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Friday, December 31, 2010

End of Year Reflection

Tonight is New Year's Eve. Earlier today I walked the streets of Boston as the city prepared for its 35th First Night Activities. It has been years since I strolled the city's neighborhoods as I once regularly did. I recalled how I would walk 7 or 8 miles a day just to take in this beautiful city and to let my daily preoccupations settle down in my mind.

Today, I felt slightly melancholic. I realize that I walked the familiar route between 15-20 years ago. While some has changed, much more remained the same. I have lost my youth and I notice how much my mind has shifted in those intervening years. My priorities and concerns are different today and I am much more satisfied. I realize that, when my life does come to its natural end, the city and new generations will continue. I am far from the center of my universe as I once thought I was. My life has ceased to be about what I can do and is more focused upon what God is doing for the world.

My friend, Jim Martin, and I were talking a couple of weeks ago as he came to the retreat center where I work to guide a weekend retreat. I had just seen "White Christmas" for the first time and he watched it just before he left New York for Gloucester. He downloaded some songs from that album to his IPod. His favorite that weekend was "Snow." It is light and airy and the quartet sings it as if snowflakes are falling to the ground. It is remarkable.

My earworm, that is, the song I cannot get out of my head, is "Count your blessings." I admire Bing Crosby's voice for its smooth mellowness. "When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings." This song tumbles through the mind like a sheet of Bounce fabric softener in an empty washing machine.

As I end this year, I do count my blessings on this incredible year. I have mentioned before the ways I appreciate the graces I received in Australia. I'm grateful for the Jesuit community of Maine who supported me with their prayers and by forwarding my mail to me. I'm grateful for my province that prayed for me and wished me well through my last stage of formation. I'm grateful for my provincial for many reasons - and especially for asking me to assist the Jesuits by serving at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester.

We are a small community with four priests, a religious sister, and a devoted laywoman on staff. Our community is large because we have an extensive group of guest directors who form a tight network of spiritual directors dedicated to the Ignatian ministry. The community is ever expanding because more inquirers are making retreats for the first time at our place. I feel closer to my province because many Jesuits have connections through the retreat house.

Each time I give retreats or participate in the sacrament of reconciliation, I feel changed. My heart continues to have conversions. As I listen to others, I feel great compassion for them and I feel like I am their coach on the sidelines just urging them to give their all and do their best and to be satisfied with who they are. We have to learn to love ourselves. We are all very far from perfect and this is what makes us lovable. Each of the people I meet are striving to do what is good and right. It gives me great hope to come to know many people so well. I am honored that they entrust their stories to me.

God is good. God wants to be close to us and oftentimes we do not know how to let God come closer. Too often we sense that God is distant and does not have enough concern for us. Sometimes we suspect that God is absent. We think God is not trying or does not want to know us better. We try harder and we think we fail because God is not approaching us when we need God's closeness.

We forget that God chose to die for us. God took on our life in the person of Jesus. God has to have great love for us to want to do that. Being human can be painful. Christ has died for us, is doing so right now, and will choose to do it again and again and again because he wants us to be closer to God, the Creating One.

We pray with our head and our heart and we often make progress when we pour out our emotions to Christ. We have to know how we feel. We are to behold our feelings and present them to God who is beholding us. Once we have done that and settled down, we can then learn to listen to God's desire to tell us how he feels. It is good for us to pay attention to the emotions of God.

We have to be careful though. Our image of God has to be secure. Typically, if we have a poor image of ourselves, we have a poor image of God. We need to allow God to become multi-dimensional and alive for us. God will show his personal concern for us when we beg God to be merciful to us. We start by asking for this grace before each prayer we say. When we receive his mercy, no matter how broken we see ourselves, we become settled and secure in his steadfast, ever-reaching love.

It is good for us to ponder God's presence in our life. When we look at God more, and less at ourselves, the world somehow becomes different and more joyful. We will realize much hurt and sorrow remains, but we reframe our lives with a more constant assurance that God will not abandon us. God will make sense of our sufferings. We can live in greater freedom and contentment. We'll feel great empathy for the suffering of others, but we'll find that we come to a point of balance that holds all things steady. God is that fulcrum upon which we balance.

Tonight, I marvel at what God has done for me and for others. We've suffered loss and hardship and we see God's blessings in unexpected areas of life. As the years pass, we remember how quickly time moves - whether we are ready or not. Life moves forward. Let's do our best to move forward with as much gusto and joy that we can muster. May 2011 be a time when we meet God each day and we can celebrate how much we mean to one another. God is love and we need to choose to love each day so we can meet God. We can have a splendid time as we embrace the world God has given us.

Happy New Year and count your blessings each day.

Question: Middle East Christians

Middle East Christians have been suffering in recent history as they are advised to no longer publicly practice their faith. Once the ancient land had much greater respect for freedom of belief. Many have endured bombings and attacks and many face persecution when they want to worship at Mass. Have we as Christians done enough to support our brothers and sisters in the faith during their period of hardship?

The Titular Feast Day of the Jesuits

January 1st is the titular feast of the Society of Jesus, a day which honors Mary as the Mother of God and of the Society. It is a day which celebrates the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant boy.

The giving of the name "Company (Society) of Jesus" occurred in September 1540 when the early companions and Ignatius were founded as a religious institute.

Ignatius and two of his companions, Peter Faber and James Lainez, decided to go to Rome to place themselves and the other companions at the disposal of the Pope. A few miles outside of Rome at a chapel at La Storta, the companions stopped to pray. At this spot, Ignatius had the second most significant of his mystical experiences. In his vision, God the Father told Ignatius, "I will be favorable to you in Rome" and that he would place him with His Son. Ignatius did not know what his experience meant for it could mean persecution as well as success since Jesus experienced both.

While in Rome, the Pope joyously put them to work teaching scripture and theology and preaching. On Christmas morning, 1538, Ignatius celebrated his first Mass at the church of St. Mary Major in the Chapel of the Manger, which was thought to have the actual manger from Bethlehem. If Ignatius was not going to be able to say his first Mass at Jesus' birthplace in the Holy Land, then this would be the best substitute.

During Lent in 1539, Ignatius convened all of his companions in Rome to discuss their future. They had never thought of founding a religious order, but now that going to Jerusalem was out, they had to think about how they would spend their time as companions. After many weeks of prayer and discussion, with the Pope's approval, in which they would vow obedience to a superior general who would hold office for life, they would place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father to travel wherever he should wish to send them for whatever duties. A vow to this effect was added to the ordinary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Formal approval of this new order was given by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. Since they had referred to themselves as the Company of Jesus, their order became known as the Society of Jesus in English. Ignatius was elected on the first ballot of the group to be superior, but he begged them to reconsider, pray and vote again a few days later. The second ballot came out as the first, unanimous for Ignatius, except for his own vote. He was still reluctant to accept, but his Franciscan confessor told him it was God's will, so he acquiesced. On the Friday of Easter week, April 22, 1541, at the Church of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the friends pronounced their vows in the newly formed Order.

Poem: by Dylan Thomas

Every morning, when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep thy loving eye
On all poor creatures born to die.

And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I’m sure is always touch-and-go.

We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.

O let us see another day!
Bless us this holy night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say goodbye - but just for now!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Question: A Scrooge Experience

Scrooge exsts in each of us. Not everyone enjoys the Christmas season or Christmas Day. Sometimes we have experiences of being in a miserly mood during the holidays and sometimes we have events that bring us out of ourselves. Have you had a moment this Christmas, even if you are not a Scrooge, when your heart was moved to compassion or to greater joy?

Song: "Old Lang Syne" by Robert Burns in 1788

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne* ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

English translation

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Question: Do you have a favorite Christmas Song this year?

For Christmas liturgies, I am moved by the tune "Of the Father's Love Begotten." I have also heard a version of "Lo, How a Rose e'er Bloomin'" that is delicately melodic. Has a particular song been important to you this year?

Prayer: "Winter Night" by May Sarton

An hour ago that birch,
that pine were separated intervals,
a light-and-shadow world of line
against the washed-in mountain walls.
But who can say that darkness falls?

What was distinct now subtly changes;
The focus opens to include
some scarcely noted interchanges
between the mountains and the wood,
as, rising slowly where they stood,
the long dark comes to take the ranges.

