Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of Year Reflection

         It is New Year's Eve day and I am getting ready to meet a friend who is visiting from Australia. It is his first time to visit Boston as he completes his round-the-world trip touring Jesuit communities on his sabbatical year. I look forward to my time with him because he is such a lovely man. I have been waiting all week long to spend time reviewing my Christmas cards to honor and pray for each person in my life who holds a special place. (I even pray for those who send online greetings and for those for whom I did not get to send a card.) Now is the right time. Now is always the best time.
          I just finished directing an End-of-Year Christmas retreat with a good friend and we are pleased with the outcome. Most of the retreatants left Eastern Point with a wide smile on their faces and a jubilant jump in their steps. We tried to modify the traditional retreat by extending the Christmas graces with some festive activities and some relationship building while providing greater space for silence and freedom. While for some it was a deviation from what they knew and expected, most let us know of their deep-felt pleasure of ending their year this way.

          I tell God I am blessed every day to be able to work and live in Gloucester's retreat house. I enjoy it. I am changed by each retreat because I become a kinder, better man. I find this work makes me better able to reveal my care for others more openly. God helps me love more easily. While the beauty of the ocean is breath-taking and the landscape work grounds me and helps me search for natural beauty, it is the lives of others that inspires me to want to live each day to the fullest.

          I've had one of my best Christmases in years, if not the best. My soul is very light and happy and my heart beats with great fervor. I'm grateful for all the miraculous work God has done with me throughout the years. At times, my heart feels ready to burst open because of the great goodness I see in others and it hurts when I see someone in deep pain. Mostly, I'm grateful for the love I am given by many. I merely want to return that gift abundantly to them and to God.

          I am overjoyed at the goodwill I experienced with my family during the holidays. I am grateful for the desire I feel in wanting to spend time with them. I cherish the fraternal care I receive from brother Jesuits and our Ignatian companions, especially the pilgrims from our journey to Spain. I'm honored to receive great friendship and revelry with my new friends on Boston's North Shore, especially from the choruses, and of course, I am extremely enriched by those who share their stories of faith at the retreat house.

          My longstanding friends remain my longstanding friends because I like them and they are nice. To honor my 50th year of life, celebrated around Thanksgiving, I was in touch with many high school classmates and childhood friends. I even connected with my high school teachers because they did remarkable work preparing us for life and I am very appreciative of their skills in forming us and guiding us in those initial steps of life. Yes, it has been a good year and a good life; all I have to do is look around me and be amazed at the good people who are part of it. God has been more generous to me than I deserve, and I spent time in prayer telling God that my heart is so moved by the goodness I receive.

          As I review my Christmas cards, I am touched by the many stories told to me from friends and loved ones. I am honored by the friendships, some of which are difficult to maintain because of distance and time, but we persevere because our stories together are worth holding up to the Lord.

          Mind you that many of these stories are filled with heartache, loss and suffering, and they are filled with perseverance, bountiful grace, and hope. I find it a great grace to be able to hold these stories in silent respect. I want to hear more of these stories because it helps me grow in compassion and care. The key to my response is a loving presence - just being silent with one who is suffering and in pain.

          I find it quite extraordinary when someone honors my experience by letting me know they feel what I am feeling. Everyone's story needs to be told, heard and honored. Everyone needs to be seen. I gain greater insights and understanding when I allow others to feel - and feel what they are feeling so I can experience being in the place of another. It is risky. Compassion is risky because we risk being hurt in the process of showing solidarity, but it is the place in our hearts where we are moved to greater love for one another. For me, the risk is worth it.

          I am convinced that Christ's compassion can change our world. It has mine. If we can hold one another's story more reverently, it will create an environment in which less hurt and harm is created. It will create a world that is more sympathetic, understanding, and tolerant. It will help a person feel connected and become more whole. We live in hope that people can see themselves as more beautiful gifts to themselves and to others.

          We hold quite a gift in our hands. Christ has blessed us with the gift of compassion and he needs us to work with him to transform the world. We cannot put a stop to all the nonsense that creates more suffering and sorrow, but perhaps we can lessen the insanity when we hold one suffering person in front of us. We give them an incredible gift of solidarity and understanding and it eases pain. We live in hope that this goodness will be remembered and passed onto others and that life will be built up rather than destroyed. Love and compassion will reign. It will have the first and last word, and it is good for us to see it in the midst of ordinary life.

          I am content at this end of the year to spend time in silence at this beautiful retreat house to remember your life and to present you to God. Thank you for who and what you have been to me. May God bless you now and in the coming year with spiritual (and financial) prosperity, good health, and a great deal of hope.

