Fr. Alex’s Corner, December 30, 2018
The Feast of the HOLY FAMILY
“Blessed are they who live in your house, O Lord.”
(Psalm 84, Responsorial for this Feast)
Christmas is family-time. People travel far and wide to relive “the good old days” with family and old friends. I hope you enjoyed time with family. On my part, the joy of Christmas is hearing from family, friends, and friars. I never think of Christmas cards as a formality. When I send them, I am trying to reconnect with people who have been God’s gift to me, both in family and my ministry. And hearing from others is good. Some send letters updating their family life, others send delightful pictures showing how the young kids are growing up and the old kids are growing old. Sometimes it’s just a word or two which is a reminder of many words spoken long ago. I love seeing my nieces and nephews and their families. Distance separates us, but Christmas pictures and letters dissolve time and space. I love it.
There was a time when I questioned my decision in becoming a priest, insofar as that meant I would not have a family of my own. This was especially true when my brothers were raising their beautiful kids and then when those beautiful kids started having beautiful kids of their own. But I have come to peace with all that. I’ve never had to pay college tuitions, wedding bills, or speeding tickets, never had to bail one of my kids out of jail, never worried about haircuts or tattoos, and I’ve never lost one of my kids at the Mall – or in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Ok, now that’s a sneaky way to get to today’s feast and Gospel story of the Holy Family. Let’s go to the first reading from the First Book of Samuel. About 1000 years before Jesus, elderly Hannah, whom everyone thought was barren, had a son named Samuel. He would eventually become a king. But today’s story tells us that when he was very young, Hannah took him to the Temple and “offered him up” to God’s service. No, he was not sacrificed on the Altar. She asked Eli, the priest, to teach Samuel to be God’s servant. Chapters later, we hear how one night, Samuel heard his name being called. He thought it was Eli. But Eli said, “the next time you hear your named called, answer ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” Thus, Samuel began a life of listening to God’s word - and doing it.
In Luke’s Gospel, we read how our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph listened to God’s word – and did it - when the Angel told them about the birth of Jesus. There isn’t much written about Mary and Joseph, because the story is not about them. But the message is clear. And in today’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus remained in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph began their journey back home after a Festival. For three days they sought Him, finally finding Him in the Temple, debating with whoever…. Mary expresses her dismay at Jesus’ behavior. And His answer: “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s House?” (Hey, I’d like to tell you what my Mother would have said if I pulled off a stunt like that! But this is a family publication!) Jesus’ response shows that He was trying to understand what “His Father” wanted of Him.
I recently read that Ann Rice, in her book: “Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt,” speculates that on this visit to Jerusalem, Jesus may have heard from the Scribes about the things that happened when He was born, the shepherds who found him, the Magi, and the killing of infant boys in Bethlehem, and that whole revelation dumbfounded Him so much that He missed going back to Galilee with Mary and Joseph. This is speculation, but it is interesting….
What it says to me is that when we “live in the house of the Lord,” we embrace mystery. We never know what may happen next. That is true of family life, it’s also true in our Church and parish family.
So, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we thank the Lord for OUR family and our mysterious journeys. May the Holy Family bless OUR family, and our FAITH FAMILY, TOO.
And a Happy New Year to you!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, MERRY CHRISTMAS 2018
December 23, 2018
IT’S A BOY!
BORN IN BETHLEHEM!
MARY AND JOSEPH JUST ADORE HIM!
O COME, LET US ADORE HIM!
This blog normally appears on Sunday, and so we are a bit early sending our Christmas wishes to you. But I can’t wait any longer. I have never felt such a need for Christmas!
The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is St. Luke’s narrative of our Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: The Visit of our Blessed Mother to Elizabeth. Mary is overjoyed with her pregnancy, and the news that her aging cousin Elizabeth is also with child sends her off to the hill country. “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” That’s Elizabeth’s reaction to the visit of her young cousin. These two ladies, baby-bumps and all, are filled with joy. That is the Christmas feeling!