There is no telling how starlight
falls across shining fields of snow,
and brings this darker kind of bright
that flows back through the afterglow
and floods the earth with vivid blue,
a different radiance called Night.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prayer: Sigrid Undset

And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans ~ and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit ~ and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused ~ and to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.

The Christmas Season

I really don't mind the commercial season's build-up to Christmas. Many of the more popular Christmas songs are songs in preparation for Christmas day. It seems fitting to hear them before Christmas and not after.

At the same time, it is nice to fully celebrate the liturgical Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas begins, not ends, on Christmas day. The Church also receives the "Gloria" back as it was omitted from use during Advent. It returns again when the angels in heaven sing "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (Glory to God in the highest). The angels sing at the nativity and in the presence of the shepherds who come to visit Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Certain Christmas songs make sense to be heard only in this season. Music is designed to help us appreciate the movements of our church year. It helps us worship aspect of God's work in and through Jesus.

Christmas is celebrated in the Octave (eight days), but also lasts until Epiphany, which is somewhere around January 6th when the magi from the East follow the star to Bethlehem to see the infant king. This part of Christmas makes up the Twelve Days of Christmas. This year, the Christmas season is truncated and Epiphany is commemorated on January 2nd.

In the Christmas Octave, we celebrate Stephen, the first martyr; John the Evangelist who was close to Jesus; the Holy Innocents who were slaughtered by Herod, the Holy Family and their flight into and out of Egypt, Thomas Becket, and Sylvester I. The rich readings highlight the major moments of early days of Jesus and his family.

In days of old, the Presentation of the Lord (February 2nd) and Candlemas concluded the Christmas season. Christmas ends and Ordinary time begins at the Baptism of the Lord, which is on January 9th. This means we have quite a few weeks of ordinary time before Ash Wednesday (March 9th) and Lent (March 13 - April 21st.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Prayer: Pope Benedict XVI

This is Christmas - the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than two thousand years has spoken to men and women of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the "great light" of Christ shines forth, bearing peace! Certainly, if we are to recognize it, faith is needed and humility is needed. The humility of Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord and, bending low over the manger, was the first to adore the fruit of her womb; the humility of Joseph, the just man, who had the courage of faith and preferred to obey God rather than to protect his own reputation; the humility of the shepherds, who received the proclamation of the heavenly messenger and hastened towards the stable, where they found the new-born child and worshipped him, full of astonishment, praising God.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Poem: Mary was Watching, Anonymous, Traditional Czech Carol

Mary was watching tenderly
Her little son;
Softly the mother sang to sleep
Her darling one.
Sleep, lovely Child, be now at rest,
Thou Son of Light;
Sleep, pretty fledgling, in Thy nest
All thro’ the night.

Mary has spread your manger bed,
Sleep, little Dove,
God’s creatures all draw near to praise,
Crown of my love.
Sleep little Pearl, Creator, Lord,
Our homage take;
Bees bring you honey from their hoard,
When you wake.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Mysterious Visitor

A great benefactor of Christmas night would descend to earth on the nights between December 25th and January 6th to bless both earth and people. This was originally Woden, the Norse God of the Wild Hunt, and his wife Berchta, the white Lady who spins destiny who road on a white house. Fires and blazing wheels starred the hills and houses were adorned to attract their attention.

As traditions grew, some ascribed various heroes to this role: Martin on a white charger, Nicholas and his reformed equivalent, "Father Christmas."

The Holy Family

December 26, 2010

The Holy Family is abruptly celebrated the day after Christmas Day as the liturgical custom is to celebrate this movable feast the first Sunday after Christmas. It may seem rushed for us to hear it so soon after the nativity and yet it helps us feel the rush Joseph and Mary experienced when they had to quickly leave for Egypt to flee Herod's wrath. And to further quicken matters, Matthew focuses more emphasis on the return of the family from Egypt to settle in Mary's hometown of Nazareth.

Matthew, as he is writing to an informed Jewish audience, is setting up Jesus to be the new Moses. Jesus is cast as the one to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet Hosea's words are recalled, "Out of Egypt I called my son," which also sets up the reminiscences of the Hebrew's release from bondage in Egypt during the great Exodus. The name of Jesus means "God saves" and God is continuing his saving action through the life events of Jesus. From the start Matthew's readers know that God will be acting to save his beloved people. Jesus is replacing Moses at the authoritative teacher of God's laws.

Jesus is also the fulfillment of God's wisdom. Sirach provides a warm set of instructions to a young person who is heading out into the world to begin his new life. He encourages him to take care of his parents in their old age. He is not to forget them or leave them without food, shelter or livelihood. Old age has its own vulnerabilities. God will remember a person's kindness to his or her parents and will erase one's debts because of one's other sins. Social justice begins in one's ancestral home.

The days of old age much like today. They too felt an ambivalence about care for elderly parents as we do. Many people today want to and feel an obligation to care for parents, but for many, timing isn't right. The sandwich generation is trying to launch their children into adulthood, just like Sirach is doing, while balancing the needs of failing or diminishing parents. We would want the first event to settle so we can take a breath before we care for our parents, but life doesn't happen that way. It is a struggle.

We find parents' needs to be much more enveloping than just physical diminishment. Emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs are to be fulfilled and we can't plug those holes all by ourselves. Dysfunctional family systems kick into gear and we feel vulnerable when power and authority is used in the same old ways that hook our behavior and responses. We want liberation from parents and we want some issues resolved and their diminishment further hooks us so that we can't even realize what we want for ourselves. This is our holy family. Paul's words are inspirational but we set them aside for a different day and time when ordinary life is more settled, and yet, it is never going to settle down in the way we hope it can.

It seems like we are much like the family of Joseph and Mary who leave Bethlehem to escape the wrath of Herod and then relive the Exodus from Egypt. We need our own liberation from slavery - not that we leave our parents and family systems behind, but that we become un-hooked by the events that can ensnare us. We can live in charity the way Paul describes authentic Christian life. We can love our parents and families with greater care and affection because we allow Christ to liberate us from that which holds us back. This is the bond of perfection. And remember: God is continuing to act - continuing God's saving work within you.

Quote for the Week

From Paul's third chapter in his letter to the people of Colossae:

Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John's poetic proclamation of faith is expressed: What we have heard and seen we now proclaim to you. On the day of the holy innocents, John tells us the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins. He then tells us that we are children of the light and those who show love to his brother or sister lives in the light. The new commandment is to love one another. Those who do the will of God remain with Christ forever. John reminds us that we are in the last hour of creation. We do not need to fear because we have been anointed by the holy One and we have all knowledge needed to remain firm in our faith. On New Year's Day, we hear the blessing of Almighty God upon the Israelites.

Gospel: On the feast of John the Evangelist, we hear the account of John running ahead of Peter to the empty tomb of Jesus when he came to belief. We hear Matthew's account of Herod's slaughter of every male child in Bethlehem under two because he feared the rise of a king after the Magi deceived him. On the fifth day of Christmas, Luke provides an account of Mary's purification and the presentation of Jesus in Jerusalem. His parents meet Simeon who blessed the child and declared the boy would become a symbol of the rise and fall of many and Mary's heart would be pierced by a sword. They then meet Anna, the elderly prophetess, who thanks God and speaks about the boy to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel. On the eve of the new year, John's prologue is read again - a synopsis of the entire Gospel that declares God has become human and will be rejected by many.

Saints of the Week

Monday: John, Apostle and Evangelist, (first century), is considered the author of the fourth Gospel, the Book of Revelation, and three letters. John, the Apostle, is the brother of James, sons of Zebedee - a fishing family. John was in the inner circle of Jesus with his brother and Peter. He is said to have died in Ephesus.

Tuesday: The Holy Innocents, (first century), were slain by King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the child who would become king of Israel. Matthew sets this account in contrast to the Magi from the East who revere the infant Jesus. This commemoration reminds us that the innocence of Christmas is short-lived because many forces in the world are opposed to the good that Jesus will do.

Wednesday: Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr, (1118-1170), became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 by King Henry II, but disagreed with him over the sovereign nature of the Church and was exiled. Upon his return, he clashed again with the king who developed disdain for Becket as a priest of low-stature. Shortly after his murder at Canterbury, pilgrims flocked to the site to venerate their saint.

Friday: Sylvester I, pope, (d. 335) became pope shortly after Constantine allowed Christians to freely worship in the Roman empire. He served for 21 years and established a pattern for church-state relations. During his pontificate, public churches were built for the first time. The Council of Nicaea was held during his time, but he was too old to attend.

