Saturday, December 31, 2011

Everyone wants to transform, but nobody wants to change

“Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable you will never be able to truly change at all”

Gospel text (Jn 1,1-18):
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father's only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
"This was he of whom I said,
'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.'"
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father's side,
has revealed him.

Three hundred and sixty-five days this year, Jesus offered Himself to you in the Eucharist. The Word became flesh (Jn 1:14) and made Himself lovingly available in case you wanted Him. To you, who are "His own, He came" (Jn 1:11). Three hundred and sixty-five days this year, Jesus, "the Word" (Jn 1:1), made His holy word available to you. His love letters to you, the Bible, were constantly present to you in case you wanted to listen to Him. Three hundred and sixty-five days this year, Jesus made sure that your lungs kept breathing, your heart kept beating, your body kept functioning. Jesus was always thinking of you this year, staying faithfully with you (Mt 28:20), constantly loving you.

This year, 2011, has now come to "the final hour" (1 Jn 2:18). At the end of the year, Jesus, "the End" (Rv 22:13), stands waiting for you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Feast of the Holy Family: Learning to Love, Pray and Live in the School of Nazareth

"The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents. An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer. If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill this gap later. I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth". - Pope Benedict XVI

(Col 3:12-21)
Put on then, 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. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

Jesus spent 30 of his 33 earthly years in Nazareth. Some spiritual writers have called these the 'hidden years', because there is so little written about them in the Gospel narratives. However, they reveal the holiness of ordinary life and show us how it becomes extraordinary for those baptized into Christ. From antiquity the Christian family has rightly been called a domestic church. In our own Christian family we can learn the way of selfless love in the School of Nazareth.

The challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment. Two trees still grow in the garden of domestic life. They invite the exercise of our freedom, which is the core of the Image of God within us. There is the tree in Eden where the first Eve said, "No I will not serve." Then, there is the Tree on Calvary where Mary, the "second Eve" stood with the beloved disciple John and, along with him, again proclaimed her "yes".

In this life of responding to the Lord's invitations we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful. This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one.

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

All knowledge is sterile which does not lead to action and end in charity

“Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves. It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions.” - St Anthony of Padua

(1 John 2:3-11) Beloved:
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, "I know him," but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

The purpose of the Christmas season is to grow greatly in love for Jesus. To grow in love requires God's grace, our willingness to accept His grace, and a process by which we are transformed and made more capable of loving. We go through this process of transformation by taking step after step in obedience. "By obedience to the truth" we purify ourselves "for a genuine love" (1 Pt 1:22). "The way we can be sure of our knowledge of Him is to keep His commandments" (1 Jn 2:3).

By obedience, Mary conceived Christ and loved Him more deeply than anyone has ever loved Him. By obedience, Joseph became the foster-father of Jesus and grew from love to love. By obedience, the shepherds and wise men saw the infant Jesus and began a new life of love forever. By obedience, Simeon "came to the temple" (Lk 2:27) where he met Jesus, the Light to the Gentiles, the Glory of Israel (Lk 2:32), and the God Who is Love (1 Jn 4:16).

In today’s reading, John is very specific about being and living who we say we are. It is our actions not just empty claims of knowing Jesus that will secure us a place in the light. The actions that he writes of are actions that are based on a sincere love of our sisters and brothers. That kind of love that motivates our actions comes from a recognition of the dignity bestowed by God on each and every human being. That kind of love motivates us to treat everyone with respect , to meet their needs, soothe their pain and sorrow, and provide a witness to the love that comes from our heavenly father.

It is a love that does not allow for discrimination between the beginning of life and the end of life, the person on death row and the saintly neighbor, the rich and the poor, the mentally ill and the physically ill, the homeless man begging at the interstate exit and those who are gainfully employed, etc. It is not always an easy love; we all have prejudices that we have to work at overcoming or at least moments when it is difficult to truly find God in another. Jesus is always there to help us in finding the dignity of others as long as we are open to him.

Sure, it may be easy to follow God’s commandments when everything is peachy and those around us are not annoying us; but when things get tough, how easy is it to actually love the complaining friend, the screaming child, and the angry boss?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey

I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible. – St Teresa of Avila.

Gospel text (Mt 2,13-18):
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
"Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

Today is the feast day of the Holy Innocents, the infants King Herod ordered slaughtered within two years following the appearance of the star to the Wise Men (Mt 2:16). The Church holds in the highest regard these innocent children, these martyrs. "They died not only for Christ, but in his stead" (St. Augustine, "Sermon 10 on holiness").

