Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Ushers in a New Year

Happy Advent! This morning I was with two other Daughters of St. Paul at a parish north of Boston. We had a beautiful display of books, DVD's and CD's. People were eager to bring home books, especially a new title by Sister Mary Lea Hill, who uses the subtitle "Reflections of a Crabby Mystic" on her new book, "Prayer and You." There were many who purchased a brand new DVD for children called "From Saint to Santa", the true story of St. Nicholas. Contrary to the naysayers, "Yes, there is a real Santa. He is Saint Nicholas." The person behind the Saint and Santa outfits is Father Joseph Marquis a Byzantine priest who is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Livonia, Michigan. With a cheerful, husky voice, Father Joseph transposes himself into a believable Santa. See more about "From Saint to Santa" on our website: This morning I felt invited to spend Advent, the liturgical season which starts today in the company of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Her's was the first Advent--a nine month waiting--as she prepared for the arrival of Jesus' birthday. For Mary, there must have been long stretches of silence as she readied meals, fashioned baby clothes, walked the road to Ain Karim to help her older cousin Elizabeth. Then she and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem in her final stages of pregnancy. Mary was a walking tabernacle hosting Emmanuel, God with us. As Luke's gospel tells us "she pondered in her heart" the events that she experienced. Advent is an invitation for me and you to ponder in our hearts the wonder of the Incarnation: the truth that God took on a real body, "born of a woman", Mary. Today someone told me, "He (Jesus) was just pretending, borrowing a human appearance, right? When he became man?" I gently responded that Jesus was not pretending, not putting on a costume as an actor would, and then discarding it. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. He had a DNA, he became a real member of our race; "Like us in all but sin." It is a wonder, something to ponder. Yes, beyond our deepest imagining. Yet, so very true. Once a spiritual director told me to meditate on the Baptism of Jesus. When he waited in line to be baptized by John the Baptist, no one, not even John at first, recognized him as being set apart from the other men in line. A traditional prayer in the Church recalls the mystery of the Incarnation, we call it The Angelus, from the Latin opening words: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae. At least once a day, why not pray the Angelus as an Advent practice: The Angel spoke God's message to Mary. And, she conceived of the Holy Spirit. I am the lowly servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word. And the Word became flesh. And lived among us. Let us pray: Lord, pour your grace into our hearts. We to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection. Through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King

Today we pledge allegiance to Christ our King. The Church celebrates Christ's sovereignty over us. His rule is not one of subjugation, but one of love. As one priest pointed out today, before any political election propaganda or advertising is all over the media. The candidates make a lot of promises, yet how many deliver? Christ does not do propaganda. In fact, his invitation: "Take up your cross and follow me," may be puzzling to any who have never heard the gospels. "Narrow is the way" that leads to salvation. It's hard to put a spin on a message like this. Despite the hard truths of his message, Jesus Christ does not say, "Hey, come back here. If you want a styrofoam cross, let me help you pick one out." Rather than promise a financial reward in this present world, Christ promises us the hereafter. St. Paul was granted a glimpse of the "other side". He wrote, "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him."
Does Christ reign in my mind? How do I plan out my day, my week, the month? If I am married, do I factor in my wife's or my husband's need and our need to be praying Christians. Do I reflect that if I was aware of Christ's presence when I am at work, would I still continue to act as I do, talk as I do, work as I do? Is money my only bottom line? If I am dealing with the public, am I showing a Christ-like attitude? Or, am I nice to the public, but grumpy with my family or co-workers? Does Christ the King reign in my speech? Am I kind with everyone? Have certain terms or figures of speech crept into my vocabulary that can be hurtful when aimed at a co-worker or a family member? I recently heard of a young woman who left a job because of "a hostile environment." By that term she meant older employees who did not train her, yet used profanities if she made a mistake. There was a dearth of kindness and patience. Like many young people, this girl has a learning disability which requires repetition of instructions given in a clear and kind way. She learned her former job well. Hopefully she will find a new work place where Christ reigns in the hearts of her bosses and co-workers.
Is it the love of God or only the thought of my paycheck that gets me out of bed in the morning? When I feel in need, who do I turn to? Do I offer my day to Christ? I once heard of a little boy whose teacher asked him if his family prayed. "Oh yes," he answered. "My Dad always says 'Jesus Christ' when he hits his fingers with the hammer!" Of course the teacher had to refrain from bursting out with laughter and dismay at the boy's dramatic inflection as he said the Holy Name of Jesus. At the end of our day, after we switch off the TV or radio, do we make a brief examination of conscience after we thank Jesus for all the gifts of the day? Do we count health, food, shelter, job, family and so much more as gifts? On Facebook I saw a notice that went like this: "Put the Christ back in Christians!" Yesterday when I read the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 that formed most of today's gospel reading, I was struck by Jesus affirming that "What you did to them, you did to me." I thought of St. Paul who was stunned when Jesus stopped him on the outskirts of Damascus and said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Jesus ranks that oneness of himself with his followers as weighty criteria for the final judgement: "What you did to them...or did not do for them" counts forever. Right after Thanksgiving the Church will begin a new year of praise and worship--a new liturgical year. Advent, the liturgy's preparation for the feast of Christ's birth is our way too of preparing our minds and hearts to allow the Baby King Jesus to reign in us. Have a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope to reach you before November 26 to tell you more about the importance of this day for us Paulines. God bless you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans' Day and St. Martin of Tours

