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Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

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1 A.M. on Christmas morning, burning the Advent wreath down all night, and listening to Advent/Christmas music. It has always been the most peaceful night of the year.

New Life.

Not His, but ours.

It’s somewhat different this year. Something Cardinal Dolan said last Sunday at Mass: Here in New York as we approach Christmas, it feels more like we are moving toward Good Friday. It’s been a terrible week here, feeling much as it did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Officers Liu and Ramos have yet to be buried, and yet there is a peace, a stillness tonight that has not existed since the horrific events of last Saturday. The promise of what this night is all about has taken away some of death’s sting.

It has been a year of renewed fears for us as a people. A newer, more virulent strain of radical Islam has targeted our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and threatens us worldwide. Racial tensions have been stoked by malignant men, and have culminated in the assassinations of police officers, with promises of more to come. In the midst of it all comes this gentle night, this one day where we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. So for one night, one day, we take refuge and respite from the gathering storm.

We pray for peace, gentle peace, to take root once more in our midst. We ask God to give us peace, and ask what we must do.

At every turn in the scriptures the answer has always been the same.

We must do justice.

We must love mercy.

We must walk humbly with our God.

It’s not necessarily that we deserve the ill that befalls us as a people when we do not do what God requires. It’s rather that we weaken ourselves as a people when we ignore the predation on the weakest among us, a predation that has grown steadily for almost half a century. And then the tiger eats us. All of scripture tells us that God identifies with the poor and the least among us, which is why He chose to be born in a stable.

In this nation we are closing in on sixty million babies slaughtered (and to think that Herod is considered a villain for far less). In the black communities up in arms, they have visited more destruction upon themselves than any other demographic. There are approximately 42 million blacks in America today, and approximately 20 million who have never lived to see the light of day. That’s 1/3 of what ought to be the current population of blacks, or, one dead baby for every two living blacks.

Of course there is anger, there is rage. Add to that 73% of black children who have no father in their life. It’s so vast that it becomes one giant haze of rage. The death of dreams, of hope, of one’s issue. And it’s not much better in other quarters.

Now add to the mix that it has become acceptable to debate the ethics of infanticide under the euphemism of post-birth abortion.

Do we even recognize ourselves anymore?

Yet we pray for peace and scorn those with the poor taste to set these injustices ever before our eyes.

There is rage tonight in the black community. To be clear, it would be patronizing to portray this community as the victims of Planned Parenthood, of forces beyond their control. They certainly are targeted, but they (and we) have it within to withstand evil (1 Corinthians 10:13). We have the law of God written in our hearts, as Paul said.

Perhaps it is time to ask if over this past half-century we have placed more emphasis on being a prosperous people than a just people. We as a people are the most generous on the planet, yes. But generosity isn’t the sum total of justice. Defending the defenseless takes us a great deal further. Generosity isn’t enough. It begins with ending the slaughter of the innocents, with working to untangle this tangled ball, and doing it in a way that is respectful, and not patronizing or imperious.

It begins with praying for the only two things I’ve learned to ask of God: Courage and Wisdom

So, perhaps as this terrible year draws to a close, we might meditate on Isaiah 58 as we pray for God to bless us with that peace and security so absent for so many among us:

1
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Proclaim to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.a
2
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the judgment of their God;
They ask of me just judgments,
they desire to draw near to God.
3
“Why do we fast, but you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, but you take no note?”
See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.b
4
See, you fast only to quarrel and fight
and to strike with a wicked fist!
Do not fast as you do today
to make your voice heard on high!
5
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose,
a day to afflict oneself?
To bow one’s head like a reed,
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?c
AUTHENTIC FASTING THAT LEADS TO BLESSING*
6
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?d
7
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?e
8
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the accusing finger, and malicious speech;f
10
If you lavish your food on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
and your gloom shall become like midday;
11
Then the LORD will guide you always
and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
will give strength to your bones
And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.g
12
Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins;
the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined dwellings.”h
AUTHENTIC SABBATH OBSERVANCE THAT LEADS TO BLESSING*
13
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the sabbath a delight,
the LORD’s holy day glorious;
If you glorify it by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs—
14
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A Blessed, a Peaceful, and a Merry Christmas.

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From Deacon Greg Kandra’s blog: The Deacon’s Bench another of his masterful homilies. If you don’t know of his blog, bookmark it now. It’s superb. Now, Deacon Kandra:

Honestly, I thought it must have been a joke.

When I saw the story online last Sunday, I didn’t quite believe it. Many of you probably saw it, too: it’s Amazon.com’s proposed new delivery system. The idea is to use small, unmanned airplanes—drones!—to pick up packages at a warehouse and deliver them to your door, in 30 minutes or less.

When it was unveiled on “60 Minutes” last weekend, I think Charlie Rose summed it up eloquently in one word:

“Wow.”

