Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mary, Mother of God


Today, January 1st, is the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. For those who don't quite understand why we Catholics venerate Mary as much as we do, let me say first and foremost that the title of Mary was not given to her by the Church because of who she is, but rather because of who her son is.

In defending the faith against heresies, the Magisterium of the Church delared Jesus to be true God and true man. True man because there were some who thought that Jesus was only God and not really human (and these were the first heresies, which goes to show that the belief in Jesus's divinty was from the beginning). Then there were those, like Arius, who said that Jesus was only man and not at all God. Against these, the Church proclaimed that Jesus is in fact true God. Therefore at the counsel of Ephesus, Mary was given the title Theotokos, God bearer, because the one whom she bore, Jesus, was truly God. This makes her "Mother of God," since she is mother of the One Who is true God and true man. This does not mean that she is the origin of Christ's divinity, as if she were the principle from which God came into being... no, she is not "mother" of God in this sense, but rather in being mother of Jesus Christ, in whom the human and divine natures were unified though not intertwined or confused, she is mother of God.

Today is also the world day of peace. And so... (let us pray a bit of the Great Litany from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom... not only as a prayer for peace, but a reminder of our lady and her role in our walk of faith as teacher and example).

In peace let us pray to the Lord.

Lord have mercy.

For peace from on high, the salvation of our souls, let us ask of the Lord.

Lord have mercy.

...

Remembering our most holy, most pure, most-blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life, to Christ, our God.

To you, O Lord!

Happy Feast of Mary the Mother of God!

Office of Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family

I just read the office of readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, which included this bit from Ephesians 5.

So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

Have you ever wondered about how the "man" who leaves his father and clings to his wife is Christ?

Happy New Year!

It's new year's eve and time for those new year's resolutions. I was looking to make all new resolutions this year when my guardian said something that struck me. He basically said it's time either to make new resolutions or to renew the ones from last year. And when I thought about it, I realized that the things I what to make resolutions about are, in fact, just continuations of last year's resolutions.

When I was writting my Christmas letter earlier this month I was quite happy that I could see that I kept my new year's resolutions from last year. Mind you, I didn't resolve to do something drastic or definitive that one could scratch off a list, like go see the Mona Lisa, but rather something which requires slow progress.

So, looking back at this past year, I could see a small amount of progress, again, nothing drastic, but still progress. This gave me, and continues to give me encouragement for future progress. Sure, it might come slowly as it did this year, but isn't the point still to make progress?

This all ties together, by the way, with the journey of faith. Our goal in the Christian life is to make progress toward perfection. As the program on Vatican Radio I woke up to the other day said (and I love how God gives me just the tidbit of encouragement I need for the day through such random things as what I wake up hearing on Vatican Radio - I have a radio alarm clock), "Our goal in the Christian life is progress, that today be better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today."

That made me realize that, yes, the goal is perfection, but not immediately (and don't think this means I'm making an excuse to not go toward perfection or to stay in sin). It is not possible for us to become perfect overnight. What is necessary is faithfulness to the journey. We have the goal in sight. We have such strong help (the Holy Spirit, Jesus our Lord, God the Father, and the prayers of the angels and saints as well as our community). This should leave us joyfull to be on the pilgrimage of faith, walking in faith, hoping that we will eventually reach our destination, full of love from a God who doesn't wait for us to reach the end of the journey before He runs towards us and embraces us where we are at so as to lead us into His house (with a ring on our fingers, sandals on our feet, new clothes, and big fat banquet)!

So, on with those old new year's resolutions! Let's renew them, and in joy, let us sing, "Leaping the mountains, bounding the hills, see how our God has come to meet us. His voice is lifted. His face is joy! Now is the season to sing our song on high!"

Et dilectus meus loquitur mihi, "Surge propera amica mea, formonsa mea, et veni! Iam enim hiemps transiit. Imber abiit et recessit. Flores apparuerunt in terra. Tempus putationis advenit. Vox turturis audita est in terra nostra. Ficus protulit grossos suos. Vineae florent dederunt odorem. Surge amica mea speciosa mea et veni! Columba mea in foraminibus petrae, in caverna maceriae, ostende mihi faciem tuam, sonet vox tua in auribus meis! Vox enim tua dulcis et facies tua decora!"

(Yeah, so I made it a secret even after my post on secret vs mystery... but here's a clue... look in the same place where the song I just sang comes from and you'll find the quote.)

