Thursday, December 13, 2018

Advent 7

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"Keep watch," "stay awake," "be prepared" is Jesus' way of saying - don't "worry," "stew," or "fret" about what you cannot control.

It seems with today's technology we almost have the world at our fingertips. We can contact someone almost anywhere with a call, a text, or even a twitter. It used to be if you were waiting for an important phone call, you had little choice but to sit by your phone all day waiting for it to ring. Then came "call forwarding," and you could program your phone to ring your anticipated call through to a different number. You could be in either of two places and still get your call. With a cordless phone, still more freedom of place was possible. You could go outside and still not miss the call you were waiting for. Finally, with the cellular phones and paging systems, spatial freedom is complete. By being properly prepared and equipped, you can go virtually anywhere and do virtually anything and still not miss that phone call. Any place can become every place.

Jesus sort of encourages the "cellular-connected" Christians of their age. The on-time man working in the field and the on-time woman grinding grain at the mill looked just like their unprepared counterparts. They were busy laboring at their daily tasks, apparently wholly focused on the jobs they were doing. But they had a "cellular connection" to the Messiah, and when the Messiah called, they received the message and gladly took the invitation.

To be cellular Christian today does not rely on any pricey piece of technology. The "cells" that must keep us attuned to Christ's frequency must be every cell of our bodies. If our bodies can become receivers, open to the vibrations of the Spirit, if our souls can amplify the signals we pick up and transmit them to all with we come in contact, then we have become cellular Christians who are living timely lives.

Every Christmas, the time is ripe for meeting Christ anew. Don't fall asleep! Keep watch for his presence among us!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

As Marianists we have a context for talking about Mary in many different ways and using many different images that situate her within a culture and a moment in time. But how do we as Marianists begin to share who she is for us today, beyond cultural boundaries? One source is Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas.

On December 12, 1531, ten years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, God sent his mother to a Nahua Indian named Juan Diego. This event marks an interruption in history that completely transforms not only one person, but also that of an entire nation. This event sparks the awakening of a new Christianity, local theology and spirituality that still captivates the religious imaginations and hearts of millions throughout the world. It is not just an event of popular religious devotion but also an official feast of the universal Church. The Guadalupe event continues to transform and evangelize five centuries later.

The story of this marvelous event centers on Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego. At the moment when Juan Diego encountered the Mother of God, there are no words exchanged. The heavenly music, singing of birds, and the cosmic symbols that surrounded her beautiful mestizo image engaged Juan Diego in a divine way that was respectful of his Nahua culture.

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s indigenous beauty; the manner in which she was poised—standing before the sun and crescent moon, draped with a mantle of sky and stars, and carried by an angel—and her posture depicting her compassion, respect, and God’s love extended communication beyond mere words. The language of Juan Diego’s culture was (and still is today) symbolic.

The moment of the first miraculous apparition was one where the Dark Virgin’s symbolic vesture speaks more than any words need be spoken. The Good News of salvation is proclaimed and experienced, respecting the importance of culture at this event. The message of God’s incarnation transcends any cultural limitations and was completely understood by Juan Diego during this encounter.

Upon a small hill known as Tepeyac, near present-day Mexico City, Our Lady of Guadalupe asked Juan Diego to request that the local bishop construct a church on that apparition site. She tells Juanito that she wants to be present with all her love and compassion for “all the people of this land.”

Juanito goes to the first bishop of Mexico, Juan Zumarraga, and is kept waiting, treated with suspicion, and finally told to bring a sign from this heavenly lady. During Juan Diego’s long journey home he finds his uncle, Juan Bernardino, dying of a disease introduced by the conquistadors. This hinders his return to the Lady of Tepeyac for the requested sign. He takes a different route to locate the priest that his dying uncle had requested.

La Virgencita appears along the different route and assures him that his uncle was already healed. Juanito is to return to the top of Tepeyac, pick the flowers of all colors there, and bring them to her. He does as he is told, and La Virgencita arranged the rare flowers on Juan Diego’s maguey cactus fiber cloak—tilma—and sent him to visit the bishop with these flowers that would be the sign. Flower and Song are the two symbols that come together that express harmony, truth, and allow one to communicate with the divine. For the Nahua people, flowers were essential to understanding any truth that is of God.

When Juanito unwraps his tilma before the bishop and assistants, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is imprinted on it. His tilma is what is enshrined at the world-renowned basilica in Mexico City, the site that honors The Blessed Mother of God’s request.

The Guadalupe event is a tradition of living faith; Mary, the Mother of God, embraces the color and symbols of a particular culture so that she can bring comfort to a people.

