Friday, December 31, 2010

The last day of december and the anti-Christ

In today's first reading we have what has become one of the most ominous terms in Christianity, "the antichrist."

By playing a rather strained theological version of connect the dots using select bible verses from various books some have constructed the idea of this single evil person who will appear in the future, like Damien in the movies. During the reformation some of course wanted to claim that the pope was this figure.

We forget that we, as Christians, do not believe in a dualistic universe, God vs. the Devil. In the Christian understanding of the world Satan is not an equal opposite of God. God is God and Satan is merely a creature whose power is minuscule compared to God.

In today's reading John writes, "just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared." Notice that he says many and he talks of their appearance, not as something in the future but, as something that had already happened. The reading today ends with " I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth."

The antichrist is not some supernatural futuristic being but simply those who they knew would come who would be anti-Christ, and would deny the truth and try to convince the early church that what they knew to be true was wrong.

"Every lie is alien to the truth"

For John there are no "white lies." is it difficult to always tell the truth? Yes. Because we are also called to love, we often must search for gentle tactful ways to speak the truth and we must always be careful that we don't confuse what is merely our opinion for the truth. But John reminds us today that there is a truth, we can know the truth, and we must remain committed to it.

Perhaps a good place to begin the new year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Simple not easy

On this sixth day of the octave, two days from the beginning of 2011, the first reading reminds us of the freedom that we have. I never cease to be amazed at how many Christians talk and act as if sin is inevitable, or past a certain age we can't change.

John reminds us today that our sins have been forgiven, we know God the father , and we have conquered the Evil One. So there are no excuses for us not doing what we know to be right. We are not bound to sin just because we are human. With the grace of God we are truly free to choose.

This doesn't mean it is easy but it is possible. The key this reading reminds us is that we are strong and the word of God remains in us. We need to keep ourselves constantly aware of these realities. How do we do this? There is no magic formula. It's just a matter of practice, daily intentionality. The confiteor gives us the four categories of our daily choices.
We can choose what we will think about, what we will say, what we will do, and what we won't do.

Though the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, God has given us true freedom, let us use it wisely one day at a time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time for a movie

Christmas like Easter is celebrated in the Catholic Church not for a single day, but for an octave, eight days. The theology goes back to an early Christian image of Sunday not as the first day, but the eighth day, that is, the first day of the new creation. Today is the fifth day of the octave of Christmas.

It also happens to be the commemoration of Thomas Becket, a wonderful saint for the beginning of a new year because he reminds us that conversion to Christ happens in stages and it is never to late. A close friend of Henry II of England, Thomas was ordained a deacon early in life but ordination did not seem to have much of an impact on his life and morals.

It was only much later when he was made archbishop of Canterbury that he truly came to understand the meaning of his ordination and experienced a true conversion of heart that would ultimately cost him his life.

Historical accounts of his life are conflicting, and like all movies, the 1964 movie Becket takes some license with the story but it can still be an inspiration to all of us, as we prepare to welcome 2011.

Truth be told all of us are in one way or another "cafeteria Catholics." We focus on those parts of the church's teaching with which we are most comfortable and shy away from the parts that would force us to sacrifice or change our lives. Perhaps today is the day for us to pray for the intercession of St. Thomas Becket to open our eyes that we may see clearly that where we most need conversion in our own lives.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today we commemorate the children slaughtered by Herod in his search of the child Jesus. His was a premeditated slaughter of newborn children but each year thousands of children die in infancy around our world most from starvation and preventable illnesses. Except for Afghanistan, the ten countries with the highest infant mortality are all in Africa. Despite the myth in most peoples minds about the amount of money we spend in foreign aid, in reality it is less that 1% of our budget, and only a fraction of that goes to Africa.
On the other end of the spectrum we look at the countries with the lowest infant morality and we are 45th behind countries like Greece and Israel.
Today let pray for all the mothers around the world who will see their infants die this day, and let us pray this coming year we may work to make the numbers smaller.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Feast Day

To my parishioners at St. John's I wish you a happy feast day. It is unfortunate that when they were choosing the name for the parish no one checked the calendar and realized that the parish feast day would be two days after Christmas and not conducive to a parish celebration. How do you schedule a party for Dec. 27.

On the up side we got the youngest of the apostles. In art work in order to show his youth he is the one apostle depicted without, leading Dan Brown to claim in his books that John is Mary Magdalene. My sympathies to our patron.

He is also credited with no less than 5 books of the Bible: the gospel, three letters, and the book of Revelation. Particularly in the letters we see the profound relationship he shared with Jesus. It is John who gives us the simple but profound definition, God is love. It was in this love that Jesus entrusted John and Mary to each other at his crucifixion.

Today we invoke the intercession of the beloved disciple to deepen within each of us a true love for Jesus attachment to his mother.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Modern Family

This morning as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family I woke up to one of the local networks looking for the local versions of "the modern family" based on a television program. One of the things you realize very quickly if you think about it is that "modern" is a constantly moving target. What was modern in 1950 is now antique. Even the word modern has in some people's minds become so old-fashioned that they want to refer to today as "post-modern" which begs the very definition of modern. How do you keep up?

You don't. As Christians we are called not to strive to be the modern family but to strive to be the holy family. This doesn't mean a rejection of technology or science or medicine, but simply reminding ourselves of what has always made anything, anyone, or any place holy, the presence of God. In our Catholic tradition we have decorated our home with art(crucifixes, statues, and pictures) to remind ourselves of that presence of God.

We are also reminded on this Feast that part of the mission of the Church is to be the Holy Family. With God-Our Father, Mary-our Mother, Jesus- our brother, and every church-our home, to be that place of love and security especially for those who feel alone and unloved in our world.

On this Feast of the Holy Family may every Catholic Parish and Christian Church throughout the world be renewed in it's mission to be the Holy Family, a sanctuary for all need.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Christmas is the only celebration in our calendar that has in the missal four distinct masses, each with it's own prayers and readings
— the vigil, which can be any evening mass before midnight
—Midnight Mass, the only mass in the calendar with not only a specific date but time as well
—Mass at dawn, celebrated in many counties as the Misa del Gallo

and finally, Mass during the Day.

If you wait to attend the mass during the day you will find in the readings, no Bethlehem, no Mary, no shepherds, no angels, none of the traditional images of Christmas. Instead what you will get is probably the most famous prologue ever written, the prologue to John's gospel (Jn 1:1-18).

In the beginning was the word,and the word was with God, and the word was God...

We are reminded that Jesus did not come into existence at Christmas nor even at the annunciation. Jesus, the second person of the trinity existed from all eternity and was the one through whom God made the universe. But this prologue does more, it answers the question why. Why was it from the beginning of time God's plan to make a creature, humanity, and then to send the second person of the trinity to be truly one of them?

His answer: 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.

In the words of St. Anthanatius, in de Incarnatione, "God became man so that man might become God."

One third of the world's population is Christian, and the U.S, has the largest Christian population of all. With all of the power and influence we still have in the world, imagine how we could change the world if each one us simply chose to live our identity to the fullest.

Today may each of us recommit ourselves to waking up each morning and living each day as true children of God, and let us have the courage to challenge our Christian brothers and sisters to do the same. Jesus not only gave us the power to do it, as John says, but he made it simple, he boils it down to two commandments:
Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'

The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

In this season of gifts what more could we want?

Friday, December 24, 2010

O little town of Bethlehem

There is in the missal there is a mass with its own readings for Dec. 24 in the morning. The readings for the final mass of advent recall the promise to David to raise up from his heirs a kingdom without end,
I cannot celebrate this day without recalling my time in the Spring in the Holy Land and Bethlehem in particular. Only about 5 miles from Jerusalem, the Christian population continues to dwindle. When we hear the word Palestinian we forget that many Palestinians were until recently Christians, the politics of the few decades have caused young Bethlehem Christians to leave their homeland in droves.
Tonight the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal فؤاد طوال will celebrate Midnight Mass in Bethlehem in a church crowded with tourists. But when the tourist go home he remains to keep the Catholic faith alive in a local church struggling to survive. I had the opportunity to visit with him, and was honored by the time he took to sit with three of us and discuss the situation. The good news is that he was able to report some signs of hope, but there is no doubt that it is difficult. In our prayers this Christmas let us remember and pray for him and his church.
The video of the mass I presided at in the church of the nativity is on my Facebook page.
With Evening Prayer tonight the Christmas Season begins.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We come full circle on our wreath

Advent began with readings that remind us of the double meaning of the season, the two comings of Christ: The first coming with the conception and birth of Jesus and the second coming at the end of time.

Today on the last full day of Advent we have the same reminders. In the first reading we have the promise of Elijah. Elijah who is said to be the prophet who will return to usher in the the messianic age, the final kingdom of peace and brotherhood.

In the Jewish tradition there has always been great debate over how many cups of wine should be drunk at Passover, four or five. Jewish pour the fifth cup but do not drink it. It is called Elijah's cup because he will settle the conflict. Also in some Jewish communities the door is opened by a child for Elijah.

The gospel then turns to the prophet who prepared for the first coming announcing his arrival, John the Baptist.

In these last hours as we prepare to celebrate the first coming, we too need to make sure that in the midst of the cooking, shopping, packing, and other activity that we pause at least once today to pray. To still our minds and hearts and prepare ourselves to receive Christ anew.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

nazarene or nazirite

The first reading for today recalls for us the ambiguities that always occur in translations. In this case it is one of the ambiguities of translating the Hebrew/ Aramaic world of Jesus into the New Testament world of Greek, the mother tongue of Christianity.