Saturday: Mary, the Mother of God is celebrated on January 1st on the threshold of a new year. We honor her for being a mother to Jesus and therefore mother of God. By virtue of this title, she becomes our mother as well.

The Titular Feast of the Society of Jesus is celebrated on January 1st in commemoration of the naming of the boy Jesus. Jesuits honor the day as God gave Ignatius the name "Company of Jesus" for his new religious order. May we honor Christ through the company to which he gave his name.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 26, 1978. The assassination of Gerhard Pieper, a librarian, who was shot to death in Zimbabwe.
• Dec 27, 1618. Henry Morse entered the English College at Rome.
• Dec 28, 1802. Pope Pius VII allowed Father General Gruber to affiliate the English Jesuits to the Society of Jesus in Russia.
• Dec 29, 1886. Publication of the beatification decree of the English martyrs.
• Dec 30, 1564. Letter from Pope Pius IV to Daniel, Archbishop of Mayence, deploring the malicious and scurrilous pamphlets published against the Society throughout Germany and desiring him to use his influence against the evil.
• Dec 31, 1640. John Francis Regis died. He was a missionary to the towns and villages of the remote mountains of southern France.
• Jan. 1, 1598: Fr. Alphonsus Barréna, surnamed the Apostle of Peru, died. He was the first to carry the faith to the Guaranis and Chiquitos in Paraguay.

Happy New Year

Blessings upon your 2011. May the Lord richly bless you with many graces, give you lots of laughter and good cheer, provide you with good health and an enlightened mind that remains open to his love, and much prosperity. May Almighty God bless you: + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Poem: "It was to older people that Jesus came" by John Bell

It was to older people that Jesus came,
that they might know their place and learn his name,
and upset notions of whom God may choose
to change the world or celebrate good news.

And this they understand who have been told
of Sarah who conceived when she was old;
and Hannah who found joy despite her tears;
and Naomi who blessed her later years.

With Zechariah, zealous for routine,
ensuring what's to come is what has been,
they may disclaim an angel's message, too
declaring God intends to make things new.

Like Simeon, resigned to failing power,
old age might yet become the finest hour
for those who risk false claims that they're deranged
by saying God wants all things to be changed.

It is not in the manger Christ must stay,
forever lying helpless in the hay;
it is by older people Jesus is blessed,
who see God's restlessness in him expressed

Friday, December 24, 2010

Homily for Christmas Vigil (Isaiah 62 and Matthew 1:1-15)

Christmas is all about the birth of a tiny child who was born unto us. We marvel at his humanity as he enters into our world in an almost unnoticed way. Luke's narrative gives us an endearing portrait of the boy who was sent to save us from sin and death.

In the readings for the Christmas vigil, we get to pay attention to the one who goes almost unnoticed - the Almighty God who made Christmas possible. We get to look at the mind and heart of the God who decided to save us. This choice is made abundantly clear in the first reading when Isaiah can no longer remain silent because he is bursting with joy to tell the whole world about God's good deeds. Isaiah speaks triumphantly about this victorious God who will vanquish all foes. Even the Psalmist sings out his song about the goodness of the Lord.

What does Isaiah learn about God? He tells the Israelites, who are in exile in Babylon, (modern day Iraq), that God has not forgotten them. God has always warmly remembered the people and has remained with them though they suffered loss of land and loss of faith. God tells them that they shall return to their cherished land and will prosper there. They will rejoice once again because the Lord takes delight in them and wants to be with them. Isaiah uses wedding imagery to describe the close intimate bond God desires for his people. God wants to delight in his people as a bridegroom delights in his bride.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul tells us about the way God has saved the people, beginning with their ancestors in Egypt, through the reigns of Saul and David, and all the way through David's line to Jesus. Paul emphasizes God chose the people of Israel and exalted them. From Paul and Isaiah, we get the sense that God intentionally selected this particular action to redeem the world.

We see this choice deliberately laid out in Matthew's account of the genealogy of Jesus and his birth. The birth of Jesus did not come out of the blue. It was laid out in the mind and heart of God to bring fulfillment to all of Scripture so that we would know that not only God-is-with-us, but that God has always been with us. God has never forsaken us.

We see certain key aspects of this genealogy: it represents perfect numbers - 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Babylonian exile, 14 from the exile to the Christ. We also see that it is filled with ordinary people. Many of the men in this group are noble heroes but most are merely ordinary men who blundered along the way and tried to do the 'good.' The point of this is that God is going to enter the ordinary world of human frailties. We also see the names of many women in this list. This is curious as Palestine, like all of the Mediterranean world, and all the world for that matter, was a male-oriented world based on status and honor. Women were not regarded as significant in any way. But in Matthew's account, women are crucial for salvation history. One point to be made from this is that we are not to regard someone as worthwhile or worthless. We are to see the world through the eyes of God who finds delight in each person.

So, let us return to God's delight once again. It is easy for us to find delight in the child Jesus who is to be born for us. This is why we gather tonight - to keep vigil as we await the final mysterious episodes of his nativity and the great glory surrounding this event. It is easy for us to imagine ourselves holding the infant in our arms, taking in the fragrance and touch of his newborn skin, his gaping mouth waiting to be fed, his wriggly fingers and toes as they grasp the air. Our God chose to become human.

I work at a retreat director at Eastern Point in Gloucester and for all the retreats I have given over the year, I find that when people have contemplated the nativity, very many people will gaze upon the boy in wonder - and they don't pick him up and hold him. When I ask them why? They say that it never occurred to them to do so. So I send them back to the nativity scene to see if they are invited to hold him in their arms and usually something surprising happens with them. Many are invited by Mary and Joseph to share in the joy of holding their son, and it becomes an intimate moment as they fall in love with the child and delight in his birth. He becomes real to them and they can place their hopes alongside his parents' hopes for him. It becomes an unforgettable moment of contact to which a person can return. And their love for him grows and his love for them grows. And much more typically happens. We have to learn that our prayer can be multi-dimensional - that it can come alive and become personal. We are invigorated by our imaginative prayer and through the special moments of encounter that we wish can inform our prayer more frequently. In your Christmas prayer this year, don't be timid. Ask Mary and Joseph for you to hold their son in your arms. After all, God has given the son to all of us - and he wants to become yours. And we spend the time contemplating him.

One of the unusual aspects of Ignatian contemplation is when we gaze upon Jesus - even if he is an infant, all of our life rushes to the surface. We find that while we honor him, he turns around to honor us. Too many of us won't allow Jesus to honor us - because of our sins or guilt, because we don't have the best relationships with others, because we don't feel good enough. Thankfully, Jesus does not view us as we view ourselves. He wants to honor you. He wants to delight in you.

Perhaps this Christmas, we can pray that we receive Christ's desire to honor us and delight in us. Perhaps we can believe Isaiah's words when he says we will be called "My Delight" by God. Perhaps you can allow God to let you know, that in light of the darkness that we all have, that he sees you as a good and worthwhile person and that he desires to be an intimate part of your life. This is part of God's saving plan. Long ago, God set in motion the chain of events that allows us to be closer to God's very self. God gave us his son as a human so we can come to know him and to love him as we would a brother or sister. We have to let that love grow, and we have to let it grow because we accept God's love for us first.

In very truth, I tell you what I know. Life has its difficulties and we need hope. Moreso, we need to feel loved and cared for in indescribable ways. For each of you here, and for those who have not come, God wants to tell you very earnestly that he delights in you. Hold him in your arms this Christmas and let him hold you in his own. This is his gift that God constantly is giving. Accept him as deeply as you can. All of this, he did for you personally. He wants to show you just how much he delights in you. Merry Christmas.

Prayer: Come, Lord Jesus

O Wisdom, Lord and Ruler, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, King of the Nations, Emmanuel, Come, Lord Jesus.

Forbidden Christmas

Christmas was forbidden in England by an Act of Parliament in 1644. Fasting was to be observed and commercial markets were to be opened. Plum puddings and mince pies were condemned as heathen offering. The feast was restored when the Catholic Restoration took place in 1660.

Poem: "The Nativity of Christ" by Robert Southwell, S.J.

Behold the father is his daughter's son,
The bird that built the nest is hatched therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.

O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.

Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast's food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein that fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Prayer: The Easter Proclamation

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation, around God’s throne.
Jesus Christ, our king, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, o earth, in shining splendor,
Radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness is banished forever!

Gifts and Cards/Greenery

Gifts and Cards

In the Second Century, Tertullian wickedly commented on the Roman custom of gifts and cards at the January calends. This custom later shift from January 1st to Christmas Day.


In 13th Century England, grain was exposed on Christmas night so it may receive the favor of fertility. Greenery traditions grew from this practice. The Druids developed the mistletoe. The Christmas tree was first mentioned at Strasburg, Germany in 1605 and introduced to England and France in 1840.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hymns and Carols

Dramatic presentations were given in churches and basilicas to highlight the events of the nativity. Over time, lay people took parts of the presentations and began enacting them in more popular venues. The first to hymn the Nativity was in the Fourth Century. By the Eleventh Century, the Germans further modified the songs into shorter verses. Noels were sung in the Eleventh Century and the first Carols were sun in the 13th Century. Adestes Fideles is from the Seventeenth Century.

Prayer: The Incarnation by Avery Cardinal Dulles

The Incarnation does not provide us with a ladder by which to escape the ambiguities of life and scale the heights of the heavens. Rather it enables us to burrow deep into the heart of planet earth and find it shimmering with divinity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas message 2010

Yesterday morning, we had a Christmas party for the retreat house staff before they went home for their holiday vacation. It was a festive gathering as the retreat directors prepared a hearty brunch for the staff and their families. Throughout the morning of good cheer, light snowflakes blew delicately to the ground. A gentle wind made the flakes dance and swirl before landing on the bare ground. It gave us a preview of the white Christmas we long for. The purity of the snow makes us feel as if everything will be O.K. and that this Christmas will be like a happy day like the ones in our memories.

Throughout the day, the unexpected snow and winds picked up. Roads were slick and driving was somewhat dangerous. Fortunately, few cards were on the road. I think many people settled in early and enjoyed the safety of their homes. I drove a short distance to the blood collection center so I could give what may be perhaps a life-saving gift to someone.

Now I'm hunkered down in my room in a very silent retreat house. Guests are gone and I can hear the ocean's gentle roar. Occasional taps on my bedroom window tell me it is still snowing. A glance outside tells me the incremental snow will not pile up but that it will allow the earth to slumber. The lampposts cast a glow on the snow along the driveway that guides a person to the warm confines of this house. The presence of Christ is reserved in the adoration chapel directly below my room and his presence also recalls in my memory all the people who have graced the halls of this retreat house. We often say the prayers of retreatants are captured in our porous walls of wood. It thoughtfully holds their unexpressed longings. Though stillness deepens the silence, the stillness groans for its completion in God.

As I ready myself for Christmas, I am taking the time this week to appreciate the many stories I've heard during this past year. Finding time to listen to another's story is a profound gift to that person. I can't think of a richer way to live out my priesthood. I am enriched by a person's journey and his or her efforts to meet Christ along the way. With each story I hear, I find that I am more able to put on the mind and heart of Christ and to love the way God loves. I feel like I become a kinder, nicer man who can love more freely. I want to be in solidarity with those who are still searching, still seeking a more intimate relationship with God. I like who I am becoming.

I think of the powerful German movie "The Lives of Others" that shows the transformative power of listening. Lives are saved when we listen. We are forever changed.

I've listened to stories of many people across the world this year. I've developed a great affection for them and I want to honor them by remembering them well. I've directed many retreats and made my own 30-day retreat, which healed memories and opened my heart to Christ's abiding presence. I've grown in the ability to forgive others, and I hope this makes me more understanding and compassionate. I continue to be astonished with the miracles God has worked through my life. This week I intend to spend time recalling these significant events.

What do I want for Christmas this year? I want to hear more stories. The other day I passed by a shopping mall filled with thousands of people shopping for Christmas and I contrasted this with the 45 people residing at our retreat center. I want to hear their stories and I want them to hear the story of Christ. I want thousands more to come and spend time with the Lord. I want people to come and relate to God in a way that fits their unique style. May they discover Christ's presence in their lives as meaningful and satisfying.

I want people to be open to the possibilities of life. We close down too easily - often for petty reasons - and we shut out others with broad strokes. I want people to become enriched by others - by giving them positive regard, by honoring them and their positions (even if they fundamentally disagree), and engaging in a dialogue that allows a person to go beyond the words to deeper meaning and longings. We need this in partisan politics, in our fractured church, in our work and friendships, and in our broken families. When we give the gift of listening to one another, we create many new exhilarating possibilities for each other. We can see new potential and garner new hope when we allow Christ to liberate us from ourselves.

Our prayer can be flat or two dimensional. We think that our options are "either-or" instead of "both-and." We may go into prayer thinking that we want one thing and if Christ doesn't ratify what we want then he must not want us to have it. We lose sight of the fact that there might be ten other possibilities that we haven't yet considered. We can explore those nuances and dimensions that might further clarify God's will for us. Be open to new options that could surprise you. This openness will lead to greater satisfaction in your relationship with Christ. Conversations with your friends are not two-dimensional. Let your prayer conversation become as enriching.

Be bold enough to ask Christ for what you desire. As a child, you told Santa Claus what you wanted for Christmas and most of the time you received what you asked for. Try it out with Christ who is more generous than Santa Claus. It is not selfish or self-centered. Ask for what you want before your pray and check in at the end of prayer to see if you received the grace.

I want people to come to know Christ. He brings a lasting peace that we all want. He brings about a stillness within one's soul that helps make sense of all the swirling tumult of our lives. He brings about the real opportunity for us to be good and loving people who are generous and happy. He can do much more for us than we imagine.

Consider what our Christmas celebrations can be like if we can allow Christ into us as he would like. Our family gatherings could be meaningful, happy occasions marked with our listening to one another with respect and reverence. We will be delighted when it is reciprocated in return. If we listen for meaning rather than content, we become enriched and we develop a greater positive regard for the other. In honoring them, we become honored - and this is a tremendous gift.

If we can hear the stories of others and be moved by what we hear, imagine how our souls will be moved when the Word of God is born into the world and we listen to the soft voice that reaches out to us and tells us what we need to hear in the silent stillness amid the world's noise. Listening will fundamentally change you, and you will like it. I pray that I may grow in my ability to listen better to all who need to be heard.

Merry Christmas.

The Crèche or Crib

Francis of Assisi in 1223 brought about the crib as an extra-liturgical devotion. The presence of the ox and ass is due to a misinterpretation of Isaiah 1:3 and Habakkuk 3:2. However, since it was a lay devotion, it became popular in the faithful's imagination.

Prayer: Peter Canisius, S.J.

I feel sorry for those who despise religious discipline as a ponderous and unbearable yoke, because misguided by vain and childish fear they flee from inconveniences of evangelical poverty, taken up by the Apostles and the first Christians. Similarly they completely reject the yoke of religious obedience, which is better than all sacrifices, and, hindered by their own judgment, they recoil from the laborious struggle that spiritual people have to wage between spirit and body. For no athlete of Christ and no real spiritual person will be crowned without efforts.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What's in your heart?

What's in your heart as you prepare for Christmas? Is it filled with heaviness and ache? fear of family tensions? concern for others? a wish for your personal contentment? hope that Christ's new life can transform the world?

Popular Merrymaking

On December 25, 425, circus games were forbidden and a cessation of work was declared. Popular merry-making increased from the day to the Twelve Days of Christmas. Fasting was prohibited on Christmas Day.

Prayer: Coptic Liturgy

Hail Mary, the most beautiful dove,
Which carried the word of God for us;
We greet you with the Archangel Gabriel saying:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Hail, O Virgin, the glory of our race;
you have borne Emmanuel for us.
We pray that you will remember us before the Lord Jesus Christ,
that he will forgive us our sins.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Prayer: A Christmas Meditation

If, as Herod,
we fill our lives with things,
and again with things,
if we consider ourselves
so unimportant that we must
fill every moment of our lives with action,
when will we have time to make
the long, slow journey across the desert
as did the Magi?
Or sit and watch the stars as did the Shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary?
For each one of us there is a desert to travel,
a star to discover,
and a being within ourselves to bring life.

