Saturday, December 20, 2014

12/23/2014- Tuesday of 4th week of Advent - Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; Luke 1:57-66

          Today’s psalmist asks the Lord to guide him in the way of truth and teach him his paths. In many ways, that is the journey most of us as Christ’s disciples have tried to follow during the Advent season.  Here at St. James parish in Tupelo, we have tried to journey through Advent in joy and hope.  We have had a lot of symbols and messengers and devotions lead us and guide us during this holy season. These things are to help us express our openness to letting God teach us and guide us in our lives, just what the psalmist expresses to us today. 
          The Gospel reading about the birth of John the Baptist describes for us the consequences of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s preparation for God will in their lives.  Their journey had some twists and turns for them, but their preparation & their willingness to listen to God enabled them to not only stand up against peer pressure from friends and relatives, but it enabled them to speak and act in a way that brought others to recognize the presence of God in their lives.  Their son would later grow up to be the man whose voice cried out the wilderness, the man who directly prepared the way for Jesus and his ministry.
         Today’s Gospel helps prepare us to celebrate our joyful Christmas Eve celebrations tomorrow. May the Lord lead us and guide us, opening our hearts as we enter the Christmas season with the birth of Christ into our world.  May this upcoming liturgical season of Christmas help us to learn more about God’s truth and laws.

Friday, December 19, 2014

12/21/2014 - 4th Sunday of Advent - Luke 1:26-38 -

      We are nearing the end of our Advent journey as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent today.  We have heard from different prophets and messengers during Advent, helping us prepare a path for the Lord in our lives and in the world.  We heard from prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist. Today, we hear from two special prophets – the Angel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Throughout these weeks of the holy Advent season, we talked about how we are called to use this holy season of preparation to bring joy and hope and renewal into our lives.   The Gospel of the Annunciation is a fitting message for us today of this last Sunday in Advent.
       What insight can me derive from the Annunciation that we can use to help us on our journey?  First, we need to realize that today we look at Advent and the Christmas story knowing how it is all going to turn out.  We know that it is going to be a story that changed the world in its day and continues to change our modern world today.  However, Mary didn’t know how things were going to turn out.  In fact, she is troubled by what the Angel has to proclaim to her.   Even so, Mary listens to what he had to say and she pondered those things in her hearts.  A lot of time in our own lives, when we are trying to discern God’s will or when we are trying to decide the right thing to do, we don’t know how things are going to turn out.  It is good for us to recognize that we are not alone.
      And what about what Mary did, pondering those things in her heart?  We live in a world where we feel rushed and where we need an answer as quickly as possible.  We don’t want to wait.  We don’t want to ponder and reflect and discern.  We want it now!  Mary and Joseph had plans and dreams, desires and hopes.  I am sure that they had expectations of how their life together would unfold.  And what God was asking of her was putting all those plans and dreams in disarray.  After pondering these things in her heart, Mary still answered:  How can this be? I have had no relations with a man?  How can I be with child?  But, after further pondering and further listening, after being told that nothing is impossible with God, Mary answers, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Behold, I am God’s servant.  We all need time to ponder and discern and listen to God. If not, then we can get so caught up in the busy-ness and day-to-day duties of our own lives that we can have a hard time hearing the voice of God in our lives.  I know that the Knights of Columbus and the ladies of our parish both sponsor times of retreat each year – and those who partake of those retreat really get a lot out of them.   I myself am getting ready to go back to the Camino pilgrimage in Spain the end of January, and I’ll be going by myself this time, not with a group. I want to spent that time in prayer and reflection with God.  I am really relishing having that those three weeks on retreat experience with him.  And that is something all of us should think about – about the time we spend in prayer and reflecting and in pondering God’s voice calling out to us.
       And that leads me to the third insight I take away from our reading today – that God is both immanent and transcendent – that God is both a reality that exists in our world, but that he is also is not confined or defined by our world.  I look at the spirituality I am called to as a diocesan priest.  I am called to spend time in prayer and study and reflection, to practice the devotions of our faith and to lead the faithful in those devotions.  I am called to seek the divine that is beyond my human understanding of it.  But I also cannot neglect the reality around me.  We are called to follow Christ’s values and justice.  We are called to reach out to our neighbor.  We are called to proclaim the Gospel in the reality of our world.  We are to fully participate in society and read the signs of the times to quote the Second Vatican Council.  We are to see God as both immanent and transcendent – not to exclude one to the detriment of the other.  In fact, the prayer after communion on Wednesday of this past week, proclaimed that through our partaking of the Eucharist, we pray that we are to wisely judge the things of this earth, and to hold fast to the things of heaven – emphasizing both the immanent and the transcendent.  Remember, we are to welcome the Christ child into our world and into our hearts, the child called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” The Virgin Mary looked at the reality of her world, but she did not limit God to that reality.  And so she was able to understand his call for her.
      Mary is an important part of our Advent journey and the Christmas story.  But she is so much more.  As a convert to Catholicism, the richness of the Marian tradition and theology in our Catholic faith has been an important part of my journey, especially now as a priest.   Back in October of 2013, Pope Francis celebrated the final apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearance at Fatima.  He mentioned today’s Gospel, the way Mary chose to say yes to being the Mother of God, the Mother of our Savior and ultimately our Mother.  Pope Francis consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  He asked us to invoke Mary's intercessions, that she may help us to be open to God's surprises, to be faithful to him each and every day, and to praise and thank him for being our strength.  May that be our prayer today on this last Sunday of the Advent season and every day. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

