Monday, December 27, 2010

May every family be a holy family

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, December 26, 2010:
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“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” How many wives poked and prodded their husbands as that was read? How many husbands twisted uncomfortably in their seats? This is perhaps the most dangerous passage in all of Scripture to preach on. But, I feel a little dangerous today, so let’s give it a try.

I don’t know how many of you saw the movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? But, it is a really wonderful and funny movie about a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on that puts our reading from Colossians in perspective. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately turns her down. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, “Yes, the man is the head of the household, but the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”

The problem with this phrase from Colossians, “Wives be submissive to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage out and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling, but seen in the bigger picture, we find not a chauvinistic household, but one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subject to the other. So, if it is fair to say wives be subject to your husbands, it is also fair to say husbands be subject to your wives and children be subject to your parents; parents be subject to your children.  St. Paul is envisioning a Christian community, a Christian family where every member is in service to the other.

On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Paul is giving us the key to holiness in our own families. The key to this letter of Paul is not the point he makes about wives, but the lesson he gives to us all a few lines earlier, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”

This is a tough time for the family in our world. Families are struggling. Family life in many places is falling apart. Just look at the images that we get of families from the media today. Families are not portrayed as places of love, respect and safety; rather they are battle grounds. Television families often feature children who regularly outsmart their parents, or parents who are preoccupied with their own interests and neglect their children. These are not holy families.

Our opening prayer today said, “Father, help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love.” That seems like a tall order for us today, but it is one that we can achieve if we have the desire to live in holy families. And that is the challenge – throw out what the world tells you a family should be; and put on Christ and what God wants a family to be; one where love, respect, compassion, and humility prevail. Be subject to one another.

Yes, the Holy Family is a tough act to follow. The dad was a saint, the mom was the Mother of God; and the son was God Himself. But, that is not what made Jesus, Mary and Joseph a holy family. What made them holy was the way they loved. They were subject to one another. Joseph was faithful to Mary even though the child she carried was not his own. Mary was faithful to Jesus even to the foot of the cross. And one of the things that most concerned Jesus as he hung on the cross was to make sure that John would be there to care for his mother after he was gone. God brought the Holy Family together, but love and concern for one another kept them together and made them holy. They became holy as a family in the way that they loved each other.

The challenge of holiness for families today is to put the family first – before career, before wealth, before everything. Families need the support, understanding and love of every person in them. There is a great freedom that comes from family life. But, never let the freedom you enjoy in your own home become an excuse for failing to extend to the members of your family all of the love, respect, attention and compassion they deserve. Reserve your deepest kindness and love for your own family. Honor all of the members of your household; compete in holiness so that you may grow in your love of each other and the love of God.
Make St. Paul’s words your family’s mission statement: “Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”

May God make your family a holy family; and may God give you peace.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Say YES to the cookie!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD, December 25, 2010:
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A man asked his wife what she wanted for Christmas. She said, “I’ll give you a hint. What I want goes from 0-200 in less than 5 seconds, and I want to see it in the driveway Christmas morning.” Christmas came and the woman ran out to see her gift. And there it was right in the driveway - a brand new, shiny bathroom scale!

Now, I don’t know about you, but although this is supposed to be the season of sugar plums dancing in our heads, and Joy to the World, for me it often feels like wartime. On one side of this war are you and me – good, upstanding citizens and faithful Christians. And our opponent? That plate of chocolate chip cookies that are so fresh from the oven that the chips are still melting. And that piece of pumpkin pie with the dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. And Grandma’s cobbler. And chocolate cake. This my friends is not mere spiritual warfare; no, this is caloric warfare.

This battle of the bulge takes place every year at this time. The double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas explodes our waistlines like a hand grenade. Our cholesterol and blood sugar say no, but our eyes and stomachs say yes, yes, yes. We always end up losing this battle, which means we have to make bold New Year’s predictions about eating tofu and drinking soy milk, which lasts until we open the fridge on New Year’s Day and see there’s one more piece of pecan pie left. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is oh, so sweet!

