Monday, December 29, 2014

Walk this way

In the first reading for this 5th day in the octave of Christmas St. John tells us that

he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

The ambiguity of the pronouns in this text is actually helpful. Do we abide in Christ or does Christ abide in us? The answer is both.
But what caught my attention was this image of walking.

We describe the stages of childhood as infant, then toddler, that phase when the child makes his or her first unsteady steps, when they seem to always be on the verge of falling, and often do. But once we pass out of the toddler phase most of us never think of walking again. We just do. We get up and go. Just drive near a university campus and you can see scores of people with their earbuds in, walking mindlessly. We humans can even sleepwalk.

With the years of physical therapy for my cerebral palsy, I know that I should stand up straight, put my hips under me, extend my legs and plant the heel first when I walk. I don't. I drag the toe, wear out the muscles in my back, and go through a pair of shoes about every three months.

Why? Because it's easier. It's the way my body naturally wants to walk. Is it bad for my back, my hips, my knees and ankles? Of course. But I do it anyway, because walking properly is hard work. It requires that I constantly pay attention. I can't walk properly and think about other things. Just ask how often someone has gotten mad because I walked past them without speaking. Real walking is work.

On a deeper level we are all in the same boat. St. John tells us we should walk as Jesus walked. And most of us love the idea in theory. We know that we would be better off if we walked that way. But in practice, it's just too much work. It's just easier to let ourselves walk however we walk. One of the great myths of the modern age is that natural always equals good.

God became incarnate and walked the earth to show us a new way to walk. It is not our natural way. It requires concentration and often feels awkward and uncomfortable. It is, in fact, the way humans were always intended to walk, before we were hobbled by sin.

The good news is that regardless of our physical condition, on this deeper level we can all choose how we are going to walk. Are we going to wander aimlessly through life, being blown about by the demands of others or our own emotions? Or are we going to make the conscious choice to change our stride, stand up straight and walk like Christ?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking beneath the surface

Today the Church celebrates St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple. Of the four gospel writers, John was the last, and the one who calls us to take the deepest look at who Jesus is. Mark starts at the baptism, Matthew and Luke reach back a little further to the birth of Jesus, but John is the one traces the beginnings of the story of Jesus all the way back to the beginning of the universe.

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 were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

John not only looks beneath the surface but digs until he finds the bottom of the root of the story. In doing so he challenges each of us to do the same. So much of our modern life is lived on the surface. How many hundreds of "friends" do we have on Facebook? How many friends do we really share our lives with?

If tomorrow were not Sunday, it would be the Feast of the Holy Innocents when the church commemorates the infants slaughtered by Herod as recorded in Mathew's gospel. We are once again taken beneath the superficial frivolity that Christmas has become. On Monday we will celebrate the martyr Thomas Becket— more blood, death, and gore.

Today on the Feast of St. John can we take a serious look beneath the surface.

One of the many blessings God has sent me this year is a friend named Tom Gallagher. Tom's granddaughter passed from this life on March 16, 2014, after running a half-marathon in Virginia Beach. As the story would unfold this beautiful athletic teenage girl had struggled with mental illness. Unlike so many she wanted to bring it out of the shadows. Six months later over 3,500 runners turned out for the Speakup 5k. And her family continues to hope that this idea of speaking up will continue to spread.

Unfortunately, her story is not the norm. Most often people dealing with depression and other forms of mental illness surfer in silence. During this holiday season how many families with gather with at least one member suffering from some form of mental illness and everyone will either not see it or at least pretend not to see it? In young people we dismiss it as adolescence. In adults, we come up with more creative excuses. We may comment to one another about the surface behavior but we don't want to tackle the root cause, too complicated, too messy. We seem to prefer to wait until the person's behavior is completely out of control then we throw them in prison. 40 percent of individual with serious mental illness will be incarcerated at some point.

In what is supposed to be the most advanced nation in the world 1 out of 5 will deal with some form of mental illness this year. And of those who do only 1 out of 5 will receive treatment.

St. John was not content to skim the surface and simply tell the story of Jesus's earthly life. He wanted us to understand who Jesus was on the deepest level. As we gather with our loved ones this holiday season, if we really love one another let us have the courage to look beneath the surface and see what's really going on, and if there is a problem have the courage to Speak Up. And if you are reading this and you are the one dealing with depression or some other mental illness, speak up.