12/21/2014 – El Cuarto Domingo del Adviento – Lucas 1, 26-38

       Estamos al último domingo de adviento.  Estamos al fin de las cuatro semanas de preparación que tenemos antes del nacimiento de nuestro Señor en nuestro mundo.  En el segundo y en el tercero domingos de adviento, escuchamos la voz de Juan el Bautista.  Juan preparaba un camino para la llegada de Jesucristo.  Juan era la voz gritando en el desierto, un testigo de la luz de Cristo.  En el Evangelio de hoy, escuchamos la voz de otra mensajera en el tiempo de adviento – de nuestra Señora, la Virgen María -  cuando ella recibió el mensaje del Ángel Gabriel. 
        Al inicio de este encuentro entre María y el Ángel en el Evangelio, ella tenía miedo del contenido de este mensaje.  Es verdad, a veces, no queremos escuchar a la voluntad de Dios en nuestra vida.  A veces, tenemos miedo, tenemos dudas, no tenemos confianza en nosotros mismos.   Pero, el Ángel le dice a María: “ No tengas miedo.”  Dios nos dice lo mismo: que no debemos tener miedo en la presencia de nuestro Señor.   Podemos tener miedo en nuestro camino de fe, porque pensamos que Dios está muy lejos de nosotros. Como la Virgen María tenía el favor de Dios en el mensaje del Ángel, nosotros estamos en su favor en una manera como sus discípulos.  Es verdad que Dios no se olvida de nadie, como Él no se olvidó de María.   
        María tenía esta experiencia de Dios en su vida.  Tenemos una experiencia de Dios en nuestra vida también, una presencia con Él.  Pero, a veces, no nos damos cuenta de esta presencia.  Antes de venir aquí en Tupelo, trabajaba mucho con los prisioneros en las cárceles aquí en Mississippi en nuestro ministerio católico.  Me recuerdo, hablaba con los prisioneros de la cárcel un día en mi ministerio, y un prisionero me dijo que no tenía ningún conocimiento de Dios por muchos años antes de ir a la cárcel. Probablemente, la falta de una espiritualidad muy fuerte y una relación con Dios era la razón que estaba en la cárcel.  A veces, estamos en una esclavitud peor de una cárcel cuando estamos afuera de Dios en nuestra vida.   Con el mensaje del Ángel Gabriel, María tenía una propuesta muy importante, y ella tenía la libertad de aceptar o rechazar esta propuesta como nosotros tenemos en nuestra libertad también.  Si no estamos atentos a la voluntad de Dios en nuestra vida, su propuesta para nosotros no significa nada. 
        Estamos tres días antes del nacimiento de Jesús en nuestras vidas, en nuestros corazones.  La Virgen María nos da un ejemplo muy buena que podemos seguir en nuestras vidas.  ¿Cómo estamos reaccionando a la presencia de Dios en nuestra vida? ?Estamos consciente a su presencia, a la experiencia que tenemos con Él?  En estos días que tenemos antes de la celebración de navidad, necesitamos continuar nuestra preparación para su llegada con alegría y espera.  Demos gracias para tener estas semanas de preparación en nuestra vida, para renovar nuestra fe, y para dar la bienvenida a Cristo cuando llegará en nuestro mundo. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12/22/14 – Monday of 4th week of Advent – 1 Samuel 1:24-28, Luke 1:46-56

