Monday, December 31, 2012


For all but a few of us, most New Year's resolutions get packed away with the last of the Christmas decorations. By Epiphany our behavior and the whole New Year are just as tarnished as they were before January 1st.

The problem with most of our resolutions is that they are too safe, too sensible and too self-centered. We resolve to make tiny cosmetic changes in our lifestyles -- but refuse to consider restructuring our lives and changing the paradigms by which we live. Saint Luke's single story about the boy Jesus offers us an example of what it would mean if we were to transform our lives by making the ultimate resolution, the mother of all New Year's resolutions, the resolution that ends all resolutions -- to declare that from this day forward we will be "about our Father's business."

Joseph and Mary, their friends, neighbors and relatives, all made the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. But as soon as the allotted time for the holiday was over, they hit the road -- anxious to get back to all the chores and responsibilities that filled their lives. Joseph, a craftsman working with stone and wood, undoubtedly had projects awaiting his attention. Mary would have had the hundreds of time-consuming tasks it took to keep her family fed and clothed. Like most of us at the end of an extended vacation, they were probably looking forward to getting back to the comfortable familiarity of their own hearth and home.

But the young Jesus refuses to let his relationship with God be regulated according to some prearranged, culturally imposed schedule. Instead of going along with the return-to-business-as-usual attitude, Jesus answered the most important call of all -- to be about his Father's business.

What would it mean if we were to act in a similar fashion? What would it mean to live, not according to human expectations or cultural patterns, but according to what God required of us? What does it mean to be about God's business, rather than other people's business, or even other people's definition of God's business? Jesus discovered at this early age that answering God's expectations can get you in trouble -- even with your own family. In fact, focusing on God's business may put an unexpected crimp in the family business."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holy Family

H/T to The Deacon's Bench for this video story.

It take 12 minutes to watch this beautiful video about a remarkable teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, Jeffrey Wright. It is inspiring to encounter during the Feast of the Holy Family. Here is love, pure love.

Parental advisory: keep a Kleenex nearby and be prepared to hug your kids like crazy. Then be prepared to watch it again and send it to everyone you know.

The Holy Family

When we speak of the Holy Family, we speak of a family that struggled and suffered, like so many of us.

But, this family also knew profound hope.
They trusted completely in God. They call all of us to that kind of trust. And they stand with us. In our own time, they stand beside all who worry, who struggle, who search, who pray.

The Holy Family stands beside parents anxious about their children, worrying for their welfare. They walk with immigrants and refugees separated from those they love. They walk with teenage mothers and single parents. They console the prisoner, the outcast, the bullied, the scorned — and the parents who love them. And they offer solace and compassion to any mother or father grieving over the loss of a child.

This Christmas, they weep with the parents of Newtown and Sandy Hook. The Holy Family shares our burdens. But they also uplift us by their example. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were never alone. They endured through the grace of God.

They prayed. They trusted. They hoped. And in all that, they found peace and strength.
We might ask ourselves where we can find that peace, that strength, in our own families, in our own lives.

We find an answer in Paul’s beautiful letter to the Colossians.
This passage that we hear today is sometimes read at weddings. Like Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, it speaks eloquently of love.

But Paul wasn’t writing about romantic love. This letter we hear today is about how to form a healthy and holy Christian community. And from his words, we can draw lessons about how to form a healthy and holy Christian family. Put on compassion, Paul tells us. Kindness. Lowliness. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. And love.

It is all that simple — and all that difficult. I’m sure the Holy Family had moments when living those virtues seemed hard, or even impossible. But they did things most of us don’t. They listened to angels. They dreamed.

And they gave themselves fully to God.

They made of their lives a prayer.

If you find yourselves overwhelmed, just look toward the crèche. There is our model for living: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Those three people were often overwhelmed, too. Yet, in a time of anxiety and difficulty, persecution and tragedy—a time very much like our own–they showed us how to be people of faith, people of forgiveness, people of love.

