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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

Being family can be hard work. So can being church. As children grow and develop their own religious values, politics and friendships, they can move away from their families of origin and even become separated at a deeper level. Painful though it may be for all involved, there is often little anyone can do except pray for patience and reconciliation. One wonders what Mary and Joseph's family thought when Joseph, warned in a dream, fled to Egypt. Did it hurt their families? Did they even know where the young family was going?

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refusied to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holy Innocents

"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."

Any sane person would keep a distance from a man capable of killing his wife, his brother and the husbands of his sisters. Herod, the king of Judea, was such a person. When the astrologers from the East came to his door, he disingenuously tried to convince them to return to him after they found "the newborn king of the Jews" so that he, too, could worship the child.

No Jew, knowing of Herod's total disregard for anyone or anything that threatened his power, would have believed the King, but Herod was hopeful that the travelers would not know his reputation and bring him information about the new born baby. Anxious to act quickly, it is clear that Herod would not hesitate to murder the child but Joseph, the one who seems always willing to listen to his dreams, takes Jesus and his mother and flees to Egypt. Long a place of Hebrew slavery Egypt would soon become the country from which Jesus, the new Moses, would return to set his people free.

Joseph's dream is intended for all of us. There will be times when we will have to flee those aspects of our society that are dismissive of the poor and needy in order to preserve our faith. When any country, no matter how often it proclaims freedom for all, suggests that unborn children, the poor, the aged and the crippled are expendable, we need to go to a place where we can pray, discern and plan. God expects us to announce Good News like Jesus: "Go and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them." Mt 11:4

Today, gaze upon a child and praise God.

Who have you known who has been willing to sacrifice everything for their faith? 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

St John the Apostle and Evangelist

“Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Sometimes we discover God in the ordinary events of everyday life. James and John, in their boat with their father, were mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him. When they responded positively their lives were changed forever. Together James and John would witness the transfiguration and be at the last supper. John would also accompany Jesus to the Cross where Jesus would ask him to care for his mother. Because he listened and acted, John witnessed and was transformed by some of the most important moments of Jesus' faith journey.

Nothing in the life of the apostles was more important than following Jesus faithfully. In the beginning of their ministry, they had little to do except prepare others to hear the word of God. Only after the resurrection would they take up in earnest the works of Jesus, and the same is true for us. As we enter into the great mystery of the Incarnation, we have only to listen, respond, enjoy, and celebrate. Soon enough we will have to announce what we have seen and heard, and seal our faith in service to others.

Children are probably our best teachers at this time of year. As Christmas day fades, children usually settle down with one or the other toy and play for hours. I am always fascinated by their focus and peace, and they teach all of us to live in the moment as fully as possible. The call to spend the joy of Christmas will come soon enough. For now, faith is simple and we should delight in it.

Today, take some extra quiet time in the presence of the One who is always near.

What brings you most joy at the Christmas season?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

When we let God lead, everything changes. We understand, and more importantly accept, that no one lives on his or her own terms, and God will guide us if only we accept God's path. Mary and Joseph teach us this important and powerful lesson and Christmas is our opportunity to follow their example.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Prophecy

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Barren

"Elizabeth's neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her." Lk 1:58

Elizabeth was barren, a harsh reality for women desperate for a child even today. In the ancient world, barrenness was too often seen as a punishment, something visited upon women because of their sin or their parents' sin. Interestingly, the scriptures never spoke of men as barren because the biology of the time thought that the entire person was contained in a man's seed and the woman was merely a receptacle in which the baby would come to term. Women carried a man's child and gave him a child as his possession, and, God forbid, if they could not carry a baby to term, they were judged harshly.

Even in this soul jarring situation, there is no evidence that Elizabeth complained against God. We hear only that when Mary arrived to visit her, the baby in her womb leapt for joy. A terrible, dark cloud had been lifted from her heart, and though it must have been physically difficult for her as an older woman, she nurtured and nourished her son for his great role in the history of salvation.

Many women like Elizabeth, especially if they grow up in cultures that reduce their identity to their ability to bear children, suffer greatly if they cannot conceive. Though willing to try every means possible, if they cannot get pregnant and fulfill what they always thought was their destiny, they somehow remain faithful to the Gospel despite their inability to understand God's ways. 

Women like this ought to be examples for all of us. When we put, or allow others to place unbearable burdens on our shoulders we forget the God of revelation who loves us, not for what we can produce, but for who we are. Elizabeth's struggles remind us that faith is often a mystery we need to enter, not a problem to solve.

Today, pray about different ways to give birth to Christ in your own life.

What does the gospel say to couples who cannot conceive a child?