It may seem strange that the Church fills the days after Christmas with so much suffering and death: St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket. But it is not strange at all when we remember that on the other side is always the hope of resurrection. The situation only becomes hopeless when we try to run away, deny the truth, bury our heads in the sand. When we face the pain and suffering head on there is always new birth, new life in Christ.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Armed for Battle

After the exercise in gluttony known as Christmas dinner, the Church wakes us up on the 26th by celebrating St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church whose story begins in Acts 6. In a homily from the 6th century, St. Fulgentius makes what is to me a fascinating linkage between the 25th and 26th.

Speaking of the birth of the king on the 25th is common. The gift of gold brought by the magi is the symbol of his kingship. St. Fulgentius then speaks of the followers of Jesus, the disciples, us, as the soldiers of the king. Again there is nothing new in that. We are all familiar with the image of us as the soldiers of Christ.

But if we are soldiers engaged in a a great battle, what is the weapon we carry? Here St. Fulgentius looks to the story of St. Stephen and sees that the weapon of the soldier of Christ is love.
This is no Pollyanna love. This love requires courage, the courage to die.

In the words of St. Fulgentius,

Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.

In the end Stephen was stoned to death. So did he win or loose? He won by dying. Welcome to the paradox of Christianity. He won because he never let go of his faith. He won because he never let the evil actions of other cause him to hate. He won because he understood that our life on earth is but a moment out of our entire life, most of which should be lived in God's presence. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus on earth, we celebrate the birth of Stephen into the kingdom of heaven. Apparent defeat is really victory in the battle if our greatest weapon is alway love.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Irresistible Love

Christmas is the one day in our calendar with 4 distinct masses and 4 sets of readings.

The Vigil with Matthew's Genealogy a beautiful reading if you had time to explain it.
Mass at Midnight or at Night - Luke's Nativity
Mass at Dawn- the Shepherd's then travel to see the child, the continuation of Luke's nativity story
Mass on Christmas Day - the prologue of John's Gospel

But of all these readings the one to which we are instinctively drawn in the gospel from midnight mass, the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. That single image is Christmas.

But why? Why did God come in that way?

Some would say that God wanted to experience all of human life from conception to death. If that was the point then why does the Bible, the inspired word of God, jump from infancy to adulthood, with the exception of the finding in the temple found only in Luke. If the whole human experience were the point why is the majority of his life on earth skipped over? What was so important about his infancy?

I do not pretend to know the mind of God, and anyone who does is a fool. But there are certain almost universal human experiences that tell us about humanity and God. I believe the infancy stories are important for many reason but one of those reasons is that they tell us about the relationship God wants with us.

Some will quote proverbs and tell us that "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." But if fear was God's goal, he could have chosen to manifest himself in some much more frightening forms.

When someone walks up to you with an infant where are your eyes drawn? Last week, as I father walked toward me with his child in his arms I consciously tried to look him in the eye, but as he got closer I could not keep from looking at the baby. And when we look at the baby, we smile. This is our natural human reaction and I have watched it happen all over the world.

Ask any parent and they will tell you, they vanish, and our full attention is drawn toward the infant. And no matter how young the baby, we want to interact. Even when we know the smile is probably just gas, it makes us happy.

Infants are bundles of irresistible love. We are drawn to them like magnets. They bring out the best in us. In them we glimpse the pure love of God. We don't even have to see one. If you stop right now and think new born baby, something in you will smile.

Today as we celebrate the birth of Christ, let us open our hearts and allow that pure love of God to be reborn in us today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Closing Advent

This morning the Church closes the season of Advent by reading the first words that Zachariah spoke when his child was named John and his muteness was ended.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The passage from the end of chapter 1 of Luke's gospel is called the Canticle of Zachariah. Anyone who prays morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours prays these words every single day. It is the song of a father filled with the Holy Spirit prophesying the role his son will grow up to play in the history or the world.

Tomorrow "the dawn from on high shall break upon" and the words spoken to the infant John by his father are spoken to each of us.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

We are all called to be John, to proclaim salvation, to proclaim forgiveness. As we gather with family and/or friends this Christmas Eve and even those of us who will spend a quiet evening alone, let this be a time to forgive, a time to allow the healing Spirit of God to heal the wounds that divide us. Let us spend this last day of Advent preparing a place in our hearts to receive the Child Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Almost There

It is almost time for us to gather  and celebrate Christmas. Tomorrow evening the Christmas season begins and continues until we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. 