My friends, as we gather in this holy place, of course, our minds are on the relevance of Christmas, on the reality that God came to us as a little baby boy in a manger, and the fact that this day reminds us that in the birth of Christ we find our opportunity to know God on a more intimate level. That is the reason for Christmas; and the purpose of our gathering. But, I want to pose a very different question today, not about the reason for the season, but about its outcome. What is the result of Christmas in our lives? How should our lives be different because of this event – both the birth we remember 2,000 years ago and the celebration we gather for in this church today? One way is that our lives are supposed to be joyful and peaceful. We sing about just these things in all of our beautiful Christmas hymns. But, for many of us, the last few weeks and days before Christmas are anything but joyful and peaceful. One trip to the mall or post office in the last five days is all anyone needs to be reminded of how easily this season of anticipation turns into one of frustration. The problem is we add to that stress ourselves, and often fret over the things that we should be welcoming as joys. And in this season, that stress can distract us from what Christmas is all about.

Of all the times of the year, this is not supposed to be the season of stress. It’s not “God Fret You Worried Gentlemen” or “O Come All Ye Frazzled.” The archangel didn’t tell the shepherd, “Be afraid! I bring warnings of great anxiety!” He told them to NOT be afraid, his tidings were of great joy. The point is that in the midst of our stress, we sometimes refuse that joy, that happy, healthy, holy, life-giving joy that is the intended result of welcoming anew the birth of Christ.

This time of year, people love to bake and give all kinds of goodies. Our kitchen counters can lack any free space for all the sweets covering them. As I was reflecting on this notion of Christmas joy, I remembered one particular plate of M&M cookies that I received last year. It was a wonderful gift, and the kind person who gave them told us that a lot of love went into every one of those cookies. As I stood agonizing over whether to eat one or not, those red and green M&Ms were staring at me symbolizing the inner battle: stop, go, stop, go. I thought, “Should I? It’s only a few hours until dinner, and I certainly haven’t exercised; but I did have a salad for lunch. But, I probably shouldn’t.” And then I realized something. These cookies were a gift, made with love, and I was rationalizing why I shouldn’t accept this gift. It’s not the right time, it’s the not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift. Joy and love were given to me, and was looking for reasons to refuse that joy.

Now, think about this: what if the Blessed Mother had been so stressed out that she had refused the joy offered her by the angel? She had every right to. She was in no position to take on the responsibility the angel was putting before her. She was engaged to Joseph. How would she explain this pregnancy? She could tell the truth, but who would believe her? She had every good reason to say no. But the angel told Mary that she would have a baby, and that baby would be named Jesus, and that He would be the very Son of God. And Mary finds herself with this gift of joy, stressing out over the news. “How can this be?” she questions. If she accepts, she will be the vessel for a Divine gift; she will be the Mother of God. But it also means that very soon it will be obvious that there’s more than a cookie in her belly, which could lead to the destruction of her marriage and her reputation. She could even be put to death.

And yet, Mary says yes, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” She takes the risk and she accepts the gift of God’s joy; of God’s love; of God’s peace. There are a lot of reasons she could say no: not the right time, not the right place, not the right man, not the right plan. And yet, instead of weighing the pros and cons, instead of counting the costs, instead of listing the reasons to refuse the gift, Mary simply says “yes.” “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

So, my friends, today, I want you to say “yes” to Christmas. Say “yes” to the cookie! Eat and enjoy! Sing and be merry! January’s coming soon enough. There will be plenty of time to eat right, drink bottled water, take vitamins, and get plenty of sleep. So this Christmas, I want you to eat the cookie. I want you to open your heart; open your life and accept the joy that is the birth of Christ, our Savior.

True Christmas is, of course, about more than the joys of a cookie. In fact, the reality is that the joys we refuse are more often spiritual and eternal; the joys we refuse are far more meaningful and transformative. The joy that we are guilty of leaving behind is the joy of accepting God’s loving gift, of letting Christ bless us, and giving ourselves to follow Jesus. Christmas is more than a chance to eat and open presents. It’s also a chance to open ourselves to Jesus, and to be filled, to be satisfied, to be nourished, to be strengthened, as only the presence of Jesus can do. It’s a time to recommit ourselves to God and to recommit our lives to worshiping and serving Him. It’s a chance to let the remembrance of the birth of Christ so long ago, lead to a new birth of Christ within us, right here, right now. Christ’s birth was not only life-changing 2,000 years ago; the result of His birth is meant to be life-changing for each of us gathered in this holy place today.

