Thursday, December 27, 2007

Adeste Fidelis

Listening to a Vatican Radio podcast on carols, I just learned that Adeste Fidelis is a Christmas Carol from the English Catholic community in exile in France during the Reformation in England. One of the professors teaching priests for the mission in England, John Francis Wade, wrote it in Latin.

Interesting as I have always loved this hymn and never knew that it was originally "English."

"Oh Come let us adore him!"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Day After



That's it. Wrap it up. Show's over folks. Nothing more to see here. Get ready for New Year's. Think about the past year and about making resolutions for the one to come. Do anything else but remember that Christmas is not just one day in the year but a time of year, or even better, that Christmas might be more than just a time of year, that it might be something deeper and more profound than a day upon which all the mall walking, employee harassing, gift hunting (it is almost a full contact sport these days), jingle hearing, and tinsel totting find their culmination.



Yes, the old carol The Twelve Days of Christmas might still be sung, and some people might recall that these 12 days refer to Christmas and the eleven days that follow, but not very many people realize why this carol mentions twelve days of Christmas. In fact, today, one would hardly hear anyone suggest that we sing this song the day after Christmas because, silly, it's a Christmas carol and Christmas is only the 25th of December. One would not hear Christmas carols in public after December 25th, at least not in an America that was originally opposed to the celebration of Christmas (think Puritans - yeah the same ones from whom we supposedly get the pseudo-religious feast of Thanksgiving), didn't like public feasts (think Presbyterians), and, when Christmas did come into its own, became known as the day when children would find gifts left by a mysterious Santa Claus (whom few realize is really Saint Nickolaus devoid of his religious garb - that of a bishop - and moved from his feast, December 6th, to fill the spiritual void in America's soul) and, later, the day around which businesses hoped to make money (which is a logical progression since free market capitalism - that is, at least the consumerism brand of capitalism - is pretty much the unofficial religion of America where "supporting the economy," ie buying junk one doesn't need, is one of the ten commandments).



Despite the urban legend, the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas was not a secret catechetical tool used by English Catholics when the Church of England and Anglicanism threatened the continuance of the Catholic faith in England. Instead it recalls the fact that the traditional Anglican rendering of the Christmas Season included Christmas Day and the following days until the day before Epiphany (Epiphany is January 6th, so if you count Christmas Day and each day before Epiphany, you get 12 days [25 - 31 is 7 plus 1- 5 makes 12]). Yet, this religious significance to the 12 days of Christmas has almost been forgotten, especially as businesses hope to profit off of the idea that the 12 days of Christmas are the 12 shopping days before the 25th of December.



Yet even us Catholics can forget that we have an Octave of Christmas (from December 25 - January 1st, eight days inclusive, hence the term "octave"), or even that the Christmas season lasts until the Feast Baptism of the Lord and permeates the first few weeks of Ordinary Time (the Nativity Scene at the Vatican won't be taken down until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation). Instead, like the rest of our society, we tend to forget Christmas after the 25th of December and begin to focus on New Year's Eve, not remembering that the first Christmas (whenever it was) is the reason we call this year 2007 and the next one 2008. Yes, our time (which is money, right?) is measured in years from the birth of Christ and yet we think of Christmas as only being one day a year.



And doesn't even the secular world acknowledge the importance of having Christmas be something that is year round and not just a single day. Do not the poets and other romantics of our age recommend we keep the childlike wonder and "magic" of Christmas year round. Then how much more important is it for us Christians to keep the wonder of the child-of-God-making grace that was given to us in Word Made Flesh, the baby Jesus?



Christmas, my dear friends, is not just once a year. It is not just a liturgical season. Christmas is everyday since everyday we celebrate the incarnation. Merry Christmas. May the feast never end!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Reflection for Gaudete Sunday - Part 2

Okay, so I didn't catch this yesterday as I tuned in late to catch only the reference to individual happiness, but you can imagine my surprise when I saw that I wasn't the only one to be talking about joy in suffering because of God's presence. The Holy Father at the Angelus also had a few words to say about it, as reported by Zenit.org

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"Gaudete in Domino semper" -- "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). With these words of St. Paul, the holy Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent opens, and for this reason it is called "Gaudete." The apostle exhorts Christians to rejoice because the coming of the Lord, that is, his glorious return, is certain and he will not delay. The Church makes precisely this invitation while she prepares to celebrate Christmas and her gaze is turned always more toward Bethlehem. In fact, we await his second coming with certain hope because we have known his first coming.