Today's first reading from the prophet Malachi conjures up images as pure as gold and as white as snow. We like the images, but we don't often think about what is required to get there.  

The prophet Malachi reminds us that the tools that are required are fire and lye. Fire is required to purify silver and gold. Lye is required to bleach. Both burn.

On this last full day of Advent, day of purple, are we ready to allow Christ to burn away our impurities? Jesus comes to save us but will we let him save us from ourselves?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Samuel and Jesus

Today's first reading can seem odd and leave you wondering what it has to do with Christmas until you introduce a single word, Nazirite. Samuel's mother made a vow that if God would grant her a son he would be dedicated to God. And so from his birth he was a Nazirite, from the hebrew word meaning set apart or consecrated.

There is still some debate when the New Testament says Jesus was a Nazerene, does it mean from Nazareth or a Nazirite or both?

Samuel is not only a Nazirite but he also represents a turning point in the history of Israel. He is considered to be the last of the Judges and the first of the major prophets.

As Christians, we read the story of Samuel and we see a foreshadowing of what God is going to do in Jesus. In Jesus we have more than a prophet speaking the word of God. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the Word incarnate, the definite Word. He is not a child dedicated to God. He is the child who is God.

He is fullest expression of God's love for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gabriel Once More

The opening prayer for today's mass is the concluding prayer for the Angelus.

The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her "Do not be afraid." How can she not be afraid? First there is the angel. Secondly, what is being asked of her will ruin her in the eyes of the community.

He then describes for her the two step process of the conception of Jesus:
1 The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
2 The power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Why both? In the creed we say "conceived by the Holy Spirit." Why then does Luke need to add "The power of the Most High will overshadow you"?

We tend to think of shadows as bad things we associate them with darkness, and we fear the dark. And which of us thinks that it is a good thing to be overshadowed? But we must remember God is turning the world as we know it upside down.

The name Gabriel can be translated "God's strength" or "My strength is God." Or if you wish you can translate strength as power. Gabriel, the power of the Most High, is the angel sent not only to deliver the news but to spread his wings and wrap her in God's power. She is now in the shadow of the wings of the power of the Most High.

Now a shadow is not a bad place to be. The shadow become the place of safety, the place of security in the storm that is to come, the storms that are to come.

Even at the moment of the crucifixion of her son, she will remain overshadowed by Gabriel, the strength of God. Today's gospel tells us that the angel departs from her in the sense that he is no longer visible to her. But the angel does not pass out of existence.

Today is the darkest day of the year. Here in Richmond we will have only 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight. But we do not fear the darkness. We do not fear the storms of life. We know that in those moments we can always take refuge under the shadow of the wings of Gabriel, we can allow the power of the most high to overshadow us, not so we can run away, but so that his strength becomes our strength. Through him, with him and in him we can be victorious.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Needing Gabriel

As Christmas is now less than a week from today, we hear in the gospel the Zachariah in the temple and how the angel Gabriel appeared to him to foretell the birth of John the Baptist. In an indirect way we are reminded of how life doesn't stop for Christmas, despite what advertiser tell you. And by the way if you are Catholic this isn't the Christmas Season. If you are Catholic, or many other branches of Christianity, this is still Advent. The Christmas Season begins on the evening of December 24.

The many problems that people are dealing with in life don't magically go away. In fact, we are two days away from the darkest day of the year. But as we were told in Sunday's second reading we can rejoice always. Not artificial rejoicing but real rejoicing because of the angel. The angel in today's gospel is Gabriel. His name can be translated as "God's strength" or more personally "God is my strength." Our true Joy of the season comes not from carols or lights or trees or presents. Our true Joy comes because we too can claim the name Gabriel.

In the gospel today Zachariah is left mute because he did not believe. His son would not be just any voice but the voice that would announce the coming of the Messiah. The father of the great voice was an old man and by inference feeble. It was not by his strength that his great son, John, would be conceived. God had to be his strength.