Happy New Year in the Lord!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

On the International Scene...

This might sound strange, but I feel like I should be doing penance today for what happened on the international scene... penance for the repose of the soul of a man who was convicted of brutal crimes, that he find mercy. But also, I feel like I should do penance today because of the eye for an eye mentality that continues to make capital punishment a favored means of dealing out "justice."

Obviously I am no fan of the man who died today. I know what he was convicted of and don't doubt that he was guilty. I just think that there are some punishments which can still respect life and yet deal out "justice."

Also, I feel like I should be doing penance today for the country that this man lived in, that it come to know peace and that the factions within it might learn to respect the religious differences of the entire population of that country, especially the minorities (Christians).

Let us pray for peace.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Two Ways

Today I was reading a book on early Church history, and I came across an expression used in the early Church called the "two ways." At first glance I didn't know what this was about. I knew that the faith was originally called "the way," but I wasn't sure what could be the other way if one of the "two ways" was this "way."

It turns out that as I read on there was an explaination of the "two ways," and in fact, we still unknowingly use a formula that is indicative of the "two ways." Easter vigil when the community is asked to renew their baptismal promises, the priest asks

"Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God's children?"

The people respond

"I do."

"Do you reject the glamor of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?"

"I do."

"Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?"

"I do."

Then the questions change.

"Do you believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?"

"I do." (or in Latin "Credo," "I believe")

"Do you believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, Who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?"

"I do."

"Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?"

"I do."

Here we see a good demostration of the two ways in which the Christian is called to walk: rejection of evil and sin, and clinging to Christ.

The "two ways" are the first message we hear Jesus speaking about in the Gospel of Mark. After announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand Jesus says, "Repent and believe in the good news." This boils down to ceasing of evil and adherence to the good - Ceasing of sins vices and the doing of good works and being virtuous - Ceasing to believe in false gods (including too much in one's self) and believing in God.

(I think this ties in to my post of St. John because the law teaches us to reject the bad by telling what not to do, and Jesus teaches to do good.)

So today, may you remember your baptismal promises and the two ways you set out on.

Thank you God for the gift of baptism. Help us by the power of your Holy Spirit to reject what is displeasing to you and to do what is good, so that more and more we made be made anew in the imagine of Christ your Son, we ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Secret vs. Mystery

I was listening to the mass in latin on Vatican Radio today as I was driving my guardian to St. John Lateran, and it caused me to stop and think (not literally... driving in Rome you can't just stop anywhere... although some Roman drivers do).

Anyway, I began to wonder about those who advocate that the mass be comepletely in Latin. I've heard all sorts of reasons in favor of this, including that Latin is a better language, etc. What caused me to think was that I was understanding what was being said even if I didn't know the words exactly (having attended mass enough times in English and knowing Italian seemed to have helped me understand). And I wondered about those who went to mass in the Tridentine rite (before Vatican II) and whether they really understood what was going on. I'm sure that some people who were interested enough in following the mass came to understand what was being said, but others, no. So I was wondering about those people and whether or not their experience of the mystery of the eucharist wasn't affected by the secretness of the language.

When I was little my brother and sister and I would speak to each other in German. Why German, you ask? Well, my sister had studied it in high school, my brother had studied it in high school and I began to study it, so every once in a while we would have a bit of fun and speak German so that our parents wouldn't understand. It was thrilling. Little did we know that our folks understood more than they let on. But the fact that we were privy to something secret was in fact a big deal. Everything in German was some how richer, better, more meaningful than things in English.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little too psychological in this, but I wondered this morning whether or not those who advocate a complete return to an all Latin mass don't have as their reason for preferring Latin over the vernacular this very mechanism of "secretness."

A secret generally is something that is comprehensible but simply unknown to the unititiated. Just ask any Knight of Columbus and they will tell you that the secrets of the degree ceremonies they go through are understandable.

A mystery, however, is not understandable, not comprehensible, even if it can be put into words. A mystery provokes contemplation. For example, to say "The One Who heaven and earth cannot contain, became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary," is to put into words a mystery. The words themselves are comprehensible, they make sense, but the mystery itself causes one to contemplate what truth is being told, it causes one to wonder.