      Today, just a few days before our Christmas celebration, our readings prepare us for the true meaning of Christmas at a time when many of us are probably preoccupied with many other things, such as buying last-minute gifts, decorating our homes, or winding things down at work before we celebrate Christmas with our families. 
        Mary’s song of the Magnificat is filled with extraordinary proclamations about God.  Mary expresses a remarkable strength of belief.  Sister Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham University remarks that “Mary’s Magnificat …shows a woman whose consciousness is deeply rooted in the heritage and wisdom of the strong women of Israel.  Knowledge about the liberating traditions of her own people, (the Virgin Mary), this friend of God, stands (out) as a prophet.”            We hear from another prophetic woman of Israel in our first reading today – Hannah.  Hannah brings her young son, Samuel, to the Temple in order to dedicate him to God and to leave him there under the tutelage of Eli.  Hannah does this to fulfill her promise to God for answering her prayers and giving her a son.   Hannah is one of many faithful Jewish women in Holy Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition that Mary was aware of as she joyfully sings the Magnificat. 
        In this last week before Christmas, we have heard from Mary, Elizabeth, and Hannah in their own words.  What is the message they are trying to bring to us?  Perhaps they are asking us to discover the true meaning of this holy Advent season in the midst of our busy secular world.   As God manifested himself in the humble manger in Bethlehem in the form of the baby Jesus, he reminds us that in our modern world, God's real presence is still among us, a presence we encounter in many ways.  Our reading in this last week of Advent remind us how much we are loved by God just as we are.  The Magnificat specifically reminds us that God loves us, that he desires us to express this love to him and to others as we live out our daily lives of faith.  God touches us through others.  Likewise, God touches others through our presence to them just as Mary brought God to her cousin Elizabeth through her presence and through her words.   Let us pray that God will open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to the stirrings of God in our lives, especially in the ways he comes to us during Advent and Christmas.

12/19/2014 Friday of the 3rd week of Advent – Psalm 71: 3-6, 16-17 , Luke 1:5-25

        Today's readings give us a lot to think about as we continue our preparations during this Advent season with Christmas less than a week away.  The psalmist prays today, “Lord, be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress. O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.”  We can probably think of some things we need to be rescued from in our lives.  We can probably think of things from which we need to seek safety.  The Lord is supposed to be our rock and our refuge, but with the busy holiday season upon us, with shopping and parties and travel and work, we might not be able to feel the stillness and solitude that we seek in a relationship with God.  Advent is supposed to bring a message of hope and renewal, but that may seem very far from the reality of our lives.
        This brings us to the Gospel today.  Zechariah has an encounter with the Angel as he hears about the coming birth of his son, John the Baptist. Elizabeth rejoices.  She who was barren for so many years, she who suffered and grieved over not being able to bear a child - she is now filled with joy.   In his imposed silence, Zechariah was able to ponder his situation.  What do we need to ponder in our own lives?  And like the barrenness that Elizabeth experienced, is there any barrenness in our life of faith that is in need of God's redemption and grace?
          We enter the final week of Advent in our preparation for Jesus' birth into our world.  Let us pray that our hearts be filled with joy and gladness, that we may find refuge in the Lord and hear his voice crying out to prepare a way from him to enter our lives. 