Although many people don't want to talk about sin, especially around Christmas time, we all believe in sin. We believe that Herod, Hitler, Stalin, and other villains in history chose to do things which are objectively wrong.

However, we would like to think that sin is rare, since many people maintain that most acts are not matters of objective right or wrong but only matters of subjective values. Nevertheless, sin is not rare, but universal. Everyone is a sinner, and many people sin frequently (see Rm 3:23).

St. Joseph offers us a very clear and responsive testimony to God's call. We can, thus, identify ourselves with him when we are to make decisions, from our own faith, in difficult moments of our life: «Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left that night for Egypt» (Mt 2:14).

For every Herod, there is a Joseph. For every murderer, there is a disciple of Jesus, who will be told by the Lord how to save the lives of children. What is He telling you? You're not responsible to do everything, but you can do something. What is the Lord saying?

Can He talk to you? Are you open to surprises, sacrifices, corrections, or challenges? Are there things you refuse to hear, defenses you won't let down, sacrifices you won't make, and sin you won't admit? The first question is not: "What am I hearing?" but "What am I willing to hear?"

The Lord can save lives through you if you let Him talk to you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out. "

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. – St Teresa of Avila

Gospel text (Jn 20,2-8):
On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
"They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we do not know where they put him."
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.

John is traditionally identified with the Beloved Disciple (the other disciple whom Jesus loved - Jn: 20 - 4 ), on whose testimony today’s Gospel is based (Jn 21:24). John testified that he surely could not help but speak of what he had heard and seen (Acts 4:19-20). Everything within John found joy in sharing his experience of Jesus' love with others (1 Jn 1:3-4). On this third day of Christmas, Jesus gives us the opportunity to contemplate the life of St. John.

As I thought about this readings on the feast of St. John, a startling question hit me. What would it have been like to have Jesus for a best friend? A lot of people say this, especially if they are running for office but John really WAS Jesus’ best friend from what we can tell from the Scriptures.

Since Jesus was fully human, he must have needed the comfort and support of a friend he could trust and relax with just like the rest of us. Was that John’s role? Did John tease Jesus and make him laugh? Did he just listen when things were tense? Obviously they prayed together but did they relax over a glass or wine? I’m trying to envision Jesus and John as human pals instead of marble statues.

What kind of a guy was John that gave him a unique place among the Disciples? What qualities can we emulate to become friends of Jesus?

First and probably most important, there’s loyalty. When the others deserted Jesus on the cross, John was there, taking care of Mary. Jesus must have known that he could count on John under the worst of conditions. Like John, if we want to be friends of Jesus, we must be faithful and care for others. That kind of faithfulness can take courage such as John exhibited in refusing to desert Jesus when others did.

I’m also intrigued by how John handled the jealousy that the other apostles must have felt towards him because of his friendship with Jesus. These, after all, were men that fought for position at the Last Supper. We can be pretty sure that John never had to push for his position but he already had it. Did John just ignore any heat he took from the others or did they all just recognize his role? Was John one of those seemingly perfect people that others can’t really resent despite themselves?

We get a feel for John’s wish to share his friendship with Jesus in the first reading in which he invites us into fellowship with “the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” There was nothing selfish in this friendship – rather a desire to share it with generations to come. While we can’t hang out with Jesus as John did, we can emulate his qualities that will help us find friendship with Jesus.

Monday, December 26, 2011

When one is convinced that his cause is just, he will fear nothing."

Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave. - Aristotle

(Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59)
Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
"Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God."
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

The story of St. Stephen in our reading today communicates a powerful and maybe uncomfortable message. Doing the right thing is hard. Sometimes it can be dangerous, and, as in the case of Stephen and other martyrs, doing the right thing and speaking with the spirit can be fatal. People do inconceivable things to each other in distant places and around the corner. Why do these things happen? Who lets that happen?

We see hateful things everyday. Perhaps we can’t do much about the world’s problems, but we can do something about our own lives. We have to stand up and do the right thing every day. When someone is being demeaned by another person, we can ask God, as Jesus says in the Gospel today at the Mass, to give us what to say, for the grace and wisdom to speak up and stop the tiny bits of hate, of people treating others as less than human. We treat people as less than human when we gossip, when we let an unkind remark go by, when we witness something cruel. While we may not be the ones doing the deed, our roles as silent bystanders help build up those little bits of hate.

We often let ourselves off the hook by thinking these small things don’t matter. I don’t want to make a scene, we say to ourselves. I worry what others might think, we say to ourselves. It’s time to change that message to ourselves. I will speak up because it’s the right thing to do. I will ask God for the grace and wisdom. As the psalm says, “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness.”