There's the old anecdote that an anglican primate asked the Pope for a blessing during an ecumeical meeting and the Pope said a blessing in Latin, and the anglican goes away impressed, feeling blessed, not knowing that blessing the Pope gave him was "May you be blessed in Whose Name you shall burn," that is, the old blessing of the incense (with an obvious insinuation that the anglican would end up in hell). I don't know if this story is true, but it is quite conceivable that simply hearing something in a different unknown language adds a sense of hiddness, a sense of "mystery" in the common day sense of the word, but which is really only a matter of secretness.

I'm not for Latin in the mass for reasons of secretness, ie in order to add mystery (in the human sense) to the mass. There is enough "divine mystery" there already, which needs to be contemplated. Anyone who advocates a return to the mass completely in Latin might want to examine themselves to see if this love of "secretness" is not present in their love for Latin.

By the way, this is not a condemnation of Latin just an admonition against a wrong reason for going to Latin in the mass. Anyone who wants to know my view on Latin in the mass: Vat II did not say to get rid of all Latin and neither did it say to use it throughout the entire mass. It has its place, and we should know the mass parts in Latin - and we should know what they mean too. Personally I think Latin could be used in pastoral settings where there are multiple ethic groups celebrating in their different languages in the same parish. Latin in that case could be used as a way for the different groups to be brought together and celebrate as one community - the readings being alternatively in the various vernacular languages, of course.

Saint John

I tried to post yesterday, but blogger ate post and I didn't have time to rewrite everything. Okay so yesterday was the feast of St. John the apostle and evangelist. We hear from St. John in his letters and in his Gospel the admonition "Love one another."

So, what is St. John trying to tell us about being a Christian? Well, I think it has something to do with the difference between what we hear in the book of Tobit "Do not do unto others what you yourself dislike" and what we hear from Jesus "Do on to others as you would have other do unto you."

The first one is a negative prescription in that it reminds us of the limits we should place on our freedom so as to respect the rights and dignity of others. A good number of the precepts of the old testament were of this type, for example the ten commandments: "Do not put anything above God," "Do not steal," "Do not kill," etc.

The basic idea behind the negative prescription is to respect the rights and dignity of others. This concept of morality is seen even today when we hear people say "Well, if I don't hurt anyone else, then it is not wrong." Kant also advocated this kind of moral ethic: a formal morality that basically said do not harm others.

The problem with this kind of morality is not that it is in itself bad or no good, but rather that on its own it does not suffice. If one only goes about life looking to make sure that one does not infringe upon the rights of others, then it is quite possible to "be" very "good," and yet do nothing for others. After one has made sure that one does not do this and one does not do that, the question remains (to steal a line from "Young Frankenstein" - thanks Madeline Kahn) "What exactly is it that you do do?"

We see just this kind of attitude from the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking what it is he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus says, "you know the commandments." The rich young man says, "I've kept them all from my youth." And Jesus, looks at him with love and calls him to something more, "If you wish to be perfect, sell everything, give to the poor, and follow me."

I used to hear the golden rule "Do unto others..." invoked when I was young, but normally it was a scolding to not do something bad to others. Yet, if we look at the golden rule again in the light of calling Christians to a morality that is more than just a respecting of rules and a respecting of the rights of others, but rather a morality that is proactive, then it becomes something challenging, something which calls the Christian to follow Christ, to Love others as He has loved us.

This then reminds us of what we hear in the Gospel of St. John when Jesus gives us the "new" commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." If we think of doing unto others in reard to how Christ loved us, then it means we are called to love as Christ loves: heal the sick, visit the estranged and the shut ins, call to conversion for the good of the other (not as a power trip), praying for the living and the dead, give food to the hungry - pick an act of mercy be it spiritual or corporal. Truly this way of proactive love is the same thing that Jesus said when he said "You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself." To "love" means precisely to give of oneself, even to make a gift of oneself.

In this sense Christians are not called just to follow a bunch of "do not's," but rather a bunch of "do's," which give meaning and sense to the "do not's." Do love God (and if one opens oneself to accept His gift of love this is not hard to do - Caritas Christi urget nos - it is as if God's love makes us inclined to love the great Giver). Do love your neighbor (again God's love is hard to be contained in the life of just one person - Caritas Christi urget nos - if we let God love us we'll want to share it with others). Do love yourself (again here God's love is a key since it brings healing mercy and truth to stop the self hatred that comes from the lies we believe about ourselves and which have been reenforced through sin).