Rudy Vela, SM

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Advent 6

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Advent, therefore, is the time to prepare ourselves for this Prince of Peace by being at peace with ourselves, our soul, that is often in anxiety, anguish and without hope. For this, one needs to start with oneself.

Pope Francis recently said we should ask the Prince of Peace to pacify our souls, so we can meet Him. We are so used looking at the souls of others rather than our own.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent 5

I hope your advent is off to a great start. If it is not, there still time to pull yourself together and make an effort.

Today's advent meditation gives us a focus on what advent is all about. So, take a few moments and refocus your advent.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Second Sunday of Advent

The central figure for today is John the Baptist. He proclaimed, that “one who is more powerful” is on the way. So, he began to get himself ready.

He moved to the wilderness. Lived with the animals. Ate grasshoppers. Dressed in itchy clothing.

John the Baptist was hard-core. He learned there was - and is - a better way. Earnest disciples today do not consider the blood-and-guts approach of John the Baptist to be normal. Instead, we look to Jesus, the “author and perfecter of our faith,” and we “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and we run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Jesus discipleship is humbling and counterintuitive. John the Baptist felt unworthy to assume even the most humble task of removing the sandals of Jesus, as was the custom in those days when dining socially.

John teaches us that discipleship is not about us, not about the self, and that is so different. The focus is not on improving ourselves, enhancing our discernment, listening to our inner this or that. We are not traing for the gold, we are training for God.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conceptions is a significant feastday for the Marianists. To the left are Anna and Joachim, parents of Mary. Pictured with Joseph is Mary with her son, Jesus. A dove nearby reminds us that Mary conceived Jesus of the Holy Spirit. Mary is venerated as the Immaculate Conception, she who was herself conceived immaculately, preserved from original sin, in the womb of her mother, Anna. 

The Preface prayer from the Mass for this holy day gives us a short lesson in the theology of the Immaculate Conception:

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.You allowed no stain of Adam’s sin
to touch the Virgin Mary.
Full of grace,
she was to be a worthy mother of your Son,
your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning,

and the promise of its perfection
as the bride of Christ,radiant in beauty.
Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth your Son,
the innocent lamb who takes away our sins.
You chose her from all women
to be our advocate with you
and our pattern of holiness.
In our joy we sing to your glory
with all the choirs of angels:
Holy, holy, holy ...

Friday, December 7, 2018

Advent 4

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During this season of preparation we are flooded with images of moving from darkness to light, from slumber to awareness, but both negative and positive instructions.

On the one hand, we’re advised to be aware of the destructive behaviors that do nothing but “gratify the flesh,” rather than nurturing the spirit. The apostle Paul uses words like “darkness,” “reveling,” “drunkenness,” “debauchery,” “licentiousness,” “quarreling” and “jealousy.”

One would hope that as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child, we would understand how inappropriate these actions are for anyone who wishes to visit the manger at Bethlehem.

On the other hand, we are encouraged to “put on the Lord Jesus” — a clothing metaphor which is a favorite of the apostle Paul, who was quite aware that there are too many wardrobe malfunctions among the people of God. “Put off, therefore,” he would say, “the garments of unrighteousness.” And he says, “Put on the Lord Jesus.”

Christ Jesus is our Advent Person. He is the Advent Reminder. This season is about him. It is not about us. It is a time to “wake from sleep” and “lay aside the works of darkness” because “the day is near.”

Paul advocates a different approach — put on “the armor of light” and “the Lord Jesus Christ." In other words, Paul urges his readers to get prepared for a life lived in and for the kingdom, rather than to continue in the sins of the past. Rather than behaving in a way that sends out the signals of sin, Paul argues that we “put on the Lord Jesus” and thereby send out signals of righteousness.

So, as we go through this Advent season, let’s give some serious thought to the signals we’re sending.

Advent 3

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Self-righteousness is not the same as Christian righteousness. When we show Christian righteousness, we read the Bible because we want to get closer to God. We try to follow the rules because we are thankful for Christ’s forgiveness. And we pray because we have a deep desire for a relationship with God.

Righteousness is all about right relationship. To be in right relationship with the people around us, we search for the image of God in each and every person — black and white, rich and poor, young and old, immigrant and native-born. We act as though Jesus is hidden inside the least of our brothers and sisters, because we remember that Jesus said that we are really serving him when we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger and clothing to the naked . Maybe one of the reasons that Jesus came into the world as a weak and vulnerable baby was to remind us of the importance of caring for the least of our brothers and sisters.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Advent 2

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“He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land,” God says. “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

There it is, the righteous Branch, springing up for King David.

