Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Karl Rahner said that the Christian of the future would be either a mystic or nothing at all. Mary shows us how. Luke says that after the shepherds' visit, "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." At the end of the two chapters about the infancy of Jesus, Luke repeats, "His mother treasured all these things in her heart."
"Treasure" involves taking great care to keep something in your heart so as not to forget it or lose it. "Ponder" involves knocking ideas and memories up against each other, like stones being polished, turning events over and over in our heads until we get some glimmer of meaning, until some sense emerges.
God can make us mystics in the New Year by teaching us how to contemplate with Mary.
Monday, December 30, 2013
When I was little I was fascinated by our Nativity set. I was allowed to play with it and move the figures around. I was bothered when I noticed that in the homes of my Protestant relatives and friends, if they had a Nativity set, there were no magi, only shepherds. It was difficult in an ordinary store to find anything different. I wondered why.
Last year in an article in Commonweal by Robert Kiely called "A Long Journey: Imagining the Magi," he quotes a sermon of Martin Luther that may be the source of such reluctance. Commenting on the word "homage," Luther said, "They honored him as a king. Nor was the worship like that done to God because, in my opinion, they did not recognize him as God." Luther cautioned against speculating on further details about the magi's visit, "What conversation they had with Mary and Joseph I leave to the imagination of idle minds."
The Greek verb that is translated "paid him homage" does refer to the homage paid to someone of dignity or of authority, but it is used also to mean adoration or worship paid to a deity. Most of the time that it is used in the New Testament it refers to worship.
Robert Kiely says that fortunately many artists before and after Luther were fascinated enough by the visit of the magi to produce some glorious paintings of the adoration of the Christ Child. And now any Nativity scene you see includes the magi.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Celebrating the feast of the Holy Family prompts thoughts about what really makes a family. In one sense Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are anything but a normal family: a virgin with a baby and a husband who will never have sexual relations with his wife. But in the sense that really matters they are every bit a family. Matthew 2:13-23 shows us Joseph protecting and caring for his wife and going to great lengths to save Jesus from King Herod. Joseph even leaves his livelihood behind and moves to another country. Love, not biology, is what makes a family.
In Colossians 3:12-14 St. Paul recommends some virtues that would also enrich family life: "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience....And over all these put on love." Love, not biology, is what makes a family.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
I took this picture on the way to Christmas morning Mass. We had just enough snow to make everything pretty. The clouds were like a mirror of the earth. Again last night just enough snow to keep the whole world white. The sun came out this afternoon and made everything bright and beautiful.
A friend gave me a poem yesterday that had been sent to her. I pass it on to you instead of two turtle doves. I liked it a lot and would like to quote the whole thing but I don't think that's allowed. It's called BC:AD and I think the poet's name is U.A. Fanthorpe.
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After....
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
(you can find the whole poem by googling U.A. Fanthorpe Christmas Poems)
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
In the silence of a winter night,
In trees glistening with sunlit ice,
In artist gift of stirring beauty,
In intimacy of Mother and Child,
One simple message: You are loved.
In the noise and confusion of family,
In the crowded company of friends,
In Christmas Mass, in carols sung,
In lights and cherished memories,
One simple message: You are loved.
And in the warm colors of sunrise
On this cold Christmas morning.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Luke's very familiar story of the birth of Jesus (2:1-14) is designed to highlight the message of the angel to the shepherds. He is more concerned with understanding the meaning than with the birth itself.
Out of the glorious light that surrounded the shepherds the angel speaks: I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in Bethlehem a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah God. It's the only time in the New Testament that the titles Christos Kurios are used without an article or connecting word between them. "Kurios" is the Greek for "Lord," the name that Jews often used to avoid speaking the proper name of God. Luke wants to make it clear that the long awaited Messiah is also God. The Jews would never have expected this Messiah to be God. This is astonishing news.
"Good News " is what the angel calls it. "Great joy" is what this Gospel brings us. Our Holy Father Francis points out that our job as Church is to continue the work of this angel: spreading the Good News with a smile on our face. "The Joy of the Gospel."
(The angel in the picture is on the front of the Church of the Shepherds on a Bethlehem hill.)
Sunday, December 22, 2013
I have this picture of a gorgeous red rose that I took in Portland's Rose Garden and I wanted to share it. From what I gather the Christmas rose in the legend is white and there are more than one. But I will give the Christ Child the best rose I have.
There are various versions of the Legend of the Christmas Rose. Some tell of a little shepherd girl who has nothing to take to the Baby in Bethlehem. As she lay crying her tears fell on the ground and a rose bush quickly grew and produced beautiful white roses. She took the roses to the Christ Child and he smiled on her.
Love, whom we see in the manger, inspires us to give the best that we have.
Friday, December 20, 2013
"O Key of David, come and free your captive people."
I send a lot of Christmas cards and each year I wonder if it might be best to send fewer. This year I received a card that put into words how sending cards is for me a trip down memory lane:
"...Every person on my list
has changed my life some way.
