Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category


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:

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
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.
“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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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;
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
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
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—
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:


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.


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.

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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It is a pleasure to share with you this homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, by Deacon Greg Kandra of the Brooklyn Diocese. Deacon Kandra has a superb blog, The Deacon’s Bench, over at Patheos. Do visit him there often, and thank you Deacon Kandra for this penetrating homily.

The Anxiety of Joseph
by Deacon Greg Kandra

In the late 19th century, one of the most sought-after realist portrait painters was a Frenchman by the name of James Tissot. He made his reputation painting society women and the wealthy in and around Paris. But at one point in his life, while doing research for a painting, he stepped into a church. While there, he had a profound religious experience. He left a changed man, and devoted the rest of his life to spiritual and religious themes – including hundreds of paintings depicting scenes from the bible, most famously, the life of Christ. The Brooklyn Museum has many of these sketches and watercolors, and they had an exhibit last year. They are beautiful, and moving.

They are also deeply human — none more so than a work that has direct bearing on this Sundays gospel. It is a surprising portrait of St. Joseph.

Joseph is shown at his carpenter’s table, with tools scattered around him. His shop is small, cramped, planks and pieces of wood everywhere, shavings piled up on the floor. The windows look out onto the bustling streets of Nazareth, where townspeople are going about their business. But in the middle of all that stands Joseph, bent over his table, his bearded chin in his hand, deep in thought.

The painting’s title says it all: “The Anxiety of Joseph.”

We rarely think of him that way. But Tissot, as he often does, penetrated to the heart of his subject.

Maybe Tissot was showing Joseph the morning before he has the dream we just heard in Matthew’s gospel. Or maybe it is the morning after – and he is coming to terms with what the angel has said, and what he must do. Maybe it was even later, and this new father is concerned with the worries that every father has.

But what we see in Tissot’s picture – and what is hinted at in this gospel today – is a man more like us than we realize.

We tend to think of Joseph the way we see him in the manger scene outside our church, or on the cards we send, or the pageants that are staged. He is strong, stoic, patient – “righteous,” as Matthew describes him.

But Tissot understood that the man betrothed to Mary was a man of worries, and apprehension, and even fear. This morning, I’d like to suggest that Joseph is also a man who speaks to our own time.

He is a man for our age – an Age of Anxiety.

He must have known economic uncertainty – wondering how he would support and sustain his family, running his own small business. He had to pay taxes – to “render unto Caeser.” Like many people today, shortly after his son was born, Joseph and his family became refugees, immigrants in a foreign land – the land that had held his people as slaves. Joseph also lived with the threat of terror – a ruthless king bent on murdering children.

On a more personal level, Joseph knew the anxiety of any man about to become a father. He must have asked himself: am I ready for this? Am I good enough, strong enough, wise enough? And then, confronting the very real possibility of scandal, Joseph must have had more than a few sleepless nights. How, he must have wondered, could he protect and spare the woman he loved?

And — like Mary, the woman he loved — he also must have thought at some point: this is not what I had planned. Everything is suddenly different.

How many of us have said that about our own lives? How many of us have had to face, like Joseph, a confusing world with uncertainty, and doubt, and anxiety and fear?

How many of us have felt like the man in that Tissot drawing, frozen in place, while the world moves on around us, and we stand there and worry and wonder: what do I do? How will I get through this?

But into all that, in Joseph’s complicated life, comes a voice in a dream.

“Do not be afraid. God is with us.”

And his world – and ours – is changed.

In the middle of “the anxiety of Joseph” comes blessed reassurance – and a reminder that God’s will sees beyond our fears, beyond our limitations.

When our lives can seem a nightmare, we cannot forget to dream.

When every demon seems to be making our lives hell, we cannot forget to listen for angels.

When our world has been turned upside down, we cannot forget to trust that God will make it right.

Again and again, the words come to us from the gospels, in times of confusion and doubt and anxiety.

“Do not be afraid.”

That is the message to Joseph, to Mary, to the shepherds, to the apostles – and to us.

And in these last days of Advent, that is the great message the gospels leave us with as we light the last candle and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The light is brighter. God’s presence is closer.

If you have any doubts about that, just think of Joseph, the great silent partner of the Holy Family, the man who doesn’t utter a word in the gospels – but whose ability to trust, and to dream, and to listen speaks volumes.