Resolutions for a New Year (reprinted from last year)

Spirituality: Resolutions for a New Year

1. Drink plenty of water.
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants..
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy
5. Make time to pray.
6. Play more games
7. Read more books than you did last year.
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day
9. Sleep for at least 7 hours.
10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

11. Refrain from comparing your life to others. You have no idea what goes on in their journey.
12. Refrain from holding negative thoughts about matters you cannot control. Instead invest your energy positively in the present moment.
13. Be reasonable. Do only what you can. Know your limits.
14. Laugh at yourself. Be open. Take yourself lightly.
15. Avoid precious energy on gossip or speculations.
16. Dream more while you are awake.
17. Envy is a waste of time. Settle for what you already have.
18. Remember the past gratefully. Encourage your partner to make better choices.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Find something good to say about that person.
20. Make peace with your past. We only really have the present to enjoy.
21. You make choices that lead to your happiness. Feel the power in choosing what you want.
22. “The style is the man.” How we do something is more important than what is done.
23. Smile and laugh more.
24. Decide what is important to you. Allow yourself to be wrong sometimes.

25. Call your family often.
26. Each day say something nice to others.
27. Learn that forgiveness is a process. Allow yourself to be angry and use that anger in a constructive way to resolve tensions.
28. Spend time with people. Solidarity is a tremendous gift.
29. Your job will not take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Form good relationships.

30. Know the difference between the good and the right. Do the right thing!
31. Use appropriately what is not useful, beautiful or joyful.
32. God heals everything. You are not God.
33. In the end, all will be well. If it is not well now, it is not the end.
34. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
35. Know your emotions. They are signals of God at work within you.
36. Understand that suffering and love are part of life.
37. When you awake alive in the morning, thank God.

Prayer: Teresa of Avila

Your hand of love is always outstretched towards me, even when I stubbornly look the other way. And your gentle voice constantly calls me, even when I obstinately refuse to listen.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Song: "Old Lang Syne" by Robert Burns in 1788

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne* ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

English translation

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Prayer: Maximus the Confessor

Christ’s life was strange and wondrous for it was imprinted with the new power of a person who lived life in a new way.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Homily for Unwrapping Your Gifts (Draft)

          Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises really want us to come to the understanding that we are a gift to ourselves - a gift from God - to ourselves, and that we are to share who we are, share our stories, with those around us. The gift of Ignatian spirituality is that it is a God-affirming-of-us spirituality and a world-affirming spirituality. The Exercises conclude with two thoughts: "love is to be expressed more in deeds than in words," and "the one who loves communicates with the one who is loved." This communication takes shape by way of sharing whatever goods the lover has - family, friends, wealth, learning, virtue, and so on - with the beloved. And so too the beloved shares similarly with the one who loves.
          We need to remind ourselves that lovers share. Lovers do not take, leaving the other bereft. What we offer to share first is our liberty, which leads to the generosity of a great-souled person. Although liberty is a gift from God, our communicating is the very action whereby the potential, which is ours, is actualized in our sharing. We therefore start with sharing our liberty and by doing so, we find that we make ourselves more fully available to our beloved. It is helpful to remember that a gift is not actualized until it has been shared.
          I'd like to suggest some practical steps to share yourself to God and with others.

Ignatius and the composition of place

          A grounding exercise in the 30-day retreat is the Nativity scene when a person is to imagine the setting of the birth of Jesus. We are to examine the movements and conversations of Joseph and Mary, the inn-keeper, shepherds and the visiting Magi, and every scriptural and non-scriptural person who shows up in the scene.  infant Jesus  We are to imaginatively immerse ourselves in the scriptural scenes before the real true heart of the prayer takes shape: the conversation, which is a turning towards one another in openness. Conversations entails more listening than it does speaking. Conversation means that our whole being is oriented toward another person.
          I want to tell you a short story that I read in Mitch Albom's book, "Have a little faith," to illustrate this point.
A little girl came home from school with a drawing she had made in class. She danced into the kitchen where her mother was preparing dinner.

"Mom, guess what?" she squealed, waving the drawing.
Her mother never looked up.

"What?" she said, tending to the pots.

"Guess what?" the child repeated, waving the drawing.
"What?" the mother said, tending to the plated.

"Mom, you're not listening."
"Sweetie, yes I am."

"Mom," the child said, "you're not listening with your eyes."

          Ignatius wants us to use our senses in our prayer. Senses feed our intellect and heart. They provide necessary data that we use to make judgments and interpret events. Our imagination needs this sensory and sensual data because the imagination will unite all parts of our being: intellect, heart, emotions, physiological and psychological movements so the imagination can bring meaning to the world. Through all of this, we come to understand more fully what we need and desire. Once we get a handle on this, we then tell God what we need and desire and we ask for it. Hence, this conversation becomes the cornerstone of our Ignatian-style prayer.
          Give yourself a gift today of lingering with your senses. As you walk outside, take a look around at the obvious beauty of this place, but make sure you also go a little deeper. Look higher up in the sky and lower onto the forest floor to notice those details that are often overlooked. When we contemplate some image, it is always a tiny detail, not the whole corpus, that speaks to us uniquely. Just as we contemplate Christ in a prayer session, we keep our focus upon him and when we catch a particular detail, it is then that he brings up to us the stuff of our lives, the stuff of December 29th, 2011. Christ wants to bring greater meaning to our life's events.
          So walk around with obvious attention to what you see, but also honor your other senses. Smell is a favorite sense for Ignatius for it evokes meaningful memories. Go outside and smell the salt air and the home cooking of our chefs. Taste the salt that is in the air. If you see a particular berry or leaf that you life, don't just look at it. Pick it. Twirl it around in your finger, and if it is not poison ivy, rub in against your cheeks. Feel the cool air on your cheeks as well. Listen, as the girl asks her mommy, with your eyes, and ears, the nose, and mouth, and skin. Immerse yourself. Refrain from making judgments, just allow yourself to feel alive. And don't forget to breathe - deep, slow, sustained breaths. Let there be nothing quick about your breaths. Just breathe in deeply and slowly and breathe out with the same sustained effort.
Do you realize?
          A contemporary rock band called The Verve wrote a song a few years ago that I really like to sing. It is called, "Do you realize?" The question they ask you to consider is this: Do you realize - that - you - have - the most beautiful - face? When was the last time you heard someone say that to you? Do you believe it? Do you believe that you are truly beautiful - to God, to yourself, and to others? All parts of you? with your weaknesses and strengths, your beauty and warts, and those good life choices you' ve made and even those ones you regret and haven't allowed yourself to receive God's forgiveness. Can you allow yourself to truly believe you are beautiful?
          The way I always begin my prayer is to place myself before God to merely let God gaze upon me. I ask that God see me, feel me, hear me, and to know what I am feeling. I ask that God behold me, just as Mary would have gazed upon her infant son when he was born, the way your parents gazed upon you as a newborn. How does God respond? God looks upon me with wonder and awe. God wants you to know that he gazes upon you the same way. You take his breath away and he can't do anything but be astonished by who you are. God wants to tell you that you have such a beautiful face and he holds it in his memory.
Story of an amazing woman in Jamaica who lovingly gazed upon her daughter.

          Most of us are not good at taking compliments. We have to receive these words and thoughts from God. If we begin our prayer in this way, knowing that we are cherished to the core, something wonderful will happen in our hearts that allow us to open up to God. God will be holding us and coaxing us to tell him everything that we are feeling - the positive and negative emotions - the whole gamut of who we are because we are our feelings and our choices.
                Prayer is revealing who we authentically, genuinely are to God, and letting God reveal something about God's self back to us. We have to let God know everything about our emotions so God can feel what we are feeling. We are not to judge our feelings, but merely say, "I'm feeling peaceful because....," "I'm feeling anxious because..." "I'm feeling afraid because..." We just are to tell God that we have these feelings. When we spew forth our 37 complicated, over-lapped, unexpressed feelings to God, we can rest in the fact that we told someone who really wants to know how we are feeling. God can do something with these feelings when we name them. Speaking of these allows us to answer two questions God will ask us: "What do you need?" and "What do you want?" God acts through our desires. God's puts them there and wants us to develop them. These are the gifts that are to be actualized. These gifts make us distinct from another person and acting upon these desires are where we find God's will, which is always expressed in the immediate present. It is in the now. God will ratify, affirm confirm his will for you uniquely as you express your desires to him.
          Once we tell God what we need and ask for what we want, we can sit back and enjoy the rest of prayer. God is always generous and is always laboring for your own good. God wants to grace you with his presence and shower you with his affection. God wants to spoil you rotten. Rest content because you will know God hears you and considers how to give you the very best. It is at that point, we become concerned with God's well being. We turn to God and say: Since you, O God, have given me the grace to see me, feel me, hear me, and feel what I am feeling, give me the grace to see you, to hear you, to feel what you are feeling. This is the mutuality that Ignatius writes of at the close of the Exercises. Love is mutual and is to be shared between lovers.
          Before I get to the meditation, I'll close with a quote from Richard McBrien:

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.