In these verses, the prophet is talking about the leadership of the future — that’s the meaning of “righteous Branch.” This branch will emerge out of the family tree of King David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, the one who was — despite his flaws — “a man after God’s own heart.” With his focus on justice and righteousness, this leader will truly restore the fortunes of the people. 

A Bible scholar says that his focus will not be simply on “abundance, productivity and partying.” Instead, he “will rightly render the affairs of the people and will lead them in their worship of the Lord.”

This new leader is, of course, Jesus Christ, born into the house and family of David. He is the one who teaches us righteousness, a word which is best defined as “right relationship.” Jesus wants us to show justice and righteousness in our relationships with each other and in our relationship with God.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Advent 1

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The prophet Jeremiah says that “a righteous Branch” will spring up for Jesse’s son, King David. This branch is a colorful symbol for the season of Advent, and we can all picture it in our imaginations. Deep black roots, sturdy brown branches, tender green shoots — very much like what the prophet Isaiah says, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” 

We sing about it at Christmas, “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, from tender stem hath sprung, of Jesse’s lineage coming, by faithful prophets sung.”

The “righteous Branch” is so easy to see, and beautiful to sing about. But what in the world does it mean?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Marianist Monday

December, 2018

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

If you had me for senior religion, you will no doubt remember that we sang each day as our form of prayer before class. I have to admit that, when I first decided to introduce the idea of singing our daily prayer – to sophisticated, “been there, done that,” “too-cool-for-school” seniors, no less – I was a bit apprehensive. To my pleasant surprise, however, the seniors have embraced the opportunity to sing. Our repertoire includes “Christ Before Us” during Ordinary Time, a variety of Christmas carols for Christmastide, and “Behold the Wood of the Cross” during Lent. Each day during the Advent season, we sing one verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

 As Advent (and Christmas!) rapidly approach, I thought that I would spend some time with you meditating on a favorite verse of mine from that December classic:

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Consider, for a moment, the humble key. It is a relatively small item. Few of us would number a key among our prized possessions. Generally, we take our keys for granted. And yet, every now and then, we lose a key or our entire keychain, and when we do, we are driven to distraction. We will turn the house upside down to find that missing key. We’ll search every room in the house, or the entire car – until we find that key.

And why is that? Because, despite its small size, the seemingly insignificant key wields considerable power. It unlocks doors for us. It enables us to start our cars. Without the right key, we are denied entry to the places to which we want access. Whether the keys we use are notched slivers of metal, or magnetized cards and fobs, or even those colorful wristbands with “Mickey ears” that guests to Disney resorts hold next to a sensor, keys get us places, places that we really want to get to.

The Key of David – Clavis David, in the original Latin – is Christ himself. Born of the lineage of King David, the Promised One of Israel, Christ is the key to our salvation, the key to our fulfillment, the key to our happiness, and the key to a life worth living. As I have often remarked in these monthly reflections, we regularly mistake other keys for the key to true happiness. The key to a shiny new car, the key to a safe-deposit box, the key to a corner office on Park Avenue or Chicago’s “Miracle Mile,” the key to a palatial house in a tony neighborhood, the key to the liquor cabinet in our homes – all of these offer the false promise of unlocking the door to happiness. Sadly, none of them do. There is really only one key to that prized possession, and that is Jesus Christ. As Saint Pope John Paul II was so fond of telling the crowds that flocked to him all over the world, when you are searching for your true happiness, “look to Christ.”

Let’s step back and consider another question for a minute: If Christ is the key to our ultimate fulfillment, if it is in His Kingdom that we find our true happiness, then how do we lay hold to the keys to the Kingdom, so to speak? I’d like to make one simple suggestion; I’d like to offer one key to a deeper relationship with Christ. That key is prayer.

Like the simple key, prayer is something we typically take for granted. Perhaps it occupies little or no time in our lives. Even if we pray regularly, perhaps prayer deserves more of our time. But, like a key, prayer is something small. It’s easy to overlook. We can usually think of scores of things we’ve “got” to do before we have time for prayer.

Yet, when we’ve lost our prayer life, just as when we have lost a key, we are locked out. We are locked out from spiritual communion with Christ, we are locked out from the quiet and calm that “make safe the way that leads on high,” and we are locked out from the “spiritual equilibrium” that “closes the path to misery.” Blessed William Joseph Chaminade insisted that “the essential is the interior,” and prayer is precisely the key to that “Interior Castle,” as St. Teresa of Ávila famously called it.

