Friday, December 17, 2010

The Genealogy

Readings for Friday, December 17:
Genesis 49:2,8-10
Psalm 72:1-4,7-8,17
Matthew 1:1-17

Today begins what are traditionally referred to as the "O Antiphons", specific prayers used in the liturgy for the eight days leading up to the birth of Christ on 25th. They each entail a different aspect of the Lord's coming in glory at Christmas. The readings also, as with the entire season of Advent, have a specific character of recalling things that the Lord promised to His people as a sign that they are all fulfilled in the Christ Child born among us. The first readings recalls the promise spoken over 4000 years ago - that the mace or scepter of power would not depart from the tribe of Judah. And indeed it is the Lord, Himself of the tribe of Judah, that comes to reign as King of the Earth and of all creation. The fulfillment of this is found in the genealogy account from Matthew's gospel. This list of names is traced back to King David and Abraham, both of whom have a certain dominion over the things of the world but which Christ fulfills in His coming. He is the reality which they vaguely foreshadowed so many years ago. And so it is a sign that God is still very active in the world around us, then and now. This, after all, is what the Kingdom of God is - the reign of God over all creation and His involvement in the life of all people in all times. Pope Benedict XVI speaks to this in his book Jesus of Nazareth: "When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is tell us: 'God exists' and 'God is really God,' which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world."

I have been reading the above-mentioned book throughout this mission trip that we're on and reflecting on this topic of the Kingdom of God in reference to what we're doing here. I have been contemplating the reality that the Lord is acting in and through us in this short time to proclaim the Kingdom of God in these days leading up to the celebration of Lord coming among us as a child - like John the Baptist, who prepared His way so many years ago. And as I reflect on it, I see us also like the Baptist as he leapt in the womb of his mother at the presence of Christ in the womb of Mary - we are not always able to proclaim the Lord's presence in words but more often by action, the 'leaping' of our presence, ministry, work, charitable acts, and prayer. This morning at Mass, Fr. David Kelly, the director of pastoral formation at our seminary, spoke of our proclaiming the Kingdom of God in out time here as missionaries. Then he reminded us that just as Jesus was a real man who came from a line of real men and women, as the gospel account today indicates. Many people some great sinners, others great sinners, were all part of the preparation of the coming of the Messiah. We too, as missionaries, are following in a long line of other missionaries - saints and sinners both - who have prepared the way for these people to hear Christ's message at this time. 

In the same way, each of us is called in this advent season to help others to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, uniting ourselves to that long list of souls who sought to bring others to know Christ and be known by Him. Grant that we might be able to cooperate with all that the Lord has in store for us.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Little Break

The Cathedral across the Center from us
Just to let everyone know who keeps up with this regularly - I am in Granada, Nicaragua on a mission trip for the next 12 days. I (obviously) have some internet service but am not sure how much I'll be able to blog in that time. Maybe I'll have the opportunity to post about what is going on here. We shall see.

Please pray for us and for those coming to join us this Monday, that the Lord would keep us all safe and healthy and that we might be open to all that the Lord has in store for us in this blessed time. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

From Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ - Book 2, Chapter 7:

"Blessed is the man who knows what it is to love Jesus, and to despise himself for the sake of Jesus. You must give up all other love for His, since He wishes to be loved alone above all.

Love of creatures is deceiving and constantly changing, but the love of Jesus is true and permanent. If you hold on to creatures, you will fall with them; if you hold on to Jesus, you will remain firmly planted forever.

Love Him then Him as a friend. He will not leave you as others do; nor will He permit you to suffer eternal death. Separate yourself a little from everything, then. Cling, therefore to Jesus in life and death; trust yourself to Him alone who can help you when all others fail you.