In the end, the words of the angel echo down to us as the great defining message of Advent hope — banishing all fear, easing all anxiety.

“Do not be afraid. God is with us.”

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Gaudete, Nearness, and Coming Home

Gaudete! Why the rose candle and vestments? Read it here!

Today we take a break in the penitential season and rejoice at the Lord’s nearness (Gaudete!). But the special Sunday’s of Lent and Advent point also to a deeper truth, the one spoken by the Psalmist in Psalm 145.

18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.

It is truly a day of rejoicing. Today marks the completion of Coming Home’s first year. It’s been quite a year. When I began on December 13 last year, I posted a few thoughts, turned to Regina and said that it was like yelling out of the spaceship window into the vacuum of space, that there was no one there to hear it.

But Jill Stanek gave Coming Home a huge Christmas present on Christmas Eve with a beautiful introduction on her blog, and so the afterburners were lit by one of the most generous and faith-filled women I have ever known.

God directs the show, and as I was soon to learn, this blog has been much more an experience of my listening than speaking. It has become a crossroads where I have met so very many in the Pro-life Movement, people who have taught me a great deal. The size, complexity and sophistication of the pro-life movement is mind-boggling, an infrastructure that has developed considerably within the past decade, and which is poised to make considerable inroads in this decade.

We are growing in size and influence. 60% of Gen Xers and Mlllennials identify as pro-life. Half of the 400,000 marchers in DC this year were under the age of 30. Gaudete!

The sonogram technology has ripped the mask off of the lie that the fetus is nothing more than a blob of tissue, and an ever-increasing majority of the 2300+ crisis pregnancy centers are equipped with this technology. 90% of women who see the sonograms keep their babies. Gaudete!

Scientists and physicians in increasing numbers are stepping forward to bear witness to the evidence in our journals of abortion’s horrendous side-effects in obstetrics, gynecology, oncology, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, demography, etc. An editor from a major publishing house approached me recently about writing a book.

When a major publisher thinks there are good books to be written, that means they believe that there is an excellent market for the book. That alone is a fantastic sign. Gaudete!

We’re winning. Gaudete!

Ten years from now the pro-life movement will have made even greater strides. Gaudete!

For all that I’ve learned this year, I’m still in my apprenticeship and only now feel that I have some solid footing. This next year should be pretty productive with lots of new projects in the hopper. Gaudete!

The Lord truly is close to all who call on Him in truth. He has blessed us abundantly, and the more we work to establish His justice for the weakest among us, the more He blesses us with success, with more happy warriors.

My deepest thanks and gratitude to all who have mentored me, encouraged me, commented and opened my eyes to the beauty of this greatest of all movements!

Coming Home has been a beautiful experience. What a beautiful family.


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Last week Fr. Steven Clark, Pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi in Mount Kisco, opened his Parish to Dr. Scott Hahn of Franciscan University and hosted an Advent Day of Recollection. Dr. Hahn discussed signs, such as the “signs and wonders” performed by Jesus. Hahn shared with us that the signs are not ends unto themselves, but point the way to an ultimate destination, a higher good.

Miracles are supposed to point the way toward faith.

As I sat and contemplated Hahn’s words, I thought that faith is itself not so much a destination, but another sign. This is why the Church talks of being “marked with the sign of Faith”. Our faith is itself a sign that points the way to Heaven on Earth—a trusting relationship with the Father.

“Be still, and know that I am God”
~Psalm 46:10

There is so much in that one simple command. Be still. So many of us, myself included, are given to a certain strain of Pelagianism, the basic belief/attitude that we must do it all ourselves. The lack of understanding in our hearts that salvation is God’s work, not ours.

“Be still.” We work so hard at our life’s work, at our faith, in our ministries and families. It is easy to become overwhelmed, and when it happens I find that I am succumbing to my Pelagian demons, that I’ve missed the sign of Faith.

Know that I am God.” We can’t come to know without the signs, especially Faith. We can’t see the signs if we’re spinning in circles.

Be still.

It starts there. Stillness. Solitude and quietude.

He’ll do the rest, but the relationship requires us to sit still, to be open to His presence, to the work of His Holy Spirit in our lives. Being a father has taught this to me. The children get frustrated when they can’t do it all by themselves, when they can’t demonstrate that they are the masters of their universe. In their frustration, they turn to Regina and me. The first order is to get them to…

…Be Still.

