Thursday, December 14, 2017

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

We want to believe that every bad experience we have will work out for the good.  If we suffer chronic pain, we want to believe that our trial builds up a spiritual depository of grace to help others.  If we have setbacks in our careers, we want to believe that we are being taught patience.  If a loved one dies, we want to believe that the person is better off with God.  But sometimes such tenets of faith seem illusory.  Sometimes it seems that we are just kidding ourselves.  Today’s patron saint, John of the Cross, coined the phrase “dark night of the soul” to describe this dismal condition of soul.

Some of the Jews in Babylon no doubt experienced exile as a “dark night.”  They could no longer live the law without being derided by their native neighbors.  One psalm shows them being bullied to sing happy songs from Israel.  Perhaps John the Baptist had a like disillusionment.  Imprisoned, he may have seen his own days coming to an abrupt end.  So he sent his disciples to Jesus asking if he might possibly be the prophet whom he was supposed to foreshadow.  It was a last ditch effort to make sense of his ascetic and now doomed public life. In today’s gospel Jesus gives part of his answer to John’s query.

He says that it is odd that God’s Kingdom of love suffers so much violence.  Nevertheless, he indicates, the tide has turned with his coming.  Those who know him have already experienced God’s mercy.  John and the rest of us in our lowest moments have to hold on and trust.  This is what Advent hope is all about.  In the year’s darkest days (in the Northern Hemisphere) we do not yield to the cold night but hang on and wait for God’s glory to shine.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30)

Most of the people who started Christmas shopping early probably feel fatigued these days.  There are so many people to please and so many options to consider that shoppers are bound to grow weary.  Purchasing gifts on-line has eased the burden.  Of course, buying gifts cards is a simple way out of the hustle.  Jesus in the gospel today proposes another solution.

He tells the people not to worry.  Their concerns about pleasing one another, even about procuring the necessities of life will be taken care of by relying on him.  “Take my yoke upon you,” he says, “and learn from me.”  His yoke is the law of love – to love God above all and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  Sharing joy with both God and neighbor – and not trying to ingratiate oneself with others by bestowing gifts – results in a peaceful heart.

Christmas shopping has become a mania that jeopardizes the meaning of Christmas.  Black Friday has come to garner more interest than Good Friday.  But Jesus did not come to supplement our wardrobes, much less to jumpstart the economy.  He came to free us from selfishness which inhibits our going out to others in joy. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Zechariah 1:14-17; Luke 1:39-47)

When Pope Francis travels abroad, he usually goes to the poorest countries or spends much time in the poorest parts of the country he is visiting.  Last week he went to Myanmar and Bangladesh, two of the most problematic nations on earth.  Next month when he visits Peru, Francis will travel to the remote Amazon region where the indigenous are struggling for survival.  He evidently chooses to visit marginalized populations for the same reason that the Lord goes to Jerusalem in today’s first reading.

Zion or Jerusalem at the time of the prophet Zechariah is a shadow of what it was in the days of David and Solomon.  The city was destroyed by the Babylonians and now is trying to rebuild itself without much success.  But God is coming to aid the effort.  He will make the city once again a place of international significance.  People from all over the world will travel there to give praise to the same God.

We can understand the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a similar way.  She is God’s special envoy dispatched to the indigenous of Mexico.  They have been defeated by the Spanish and find themselves being diminished by plague and subjugation. Mary’s semblance as well as her dress is much like their own.  They can feel the pride of blessing with her gracious presence.  Undoubtedly they feel much like Elizabeth in the gospel proclaiming, “’And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’”  Mary’s response provides the reason.  God takes pity on the poor and lifts up the lowly.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

Once a man invited family and friends to his home for a party.  No liquor was served, but a hearty meal was eaten.  Prayers were also said in thanksgiving.  The party celebrated the man’s sobriety.  Fifteen years to the day he had given up drinking.

Of course, drinking is not bad in itself.  Nor can alcoholics be blamed for every drink they take.  As Alcoholics Anonymous teaches, compulsive drinking is a disease that diminishes moral responsibility.  But at some point alcoholics must account for their actions while intoxicated.  When they repeatedly do careless work and act abusively at home after drinking, they must either stop or recognize their sin.  Then their abstaining from drink becomes the source of complete healing.

In the gospel Jesus forgives the sin of the paralytic as the first step toward total healing.  As Jesus suggests, his saving of the man’s soul is a greater claim to his being the Messiah than his healing of the man’s lameness. But to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah in the first reading, Jesus makes the lame man “leap like a stag.”

Jesus comes to save all of us from our sins.  He brings forgiveness when we repent our wrongdoing.  As we turn away from our vices – whether obvious ones like drinking too much or more subtle ones like looking at others as objects of desire – Jesus will provide us the grace to live gracious and loving lives.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

Sin has been in the news a lot lately.  Not just the crimes that typically make the headlines, but the kinds that most people think of when they hear the word.  A Hollywood producer has been accused of multiple sex offenses, so have politicians, and entertainers.  One hopes that the revelations will lead to a widespread cleanup in the media as well as in people’s personal lives.  Today’s feast could serve as a prescription for the reform.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception looks forward to Christ’s saving work on behalf of all humankind.  The first reading intimates the problem.  Adam and Eve’s sin unleashed on the world a tempest of sexual desire that has never abated.  The couple pants for and, at the same time, is ready to betray one another.  Their descendants through the ages will inherit these conflicting passions.  But the hope for peace is not extinguished.  God sends His angel to Mary whom He has prepared to mother a savior.  Her willingness to accept the responsibility sets in motion the world’s redemption.  Mary’s son Jesus will atone for sin so that humans can, as noted in the second reading, become “holy and without blemish.”

For our part we must keep sexual desires properly directed.  This means strict control of Internet sites and general avoidance of lust.  More than that, we call on Christ to cleanse our eyes to see every person as a sister or brother.  He remains are last, best hope.