They showed us, very simply, how to be holy.
H/T The Deacon's Bench

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Sunday Word

The Feast of the Holy Family

No matter how broken, how guilty, how unforgiving we are of even ourselves, God forgives and he loves. Even in failure he is there for us and in Him we can go on. We are unique and our relationships are also, but at the same time some things are alike. I’m sure parents of adolescents can identify with the disappearing Jesus and the “where were you?” “what were you doing?” The typical answer is “nothing!”  So today we see a short glimpse of the “Holy Family” even they had some foibles. But God is perfect and He gives a lot of forgiveness and love.

Therein lies the real basis of a family and relationships. To commit to each other requires love and patience and forgiveness but all that is always in God. He has to be the foundation for family. The commitment of two people requires that they give themselves freely to the other. God is discovered in this way and a couple grows and shares and spreads that love.

We see that kind of love in the Gospel today. Mary and Joseph’s relationship was certainly unique and they had the most unique special needs child in history. Imagine their dilemma between letting go and protectiveness. His “Father’s business” and growing up. The angel told them they would have a son but they had to figure the rest out themselves. Like all of us they did their best. I suppose that today we are celebrating their best.  God is good to us what further needs do we have?

Friday, December 28, 2012


"God is my salvation ... my strength and my might; he has become my salvation."

John the Baptist didn't have a sweet and soothing message for those who were waiting for the Messiah, and we can't expect this season to be any more comfortable for us than it was for stable-bound Joseph, Mary and their baby boy. Since the time of Christ, children have been thrust into dirty, dangerous and desperate situations. Jesus was born in a war zone, one in which the carnage was catastrophic. Herod's "Slaughter of the Innocents" caused the daughters of Rachel to weep with inconsolable grief. The Holy Family, homeless and no visible means of support, fled to safety in Egypt and lived as aliens with their child in a strange land.

"God is my salvation ... my strength and my might; he has become my salvation." 

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Christmas means we have been surprised by God.

Sometimes, like Herod, we are surprised by fear.

Sometimes, like the Magi, we are surprised by wisdom from the ordinary.

Other times, like Mary, we are surprised by angels unaware.

Many times, like the shepherds, we are surprised by joy.

But always, like planet earth on that silent night long, but not that long ago, we are surprised by a God who is full of surprises. Are we open to receiving God's surprises, which are around the corner of every hour of every day?

The love of Christ: That is the source of all Christmas surprises and true Christmas joy. It is the simple center of the holy day/holiday which has become increasingly elusive as our festivities have become more frenzied and our lives more frantic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Christmas marks the moment when, in order for our relationship with him to be restored, God sent his Son into the world so that we could have forgiveness, a fresh start, and membership in the family of God. Connecting with God required a costly death.

Truly relating, really connecting with those around us, will require a death as well. It might be the death of your pride, of your comfort zone, of your expectations or demands, of your perfect schedule, of your desire for somebody else to go first, or of your need for someone to see your side and say "you're right." What will have to die in order for you to do some costly connecting?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For unto us a child is born.

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.
Pope Benedict
Christmas - 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Marianist Monday

For over twenty years the Marianists have visited with students from both of our high schools at the Queen of Peace Residence in Queens Village, NY. This year was no different as we continued the Year of Faith.

Our visit this year was to bring cheer and joy to all those elderly poor. 

While carols were sung and gifts were shared the highlight of the visit was the participation in the annual Lessons and Carols Service in the Chapel.

Without a doubt are Christmas will be significantly different because of our visit with the elderly.

We certainly gained more than we gave.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Sunday Word

Our readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent speak of holy women.

We meet Elizabeth, a saint of patience, a saint of eternal waiting, a saint of Advent. She was a woman up there in years, presumed to be barren, when God brought a child into her life. And at this moment in the Gospels, she is really the first to encounter Christ. She was the first to welcome Jesus, by welcoming his mother.

And, like so many others in the centuries that followed, she was changed by her encounter with Christ. Elizabeth felt the child in her womb leap – and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

She sensed a miracle standing before her. And she was moved to ask the question that so many others would ask through history:

How does this happen to me?

How does this gift happen to any of us? How are we so blessed to receive God’s grace in our lives?

We can only wonder.