The nature of Christ's love is such that it will not admit a rival; He wants you for Himself alone. He desires to sit on the throne of your heart as King; which is His right. If you only knew how to free yourself of the love of creatures, how quickly would He come into your heart!"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Active Waiting

Readings for December 5/Second Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

As we begin this second week of the Advent season, I pray that each of you have begun to really enter into Advent and to truly live in this beautiful season. It seems a simple desire and yet it is rather difficult to actually do this because the world around us is telling us that now that Thanksgiving is over, we ought to move straight into Christmas. We hear the Christmas music on the radio, we see the Christmas decorations all over the department stores and everywhere we look our eyes tell us it is Christmas. To all of this add the craziness of holiday shopping, the various holiday parties, family gatherings, and the simple busyness of the end of the year, and it that simple task of living the Advent season becomes a rather difficult one.

Part of the problem that we often have with Advent is that we don’t always know what to do with it. It’s only four weeks, so as soon as we really get into it, Christmas is almost here. Also, we are all so filled with joy as we eagerly await the coming of Christ, and yet we wear the penitential violet vestments. There are just lots of mixed signals. And yet the Advent season is important for us as Christians because it forces us to wait.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly look forward to waiting because most of the waiting that I do is waiting in lines at grocery store, various department stores, and at the drive thru. But that type of waiting is a passive waiting, a waiting in which we just waste time until we can do what we are waiting for. This is obviously not the waiting that we are called to do in this Advent season. We’re not just killing time until Jesus gets here. Rather, we are called to an active waiting, a waiting in which we are busy about preparing for that thing we wait for. Or in this season, the person we are waiting for.

Our gospel reading today provides us with an excellent example of this type of waiting in the person of John the Baptist. John was certainly one who eagerly anticipated the coming of the Lord in His glory. Remember that it was John the Baptist who leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary came to visit her after the annunciation from Gabriel. And it was this same John who, filled with Holy Spirit, excitedly points out the Lamb of God to his disciples. But in the thirty-year span between those two events when John was waiting, he was also preparing. We heard it in the description of his life and ministry in our gospel. He was a man of great simplicity and asceticism – he lived in the desert, he wore clothing made of camel’s hair and his food was locusts and wild honey. Not exactly a posh lifestyle, to say the least. In this way, though, John prepared his own heart for the day when the Lord would come. He did not want to be caught off guard or in a state of unpreparedness. And in addition to preparing himself for the Lord’s coming, he always went about preparing others. We hear his first words in the gospel, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” And in response to this cry, many people came to him to be baptized in the waters of repentance and sat at his feet listening to him to teach about the One Who was to come shortly. Thus he prepared the way for the Lord to come. And so must we.

Recall that when we hear the scriptures, we aren’t just hearing about things that happened 2000 or more years ago. We are hearing the voice of God speaking to each of us. And this weekend we hear the Lord speaking to us calling us to repentance, just as John called people in day to repentance. When we think about repentance, though, sometimes it can carry with it a negative connotation, as if someone was pointing a condemning finger at us. But what we really ought to focus on is the great gift of the call to repentance. The Lord doesn’t just call us to repent for repentance sake. Rather, he loves us and wants to have a deep, personal relationship with each of us and he does this by asking us to put away those things that take our attention away from him. To help us in this the Church suggests frequent attendance at Mass, regular confession and an overall awareness of the Lord throughout our day. These things are especially important in this Advent season when we are waiting and preparing for Christ to come among us. Too, we must be like John and reach out to others and call them to deepen their own relationship with the Lord and be able to teach them about Him who is coming soon.

This is the active waiting that we are called to have in this blessed season of Advent, the waiting in which our souls and the souls of others brought to love more deeply the Lord whom we eagerly await. May the Lord, grant us the grace.  

Friday, December 3, 2010

Penance & Paschal Mystery

Being that this is the last week of school, things have been a bit hectic with papers and presentation due dates coming in rapid succession. So, rather than share a reflection on the scriptures I figured I'd share with you a little bit about a presentation I did this past week on "the theological foundation of the sacrament of penance in the Paschal Mystery"... also known as the way in which the sacrament of penance is rooted in the saving work of Christ (his Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension). Hope you enjoy :)

The Paschal Mystery
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the ‘Paschal Mystery’ as “Christ’s work of redemption accomplished through His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven”. Through this saving work of Christ, which transcends all time and yet is present in all time, mankind is reconciled to God. This happens ordinarily through the sacraments, which are the means to communicating the effects of that saving work. And in this presentation I hope to explain the theological foundation of the sacrament of penance in the Paschal Mystery, or how the sacrament is rooted in the saving work of Christ.

