Monday, December 27, 2010

Waking Up to Christ--A Reflection on the 4th Sunday of Advent

In today's readings, St. Matthew begins his gospel with a deceptively simple statement, "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about." What follows deals with an unexpected pregnancy, angels, dreams, a prophecy, and a virgin birth.

Central to Matthew's account is St. Joseph. Mary is found to be with child. Even though they are betrothed, they are not yet living together. For Mary to be pregnant in that case is bad enough, but Joseph apparently knows of her story of the visitation of the angel Gabriel and the claim that she is with child by the power of the Holy Spirit. "That can't be true, can it?" Joseph must wonder. He has decide. Can he believe her story or should he end the marriage?

Going to sleep on it, he dreams of an angel--was it Gabriel?--telling him, as angels usually do at first, "Do not be afraid!" The angel confirms that his wife, Mary, is with child by the Holy Spirit. He directs Joseph to take Mary into his home and to name the the child Jesus.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't make any of my dreams the basis of a big decision! But I think that this was the kind of dream that is more real than life itself. Another Joseph was a dreamer and his dreams ultimately saved Egypt from famine and, in doing so, saved the Jewish people, setting the stage for their Exodus. Now this Joseph, husband of Mary, dreams of the salvation of his people. He takes Mary into his home and names their son Jesus.

St. Matthew places the story of Mary and Joseph into the larger picture. He quotes from our first reading from Isaiah, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel." As the Church reflected on they stories of Christ's birth that ultimately were written down in St. Matthew's and St. Luke's gospels, they saw this as the fulfillment of Isaiah's words. He had gone to King Ahaz to tell the king to ask for a sign that the attack against Jerusalem by the kings of Israel and Damascus would fail. King Ahaz feigns humility and refuses to tempt the Lord. So Isaiah tells him that the Lord himself has decided what the sign will be, "the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel."

There is some dispute over whether the Hebrew word here translated virgin means "virgin" or "young woman". The Greek word used in the New Testament does mean virgin. It shows us what the early Church thought this story of Mary and Joseph meant. It helps us understand why Joseph was so concerned. Mary was as virgin when she was found to be with child. She and Joseph had not had relations. That's why Joseph thought he should divorce her quietly and spare her any additional shame. That's also why it took an angelic dream to sort things out!

The Church talks much about Mary's fiat, her "yes" to the angel's message to her--and rightly so. But let's take a moment to think of Joseph's "yes" to the angel's message to him, for it is just as important. In the midst of a difficult, embarrassing and confusing situation, Joseph listened to what God was saying to him. St. Matthew tells us that when he awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded. We need to wake-up!

As a result of this obedience, Jesus was born into a family with a father and a mother. Think of it! God entrusted his only-begotten Son to a human father and mother in Joseph and Mary. Joseph took the child and raised him as his own. He was the example to God of what it meant to be a man!

St. Joseph is the patron saint of the universal Church, all of us! Let us learn from him as Christ did what it means to be human. Even when it is confusing or difficult or embarrassing, let us say yes to God as Joseph did. That simple "yes" of faith is why we call him Saint Joseph. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist today, let us, as Joseph did, wake-up and say "yes" to Jesus.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas, Candles and the Fall of Ceausescu.

On Breakpoint, Chuck Colson tells an interesting story about Christmas, candles and the fall of Ceausescu.

The story begins with Laszlo Tokes, pastor of a fast-growing reformed church in the city of Timisoara. His powerful preaching had caught the attention of communist officials, and they began a strategy of suppression. They stationed police officers around his church, machine guns cradled in their arms. They hired thugs to attack him. Finally, just before Christmas, they decided to send him into exile.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are You the One?--Reflection on the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" John the Baptist's question cuts to the heart of the Christian faith. Is Jesus the Christ who was to come? Are his teachings the truth? Is the Church the steward of his plan of salvation? Or is there another we should be following?

John had spent this life until that point preparing the way of the Lord. He had put his life on the line, proclaiming Jesus as "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Now John is in prison. Before he gives his life, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is indeed the Christ. Why John's apparent doubt?

Being in prison gave John much time to think. As he considered his life he naturally wanted to be sure he was on the right path. I think he doubt arose from the simple fact that Jesus was his cousin. With family, you want to be sure!

Could Jesus, this man John had know since childhood, be the Messiah? Their first encounter came when Mary, now with child, travelled to see her cousin and John's mother Elizabeth, who was herself expecting after years of sterility. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, St. Luke tells us that John lept for joy while he was still in the womb.