And wonder is the perfect sentiment for these last days of Advent. The Incarnation, God becoming man, is the most wonder-filled act in human history. At midnight tomorrow, we will sing of it, and in the middle of a dark winter night, we will all be ablaze with light, overflowing with music and joy.

And it is happening because of Mary—the other heroic woman in this scene. Mary, the unsuspecting, Mary the pure, Mary the trusting, Mary the determined. Mary, the one who had the courage to believe what was unbelievable, and in her believing undertook with this visit the great act that would be fulfilled in Bethlehem.

With her visit to Elizabeth, she brought Jesus into the world.

Pope Benedict has called the Visitation the “first Eucharistic procession”— Mary as living tabernacle, carrying Christ to Elizabeth for adoration.

But there is also something else at work here. With this visit Mary showed for the first time something so fundamental to our faith: we are meant to bring Christ to others. When Mary answered the angel’s call, she knew what she had to do. She had to share this, share him, with the world. That was her great vocation.

That, too, is ours. In fact, both these holy women are models for us.

Lights Please.....

As we approach Christmas Day– and especially for anyone out there who's gotten sidetracked by the "holiday" frenzy – let's all take a minute to breathe, look just ahead, and get ready where it counts most....

Friday, December 21, 2012


The first Christmas card, as we know it, ws designed in 1843 by the artist J.C. Horsley. It measured about the size of a postcard. From this design, one thousand cards were lithographed and hand-colored.

The first Christmas card shows a Victorian family celebrating the gentle spirit of the season around a table. They are making a toast to the health and happiness of their family, friends and nation. Flanking the scene of Christmas cheer and celebration is the carrying out of the biblical concern for "clothing the naked" and "feeding the hungry."

The first Christmas card did not set too well with most folk. It contained too much revelry. And the reminder of benevolence was too graphic and hard-hitting.

Christmas cheer is not a frothy, frilly emotion. A glance at this week's gospel text reminds us that John the Baptist's message was hardly music to the ears. John's denouncement of the crowd as a "brood of vipers" is not a customary Christmas greeting. Yet its very harshness forces us to re-examine the nature of "advent." It is grounded in the "good news" of Christ's coming.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Jesus was born in a stable -- a small, cramped, congested, messy place. A new-born baby was out-of-place, out-of-sync, amid the dusty animals, the mucky straw, the sneaking vermin, the spilled grain, all the usual smells and sounds and sights found in a stable. But the mess is the message of Christmas: There is no stable, no place in our world or in our lives that is too poor, too remote, too outcast, too "other," too messy, that God cannot be found and formed in us there.

As Christmas fast approaches, we will all find ourselves at wits' end, running out of time, out of patience, out of money, and maybe out of ideas. The demands of work and the responsibilities we bear refuse to "take a holiday" and keep the pressure on, despite our longing for some simple Christmas cheer.

Don't be fooled into thinking that God cannot draw close to your life, to your heart, just because your schedule seems "too busy" for Christmas. If your are approaching near overload, open up to it, exalt in it, and be willing to let the Spirit of God "do great things for you."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent PEACE

Wandering through the darkness of daily life, we stumble and fall, hurt ourselves and others, crash into obstacles and leave a trail of debris behind us. We long for a lantern that will light our path, a beacon to guide us and lead us home. And so we light a candle -- an Advent candle. This is done on the first Sunday of the Advent season, and again on the second, third and fourth.

Each Sunday we light another candle and say, "Restore us, O God." Restore our hope. Restore our peace. Restore our joy. Restore your love.

We know we need restoration.

Psalm 85 begins with a line that was spoken by the people of Israel, back in their homeland after a time of exile in Babylon: "Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob." The people are thankful that their long captivity is over, and that God has forgiven their iniquity and "pardoned all their sin."

But still, something is missing.

The emptiness they feel is very similar to the void that remains deep within us. We know how fortunate we are. We appreciate God's favor toward us. But we wonder why everything we thought we wanted still isn't enough. We wonder why good fortune in this life gives us everything but a sense of peace.