St. Francis of Assisi loved to pray before an image of the Cross. For him, Jesus’ willingness to redeem us spoke volumes about the humility of God. From his love for Christ on the Cross he developed a love for Christ in the Crib. In the churches of his time, holydays were celebrated with solemn music and lots of gold and glitter. Francis wanted the people to experience something different. And so in a little town of Greccio, in 1223, just three years before he died, he asked a friend to invite local people to a place on his property. Francis and his friars assembled a simple stable scene, with hay in a manger, and a few animals to add the real sounds - and smells.
The friars stood around with candles to give light to the scene, but the warmth came from the love that the assembled people shared with one another.
At Christmas midnight, Francis in his deacon robes, proclaimed the Christmas gospel and preached. One witness said that when Francis pronounced the name of the holy city, Bethlehem, it was as if he were singing. Another witness said that an infant “appeared” in the crib as Francis spoke.
So, we Franciscans claim that St. Francis began the Christmas crèche tradition in the way we know it today. That’s why we love that guy!
In many of our Franciscan parishes, the “Greccio” is part of our Christmas celebration. (If it’s not done in your parish, suggest it next year, and volunteer your services to make it happen. You can always find a cow and a lamb or two. Live ones, that is, not steaks. A good choir and a little creativity makes for a very beautiful Christmas experience.)
The essence of the Christmas message is that God Himself has not only visited His people, but actually came to live among us. In the weeks ahead, we hope to reflect, once again, what that Divine Presence was meant to be and able to do. But remember, my friends, Jesus can be present anytime and anywhere. But if we are not there to meet Him, well, the loss is ours.
Our six young novices will celebrate a very different kind of Christmas this year. Yes, they will miss their family and family traditions. We’ve also tried to shield them from the commotion that can distract us from a reflective celebration of Christmas.
We will, however, remember our loved ones, and that includes YOU, as we gather around our Christmas scene, as inspired by St. Francis. There is not much to add when Mary and Joseph also kneel in adoration. Even the animals are adoring!
So, yes, IT’S A BOY! BORN IN BETHLEHEM! COME LET US ADORE HIM!
All of us Franciscan Friars wish you joy and peace in the Lord’s presence on this Christmas Day and throughout the New Year. Pray for us, too.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, December 16, 2018
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Phil 4:4-5)
Years ago, the first Scriptural words of the Mass gave the name to the Mass. The Latin word for “rejoice” is “Gaudete,” and so this, the third Sunday of Advent, was “Gaudete Sunday.” It was a day to rejoice because the celebration of the Lord’s birth was near. The priest often wore rose vestments.
As I read the news of the day, one could argue that there is little reason to rejoice. Lots of bad, painful stuff is happening. There are many hot spots in the world with wars or destruction just a madman’s decision away. Our own government certainly does not inspire confidence. There are a lot of angry people out there and we know what happens when you make decisions while angry. And, yes, there are scandals in public life and in our Church, too.
So WHAT IS THERE TO REJOICE ABOUT!
John the Baptist is front and center in today’s Gospel. He is a strange guy. He eats bugs. He is a cousin of Jesus. His birth to an aging mother was revealed at the same time as was Jesus’ birth to a virgin-mother. He met Jesus, even baptized Him, and pointed Him out as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Now he was in prison. (So was St. Paul who wrote today’s letter to the Philippians, and he also said to “rejoice.”) John knew that his life was about to end. But he just wanted to be sure. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “are you the One who is to come or do we look for another?”
The Advent Scriptures are filled with prophetic writings. Most of those were written when God’s people were in real trouble. They were under siege, imprisoned, or exiled. They couldn’t worship the God of Israel and that made them very unhappy. But one thing you notice in prophetic writings - what I call “the prophetic thread” - is that they were always optimistic. They promised better days ahead. God was about to visit His people, so, REJOICE and BE HAPPY. And that’s what both John the Baptist and St. Paul are trying to get across to the people. I know things are bad now, they say, but it’s gonna be ok. So REJOICE!