The New Testament speaks of Jesus being a Nazarene, and scholars have argued over the meaning of the word. Does it mean he was from Nazareth or does it mean he was at some point a nazarite? Or does it mean both?

A nazirite vow was a type of consecration to God. Usually it was done for a limited period of time, at least 30 days. Some were nazirites for life. The most famous were John the Baptist, Samson, and the one in today's reading Samuel. Most often a person consecrated themselves. The connection of this reading to Christmas is that Samuel was consecrated by his mother even before his conception. (1 Sam 1:11)

While scholars may debate the nazirite status of Jesus there is no doubting that each of us is consecrated to God by virtue of our baptism. The requirements of that consecration are different.

We can have a glass of wine or haircut. But the demands of our consecration are no less real. As we prepare to celebrate the moment when God became man was made visible in Jesus Christ, may we deepen our own understanding of what it means that we too are temples, dwelling places of the very divinity of God.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Longing on the darkest day

North of the equator today officially designates the shortest day and the beginning of winter. Here in Richmond we will have only 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight. But the Son is coming back.

The first reading today is taken from the Song of Songs, the one book of the bible considered so racy by some segments of the Jewish tradition that no man under 30 should read it. It reminds how the word passion has changed meaning over time. Originally it referred to suffering; now it is associated with romance. What the two meanings have in common is longing.

Can we remember when we teenager and first fell in love and how it almost literally hurt to be separated from the one you loved? That pain is passion. When the of loosing the one you love hurts so much you can't stand it.

Today we read the Song of Songs because Christians have seen in this book not just the story of a man and woman, or married love, but the story of the longing in every human heart for God, the relationship of the soul to God.

One of the challenges of this season is the false expectation of joy, a joy we all think we are suppose to feel, but don't. Don't worry about it, It only means you are human. The truth is: Only in union with divine can our true passion be satisfied.

In Christ was the perfect union of divinity and humanity, and only in eternal life will we know that perfect union with God, and the true joy of Christmas. 'Til then enjoy the glimpse, the taste that we get in this life, and feel the passion for more.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Today's first reading repeats a portion of what we heard in the first reading yesterday, Isaiah's proclamation of the name Emmanuel, God with us, and the miracle that the name recalls. Even 2000 years later we still struggle to truly grasp the meaning of the name.

In these last days before we celebrate that birth of Christ we are given the opportunity to open our eyes to see that presence of God. As Christians we must have the vision to see through the conflicts and wars, to see through the glitz and commerce, and to see the real presence of God with us.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I just logged in and realized that the blog entry intended for yesterday just posted today. Please click yesterdays post "O What a week ahead."

O, What a week ahead

Today the Church makes another transition in it's liturgy as we move closer to Christmas.  Most Christians are familiar with the Advent song, "O Come O Come Emmanuel." What many don't realize is that the versed are part of evening prayer and are each assigned to one of the last 7 evenings of Advent beginning today.

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)

Many in the Spanish speaking world yesterday began their celebration of "Las  Posadas" the nine days that commemorate the search of Mary and Joseph for lodging.  Their search will end on the eve of the 24 when at the doors of the church they are welcomed.

Our Filipino brothers and sisters developed a similar tradition, a novena of masses celebrated now in the early hours of the morning,  which they call "Simbang Gabi." The conclusion retains its Spanish name " Misa del Gallo" (The Mass of the Rooster). The Roman Missal still provides four masses for Christmas: Vigil, Midnight, Dawn, and Christmas Day.

These are but a few of the ways that these last days of Advent are singled out as a time of prayer and special preparation.  That Christ may be reborn in us, and the Antiphon "Hodie Christus natus est" Today Christ is born may come not just from our lips but from our hearts when we gather  to celebrate Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nick

Today we recall the life of St. Nicholas and remind ourselves of his constant intercession for us still.

Of all our saints, he is probably the most commercialized, but before we complain about the culture we need to look at ourselves. For centuries Catholic children grew up on stories of the lives of the saints. Were some of them exaggerated? Yes, But their primary functions was not to serve as dry history textbooks but to stir the imagination and remind us that with God all things are possible. When we stopped telling our own stories advertisers recognized the inherent power and seized on it.

As I explore the story of the real St. Nicholas what I find most valuable was not that he gave gifts or cared for the poor; many people do that. What I find most inspiring was that he tried to keep his charity secret. Secret charity, truly Christian charity benefits the giver and the receiver. As the givers, our faith calls us to give without seeking anything in return (no plaque, no announcement, not card). For the recipient we allow them to keep their dignity.

I remember well the embarrassment I felt as a child whose family qualified for reduced price school lunch because the lunch ticket was a different color, announcing to the world, every time I went to lunch, that my family was poor.
How often do our systems to help the poor simultaneously rob them of their human dignity, as if being poor is something shameful.

Let us pray on this commemoration of St. Nicholas that our hearts be filled with the same spirit of Caritas.