Saint Augustine had it right when he said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

True peace will escape us until our restless hearts begin to rest in God. Serenity cannot be granted by a grade, a job, a large home or a fancy car. It comes to us as a gift from God, and it includes forgiveness of sin and the restoration of our relationship with the Lord.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent HOPE

The insistent message of Advent is -- don't settle for less than the full power of God Emmanuel, God always with us. Don't allow Advent to be only about picture-perfect scenes or sicky-sweet, candle-lit windows. Advent is about the desperate need for forgiveness and the restoration of hope through a loving relationship with God. Anything less than that doesn't speak to the urgent, heartfelt cry of God's people.

We need God who is our hope -- in person, concrete and tangible. Not a message, not a text, not even just a star in the sky.

Advent is filled with candles, stars and lights. We don't simply want the trappings of Advent; we want a hopeful sense that we're okay, that there's a future, that God is with us, that's there's more to life than tinsel.

"Come to save us!" we cry out to God. And God does.

Defenseless as a baby, God reflects love and invites compassion.

And that is a message of hope.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent JOY

Like Lent, Advent is a season of preparation, self-examination, repentance and restoration. The culture around us celebrates the "joy" of Easter and Christmas, but it's really more a general sense of warm and fuzzy feelings connected to holiday memories with family and friends.

Real joy, however, only comes after we've been willing to allow God to deal with the brokenness in our lives, which is what the preparatory seasons of Lent and Advent are designed to do. We can't really express the joy of being found, in other words, unless we are first able to name the fact that we've been lost, our identity compromised, and much has been squandered on things that have no ultimate value. We light the candle of "joy" during Advent because we want to recognize that the coming of Jesus is the climax of all of history and, in his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has redeemed that checkered human history not only for us, but for the whole world. That's why the babe in the manger is the ultimate discovery. When we were lost, God himself came to find us!

Thank you, thank you, Lord!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


On the third Sunday of Advent, the penitential purple of the season changes to rose and we celebrate “Gaudete” or “Rejoice!” Sunday. “Shout for joy, daughter of Sion” says Zephaniah. “Draw water joyfully from the font of salvation,” says Isaiah. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says St. Paul. “Do penance for the judge is coming,” says John the Baptist.

Wait a minute. What’s that stark, strident saint of the desert doing here, on “Rejoice Sunday”? His stern call to repentance does not seem to fit.

Believe it or not, John the Baptist is the patron saint of spiritual joy. After all, he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus and Mary. And it says that he rejoices to hear the bridegrooms voice.

Now this is very interesting. Crowds were coming to hear John from all over Israel before anyone even heard a peep out of the carpenter from Nazareth. In fact, John even baptized his cousin. This launched the Lord’s public ministry, heralding the demise of John’s career.

Most of us would not appreciate the competition. The Pharisees and Sadducees certainly didn’t. They felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity. But John actually encouraged his disciples to leave him for Jesus, the Lamb of God. When people came, ready to honor John as the messiah, he set them straight. He insisted that he was not the star of the show, only the best supporting actor. John may have been center-stage for a while, but now that the star had shown up, he knew it was time for him to slip quietly off to the dressing room.

Or to use John’s own example, he was like the best man at a wedding. It certainly is an honor to be chosen as “best man.” But the best man does not get the bride. According to Jewish custom, the best man’s role was to bring the bride to the bridegroom, and then make a tactful exit. And John found joy in this. “My joy is now full. He must increase and I must decrease.”

The Baptist was joyful because he was humble. In fact, he shows us the true nature of this virtue. Humility is not beating up on yourself, denying that you have any gifts, talents, or importance. John knew he had an important role which he played aggressively, with authority and confidence. The humble man does not sheepishly look down on himself. Actually, he does not look at himself at all. He looks away from himself to the Lord.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Sunday Word

Zephaniah is one of those under-read and under-appreciated prophets. He kicks things off with a brutally honest reminder to the children of Israel of their need to turn away from the other earthly “gods” they’ve been going after and to say goodbye to the other signs of success they’ve been striving for. If they fail to do so, Zephaniah says, one day all the temporary joys they’ve been chasing will fade away, and it will be time for a nasty but necessary day of judgment.

