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Reflections on Catholic Faith - December 2007 - Advent - Come, Lord Jesus, Come

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December 31, 2007

It is beautiful that we begin the New Year in honor of and under the patronage of Mary as Mother of God. The precise title “Mother of God” goes back to at least the third or fourth century. In the Greek form Theotokos (God-bearer), it became the touchstone of the Church’s teaching about the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus in 431 insisted that the holy Fathers were right in calling the holy virgin Theotokos. At the end of this particular session, crowds of people marched through the streets shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!” The tradition reaches to our own day. In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church calls Mary the “Mother of God” 12 times.

Other themes come together today. It is the Octave of Christmas: Our remembrance of Mary’s divine motherhood injects a further note of Christmas joy. It is a day of prayer for world peace: Mary is the mother of the Prince of Peace. It is the first day of a new year: Mary continues to bring new life to her children—who are also God’s children.

In a Vatican II Document called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – we find these words: “The Blessed Virgin was eternally predestined, in conjunction with the incarnation of the Divine Word, to be the Mother of God.”

May I quote now from a woman – her name is Catherine Doherty. She wrote: “Mother of God – what awesome words. How could it be that femininity enfolds Divinity? And yet it did. How is it possible that God Almighty came as a baby… as one of us? How is it that a poor Jewish teenager would be the one that God Himself would run to here on earth? Mary was and is the Mother of God, yet she is also a child of this very earth that we live on. Mary knew neighborhoods and peoples and various locales. Yet she is the Theotokos.

Catherine Doherty used to say, “To even begin to come to grips with this, we need to fold the wings of our intellect, let faith open its arms and the soul be plunged into the heart of a mystery that is timeless.” One final quote from Catherine. It isn’t Marian – but I’d like to use it to lead us to a different and very personal construct of our devotion to Mary. Catherine Doherty used to be fond of saying, “With God – every moment is the moment of beginning again. Let us hear that – no matter how sinful… how broken we may have been – how irregular our journey has been … With God -- every moment is the moment of beginning again. I think this is a wonderful saying for us to have as we enter the New Year. And now, here is an idea that is a moment of beginning again in our appreciation of, and relationship with our Blessed Mother.

We are a nation dedicated to – and pledged to the patronage of our Blessed Mother. Our veneration of Mary as Mother of God may make her seem all-too-heavenly and remote from us.

Yet there is a custom – a regional and cultural tradition that I would like to mention. It is common in European and other cultures – to dedicate an area to the patronage of the Mother of God. We know of prayer and dedication to Our Lady of Fatima… Our Lady of Medjugorje… Our Lady of Guadalupe. But petition to Mary is done in locales even when there are no apparitions or miracles. This dedication is done by simple acclamation of the people… people who recognize that Mary is the not only the Mother of God – she is the Mother of us all. She is right here with us – because her Son is here with us.

What the people of many areas do is to dedicate an area to Our Lady. It would be wonderful to recognize Mary’s presence among us -- and to pray to Our Lady of Payson and ask for her intercession and special protection for this area and for all peoples.

Does is sound strange to hear Our Lady of Payson? It shouldn’t at all. It could be a regular part of our own personal prayers: “Our Lady of Payson, Pray for Us.” This is a way of recognizing that an area is especially dedicated to Mary – asking that the graces she mediates are poured out in abundance upon our neighbors and us. Our Lady of Payson, help send us precious water. Our Lady of Payson, protect us from forest fires. Our Lady of Payson, grant help to the unemployed. Our Lady of Payson, help us find unity with all Christian peoples. Our Lady of Payson, help us to end domestic violence.

The Church teaches us of Mary and her role as Mother of God. It reminds us that she was the one who conceived, brought forth and gave mother’s milk to her son who is our God. We honor that with a solemnity of celebration today. Can we also see that Mary is not just ‘up there’ – not just a woman of awesome holiness who lived 2,000 years ago… but a woman who lived on our earth… a woman who wants to be very near to us and to lead us to new life in her Son.