Institution of the Sacrament
Paragraph 1421 of the Catechism tells us that Christ willed that the Church continue his work of healing and salvation and that this typically is carried out through the sacraments of penance and the anointing of the sick. Thus He instituted the Sacrament of Penance after His resurrection. In John 20:19-23, we hear the story of the night when the Apostles were all gathered together and the Resurrected Lord appears to them and breathes upon them, saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In this he recalls that fact that He Himself had the power to forgive sins and did so on several occasions, most notably in Matthew 9:2-8 and its parallels, when the paralytic is forgiven his sins and subsequently healed as a sign of Christ’s power.

The Call to Conversion
In section one of the Introduction in the Rites book, we hear that “The Son of God made man lived among us in order to free us from the slavery of sin and to call us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” This is simply to say that he came to reconcile us to the Father. And He begins this work of reconciliation by calling the people to conversion. Like the prophets and John the Baptist who had gone before Him, Christ points out to the people the need for repentance and really emphasizes this as the key point of His ministry. The first words we find on the lips of Christ in the Gospel according to Mark are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15). And shortly after that we hear Him say, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” He came to call people to repentance, to a conversion of heart and, notably, took the first step in calling out to people rather than allowing them to come to Him first. And unlike his forerunners, who merely preached repentance and conversion, Christ calls men to repentance, affects that change in them, and reconciles them to the Father. All of this He does in anticipation of the merits of His own Paschal Mystery, which, though in the future, still transcends all time and is present in all time and thus is effective even before its own occurrence in time.

Conversion and the Ministry of Reconciliation
Just as Christ called sinners to repentance and conversion of heart, so too did the Apostles (MT 10:5-7). They did not affect the change in men’s hearts, however; rather, it is Christ Himself who brings about conversion. Paragraph 1432 of the Catechism says that “the human heart is heavy and hardened” and that “God must give man a new heart”. This again gets to the point that it is God who acts first, not only in calling to repentance but also in affecting the change as the soul looks upon Him Whom his sins pierced. As St. Clement of Rome says, “Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.” Thus it is by the grace of the Blood of Christ that has been poured out on the hardened hearts of men that they are brought to repentance. This repentance that arises in the soul of the man is simultaneously the response of man and the instance of divine initiative in which the Lord reaches pours His grace out upon the soul.

This repentance, for the unbaptized, prompts the soul to pursue the waters of baptism and so to be reconciled to the Lord. For the baptized, this repentance or conversion of heart prompts the souls to pursue the water of the tears of penance in sacrament of penance, by which they are again reconciled with the Father and with the Church.

The Effects of the Sacrament
As was said at the beginning of this presentation, through the sacraments the effects of the Paschal Mystery are poured out upon men in the liturgical celebration. According to paragraph 1422 of the Catechism, in the sacrament of penance, men “obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church….” The Roman Catechism speaks more spiritually, saying that in the sacrament, “the blood of Christ flow into our souls, washing away all sins committed after Baptism, and thus leads us to recognize that it is to our Saviour alone we owe the blessing of reconciliation.” These two point to the fact the effects of the sacrament are two-fold, namely that one’s sins are forgiven and they are reconciled with God and the Church, and that these two effects happen simultaneously. Also, it is notable that the reconciliation with God and reconciliation with the Church are inseparable.

Most important in all of this is the fact that this forgiveness and reconciliation are the effects of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, communicated through the sacrament. Again referencing the Roman Catechism, it is only by the merits of His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension in to Heaven that this forgiveness and reconciliation occur.

All of this is really summed up in the prayer of absolution that we hear in the celebration of the sacrament today:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Here we see the two-fold effects of forgiveness and reconciliation. We also see the statement that the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation have been entrusted to the Church. And finally we see the fact that it is through the Paschal Mystery – the death and resurrection of Christ – that all of this comes to be.