But in the closing words of his God-given message, Zephaniah offers an incredible picture, a beautiful glimpse of real, biblical, God-style joy. He speaks of a day when God no longer has to deal harshly with his people. He speaks of a day when the judgment for pursuing false joys is no longer held against those who have been made right with God through the grace of God. He writes of a day when a new King of the people will have entered the midst of the people and through his righteous rule taken away all their fears. Zephaniah speaks of a day when people’s greatest shame will be transformed into shouts of praise because every sin they ever committed against God, every issue in their past that they once thought separated them from God, will have been dealt with and remembered no more by God.

There will be a day, there will be a time, Zephaniah says, when men and women will “sing aloud” and “shout,” where they will “be glad and rejoice” with all their hearts. This true, authentic joy will well up not as a result of piling up enough money or achieving certain levels of success. No, this lasting joy will flow from the fact that God has found his joy in us, in you!

Real joy, biblical joy, comes from knowing without fail or falter that “The Lord your God is with you” and that “he is mighty to save.” It comes from knowing that God himself delights in you and that “he will rejoice over you” — yes, little old, corrupted you and me — “with singing."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross
1542–1591 • SPAIN
One of the greatest figures in the Catholic church, St. John of the Cross is also one of the greatest poets in Spanish literature.

Born near Avila, Juan de Yepes Álvarez entered the Carmelite order when he was 21 and moved to Salamanca, Spain, where he studied philosophy and theology at the university. At 25 he was ordained a priest.

Around this time he met St. Teresa of Ávila, who inspired him with her work in reforming the Carmelite order, seeking to restore its original contemplative character. St. John worked with her for the next ten years, establishing and helping administer monasteries around Spain.

A group of his superiors, trying to counter their efforts, jailed him when he was 35. Though a higher Carmelite authority approved his work, he was imprisoned for nine months and treated harshly. Out of his tiny cell came his most famous work, The Spiritual Canticle. After nine months he escaped and continued his work. He was canonized in 1726, and in 1926 he was made a Doctor of the Church.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Holy Mary, who under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe
are invoked as Mother by the men and women of Mexico and of Latin America,
encouraged by the love that you inspire in us,
we once again place our life in your motherly hands.

May you, who are present in these Vatican Gardens,
hold sway in the hearts of all the mothers of the world and in our own heart.
With great hope, we turn to you and trust in you.

Hail Mary, full of grace, 
the Lord is with thee, 
blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. 
Holy Mary, Mother of God, 
pray for us sinners, 
now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 
Our Lady of Guadalupe, 
Pray for us.

His Holiness Benedict XVI
Prayer before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Vatican gardens. May 11, 2005.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


As we all know, when highway traffic slows, tempers rise. Aggressive driving, road rage, ordinary citizens morph into sociopathic, ranting, deadly drivers -- we've all seen it or felt it. What can we do?

Whatever we do, we know that adding capacity won't solve the traffic problem, nor will it solve the time problems we have in our own lives. Adding more capacity, more time, will not treat the basic issues of how to unclutter our lives and prepare for the coming of the Lord.

In fact, there are a few possibilities to explain the congestion and frustration in our lives as we enter this Advent season. We might consider that as we start packing to meet God, we may be on the wrong highway. God may not be found on the road of materialism that we're traveling. If we find that our lives are full of gridlock, it's because we're on the same road as everyone else. Time to get off that road and on another.

Even if we are on God's road, it may need some smoothing out. It is very easy for seasonal and distracting potholes to create a bumpy ride on the way to meet God.

John the Baptist is the voice crying out in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

John the Baptist is announcing Good News -- the Messiah is almost here, so get ready. Preparation is not a matter of tough highway building but of repentance. Grace makes this possible.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Marianist Monday

I like to think about Mary, my spiritual mother, during this Advent season. She is the one who became the mother of Jesus and brought the first Advent of the Christ into our history. She is the active agent cooperating with God in the plan of salvation history.

As we prepare for the event of Jesus' Birth at Christmas, we are more interested in participating in his mysteries through prayer and the liturgy, namely, the paschal mysteries. In the spirit of Mary we are more interested in participation than in a commemoration of a past event. That moment is gone, but our faith has brought about a birthday of Christ each day during Advent and the rest of the year through the mysteries of our faith, especially the Paschal Mystery of Jesus.