If, like many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, you have become detached from the Mother of Jesus… from the Mother of God… think of her as Our Lady of Payson…. Or Our Lady of the Beeline Highway… Or Our Lady of Pine or Strawberry… because she is that present and that caring of each of us… You can start this new year with a new devotion to Christ and to His Mother… because we can remember these words: With God – every moment is the moment of beginning again.

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God – that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Our Lady of Payson, Pray for us. Amen.

December 17, 2007

This Gospel for this Tuesday – prepares us in mind and heart for what we will celebrate this Christmas. And as we approach that holy memorial – it is proper to meditate on the mystery that we believe in. How can God become human while not ceasing to be God?

I’ve borrowed some thoughts from Franciscan Friar and author Jack Wintz. He recently wrote: “It's enough to take our breath away since we could have never dreamt up this event in a million years. Imagine Mary and Joseph-and perhaps s shepherd picking up the infant Jesus with one gentle hand. The God who created the universe, who is without beginning and end, became human like us. He was tiny, fragile and totally dependent on his parents, but he was still God. This is what we call the Incarnation. John's Gospel expresses it magnificently: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (1:14). As limited as we are in understanding this mystery, God has given us the opportunity to explore it. Christmas is the perfect time to do that.”

It took almost 300 years for the teaching of the Church to completely unfold into what we know and believe today. Some said that God could ‘take residence’ inside of a holy man – Jesus. But Jesus would not be God himself.

For others – it is folly to think that God could become human – a total impossibility. Therefore – Jesus wasn’t God but a great prophet. All of this was settled at the Council of Nicea.

The Council and the church fathers were led by the Holy Spirit to explain that indeed God did become flesh as John the Gospel writer said. Those words from Scripture were recalled at Nicea, “The Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.” There were two natures in Jesus – one was God, the other completely human in all things but sin.

Many of us have soft spots in our hearts for babies. We want to hold them, to be close to them – we love their innocence and the demonstration that God intends for the human race to continue. In fact – that is what God demonstrated in the birth of Jesus: This race – these humans are worth everything – even to the birth, death and ultimate resurrection of my only Son. Out of my, says the Father, I will send love to show them the only certain way to return to me – that is, in love.

“As we approach Christmas, this is a perfect opportunity for parents, grandparents or older siblings to take young children to crib scenes erected by churches everywhere. Let them gaze into the crib, and tell them who the child represents and how good God was to become a little baby for our sakes.”

Readings For Tuesday, 12/18/07

Reading 1
Jer 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,
when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”;
but rather, "As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel
up from the land of the north”–
and from all the lands to which I banished them;
they shall again live on their own land.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19

R. (see 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous deeds.
And blessed forever be his glorious name;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

Mt 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

December 10, 2007

Is it I? Or are the words of Scripture not just so beautiful? Is it like this all the time or is it just now, in Advent – this most special time of year? Those words about abundant flowers and flatlands in bloom…. About old folks with feeble limbs being strengthened…. The lame leaping and those who are mute able to speak and sing. And who is so hardened that they don’t yearn for a coming of the Messiah that will bring with it an end to our broken humanity… put so well in the Responsorial: Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.

I remember many years ago when we lived in Houston. From time to time in the spring, we would head out Interstate 10 going over to the lake country north of San Antonio. There were some stretches of highway where the wildflowers were just so awesome. Red, crimson, purple, blue (i.e. Texas Bluebonnets), yellow, gold … it was spectacular. It was as if the Lord God threw dozens of hands full of his most colorful seeds – and he was signaling to those who pass by: “If you think this is something – wait till you see what it’ll be like to spend eternity with me!” God understands marketing – but of course – the message has to arrive at and in a heart that is disposed to hear it.

I can just imagine some scholars if they heard me talking about God doing marketing! Well – you may not think much of it as an image – but that’s what the beauty of creation is – it’s marketing a plan for an eternity with the author of such beauty as found in creation.