Do you really believe in Gabriel, the Strength of God? Are you ready to let go and let God be your strength? Today in your prayer get a clear picture of Gabriel in your mind. As you face the struggles of life, as you face the struggles of this day, do it with Gabriel.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Yesterday the Church began a series called the O Antiphons. Most of us know them best as the verses of the song O Come O Come Emmanuel. What we don't realize is that the verse we sing first is actually the last

These images of Jesus as foretold in the Old Testament begin with
"O Sapientia...veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae"
O Wisdom...Come to teach us the way to prudence.

Jesus is The Wisdom that shows us the way to prudence. Prudence is the Auriga Virtutum, the charioteer of all the other virtues. Aquinas would say the cause, the measure, and form of all the virtues.

Prudence lies in applying the universal principles which we know so well to the concrete situation before us. Prudence is not taking the safest course of action but the most Christian. The prudential judgment may in fact lead us to suffer. Prudence distinguishes the true Christian from the mere hypocrite.

Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate. His every choice was the prudent one, including the choice to die for the salvation of the world.

Today we add:
O Adonai et dux Domus Israel...veni ad redmendum nos in bracchio extento.
O Adonai and Lord of the House of Israel...come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

Adonai- is the Hebrew word Lord used in prayer instead of pronouncing the name of God (YHWH). In the Greek Translation of the Old Testament it was rendered as Kyrios. Only recently did Christians take up pronouncing it Yaweh, which can only be a guess. Since no one ever pronounced it, no one can possibly be sure how it should be pronounced.

Thankfully in 2008 the Church reiterated that we were to return to the ancient tradition and substitute Lord. We don't try and pronounce the name of God any more than I would have called my parents John or Marcia. Call me old fashioned but signs of respect are important.

The key to the image is that it is God who stretches out his arm to us. God makes the first move always. God is constantly reaching out ready to save us if we will be grab hold and hang on. A hurricane may be swirling around us, but if we just hold on to that outstretched arm. He is Adonai, Kyrios, Dux, Lord, Señor of the entire universe. Nothing can wrench us from his grasp. Nothing can overwhelm us if we are holding on to him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Truth

Today we get one of my favorite gospel readings, the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew's gospel. On the surface it seems like just a list of names but behind each name there is a story.

The Old Testament begins with the creation of the world in an orderly procession of 7 days, 7 being the perfect number. Matthew divides history into three equal parts Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian Exile, the Babylonian Exile to Jesus, each section 14 (2x7) Generations.

But what is most important are the people Matthew chooses to include, it is not a litany of the saints. Many of the people have stories filled with sin. How often do we see Jesus referred to as Son of David? And yet, Matthew makes a point of reminding us that the son of David in the genealogy is Solomon whose mother was the wife of Uriah. Solomon was a bastard son born of murder and adultery. Matthew hangs the sin and brokenness out there for the world to see. He doesn't let the bad erase the good, nor does he gloss over the bad. He reminds us of both. Matthew's genealogy reminds us of all that is human.

The good news is that from Abraham to Jesus no matter how many twists and turns there are in the road; it ends up right where God intended, the Birth of the Messiah. What may be for us the bad news is that it takes 42 generations to get there—God's time.

As we moves through the ups and downs of life we should never loose hope. Yes we are all called to be saints, but as Pope Francis teaches us "holiness is not just a collection of virtues...Holiness means walking in the presence of God."

In those moments when we feel like giving up, let us remember the checkered genealogy of Matthew's gospel, and place our faith not in ourselves but in God and walk always in his presence.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A fundamental choice

Between the gospel and the first reading is found the fundamental choice that we make not once be every day. In the gospel the chief priests and the scribes do not respond to Jesus because

we fear the people

In the first reading we have the story of Balaam, a non-Israelite, who is a diviner. The story takes place toward the end of the 40 years of wandering. Balaam's king wishes for him to come out and curse the Israelites who are marching through his land.
The King Balak is disappointed at what he gets

And Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.”
And he answered, “Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”

The chief priests and scribes will not speak the truth because of fear. Balaam has every reason to fear the king but must speak the word of God.

How often are we the chief priests and scribes, we do not speak out because we fear what people will think of us? The strange thing is that the people we often fear most are our friends and family members. We keep our mouths shut because they may not like what we have to say.

Sometimes we should keep our mouths shut because what we are expressing is merely our opinion, but if we know that there is a truth that needs to be spoken, then we need to have the courage of Balaam.