The Birth of Christ

Celebrating Christ's birth on December 25th has strong origins in Natalis Invicti, a popular solar feast. It was celebrated by a well-regarded solar cult in the Roman Empire and thrived under Aurelian in 274 C.E. Christmas was not an early festival of the church.

The first evidence of the date of Christ's birth is found in Egypt in the year 200. Clement of Alexandria claims that Jesus was born on the 25th of Pachon (May 20th) in the 28th year of the reign of Augustus. Others say it is around April 19th or 20th. Clement also said that Epiphany (and the Nativity) were celebrated by other groups on January 6th or 10th.

Other claims are made in Cyprus, Mesopatamia, and Armenia as well as Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome. In Rome, the civic holiday Natalis Invicti was already well established.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The word 'Christmas'

The word 'Christmas' was first found in usage in 1038 in late Old English as Cristes Maesse and Cristes-messe in 1131. As you would expect, it stands for the Mass of Christ. It is later found as a vigil preceding Christmas day in other languages: Kerstmis (Dutch), Dies Natalis (Latin), Noel (French), Il Natale (Italian), and German (Weibnachtsfest.)

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 19, 2010

It is a worthwhile practice to read Nativity accounts in the four Gospels as we approach Christmas. Mark's Gospel takes no time at all as there is no account. He plainly was not concerned with the origin of Jesus because the words and deeds of Jesus testified that he was the Son of God. That was all Mark needed. Matthew, the second Gospel written, answered questions his Jewish audience asked about the identity of Jesus. It was important for Jews to know that their Scripture was accurate and reliable. Therefore, Matthew placed the birth of the Messiah within the Davidic line. Luke's Gentile audience had even more questions about the nature of Jesus and wanted to know how his birth came about. Was he of divine or human origin? Luke provides the greatest detail of the nativity story. John's concern was to show an otherworldly Jesus as the eternal Word and Wisdom of God.

Paul, whose writings precede any of the Gospels, tells about the coming of Christ Jesus from the Scriptures. In it he writes that Jesus descended from David's line and has been established as the Son of God through his holiness and the resurrection. Through Christ we receive grace to become apostles who are instructed to bring about the obedience of faith. We are to become holy as Christ was holy and to mirror his obedience to God's will.

Matthew capitalized on the obedience of faith when he told the story of Joseph becoming the adoptive father of Jesus. Because he was a law-abiding, upstanding man, he chose not to bring dishonor upon Mary even though her child was not his own. His choice to do so remains a mystery.

Reconstructing biblical times of Jesus is useful so that we can get a glimpse of the society, customs, and traditions that shaped the actions of Jesus and the historical forces of the world around him. We get a better comprehension of the world in which he lived and the religious life that defined his contemporaries. Through this research, we arrive at meaning and new insights.

Many assign pious motives to Joseph for taking the pregnant Mary into his house. As much as we can reconstruct the honor-shame society of biblical Palestine, we will never know Joseph's motives for accepting Mary as his bride. We cannot assign motives for an individual's actions even if we reconstruct societal forces. We are only left with the fact that Joseph took the pregnant Mary as his wife through his own free will.

It is clear that Joseph's actions were good. He was a decent, honorable, loving man. His goodness brought him far beyond what his culture and religious observance asked him to do. His dream further impelled him to do what is good and right. After all, he admired Mary enough to want her for his bride in the first place.

The unseen force is God working through Joseph's goodness. In all our human frailties, God graces us to do good works and creates something new and beyond belief. God's desire to be with us was enough for Joseph to take a leap of faith - to be obedient to his call to fulfill the law by adding his loving, freely-made decision to it. God's loving presence affected Joseph's ability to love more fully. God was already with him before his decision and would have remained steadfast for him. God's presence helps us do what is good and right. Look where it led Joseph and look at what it did for us.

Quote for the Week

From Matthew 18:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Lord tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he will not do it. The Lord finally declares: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. The anticipation of the Lord's coming is captured in the Song of Songs who arrives like a lover springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. In 1 Samuel, Samuel's birth foreshadows the birth of Jesus. Hannah like Mary sings a song of praise. Malachi claims that the Lord will send you Elijah, the prophet, who comes before the day of the Lord. In 2 Samuel, the author tells us that the Kingdom of David shall endure forever in the sight of the Lord.

Gospel: Luke's account of the Annunciation begins the week as the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to request her participation in God's saving plan for all. She consented. A few months later, Mary set out to visit Elizabeth in Zechariah's house to tend to her needs in Elizabeth's last days of pregnancy. Elizabeth recognizes Mary's special pregnancy and the two rejoice. Mary sings her song of praise for God's miraculous powers. As John is born, Elizabeth is to name him. She tells her relatives that she will name him John, but they are surprised that he is not named after his father. Zechariah, who has been dumbstruck throughout her pregnancy, utters the words, "His name is John" and he is given his speech back. The precursor has been born; now the Word of God is to be born. Zechariah offers his song of praise (the Benedictus) that tells of God's promise of saving his beloved people.

Saints of the Week

Tuesday: Peter Canisius, priest and doctor, (1522-1597), was a Dutch Jesuit who brought the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola to the leaders and people of Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland. The Exercises converted people to have a deeper faith in Christ and many kingdoms returned to Catholicism. He became known as a Catholic Counter-Reformer. He wrote catechisms for both children and adults.

Thursday: John of Kanty, priest, (1390-1473) was a beloved teacher at Krakow University in Poland. He is Poland's patron because of the simple life he lived and taught and because he was concerned for the poor's welfare.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 19, 1593. At Rome, Fr. Robert Bellarmine was appointed rector of the Roman College.
• Dec 20, 1815. A ukase 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.

Happy Winter

Winter begins in the Northern Hemisphere (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) on Tuesday, December 21st. Christmas is seen as the victory of light (Christ) over darkness (evil and death.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poem: "The Burning Babe" by Robert Southwell, S.J.

As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
and lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
a pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;

Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed,
as though his floods should quench his flames, which with his tears were bred:
'Alas!' quoth he, 'but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!

'My faultless breast the furnace is; the fuel, wounding thorns;
love is the fire, and signs the smoke; the ashes, shames and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defiled souls;

For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
so will I melt into a bath, to wash them in my blood.'
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
and straight I called unto my mind that it was Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prayer: Isaiah 11:1-10 - The Vision of Kingdom at Peace

From Isaiah 11:1-10

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,
and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.

Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land's afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox,
the baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as the water covers the sea.

On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Homily for Closing Advent Liturgy - Luke 7 (Are you the One who is to Come?)

It is our sincere hope that during this past week the Lord God has touched a deep part of you. Perhaps God healed a long-festering memory, allowed you to hear or see through God's ears and eyes by entering into the silent stillness, brought you new life or is nurturing some new life within you. This has been our wish and prayer for you all week.

We arrived during the busy days of our commercial Christmas season that we call Advent. We left the frenetic pace of our lives because we were filled with the wonder expressed by John the Baptist and his disciples. They asked, "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" If this sounds familiar, it is because we heard it in Matthew's Gospel on Sunday. So we've had a chance to ponder it. Though we are familiar with God, perhaps the one steadfast, creating God we met in Isaiah's reading, we are still left with many questions about God's concern for us and God's ability to continue to create the world.

During these past 8 days, we have celebrated the events that foretell the coming of Jesus, his Mom's Immaculate Conception, Juan Diego and the truth of honestly presenting ourselves before God, the Rejoicing that we feel on Gaudete Sunday as we hit Advent's homestretch, the light Lucy brings to us and the darkness we experience like John of the Cross. We have had our share of conversations with the Lord and our share of times in which prayer seemed ineffective. We were mired in the dark chaos of our lives and we experienced the light that overcomes all darkness. And now it is time to leave. It is time to approach the quickening pace of the "O Antiphon" days that start on Friday. We sense something deep within creation is happening. Almost invisible forces are at work and we can only sit back in startled amazement.

"What did you come out here to see," asked Jesus? And we replied, "are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" After eight days, these questions are worth pondering. Luke's Gospel tells us that Jesus cured many of his diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits. He also granted sight to many who were blind. Something may have happened to you on these days with Jesus, but is your question answered? Is this the Messiah who is to come? Is he a Messiah for me? It is like the question, Does God love me? We answer 'yes' because God loves everyone and I am part of everyone. But does God like me? This is a different question. Does God like me enough to spend time with me, relax with me, want to know me more intimately? Will this Messiah care enough personally for me to save me?