So, for the Feast of St. John, don't forget; do love. In this way you will treat others the way you want to be treated and love others as Christ loves you. God bless.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Presepio at St. Peter's Square

Here are a couple of photos of the presepio at St. Peter's Square.


And this is a close-up.

Note the ox and the ass: I read recently that the fathers of the Church interpreted these as a symbol of the gentiles and the jews, ie that Christ, even in his birth, had brought about unity between peoples.

Santo Stefano

Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr of the Church. In case you are wondering what connection this feast has to Christmas, let me try to break it down. Advent and Christmas, though preparing us to celebrate the mystery of the incarnation, really have the second coming of Christ as their main focus. So, it is not surprising that the day after the celebration of the Birth of Christ (I don't say birthday because it is not), we celebrate the feast of the first martyr of the Church, an event that not only happened soon after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit, but which in it's very nature testifies to the truth of Jesus' entering heaven, the beatific vision and the life with God in heaven.

In fact, we do not celebrate Christmas as if it were the first time we ave ever heard of it, as if we were the shepherds hearing the good news for the first time. Rather, being a people whose focus is on the paschal mystery, we see Christmas in view of the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and the future glory that will come and of which we already have a foretaste here on earth in the eucharist.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Links to the Holy Father's Christmas Homily and Urbi et Orbi Message

Here are the links to the English versions of Pope Benedict's Christmas Midnight mass Homily and his "To the Coty and to the World" " Urbi et Orbi" Message, provided by the Vatican.

Homily:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20061224_christmas_en.html

Urbi et Orbi:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/urbi/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061225_urbi_en.html

The link that follows is the different languages the Holy Father gave greetings in.

http://www.vatican.va/urbi_et_orbi/urbi-christmas2006/urbi_en.html

My favorite is "Salvator noster natus est in mundo."

Name Change

Anyone who has followed this blog may remember that the title was originally "The Penses and Prayers of Br. Chris". I've decided to change the name to "An Ambassador for Christ". When I was in college, I wanted to be an ambassador because I thought of diplomacy and international politics as the way to bring about peace in the world. In college I had my "conversion", which, anyone who has experienced a conversion knows, means more a change in direct than reaching a final goal (in other words, I'm still in that process of conversion). After my initial "conversion experience," I came to see that the only hope for true peace in the world is the One who brings true peace to the hearts of men and women, Jesus Christ. Also, as it is He I must proclaim, and not myself (something I often need to remember), I think the title change very fitting.

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:20)

Merry Christmas

Last night I was thinking about gift giving and how sometimes people focus too much on the giving of gifts at Christmas, so much so that the reason for the season is missed. I know a couple who do not give their children gifts for Christmas, but rather bake a birthday cake and sing "happy birthday" to Jesus. One can easily see how laudible this is to place an emphasis on Christmas being about the birthday of Jesus. One of the things that struck me, though, last night, is that the giving of gifts is not in itself wrong. In fact, it is a very good thing to do and can be an excellent reminder of the gift that was given us in Christ. This morning at mass, I surprised to hear almost the same thing from my guardian (the priest who is in charge of running a friary), who in his homily specifically mentioned this very aspect of Christmas. His words, though I paraphrase, were Christmas is about giving gifts and receiving gifts, and obviously the most important gift we can receive is the gift that God has given us in Jesus. Just as in giving gifts among people, to accept a gift is in some way to accpet the giver. Likewise Jesus tells us "Whoever accepts me, accepts the one who sent me." So, for us to accept the gift of Jesus is for us to accept God the Father into our lives.

At the breakfast table after mass, discussion arose about the North End of Boston and how, back in the day, none of the Italian immigrants would accept a basket of food from the parish. What's more, the city had set up a bureau in the neighborhood to make it easier for people to ask for the city's assistance, be it monetary or in some kind of service. No one came despite the fact that plenty of people could have used the help.

The message here is that it takes humility to receive a gift, to take a handout, and yet isn't that what grace is? Isn't it a gift? In fact, the Greek word for gift is the same as grace, "charis" (from which "charism" also derives). So, in receiving the gift of God, Jesus, do we not, in some way, need to admit that we are in need, to say, "I have sinned, and I need your mercy," or "I am weak and cannot do it alone"?