No one has explained yet exactly how this project would work—how thousands of these would be able to hover over cities without crashing in to one another, defying wind and rain and skyscrapers. And I imagine, if they can get it to work, this kind of convenience will not come cheap. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, conceded that it will take a few years to realize his vision. They have to work out the details and get federal approval. But he seemed serious about it. I have to think, if he doesn’t pull it off, someone else probably will.

Aside from the audacity and daring of the idea, I think the Amazon proposal says much about who we are and what we have become.

We are people in a hurry. We are people who are saying, insistently: Give it to me. Now.

Once, overnight delivery was more than enough. Then we wanted same day delivery. Now, we want everything in 30 minutes—whether it’s a pizza or a paperback. We want our food fast, our dinner microwaved. We can’t wait to get to a phone or a computer—and we don’t, because the phone and the computer are with us, every second, of every day, in our hand or in our pocket. Remember when we used telephones in phone booths? Remember when computers were confined to big boxes on desks in our offices?

What did we do before we had tiny smartphone screens to check every 10 minutes?

In 2013, we just don’t want to wait. For anything. Ever.

But in the middle of this, for four short weeks, we do.

The Church presses the “pause” button.

In the middle of all the hurrying and impatience and insistence comes…Advent.

We find ourselves suddenly in a state of suspended animation. It’s the season of expectation. Of longing.

Of waiting.

A child is coming, a hope is dawning. In our liturgies and in our lives, we yearn for something we cannot quite name. We pray for deliverance. We cry out to God, “O come, Emmanuel! Ransom us! When will we be freed?”

Like prisoners in a cell, we mark the days.

We light candles, one at a time, week by week, to slowly bring forth light.

We fold open the cardboard windows of the Advent calendar, day by day, one day at a time, for 25 days.

This is Advent. It is the season when we wait—but also when we have work to do.

“Stay awake,” Jesus told us in the gospel last week.

“Repent,” John the Baptist says today. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Make the crooked path straight.

If you ask a child what we are waiting for, they’ll tell you in one word: “Christmas.” It’s that simple.

For a child, of course, it can’t come fast enough. For the rest of us, we’d probably like more time—a few more weeks to plan, shop, wrap and ship. But the reality of Advent—the astonishing truth at its center—plunges us into something deeper. The question demands an answer.

What, exactly, are we waiting for? What are we preparing for?

Spoiler alert: It isn’t really Christmas. It isn’t the presents and the tree, the cards and the tinsel.

No.

It is Christ. We are waiting for Christ.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote beautifully about the three comings of Jesus: in Bethlehem, at the incarnation; at the end of time, for the final judgment; and here and now, through the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the grace of God, and the prayerful awakening of our hearts.

I would suggest to you that it is this last one that we need to pay closest attention to. That is what Advent is really about: Christ, the savior, dwelling within each of us. Gracing us with mercy, with humility, with patience, with love. If we make that a priority, we will make of our lives an ongoing Advent. We will live waiting and watching in joyful hope for Christ to enter our lives and to be with us, always.

That is the very essence of his name: “Emmanuel.” God with us.

Only by making ourselves ready to encounter Christ today, can we make ourselves ready to encounter him at the end of history.
So prepare. Repent. Make the crooked paths straight.

Heal a wound. Mend a quarrel. Comfort the lonely. Console the grieving. Pray for the poor, the outcast, the forgotten. Look beyond. And look within.

And do it all deliriously, wondrously, tenderly, with love.

Remember this: Advent is the time when we wait not for Christmas, but for Christ. We wait for him to step into the doorway of the heart. We put out the welcome mat. We light a candle. We make the walkway to the front door of our lives straight. We stand at the door and invite him in.

It’s worth asking ourselves: What will he find when he arrives?

In a few weeks, wise men will be scanning the skies. They won’t be looking for a drone from Amazon.com. They will be looking for the sign that the waiting is over, that hope is on the horizon.

A star will appear. Light will break through.

Christmas is coming, yes. But more importantly, Christ is coming.

That is what all the waiting and wondering and worrying is all about. We can’t lose sight of that.

In an age when nobody wants to wait for anything, Advent reminds us: some things are worth the wait.

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As I have done in the past, I repost some of Deacon Greg Kandra’s homilies here at Coming Home (with his permission). Deacon Kandra writes a terrific blog, The Deacon’s Bench, over at Patheos. Stop by The Deacon’s Bench daily for a dose of spiritual refreshment. Today’s homily is a soothing balm after the events in Newtown this past week. Here’s Deacon Kandra:

As some of you know, my office is located in the Catholic Center in Manhattan, on First Avenue. On Friday they were decorating the lobby for Christmas – trimming trees and hanging lights and assembling a small wooden stable, the Nativity scene. As I was leaving work, I stopped to take a look.