We re-enter the frenzied world we left. Our friends, communities, and loved ones will ask, "what happened?" What are you going to tell them? They want to know. This question is a larger one than you may realize. It is bigger than you. They want to know if you have changed. They want to know if you still like them and want to be with them. They want to know if they still matter to you - even the person who is your biggest pain in the butt. They want to know whether they ought to seek out the one you yearn for and whether this one is the Promised One. Be gentle with them. Smile at them and tell them you missed them!

Some of our brothers and sisters couldn't wait. They've already left when they heard Jesus instruct them to go and tell John (and others) what you have seen and heard. And soon you will go out. In some ways it is very difficult to speak of what we have come to know. Eventually the words will come. You retreat is a process that is merely at its beginning. Like a child in the womb, it must be nurtured and grow before it enters the world. We simply communicate in our attitudes and demeanor what we cannot say in words. Our Messiah is coming. How are we going to wait for him? How are we going to look for him?

For some, we cannot bear the confronting way of a powerful Messiah at Christmas. Our senses cannot fully take him in without a dramatic response from us. We may push him away because we are not yet ready to let go. We can more easily accept the pregnancy of a young couple about to give birth. We can fall in love with this little one. We can marvel and wonder at him and we can care for him by giving him our affection. He grows with our loving responses. It is our time to be gentle with him. Later on, we will need him to be gentle with us.

"Are you the one who is to come?" In the next week and a half we have time to reflect more deeply on this question. Look for the signs. Be awed with the odd. If we pay attention, we have and can experience the blind regaining their sight, the deaf getting their ears opened, the lame standing tall and walking, the dead coming back to life, and many hearing the good news preached to them. God's breaking into our world will bring more light, but light also reveals the extent of the darkness. We cannot get out of this darkness on our own. We come to realize we need God to save us.

As you leave retreat, slow down. Admire the silence, but enter more deeply into the stillness where you can admire the tiny child who is to be born for us. We have to ask him again, "Are you the one who is to come?" Wait for his answer. Be patient. Be gentle. Provide him with the nourishment and care he needs to get through the night. Together, his life and ours are entwined. Learn to grow more intimate with him. May he find the wonder in our beauty as we find the beauty in his wonder.

Go, now. Tell John and others what you know. A child is to be born to us, a son will be given - a child who will reveal a God who is beyond all names. God promises to be with us because God yearns longingly for us. Who is this One who is to come? Come. Let us go meet him.

Prayer: The Cloud’s Veil

As the rain hides the stars and the clouds veil the blue skies,
so the dark happenings of my life hide the shining of your face.
Yet, if I may hold your hand
in the darkness, it is enough.
Since I know that,
though I may stumble in my going,
you do not fall. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prayer: The darkness and the light are both alike for you

For the darkness of waiting
of not knowing what is to come
of staying ready and quiet and attentive.

For the darkness of staying silent
for the terror of having nothing to say
and for the greater terror of needing to say nothing.

For the darkness of loving
in which it is safe to surrender
to let go of our self protection
and to stop holding back our desire.

For the darkness of choosing
when you give us the moment to speak, to act, and change,
and we cannot know what we have set in motion
but we still have to take the risk.

For the darkness of hoping
in a world which longs for you
for the wrestling and laboring of all creation
for wholeness and justice and freedom.

We praise you, O God.

Song: Lost in the Night (Finnish Song, 1929, Tr. Olav Lee)

Lost in the night doth the heathen yet languish,
Longing for morning the darkness to vanquish,
Plaintively heaving a sigh full of anguish:
Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?

Must he be vainly awaiting the morrow?
Shall we who have it no light let him borrow?
Giving no heed to his burden of sorrow:
Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon?

Sorrowing brother, in darkness yet dwelling,
Dawned hath the day of a radiance excelling,
Death's dreaded darkness forever dispelling:
Christ is coming soon! Christ is coming soon!

Light o'er the land of the heathen is beaming,
Rivers of life through its deserts are streaming,
Millions yet sigh for the Savior redeeming:
Come and save us soon! Come and save us soon!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poem: A solis ortus cardine

From the edge of the sunrise, to the ends of the earth,
we sing to Christ our leader, born of the Virgin Mary.
The blest Author of ages took on the form of a slave,
that flesh might be liberated by flesh,
and not consigned to perdition.

The grace of heaven entered the womb of the chaste parent:
the belly of a girl carried secretly that which in uncreated.
He endured a bed of straw, and did not despise the manger;
he was nursed like an ordinary infant.

The celestial choir rejoiced, and sang to God:
the Shepherd of Creation was made know to shepherds.
Jesus, glory be to you, born of the Virgin,
and to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, for eternity of ages. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Poem: "A Child My Choice" by Robert Southwell, S.J.

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that child.Whose heart no thought, no tongue no word,
whose hand no deed defiled.
I praise him most, I love him best, all praise and love is his;
While him I love, in him I live, and cannot live amiss

Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme,
man's most desired light,
To love him life, to leave him death, to live in him delight.
He mine by gift, I his by debt, thus each to other due.
First friend he was, best friend he is, all times will try him true.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Third Sunday in Advent

December 12, 2010

The closer we get to Christmas, the more we feel like John the Baptist who is imprisoned at the end of his life. He examines his life and wonders whether he placed his hope in the right person. All that he worked towards will be vindicated by this answer. He will either die with integrity or in despair. He sits in his prison cell and wonders. He sends out his disciples to Jesus to ask if he is the Messiah.

For sure Jesus was sad for John because of his fate, but I wonder if Jesus is passing his delight onto John through his disciples when he answers cryptically: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor know the good news is preached to them. Jesus realizes John will be filled with a joyous gladness because these in-breaking events tell him that Scripture is being fulfilled. John can rest in peace that he has seen the beginning of the salvation of the world. John's lifework has been completed and he prepared the next generation for the miraculous events that are to come. Though apart, Jesus and John are able to delight in God's saving actions.

Surely, John's disciples heard Jesus praise him to the others. It is always nice to hear someone receive affirmation, especially a close friend. John is upheld as a great prophet and a necessary forerunner to Jesus. Scripture testified to John's role in salvation history and he is honored for his greatness. Though John's death saddens the day's tone, it cannot erase the elation and completion he must feel for abiding God's will.

Isaiah's reading finds the Jewish people in a desolate space while in exile but they are encouraged to see the signs that will lead to their joy and gladness. In this they can rejoice. The letter of James asks us to be patient with our deep yearnings because this patience calls us to be active and to make our hearts ready to receive God's kingdom. It places us again in John the Baptist's state who can sense his liberation while in bondage.

Paradoxically, as we near Christmas we become more aware of the ways we need liberation from imprisoning bonds. We realize our abject brokenness and we can do nothing to repair it. Relationships are messy and most times we cannot effect the reconciliation we crave. Like the Jews in exile, we feel doomed.

Ironically, God has to come in through the back door for us. We can accept the image of an infant who will become the Messiah more easily than we can accept the grown up Messiah. The image of an adult Messiah is too confronting. Our irrational fears get kicked up, resistances shut doors, our self-esteem loses its pretend mask, and we turn away from looking more deeply into our insufficiencies. The image of a newborn infant unlocks our hearts and gives us great possibilities and hopes. He does not demand anything of us except to love him and this is the essential starting point. His presence teaches us to allow our love to grow. Each year we can accept him more lovingly into our heart and we become more familiar with him. Someplace deep within us rejoices because he is lovable and we know one day we will depend on him and he will remember the way we loved him when he was first given to us.

Quote for the Week

From Isaiah 35:

Here is your God, he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: We go far back into Scripture to the Book of Numbers when we read the oracle of Balaam that foretells a star shall advance from Jacob and a staff shall rise from Israel. The minor prophet Zephaniah foretells that messianic salvation will come to the poor. The tyrant will fall and the humble and lowly ones will take refuge in the Lord. Isaiah relays the words of the Creator God who sustains the world. Israel will find vindication in the Lord. The Lord has not forgotten you for he calls you back and will greet you with tenderness. As we enter the "O" Antiphon days, the readings hasten to the nativity story. Genesis tells the story of Jacob declaring the scepter shall never depart from Judah. Jeremiah tells us the Lord will raise up a righteous shoot to David.