It is also worth noting that the courageous words of Balaam were not words of condemnation but words of blessing. He had the courage to bless the foreigners, the people his people did not like. Being prophetic does not mean condemning and being negative, sometimes the prophetic voice is the voice of love,the voice of hope.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joyful Realism

I will never forget the year on this Sunday when a little girl came up and kept tugging on my chasuble,"Father Wayne, Father Wayne." When I bent down, she look me straight in the eye and announced, "You're wearing a little girl color." To which I could only respond, "Yes, I am." We can call it rose all day long; it's pink.
We only wear it two Sundays per year but it is critical to our faith.

The color represents joy. And on this third Sunday of Advent we are reminded that joy is the fundamental attitude of the Christian. In the second reading today from 1 Thess 5 we are given three commands:
-Rejoice always.
-Pray without ceasing.
-In all circumstances give thanks

And why should we do this

For this is the will of God in Christ for you

Let's start with the second one: Pray without ceasing. Does this mean we should walk around mumbling prayers constantly? Of course not.

Should there be specific times that we sit down and pray? Yes. But all of our various times of prayer and various spiritual practices should have the same goal, to reach the point where we walk through life constantly consciously aware of God's presence. From the first moment we wake until we fall asleep to do everything "through him, with him, and in him." In response to that constant awareness of God's presence we will carry out the third command: in every circumstance give thanks.

2014 has been a very difficult year for many people around me, and there is no guarantee that 2015 will be better. But one grace that has come from the struggles is a deeper ability to appreciate the good things, beginning with the simple gift of life. In every circumstance there is always something to be thankful for if we look at the world through the eyes of Christ.

And if we walk through life constantly aware of the presence of God, constantly looking for and being grateful for the gifts that we have received, then the first command will be the natural result, constant joy.

Christian Joy is not a superficial or naive happiness. It is not that happiness that comes from ignoring the bad in life. It is the response of the wise men to seeing the star, it is the response of the shepherd when he finds the lost sheep. But it also the response in the beatitudes to "Blessed are ye when they reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

Pope Francis writes, "The basic element of joy, then, is profound peace, that imperturbability in the Spirit that remains with us even in the most painful, excruciating moments."(Open Mind, Faithful Heart)

If we are truly Christians we are absolute realists. We confront life head on. We acknowledge evil, suffering, sickness, pain. And yet because we know that God is love and God is King, we smile. We remain at peace.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (Jn 15:11) Greek word here is the same one from which we get plethora. God wants us to be full to the absolute brim with his joy, his peace.

So this morning I will proudly wear my little girl color vestment. And in our homes let us light the rose colored candle no matter what problems we face.

-Rejoice always.
-Pray without ceasing.
-In all circumstances give thanks

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The end of the Old Testament

When we open our Bibles we think of 2 Maccabees as the last book of the Old Testament. But as we conclude the second week of advent, the readings remind us that the transition point is later.

For Christians, John the Baptist is the close of the Old and announces the beginning of the New. He is the overlap, the continuity, the promise of the return of Elijah fulfilled.

There is no break between Old and New Testaments. The arc of God's plan for humanity runs from the first Adam to the new Adam (Jesus) to the new heavens and new earth foreseen in the Book of Revelation. The daily task of each of us is to hug that road as tightly as possible. And when slip off the road to trust that the road is still there and God is always ready to help us find our way back.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Time for Unity

I remember as a child hearing that "Catholics worship Mary." It was one of the first things I quizzed the archbishop about when I was living in Nicaragua. He very patiently set me straight on the matter, explaining the difference between worshiping God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and honoring the Mother through whom the Son became incarnate. This was when I first came to really understand the Church as a family: God the Father, Mary the mother, Jesus the Son and our brother.

The relationship between a mother and a child is unique. And so throughout the year we honor Mary under a variety of titles. The apparitions such as at Guadalupe are not considered dogma and no Catholic is required to believe in them. They are classified as "private revelation."

The catechism says about these private revelations,

It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 67)

It seems to me quite reasonable to believe that God has allowed Mary to continue to exercise that maternal role and to appear at particular times and places, pointing people toward her son, and calling us to unity and peace. At least in our house, mom was always the one who reminded us that we were supposed to love one another.

Today we celebrate a series of apparitions that began December 9 1531. In them Mary appears as an indigenous woman to a man named Juan Diego. She not only looked like him, she spoke to him in his language Nahuatl. But the roses that bloomed as part of the miracle were not native to Mexico. They were Castilian.

