If you are like me, you remember your childhood experiences of reconciliation with a bit of dread: would you recite the Act of Contrition perfectly, would you remember your list of sins and the penance you would be given?
Later years provided communal Penance services beginning with hymns and communal examination of conscience which lead us to reflect on areas of life we had already thought of and which had brought us out to the service. Then we proceeded to the remote corners of the church for our individual confessions and absolutions. Here, while feeling true remorse for missteps, the dread of forgetting the Act of Contrition still haunted me.
Now came the Penance Service at St. Kateri Tekakwitha on Dec. 10. A young high-school student, who might have been at home doing homework, led us in song. Sister Betsy Van Deusen gave us surprising Gospel readings, not of forgiveness but of healing. Here was a new way to think of the grace of Reconciliation.
Then came the Examination of Conscience which challenged us to go beyond our tiny worlds of family and work relationships to consider our relationships with the wider community, the vulnerable people of world, and the earth itself. Within each area addressed were concrete examples of attitudes and actions that should be a part of our lives. Here was a call to growth!
Now came the dreaded Act of Contrition… Well, we said it together! No need to worry about remembering the words; now we could contemplate their true meaning.
Next came the individual confessions. Another surprise! The priests did not adjourn to secluded corners, but spread out around the steps of the altar. While music played we processed to the altar as for the Sacrament of Eucharist. Indeed this is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but on that night I was more aware of its grace. As a community, we were approaching the Lord in all humility and with faith that His love would cleanse and guide us.
We each approached a priest and whispered our errors. Each priest placed caring hands on our shoulders, provided words of comfort and guidance, (and with Father Bob often laughter), and then gave the treasured absolution.
When all had been heard, Father Bob added another surprise. He thanked us for showing our trust in God’s mercy. Of course it was we who were grateful, and we shared that as we ended singing “Amazing Grace”.
For me this Penance Service was a profound experience of God’s healing power and our call to take responsibility for the wider world. For me it was truly reconciliation rediscovered.
1st Reading – Isaiah 9: 1-6
One can certainly see how the early Christians (who were all Jewish) ‘saw Jesus’ in this passage . . . What line do you most treasure from this poetic passage? What name for the Messiah speaks to you?
Of course, when Isaiah first wrote this passage he was not thinking of Jesus – or of a ‘far-future messiah.’ He was trying to encourage King Ahaz (the weak and unwise king at the time) to be strong and to rely on God’s wisdom and power. He was promising the birth of a son who unlike Ahaz would be faithful, prudent, and far-sighted – and in this way would be Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It seems that Isaiah’s hope never did become reality; this yearning, though, gave rise to the yearning for a true Messiah – one born to bring God’s presence to the people. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year C, 77-78)
2nd Reading – Titus 2: 11-14
This letter was written not to a community but to an individual in regards to their pastoral duties. Paul, himself, probably did not write this letter. Most likely a disciple of Paul wrote it hoping to be giving the advice that he felt Paul would have given. In this passage he is simply reminding all that Christ’s coming in time and history [in birth and on a cross] is about our lives right now – and in the ultimate future hope of a second coming in fullness and light. Our task we are told is not to retreat from the world but to be “eager to do what is good” – to let our very lives reflect the goodness of our Lord. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509; Birmingham, W and W Wrbk. for Yr C, 77-78)
The Gospel – Luke 2: 1-14
The Infancy Narratives pose difficult problems for those who try to use them to reconstruct some actual history for there are agreements and also discrepancies. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu.) It is more about the truth of God’s entrance into human history through the person of Jesus – born as one of the poor and insignificant, tracing his life to two inconsequential towns (Nazareth and Bethlehem). His power is not about ‘government overthrow’ but about conversion and openness to God’s love. In Jesus, God comes for the outcast, for the despised, and ‘unclean’ – the shepherds. Angels bring messages: God is acting and offering salvation to everyone. The phrase “people of good will” is not meant to be an exclusion – it is meant to refer to all people who because of this birth, are objects of divine favor — all is permeated with God’s life and love and holiness. Luke’s purpose is Christological and ecclesial: Jesus links God’s glory with the humble – those open and listening for the surprising way in which God will break into life – the small and vulnerable and those needing human care and concern. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook Year C, 79-80)
From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509:
The Christmas story urges us to ask: “What does it mean to be fully human?” Since God chose to become human, the whole meaning of Christmas rests on the answer. Is it about all the ‘Martha-like-work’ that the season brings? Is it the ‘family tradition’ of dinners and presents and decorations to which we cling?
But what about those who have no family – or are sick and alone? Jesus’ life, too, had fun and laughter along with the suffering and poverty. Maybe full humanity has to do with loving and being love. Isn’t love the aching desire that lies under all the rest? Don’t we all long for a love that will at last be carried out? A love we can trust? And a love that we might be bold enough to love in return? To be fully human means allowing enough room inside ourselves to let God and others in. It means letting go of all those things we think will save our lives (possessions, honors, importance, bigness), so that we can relate to God and to others. In the busy-ness and noise of this season, we need to find time to listen for the stillness. We may be only inches away from the emptying-out that will let God be born inside of us. Let it be!
Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing:
Thoughts on Jesus and Incarnation: The Word was made flesh and dwells among us. (John 1: 14) The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine (p.76).
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap” (p. 78). We are the Body of Christ. This is not an exaggeration, or a metaphor . . . The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us (p. 79-80). This is the core of Christian spirituality . . . God’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us. We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did . . . The word that he spoke is not heard in our contemporary world unless it is proclaimed by the community . . .As God once acted through Christ, so he now acts through those who are conformed to the image of his Son (p.80). The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, albeit God is found there, but in our homes (p.100).
Luke’s Birth Story – Notes from William Barclay
The Roman Census — In the Roman Empire, periodic censuses were taken with the double object of assessing taxation and discovering those eligible for compulsory military service. The Jews were exempt from military service so any census would have been only for taxation. In Egypt they have discovered much evidence of these censuses – and that they were taken every 14 years. If that pattern held true, then Jesus’ birth might have been in about 7 or 8 B.C. Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 A.D. but he did hold an official post there from 10 -7 B.C. It was also the custom in Egypt to have every man go back to his home origin; it may also have been the case in Israel.
Bethlehem — Nazareth was 80 miles from Bethlehem. (Its name means the ‘place of bread’.) The accommodations for travelers were most primitive. ‘Inns’ were merely a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. Travelers brought their own food. Since there was little room according to Luke, Mary and Joseph would have stayed in the common courtyard – or perhaps found shelter in a cave, also common around this town. The fact that there was no room for Jesus was symbolic of what would happen to him: rejection would be his fate: the only place where there was room for him was on the cross. He still seeks to enter the crowdedness of our hearts . . .
Swaddling clothes –were the common way to ‘dress’ an infant. They consisted of a square of cloth with a long, bandage-like strip coming off from the corner. The infant would be wrapped in the square and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.
Manger—(R. Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas, p. 20) not a sign of poverty but probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” But this has been repealed, because the shepherds find the baby in the manger and praise God.
Shepherds –were despised by orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they simply could not observe all the hand-washings and regulations. Their flocks made constant demands on them. They were rough, uncouth, and unclean characters. But these shepherds also served God. Their sheep were the lambs to be one day offered as sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem just 7 miles away. Luke is certainly comparing their lambs with Jesus, the Lamb of God. The shepherds, the unclean and rough, were invited by angels (God’s messengers) to come.
Father Bob’s homily 2nd Sunday Advent…
2nd Sunday of Advent C
On too many Fridays, Deacon Tom and I have to make a truly terrible decision. Some heartbreaking event has happened somewhere in the world. Should we include it in the Prayer of the Faithful? Of course we want our prayers extended to those who died in tragedies like in San Bernardino and we will. But what about other places around the world where the tragic is a daily occurrence? What about Iraq? Sudan? Congo? A thousand other places where the loss is the same just further away. And I think of the local tragedies – four killed in Albany and an unsolved arson just a couple of miles from here that took four lives, but seems to fade into the background without a compelling story line attached to it. Should they be mentioned, remembered? Sometimes I feel we should simply recite every week the…
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How can we have a heart for Advent when there is killing and constant struggle happening in the world? Is anyone else feeling the same restlessness? It is hard to find peace when so much is pushing against it. Rather than complain about the state of world events and banter about who is right or wrong, I would like to share something I read recently that might touch our hearts in a new way.
Please bear with me as I walk through this idea by Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian. He says we approach relationships in two different ways, as futurum or as adventus. Futurum is when we expect a relationship to have a predicted outcome. Futurum is Latin for “what will be”. We decide what will be based on what we know from the past. It is a tunnel vision approach. There is no room for hope because we have already wrapped our heads around what it will look like. Futurum decides how people are before we let them show us themselves. Adventus is the opposite. Adventus has no expectations, except perhaps to always be surprised. It is Latin for “what is coming”. We are pliable, open, and hospitable to other. It is living in hope and anticipating something new. Goodness will arrive no matter what actions we take.
There are all kinds of relationships. We have relationships with each other: our parents, our children, our friends, our doctors, our pets. Our church has a relationship with the community. Our country has a relationship with other countries. We have a relationship with the divine. Consider whether you approach these relationships with a heart that is futurum or adventus. I dare to theorize with the amount of shootings happening in our country that many hearts out there are in futurum. Maybe it is easier…more comfortable. But it can be paralyzing too.
Our challenge is to have adventus hearts. We need hearts that are open to something new and hopeful that good will come. That is how God breaks into the world. A pliable heart is receptive to seeing others as they are, and that allows God to enter. Our relationship with God doesn’t have to be separate. God weaves God’s way through all of our connections with others. An adventus heart is a heart that doesn’t have all the answers but presses forward that it will all work out anyway. Maybe it is idealistic and hokey. Maybe it is risky. But doesn’t it feel right to live that way? By emptying ourselves of how we think things SHOULD be, we take a stance of how things COULD be. It worked for Jesus. Maybe it’s worth a shot?
