Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pulling the Plug...

Because of other obligations, I have decided to stop trying to post Advent reflections for this year.

Come, Lord Jesus--and the sooner, the better.

Peace and every good,

Fr. John, OFM

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Lady of Guadalupe, 12-12-16

Today's Readings

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people,
and he will dwell among you,
and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

When the Spanish invaders landed in Mexico in 1519, their skin color and facial features were obviously different from those of the native population.  When the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, she appeared as a mestiza, that is, a woman of mixed race.  That led to the Virgin of Guadalupe being referred to as "La Morenita"--the Brown Lady.  (If you go online, you'll find that many Mexican businesses are named "La Morenita.")

The language used by the Lady as she spoke to Juan Diego was not Spanish but Nuhuatl--the language of the people.  The image imprinted on the tilma of Juan Diego clearly shows the maternity band, signifying that the woman is pregnant.

Prior to the apparition at the hill of Tepeyac, the Catholic Church was able to convert only a few of the natives.  Within seven years of the apparition, there were over 8 million converts. 

It's pretty obvious why this reading from Zechariah was chosen for this feast: "Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day, and they shall be his people, and he will dwell among you, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you."

Holy cards printed in the US typically show Jesus as having fair hair and white  skin.  I have known Catholics in the US who get upset when other cultures show Jesus as being African or Asian or Native American--little realizing that their own images of Jesus have been culturally formed.

During Advent, we celebrate the fact that Jesus came "as one like us."  As the Church continues to spread that Good News, it is important that we help people see that Jesus is not a foreigner--He comes to dwell among them and to share their lives.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday, 2nd Week of Advent, 2016

Today's Readings

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

We've all run into people (and, perhaps, at times have been people) who seem to live by the motto: "My mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts."  The lack of civil discourse during and the contentious discord following the recent presidential election may have roots in such at attitude.

Jesus recognized this attitude in the religious leaders of his time.  They were convinced that their view of religion was the correct one, and so they were able to write off the lifestyle and preaching of John the Baptist as the rantings of a religious lunatic.  When Jesus arrived with a more moderate lifestyle, he was written off as a glutton and drunkard.  Their minds were made up.  No wonder that Jesus would chide them for being stiff-necked and hard of heart.

Going back to the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, we pray that we "may not so much seek to be understood as to understand."  One project we could undertake today is to listen with open minds to the voices of the people we encounter.  We ought not compromise the truth as we see it, but let's be open to the possibility that we may be wrong.  Or, as one bumper sticker warns: "Don't believe everything you think."

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Immaculate Conception, 12-8-16

Today’s Readings:

            While I was in the car the other day, I heard the Beatles’ song “Let It Be.”  It made me think of today’s feast.  If you are a Boomer like me, you probably remember that the song starts: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking works of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’”
       Music historians are clear that Paul McCartney did not write this as a religious song.  It is about his deceased mother (Mary) who came to him in a dream while he was dealing with personal turmoil.  She advised him not to worry because everything would work out well.
   Be that as it may, the song echoes the docility of Mary who acquiesces to the mysterious will of God.  Could she foresee all the ramifications of her “yes.”  I doubt it.  Yet her faith led her to exclaim, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
I don’t know if archangels ever retire, but it would be helpful to us if Gabriel were a little more active.  If he or another angel were to tell us “this is God’s will for you”; I would like to think that most of us would respond, “let it be done.”  The problem for us is that we are not always able to discern which situations are God-ordained and which situations are, in a favorite phrase of one of our friars, “not of God.”  That makes it difficult for us to know whether we should accept or resist.
   As we daily pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” let us pray also for the gift of discernment, that, as St. Paul said, we might “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)  Then: “Let it be done!”

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent, 2016

Today’s Readings:

Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a fairly recent diagnosis.  CFS is a condition, once thought to be psychosomatic, whose underlying cause seems to be still a mystery to experts.  The syndrome is characterized by an inability to successfully perform daily tasks.  Physical and mental activity can increase the effects of CFS; rest does not ameliorate the symptoms.