And yet, we don’t have to accept God’s joy any more than Mary had to. We can say “no”, and continue to let stress rule our lives, to be more concerned about holding back than serving others, more concerned about counting costs than reaping true rewards, more concerned about what we can’t have in our lives; about what someone else has that’s better than ours; than what we’re truly missing in our lives. We too can say, “It’s not the right time, it’s not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift.” Well, none of us have, but we’ve been given it just the same. And there’s never a wrong time or a wrong place to recommit ourselves to following Jesus. This is the season of joy; of love and of peace. Have we felt that joy yet? Have we embraced the joy of this season? Or in our stress have we refused the joy God offers us as a free gift?

Now, I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to come to me next month with a frown on your face. Your belt will be a notch looser, and you may even be waddling a bit. And you’ll say, “Father, I did what you said, I ate that cookie, and now I weigh five pounds more than before Christmas!” And I’ll say, “Me too. But, how did that cookie taste?” And your eyes will glaze over, and you’ll look up, and with a big smile on your face, you’ll say, “It was wonderful.”

My friends, in this very moment, the gift of Christ; the gift of joy, love and peace; is once again being offered to each one of us. What will you do? It’s all up to you. But if you ask me, I’d eat the cookie, I’d get on my knees tonight and thank God for the gift of His Son and welcome that joy; that truest of joys, in to the depths of my heart. And only then can we all say, “Thank you Lord. It was truly wonderful!”

On behalf of Fr. Giles, Deacon Ernie and myself, may you all have a very Merry Christmas and may God give you His joy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Do you see what I see?

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 19, 2010:
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A kindergarten teacher told her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels glorious announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky and travelling to see the new born King. At the end of the story she asked, “Now tell me, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we, as adults, miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is simple and obvious.

We do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we can fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal things of life, such as pregnancy and birth. The child’s simple answer reminds us to take a moment to look at the ordinary things that we take for granted every day and see God’s hand in them, and this is a good message for us as we are less than a week away from celebrating Christmas. Especially at this time of year, we can get so caught up in the complexities of gifts and travel and dinners (and new pastors!), that we just might miss the simple and profound reality of the day – that God loves us and that God is with us.

Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” But for the average person of Jesus’ time this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born of a woman, in a normal way, as an average baby. Though the scribes and scholars were aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the average person held to the popular belief that the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was expected to drop suddenly from the skies, full-grown in all His divine power. He would arrive, of course, on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship – in thunder, in glory, in majesty and in awe!

People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born normally and raised in their midst. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary way of God’s arrival, the ordinary experience of God’s presence and God’s every day action among His people to be too simple, to obvious, to underwhelming to possibly be true.

And much like the people of Jesus time, we are also waiting for the coming of God among us, for our Emmanuel. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, how do we expect God to come among us? How does God work among us? This is important because sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that He is standing right by our side, but we don’t recognize His presence and action among us because we’re looking for something else. Can we accept God the way He is, the way He desires to be present among us, the way He hopes to speak His word; or do we wait insisting that He conform His presence to our desires?

Just think of how often we treat the Mass as commonplace, as ordinary, as nothing special, even as something boring. And yet, God is with us – right here, right now. God is with us as we gather in His holy name today – “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” God is here as His word, not ours, is proclaimed in the readings from Sacred Scripture. And, so profoundly, God is here among us as simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus – not a symbol, not a reminder, but the Real Jesus, right here on this altar and right here in our hearts as we receive Him. St. Francis said of the Eucharist, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”

The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the King of kings and the desire of nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-month pregnancy of a simple young woman, through 30 years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes in the ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the people we see around us being born, growing up, growing old and dying – and in His Real Presence in the form of bread and wine become Body and Blood.