Then, we bring them into our orbit, our sphere of influence. We teach them and in the process, the bonds of love and fidelity are strengthened. We move from mere providers of sustenance to integral component of their development as persons in every area of their lives. The more they open themselves to our help, to our guidance, to our shouldering their burdens, the more they seek recourse to us as a part of their lives. They know that we are mom and dad, with all that “mom and dad” imply.

And that’s all that the Father asks. Be still and let us see His handiwork in our lives. “My yoke is easy, my burden is light”.

It’s been an Advent unlike any other for me. Tumultuous would be an understatement. He wants us to scramble, to do all that we can, to work as feverishly as we can in stopping this atrocity from happening. But then, He wants us to slow down, to be still and know that He is God.

I’ve spent so much of my life being a wretched Pelagian, not fully grasping faith and the need to be still.

” And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ‘” ~Matthew 18:3

My children are teaching me by example every day, and for the first time in 50 years, I think I’m starting to get it.

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It’s 2:30 A.M. and sleep isn’t coming anytime soon. It’s usually God’s way of saying that He’d like to have a chat. I’ve grown to crave solitude, to sit in silent stillness and wait on the Lord, to be still and know that He is God.

It’s been a rough week with the NY City Council. Developments don’t look good regarding passage of the bill that will restrict CPC’s, and unlike any time before, I’m feeling the weight of the implications.

EMC has saved some 3,000 babies this year. If this bill passes and becomes law, will there be far fewer at this time next year? Have we missed doing something? Have we missed some strategic move that escapes our notice? What haven’t I read, or written? The questions tumble over one another in a ceaseless onslaught.

It’s tough to see the weight on Chris Slattery, to hear it from other CPC directors. It’s the simple, brutal calculus of war. Victory for the other side means more casualties on ours, yet my study of the history of war reveals that the worst happens right before the end. That’s when the carnage tends to be greatest.

Paradoxically, we are winning this war. 60% of Millenials and Gen Xers in a January Marist poll this year identify as pro-life. Hence, the increased efforts to shut down CPC’s, the increased bloodshed. The greatest weapon is the 4D sonogram and embryoscopy. The images scream the truth. This one 3 minute video says more than all the velvet-tongued professors of science combined:


With all of that said, it’s just time for peacefulness, for waiting on the Lord, for praying for those who oppose us-who are in the grip of evil, for asking forgiveness for sometimes despising them when I should be praying for their deliverance. It’s a time to just give it all to the Father…

and wait…

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Today’s Gospel:

Matthew 3:1-12

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:

A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.

This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

Fire. It is an inescapable reality for humanity. We can either embrace the Baptism of Fire from the Lord, or burn with the fire of loneliness, isolation, and despair for all of eternity. One way or the other, it seems, we will burn within. The Baptism of Fire is the purging within of all that is dross. The fire is the fire of love of God. Our love drives us to purify ourselves by cooperating with grace. We cannot do it alone, as salvation is the work of God, not man. That’s why John speaks of the baptisms of water, Holy Spirit, and fire. They are all the work of God in our lives, requiring us to open ourselves to learning authentic love.

John also speaks of Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff: the life-containing kernel that is at once food and source of new life from the indigestible and useless outer shell and husk. The ancient techniques of winnowing wheat from chaff are still used today. Toss the wheat in he air and allow the breeze to blow away the useless and papery chaff, as the dense kernels drop straight down. What an apt analogy.

The chaff of humanity are driven by their passions and narcissistic impulses as chaff in the wind. They never learn love, which is sacrificial and other-oriented. And that brings me to what has always intuitively rubbed me raw about radical feminism.

It is all about the self. I recall the 70’s and 80’s when I read Brown, Gilligan, de Beauvoir, Friedan, and the rest of the gang. It always impressed me as a profoundly sad and loveless existece. They were right to decry the denigration hurled at them, and the flippant suggestion that they be good little home makers. However, their response was murderous rage, and 53 million babies in this country have been slain in the name of women’s rights, of economic advancement and educational advancement of women. It’s been all “rights” and no “responsibilities”.

It’s been the fire of vengeance, and it must be brought to an end.