She was there to unite the two peoples: the Spaniards and the Aztecs.

Recent events have reminded us that we still suffer great ethnic division in our own nation. Today as we honor Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe let us pray the message of unity she brought to Mexico almost 500 years ago will resound in our hearts and in our nation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


A yoke is defined as "a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull." The word occurs only 6 times in the New Testament and usually refers to slavery in various forms.

In Matthew, just as Jesus transforms the cross from a symbol of death to a symbol of life, so he transforms the yoke from a symbol of slavery to a symbol of freedom.

And he tells us the purpose.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.

It is not an invitation it is a command, two commands: take and learn. The command to learn is "mathete". The word for disciple-"mathetes". To be a disciple is to learn and the only way to learn is to be yoked.

But a yoke holds two. So who is the second one in the yoke? It is Jesus himself. It is the Father who is guiding. It is the Father to whom he is obedient unto death. The yoke is easy and the burden is light because we are yoked to Christ. He bears the hardship, he bears the weight.

He is the Son who always follows the will of the Father. He is constantly beside us, to help us guide us. As a parent takes the hand of a child and guides them when they are learning to write, so Jesus is there to guide us.

When he turns right we should turn right. When he turns left, we should turn left. If we remain constantly yoked to Christ, we cannot go wrong. The yoke only chafes when we fight it, when we pull loose or try to pull in the opposite direction. Then the full weight of life is on us alone and it can be crushing.

How often do the scriptures speak of the obedience of Jesus to the Father?

A yoke is not a bad thing. What would be impossible for one to do alone becomes possible when two are yoked together. The Father guides the plow, keeps the furrow straight. The good son is obedient, doing the will of the father.

As Christ walked with the disciples on the road to Emaus and walking beside him they learned, so if we remain yoked beside the Son, we will learn, and he will in turn make any weight bearable. Stop when he stops, go when he goes, turn when he turns; even when the soil ahead is rocky.

Jesus is not behind us driving us. He is beside us. He is the Servant, the example, the companion.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holy Days of Obligation

Today is one of the few Holy Days of Obligation left in the Church. They serve as a reminder to us that going to mass, worshiping God in Church with the rest of the community, is not something we do simply when we feel like. It is a duty that we owe to God and to the Church of which we are a part.

God is Lord and we are the servants, the children. The first commandment is to Love God, but if we express that love only when it is convenient, when we feel like it, what kind of love is that?Holy Days of obligation are and should be inconvenient. True love expresses itself most in the inconvenient moments of life.

And yes, it is still considered a grave sin if you simply blow off going to Church today. In the first reading today we have the story of original sin. If we look beyond the symbols of tree and fruit we see that heart of the original sin was Adam and Eve deciding that they could decide for themselves what was right or wrong. That they answered to no higher authority.

This is still our greatest temptation,to think that like petulant children,"no one can tell me what to do." In this season of advent let us be mature adults, and show the virtues of humility, obedience, and gratitude.

Acknowledge your obligation, go to mass, and give God the worship he is due.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dealing with Santa

As Christians our lives are supposed to be different from the world around us and at this time of year the difference is clear. We jumped straight from Halloween to Christmas in the stores. No I am no suggesting the crazy extremist position.

Once more the other day I heard someone point at Xmas and say they took the Christ out of Christmas and once more I had to point out that Xmas is a perfectly Christian abbreviation since Χριστός is the Greek word for Christ.

And Rather than telling children that there simply is no Santa. Perhaps it might be helpful to explain that Claus is an abbreviation for Nicholas, and that a long long time ago St. Nicholas was a person just like you and me, and then insert the story of the real St. Nicholas the Bishop whose feast day is today.

We should be people dedicated to the truth, but it should be given with love, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us. From an American perspective I think of a short poem by Emily Dickinson.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Friday, December 5, 2014

Blind beggars

Fridays throughout our history have been weekly days of penance, because of Good Friday; Just as every Sunday is a return to Easter.

On this first Friday of the new liturgical year, our gospel turns to an image with which we begin every mass. In only a few verses beginning at Mt 9:27 we see key concepts.

The two men in the story are blind. So many times in gospel this is how Jesus views sin. Jesus does not see people as evil but as ignorant (they know not what they do) or blind. These two blind men have one up on many of us. They know they are blind. They know they need help. They are willing to beg for it. The verb krazo literally means to scream, to cry out.