The mystery of Bethlehem reveals to us God-with-us, God near to us, not simply in a spatial and temporal sense; he is near to us because he has wedded, so to speak, our humanity; he has taken our condition upon himself, choosing to be completely like us, except in sin, to make us like him. Christian joy thus flows from this certainty: God is near, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and suffering, in health and sickness, as friend and faithful husband. And this joy remains even in trials, in suffering itself, and remains not on the surface but rather in the depths of the person who gives himself to God and confides in him.

Some ask themselves: But is this joy still possible today? The answer is given by the life of men and women of every age and social condition, happy to consecrate their existence to others! Was not Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta perhaps, in our times, an unforgettable witness of evangelical joy? She lived in daily contact with misery, human degradation, death. Her soul knew the trial of the dark night of faith, and yet she bestowed the smile of God upon all.

We read in one of her writings: "With impatience we await paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise beginning here below and from this moment. Being happy with God means: loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him" ("La gioia di darsi agli altri," Ed. Paoline, 1987, 43).

Yes, joy enters into the heart of those who place themselves at the service of the least and the poor. In those who love in this way God takes up his abode and the soul is in joy. If, however, happiness is made an idol, the wrong road is taken and it is truly difficult to find Jesus. This, unfortunately, is the proposal of the cultures that put individual happiness in the place of God; it is a mentality that finds its emblematic effect in the pursuit of pleasure at all costs, in the spread of drug use as an escape, like a refuge in artificial paradises, which subsequently show themselves to be completely illusory. [Similar to the false gods and the promise to never suffer]

Dear brothers and sisters, even at Christmastime it is possible to take the wrong road, to exchange the true feast for that one that does not open the heart to Christ. May the Virgin Mary help all Christians, and men in search of God, to reach Bethlehem, to meet the Child who is born for us, for the salvation and happiness of all men.


I can't say "great minds think alike" because I know Benedict is much more intelligent than I am. Instead I think I'll just take this as part of the rule of repeated themes... in other words, as a sign that the inspiration of this topic of reflection is from God.

Thanks big guy, as you have been teaching me a lot in the last few weeks!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reflection for Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice!

Yesterday I heard a homily on the prophet Elijah which really got me thinking. In it the priest mentioned that Elijah's call was to unmask the false gods of Israel (Baal and the like). These gods promise prosperity in the form of rain, but when confronted with Elijah, the prophet representing the true God, Israel experiences a drought, showing that it is not Baal who controls the rain but God. In exchange for his service to God, Elijah is persecuted, experiences dislusionment to the point of wanting to die, and yet is comforted by God in a way he never expected, the stillness of the presence of God.

This homily, when combined with the themes of accepting the cross (from the second reading of the office for St. John of the Cross) and the story of Job, which I have been studying in class, made me realize something which has kind of been forming within me ever since my time in Central America... The false gods that we follow at times promise one a life of ease and of no suffering. To serve them means to buy into the illusion that one can be above suffering and pain, that one can be unaffected by the evil of limits. In other words, the false gods promise to make us gods. They promise to make sure that we are always happy and never in pain.

Thinking about pagan cults, magical practices and the like, one sees that this is often the aim. One performs a rite to ensure a blessing of sorts. One then, by doing such, places oneself in charge. One controls the elements (supposedly) by doing a particular action. Obviously one uses this then to try to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

The true God does not promise us pain and suffering. God does not inflict upon us the various trials that we encounter, but rather simply informs us in the gospel that we will encounter pain and suffering. In fact, we are admonished that he or she who does not pick his or her cross can not be a disciple of Jesus.

Instead we are promised that God will be with us even to the end of the world, which means he is with us even in our suffering. Just as God reveal his presence to Elijah, encouraging him to then be able to face the trials ahead of him, likewise God gives us the strength to be able to face the trials we are going through. Just as God reveals himself to Job, who, though reduced to nothing sees God with his own eyes, knowing in a more experiential way that his redeemer lives, likewise, to the downcast and downtrodden faithful, God shows himself tobe in their midst, giving them the hope that they need in order to endure their trials.

