Today, New Years Day, is a solemn feast day in the Church's liturgical calendar. We know it now as the Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, but it has had different titles over the years. Fr. Thomas Rosica, of Salt&Light, has an excellent article on these titles. Here is the LINK :>
Saturday, 31 December 2016
Thursday, 29 December 2016
Saturday, 24 December 2016
Our Advent days are now fulfilled. We began with a precious new gift given to us by the Lord – a gift of time. These beautiful liturgies were filled with many voices, the Voices of Advent. For the first three weeks of Advent it was the voices of the ancient prophets we heard, telling us that God has a new plan for our lives; announced with ancient words but with new expectation for us today.
For this last week of Advent, it has been no less than the voices of angels awaking us from the slumber of doubt and unbelief; announcing, “He is here!” The second Preface of the Advent liturgy summed up the message conveyed by all these voices –
For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him, the Virgin mother longed for him with love beyond all telling, John the Baptist sang of his coming and proclaimed his presence when (at last) he came.
Now in this new gift of time – 2016, a new Christmas begins. Now it is not only about hearing a new message, but also seeing it fulfilled. The Second Preface of the Christmas liturgies tells:
“For on the feast of this awe-filled mystery, though invisible in his own divine nature, he has appeared visibly in ours; and begotten before all ages, he has begun to exist in time;” – in this our new gift of time.
The people of the Old Testament knew well no one can see the face of God, not even Moses on the mountain of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus, we read:
But, (God) said, "You cannot see my face, because a man cannot see me and live." The LORD said, "Look, there is a place near me where you can stand on the rock; and as my glory passes by, I'll put you in a crevice in the rock, and cover you with my hand until I've passed by. Then I'll remove my hand so you may see my back, but my face must not be seen." Ex: 33:20
But God wanted us to be able to see him face to face. That is why we have this day, so that we can see our God, face to face. But not only does he come as one of us, but as a baby child into who’s face we can now gaze with tenderness.
Now we may say that in a literal sense it was only they who lived during Jesus time on earth who actually saw Jesus face to face. Perhaps, but, as for presence and intimacy with Jesus we are not left out. Today, when you approach this altar to receive Holy Communion, there in your hand you are holding Jesus, with the same intimacy as were the people of that first Christmas day. In his real and true presence in the Eucharist, we behold our God, face to face.
While gathering together these reflections for this Christmas message I came across this Christmas song composed by Francesca Battistelli, a contemporary Christian song-writer and singer. The title of the song is, You’re Here. Bellow is a video of her performing her song.
Monday, 19 December 2016
The Angel's Voice of Advent
During these Advent days, we have heard the voices of the prophets proclaiming to us God's plan to come and save us. As we meditated on the prophets' words, we sought to make them personal; to hear how we should now be looking to our own future, to discover what plans the Lord has for us.
Now, in these final days of Advent, it is the angel's voice that we hear, foretelling God's plan. We may not have had the experience of an angel's visit, standing before us, telling us of God's plan, yet deep within a voice may be heard, announcing God has some personal for us to accomplish.
Listen again to the angel's voice, then listen again, deep within your own heart, for the message that is for you to hear.
* * *
“Though you are barren and have had no children,
* * *
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
For nothing will be impossible for God.”
Saturday, 17 December 2016
+ The birth of Jesus the Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the Angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. (Matthew 1.18-24)
Having some background into the marriage practices of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus birth helps us understand the dynamics of today's gospel text.
Marriage had a few stages to it. The first stage was betrothal. A contract was drawn up, effectively making the woman the legal wife of the man. The next stage was a waiting period of several months, when the bride remained with her family. The couple did not come together as man and wife during this period. This time of abstinence was to ensure that she was truly a virgin, thus ensuring that any children born of this union were fathered by the husband. If pregnancy was discovered during this waiting period, it would mean that the wife had been unfaithful, the conceived child was not the husband’s. The betrothed wife would immediately be divorced and could be severally punished, even by stoning.
Whether Mary tried to explain to Joseph how she came to be pregnant is not revealed in the text, but it does tell us that Joseph did not want Mary to be publicly shamed or put at risk of punishment. Perhaps he was deeply conflicted; on the one hand trying to believe what Mary told him, but on the other hand, who ever heard of virgin conception? (But wait – did not the prophet Isaiah foretell this very reality?)
The text does tell us that an angel of God comes to Joseph to confirm that if God has so ordained it to be, a virgin shall conceive and that Mary is that true virgin, who has conceived a son by God’s design, and that she is the one foretold by the prophet.
The gospel for tomorrow, Monday, tells us of John the Baptist’s father, Zachariah experiencing a similar encounter with the angel, announcing to Zachariah that he and his wife, even in their advanced years will conceive a son; that this child will have an important role to play in the plan of God. In the gospel for this Tuesday’s liturgy, Luke will give us Mary’s side of this beautiful story.
These stories are not meant to be just pious stories to fill the Christmas imagination. They are serious stories, and their retelling has important lessons meant for us to ponder – to gain wisdom for our own story and relationship with God.
Here is one lesson we can start with as we take to prayer and reflection these scriptures. Nothing is impossible for God. Do not fear life’s events, no matter how confusing and challenging they may be. Rather, seek to discover and understand what is God’s plan for you as things unfold.