Today Americans celebrate Veterans Day. Many years ago, we called it Armistice Day, in remembrance of the day when World War I ended. My Dad was several years older than my Mother. He was a veteran of the War to End All Wars. My uncles on my mother's side of the family all were in the World War II military service. Only the oldest was given duties states side. Uncle Fran served in the under belly of an aircraft carrier--making sure the boilers kept that ship moving. Uncle Bill served in the Aleutian Island, and then was sent to the steamy jungles of the Philippines. For years Uncle Bill spoke hardly a word about his experiences. Something triggered his memories. He began telling stories of his experiences. When the Navy ship carrying his army division landed in the Aleutian Island, none of the soldiers had winter clothing. They had boarded their transport ship in the balmy weather of San Diego. As each soldier headed onto the cold island climate, a sailor stepped up to donate something warm for his army counterpart. "I'll never forget Jim, whoever he is," Uncle Bill remarked. "He gave me a warm leather jacket with Jim on the front." From the frozen North Pacific to the heat of the Philippines, Uncle Bill and his comrades were faithful to their duties. Cold, faulty equipment, sweat, and jungle rot were some of the memories our uncle talked about. He never complained. He only related the facts. He was a faithful veteran. A few years ago, two of my siblings were driving near his house on an election day. They noticed a tall man on a gravel pathway. He was using a walker close to a very busy road. They stopped and gave him a ride. It was Uncle Bill on his way to vote. His valor was part of the reason we all have the right to vote. Today we say "thank you" to all our veterans, both living and deceased. It is appropriate that this day set aside for veterans falls on the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. Born in what is now Hungary, and brought up in Italy, Martin was a soldier of the Roman Empire. Art depicts him astride a white horse. He wields a sword which he used to slice his red cloak in two. A beggar is lying on the ground where he awaits Martin's gift of a generous half of his cloak. Later in a vision, Martin learned that the beggar was really Jesus. The Spanish-speaking world calls him "Martin Caballero" (Martin the horseman.) After he left the military, Martin became a monk, then a missionary. He is credited for evangelizing folks in the countryside especially in France. Earlier evangelization was aimed at the masses in the cities. After the Edict of Milan, people were given the OK to be openly Catholic. Martin was the first -- or at least--the foremost in promoting the Faith throughout Gaul, in its villages as well as its large cities. He was elected Bishop of Tours, France. Much was written about him. Although he died around 352 AD, his life story is still with us to teach us how to follow Christ. May the Saint on Horseback help us to honor our veterans, and to be mindful of our Faith and its lasting impact at every stage of our life.