Years later, when Joseph and Mary were returning from Jerusalem after celebrating Passover, they realized that Jesus was not with them. People travelled with extended family then. Luke tells us that "they were looking for him among their relatives and friends." It is certainly possible that John was in that group.

In any case, John was wondering about his cousin. Jesus' answer to John was to tell them "Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached to them." It is what Jesus does that proves who he is.

What about us. If someone were to ask if were could prove we were who we claimed to be, could we prove it? On a good day, maybe. What works could we point to and say this is what I have done; it shows who I am. It is good to be here for Mass to worship and grow in faith. Now, what about the rest of the week? It would be a shame if we were to receive Christ in faith in the Eucharist yet fail to become what we receive. We receive the Body of Christ. Let us become the body of Christ in the world.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Repent and Receive--A Reflection on the 2nd Sunday of Advent

John the Baptist is an astonishing man. He stands astride the Old and New Testaments; the last prophet of the Old and the first of the New. He lives out in the desert wilderness by the Jordan River. He eats locusts and wild honey and wears camel skins with a leather belt. His first words in Matthew's Gospel are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” And let's not forget that his cousin is Jesus!

His preaching and presence brought many to be baptized, and the Pharisees and Sadducees didn't want to be overshadowed by this wild man. When they went to find out about his preaching for themselves, they must have been shocked. John is fearless. He calls them, the religious leaders of his day, a “brood of vipers!" and boldly asks them "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" He challenges them to "produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance." (Imagine if some people from the archdiocese and the seminary came to visit a parish and the priest said that to them!)

When St. Matthew heard John the Baptist preach, he was reminded of Isaiah's words "A voice of one crying out in the desert,/Prepare the way of the Lord,/make straight his paths. " John is preaching repentance to the people to prepare them for the coming of Christ. Today's first reading begins with a obscure reference to the Messiah. He shall come from the stump of Jesse. Perhaps you have heard of a "Jesse Tree"? Jesse was King David's father. The Messiah would come from David's royal line; he would be the son of David. In Isaiah's prophecy, the Kingdom has be reduced to a stump of a tree. Yet God promises that this stump shall produce a "branch" and that "from his roots a bud shall blossom." In other words, even though all looks hopeless, Christ will come!

What kind of Messiah will he be? John the Baptist says that "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Isaiah says that "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." The Church calls these the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are shared with us at Confirmation.

How do we put these two pictures together? By remembering that first we must repent as St. John the Baptist tells us. We must turn, change our minds about they way we have been living. We are sinners. We must become repentant sinners! We have been a brood of vipers doing evil. We must bring forth good fruit instead. When we have turned around to walk with Christ, then we can share in the gifts of the Holy Spirit that come from Jesus--not only at Confirmation, but throughout our lives as we continue to repent and become more deeply converted. Then we will see the reordering of creation that Isaiah speaks of "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...". These natural enemies will one day be reconciled and live in peace.

This healing of nature will be so complete that as Isaiah says, "On that day, the root of Jesse,/set up as a signal for the nations,/the Gentiles shall seek out." Or as St. Paul says "that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." Yes, even Jews and Gentiles, once implacable enemies, will be reconciled in the Kingdom of God. It begins now with Confession, the sacrament of reconciliation. We confess our sins to a priest not just because he represents Christ forgiving us, but also because we recognize that our sins hurt other people. The sacrament of Confession reconciles us not only to God, but to other people as well.

So, Repent! Turn your minds and hearts to Christ. Then he will share his Spirit will you. You will be the wheat that he harvests and gathers into his barn. You will share the Eucharistic wheat in the Church. This is the ultimate reconciliation. The greatest gift is Christ himself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Keep Christ in Advent!--A Reflection on the First Sunday in Advent

This Sunday, November 28, 2010 is the First Sunday of Advent. It is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. The Mass readings are all about getting ready for the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man as he refers to himself in the Gospel.

In the first reading, Isaiah foretells it, "In days to come,/the mountain of the Lord’s house/shall be established as the highest mountain/and raised above the hills." God himself will instruct all nations. After this instruction and judgment, there will be peace--the universal peace of Christ. In those oft quoted words, Isaiah says, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares/and their spears into pruning hooks;/one nation shall not raise the sword against another,/nor shall they train for war again." Instruction, judgment, peace.

