Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Original Christmas Story...the story continues

While for most people Christmas is now over for myself and many Catholics the story is just beginning.  The Church celebrates the Christmas season as the 12 days from the beautiful celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  During this time we continue to celebrate the birth of our Lord, the Word made flesh.  There are also great feasts of holy men & women that are celebrated during this time including; St. Stephen, St. John Apostle & Evangelist, Feast of the Holy Innocents, Feast of the Holy Family, on the Octave of Christmas the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.  Also not specifically feasts but great saints on the calendar are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann (different from St. John Newman) and also the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Now that I have just listed that massive mouthful, what does this mean for us?  This is a beautiful time of grace, one that is filled with great examples of what it means to be Catholic, to witness (starting with the first martyr, St. Stephen) to the Catholic faith, to evangelize.  As the secular new year approaches there is the look forward to new years resolutions and things to be accomplished in the new year.  But before we rush back into the hustle of worldly things, let us take these twelve days and examine where we are in our relationship with God.  This is a period of special grace, please take advantage of it.  Start a new devotion or  resolve to try to attend mass more often, open yourself to more avenues of grace.
We are in the middle of a Year of Faith, a time to grow in our own faith and begin to seek avenues to evangelize others.  The humbling example, the self-emptying of Jesus to come to us as a baby, vulnerable to the world, is our example and our template.  What do you need to empty from yourself to allow Jesus to reign in your heart.  Take some time in silence over these twelve days and reflect on what Jesus wants you to leave behind, to let go of, to release to His love so that you can move forward in faith.  Then you will be able to answer the call of Christ and the Church to evangelize those around you, to be a witness to love, to life, to Christ.
"It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14 (Evangelization in the Modern World) Pope Paul VI)
Open yourself to grace this Christmas season so that Jesus can enter into your heart, your life and live forever.  And so that you carry forth the Word of God to all those who need to hear it or see it.  Always remembering what is most important:

Bringing forth Christ:
"The Lord can find a dwelling place in our own souls and lives.  Not only must we carry Him in our hearts, but we must bring Him to the world, so that we too can bring forth Christ for our Epoch."  Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What Child Is This?? - The Original Christmas Story

has a lot to tell us about life and love, passion and purpose.

This Advent I had the great intention of writing a blog post every Sunday of Advent, unfortunately my life had other plans.  I got busy with this and that, having a Christmas party, packing to come home for Christmas, cleaning my house and all sorts of things that just seemed to get in the way of the more important things.  Jesus' coming in flesh, reflecting on the love of God, the yes of Mary (and the yes of Joseph).  There are so many things that were more important than me and what I needed that seemed to escape me sometimes this Advent season.

In my past few posts, I wrote about transformation, transforming our lives radically to Christ (metanoia in the Greek).  Advent for all of us should have been a time where we radically reoriented our lives to the birth of the Lord.  Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, "dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." (John 1:14)  "Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light the comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly [on the night of Christmas] entered into our night."  Pope Benedict XVI

In my personal Advent reflections I looked at how my life has been impacted by the Incarnation.  How has my life been affected by the Word becoming flesh?  How has yours?  Do we allow Christ, the final Word of the Father to take root in our lives?  Do we allow this Truth to find its foundation in us?  The world today does not recognize any foundation, and it is shown as we slip slowly into degradation.  Truth is stated simply at the beginning of John's Gospel.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."  John 1:1,14

When Christ is removed from Christmas all we are left with is mas and that is meaningless.  So are you making your Christmas meaningless by removing Christ, the Incarnate Truth from it.

So I would say for many of us and I include myself in this, we are sometimes a people lost drifting through life as if it was meaningless.  Our lives need to be lived with passion for Christ and with the purpose of getting to Heaven.  This Christmas is the time to wake up and realize that life has purpose and to live that purpose; Jesus said to him (says to us), "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." John 14:6

Christmas is the time to find our purpose, our passion, our love in Christ, the Word made flesh.  Then to live that purpose, passion and love in our everyday lives, following the example of Christ.  (cf. The Beatitudes - Matthew 5:1-12)  God is Love, and we are called to love:
"7 Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."  1 John 4:7-16

There is no greater love than God humbling Himself, emptying Himself and coming into the world as a baby, in a manger.  "And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

Is there room this Christmas season for Jesus to be in our hearts, our minds, our lives and those of friends and family.  Do our actions, our words, our lives demonstrate that Jesus lives within us.  The very Word of God received in the Eucharist.  Christmas night and the birth of Our Lord is the school of faith and life where we can encounter Christ.  Emmanuel, God-with-us.