But the key to the whole thing is that GOD IS GOING TO VISIT HIS PEOPLE. That’s what you and I have to focus on. The reason for the problems in our world today is because people are NOT celebrating God’s presence. They are not listening to God. And not listening to God is the formula for disaster.
What are you ANGRY about? I’ll bet there is something. Anger drives you C-R-A-Z-Y! Abraham Lincoln once said: “Anger is like an acid. It does more damage to the vessel in which it is stored, than anything onto which it is poured.” How true!
You parents, how many times have you been warned to count to ten before you announce your punishment to the kids. Why? Because anger messes us up so bad. I remember when Everybody Loves Raymond got mad at his two boys and he sent them to their room and vowed that “there will be no Christmas – no Easter – and maybe no Halloween.” The little guy looked at his Dad and said, “How are you going to do that?”
There are things we can do something about and other things that are beyond our control. And, yes, the ability to FORGIVE is part of all this. Jesus says that we are forgiven and we must forgive.
Maybe that’s a Christmas present that you can give this year. Write down something that has really ticked you off. Wrap it up in Christmas packaging. Then, show it to the Infant Jesus, let Him touch it, and then throw it in the garbage.
Make it real, folks, make it real! Anger can either be a sin or it leads to sin. John the Baptist said that Jesus is the Lamb of God WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD. Let Him do what He was sent to do. And then, REJOICE, BECAUSE THE LORD IS HERE! PEACE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, December 8, 2018
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
“Hail Mary, full of grace.”
The Advent Scriptures introduce us to the people in the first coming of Jesus into our world. The Gospels of the second and third Sundays tell of John the Baptist. On the fourth Sunday we hear how the Angel Gabriel appeared to a young (probably 14-year old) girl in Nazareth. Her name was Mary and she was “full of grace.” We all know the story.
This Saturday, December 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the United States of America (other places, too).
Because the Gospel on this feast tells the story of the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary HOW she is to be the Mother of Jesus, some Catholics mistake the “Immaculate Conception” to mean that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than by the conjugal love of husband and wife. Jesus was conceived “by the power of the Holy Spirit” and that is “the Virgin Birth.” The “Immaculate Conception,” now a dogma of the Catholic Church, proclaims that when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Ann, by conjugal relationship with her father, St. Joachim, she was already without sin (“full of grace”), including Original Sin. And, she never sinned throughout her long life (traditionally 72 years). That’s a long time to be “full of grace.” But that’s Mary! “Behold I am the maidservant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The essence of sin is that it separates us from God. The only times Mary was “separated” from Jesus were two three-day periods when He was “lost” in Jerusalem at age 12 and the days between His death and rising. These separations were not due to her sin.
We Franciscans proudly claim credit for the theological explanations which enabled the Church to “define” this dogma. Theologians of the Middle Ages argued that if Mary never sinned, Jesus was not her Savior. She didn’t need a Savior. And that’s not kosher! To make this very simple, the argument proposed was that due to the merits of Jesus, Mary was SAVED FROM sin, rather than FORGIVEN FOR sin. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. Hard to believe that theologians had time to discuss such subtleties.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX officially defined the sinless state of Mary as dogma to be believed by Catholics. What was respected by generations of Christians was now the belief of Christians.
Of interest: Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Laboure (1806-1875) in 1830 and told her She wanted a medal struck with the words, “O Mary Conceived without sin…” St. Catherine told only her confessor about Our Lady’s request. The confessor suggested she “stop” these visions. But Our Lady persisted. The local bishop was told, he had the medal struck, and devotion to this “Miraculous Medal” spread throughout France and the rest of the world. Note that 1830 was BEFORE the dogmatic pronouncement. In life, St. Catherine was never identified as the visionary. Now her convent is an international shrine.
In 1858, four years AFTER the pronouncement, Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) in Lourdes, and identified herself: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” A simple peasant child, Bernadette had no idea what this meant. Her pastor tried to discourage her from repeating the story.