It is often hardest to see God in the people, places and situations that are familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is sometimes to see God in ourselves. But if we see the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we will begin to see the presence and action of God more and more in our daily lives. Remember, when God did the most spectacular thing ever in the history of the world – becoming one of us – He did it in the most ordinary way. So, why should we expect Him to act any differently with us?

There is a proverb that says, “Listen closely, and you can hear even the footsteps of ants.” Today, in these final days of Advent, as we prepare for the great event of Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, we are challenged to listen closely and hear even the footsteps of God who comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through the person on our left and on our right and at the everyday, normal, ordinary moments of our lives.

My brothers and sisters, God is with us. Do you see what I see?

May God give you peace.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Are you the one?" | An Advent Identity Crisis

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - Gaudete Sunday - December 12, 2010:
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Almost everyone has heard of the popular psychological term “identity crisis.” An identity crisis is defined as “a period of psychological distress when a person seeks a clearer sense of self and an acceptable role in society.” Now, although this term didn’t become part of our vocabulary until the 1950s, it’s apparent that today’s Gospel focuses precisely on an this issue.

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John the Baptist is having an identity crisis, but not about himself, instead it is about Jesus. John wants to know just who this Jesus is. John has heard about the works of Jesus and he wants to find out the true identity of Jesus. We have to remember a bit of last Sunday’s Gospel in which John identified Jesus in rather severe, strict and strident terms. John painted a picture of Jesus with a “winnowing fan in his hand,” cleaning up the threshing floor after the harvest, gathering the good wheat into his barn but burning the useless chaff with unquenchable fire. John’s preconceived idea of Jesus was that of a threatening judge and a fiery prophet whose aim is to clean house, shelter the good and get rid of the bad and useless.

But then John starts to hear about Jesus’ actions, what Jesus was doing, what His mission and His message were. And suddenly John had a genuine identity crisis. So he asks the identity question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus promptly sets the record and the picture straight. Jesus had come into the world not to destroy but to save, not to burn but to bless, not to condemn but to commend, not to hurt but to heal – to heal the blind, the lame, the lepers , the deaf and the dead. And best of all, Jesus came to give good news to the poor, the very people who only knew the bad, the worse and the worst news.

My friends, with the Advent Season more than half over, with Christmas just over 10 days away, it is time for us to deal with our identity crisis. And like John the Baptist, our identity crisis is focused not on ourselves, not on who we are but rather on Jesus and who He is. Who is this Jesus whose birth we will all too soon celebrate? What do we expect Jesus to be? How do we identify Him? Is He a mysterious, unapproachable, judgmental and fearsome figure who still carries a winnowing fan and is ready to clean up and clear out the useless, powerless, helpless chaff that we think we are?

Or is this Jesus the loving, forgiving, compassionate, gentle one who still is willing and able to heal the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and raise the dead, all those whom society considers as so much chaff? Most of all, do we see ourselves as poor enough to have Jesus proclaim the good news to us that says we are good because God loves us and not that God loves us only when we are good?

During these final days of Advent, I encourage you to consider seriously how you identify Jesus. Who exactly is Jesus to you and for you? Is He angry, judge, mystery man, a model impossible to imitate, a faint figure far away and long ago? Or is He your best friend, sharer of all your ups and downs, inspirer to better and greater deeds, healer of heart-wounds, immensely compassionate, intensely lovable and loving?

As we clearly and sincerely identify Jesus we are also solving any personal identity crisis we may have. For when we know who Jesus is, then we begin to know who we are. For we become what we receive! We are His body; His is our head. We are His presence in the world today. If the blind are to see, the lame walk, lepers cleansed, the deaf to hear, and the dead raised, it will be because we continue to participate in doing His work in the world with Him! If the poor are to hear and experience the good news then we must be part of bringing it to them. After all, if we don’t bring them the good news, who will?

Let our prayers these last days of Advent convince us that indeed Jesus is the one who is to come, there is no other. Jesus is the one we earnestly desire to come and be closer to us, dwell with us and within us, feed us with His own body and blood, lead us to the glory he has prepared and reserved just for us!