"It is the task of us Christians, with witness of our life, to spread the truth of Christmas which Christ brings to every man and woman of good will.  Born in the poverty of the manager, Jesus comes to offer to all that joy and that peace which alone can fulfill the expectation of the human soul."  Pope Benedict XVI

This evening, I welcome you, Jesus, in the most unpretentious of forms: that of a baby.  Truly I discover this evening that the greatest of gifts can come in the simplest of wrappings.  How can I thank you for the gift of yourself, the Word of God having taken on human flesh as a baby in a manger? The best I can do is to give you my love...and that is what I present you with this evening.

Remember, Christmas is not just a day but a state of mind, a state of being in relation, a relation of love with the Word made flesh, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Invite Him into your heart today, welcome Him if you have drifted away.  His Love is never-ending and He so desires to be with you, won't you say yes as Mary said yes?  My prayers are with all of you and if you have said yes after being away for awhile or for the first time, Welcome Home.

O Holy Night - Kings College in Cambridge

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A New Year - A Simple Gift

It is the dawning of a new year and you are probably thinking right now this guy obviously can't read a calendar, however it is not a calendar year that I am talking about but the liturgical year.  The first Sunday of Advent marks the new year and a new period, a time of reflection and preparation as the Church looks forward to the birth of the Incarnate Lord.
Blessed John Paul II tells us in his Angelus message of Dec 2nd 2001;
"Dearest Brothers and Sisters: With today's first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins.  The Church takes up her journey again, and invites us to reflect more intensely on the mystery of Christ, a mystery that is always new and that time cannot exhaust.  Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Thanks to him, the history of humanity proceeds as a pilgrimage toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom which he inaugurated with his Incarnation and victory over sin and death."

And so we as the Church gather and begin a pilgrimage as the Magi did to meet Jesus in the manger.  To worship and offer gifts to the King of kings.  What do we offer to Jesus this Advent season, are we taking the time to properly prepare not only our minds but our hearts.  During this Year of Faith we are being called by the Holy Father to grow in a deeper understanding of our faith by delving deeper into the Catechism and the teachings of the Church; but this realizes itself most fully in seeking to come into closer intimacy with Jesus Christ.  Looking forward in hope and reaching out to Christ to draw ourselves closer to Him.

"Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope...It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope." Pope Benedict XVI - Seek That Which Is Above

And so as Adam and Eve were originally tasked with tending the Garden, we are tasked with tending the garden of hearts and minds.  To trim and cut away those things that keep us from God and to grow the vine of virtue that brings us closer to God.  This advent God calls us to radical transformation, a "metanoia", that is both interior and exterior.  "Faith without works is like a song you can't sing, its about as useless as a screen door on a submarine" (from the song "Screen Door" by Rich Mullins)

So we reflect on the garden of our hearts and minds and look to what needs tending this Advent.  Our journey is one full of hope and the expecting joy of the coming of the King.  Where is your heart?  Where is your mind?  There is so much hustle and bustle during the Advent season that we forget sometimes to look to what matters most, the tending of our souls in the garden of life.  Will you be ready?  Will your gift be one that is acceptable?  Will you be like the wise virgins in Matthew 25 who brought oil and were prepared for the bridegroom when he came and were admitted to the wedding feast or will you be like the foolish ones who did not and were left outside when the door was locked?

So let us prepare for the encounter with Jesus, to adore the babe in the manger who humbled himself to become man, but humbled himself further by coming as a baby, defenseless in the world, dependent on others for everything.  So let us humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and let Him lift us up to Him.

Let us pray:
Loving God source of my longing, you have reached out to your people through the gift of your incarnate Son.  Today in a special way I start anew my spiritual journey toward the stable where I seek to encounter the babe of Bethlehem.  Be with me, guide me, teach me, strengthen me, and inspire me during this journey.  Draw me into closer union with you as I put forth my best effort to prepare for the coming of Christ so that I may truly present him with a gift worth giving on Christmas day.
Mary, Mother of God - Pray for us