Tuesday, December 31, 2013

6th Day in the Octave of Christmas, Cycle A - December 30, 2013

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
December 30, 2013       8:30am

Mary and Joseph have just presented the child Jesus in the temple, and Saint Luke carefully notes the presence of this woman named Anna.
This is the only place Anna is ever mentioned in the gospels, but in these few verses we can get some insight into her and a lesson for ourselves.

First, Anna has been widowed for many years – probably about sixty years.
She knows hardship and sorrow, but she has not grown negative or bitter.  
Instead, she comes across as a positive and peaceful person, a person of faith.
She has dealt well with adversity.

Second, Anna is old – 84 years-old – but she has not lost hope.
Sometimes age can take away not just the strength of our bodies, but also the strength of our spirits.
Sometimes age can cause the dying of our hearts and souls, but not with this woman Anna.
Luke says that she still gives thanks to God and looks forward to the one who will be a savior for God’s people.

And third, perhaps the reason for Anna’s peacefulness and hope is her perseverance.
The gospel says, probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it says “She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer.”
It’s easy to pray when we feel like it.
But Anna apparently just prays day in and day out, when she feels up and when she feels down, no matter what.
And that perseverance in praying has some payoffs for her: inner peacefulness, hope for the Savior, and now even insight to be able to identify the Savior in the child Jesus.

So, this simple, elderly, widowed woman is quite a good example for us.
Steady, faithful, persevering prayer – tending our relationship with God every day, no matter what – this can also help us too to have peace, to have hope, and to have insight into how God is present to us now and what God wants us to do.
Anna is a great figure for us.

Our thanks to Saint Luke for remembering her for us.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday of the 4th Week of Advent, Cycle A - December 23, 2013

Monday of Late Advent
December 23, 2013       8:30am

In the passage that is the background to today’s gospel, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to a child, a son.
Zechariah questions and does not at first believe.
And because of Zechariah’s response, Gabriel says that he will be mute, unable to speak until the child is born.
One commentator offers the insight says that rendering Zechariah temporarily mute was not a punishment, but rather an opportunity for him to reflect.
He needed to reflect on his faith and turn more to God.
He needed to come to trust God and God’s word more.

Then, in today’s passage, Elizabeth gives birth to the child and the issue of naming the child arises.
Elizabeth says that the child’s name will be John.
This is the name that Gabriel had told Zechariah to give the child, but there is no indication that Zechariah ever communicated this to Elizabeth.
So Elizabeth’s naming the child John is another indication of the hand of God at work.
Then, Zechariah confirms this name and immediately, he is able to speak.
The idea is that in the months of being mute, he has reflected and grown in faith.
His confirming the name John is in effect an act of faith on his part.
And now with faith, he is able to speak.

Perhaps we could also add that without faith, what we have to say is quite limited.
We are all in effect mute if we lack faith and trust in God.
With faith and trust in God, we have much to say and offer one another for the journey of human life.

They are my reflections on this morning’s beautiful gospel story.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle A - December 22, 2013

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4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 22, 2013      4 and 5:30pm
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


My Sleeping on a Homily

Often enough, probably once a month, I find it difficult to get the idea for my Sunday homily.

I work on the readings early in the week.  I ask myself: what are these passages, especially the gospel, saying to me and to us?

Sometimes it just doesn’t get clear to me.  And then what I do is re-read the Scripture passages and some commentaries before going to bed, maybe on Wednesday evening.

I just sleep on it.  And then, almost always, I wake up in the morning and it’s clear.

I am suddenly clear on the theme and I start forming the homily.  Sleeping on it has a way of helping me to see it as I had not seen it before.

Joseph Sleeping on His Dilemma

I wonder if what happens to Joseph in today’s gospel is something like this.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed.  In that culture, this was much more than engagement.

Betrothal meant that they were married but not yet living together.  In fact, betrothal could only be ended by divorce.