Gospel: The chief priests question the origin of Jesus and find themselves in a bind. They cannot publicly decide whether John the Baptist's origin in divine or human either. Jesus continues to talk about the kingdom of heaven as a place where sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes are entering before the religious leaders. As people try to figure out if Jesus is the Messiah, he sends a message back to the Baptist that reveals that Scripture is being fulfilled in this instance. Jesus upholds John as the greatest one born of humanity, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. With the "O" Antiphon days, the readings hasten to the nativity story beginning with Matthews genealogy of Joseph who becomes the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph dreams that the Lord has told him that his wife's conception of a son is of divine origin and that he is to accept her as his own wife.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Lucy, martyr (d. 304), was a Sicilian noble who was martyred in the Diocletian persecution. Since her name is translated as "light," many festivals of light are held in her honor, especially in Scandinavia. A Middle Age custom developed to pray to Lucy to remedy blindness and sight abnormalities.

Tuesday: John of the Cross, priest and doctor, (1542-1591), was a Carmelite priest who is known for his association with Teresa of Avila. As her spiritual director, he helped her reform the order and create the reformed Discalced (without shoes) Carmelites. His Order imprisoned him because of his reforms. In imprisonment, he wrote on spirituality, some of which became classics. Some of his books are: The Dark Night of the Soul, The Living Flame of Love, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and the Spiritual Canticles.

Friday: The "O" Antiphon Days begin on Friday, December 17th and continue until Christmas Eve. These days represent the titles given to Jesus, the Messiah, and hasten our attention toward the wondrous events of Christmas. The song "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" has developed from the O Antiphon titles.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 12, 1661. In the College of Clermont, Paris, Fr. James Caret publicly defended the doctrine of papal infallibility, causing great excitement among the Gallicans and Jansenists.
• Dec 13, 1545. The opening of the Council of Trent to which Frs. Laynez and Salmeron were sent as papal theologians and Fr. Claude LeJay as theologian of Cardinal Otho Truchses.
• Dec 14, 1979. The death of Riccardo Lombardi, founder of the Better World Movement.
• Dec 15, 1631. At Naples, during an earthquake and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Jesuits worked to help all classes of people.
• Dec 16, 1544. Francis Xavier entered Cochin.
• Dec 17, 1588. At Paris, Fr. Henry Walpole was ordained.
• Dec 18, 1594. At Florence, the apparition of St Ignatius to St Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Since Our Lady of Guadalupe falls on a Sunday in Advent, it is superseded by the Lord's Day. Many communities will celebrate her on Saturday, as Saturdays are dedicate to the mom of Jesus. Let us pray for the people of Mexico (and for all) who gain strength through Guadalupe's intercession. Mary's appearance to the native Mexican Juan Diego was the first known visitation in the New World. Let us pray for Mary's continued care of the poor and for all those who seek her protection.

Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice)

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means Rejoice. It means we are halfway through Advent and we can begin to look for the signs of our Savior's birth. God's plan for redemption is unfolding and we are more attentive to the signs and symbols of the season. In fact, the "O" Antiphon Days begin on Friday, December 17th when our Scriptures hasten to tell the narrative of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem.

The traditional purple/dark blue of Advent is interrupted with a rose pink color to signify that some profound action is occurring. The increasing amount of light from the third Advent candle is illuminating our darkness. Our expectation can build and our patient waiting is filled with greater anticipation. We rejoice because the tangible story of the nativity is coming to life once again. Our salvation is at hand and God's glory is to be revealed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Prayer: "The Hungering Dark" by Frederick Buechner

Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, thou long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.

Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherevere there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, thou blessed one, with healing in thy wings.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spirituality: A Religious Belief by Anthony de Mello, S.J.

A religious belief… is not a statement about Reality, but a hint, a clue about something that is a mystery, beyond the grasp of human thought.

In short, a religious belief is only a finger pointing to the moon. Some religious people never get beyond the study of the finger. Others are engaged in sucking it. Others yet use the finger to gouge their eyes out. These are the bigots whom religion has made blind. Rare indeed is the religionist who is sufficiently detached from the finger to see what it is indicating— these are those who, having gone beyond belief, are taken for blasphemers. (One Minute Nonsense (1992), p.134)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Song: Bashana Haba'ah

Next year, when peace will come,
we shall return to the simple pleasures
of life so long denied us.

You will see, you will see,
O how good it will be, next year!

Bashana haba'ah
neshev al hamirpeset
v'nis por tsiporim nod'dot
y'ladim b'chufsha y'sachaku
to feset ben habayit l'ven hasadot
od tire kama tov yiye
bashana bashana hab'ah

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Poem: The Angels for the Nativity of our Lord, William Drummond, early 17th century

Run, shepherds, run where Bethlem blest appears,
We bring the best of news, be not dismayed,
A Savior there is born more old than years,
Amidst heaven’s rolling heights this earth who stayed:
In a poor cottage inned, a virgin maid
A weakling did him bear, who all upbears;
There is he, poor swaddled, in a manger laid,
To whom too marrow swaddlings are our spheres:
Run, shepherds, run, and solemnize his birth,
This is that night – no, day, grown great with bliss,
In which the power of Satan broken is;
In heaven be glory, peace unto earth!
Thus singing, through the air the angels swam,
And cope of stars re-echoed the same.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poem: A Baby is Born, Anonymous, 15th century

A baby is born us bliss to bring;
A maiden I heard lullay sing:
‘Dear son, now leave thy weeping,
They father is the king of bliss.’

‘Nay, dear mother, for you weep I not,
But for the things that shall be wrought
Or that I have mankind i-bought:
Was there never pain like it iwis.’

‘Peace, dear son, say thou me not so.
Thou art my child, I have no mo.
Alas! That I should see this woe:
It were to me great heaviness.’

‘My handes, mother, that ye now see,
They shall be nailed on a tree;
My feet, also, fastened shall be:
Full many shall weep that it shall see.’

‘Alas! dear son, sorrow is now my hap;
To see the child that sucks my pap
So ruthfully taken out of my lap:
It were to me great heaviness.’

‘Also, mother, there shall be a spear
My tendere heart all-to-tear;
The blood shall cover my body there:
Great ruthe it shall be to see.’

‘Ah! dear son, that is a heavy case.
When Gabriel kneeled before my face
And said, “Hail! Lady, full of grace,”
He never told me nothing of this.’

‘Dear mother, peace, now I you pray,
And take no sorrow for that I say,
But sing this song, “By, by, lullay,”
To drive away all heaviness.’

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Liturgical Notes for The Advent Season

We just celebrated the Second Sunday of Advent and a churchgoer will notice the following changes in the Mass:

1. Advent has a Lenten feel to it. Mostly, the church is stripped down to its bare essentials. Flowers, plants, and decorations are removed from the church so that the faithful can recognize that we are waiting, yearning for the arrival of Christ.

2. Purple (Dark blue) and pink are Advent colors. Since Advent has four Sundays, an Advent wreath is lit in the church on each Sunday. Two purple ones are lit for the first and second Sundays, a rose pink one is lit for Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday to mark the halfway point, then a final purple candle is lit for the fourth Sunday. When Christmas occurs, some customs place a white Christ candle in the center.

3. The gloria is omitted. We will receive the gloria back when the angels sing it announcing that Christ is born for us in Bethlehem. The angels tell the shepherds in their fields and then sing, "Gloria in Exclesis Deo."

4. The Advent penitential rite is used. Many priests mix them up, but it sounds strange. A penitential rite exists for each season. In Advent, the priest says:

Lord, Jesus, you came to gather the nations into the peace of God's Kingdom. Lord, have mercy.
You come in word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness. Christ, have mercy.
You will come in glory with salvation for your people. Lord, have mercy.

5. The "O, Antiphons" begin on December 17th and are said or sung each day as Christmas approaches. It is designed to quicken our responses to our waiting. We become more vigilant and we know something marvelous is to happen. We wait with our senses engaged.

6. We have a rich tradition of Advent music that helps us focus on our waiting. We refrain from singing about the birth of Christ until Christmas begins on December 25th. These songs prepare us well for the wonder of the season. Our secular music has combined both Advent and Christmas carols so that we do not distinguish between them well.

7. The Christmas season begins with the Octave (8 days) on December 25th. It ends with the feast of the circumcision and the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant. During that time we follow the scriptural events of the nativity including the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, the Holy Family, and the circumcision. The twelve days of Christmas lead us to Epiphany with the visits by the Eastern sages. The longer Christmas season includes the presentation in the Temple, Candlemas, and the visit to Simeon and Anna. The Christmas season ends when the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist occurs. It is really a lengthy season.