We turn to Mary who is the person who did this for the first time. She was born in the soil of Judaism and listened to the words of Isaiah, our leading Advent prophet. She probably was pondering over some of the same passages that we do during this season. She full-heartedly agreed with her YES to God and thus gave birth to the baby Jesus, first through her faith, then through her flesh.

She will continue to pray and ponder over this event in her heart while participating as a faithful disciple of Jesus in all the events of his life from conception, to birth, to early years and ministry and then to his death upon the Cross. She is a pilgrim with him on his trips to Jerusalem including his last memorable and fateful one. Yes, Mary is a great model for this season of Advent. Blessed is she who believed that the word of the Lord would be accomplished in her. Amen.
Fr, Bertrand Buby, S.M.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Sunday Word

John the Baptist is an acquired taste, like roquefort. He’s complex. He is an amalgamation of unanswered questions: Is he a zealot acting out the Exodus as a kind of political comedy sketch? Is he the leader of a rival faith community, a serious threat to the fledgeling Jesus movement? Is he a kind of Enkidu figure—a fugitive of our collective consciousness from the epic Gilgamesh—who crawls out of the wilderness, learns our ways well enough and then attempts to wrestle and pin our society to the ground, only to be admired briefly and then destroyed?

Whatever John is, he’s not easy to put on a cracker. He’s ancient, aged and moldy. He’s tragic. Yet each Advent, he’s here.

In the Luke version this year, he has no camel hair, locusts or honey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t smell them. We pastors can smell them whenever we take on the whole enterprise of Christmas as our private, personal task.

I remember one Christmas Eve, when I was trying to round up a live donkey. I remember another, I tried to learn how to play the guitar in a day so I could lead “Silent Night.” (Our organist was suddenly sick. The song has what, three chords? How hard can that be?) I’ve tried for 25 years to keep way too many people spiritually afloat during the holidays. How about I visit every sad, sick, lonely, grieving person on Christmas Eve and take them a dozen of my homemade cookies, still warm from the oven?

Sometimes during Advent I try to give birth to the savior of the world, all by myself.

But here comes Big John, just in time. We don’t see him, but we can smell him, and that smell means this hors d'oeuvre party is about to get interesting. First, we preachers are going to admit that we can’t make the rough places smooth and the crooked places straight all by ourselves anymore. As John shouts, “All flesh shall see that this salvation comes from God.”

I like the sound of that.
by Emory Gillespie

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Immaculate Conception

Preparations for the celebration of Christmas begin (much to the chagrin of many) in the United States with the end of the festivities associated with Halloween and conclude abruptly on December 25th. Because of the hegemony of American culture and the shortness of historical memory, this current practice might leave the impression that the Christmas Season has always followed this pattern. However, this is not the case.

The commemoration of the Nativity of Christ actually begins liturgically with the Season of Advent, in which the faithful are encouraged to prepare themselves through penitential and other pious practices for the coming of the Lord and the celebration of his birth. Therefore, two realities are being stressed as the Church prepares for Christmas—the revelation of his Incarnation as an event that takes place in real history, and the anticipation that this revelation will happen mysteriously again as Christ, who as the Eternal God and therefore Lord of History, brings all the events and circumstances of time and space to their proper fulfillment.

This elevated theology has given way culturally to a kind of fantasia on winter themes, gift giving, and celebration of child-like wonder. The commemoration of the Nativity of Christ is situated somewhere in the midst of all this with the profound theological and eschatological revelations giving way to a birthday party for “baby Jesus.”

The Season of Advent is also a kind of umbrella that shelters a host of saints' feast days and solemnities, which used to receive a great deal more attention and became over time intimately associated with the celebration of Christmas (even though many of these personages were centuries removed from the Nativity of Christ). Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucy come to mind in this regard, two saints for whom special customs still endure, though in attenuated forms. The feast of St. Stephen and the cruel deaths of the Holy Innocents are both remembered in carols ("Good King Wenceslas," "The Coventry Carol") associated with the Christmas season, though these references are likely lost to many who would hear these songs today.