This Nativity scene is a little out of the ordinary. While it has all the usual characters, carved from wood – Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals — it doesn’t have a manger. Instead, the figures are arranged in a kind of semi-circle, and Mary is kneeling, with her arms outstretched – arms that, at Christmas, will hold the Christ child. But now, like all of us this Advent, she is waiting. Her arms are empty.

It’s a poignant image – and, I think, given the events of the last 48 hours, devastating.

In those outstretched arms, we can’t help but notice what is missing. I looked at that figure in the crèche on Friday night and thought of the empty arms of the mothers of Newtown.

We are all Newtown this morning. Those children are our children. The indescribable heartbreak of those parents is shared by the world.

Ironically, in our liturgy, this third Sunday of Advent is a Sunday for rejoicing. We put away the purple and wear rose. The readings point with excitement to Christmas. “Cry out with joy and gladness,” the psalm tells us. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” St. Paul declares. In the gospel, we hear for the first time the phrase that will define the Christian faith for all time: “good news.”

Yet, the news right now isn’t what anyone would call good.

We keep hearing words like “massacre” and “tragedy” and “slaughter.” Mixed in, of course, is another word that we can’t escape: “Why?” I wish I had an answer. I can’t explain it. I don’t think anyone can.

At times like this, God can seem distant, even detached. Yet, this Sunday, we are reassured: He is closer than we realize. “The Lord is near,” Paul writes. And it’s not just because Christmas is 9 days away. It is so much more than that. In the great mystery we are about to remember at Christmas—the Incarnation, the Word made flesh—we celebrate this astonishing fact: God became us. He invested Himself in humanity.

The implications are staggering.

On the five-year anniversary of 9/11, the great Presbyterian minister Timothy Keller spoke about the Incarnation. I’d like to read you part of what he said:

“One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures,” he said, “is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.”

And then Rev. Keller adds this:

“But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock, that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack.”

On TV the other night, they showed the devastated father of a child, hearing the news of what happened and burying his face in his hands.

God is that weeping father.

“The Lord is near.” He knows what it’s like.

And He knows what we need: hope. And He has given it to us. The Passion of His son assures us of this: death doesn’t have the last word. We have been promised eternal life. We live in the hope of one day seeing God face-to-face – and seeing in His reflected light those we love.

This is the real promise and joy of Christmas: the salvation that was made real on Calvary began in Bethlehem.

And so we wait for that beginning. We wait for what will be— like that figure of Mary in a lobby on First Avenue.

We wait with open arms.

And in our waiting, we pray. For the victims. For their families.

We pray for the gunman and his family.

We pray for our country.

And we pray, especially, for the children.

I think one of the reasons that this terrible event struck all of us so deeply is that it was carried out against the smallest among us—the most trusting, the most hopeful, the most vulnerable. Five, six, seven years old.

On Friday night, was there any parent who didn’t hold their child closer, who didn’t pray a little more deeply, who didn’t cherish even more profoundly the gift of life?

As I mentioned at the beginning: we are all Newtown this morning. Those children are our children. The wound is deep.

This morning, we pray for all the victims of Newtown, and we pray for those things we Catholics always pray for in times of mourning. We pray for rest, for light, for peace.

It is a prayer whispered with the resilient hope of people who believe that God is with us.

The Lord is near. He walks with us. He weeps with us.

And so we pray:

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, Amen.

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There is a culture among the poorest of the poor, something I came to know almost thirty years ago working with homeless youth in Times Square, NY. There is a care and concern that many street people show for one another.

So often we think of them as “other”. “They’re not like us,” so many think with a terrible condescension.

In truth, they are the human face of Jesus, who tells us in Matthew 25 that our eternal destiny is tied to our response to the poorest and least among us.

This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday in Advent, the day we rejoice that our penitential season is half over. We do not look toward the Nativity yet, as the Church still focuses on the second coming of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. As we rejoice, we do well to contemplate the following short film, and the life-changing perspective it offers.

I’ve never seen anything like it in beauty. O Henry would have been proud.

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H/T Patrick Madrid and Deacon Greg Kandra

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From today’s Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings

St Ambrose’s commentary on St Luke’s Gospel

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The angel Gabriel had announced the news of something that was as yet hidden and so, to buttress the Virgin Mary’s faith by means of a real example, he told her also that an old and sterile woman had conceived, showing that everything that God willed was possible to God.

When Mary heard this she did not disbelieve the prophecy, she was not uncertain of the message, she did not doubt the example: but happy because of the promise that had been given, eager to fulfil her duty as a cousin, hurried by her joy, she went up into the hill country.