Because Jesus is coming and is in fact already here in our midst at this Eucharistic table, we know for sure that we don’t have to look for another Savior or Lord. Jesus is enough for us. Jesus is all we need. Jesus is the good news that we who are poor need to hear and then in turn proclaim over and over again – Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

May God give you peace!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Born free!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, December 8, 2010:

You may be familiar with the book or movie, The Song of Bernadette. It is the true story of 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous, who in 1858 reported having an apparition of the Blessed Virgin on a hillside outside of the village of Lourdes in France. At first, the authorities scoffed at her claims and even threatened to punish her if she did not stop speaking of the story.

Then one day, the apparition told Bernadette to dig into the ground. She obeyed and a spring of water bubbled up. Soon miracles began to occur at this spring. A blind man washed in the waters and regained his sight. A mother washed her paralyzed baby in the waters and it became well within 24 hours. Years after Bernadette’s death, the same child, now an old man of 77, was an honored guest at her canonization in Rome. Today, literally thousands of cures are on file at the Medical Bureau in Lourdes.

One of the things that Mary said to Bernadette during an apparition was, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The 14 year old girl wasn’t too sure what these words meant, but every adult knew their meaning. Just four years earlier, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX, defined as Catholic doctrine the traditional teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This teaching goes back to the early days of Christianity. It says simply that Mary was untouched by original sin from the very moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Ann, and she remained that way the rest of her life.

The teaching of the Immaculate Conception finds its support in Sacred Scripture. For example, in today’s second reading we heard , “he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” And in today’s Gospel, the angels says to Mary, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” It is not surprising that God preserved Mary from sin. After all, she was to be the mother of His Son. What is more fitting than for the Son of God to be born of a sinless mother.
There is a story that may help us appreciate better how Mary could be born without sin while everyone else is born a slave to sin. At one point in history, many Christians were captured in battle and sold as slaves to non-Christian countries. These enslaved Christians had children and because they were slaves, their children were also doomed to live as slaves. In time it became a practice among Christians to purchase the freedom of these children born of slave parents. And sometimes that purchase was arranged before the child was born – or even conceived. In other words, even though the child was conceived and born of slave parents, it was free. Its freedom had been purchased in advance.

We may look upon Mary’s birth in a similar way. Even though Mary was born of parents enslaved by original sin, she was born free. God’s grace, of which Mary was full of, had purchased her freedom in advance – even before her conception.

We American Catholics have always had a special devotion to Mary under this title of the Immaculate Conception. It was to Mary, under this title, that we dedicated our country in the early days of our nation’s history. And so today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with special joy and gratitude as it is in a special way “our” feast.

And so let us conclude with a special prayer to Mary today. It is the prayer that was prayed daily by the sailors on board the ships of Christopher Colombus during the voyage that resulted in the discovery of our great country. Each night at sunset the crew would gather on deck for evening prayers. These prayers would always end in the singing, in Latin, of the Salve Regina. Many of us are familiar with the English translation of this prayer. Please say it along with me if you know it:

Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn the, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Transformed by Grace

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 5, 2010:
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One of the famous Aesop’s Fables tells of a Wolf who was drinking at a spring on a hillside. Looking up, what should he see but a Lamb just beginning to drink a little lower down. “There's my supper,” thought he, “if only I can find some excuse to seize it.” Then he called out to the Lamb, “How dare you muddy the water from which I am drinking?” “No sir,” said Lamb, “if the water be muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.” “Well, then,” said the Wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?” “That cannot be,” said the Lamb; “I am only six months old.” “I don't care,” snarled the Wolf; “if it was not you it was your father;” and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her all up. But before she died she gasped out: “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.”

The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, saw human relationships much like the wolf and the lamb. He said about the human condition that “Man is wolf to man.” Or perhaps closer to our own vernacular, we know it can be a dog-eat-dog world. Looking at our world, we can sometimes get the impression that there are two kinds of people, wolves and lambs or as we might say, oppressors and the oppressed. The dividing line between these groups runs through gender, ethnicity and race, social class, wealth, power or even religious affiliation. Invariably one group appears to be the wolf and the other the lamb.