The recent influx of Mexican immigrants to the United States has enlivened the cultural commemoration of Christmas with the vivid piety and celebratory events associated with the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, providing public displays of Catholicism that have not been seen in the United States since the last great wave of Catholic immigration in the late nineteenth century.

Celebrations of the Christmas season differ in terms of their beginning and their emphasis on particular saints. Though the official start of preparation for the universal Church commences with the first Sunday of Advent, popular piety may mark other days as proper for the beginning and the end of the Holy Season. Spain offers one example of this, as preparations for Christmas begin with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and end with January 6th, the day that liturgically commemorates the visit of the Magi.

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was formally defined as an article of the Catholic Faith in a rare exercise of the charism of papal infallibility by Pope Pius IX in 1854. This dogma professes that Christ’s Mother was exempt from the deleterious effects of original sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother. Popular belief in the Immaculate Conception precedes its formal definition by centuries, which is evident in a Spanish villancico that originates in the sixteenth century:

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it
God kept our lamb
From the wolf
God kept our lamb
From the wolf
The rabid wolf
Wanted to bite her
But Almighty God knew
How to defend her
He decided to make her
Impervious to sin
Even original sin
This the Virgin did not have.
Riu, riu, chiu…

The lamb is a stand-in for the Mother of Christ while the wolf is the devil. The river that lies between them represents the manner that Christ’s Mother has been set aside by God for her mission in such a way that neither the evil one nor sin will have any claim over her. The song is meant as a kind of popularized catechesis on the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. As if to place the song in the context of the seasonal celebration leading up to Christmas, the lyrics shift their focus from the Immaculate Conception to the Incarnation:
The one who is born
Is the grand monarch
The patriarch Christ
Dressed in human flesh
He has redeemed us
By making himself small
Although he is infinite
He made himself finite
He comes to give life
To those who were dead
And to repair
The fall of all
This Child is the light
Of the day
He is the lamb…
Riu, riu, chiu…

In the poetic imagery of the song, the lamb, Mary, begets another Lamb, Christ, who is the King of Kings—the Lord God. In his birth, the Lord makes himself “small," meaning that he comes into the world as a child and in doing so effects what should be impossible—the infinite becoming finite, God becomes a man! It is interesting, the song does not isolate the Immaculate Conception from the proper reference point that reveals the full impact of its marvelous truth—the Incarnation of God in Christ. The Immaculate Conception, though about Christ’s Mother, is really about Christ, and consideration of its mystery inevitably leads us to him:

Now we have
What we desired
Let us go together
To present Him gifts
Let each give
His will to him
Because He became
Equal to us.
Riu, riu, chiu…

The odd vocalization “riu, riu, chiu” is meant to evoke the call of the nightingale—a bird whose call is traditionally associated with a lament and who serves as a muse to poets. Yet here the song of the nightingale gives way to exultation, and the “muse of the poets” provokes the faithful to sing out the poetry of God’s Incarnation in Christ, a divine poem that has as one of its most important stanzas the mysterious revelation of the Immaculate Conception of Christ’s Mother.

Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Saint Ambrose

St. Ambrose of Milan (+4 April 397), a titanic figure of the late 4th century who changed the shape of Church and State relations for a thousand years, who brought much of the wisdom of Greek writings to the West, and who helped to bring St. Augustine of Hippo into the fold.

Would that we might see his like again in the great capitals of the world.

There are too many interesting things about Ambrose for them all to be shared here, but we have space for a couple.

There is a famous moment recounted by St. Augustine in his Confessions (Bk VI) about visiting St. Ambrose.

Augustine walked into the room where Ambrose was sitting and saw him staring at a book! Ambrose was reading and not even moving his lips!

Augustine was so impressed by this that slipped silently out of the room without saying anything to Ambrose, lest he disturb him.

Augustine was very impressed by Ambrose and had wanted to talk to him about various problems and doubts. Because of all the people pressing around Ambrose, who was tremendously important and sought after, Augustine was never able to get near him in public.