I am embarrassed to tell the story I am about to relate, because it reminds me of misplaced priorities that I still battle today. My first extracurricular assignment as a young teacher was moderator of the yearbook. I was thrilled. The yearbook was exactly the kind of big, attention-getting project that I wanted to tackle, and I was determined to bring the school’s yearbook to the next level. And that we did. We raised more money; added more pages; wrote more in-depth stories; and printed more high-quality, action-packed photos than ever before. I spent hours working on the yearbook every day, and even in the summer, as last-minute proofs arrived almost every day, to be turned around in twenty-four hours. The book was award-winning, but, because of the time I expended, oftentimes to 6:30 in “the afternoon,” I was frequently late for religious exercises, oftentimes absent from chapel, and typically nodding off when I was there. Clearly, this was not a healthy state of affairs for a young religious.

It took me by complete surprise (although, in retrospect, it should not have), when, after four years working on the yearbook, I was told by the director of the Community that this would be my last year as yearbook moderator. I was angry. My pride was wounded. I considered the decision completely unfair. And, now, looking back, I can say that this was probably one of the most salutary directives that I ever had to accept. It took me a while to do so, as you might understand, but, after a few months, I gradually did put my priorities in order. I started getting to chapel on time; staying awake during those early-morning Masses (still a challenge; thank God for the gift of coffee); and realizing over the course of many, many years, that the essential is the interior. You might say that I had found the key to my interior life and to happiness as a Marianist. Had I not found it, I certainly would not be writing you this letter today, and I probably would not have persevered in my vocation as a Marianist.

This Advent and Christmas season, we celebrate Emmanuel, a name that translates “God is with us.” God wants to come to us; this is His greatest desire. Yet, in a marvelous validation of our freedom, it is we who have the key to let Him in. Christ will not enter our lives uninvited. We have to turn the key and open the door. Prayer, even if it’s just ten minutes a day, enables us to do that. Prayer is the key that opens wide the door to Christ.

 “O, come thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home. . . .
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

On behalf of all my Marianist Brother,

Bro. Stephen

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Saint John Paul II National Shrine

The Spiritual Pilgrimage to the Saint John Paul II National ShrineThe Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC is dedicated to preserving the life and legacy of this great pope. The shrine has been an active ministry of the Knights of Columbus since 2011 and was designated a national shrine by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2014. (Credit: Photo courtesy of the national shrine.)

Saint John Paul II arguably had one of the most influential pontificates in Church history. It is, therefore, fitting that the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC is dedicated to preserving the life and legacy of this great pope. The shrine has been an active ministry of the Knights of Columbus since 2011, and was designated a national shrine by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2014.

This growing shrine welcomes nearly 64,000 pilgrims and visitors annually and boasts an impressive 16,000 square-foot permanent exhibit entitled “A Gift of Love: The Life of Saint John Paul II”, which contains moving videos, dynamic interactive displays, and personal artifacts of the pontiff.

The shrine also has a church and a chapel with floor-to-ceiling mosaics designed by world-renowned Catholic artist, Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, which enliven two of Saint John Paul’s teachings, his 1979 Redemptor Hominisencyclical and the “Mysteries of Light” added to the rosary in 2002. Another popular and sacred item at the shrine is a first-class blood relic that is available for veneration.

Visitors to the shrine will find both a memorable and spiritual experience - from the moving orientation video of the exhibit to seeing the unique liturgical garments Saint John Paul II wore during his visits to 129 countries and from the spiritually uplifting inner movement of praying in a church or chapel while surrounded by sacred art that pilgrims learn about in greater detail during a daily public tour.

But what also really makes the shrine appeal to families, men, and women of all ages is the active pastoral programs that foster the spirituality of Catholics within the region by teaching them how to apply Saint John Paul II teachings into their daily lives. 

Ken Balbuena

Saturday, December 1, 2018

St Andrew

Today's first reading for the Feast of St Andrew is an insightful outline of the role of preaching in God’s saving work. It states that faith comes from hearing but asks "how can they hear unless there is a preacher for them?" St. Andrew quickly came to the faith and then proclaimed to his brother, Peter - "we have found the Christ” – and he took Simon to Jesus. Later Andrew was involved in introducing the Greeks to Jesus.

Andrew’s example highlights things that are at the heart of preaching. Those that preach must realize how important their faith in Jesus can be to others. In preaching we are sharing the love, genuineness, and sensitivity of the Gospel with others. When we preach we are pointing the other person to Jesus and even usherin them gently into the presence of the living Christ. St Andrew certainly serves as a model for all these things that would assist in preaching the Gospel.

Saint Andrew, pray for the Marianists and for all those who preach the Gospel that we may have the zeal and love to speak appropriately of Jesus and the Gospel, as well as the expectant faith and prudent patience to trust Jesus to make himself real to people in God’s own timing and way, Amen.