Perhaps we often are weary of admitting that we are in need of help because of the numerous people who try to take advantage of our weaknesses. They are those who are ready to give gifts, but they have their hidden motives for giving. Some try to solicit a response. They give expecting to receive. Others give gifts in order to cover up their abusive behavior. They give a gift as a way to obtain forgiveness without amending their ways, only so that they can continue to take advatage and further abuse the other person. (Certainly we may not all have these motives as our primary motives, but if we are attentive enough to ourselves, we may find these traces mixed in with our good intentions too.) So, knowing how gifts can sometimes be dangerous things, linking us with the giver, obliging us in some way, we tend to avoid accepting gifts from someone until we know for certain that they do not have hidden motives.

Yet God's motives for giving us the gift of His Son, the gift of His mercy, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of His very Life, are anything but hidden. (Or if they are "hidden" maybe it is due to our image of God, which has been blurred by our sins.) God, in giving us the gift of Jesus looked to do in a universal and definitive way the same thing he did for the people of Israel in a particular and partial way: liberate us and make a convenant with us (Thanks, Fr. Elberti - my sacraments professor).

For freedom Christ set us free so that we might not turn back to the yoke of slavery which is sin (cfr Gal 6:1). Through his pasqual mystery, Christ set us free from sin by obtaining the remission of sin (not just its forgiveness - sorry Luther - God restores His imagine in man, so that man, though wounded by original sin, is capable of responding to God in freedom. The very notion of grace - gift - requires that the other be disposed to receive it and free to choose to receive it or not. Anything else would mean God imposes grace on some and not on others, making God, not only unjust, but also a tyrannt who does not love but uses force to carry out His will). In this we have been freed, that is if we accept the gift of the pasqual mystery and of Jesus's dying and rising for us. But not only this. Just like after the first passover "pasch", God led his people so as to give them the law, ie make a covenant with them, God also gave his "new" law to His people after Christ's pasch (Not that it was something new per se but "new" in its way of being transmitted). Pentecost was the Jewish festival of weeks that not only celebrated the first fruits of the earth (man...! Christ is the First Fruit of the Resurrection... a true "fruit" of the earth... a truth realized by the coming of the HS on Pentecost) but also the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Jeremiah tells us "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (31:31-33) The day of Pentecost for the Church is the day that this law was written on the hearts of the apostles so that they could understand the mystery Christ had revealed to them and proclaim it to others. This is the new covenant, God giving us His Spirit so that we might live for Him, free from sin, to grow in charity.

And God doesn't hide His cards. He wants for us, freedom from sin so that He can make us His sons. And not jus this. He wishes to give us new life and bless us with his overwhelming goodness. And not just in this life. He wants to save us definitively, showing Himself to be Lover of Mankind, redeeming man even from the now-a-days seemingly final loss of the human person, physical death (Christians know that the real final loss of the person is spiritual death in unrepented mortal sin... ie completely turning away from God), a redemption that will follow in the footsteps of the redeemer, Jesus Christ, resulting in the resurrection from the dead and life everlasting for the just (repentant sinners) and the second death, hell, for the unjust (unrepentant sinners).

There, the cards are on the table. God does not offer us His gift of His Son to dupe us into slavery, but to lead us into freedom and into holiness of life that will lead to intimate union with Him and our fellow man, to holiness of life, and to life everlasting in heaven. The gift of the giver is the gift of the giver Himself. In such a light we need not be afraid.

Merry Christmas, and by the way, don't forget to unwrap the gift god has given you. You won't need to return it or send it back, but only use it wisely and give God glory and thanks for giving you Himself.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Patience

Patience is a virtue, or so we are told. Yet, so many times we think that we can force change either in our own lives or in the lives of others. Instead of taking the slow path to change we want to immediately arrive there no matter what course of action we take... the ends begin to justify the means.

The Lord asks us to be patient, even if we are convinced that we are right and that the thing we want is what is best. He especially asks us to be patient during those times because we might, in fact, be deceived as to what the best solution to a given problem is.

Advent, precisely as a season of hope, teaches to how to wait. It teaches us to keep an eye on the past to see how God fulfilled his promises of old, so that, with firm trust in the reality of his kingdom and of the future glory promised us in Jesus, we can act today with love, which, by the way, is always patient.

I once read somewhere the saying "our thinking becomes distorted as we try to force solutions". I think that this is evident in what is happening in the Church today. Some are trying to force solutions, going that step too far that all who wanted to change the church in the past took, namely disobedience. Then one becomes deceived, in thinking that any means to reach one's goal will suffice.