Looking beyond our shores, the only rights that I have ever seen the radical feminists arguing for are the rights of third world women to slaughter their babies in the womb. U.S. aid is consistently tied to demands for “comprehensive” birth control in these nations. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen the radical feminists go after the Isamic leaders who keep women down with Sharia law.

I’ve never seen them lead the charge against the tin horn dictators who gorge themselves on US aid, and preside over the servile treatment of women.

I’ve never seen the UN and the feminists attempt to tie financial aid to the development of education for women and the creation of more just working conditions for women.

Just abortion and birth control.

Nihilism: nonexistence and slaughter.

The ice-cold absence of love. The hatred of nurture.

If we are to prepare the way of the Lord, we must begin by looking within, first. Then we must do what love demands, we must speak out for the poor and the least. We must champion those who have no champion, lest love collapse on itself into selfishness and narcissism. Today’s Gospel makes it clear.

We are all going to burn with one of two fires; love or despair. While we live, the choice remains ours.

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I love the prayer immediately following the Our Father during Mass, when the Priest says:

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the pro-life work that we all do, we feel the constant anxiety, we see the evil all about us, we lose our peace of mind, and maybe forget that the fight is the Lord’s. But how can we not feel the exhaustion that comes with battle? We find friends in whom we confide our doubts, share our fears.

These are healthy and normal. They show that we care.

We care about the slaughter of innocents.

We care about the mothers and fathers.

We care about the corruption of medicine, nursing, and the political process.

We care about our nation.

We care about our communities riven by the strife that accompanies abortion.

We care. Deeply. Passionately. And sometimes it can become distracting.

Through it all the Church prays that beautiful prayer tens of thousands of times a day, all over the world, in every tongue. It’s medicine for our souls, “Deliver us Lord from EVERY evil, and grant us PEACE in our day” That peace isn’t the absence of conflict, but the ability to manage it and triumph over it. God’s peace, Shalom–peace in the midst of chaos.

“Keep us free from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”. With Shalom, we need not fear, and in this fist part of the season of Advent, we turn our hearts and minds, not to Christmas, but to that day when, “every tear will be wiped away.”

It’s a good time for us to look toward the promise and its fulfillment, to take time and sit in silent stillness with Jesus, to ask Him to nourish our souls not just with wishful thinking, but with “Joyful Hope.”

Jeremy Camp captures the Joyful Hope in his beautiful song with lyrics and video below.

Happy Advent!

There Will Be A Day (Lyrics)

I try to hold on to this world with everything I have
But I feel the weight of what it brings, and the hurt that trys to grab
The many trials that seem to never end, His word declares this truth,
that we will enter in this rest with wonders anew

But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always

I know the journey seems so long
You feel your walking on your own
But there has never been a step
Where you’ve walked out all alone

Troubled soul don’t lose your heart
Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting

I can’t wait until that day where the very one I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced
To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery this is why this is why I sing….

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face

There will be a day, He’ll wipe away the stains, He’ll wipe away the tears, He’ll wipe away the tears…..there will be a day.

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Deacon Greg Kandra is ordained and ministers in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He writes a fantastic blog, The Deacon’s Bench, at Beliefnet. His Homily for today, the First Sunday of Advent, is a stunner. It is reprinted here with Deacon Kandra’s permission.

Homily for November 28, 2010: 1st Sunday of Advent

Anyone looking for interesting holiday recipes may have stumbled on a new word that has entered the American lexicon: “Cherpumple.” It’s a desert, created last year by Los Angeles writer Charles Phoenix – a diet-destroying, gut-busting feat of cooking that seems guaranteed to induce sugar shock.

It’s three different pies, stacked one on top of the other, and baked into one gargantuan “monster pie” with three layers – cherry, pumpkin, and apple, hence the name “cherpumple.” The recipe has swept the internet and has become a sensation on YouTube.

I showed a picture of a “cherpumple” to my wife and she agreed with me: it’s absolutely disgusting.

Some things just aren’t meant to be mashed together like that.

Deacon Greg Kandra

But I have to wonder if we haven’t done something similar with Advent and Christmas. For all intents and purposes, we have managed to create one massive season – “Chradvent” – that conflates two distinct seasons into one. And it’s starting earlier and earlier.