Saint Stephen was a martyr in life. Martyr means “testimony”. To put it in 21st century language, “He put his money where his mouth was”.

So too should today's Christians witnesses of Jesus Christ through eyes of faith, fearlessly proclaim him in plain language and courageous action.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

He is a baby... but also, God All Mighty; He is God, but now, He is also one of us.

"But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. “

(Gospel John 1:1-18):
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
"This was he of whom I said,
'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.'"
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side,
has revealed him.

Christmas invites us to live a unity of life; to become comfortable "in our skin" by being fully human, enjoying life, living and loving as Jesus lives and loves; beginning now. Sometimes, Christians live lives that are perceived as anything but fully human. Who is drawn to a man or woman whom they feel will not have empathy for their own weakness? However, they were and they are, drawn to Jesus Christ. He wants to live in us and invites us to live in Him.

Christmas reminds us that in the "fullness of time" God came among us. Heaven touched earth and earth has been elevated through this encounter! The all- powerful God who made both heaven and earth became a vulnerable baby and chose to give Himself to His creation in order to create it anew.

Let us welcome Jesus, let us seek him: we shall find salvation, and the true solution to the problems of our world, only in Him; He only is giving us the ultimate meaning of life, of our pains and setbacks. This is why, today, I am proposing you: let us read the Gospel, and let us mull over it; let us try to truly live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, the Son of God that has come into us. Only then, we shall realize that, together, we could truly build a better world.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"It is easy to think Christmas, and it is easy to believe Christmas, but it is hard to act Christmas."

"We are in Advent. We remember that a woman held in her arms a child, and that child was God. If we remember that, then we are givers of peace, we are lovers of the Beloved. We own him through love. And he owns us! the most extraordinary thing in the world is that God loves you and me!"-- Catherine de Hueck Doherty

(Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24)
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner's fire,
or like the fuller's lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.

Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

Almost everyone believes in preparing for Christmas. But are we preparing the way of the Lord (Lk 3:4) or the way of the world?

The Lord calls us to make gigantic changes in our ways. Priorities as big as mountains in our lives should be leveled. Our valleys, depressions, pits, and ruts are also to be leveled. As crooked as our hearts are (see Jer 17:9), Jesus wants them straightened. As rough as our edges are, they must be smoothed.

The Lord is not calling us to maintain, much less to promote, the status quo of a world trapped in sin. The Lord is calling us to a revolution where the high and mighty are deposed from their thrones and the lowly raised to high places (Lk 1:51-52). That's what He means by "preparing the way of the Lord." Are you prepared for Christmas by Christ's standards?

Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John, and Jesus all went through big changes near the time of Jesus' birth. Are you prepared to do the same? Will you receive the real Christmas? Will you receive Christ?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.”

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. --Saint Augustine

Gospel text (Lk 1,46-56): Mary said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months
and then returned to her home.

In the days leading up to Christmas the Church gives us these passages from the sections of the Gospel surrounding the birth of Jesus. That is partly to prepare us for the feast we are about to celebrate, but partly also to instruct us, not so much about what happened, but about what it means. Today’s Gospel reading is a perfect example.

Luke casts Mary not just as the mother of Jesus, but as the first disciple and, indeed, the model for the discipleship of us all. At the annunciation she heard God’s word and accepted it, just as we do when we become a disciple. But there’s more to it than that. Mary acted on that word. It was not good news for her alone – she went to her cousin Elizabeth, not simply to help, but to spread the good news. For you and me that good news might have been “The most marvelous thing has happened! I am going to be the mother of the Messiah!” But Mary didn’t say that. As her Magnificat makes clear, this was not just about her. Instead, she interpreted to Elizabeth what the angel’s message meant. Her praise of God in the Magnificat makes clear what has happened. God has shown strength, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry. Note the interesting parallels with what her Son will say in Luke’s version of the beatitudes and woes (6:20–26) – the poor and the rich; the sad and the happy, the hungry and the sated, the derided and the praised. They’re all there in Mary’s song of praise, just as they would be some 30-odd years later in her Son’s first major speech.

As we meditate on these stories, it’s important to understand the underlying meaning. The whole Christmas story is, itself, a Gospel in miniature. Some hear God’s word and respond, others turn away and resist.

The challenge for me, this year, as always, and I hope for you as well, is figuring out how to interpret for others what we believe happens at Christmas, just as Mary interpreted for Elizabeth.

Christmas is not just for us . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joy is very infectious; therefore, be always full of joy.

Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love. – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel text (Lk 1,39-45):
Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."

The words of Mary's cousin will travel through time: «Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!» (Lk 1:42).

The gospel reading today reminds us to be joyful. When was the last time you praised and thanked God in joy? I think we often find ourselves telling God our problems and asking him for things. There is nothing wrong with that. But I do think that exulting, being extremely joyful, to God is equally, if not more, important than asking God to help us with this or that. So, let’s try something new, let’s “Sing to him a new song” (Psalm 33:3).

Let's sit back, take a deep breath in and exhale out. Now think of someone you are blessed to have in your life. A friend, your spouse, a family member - someone who has made you smile, someone who has been there through the thick and thin. Think of the joy you feel when around him or her. Let us thank God in joy for having put these special people in our lives.

Let us take another deep breath in and exhale out. Right now, you are alive, fully and truly. We have each been given these beautiful lives to live. Let us thank God for the joy of this life, for it has allowed us to do so many things.

Joy is indivisible from faith. «But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?» (Lk 1:43). The joy of God and Mary has spread all over the world. To allow it within us, we need only to open ourselves through our faith to God's constant influence in our life, while walking our path with the Infant, with She who has believed, by holding St. Joseph's strong and enamored hand. Earthen paths, asphalt, cobblestones or muddy roads through, any Christian always carries upon him, two dimensions of faith: the union with God and the service to others.

Let us remember this Advent season that God has given us so many blessings and that we should sing out joyfully to him. As John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the mere presence of Jesus, let us leap for joy for the life we are given and the people God has blessed us with.

Merry, almost-Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Have confidence. Return. Invoke our Lady and you'll be faithful."

"Before, by yourself, you couldn't. Now, you've turned to our Lady, and with her, how easy!"--St. Josemaria Escriva

Gospel text (Lc 1, 26-38):
In the sixth month,
the angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."

But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."

Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.

Why would the all-holy God become a human being? Why would the Creator become a creature? "How can this be?" (Lk 1:34) Jesus' Incarnation should blow our minds.

It is the story of how one of us said yes to being part of God’s plan. How many times does life not make sense? It couldn’t have made sense for Mary that day. But Mary showed us how to accept the Will of God, to take the unexplainable in stride, even if it will cost us dearly.

As we learn to expect from the Lord, the most important event in the history of mankind —the Creator and Lord of all things becoming man, just like us— takes place in a very simple way: a young woman in a small village in Galilea. No fireworks.

The way of going about it is simple; the event is magnificent as are the virtues of the Virgin Mary: filled with grace, the Lord is with her, humble, simple, available for God's will, generous. God has plans for her, as he has for you and for me, but He relies on our free and loving cooperation to carry them out. Mary is our example: «I am the hand¬maid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word» (Lk 1:38). It is not only a “yes” to the message of the Angel; it is turning herself into the hands of God the Father, to abandon herself to his intimate providence, to let God work through her now and in all the circumstances of Her life.

Of Mary's answer to God's will, as of ours,—Saint Josemaría Escriva— writes, «never forget it, a great deal depends on it».

We are preparing to celebrate Christmas. The best way to do so is to be with Mary, contemplating Her life and trying to imitate Her virtues in order to receive the Lord with the right heart: What does God expect from me, now, today, at work, with this person I deal with all the time, from my relation with Him?

A great deal depends on our response to the little things of every day!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Faith is like electricity. You can't see it, but you can see the light

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe." – St Augustine

(Gospel: Luke 1): But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God."

Why do I/we doubt?

Because there is just so much dark stuff out there. There is so much evidence of bad people doing bad things. There is such a tendency in our world to think of my needs first, and to ignore the great suffering and sorrow of others, and this attitude is becoming contagious.

Zechariah could speak again, when he acknowleged his belief in the promise. He confirmed the name given to the promised child, "his name is John." The name "John" means "God is gracious." When I/we can say "God is gracious," then I/we can speak again. The ability to speak, live, act, witness a hope in God's fidelity to us starts with our acknowledging that "God is gracious."

That's our Advent journey - to say in my heart and out loud: "I believe that you are and will be gracious, for I believe you love me and have come to set us free from the power of sin and death. The bigness of your promise is hidden in the mystery of the littleness of your coming."

In the Gospel, because Zechariah is hesitant to believe what the angel is saying, the angel makes him mute so that he may come to believe. May we learn to accept what God lays out in his will for us because otherwise, we begin to impede on the effectiveness of God’s will. When we accept and have faith in God’s will, we can appreciate our gifts.