12/18/2014 – Thursday of the 3rd week of Advent – Matthew 1:18-25

       We are seven days before Christmas.  For several weeks now, we have been journeying during Advent in order to prepare for the coming of Christmas.   When I was getting ready for the Advent season, I came across a brochure issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled: “Advent: Joy and Hope – We look forward with joy to the coming of Jesus.”   I had explained to the liturgy committee that I wanted to emphasize joy and hope during this Advent season, since I felt that this was an aspect of Advent that we perhaps neglected and overlooked.   Advent is indeed a solemn season, a serious season, a season where we are called to repentance and renewal and reconciliation.  But it is a joyful season as well.  The situation Joseph was faced with in today’s Gospel was quite serious.  We can only imagine the anxiety and concern and tension that he felt in the situation that he and Mary faced.  Yes, Advent is a time of preparation for us, of making straight a path in the arrival of the Lord into our world.
G. Luke tells us that this fulfills what the prophet foretold, that the Virgin would give birth to a child who will be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”  Indeed, Advent is a time where we not only prepare for the coming of the Lord, but it is also a time in which we contemplate the way God is with us.   That’s important to keep in mind, to remember that Emmanuel means  that “God is with us” – not “God will soon be with us” or “God is on the way.” Sometimes, with what is going on in our lives and what we see going on in the world, it is easy to forget that “God is with us.”  We are indeed connected with God, but sometimes that connection can seem far away, can’t it?  God comes to us through Jesus’ nativity, but God is always with us and he is present throughout human history in many different ways.  As we are only a week away from Christmas, I pray that all of us may be aware of the ways God is with us, the ways God is working in our lives. 

Let us pray:
Lord, you are always here with us.
You always come to us,
No matter what the season. 
Wherever we are on our journey,
Whatever we are doing,
Whatever we are feeling,
No matter what ups and downs we are experiencing,
May we always have knowledge of your presence with us, Lord,

Amen.

12/17/2014 – Wednesday of the 3rd week of Advent - Matthew 1:1-17 –

       Today, we hear the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, which recounts the genealogy of Jesus back many generations.  It is quite a list, with some names that are not so easy to pronounce.  Believe me, this is one reading I had to practice in order to read all of these unusual names of the men and women in Jesus’ family tree.  Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestors all the way back to the patriarch of the Jewish people, Abraham and to the great Jewish forefathers Jacob and King David.  There are interesting, intriguing, and sometimes very scandalous stories linked with the individuals listed in Jesus’ genealogy. 
       I know that genealogy and learning about one’s ancestry has become a popular activity among many Americans in recent years.  Many of our parishioners are very proud of their ancestors and their heritage, and rightfully so.   Since most of us originally came from immigrant ancestors from distant lands, many of us want to learn more about our roots, about where we came from.  For the people of ancient Israel, knowing one’s heritage and blood line were important since heritage and lineage determined whether one was considered clean or pure in a religious sense.  Matthew wanted to show that Jesus was in the line of God’s chosen people, the rightful heir to the throne of David, the one to whom God fulfilled the promises he made to David and Abraham, that he would send a savior and a king to Israel to rule over them and to deliver them from their enemies.
      I wonder if we see our own spiritual history in the genealogy we hear today.  We indeed come from this spiritual lineage, as we have had our faith passed down to us by our own ancestors, from those who learned their faith in the apostolic tradition.  As we continue in the season of Advent, in this season of waiting, expecting, and preparing, in this season of following the signs that God gives to us, let us give thanks for those who passed down the faith to us.  Let us give thanks for the spiritual genealogy of which we are a part.