If one were to come to the defense of those who are trying to force change in the Church by saying that they are indeed obeying, obeying the Holy Spirit, I would have to reply that the Holy Spirit does not inspire division and disobedience, but rather longsuffering if the person struggling for change is indeed in the right. Plus, there is always a need for discernment of spirits since not all inspiration is from God. All that is needed is to examine the fruits of said inspiration. For example, would the Holy Spirit inspire a Catholic to seek an extra-sacramental marriage?

Patience. If a change is truly meant to happen in the Church the Holy Spirit will help it to come about without resorting to the violence of disobedience and schism. Rather, if people resort to disobedience and schism, then maybe there is more wrong with the advocates for change than the thing they are fighting against.

A response to those who are not patient? Patient correction and calling back to obedience, especially if they have a ministerial charism from the grace of ordination.

Evening Prayer Reflection: Dec 11th

“Pay back is hell,” is the expression we often hear when someone is vindictive and gets back at a person who wronged them. Often when we are wronged, or even when we think we have been wronged, we want to give the other person hell, to pay them back, to get even. We want revenge.

In today’s reading from the book of Isaiah, we hear “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 dumb will sing” (Is 35:4-6). In its historical context, the author of these verses wanted to point out to the people of Israel God’s saving action in allowing the enemies of Israel to be defeated. God pays back those who harmed Israel. He gets even on others for the harm they did his people.

But what about those who harm God, those who sin? Interpreted in the spiritual sense these verses give us an insight into how God has paid back those who sin. If we keep in mind that in the Hebrew mindset illness was a result of sin, we see what kind of payback God gives sinners, what kind of revenge he gets on those who transgress his laws: he heals them, he saves, he gives them what they don’t deserve. In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus doing just that, healing the sick and the lame, first by forgiving their sins and then by healing them, restoring them to wholeness.

But he didn’t just forgive the sins of sinners and heal the illnesses of a people who had gone astray, rather, in the face of the sinner, in the face of those who did no longer deserved to be called “sons”, God ran after his people, embraced them, clothed them with new clothes, put a ring on their finger and held a big feast. Yes, instead of squashing sinners like bugs and paying them back what they deserved God was merciful to his people and, by becoming man, by taking on our human nature, he married them, giving them a gift that we could never deserve: his divine life in Jesus.

So, when we want to give someone hell for what they did to us, when we want to pay someone back, let us turn our thoughts to the payback God gave us, how he forgave us, how he shared himself with us, and how he was merciful in giving us what we did not deserve. Let us strive to imitate God, for one of the mysteries of the incarnation is that we can imitate his mercy and his love, precisely because he made himself man in Jesus.

Reflection: Advent and Christmas, a Time of Hope.

The Advent Season is upon us, the season of hope and expectation that reminds us to focus our gaze with longing hearts on the Lord’s coming. But I’m not talking about Jesus’ birth here. Advent is a season of hope not only because it prepares us to remember the birth of Jesus, but primarily because it reminds us of the great hope we have received as a result of that first, meek coming of Christ: the hope of heaven.

“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and was made man,” the words of the Nicene Creed tell us. But if we’ve heard these words once, we’ve heard them a thousand times, and so maybe we say them or read them without thinking much about what they mean. “For us … and for our salvation”: that’s two reasons Christ came, not one. It is already such a glorious thing that Jesus came for our salvation, to save us from sin and from its consequences. He suffered on the cross and died a death only possible because he became a man. Had that been all, it would have been enough.

But God also “came down from heaven” for us (because he loved us). It was not just to pardon our sins by his death… Not just to restore us to a state of innocence… but also, and ultimately, to share with us his divine life, union with God, the same union we will experience in both body and soul in heaven.

In the face of the sinner, God did not merely wish to acquit the crime, to leave the murderer a pardoned murderer, but rather to put a ring on his finger and – precisely by wedding human nature – give him a dignity he did not deserve by making him a partaker in the divine nature. St. Irenaeus reminds us this: “For this is why the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”So, for the rest of Advent and this Christmas season (the celebration is more than one day), let us keep in mind, not only the great mystery of Christ’s birth and what that made possible (his crucifixion and our salvation), but also the end result of that birth and resultant salvation, the hope of heaven as partakers of God’s own very life.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

Maranatha!