Through simple conversation,
a warm hug or a shared meal,
every person on my list
has helped me grow or heal
or laugh or learn or dance or smile...."
by Vicki J. Kuyper (for Walter Drake)
So I guess, while I can, I'll keep my long list.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
"O Flower of Jesse's stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence,
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid."
When the angel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a child (Luke 1:5-25) he says, "You will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth."
The name John means "Yahweh has given grace," or we might say "Gift of God." A gift is undeserved. It comes from the sheer goodness of the giver. It brings delight. Already in verse 14 of his first chapter Luke is proclaiming "joy and gladness, and many will rejoice," a theme that will run through his Gospel, especially in these first two chapters.
Just a few verses on the angel says that he has come "to announce this good news." The Greek verb is the source of our word "evangelization." Gospel means "good news." Our Holy Father Francis titled his recent writing The Joy of the Gospel to point out that spreading the Good News is the main work of the Church and to encourage us to do it with joy and gladness.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Mount Sinai:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."
The Hebrew suffiix "el" means "God," as in Bethel, House of God, and Emmanuel, God-with-us. But when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked God's proper name, God's response in Hebrew is usually transliterated YMDG. Divine Mystery is so revered by observant Jews that they never say out loud the Name those letters stand for. God is totally beyond us.
In Matthew 1:18-25 a very confused, yet trusting, Joseph is considering divorcing Mary because she is pregnant. An angel tells him that the child is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew concludes by quoting Isaiah, "And they shall call him Emmanuel, a name which means God-with-us."
The God who is totally beyond us is now "God-with-us." Divine Mystery has become human flesh and is now permanently with our world. The very last words in Matthew's Gospel are "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
"O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation."
One of the themes that sticks out for me in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (1:1-15) is the irregular appearance of four women in the list. Matthew uses the same pattern as he goes from generation to generation, but he breaks it up with the mention of four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Tamar disguised herself as a harlot to conceive sons by her father-in-law. Rahab was a harlot of Jericho who aided Joshua's spies. Ruth insinuated herself into Boaz' life after being widowed. Bathsheba was the neighbor's wife with whom David committed adultery and fathered Solomon.
Their inclusion in the genealogy of Jesus prepares for and foreshadows his irregular birth. It also helps us to see that God can use the most surprising people for his purposes, even you and me.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Shine your love on us each dawn,
and gladden all our days.
Balance our past sorrows
with present joys
and let your servants, young and old,
see the splendor of your work.
Let your loveliness shine on us.
Rising sun shooting through bare trees God-with-us.
Lengthening shadows on gleaming snow God-with-us.
Bright sun-warmed rooms God-with-us.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Saturday, December 14, 2013
We had about 2 or 3 inches of snow when I went out to walk this morning. The temperature was 30. The snow was still coming down thick. This was the best picture I could get of the snow in the air. I also wanted to show that the road still had no tire tracks. Walking in freshly fallen snow takes me out of myself into pure joy.
This Advent I have felt exceptionally mellow. Last December some worries threw a cloud over Advent and Christmas for me. So this year, I guess, it's like I haven't celebrated the season for two years.
Some of my joy comes from the beauty of works of art, music, movies, literature that have recently enriched my life. My prayer life has been going well. That has been helped along by The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century religious classic that I am reading. I feel close to God.
It doesn't hurt either to have a Holy Father who loves the world and believes in the Second Vatican Council. Last year at this time who would have thought that a pope would be Time magazine's Person of the Year. Francis cheers me.
It is still snowing.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego four times December 9-12, 1531, at the hill of Tepayac not far from Mexico City. Here's how John Steinbeck describes the first apparition in his wonder-full retelling of the story: "Just as day was breaking there came to him, first softly, and then louder, the sound of many birds' songs. He looked up the hill and the dawn light was brighter than any he had ever seen. The music seemed to come from everywhere....the fullness of beauty was in him. He saw an Indian woman standing in the rocky path with the light all around her, so that the stones gathered the light and glittered like jewels....She spoke quietly in the light, 'I am Mary, the Mother of Jesus....I have seen the suffering of your people and I have come to them through you.'"
When he tells the bishop, the bishop asks for a sign. Steinbeck continues: "Juan Diego went back to the hill path and in that barren, rocky place he saw roses of Castile fresh and lovely growing in a place where roses could not grow and blooming in a frosty month when roses do not bloom. In the dawn he gathered the flowers...."
Juan Diego carried the roses in his cloak to the bishop. "'Here is the sign,' he said, and released the corners of his cloak, and the roses uncrushed and unwilted fell to the floor. And then the bishop saw the cloak of Juan Diego and he got to his knees. On the rough cloak of the Indian Juan Diego was the image of the Mother of God."
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The rising sun was shining on the new snow when I went for my walk this morning. On the way back this view caught my eye.
My morning walk is part of the leisure that I enjoy here since I retired seven and a half years ago. I've had several conversations recently with and about people who are reluctant to retire because "I don't know what I'd do with myself." Leisure has left the building. Too many of us think that we live to work. I tend to think that this goes all the way back to the Puritans who have left a terrible stamp on our culture in too many ways. The primary importance given to work is one of them.