That’s what the prophets were all about. That’s what Isaiah was trying to convey to the Jewish people. The message was one of hope – with beautiful words and imagery to support the gift of hope. As I said recently in a homily – I find it interesting that the Holy Father has just issued his second encyclical called Spe Salvi. It’s an invitation for modern society to recognize the necessity for Christians to have hope – hope when the world tells us that the answers to our needs are found here on earth.

In part, Pope Benedict says that ‘the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be assured of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.’

This is the season of journey – strange that I should say that when most commonly the image is of God’s people waiting – waiting for Jesus to come to them.

But we must be like the wise men who were seeking Christ. We must be open to, and looking for (hoping for) an encounter with him – no matter where it may happen.

Each of our encounters will be unique. Some will be tender – touching us with the beauty I suggested in the Texas wildflowers. Your encounter may be meeting a holy and innocent child (-like person). Your Advent encounter may be deep and profound prayer and meditation and the chance to ‘hear’ God speaking to you in the depths. After a life spent searching elsewhere – God’s wildflowers may finally penetrate and teach you that life isn’t about you (or your job or your reputation). You may begin to spend “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

Is it any wonder I picked up the hopeful words and theme of the Church from Advent? Long-awaited One, show me the beauty of your wildflowers. Help me to experience you, Lord. Break through the clutter of life. Come Lord Jesus, Come.

Those who experience this will say, “We have seen incredible things today.”

Reading 1
Is 35:1-10
The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song. The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; With divine recompense he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water; The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus. A highway will be there, called the holy way; No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it. No lion will be there, nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it. It is for those with a journey to make, and on it the redeemed will walk. Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 85:9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (Isaiah 35:4f) Our God will come to save us!
I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD –for he proclaims peace to his people. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.
R. Our God will come to save us!
Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.

R. Our God will come to save us!
The LORD himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before him, and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. Our God will come to save us!

Lk 5:17-26

One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the one who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”

December 3, 2007

Hello and blessings as we start Advent dear friends. I’ve just written a column (for the www.catholicfamilypodcast.com) audience. It’s a column for all of December – and the theme of it is encouragement of finding traditions and ways to prepare our hearts for a new coming of Christ in our lives. I wrote about Las Posadas – a Hispanic tradition for enacting the search of Mary and Joseph to find rooms or lodging.

I also mentioned that at our parish, our pastor prayed over the Advent wreath and candles. And then they were blessed with holy water and the first candle was lit. This scene was likely repeated in liturgies in thousands and thousands of Catholic Churches around the world. That first lit candle signifying a hope – an expectation of a light to dispel darkness.

There were some beautiful readings in the Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours that priests, deacons and many others pray. How often we heard this reading and commentary (which I’ve borrowed from Fr. Pat Umberger’s site www. frpat.com): "Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair."

“It seems that there are natural enemies in the world. Some feed on the others. How could there ever be peace when things are so complicated. Our Scriptures ask us to look again. Perhaps we can get along with those we see as enemies. The promised Messiah came to bring peace. In
order for there to be peace, we need to take another look and strive to build the kind of just world where peace naturally exists. We need to make peace too, with those who have harmed us. We need to ask forgiveness of
those we have harmed. We need to work especially hard on situations where we've given up. God doesn't give up. We can't either.”

Thank you Father Pat. You are so right in many areas of this reflection. Peace begins at home. It begins with us. It begins in the smallest of ways – just as Jesus began his life in the smallest and humblest of ways. He brought a special kind of peace…. Not the kind of peace that says everybody likes everybody and gets along.

That only happened in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world. And it didn’t happen even when Christ was living on this earth. Yet -- the peace of Christ is a peace in our hearts… a peace that promotes love and justice for everyone. It is a peace that seeks to end faulty relationships – even if it takes a long, long time. We need to pray first and then make the effort to heal that, which is wounded.

How many families have those who can’t seem to get along? Scripture calls us to work to normalize that which seems in permanent conflict…. “The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.”

Start small…. Just start small. Make it a goal for starting your Advent.

Blessings. Deacon Tom.

© 2006-2007 Deacon Tom Online

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