The problem is that instead of listening to the Lord's teaching, we have been sleepwalking through life. St. Paul calls for us to wake-up! "You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed..." In our sleepwalking we have wandered off the path. Instead we have stumbled into orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy. That may sound like a pretty good Saturday night to some, but it makes for a terrible Sunday morning!

In the Gospel, Jesus compares us to the people of Noah's day. There's old Noah, building a boat in the middle of the desert. He was preparing for a judgment that seemed to never come. So the people did what we would do, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They probably even had a pool going on when the first raindrop would fall or when Noah would quit. So life went on as usual; until it began to rain!

Since we don't know when that first drop will fall in our time, Jesus calls for us to stay awake. The Church gives us this season of Advent at the beginning of it's liturgical year to remind us to prepare for Christ's coming. It is a time to consider our resolutions for this new year. What will you do to prepare for Christ's coming? It's not just his second coming we need to consider. Jesus comes to us every day, especially in two ways. First, he comes to us in the poor. They may be poor in spirit or poor in health or poor in morality. They may be financially impoverished or emotionally impoverished. They may be in the womb or at the end of life. They will probably be people we don't like very much. Learn to see Christ in them.

Second, he comes to us in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Every Mass is not only a memorial of his passion and resurrection, but is also an anticipation of his coming to us. Jesus is meek and humble of heart, so he comes to us in bread and wine. Because if he came in his glory, to such sinners as we are, we could not see his face and live. But by his grace in the Eucharist, he does come to us; body, blood soul and divinity. As St. Peter says, his divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion so that we may come to share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He feeds us with his life so we will be able to live with him in Heaven.

Let us use this season of Advent to wake-up from our spiritual sleep, to leave behind the sin that so easily trips us up and to prepare the way of the Lord, in our hearts and in our world. Keep Christ in Advent! He is coming. He is almost here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Celebrating the Miners Rescue

In the celebrations of these men and their families, in their faith, we see the joy of Heaven breaking into this world. Heaven is rejoicing in the miners rescue now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Michael Been and Theo's Logic

Yesterday I heard about the death of Michael Been of The Call. Before leaving the house, I looked for my copy of On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, Been's solo CD. I couldn't find it, but I noticed my copy of Daniel Amos' Bibleland. In one of those weird moments I thought "I'll listen to that instead--close enough!"

Driving to the next town for a 12 o'clock Mass, the song "Theo's Logic" was playing. Taylor sings "My grandmother's up there waiting/She spoke to me one night/She said there are millions of us praying/that you will be alright."

It was just what I needed to hear. Sweet communion of the saints! There are millions praying that I will be alright! And not just me, but you, too!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

O Mother Mary

O Mother Mary
How does your garden grow?
May-flowers crown
Your head
As the children pray

O Mother Mary
“Full of grace”, he said
The angel speaks
Your “yes”
And the Christ child moves

O Mother Mary
How does water become wine?
“Do what he says”
Even though
His hour had not yet come

O Mother Mary
Hide me in your womb
The dragon roars
Your seed
Crushes the serpent’s head

O Mother Mary
Assumed to Heaven home
Flesh and blood
Now await
Your family’s arrival there

O Mother Mary
How does your garden grow?
May flowers crown
Your head
As the children play

© 2010 Brian Sullivan

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Great Expectations

I was reading G.K. Chesterton's "Tremendous Trifles" this afternoon and it got me thinking (Chesterton will often have that effect.) In the chapter "The Dickensian" he says:

"...let us have no antiquarianism about Dickens, for Dickens is not an antiquity. Dickens looks not backward, but forward; he might look at our modern mobs with satire, or with fury, but he would love to look at them. He might lash our democracy, but it would be because, like a democrat, he asked much from it. We will not have all his books bound up under the title of 'The Old Curiosity Shop.' Rather we will have them all bound up under the title of 'Great Expectations.' "

All right, I confess that my knowledge of Dickens is from the scene in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" where Spock gives Kirk a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities" for his birthday. But it occurred to me that what Chesterton says about Dickens could also be said about the Catholic Church.

The Church, contrary to many people's opinion, does not look backward but forward, especially in those places where it most seems to be looking backward.