And, of course, in 1917, Our Lady appeared to the three children at Fatima and requested devotion to her “Immaculate” Heart.
Whatever Our Lady wants, Our Lady gets. When your Son is God, I think that can happen!
So, on this Feast, pray for our country, our Church, that we may give due honor to the Immaculate Mother of Jesus, who programmed His very first miracle by telling some folks: “Do Whatever He Tells You.” Words from a sinless mother trying to keep us sinless. Sounds like a good idea!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, December 2, 2018
THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
“Wouldn’t this be a good time
for the Messiah to come?”
One of my all-time favorite plays/movies is “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s a tender story of Tevye and his friends in czarist Russia at the turn of the previous century. Tevye was faithful to his Jewish traditions, but aware of the changing world. Balancing fidelity to one’s religious values and accepting modern ideas was as precarious as fiddling on a roof, he sang. The play was filled with lovely songs, dancing, and comedy. But things turned serious when the Jewish people, in one more “pogrom,” were forced to leave their beloved home town of Anatevka. As they are leaving, one pious fellow comes to the Rabbi and asks, “Rabbi, wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to come?” The Rabbi says, “yes, but we will have to wait for him in a different place.”
I usually begin this reflection with a Scripture quote. But the more I thought about this year’s Advent, the more I thought about the question put to the Rabbi: “wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to come?”
It may not be a quote from the Scriptures, but it is a thought inspired by the Scriptures, don’t you think?
In the U.S.A. the celebration of Thanksgiving Day is the traditional beginning of the Christmas season. Some refer to it as the “Holiday season.” Too bad for them!
In the Catholic Community, our worship takes a serious turn. We continue to reflect on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. But our Liturgy reenacts His first coming, that is, His Birth as a Human Person. Just like His Birth fulfilled God’s long-time promise to the Chosen People, so will Jesus’ promise to return fulfill His promise to the People who have chosen Him. In the meantime we watch the drama in Bethlehem, the Star that led Wise Men to pay Him homage, and the Angels who spoke to the Shepherds who, in turn, went to a stable to worship a baby who was the Son of God.
We love that story. And we should! And so we begin our annual frenzy of shopping, decorating, sending greetings, and planning to celebrate like never before. (A little commercial message here: I pray that seeing the decorations in and around YOUR home, passers-by will be able to say “a believer lives here.”)
Our first Scripture Reading for the First Sunday of Advent is from the Prophet Jeremiah. He lived about five centuries before Jesus, when the Chosen People were exiled from their Promised Land and their Temple was defiled and demolished. In Jewish history there were kings, prophets, and priests who were not faithful to their mission of shepherding God’s people. Some of the “Chosen” people chose to walk away from all that and they gave up on their traditions and God’s promises. But there was always a “faithful remnant” who believed that even if the people and some leaders were not faithful to their promises to God, God would remain faithful to His promise to them. And so, “the Faithful Remnant” watched and waited.
Jeremiah prophesied that God would raise a “just shoot,” an heir, from the house of King David, who “shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” The message is clear: our faith is a relationship with God who Jesus says we should call “Our Father.” We need to remember that, especially at a time when so many things seem to be going wrong: God is always with us.
In today’s Gospel, Luke recounts Jesus’ promise that a time will come when we will be judged on our willingness to do what the Shepherds and the Wise Men did so long ago. And that is to acknowledge, pay homage and worship the Son of God. Now let us watch and listen to the Scripture-characters of the Advent season. They are the “Faithful Remnant.” Note how they responded to God’s mystery unfolding before them.
In Advent time, the Scriptures tell how John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph believed and became part of the story of God’s presence to His people. It’s a story of a Faithful Remnant who just know that God is with them. They listen to every word that strengthens their faith, renews their hope, and nourishes their love for God and one another. That’s what God’s presence meant to His faithful people and what it can mean to us now.
Come, o come Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel …
… and the rest of us, too.
“Wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to come?” Yes. He IS here. He was “made flesh” and He dwells among us. Faithful Remnant, let us watch and pray.