God does not promise a life free of suffering, but does promise to redeem us in our lowliness and to glorfiy man in his frailty. This is the opposite of what the sham gods promise. They want us to think that we can be gods free from suffering, but in the end we suffer more because the sham gods, like Baal during the time of Elijah, really can not deliver on their "promise" to make man into something he isn't. The one true God, on the other hand, can make do on the promise, but his promise does not ask the humman to reject what his very nature, frail, limited and prone to suffering, but rather to embrace it. It is here, in the poverty and the meekness of the beatitudes that God promises His enduring and encouraging presence to help us face the trials and difficulties of our lives, and it is in the very weakness of our human nature that God manifests His glory! Think of the baby Jesus, prone to experience not only the difficulites of our human nature, but even more exposed by being born into poverty, without even a proper bed. Think also of the glorified Christ after the resurrection. The marks of the passion, signs of human humiliation and shame, become the life giving fountains of grace and healing, glorified specifically in so much as Christ chose to keep these signs in his body, in His glorified state. The true God, can and does divinize man. He glorifies his saints, but only if they accept who and what they are. Only if they accept and embrace their limited human nature and offer it to Him as Christ did, putting faith in being maintained and sustained by the best of consolers, God Himself.

When one suffers, the difficult thing about it is the feeling of being alone. But with God by one's side, and even better, with Jesus who has already experienced what we go through and much more, we have the best of consolers. He might not take away the pain, but He gives the interior peace one needs to face even death itself.

Since God is for us who can be against us. And since God is with us in all our trials, we have every reason to rejoice in the cross, our one hope! Because in the cross is redemption. After the cross comes Easter.

So therefore, let us rejoice in the Lord always, even in the midst of sadness and trials, I say it again, rejoice!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reflection for Monday of the 2nd Week of Advent



In today's readings we hear the theme of God's salvation. From the book of Isaiah we hear the kind of salvation we can expect from God. To a people who had strayed from God's ways and had just suffered the exile, the author of Isaiah proclaims God's saving action, specifically called God's recompense. There then follows a series of dramatic changes, the desert, symbol of the unfruitfulness of the people as a whole, blooming, and the illnesses of the people, symbol of the consequences of sin, being healed, both of which indicate that God's recompense is a complete and total restoration of the individual and of the people as a community. What's more, this restoration opens up for the people a holy way upon which they can walk without going astray or falling into impurity.

If the first reading were not enough to make the point evident, the Gospel portrays an event in the life of Jesus where we see this prophecy being fulfilled. A man who was paralyzed is presented to Jesus. Jesus forgives his sins, heals him of his physical ailment, and commands him to get up and walk. A connection is also made between the Holy Way mentioned in Isaiah, Jesus, who called himself the way, and the faith-life of the church, which as we know from the Acts of the Apostles was simply called “the way” by the early church.
We see, then, that God's salvation is first and foremost the forgiveness of sins, but not a simple forgiveness that leaves the sinner as he or she is, but rather that restores the person, that gives the person back his dignity and allows him to walk in holiness, giving him a way to follow, and that way is Jesus.

Reflecting on how God saves us can lead us to consider our own response to this salvation, both in how we relate to God and how we relate to our brothers. Advent, looking at the final coming of Christ, focuses on repentance. In our examination of our lives we find not only sins but also areas where we are paralyzed or suffering the consequences of sin (be it our own or that of others), areas which can frustrate us in our attempts to walk in holiness. Seeing as Jesus not only forgives sins but also heals the consequences of sins, our areas of paralysis should not cause us to be afraid to encounter the Lord. Rather, like the friends of the man in today's gospel, we should bring these areas specifically to the Lord's attention, praying for healing and continuing to be aware of how these areas affect us. As Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik puts it, simply by frequently making these areas the subject of prayer one already allows them to be transformed from weaknesses to areas where one encounters the Lord, and thus by inviting the Lord into these areas one will see the Lord provide the growth and the healing we need.

Being faced with a salvation that restores our dignity when our sins have been forgiven prompts us to examine the way in which we forgive our brothers. There are basically two ways to forgive others, a pompous way and a compassionate way. An example of the pompous way of forgiveness can be seen in Ralph Fiennes' character Amon Goeth in the movie Schindler's List. The head of the labor camp, Goeth takes Oskar Schindler's suggestion to pardon people as a way to glorify himself and further demean the worth of the person. After pardoning a man, he shoots him as he's walking away. Likewise for us, at times our forgiveness is masked malevolence. We forgive the offense but pay the person back by lowering our esteem for them. We don't hold the offense against them exteriorly, but cut down their dignity in our minds and in our hearts. On the contrary, we have the example of Jesus who is compassionate, who restores the dignity of the person he forgives by raising them up. Likewise we too are called to be compassionate with our brothers and sisters, forgiving them just as we too have been in need of forgiveness by completely setting aside the offense and our desire for revenge.