Imagine someone inherits an old Victorian house once owned by their great-great grandparents. The house is full of what the new owners think of as old, musty antiques. In the oak paneled dining room, there is a beautiful dining room table and chairs,with a matching sideboard full of the family china and silverware and on top of which are pictures of several generations of the family. In the living room there is an upright piano and over the fireplace is a portrait of the pater familias. The bookcase contains many of the classics (which were new at the time!). A gigantic family bible, it's pages well-worn, is in a place of honor on the coffee-table. In the kitchen is lined with a rustic wallpaper. In the pantry is a cookbook in which are scraps of paper with old family recipes. It is full of life and rich with tradition. Father and mother were respected. The family had even had a special way of speaking to each other that was passed on, creating a sense of belonging. It was a warm, inviting place ready for the new generation to settle into.

Except the new generation thinks it needs remodeling. They strip the paneling and wallpaper and paint in brighter hues. The dining room table, chairs and sideboard are sold cheaply, without much profit, and replaced by glass and chrome furniture. The fine china is put away and replaced by Pfaltzgraff. The family pictures are scanned and up-loaded to a digital frame. The portrait of great-great granddad is taken down to make room for a large plasma video screen. The fireplace and piano is replaced by a home entertainment system. The books are left there but never read since they only have time to read "People" magazine. The family bible is moved to make room for the Sunday New York Times. The old family recipes are too complicated to make, so they are replaced by Martha Stewart magazines and a copy of Cooking for Dummies. It is now a functional house for people who spend no time there.

The Church was like that comfortable house. It looked back to it's traditions so it could have a solid foundation for the future. But to some it seem merely old and tiresome. So they got rid of furnishings, family heirlooms and traditions. The altar was replaced by a table. The tabernacles were sometimes moved. The portrait of the Father was too patriarchal and judgmental, so it was moved to make room for inclusive entertainment. Church architecture was modernized until you couldn't tell a church from a theater. The early church fathers and the writings of the saints were ignored in favor of modern theology and contemporary spirituality. Classic chants and hymns were considered too hard to play and sing, so they were replaced by music that is too often impossible to play or sing! We made a new translation of the Bible that has the distinction of being an indistinct translation of the Bible (We're the only ones who use it after all!). We traded our family identity for a cookbook that doesn't even have a recipe for lentil stew! The Pope was ignored and Mother Church was put in a home. They family's way of speaking was changed into jive-talkin'. We were left with
a functional house for people who spend no time there.

But now a people who did not know the Pharaohs of post-conciliar polyester have arisen and are heading back to their homeland. As the Holy Spirit is goes ahead of them in a pillar of fire to cleanse the Church, they are finding a beauty that was almost lost to them. It will take time to rebuild the walls of the city of God and to restore his Church, brick by brick, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other as those who watch them curse them with scorn. They will bring out of the storeroom new treasures as well as old. The way they are taking goes through Calvary back to the new Jerusalem. As they travel they are being lead by a man in his 80's dressed in white who, in the name of God, loves them enough to tell them the truth and give them hope. It seems like an unlikely group for such a task, but I think they will prevail. They have a 2000 year old promise that they will not be overcome, even by death itself. They will overcome because of the blood of the lamb, the word of their testimony and because they did not love their lives even when faced with death. I pray for the grace to join them.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

How Not to Become Just Another....

As Pia di Solenni points out in her article "A Necessary Conversation" on Headline Bistro:

"There has to be space in the Church for the faithful to discuss problematic issues. As I mentioned at the conference, if we don’t provide that space for the faithful within the Church, then the Church is effectively telling the faithful to go to other sources, including those biased against the Church."

I agree. Otherwise we become just another Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things until someone speaks up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Another Woman Finds Her Freedom

One of the criticisms leveled against the Catholic Church is that it denies women's equality with men and has made the second-class Christians. There have been times when some Catholics have said denigrating things about women. But I think that the Church has actually freed women to find their own best way to follow Christ.

A case in point is today's saint, St. Katherine Drexel. She was the heiress of her family fortune, but gave millons away to work with Native Americans and African-Americans, establishing the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work with them.

Read her story at one of the links above. This is not a woman who was kept by the Church from finding fulfillment. It was Pope Leo XIII who challenged her to become a missionary! Through her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, her work is still being done by other women free to follow her as she followed Christ.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feeling Dusty

I had hoped to make the 12pm Mass at a nearby parish today for Ash Wednesday. My first mistake was to check my e-mail and Facebook a little after 11am. By the time I logged off, I was already running late! My second mistake was to misjudge the attendance at said Mass. Usually there's only about 20 people. Today there was no place to park! So I missed that Mass and ash distribution (I'll go to my parish this evening).

Driving home I thought "How foolish! Here I think I am doing so well spiritually, yet I can't even leave the house on time! How many other things that I think I do well are really mediocre at best. I pray the rosary then forget which mystery I'm on or if I missed a prayer. I read and don't remember what I read. I think I might have a vocation and I am way to easily distracted during Mass!

"Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return." Was I ever feeling dusty! At least I realized I was in good company--everybody else! I don't think any of us gets it right all the time. It's a matter of rejoicing in God's grace when we do get it right and repenting and getting back up when we fall.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Darwin Sunday?

Charles Darwin's birthday is February 12th, aka International Darwin Day. I recently found out that the Sunday nearest Darwin's birthday is often an occasion for some Christian pastors to preach on Evolution. Not only that, but in the revised common lectionary it is Transfiguration Sunday. A day that should be spent preaching about Jesus' Transfiguration is, for some, a day to preach Darwin's Evolution. I think it is the lesser trumping the greater. Can't evolution be proclaimed some other day? Like Ash Wednesday? "Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return."

Hmm, Evolution Sunday, or is it Darwin Sunday? I have no problem with evolution as a scientific theory. But if it is used (unscientifically) to explain God away, that's a problem. Science can explain matter and energy. These are quantifiable. It cannot explain the immaterial, the unquantifiable; that is the realm of theology and philosophy.

The trouble comes when science merges with philosophy. It moves out of its area of expertise. When scientific evolution tries to say that the universe was not created, but that it evolved and therefore there is no Creator, it is no longer being scientific, but philosophical. The same can be said for religion when it tries to deny basic scientific tenets. It has left religion behind for Creationism, not creation--just because there is a creator doesn't mean the world didn't evolve. Genesis is a book of faith, not science.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Mother and Our Lady of the Snows

Hard to believe, but today is the 3rd anniversary of my mom's passing through the door of death into Heaven. My sisters and I had the grace of being at her side when she died. The funeral arrangements came together smoothly. Those who had to travel, even back from El Salvador, arrived safely. We were even given permission to use one of our parish's chapels in spite of the logistical difficulties, due no doubt to my mother's intercessory influence in Heaven--she could always get things done!

One time when I was visiting her, my mom had a card with a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (and maybe also the Immaculate Heart of Mary as they are often pictured together). She looked at the picture for a moment and then kissed it reverently. It was an intimate, incredible grace to witness that.

It often snowed at significant times during my mom's illness: going into the hospital, when I visited, when she was transferred to the nursing home and the night between the last wake and her Mass of Christian Burial. Yes, it was January and snow is not that unusual. But one of the Blessed Mother's lesser known titles is Our Lady of the Snows. (That title refers to a snowfall in Rome on August 5th, A.D. 352 on the Esquiline Hill indicating where what is now the Basilica of St. Mary Major was to be built). I came to regard these snows as reminders of God's care for my mom.

Our Lady of the Snows, ora pro nobis.

Friday, January 22, 2010

37 Years Since Roe v. Wade

Today marks the 37th year since Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. (I was going to say 37th anniversary, but those are usually happy ocassions). We have lost over 40 million children since that time, about 4000 a day. That's just in the US. Worldwide, the numbers are a staggering 46 million per year (approximately). That's about 126,000 per day worldwide!

Data from the Census Bureau on abortions in the US can be found here in this pdf file (note that the numbers must be multiplied by 1000 (as it says, "1,609 represents 1,609,000 which the the number of abortions in 1990!). Another summary using the CDC and Alan Guttmacher Institute's figures can be found here. And from, a list of 10 abortion facts here. This analysis reported by shows the number of abortions may be as high as 52 million!

To give some perspective, here are the annual mortality rates for leading causes of death. Death from heart disease and cancer combined is 1,191,524. Remember there were 1,609,000 deaths of babies from abortion in 1990. But abortion is apparently not considered a cause of death because babies (or fetuses, if you must) are not people according to these statistics.

Is there some good news? Yes! Here is an article on Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

St. Vincent, pray for us!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Mary, Mother of God

Today, January 1, the Church celebrates the the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The title "Mother of God" was given to Mary formally at the council of Ephesus in AD 431. It is not meant to exalt Mary so much as to emphasize that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man. Mary is not the mother of Jesus human nature only, but since she gave birth to the person of Jesus Christ, who was both God and Man, she gave birth to the Son of God as well as the Son of Man.

Since Mary is also the Queen of Peace, the Church also celebrates the World Day of Peace today. Pope Bendict's theme for today is 'If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation." His message can be found here.