Poem: Puer Natus Est by William Byrd

A child is born to us,
and a son is given to us,
and the power of command will rest upon his shoulders;
and his name will be called, Messenger of Mighty Counsel.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done wonderful deeds.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will forever be, ages upon ages. Amen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Second Sunday in Advent

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December 5, 2010

At this stage in Advent, we focus our attention on the hidden events that are percolating in surprising ways on the biblical landscape. Isaiah is proclaiming his vision, John the Baptist is emerging from the desert like a lion, and the mountains are being leveled while the valleys are filled in. We tend not to think of the young mother and father who are awaiting the birth of their child. He grows in the comforting silence of his mother's protective womb while the world's events tempestuously swirl around him. An expectant father worries about every strained movement of his wife as they await the birth of their firstborn.

Darkness settles early into the northern hemisphere and we are reminded of the darkness of our lives. Unconsciously we seem to realize that on our own we cannot overcome the world's destructive forces. We yearn and we wait and we hope. We may always be sure of what we wait for but we settle more easily into the stillness. We grow in realization that the darkness has the potential to overwhelm us.

This is the time we hear the Baptist's tiny voice in the desert exhorting us to become more deeply aware of our sinfulness and to recognize our dependence upon God's saving actions. John is a curious man who renounced the ways of his contemporaries and exists like a hermit by living off the land. Matthew's portrait of him is as a zealot with righteous anger. He notes John's urgency in proclaiming repentance as preparation for admission into God's kingdom and he casts his fury upon the Pharisees and Sadducees. John knows he is not the anointed one but that the Messiah is coming soon. John urges potential followers to bear good fruit.

Paul in his letter to the Romans instructs people to think in harmony with one another. Isaiah's vision of the Peaceable Kingdom in the first reading describes that this good fruit must further produce harmony and is wrapped intimately with social justice. The ones who are most vulnerable in society will be the best protected and no harm will come to natural allies. As a sign that the vanquished will be exalted, a new everlasting king will sprout from Jesse's house, which has been subdued. Even the pagan Gentiles will seek out the God of the Jews.

As we prepare for Christmas, we are to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. This involves some degree of repentance. Many people have difficulty in participating in the sacrament of reconciliation and baring their souls to another human being, especially to a priest who has recognizable human failings, in a church that many experience as lacking pastoral concern for their struggles and needs.

A mature, reflective person may have a different view of one's own sinfulness as it lines up with church teachings that reflect hoped-for, unreachable ideals that fit a small percentage of the population. Many of the faithful ones are disappointed with the hierarchy that seeks to separate rather than unite and yet they yearn for a church that is repentant and willing to direct its pastoral concern back to the individual who is striving, hoping, dreaming, wishing for a reconciled, loving, compassionate understanding of their struggles. Life is a long Advent.

Many are still listening for the Baptist's voice far off in the desert preaching "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." We wait. We hope. We yearn. And Christ's life continues to develop within us.

Quote for the Week

From Isaiah 11:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox,
the baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as the water covers the sea.

On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Isaiah tells us that God himself will come and save the people. Jerusalem and all of Israel will break out in glory with this good news. God also consoles the people asking them to cry out and receive God's favor. Israel can rejoice because her God comes to liberate her. The Lord announces, "I am your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. If only Israel would listen and obey God's commandments, she will have abundant life. On Saturday, the readings shift to Sirach to tell us about Elijah as he is enveloped in a whirlwind. He is charged with turning back the hearts of the people to God and re-establish the tribes of Jacob.

Gospel: The people in Luke's Gospel are amazed at what they have experienced with Jesus: he forgives sins, speaks well, and heals a paralytic. Matthew shows Jesus as the good shepherd who gathers his flock to himself and also seeks out the one who is lost to return him to the fold. When talking about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus exalts John the Baptist as the returned prophet Elijah. Jesus is bemused by the crowds who do not dance when the flute is played or mourn during a dirge. Jesus further explains that Elijah has come again to restore all things, including the tribes of Jacob. He says that because of the people's hardness of heart, the Son of Man must suffer great things and die.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Nicolas, bishop (d. 350), was a popular figure who inspired the notion of Santa Claus because of his generosity and caring works. He was the bishop of Myra in southwestern Turkey and was jailed during Diocletian's persecution. He attended the Nicene Council in 325 and the people of God became endeared to him for his kindness.

Tuesday: Ambrose, bishop and doctor, (339-397), is known for baptizing Augustine in 386 and for being the bishop of Milan. A separate rite in the Church is named after him called the Ambrosian rite. He was made bishop by the people even before he was baptizes a Christian. One of the four great doctors of the church, he wrote on liturgy and scripture.

Wednesday: The Immaculate Conception of Mary celebrates her holiness and sinlessness that originates from her virginal birth to Ann and Joaquim. Because of her graced-state, Mary made herself worthy to become the mother of Jesus.

Thursday: Juan Diego, hermit, (1474-1548), received a visit from Mary at Guadalupe near Mexico City. She told him to build a church at the location of her appearance. When Mary later told Juan to bring flowers to the bishop, the flowers fell from his cape leaving an impression of Mary on it. Juan is very popular because he was a native Mexican.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec. 5, 1584: By his bull Omnipotentis Dei, Pope Gregory XIII gave the title of Primaria to Our Lady's Sodality established in the Roman College in 1564, and empowered it to aggregate other similar sodalities.
• Dec. 6, 1618: In Naples, the Jesuits were blamed for proposing to the Viceroy that a solemn feast should be held in honor of the Immaculate Conception and that priests should make a public pledge defend the doctrine. This was regarded as a novelty not to be encouraged.
• Dec. 7, 1649: Charles Garnier was martyred in Etarita, Canada, as a missionary to the Petun Indians, among whom he died during an Iroquois attack.
• Dec. 8, 1984: Walter Ciszek, prisoner in Russia from 1939 to 1963, died.
• Dec. 9, 1741: At Paris, Fr. Charles Poree died. He was a famous master of rhetoric. Nineteen of his pupils were admitted into the French Academy, including Voltaire, who, in spite of his impiety, always felt an affectionate regard for his old master.
• Dec 10, 1548. The general of the Dominicans wrote in defense of the Society of Jesus upon seeing it attacked in Spain by Melchior Cano and others.
• Dec 11, 1686. At Rome, Fr. Charles de Noyelle, a Belgian, died as the 12th general of the Society.

Prayer for Advent

Almighty and merciful God, the day draws near when the glory of our Messiah will make radiant the night of the world that waits in darkness. May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy which moves the hearts of those who seek to know Christ. May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom that fills the minds of those who find him. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Prayer Anton Luli, S.J.

On 19 December 1947, they arrested me and charged me with provoking unrest and with propaganda against the government. I lived in solitary confinement for 17 years and for many more in forced labor.

On Christmas night that year (how could I forget?) they dragged me from that place and put me in another lavatory on the second floor of the prison. They forced me to strip and hung me up with a rope passed under my arms. I was naked and could barely touch the ground with the tips of my toes. I felt my body slowly and inexorably failing me. The cold gradually crept up on my limbs and when it reached my breast and my heart was about to give in, I gave a desperate cry. My torturers had arrived; they pulled me down and kicked me all over. That night, in that placed and in the solitude of that first torture, I experienced the real meaning of the Incarnation and the Cross.

But in this suffering I had beside me and within me the comforting presence of the Lord Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. At times his support was something I can only all “extraordinary,” so great was the joy and comfort he communicated to me. But I have never felt resentment for those who, humanly speaking, robbed me of my life. After my release, I happened to meet one of my torturers in the street: I took pity on him; I went towards him and embraced him.

They released me in the 1989 amnesty. I was 79 years old.

This was my experience as a priest throughout these years. It is a very unusual experience compared to that of many priests, but certainly not unique. There are thousands of priests who have been persecuted in their lives because of the priesthood of Christ. Their experiences differ but they are united by love. The priest is first and foremost someone who lives in order to love. To love Christ and to love everyone in Him, in all life’s circumstances, to the point of giving up his life.

Everything can be taken from us, but no one can wrench from our hearts our love for Jesus or our love for our brothers and sisters.