Isaiah, in our first reading, is keenly aware of this state of affairs. He gives us an image of the that is precisely in terms of wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, lions and calves, bears and cows, noting that the way of things seems to be that the wolf eats the lamb, the leopard the goat, the lion eats the calf and the bear the cow. This image shouldn’t surprise anyone – it is the way of the world; it is natural. Anyone who’s ever watched “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel knows there are predators and there are prey. That’s how nature works. If that’s all Isaiah had to say, it wouldn’t be terribly interesting. What is interesting is that Isaiah is not concerned merely in the way things are or have always been but instead he is interested in the way things can be. Isaiah is a man of vision. And here he recounts his vision of the day of the Lord when God will manifest his glory through all the world. In that world, quite contrary to the natural order, the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

“Impossible,” you might say. “Isaiah is dreaming. This can’t happen because it is in the nature of the wolf to eat the lamb.” But that is exactly Isaiah’s point. Just as it is impossible, in nature alone, for the wolf to live in peace with the lamb, so it is impossible for us, according to our base nature alone, to live the life of harmonious coexistence in the world as envisioned by Isaiah. To find that peace, a radical transformation is required. We must be transformed! If we are to put behind us the base dog-eat-dog instincts of our world, we must be transformed by God. And all this is only possible if we open our hearts to God’s grace. God’s Grace alone transforms our weak nature.

Think of the Eucharist for a moment. In this miraculous moment, God’s Grace transforms simple bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus. In a technical sense, that is unnatural too. Bread and wine do not ordinarily or naturally transform into flesh and blood. For this to happen, it requires a transformation, or transubstantiation, that God’s Grace alone can bring. And if He transforms that simple bread and wine, how much more He desires to transform us as well – if we let Him. God’s grace transforms human nature so radically that even what seemed impossible before becomes possible now – “understanding puts an end to strife, hatred is quenched by mercy, vengeance gives way to forgiveness, enemies begin to speak to one another, those who were estranged join hands in friendship, and nations seek the way of peace together.” This is the glorious reality that Isaiah describes.

Isaiah doesn’t hope we merely “tolerate” or put up with” the other. God’s peace is not merely an absence of war or violence or hatred or friction. No. It is a true peace of harmonious living based on justice and the mutual recognition that everyone equal in God’s sight and so should be equal in our sight. This only happens when we open our hearts to let God’s Grace transform the natural into the godly. As long as we continue to claim to be “more equal” than others because of our status, wealth or power; there will be no true justice and no lasting peace.

We are called today to ask: do we operate on the principle that for us to win someone else has to lose? The survival of the fittest, strongest, wealthiest, famous or powerful? The vision of the Kingdom of God to which Isaiah invites us today is founded on the principle that we can all be winners if we are all transformed. Let us be the “voice that cried out in the desert.” Let us surrender to God’s Grace so that we can be transformed and thus transform the world into the very Kingdom of God.

May God give you peace!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A prayer for World AIDS Day

Eternal Source of All Life, on the occasion of World AIDS Day we pause to remember those who were taken from us too soon by a virus that has taken far too many.

We pause to honor those who have been living with HIV for decades and we give thanks that they are still with us; we also wish them many more years of good health and abundant happiness.

We pause to think of those who have been living with HIV for only a few years, months, weeks, or days. We pray for them to have access to the best possible health care, and we pray that they respond well to the treatments that are available.

We pause to consider those who are not HIV positive and to wish them well; may they take special care to keep themselves always safe.

We pause to bless those who have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS or who have been in any way impacted by HIV; we give thanks for the ways that they may be comforted.

We pause to give thanks for those who continue to care for people with HIV, who work to find better treatments, vaccines, and even a cure, who work to make good health care more affordable and more accessible, and who work to educate the public about the issue.

We pause to recall that AIDS is still with us, and while it is with us we all have AIDS, if not in our bodies, in our compassionate hearts; and so we pray for healing and we commit to pray always for healing until the miraculous day that HIV/AIDS is only a memory.

Amen.

If you keep the Word of God, it will keep you

NOTE: Wonderful Advent reflection from today's Office of Readings. This is from a sermon of St. Bernard.  Enjoy!


We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.