Saturday, 10 December 2016
The Third Sunday of advent is transitionally referred to as “Gaudete Sunday”. The name comes from the first word spoken in the liturgy for this day, in the Entrance Antiphon: (Gaudete in Latin): Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say rejoice. The Lord is near.
There is a similar theme that recurs in Lent, in the fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally called “Laetare Sunday” again taken from the first word of the entrance antiphon: (Laetare in Latin) Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.
The first words of the third Sunday of Advent are the words of St. Paul found in the fourth chapter of the Letter to the Philippians, vs. 4-5.
So why Gaudete, why Rejoice? The answer begins in the First Reading, with the words of the prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 35:1-6 (The Return of the Redeemed to Zion)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,the desert shall rejoice and blossom;like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,and rejoice with joy and singing.The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.They shall see the glory of the Lord,the majesty of our God.Strengthen the weak hands,and make firm the feeble knees.Say to those who are of a fearful heart,“Be strong, do not fear!Here is your God.He will come with vengeance,with terrible recompense.He will come and save you.”Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,and the ears of the deaf unstopped;then the lame shall leap like a deer,and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,and come to Zion with singing;everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;they shall obtain joy and gladness,and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Israel has been conquered and its people have been living in exile for many years. But now the prophet Isaiah is telling the people that soon their exile will come to an end, and they will be returning to their homeland. The condition of their hearts and their hope has been like the wasteland of a desert; God had abandoned and forgotten them, so they thought, all hope is dead. But now, what is this they hear, their God is coming to save them.
Believers of every generation, at various times, have found their hearts and hope shattered; believing they have been abandoned by God, left alone with no hope. So, the Church returns each year at Advent, to address this ancient problem, the problem of evil, to gather all who are wounded, to hear once again these words of truth and healing and restoration: “Rejoice, the Lord is near!”
You will notice that all the serious Christmas stories that we read all have this same theme running through them. In the darkest night, when all seems lost, hope is restored.
The true spirit of Advent has a penitential character to it, where we examine our lives to root out our own causes for our downfalls and miseries. Then, the candle of the Advent Wreath, lighted on this day, the third Sunday of Advent, rose colored, with the name “Joy”, raises up our spirits at the prospect of the new coming of mercy into our lives.
In many ways, our popular culture, with its commercializing of Christmas has interfered with the real spirit of Advent with its rich and beautiful spirituality.
So where does this Gaudete Sunday find you? Are one who is carrying heavy burdens – be they burdens brought on by your own faults and failures, or has human frailty and the faults of other beset you? If so, the grace offered on this Sunday is meant for you.
The Grace of Gaudete Sunday is the grace of a clear sense of Presence. I am not alone, the Lord is here, with me now. The Lord comes bearing gifts, the gift is the gift of Hope. What ever the details of my deliverance are to be, will be revealed in the days to come. But first, a broken heart must be healed and given the eyes of hopefulness with which to see - to begin to see how the Lord's plan is to unfold. For me, now, it is to turn my face eastward, to look forward in hope for His coming.
Hear again these words of the prophet:
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.
Wednesday, 7 December 2016
The Roman Church has been singing the "O" Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative "Come!" embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. (USCCB.ORG)
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
There are many ways one might employ the O Antiphons in there prayer time during Advent. The following are some links:
The "Veni, veni Emmanuel!" = "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", with its five verses, dating back to the 12th century, takes its inspiration from the O Antiphons. Here is a link to a rendering of that hymn on You Tube.
Here is a link to a document with full scripture text for each O AntiphonO Antiphons Scripture Sources - LINK
Saturday, 3 December 2016
Time To Listen & Hear
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
"Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Mtt. 3:1-12
A Voice ... crying out ... in the wilderness ... Advent is such a precious time that is so often missed entirely. In these four weeks, our popular culture is busy getting into the Christmas spirit. All around us is filled with the sounds of Christmas. The "wilderness" of today is the market place filled with people - unable to hear that voice of Advent calling out. A wilderness is a place of space; a space to pray, to listen, to hear.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight ... Everyone has a path marked out for their life. But do I know where it is taking me? Is it leading me ever deeper into the mystery of union with God? Or, has my path added many new side paths - involvements that increasingly leave little room for things spiritual? Is my chosen path leading me away from god's presence?
Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees ... And what shall my response be ... this is a time to take an axe to the dead wood in our lives. These are days of discernment. What in my life is bearing fruit and what is taking up space and waisting my precious gift of time?
Once again I would like to recommend the Ignatian Prayer of Discernment here; as well as some of their other resources for Advent.
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
One of the symbols associated with Advent is the Advent Wreath. There are various traditions that describe its meaning and use. In the midst of all the Christmas decoration, having an Advent Wreath in the home helps keep us in touch with the spirituality of Advent. This in turn will prepare us to connect to the rich spiritual meaning of Christmas. Here is a sample of some of the ways you might use an Advent Wreath as part of your Advent prayer.
Set on the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple candles and one pink candle. In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world. Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit
On the First Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the "Prophecy Candle" in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
On the Second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolizing Christ's manger.
On the Third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the "Shepherds Candle" and it represents joy.
The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the "Angels Candle," represents peace and is lit on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the "Christ Candle" and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.
All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever.
God of power and mercy open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord.