Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The readings for today can be found here.

Today we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Certainly this family wasn't the one that Mary and Joseph had each imagined in their youth. Joseph must have imagined that his wife would bear his children, and many of them. Mary must have though the same thing. This feast day demonstrates to us, that no matter how we imagine life at its ideal, God has something much, much greater planned.

Mary, young and faithful to the Lord, would have been a casualty in the society she lived in had Joseph not married her. She would have been stoned as an adulterer. Joseph could have married her and divorced her quietly as he had planned. However, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him the truth of God's plan for him. He was to take Mary and protect her, and protect the child Jesus that came from God. By Joseph's obedience to God, he enabled Mary to do God's will.

Joseph again protected Mary and Jesus when he led them out of Bethlehem and into Egypt. The scriptures do not tell what happened, but I'm sure many can imagine. Mary had just had a child, Jesus was a small infant. Joseph had to protect their identity lest they be killed along the way. He had to plan the trip, provide for them, and bring them food and water. Joseph's protection permitted Jesus to grow into a young boy, and then grow into the man who became our savior.

There are many feast days of Mary, and daily we celebrate Jesus. On this feast of the Holy Family, let us celebrate Joseph, the head of the Holy Family. Let us celebrate his acceptance of God's plan, his openness to change, his quick thinking, his bravery, and his desire to serve God no matter what others thought. Every family needs a leader. Joseph served in this roll, under God's command. Today let us pray with St. Joseph's intercession for the head of our family, and the head of all families. Let us pray that men may trust in God's plan for them and their families and that they may be brave in the face of challenges. Let us pray that they may love and serve their family as Christ loved and served the Church.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today's readings can be found here.

The tale of Mary visiting her sister Elizabeth is probably one that rings true for so many women who are pregnant, or who have a friend who is pregnant. The intimacy of that time is an amazing treasure. The miracle of life, the pulse of creation flows around a pregnancy. I imagine that the gestating Jesus Christ's energy was amazing. It was so powerful that Elizabeth felt the Spirit move within her and tell her that Mary was pregnant and with God's child, the Messiah. How wonderful it must have been for Mary to have heard this. Elizabeth's greeting confirmed what the angel had told her at the Annunciation.

The longing of a pregnant woman is intense. The head of a pregnant woman is full of questions, wonders, fears, hopes, and anticipation. It is amazing that a pregnant woman can do anything but think about the baby! The anticipation of the child is intensely overwhelming. It is with this intensity that we should be awaiting the second coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, the typical Advent longing is for things, food, or parties. The energy of the season is often inappropriately funneled into things that do not last, and things that do not satisfy. The platters will be put away, the ribbons and paper in the trash, the ornaments in the attic. Even worse, on December 26th, people say, “Christmas is over.” Christmas begins on the 25th and ends with the Epiphany 12 days later.

We have five days between today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and Christmas. Today's reading features the second joyful mystery, the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps the better way to prepare for Christmas, better than shopping, cooking, or addressing envelopes, would be to pray.

Pick up the rosary. Meditate and pray over the Joyful Mysteries. The Annunciation announces Christ's conception in Mary's womb, the Visitation brings us to the union of Elizabeth and Mary, but also Jesus and John the Baptist, the Nativity celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas, the Presentation commemorates Jesus' Jewish origins and the fulfillment of a vision for Simeon who had been anticipating the Lord's coming, finally the fifth mystery reminds us of the time that Joseph and Mary thought Jesus was lost and found Him in the temple. I pray that these mysteries remind us of the true reason for anticipation this time of year, and give us the same spirit of longing and anticipation as Simeon, Elizabeth and Mary had for the coming Messiah.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Third Sunday of Advent

Today's readings can be found here.

We have so many things to celebrate. God has been so good to all of us. He has provided us with the very lives we live, and provided us with food, shelter, and a place to lay our heads right up until this very night. Times may not have always been easy, but all along God was with us. God is with us.

As we celebrate the moment when God sent down his Son to walk among us, we celebrate the promise that God would always be accessible to us. Before Jesus came, to be with God the priest had to enter the temple. But he could only do it once a year, and he had to have a rope tied around him in case he died of shock just by being in God's presence. If he died, they could pull him out by the rope! Before the temple, Moses had to go up onto the mountain just to speak to God. While he was up there, the people grew tired of waiting for God's message and started making a golden calf to worship instead. Jesus' advent on this earth said, “I am here with you.” Jesus did die and leave the earth, but his resurrection said, “I will always be with you.”

Our first reading from the book of Zephaniah is a celebration of God and his love. It says, “Shout for joy... Sing joyfully... Be glad and exult with all your heart!” I believe this is the message of Christmas. The message that people try to convey in gifts wrapped and topped with pretty bows. This is the message that the Christmas Tree tries to invoke: joy and gladness with shiny bulbs and tinsel. Zephaniah isn't writing about a tree and a present though. He proclaims joy because “The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies... You have no further misfortune to fear.... Fear not... be not discouraged! The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty savior, he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.”

Zephaniah rejoices because God is in the midst of the people. When God is in our midst he removes judgment, foes, fears, discouragement. God brings peace, joy, gladness, and love. The apostles knew this, Paul especially did. He wrote a letter to the Philippians, which we also read today. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again rejoice.” He knew the joy of the Lord. I pray we all do. In this season of Advent, as you bustle about with the tree and the presents, ask yourself, “Am I rejoicing?” You should be. Christ is with us, ever present in the Eucharist and our hearts. This is the advent of our Joy. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, “rejoice”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Second Week of Advent

Today's readings can be found here.

If anyone ever felt discouraged, it was the Israelites. They were constantly turning away from God and suffering as a result. Their exile from Jerusalem, captivity and slavery in Babylon were all a punishment because they turned away. Our own lives may mirror theirs at times. We may feel far from God, and captive or enslaved by the grind of day to day life. The good news is that today isn't a day for discouragement. It isn't a day for worry and sadness. Today is a day of hope.

We all long to be with someone who understands us, who knows us – deeply, intimately and who does not judge us. We long to be held close when we are suffering, and feel free from fear. In these times, we call upon friends, and family to help us. We should call upon our God. One of the large messages of Advent is “Our salvation is at hand! Our Savior is coming! Our Savior is here!”

God isn't a distant deity. He came to this very earth and walked among us. He was born, played with his childhood friends, was tempted by childhood things, teenager things, and adult things. In Christ Jesus, we have a savior who understands our human weaknesses. He understands how hard it is to be a part of this human race. When he offered Himself on the cross, he gave us a ticket to freedom. He claimed us as His own.

Since we have been claimed by Christ in our baptism, we are a part of God's chosen people. The first reading from the prophet Baruch says, “for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.” Promises that apply to Israel, apply to us as well. God wants to lead us in joy. He is giving us His mercy and justice. He promises a smooth path. The mountains will be made low and the valleys will be filled in. We do not have to walk these hard roads alone. In these readings, we are reminded that God is reaching out to help us. He is reaching out to save us. This is the advent of our Savior.