Hundreds of radio stations started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween – many of them all Christmas, all the time, 24/7. The week before Thanksgiving, I was amazed to walk by an apartment on 108th Street and see the lobby fully decorated, complete with a fully lit Christmas tree and wrapped gifts. Last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I went down to Sergei’s Barber Shop on Ascan Street for a haircut and saw workers unloading Christmas trees to sell. How anyone could expect a Christmas tree to live a month or more is a mystery to me. But people do it. I saw cars going down Queens Boulevard with trees strapped to the roof. Even before Thanksgiving, it seems, we’ve started to celebrate “Chradvent.”

Before everyone hops on that “Chradvent” bandwagon, I’d just like to take a moment to celebrate this season that so many have forgotten about – the season of Advent. We need to remember the reason for this season, and to hold on to Advent just a little while before surrendering to the craziness of “Chradvent.”

The readings today alert us to something great about to begin. The language is emphatic. Night is ending. Dawn is at hand. “Stay awake.” Put on “the armor of light.” And “let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” There is a sense of anticipation – the kind we celebrate at every Eucharist, when we pray that we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.” Advent is that waiting, that moment of joyful hope, lived out across four weeks.


We symbolize that, and ritualize it, with the Advent wreath. But we don’t light all four candles at once. We go one at a time, so the light gathers and grows. If you have an Advent calendar, you don’t fold open every window at once, but you go one small window at a time. Later in the season, we will sing the haunting refrain, “O come, O come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” We are captives awaiting freedom, prisoners held in dungeons of despair. But light is coming. Freedom is coming.

Jesus is coming.

But until he comes, we wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray.

We shouldn’t rush it. Advent is the time for taking stock, and making plans – a season of great expectations. Dorothy Day, in fact, compared it to a woman expecting a child. “She lives in such a garment of silence,” Day wrote, “as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her.”

That brings me to question all of us should ask during these coming weeks:

Are we listening?

Are we paying attention?

Are we looking to what will be – or are we already there?

If we jump right into the holiday season, we forget to wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray. We neglect the “joyful hope” that is so much a part of this beautiful season. When Christmas arrives, it will seem almost anti-climactic: one more day in a long litany of jingling bells and canned carols.

This year resist the urge. Wait a while to get the tree and hang the wreath. Turn down the Christmas music. It’s okay: it will be there in the middle of December, just as it was in the middle of November.

Instead, use these weeks to pull back, to retreat from the ho-ho-ho and fa-la-la-la-la. Find time to look within — to pray more deeply, and converse more intimately with the One who is coming. Ask Him: How can I prepare for you? What can I do to welcome you into my life?

If all of us do that, we may be surprised at the answer.

And we’ll actually be able to HEAR the answer if we give ourselves over to the “garment of silence” that Dorothy Day wrote about.

“Cherpumple” is over the top, and unhealthy. And so, I think, is “Chradvent.” So pull the two seasons apart, and live each of them as fully as possible.

Let’s look forward to a merry Christmas.

But let’s also use this opportunity, as well, to enjoy a blessed and holy Advent.

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Philip Johnson

May I respectfully and humbly ask that we all join in prayer for this special seminarian, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.

From the Diocese of Raleigh:

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, has requested in a letter that all the Priests, Religious and lay faithful in the Diocese of Raleigh participate in a novena to the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the Diocese, on behalf of Philip Johnson, one of our Diocesan seminarians. The novena will begin on Monday, November 29, and culminate on Wednesday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Mr. Johnson, who is currently pursuing his vocation to the Priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, has been receiving chemotherapy treatments for a brain tumor, which has continued to progress despite these treatments. He expressed “deep gratitude to the priests, religious, and laity of our Diocese for their prayerful support during this difficult time in my life.

“While my treatments can often be physically and emotionally draining,” he said, “it brings me great strength to know that so many prayers are being offered to Almighty God on my behalf. Please be assured of my prayers for our entire Diocese, especially for those who currently suffer in any way, that we may all unite our sufferings to those of Our Lord on the Cross.

Links to both the Bishop’s letter and the Novena Prayer in English and Spanish are provided below so that you may forward this request to others who you may wish to invite to pray for a needed cure for Philip. A link to an earlier story on Mr. Johnson provides additional information. Click here.

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