah 35:1-6,10 sums up the joyful, hopeful mood of this third Advent Sunday:
The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.
And in last Sunday’s gospel, we found John the Baptist preaching and baptizing along the Jordan River to great crowds of people. But in today’s gospel, however, we find him in prison.
Our Presbyterian scripture scholar William Barclay commented that John’s career ended in disaster. It wasn’t John’s habit to soften the truth. Herod Antipas had paid a visit to his brother in Rome and seduced his brother’s wife. He came home again, dismissed his own wife, and married the sister-in-law Herodias whom he lured away from her husband. Publicly and sternly, John rebuked Herod. Consequently, John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Machaerus in the mountains near the Dead Sea.
For a man who lived in the wild open spaces with the sky above and the wind blowing through his hair, this was surely agony. So he may have had some doubts, and sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask . . . .
Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?
Jesus said to them in reply,
Go and tell John what you see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear [ . . .] and the poor have the good news preached to them.
John’s joy was to witness the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation and to play his assigned role within it. The way of fidelity to God and cooperation with God’s gift of himself to the world often leads through the dungeons of human injustice and cruelty . . . . John always acted with every fiber of his being oriented to serving a greater good than himself. John’s humility took the form of an ability to wait without end for God to act. Hence, he sent a message to Jesus to ask him what he should do.
And you probably know how John’s story ended: Herodias hated John, even though Herod wanted him alive. She kept looking for a way to get rid of him. The time finally came at a birthday party for the ruler at which her daughter danced so much to Herod’s delight that he promised her“half of his kingdom.” And Herodias got her daughter to demand Herod John’s head on a platter in front of his guests (Mt. 14) .
The world is filled with despots, even today. St. Paul exhorts us in the second reading today to be patient. (I suppose that means, even with the despots!) We should take heart in the wonderful message of Isaiah:
“Be strong, fear not!” Do you hear the echoes of Saint John Paul II who was always exhorting people all over the world not to be afraid!
Dear Heavenly Father,
the despots of our world will not win.
Your Son has already brought us the victory!
We are not afraid!
The hands of the feeble will become strong,
the knees of the weak will become firm.
The eyes of the blind will be opened!
The ears of the deaf will be cleared!
The tongues of the silenced will be loosened!
The desert and the parched land will exult!
The rivers will run fresh and clear again!
The forests will be free for wildlife again!
The oceans will be free for whales and fishes again!
Here is your God, he comes with divine recompense to save you.
We will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God!
This we ask as we ask all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Before you go, Here’s a song that follows the Scripture texts for today. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are all the of the Readings for today’s Mass, if you’d like those as well. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of Matthew – Volume 2 / Revised Edition The Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975