Joseph comes to know that Mary is bearing a child and he knows that the child is not his.  The law calls for Mary to be publicly shamed and punished.

But Joseph doesn’t want to see this happen.  So, he decides to divorce Mary quietly, without any accusation against her.

Still something tells Joseph to take time with his decision.  So he decides to sleep on it and see what he thinks in the morning.

He wakes up and now things look different and clear to him.  Something within him tells him to trust Mary.

Joseph actually feels that God is calming him and telling him to go ahead with the marriage.  And that is what he does.

Joseph Responds

Joseph is a great example for us here.

He doesn’t just react out of anger or hurt or pride.  He doesn’t react hastily.

Instead, Joseph takes time to be with the situation and take it inside himself.  He gets in touch with what God is saying within him.

He deals with the situation and does not avoid it.  He is decisive and not rash.

He is reflective, deliberative, and not reactive.  And, of course, the result is wonderful.

Joseph cooperates in binging God’s Son into the world.  What a wonderful example Joseph is for us in how he does this.

I have to ask: how much more of God’s presence and peace can enter our world if we respond to situations as Joseph does?  Step back – think – pray – sleep on it – get in touch with what God wants – what a helpful, positive process this is!

Joseph Respects

Joseph shows one more trait that I don’t want us to miss.

Joseph is a religious man and respects the religious law.  That law tells him to divorce Mary.

But, he decides to do this quietly.  Why?

Because he doesn’t want to expose Mary to shame and disgrace.  So, he is going to live up to his faith and his principles, but in a way that is not self-righteous and not destructive of Mary.

Well again, what a good example Joseph is for us!  Sometimes, in the world of religion, in Christianity, we think that we have to “stand up” for what we believe.

And sometimes, unfortunately, this “standing up” means a “putting down.”  Sometimes we equate “standing up” for something we believe is right with “putting down” others whom we think are wrong.

This is such an unfortunate approach.  It is not the way of Joseph or of Jesus.

It is not the way that Pope Francis is modeling and calling us to embrace.  Joseph’s example today, even in his original way of dealing with the situation, is a great example of being able to “stand up” for something and of respecting the other person at the same time.  

This is a helpful example in dealing with situations in our families.  It is helpful for us as persons or for our Church in dealing with issues in our society today.

It is, I believe, the way to bring God’s presence and peace much more effectively into our world.  That is the lesson of Joseph.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Advent, Cycle A - December 17, 2013

Tuesday of Late Advent (of the 3rd Week in Advent)

December 17, 2013       6:30am

Each of the four evangelists or gospel writers makes sure that their readers believe that Jesus is both truly God and truly human.
Today Matthew does this right at the beginning of his gospel.

He begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
By his genealogy Matthew situates Jesus in the history of human families.
And yet, he too reminds us of Jesus’ divinity.
When he comes to Joseph, he does not speak of him, as he speaks of all the other men in the genealogy, as the “father” of Jesus.
Instead, he speaks of Joseph as “the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus…”
In this subtle but clear way, Matthew highlights the uniqueness, the divinity of Jesus.

But still, Matthew carefully notes Jesus’ connection with humanity.
There are both admirable and not so admirable people in this genealogy.
So Matthew wants to deliver the message that Jesus is connected fully with our humanity, with human nature as it is.
It is our imperfect, vulnerable, sometimes sinful nature that Jesus identifies with and comes to heal by being born of it and sharing in it.

So, the genealogy of Jesus assures us that when our nature flees God, Jesus takes hold of us.
When we forget God, Jesus relentlessly reminds us from within that we do not and cannot live alone, just for ourselves, but that God is always and irrevocably with us.
When we get caught in harmful habits, Jesus points us to another and a better way.
In all these ways we are blocked from the downward spiral that can happen in human life – blocked by and because of Jesus.

It is this great truth – God who has entered fully into our humanity – this is what we prepare to celebrate at Christmas.