Another theologian, Basil Pennington, says, “You know how it is, my dear brothers. Some days we go to our lectio, and the Lord doesn’t seem to show up. We go on to the liturgy, and he is seemingly nowhere around. We approach the tomb of the altar, and it seems completely empty. Then, as we go down the garden path on our way to work, lo -suddenly there is the Lord,” (This quote on page 103 and much of my research comes from Steven Chase’s book, The Tree of Life).
This Advent, maybe we could try having adventus hearts. Be surprised at the wonder that is possible when God is able to break in and create something new in all of us.
The 1st Reading – Baruch 5: 1-9
This short, prophetic book was claimed to be from the hand of the famous secretary of Jeremiah, but theologians think it was more likely written later (between third and first century BC) as a work of encouragement to those Jews being forced to adopt Greek ways (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, 502-503).
A mitre, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and abbots. It is also a joint between 2 pieces of wood to form a corner. A cornerstone, in particular, is a stone at the base that binds 2 walls. The cornerstone must be strong and secure for the integrity of the building. God is in your corner! Do you wear God like a mitre, to advance secure in God’s glory?
The Greek word for justice more closely means doing what is right. If we try to do what is right, we will display God’s glory and splendor. What does that mean to you? Think deeply about that question. Doing what we feel is right within us is what is right with God. This is what brings joy and mercy into the world. What wonderful thoughts to have this Advent!
The 2nd Reading — The Letter to the Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Paul had established this church in about 50AD (the first Christian church on European soil). It was one of Paul’s favorite churches. Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing more gifts from this church. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became very sick. Later, he recovered and Paul was anxious for him to return home so that those who are worried about him will be relieved. Paul sent this letter with him. Despite the hardship and imprisonment, Paul’s letter is full of thanksgiving and joy, a very personal letter filled with strong emotions. (Serendipity, p. 375)
This is a love letter. Paul’s love for the people of Philippi is bursting in his words, and he wants that love he has for them to have an effect. Love is powerful! It moves people. It changes us. It makes us want goodness. And since God is love, of course it makes sense that love transcends and transforms all that is. When has someone’s love transformed you? When has it opened your eyes to something? How does love make a difference?
The Gospel – Luke 3: 1-6
Have you ever celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation privately? Most people admit that they are nervous on arrival but relieved afterwards…like a weight has been lifted. There is a freedom in knowing that God comes to us where we are. God takes us “AS IS”. Sometimes you may see items on sale “AS IS” and that usually means they are damaged goods or less than adequate. God makes us ready for to be full price again! And God’s love is the same no matter what condition we are in. We are beloved, which is what John the Baptist proclaimed LOUDLY!
From Living Liturgy, 2004: Salvation – the fullness of life that our God wishes to offer us – is revealed – or shows forth – in our repentance. To repent means to change one’s mind – one’s life. Our work of repentance is about turning ourselves toward God who wishes to embrace us in mercy, forgiveness, and love. Sometimes, mountains of work, or paths of indecision, or valleys of doubt and fear keep us from the Lord’s embrace – the Way of the Lord. It is a reading that seems more like a civil engineer’s road plans. But it is only this God who can give sure direction to our lives. Let God re-engineer our lives. This Advent may we take the time to rest in the security of God’s nearness. (p.6). Then our ‘tense hearts’ can be eased opened to receive Jesus, the true Good News.
Luke takes great care to situate the ministry of John the Baptist and thus Jesus in
the midst of human history. He mentions both secular leaders (Tiberius, Pilate, Herod etc.) and religious authorities (Annas and Caiphas). It is sort of like a “chronological drumroll.” He also chooses to include all of Isaiah’s directives (Isaiah 40:3-5) leading to the universal cry of “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (God’s universal and pastoral care for all peoples is a major theme of Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.) When we dare to try to put someone or some group outside of God’s saving concern, we should remember this theme. This Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to disrupt and disturb us until it enlarges our hearts, enlightens our minds, and unclenches our fists to welcome the truth of God’s love for all human flesh. (Celebration, Dec.10, 2000)
God breaks into human history through the birth of Jesus. By the incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorbtion, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life (Altogether Gift, Michael Downey, p. 79).
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
1st Sunday of Advent C
There is an interesting contrast presented in the Gospels. There are strange signs in the sun, the moon and the stars which sends the whole earth into dismay. It is so great that people will literally, “die of fright.” And I get that. Imagine the commotion and the confusion that ensues when the sun, moon, stars and seas start getting funky. Yet, Jesus says that his believers must act in a different way. “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Indeed, raising our heads will allow us to see the Son of Man coming in glory. How great is the difference between those who fear and those who meet their trials head on for they witness the coming of the Lord.
In the midst of the same set of circumstances, people stand in…
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