I've written here before about Josef Pieper's Leisure: the Basis of Culture. I am reminded of it again by Gregory Wolfe in his thought provoking editorial in No.77 of his fine quarterly Image. Pieper notes that the Greek word for "leisure" is skole, the origin of our English word "school," which we associate with work rather than leisure. The Greeks did not have a word for the more utilitarian notion of work. The would say "we are unleisurely so that we can have leisure."
Pieper points out that our notion that learning takes a lot of work is foreign to ancient ways of thinking. Thomas Aquinas said, "The essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult." Pieper says, "The highest moral good is characterized by effortlessness--because it springs from love."
The leisure that God gives me here has made contemplation richer. Contemplation is an effortless kind of prayer in which we simply receive what God offers in the depths of our self and in the beauty of nature and of the arts.
(Wolfe wrote the book Beauty Will Save the World that has enriched my life since I read it two years ago.)
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
When I was young and I guess for centuries before that, we thought of Advent as a mini-Lent. I think it was in the early 70's that we were encouraged to see this season, not as one of fast and penance, but as one of joyful anticipation of the celebration of Christ's birth. The color of vestments became purple for Advent (more blue in it,) violet for Lent (more red in it.) Purple was worn on all four Sundays of Advent. Churches were decorated. I began to use four purple candles in my advent wreath to stress that the whole season was to be the same joyful anticipation of Christmas.
Even though we stress joy more this coming Sunday, it's good to keep in mind that all of Advent is meant to be joyful.
Monday, December 9, 2013
The wilderness and dry land will exult
The desert rejoice and blossom
They will blossom with abundant flowers
And rejoice with joyful song.
With this verse Isaiah begins his chapter 35 which describes the joy filled blossoming of the desert that will enable the Judeans to return directly home from their Babylonian Exile. It helps me think of the joy I feel as God over the years has made our relationship blossom.
I do love flowers. This farm south of Portland, Oregon, was one of the highlights of this past year of Beauty.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
The third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called "Gaudete Sunday." "Gaudete" means "rejoice." It was the first word in the introit sung in our old Latin mass for this Sunday. Evangelii Gaudium is the name of the recent apostolic exhortation of our Holy Father Francis. The title means The Gospel's Joy. It is timely, not only because of the word "joy" but also because much of its message is inspired by Gospel passages like next Sunday's.
When Jesus is asked for a sign that he is the one for whom the people of God have been waiting, he points to his healing the sick and "the poor have the Gospel brought to them." The principal sign that as Church we are faithful followers of Jesus is that we care for the sick and the poor.
In his exhortation Francis is very specific. He criticizes the "new tyranny of unfettered capitalism." He calls the current socioeconomic system "unjust at its root." He denounces the "self-serving tax evasion" of the wealthy. In a pope's first use of the term, he calls "trickle-down" economics ineffective and callous.
In a section about those considered unworthy of dignity and protection he talks about migrants, unemployed, and drug addicts. He writes, "Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children."
This and much else that Francis writes about in this exhortation is based on the Incarnation that we celebrate at this time of year. He says, "To believe that the Son of God took on our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God."
Saturday, December 7, 2013
After saying that a tree praises God by being a tree, Thomas Merton says, "For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self."
God has created each of us with a unique set of skills and interests, a unique combination of personality and imagination. I please God by being the best possible me that I can be. It's no good finding a saint we like and trying to be just like him or her. God wants us to be ourselves. With God living within us we can become our unique self. That's our contribution to the Reign of God. That's how each of us prepares the way of Love.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
"The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea. (11:9)" Isaiah has been using an image of a return to Paradise where all things live in harmony and bliss. The knowledge of the Lord he is referring to is not intellectual knowledge but intimacy with our Lover. We can no more be separated from God than water can be separated from the sea.
(St. Bart's, one of the loveliest islands in the Caribbean Sea. 2006)
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Out of God's deepest mercy
a dawn will come from on high,
light for those shadowed by death,
a guide for our feet on the way to peace.
Next Sunday's Gospel is Matthew 3:1-12. As soon as Matthew finishes his stories of the infancy of Jesus, he jumps to the baptism of John. The first words we hear from the Baptist are "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Throughout his Gospel Matthew has "kingdom of heaven" rather than "kingdom of God," which is used by Mark and Luke. He's not referring to heaven; he is using "heaven" as a substitute for "God." John is telling us that God's reign is at hand, so we have to change our way of thinking, do things differently. As individuals and as a community, we will allow God to rule us. This reign develops gradually.
Most of the people sincerely answer John's call. But when he sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming he rebukes them harshly. Outward religious practices are worthless if they don't reflect an inward change. This is a warning to us as well to make sure that our preparation for the coming of Christ involves a genuine change of heart.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
An attempt to get a more complete picture of the iced trees on the mountain.
As Advent begins I find myself reflecting more and more on the present coming of Christ at every moment into our universe. Each moment is greater than the last. Letting our always coming Christ transform us gradually into himself promotes his evolution of the universe.
(I don't know how I got the larger duplicate picture. Enjoy!)