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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 20, 2009

It breaks my heart when I encounter someone who has low self-esteem and hardly thinks that he or she matters much to others. Far too many people think that they are of no account in the grand schema of the world. Their self-worth is contained in the way that he or she carries oneself throughout the day or in one’s manner of speaking or the way that a person counts him or herself unworthy of doing something that is meaningful or enlivening. I am often moved to tell that person that he or she is a very significant person and has incredible worth to God and to someone else, but I know the person still has to discover it for oneself. I want this good soul who stands in front of me to feel God’s embrace. I’ll always err on speaking words of affirmation that he or she seldom hears.

I think of the two major characters in the reading today – Israel and Mary – and wonder how they must have felt. Israel, in the Book of Micah, is a small, insignificant area surrounded by most important and strong clans and nations. Micah announces that within her territory, the great King of Israel will be born – one who will unite all the people into the great kingdom of Israel. Likewise, Mary, a poor unwed, peasant girl, is asked to be the mother of this long-awaited Messiah. “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” she asks. She hints around at her unworthiness.

We Jesuits do believe that God has a preferential love of the poor – in whatever form that poverty takes. We see how God blesses the lowly Mary and exalts her. We hear how she is blessed by Elizabeth as she visits her kinswoman. We understand that from the smallest, least significant of us, the revelation of God’s greatness can shine forth. Christmas is for us.

We receive into our lives the One who can re-create us and redeem us so that his grace will grow within us. He comes, primarily not for the wonder of little children, but for the grown up, mature understanding that we need him so that he can make meaning of the desperate chaos of our lives. Believe that he comes because he wants to be with you- every single one of you – even those who feel as if they are the least significant among us - and to delight in the joy of this union. Believe that he comes personally for you. Come and behold him. You will find him beholding you in an unforgettably warm, tender love.

Quote for the Week

Handel’s Messiah has encapsulated the joy of Christmas in “For unto us a child is born,” which is taken from Isaiah 9:1-6 that we hear at the midnight Mass.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.

For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.

They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.

His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: As we make our final preparations for Christmas, we first hear the joyful song of desire in the Wisdom book, the Song of Songs. On the 22nd, we hear the comparison of Samuel’s birth to that of John the Baptist. The next day, we hear Malachi’s prophecy that a messenger has been sent to prepare the way and then we find ourselves situated in David’s tent as he laments that he has a comfortable dwelling while the Lord of Hosts needs a house in which to dwell. All the Old Testament readings point the way for the Lord to dwell among us.

Gospel: In Luke’s poetic infancy narrative we encounter Mary setting out to meet her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who is about to bear John, the forerunner of the Lord. Mary’s song of praise spontaneously leaps from her mouth when Elizabeth asks if she is with child. Elizabeth births John and the muted Zechariah is able to speak once again in order to name his son. Zechariah then sings his canticle about John that speaks of the dawn of a new age for Jerusalem and the faithful ones. The birth of the Lord will be met with great joy that will be contained within the hearts of many.

Saints of the Week

Sunday: O Clavis David, O Key of David…Break down the prison walls of death and lead your captive people into freedom.

Monday: O Oriens, O Radiant Dawn…Shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Peter Canisius, Doctor, worked as a Jesuit spiritual director in the Germanic nations during the Counter-Reformation. He developed catechisms in light of the Council of Trent.

Tuesday: O Rex Gentium, O King of all the nations…Come, and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Wednesday: O Emmanuel, O God-with-us…Come, and save us, Lord our God.

John of Kanty was a polish priest who taught theology at Krakow University in the 15th century and was known for his simple lifestyle and devotion to those who were poor.

Thursday: ERO CRAS, The first letter of each O Antiphon read backwards forms the sentence, Tomorrow, I will come, signifying that Christ our Lord is born to us on Christmas Day. This eve is filled with a patient stillness as we await the birth of our Savior.

Friday: The Nativity of our Lord. The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ represents the victory of light over the darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, sunlight begins to increase each day while the darkness decreases. This day marks the incarnation, the gift of God to us of his only Son who was to become the Messiah.

Saturday: Stephen, First Martyr, is one of the seven deacons named in the early church by the Twelve Apostles to minister to the Greek-speaking Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem. He was stoned by an angry mob and condemned to death by Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as Paul. Stephen is the first recorded martyr to the faith.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 20, 1815. A ukase (proclamation of law by a Russian tsar) of Alexander I was published banishing the Society of Jesus from St Petersburg and Moscow on the pretext that they were troubling the Russian Church.
• Dec 21, 1577. In Rome, Fr. Juan de Polanco, secretary to the Society and very dear to Ignatius, died.
• Dec 22, 1649. At Cork, Fr. David Glawey, a missionary in the Inner and Lower Hebrides, Islay, Oronsay, Colonsay, and Arran, died.
• Dec 23, 1549. Francis Xavier was appointed provincial of the newly-erected Indian Province.
• Dec 24, 1587. Fr. Claude Matthe died at Ancona. He was a Frenchman of humble birth, highly esteemed by King Henry III and the Duke of Guise. He foretold that Fr. Acquaviva would be General and hold that office for a long period.
• Dec 25, 1545. Isabel Roser pronounced her vows as a Jesuit together with Lucrezia di Brandine and Francisca Cruyllas in the presence of Ignatius at the church of Sta. Maria della Strada in Rome.
• Dec 26, 1978. The assassination of Gerhard Pieper, a librarian, who was shot to death in Zimbabwe.

Christmas meditation

The church in the Office of Readings for Christmas Eve asks us to ponder the little, tiny child who was born for us to live among us. These lyrics were composed in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.

What child is this, who lays to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

The following Scripture passage is from 1 John 1-3 that we pray in Evening Prayer II on Christmas Day.

This is what we proclaim to you:
what was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked upon
and our hands have touched – we speak of the word of life.

This life became visible;
We have seen and bear witness to it,
and we proclaim to you the eternal life
that was present to the Father
and became visible to us.

What we have seen and heard
we proclaim in turn to you
so that you may share life with us.
The fellowship of ours is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

Happy Christmas to you! And Blessings to all!

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