 Fr. Z from wdtprs

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Street Compliments?

When was the last time you told someone how you really felt? The SoulPancake Street Team hits the streets to inspire some kind words...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent in 2 minutes

Advent is a time of "soul-craft" - a time of growing a soul that can give birth to the presence of Christ in our world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent - the art of communication

In today's world people are talking or communicating more frequently than at any other time in human history. Back in the day, if you wanted to talk to someone you might a) pick up the phone, b) write a letter, c) record a message on a little spool of tape, or a cassette and put it in the mail or d) actually go visit someone and talk face-to-face.

Today, few people use these options to make a human connection anymore. Yes, we talk on the mobile phone, but many prefer to text. And yes, we'll visit in homes with friends, but drop-in visits are a thing of the ancient past.

This is not a bad thing necessarily. Take a look at people on the street, or in a crowded room, or even on the bus. Chances are at least 50 percent or more of those people have some kind of phone in their hands, and they're texting, showing someone photos, reading e-mails or listening to music. And then many can carry on several conversations simultaneously; multiple messages pop up, demanding instant responses and immediate attention. Cryptic replies are sent out at a feverish pace. With texting, sending instant messages, and e-mailing, there are increasingly numerous ways for people to communicate.

If our "face time" with one another is dwindling, our time spent one on one with God is on the endangered list. Our busy world with endless to-do lists challenges the notion of the importance of quiet time with our Creator.

Advent invites us to turn that life-draining pattern upside down. Advent announces that God is not willing to have a distant, arms-length relationship with us -- God's beloved creatures formed in God's image. Advent is all about God's willingness -- even insistence -- to be vulnerable, accessible, reachable, and attainable. Advent breaks down the barriers between the created and the Creator.

God does begin the process with a message. There's the silent, distant memorandum of the star in the sky. Yet there it is, an open invitation to anyone who will receive it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Marianist Monday

Mary’s obedience flows from her faith. It is not a consequence of “what she knows,” but rather of the certainty of her faith. She is not obedient because she knows God’s plan ahead of time. She obeys because she trusts, she confides and she hands herself over to the Son. Her main support is her faith. This would not be the case except for a certain obscurity of knowledge which is inherent to us all.

The mystery to which the believer hands himself over is only illuminated when one enters into it; and one can only enter into it – as we have seen in Jesus – through the door of obedience. Faith gives rise to the desire to penetrate the mystery. 

Obedience permits the mystery to occur, to be made manifest, to come to Light, be- fore our very eyes. Luke admirably shows us this process of faith-obedience-revelation in Mary when he presents her as “astonished” (2:48), “marveling” (2:33) or perplexed (2:50) in the face of what was happening to her, even allowing her to be reproached by her Son for her ignorance (Lk 2:49), but “guarding all these things in her heart” (2:19, 51).

“Be it done to me according to your word” – In Obedience with Mary (April 2009)
Manuel J. Cortés, SM,  Superior General of the Society of Mary

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Advent Sketchbook


Pope Benedict XVI (from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives)
From the moment of his birth, [Jesus] belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms…. Perhaps one could say that humanity’s silent and confused dreams of a new beginning came true in this event—in a reality such that only God could create…. Not only do [the three Magi] represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him.

Father Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.

Advent means a readiness to have eternity and time meet not only in Christ but in us, in our life, in our world, in our time. If we are to enter into the beginning of the new, we must accept the death of the old…. I begin to live to Christ when I come to the ‘end’ or to the ‘limit’ of what divides me from my fellow man: when I am willing to step beyond this end, cross the frontier, become a stranger, enter into the wilderness which is not ‘myself,’…where I am alone and defenseless in the desert of God.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent - Come

The following prayer was posted by John Birch of on the Light for the Journey Facebook page a couple of days ago.

The Advent story
of hope and mystery,
a kingdom
of this world and the next,
and a king
appearing when we least expect.
Heaven touching earth,
the footsteps of the divine
walking dusty roads
as once they did in Eden,
and a people,
searching for a Saviour
and walking past
the stable.
Open eyes and hearts,
that this might be
an Advent of hope to the world.