In the spiritual realm, the counterpart to CFS is known as “acedia.”  Though some texts equate acedia with the sin of sloth, it seems that many monastics preferred to refer to it as the “noonday demon.”  Acedia is a spiritual listlessness that makes it difficult for a person to engage in his/her daily tasks.

Maybe the readers have experienced acedia.  I know I have.  There were times I felt that I should be busy about something; but I couldn’t bring myself to read, write, pray, practice music, or undertake any kind of manual labor.  Acedia creates an uncomfortable feeling of being spiritually disconnected.

Isaiah’s words may or may not be a way to cope with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but I think they are a very positive way to deal with acedia.  “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength.”  Or as Paul would say in his letter to the Philippians, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. (4:13)  In times when we are dry, listless, and lifeless, we turn to the Living Water of Jesus Christ to find renewed energy and strength.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent, 12-6-16

Today’s Readings:

A voice says, “Cry out!”
I answer, “What shall I cry out?”

Preaching is a tricky business.  There are times when homilies or sermons seem to almost write themselves as the Word of God is read.  But then there are times—and sometimes this can happen several weeks in a row—when there is no inspiration or any sign of infused wisdom.  Sometimes a homilist feels that he has crafted a masterpiece only to find that the result sounds flat, even to himself.  But that is somewhat balanced by those times when the preacher feels he has failed in his duty only to have someone say after Mass, “Father, you said exactly what I needed to hear; I thought you were talking directly to me.”

“What shall I cry out?”  That’s not just Isaiah’s question; it should be the question of everyone who presumes to speak in the name of God.  Please pray that God will guide all those who have been called to the ministry of preaching.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday, 2nd Week of Advent, 12-5-16

Today's Readings

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

I happened to notice that "The A-Team" is in reruns on the TV these days.  I was never a big fan, but I did take a certain delight in Hannibal Smith's signature statement: "I love it when a plan comes together."

I have a soft heart for plans that come together--like songs or movies that turn out just the way I think they should.

God has a plan for humankind.  We see that plan expressed during Advent through the words of the prophet Isaiah and, today, in the words of Psalm 85.  No movie or book comes to its happy ending without some adversity along the way.  The violence that humans perpetrate against each other might make us wonder when--or even if--the Kingdom of God will ever come to fruition.  Will there ever be "peace on earth, good will toward men"?

At one point in the gospels, Jesus tells his disciples that they are blessed because they see and hear what the ancients hoped for but never saw or heard.  In the same way, we may never see in our lifetime the fulfillment of Scripture's promise. 

But God has a plan--a plan of kindness truth, justice, and peace.  It has been promised, and I believe it will happen.  And I love it when a plan comes together.

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday, Advent Week 1, 2016

Today's Readings

Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness. 

The official name of the our Franciscan order is the Order of Friars Minor--or as we often refer to ourselves: "Lesser Brothers."  The implication is that we are called to associate with the lowly and, in humility, to not seek  power over other people.  In reality, though, it doesn't always work that way.  When I was a principal, my role gave me a certain level of authority over the teachers.  As a pastor, I shared in the authority of the bishop.  Now that I am the Director of Development for the Sacred Heart Province, I have authority over my staff and can make decisions that affect our daily operations.

It is sometimes uncomfortable to have a position of authority and to cope with the responsibility that comes with such a position.  Still, I am somewhat envious of the Twelve who were given "authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness."

I think of my family members who are battling serious medical conditions.  I know people who are chronically depressed.  A former parishioner/student has been struggling with neuroblastoma for over a year.  More and more of our friars are being diagnosed with cancer.  The members of my CUSA group all have chronic conditions.  It would be great if I had the words and the power to make them all whole.

But I don't.  That authority has not been given to me.  And so, like many people, I feel helpless to do anything else but pray and to offer support.  Until such a time as I am given authority over unclean spirits and disease (and, really, that seems unlikely at this point), I turn daily to the Divine Physician and ask Him to do what I cannot do--to speak words of healing over those who are not whole.

[I apologize for missing several days.  Recent travels have thrown me off schedule, and I have been trying to get caught up both in the office and at home.]

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