Whom do they beg? The son of the king. They call Jesus "son of David", a phrase that invokes all of that kingdom imagery.

How do they beg? The same way we do every time we celebrate mass, eleison, have mercy, have compassion. The one chant that remained in the original Greek even when mass went to Latin.

We stand before God, and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and savior, the Christ. We acknowledge our being the blind men every time we sing.

Kyrie, eleison
Christie, eleison
Kyrie, eleison

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy

Today is a day for soul searching. Can we acknowledge our blindness? Are we willing to beg, to humble ourselves before the Lord, to cry out from the bottom of our hearts?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Then and now

As I have mentioned before, the beginning of Advent looks toward the second coming of Christ. The prophet Isaiah continues to provide us with images of what that the fullness of the kingdom will be like.

For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

But let us compare this to the canticle of Mary from St. Luke which is said every day in evening prayer.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he 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.

Very similar imagery but with one major difference, tense. In Mary's canticle in the gospel it is all said in a past tense, technically the present perfect. He has done it! What Isaiah prophecies, Mary proclaims as done. Even before the child is born she proclaims the coming of the fullness of Kingdom of God as a fait accompli, a done deal.

We look around and we constantly see examples of injustice, abuse of power. Humble people of faith cannot seem to catch a break. But if we look at the world through the eyes of faith we know that, as Mary describes it, God has already won.

This does not mean that we should just throw up our hands and wait. We must continue to speak out, to denounce violence, injustice, and everything that threatens to rob any person of the essential dignity. But when it appears that we have failed, we should not loose hope.

The wise men brought myrrh to the baby Jesus, foreshadowing the events of Good Friday, but gold also pointing to the king, the kingdom, the victory of Easter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Choosing to see

Growing up we used to joke about my father's selective hearing. It was factually true that between the damage done during World War II and having spent most of his life in the mill listening to the banging of looms, he had lost a good portion of his hearing. Nevertheless he did always seem to manage to hear what you didn't want him to hear.

The gospel today says,

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see

It is the same word for blessed as used in the beatitudes. Jesus says it, not to the crowd but, to his disciples in private. Is the implication that he is working private miracle that no one else can see? I don't think so. The point here is something else. Keep in mind in Luke's gospel the 70 have just returned rejoicing over all the miracles they have worked in his name.

The power of the name of Jesus has been witnessed by scores of people and yet only a few actually saw it. We all have both selective vision and selective hearing. The human brain simply cannot process every sight and sound around us all day long, and so we choose. Consciously and unconsciously we choose which things we will attend to and which things will pass by in the periphery.

The things we do actually see and hear become a part of us. They shape who we are. So we should make thoughtful choices. That doesn't mean that every moment must be filled with deep and thoughtful books. Sometimes we need to allow our minds frivolous relaxation, a little mental junk food. But we should not consume a steady diet of it.

As we pass through this day, let us notice what we notice. What are the things you choose to listen to? What are the things you choose to see? What are the things that you regularly overlook?

At the end of each day it should be true of each of us

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.

Today's Readings

Monday, December 1, 2014

The power of the spoken word

In today's gospel we have the story of the centurion whom we quote every time we celebrate mass

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.

We apply them to ourselves and say "my soul shall be healed."

The centurion understands the power of Jesus's word because he understands the power of his own words.

And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

This raises an important question for us. Do we understand the power of our own words? We may not have slaves or soldiers at our command but our words are powerful. Going back to creation, the Old Testament understood the power of words as it tells us that God spoke and it came into being. John's Gospel extends this theme to Jesus, and calls him the LOGOS, the Word. The ultimate Word of God is the person Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh.

Words are understood to be like photons, little packets of power. The power of the words is proportionate to be power of the speaker. We may not think of ourselves as powerful people but we are.

Every word that comes out of our mouth carries with it that power. As parents, spouses, friends, co-workers, even when we speak to a stranger the words have power.

We can crush with a single word. Idiot. Moron. Nigger.
Or we can choose words that lift up: good, proud, thanks, please, love.

Like the word of Jesus our words too can heal or we can choose to wound. The centurion understood the power of the WORD because he understood the power of his own words

As we begin this new year, this season of advent perhaps each day we should pray Ps. 141:3

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD, keep watch over the door of my lips!

Today's Readings