Where could she hurry to except to the hills, filled with God as she was? The grace of the Holy Spirit does not admit of delays. And Mary’s arrival and the presence of her Son quickly show their effects: As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting her child leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

See the careful distinction in the choice of words. Elizabeth was the first to hear the voice but her son John was the first to feel the effects of grace. She heard as one hears in the natural course of things; he leapt because of the mystery that was there. She sensed the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord — the woman knew the woman, the child knew the child. The women speak of grace while inside them grace works on their babies. And by a double miracle the women prophesy under the inspiration of their unborn children.

The infant leapt and the mother was filled with the Spirit. The mother was not filled before her son: her son was filled with the Holy Spirit and in turn filled his mother. John leapt and so did Mary’s spirit. John leapt and filled Elizabeth with the Spirit; but we know that Mary was not filled but her spirit rejoiced. For the Incomprehensible was working incomprehensibly within his mother. Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit after she conceived, but Mary before, at the moment the angel had come. “Blessed are you,” said Elizabeth, “who believed”.

You too, my people, are blessed, you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognises his works.

Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us. For every soul can receive the Word of God if only it is pure and preserves itself in chastity and modesty.

The soul that has been able to reach this state proclaims the greatness of the Lord just as Mary did and rejoices in God its saviour just like her.

The Lord’s greatness is proclaimed, as you have read elsewhere, where it says Join me in magnifying the Lord. This does not mean that anything can be added to the Lord’s greatness by human words, but that he is magnified in us. Christ is the image of God and so any good or religious act that a soul performs magnifies that image of God in that soul, the God in whose likeness the soul itself was made. And thus the soul itself has some share in his greatness and is ennobled.

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

When we light the Advent Wreath, we do so in a darkened house. It is the one time of year when I claim the privilege of saying the prayer as the children light the candles. As the weeks pass, as we approach the coming of The Light of the World, the table is bathed in increasing light, and we discuss Who that Light is.

Tonight’s lesson: Why Jesus is Called the Light of the World.

In the darkened house, I asked what would happen if the children were to get up and run around in the dark.

“We’d trip and fall.” “We’d get hurt,” were the responses from the 7, 10, and 11 year old prophets.

Then we lit the candles. Four candles make a beautiful dining room and living room dinner experience.

I explained that the light drove away the darkness and illuminated the hazards of which they spoke when immersed in pitch black. I also asked what else the light revealed.

“How to get around safely.” “Where the food is.” “Where the medicine is.” “Where the bathroom is,” chimed in the little one. (Critical as they all just had stomach viruses).

I praised their responses. The Holy Spirit Spoke through them and made the lesson a breeze. The light reveals to them safe passage, life-giving sustenance, healing herbs and medicines, and yes, the path to relief.

So it is with Jesus. God come down to earth to illuminate our path, to give us Himself as our sustenance, our healer. He taught us how we are to use this life and all He has given us here to learn Love. He expects us to be generous with all we have, to empty ourselves.

Then we discussed their acts of charity, of compassion over the past year, how they have repeatedly emptied their banks of their own accord in response to tragedy and suffering in our community and on the news. I told them that their example is like a light burning brightly, like the blazing wreath before them. They are following the example of Jesus, and are illuminating the path for others in life, sustaining others with their selflessness, and that their example is a healing balm in a weary world.

The girls get it better than Joseph, but he follows their lead and while he doesn’t always grasp the suffering of others, it strikes him powerfully when it makes it past the autism.

By dinner’s end, they all understood the metaphor of Light. Better than that is how they are light.

These little ones are holy, truly holy. So is their mother, my bride. They are God’s greatest gift to me. In them I see that Emmanuel has come, and ransomed captive Israel.

His light shines in their lives, and through their gentle presence touches all who know them.

When I pray the chant O Come, O Come, Emmanuel… it is with the daily realization that He has: That He has fulfilled His every promise, that He has poured out His Holy Spirit in my life, that He has ransomed me from the captivity of my own failings and constantly has made all things new.

And for all of that, the best is yet to come.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
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.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Christmas has become increasingly a quiet and reflective Holy Day for me, held in dynamic tension with Santa Claus and the children. This hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, best approaches the meaning of the day, the tone, the solemnity that is beyond earthly description in contemplating God becoming one with us in our humanity. Without a doubt, my favorite of the Christmas hymns. From Wikkepedia:

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is an ancient chant of Eucharistic devotion based on the verses taken from Habakkuk 2:20

“Let all the earth keep silence before Him”

taken from one of the books of the 12 minor prophets of Bible. The original was composed in Greek as a Cherubic Hymn for the Offertory of the Divine Liturgy of St James in the fourth Century AD, with local Churches adopting arrangements in Syriac. In modern times, the Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of a translation from the Greek by Gerard Moultrie to the tune of Picardy, a French medieval folk melody, popularized the hymn among Christian congregations that worship liturgically.”

Enjoy, and God’s Blessings this last week of Advent.

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