Prayer: Meister Eckhart

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and culture.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Innocents

          It doesn't take long for the joy and wonder of Christmas to get shaken off its foundation. The innocence that was just born to us was came into a world where cruelty erupts all too violently from human hearts. We want to linger on the good that we just received in the birth of Jesus, but the memorials of Stephen, the first martyr, and the slaughter on many innocent boy children, boggles our mind. Our task is not to let harsh events harden our hearts. We are to seek for the good that is surrounded by death and destruction, and cling to it. For in it, we find our hope, and this world needs to grasp as much hope as possible.
          It would be unfortunate if we were to see the massacre of the innocents only as an historical event - as a sad event in the middle of a glorious season. A quick survey of the daily news on Christmas day shows us the use of deadly bombs in Iraq, slaughtering of worshippers in Nigeria, house fires in New England cities, brutal murders and unfortunate accidents. In our Presidential primary season we have plenty of word slinging that seriously attempts to injure others instead of building up one another. King Herod exists today. And then we face our own interpersonal losses - whether it is the death and mourning of love ones or our own experience of being beaten down by others. We are peppered with stories that can wear down our hope. The temptation when we cannot do anything to change a situation is to walk away, to try to harden ourselves, to maintain an emotional distance, or to despair. In the face of these natural, understandable human responses, we all the more appreciate compassion as a difficult but priceless grace. The key to our responses is our loving presence - just being silent with one who is suffering and in pain.
          It would be a gift for us if we learned to read scripture by lingering on our emotions and fully valuing the events that are becoming known. We honor the experience of others when we feel what they are feeling. Everyone's story needs to be told. Everyone's story needs to be heard and honored. We can only partially know something with our intellect; we gain greater insights and understanding when we allow ourselves to feel - to be put in the place of another. It is risky. Compassion is always risky because we risk being hurt in the process of showing solidarity, but it is the place in our hearts where we are moved to greater love for one another.
          Many of us have spent time with someone dear in the last hours of life. We often wonder what we can say or do to comfort and console the person and we often realize we are thinking in an unhelpful way. We would rather have the person say, "Let me tell you what it is like. Let me tell you what I am seeing and feeling. Please don't interrupt; just stay with me and listen." We find our way into compassion as we hold another person's story. Compassion builds upon each experience. Compassion is not just our feeling wounded, but compassion indentifies the wound that is us.
          I marvel at the magi because they saw and heard and had compassion on the boy Jesus and his family. They were changed by what they experienced. In my prayer, I can imagine them holding the boy in their arms and feeling as if they belong to him. They have great hope for the promise that he brings not only to the world but to themselves. I hope each of you in your Christmas prayer picked up the newborn babe and held him in your own arms. So many times I hear of people who are reluctant to pick him up and sing gently to him. I hope you fully immersed yourself in the experience. I hope you cooed at him and said some silly things that babies make us do. The compassion of the magi for Jesus protected his life. It makes me wonder what greater power compassion holds for our world.
          It makes me wonder what would have happened if King Herod's story was heard and honored by others. I'm sure his friends would have heard of his deep wounds and fears and insecurities. If they could have held his story for him to examine, he might have owned up to the irrational thoughts he held. Because he did not directly confront his fears, they were manifested sideways - and that was very messy and unfortunate. They could have helped him become more whole rather than acting out of his unhealthiness. It is possible that the countless lives of innocent children were saved rather than extinguished.
          We hold quite a gift in our hands. Christ has blessed us with the gift of compassion and he needs us to work with him to transform the world. We cannot put a stop to all the nonsense that creates more suffering and sorrow, but perhaps we can lessen the insanity when we hold one suffering person in front of us. We give them an incredible gift of solidarity and understanding and we live in hope that this goodness will be remembered and passed onto others and that life will be built up rather than destroyed. While King Herod exists today, he no longer reigns. Let love and compassion reign instead. Tell your story; listen to others; ease the pain and live in the world Christ came to redeem.

Mary, Mother of God

Mary, Mother of God
January 1, 2012
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

          Mary is a rightly revered person in Christianity and we owe much to her example of faith. She holds a special place in our hearts for her willingness to become the mother of Jesus, which led her to become the "Mother of God," which today's feast honors. Her openness to God's will is an example for us to keep ourselves open to God's many invitations. The possibilities are boundless when we learn to say "yes" as Mary did.

          For some, however, images of the Catholic portrayal of Mary makes her inaccessible to them. She comes across as someone so pure, chaste, and good that many cannot relate to her because those characteristics appear otherworldly. For people who make daily mistakes, Mary seems to be inerrant in her morality and too remote as one who we are to imitate. She is practically god-like and remote, and we are mere humans who strive each day and fail to live up to God's expectations for ourselves. Jesus of Nazareth is easier to connect with because he was a man who experienced humanity fully. Some portrayals of Jesus makes him more reachable than his mother.

          I often suggest to spiritual seekers who struggle with Mary to connect with her primarily as the earthly mother of Jesus . I ask them to consider their own mother's characteristics and check to see if the find similarities and differences with Mary. Mary is special because she was a human mother who did the best for her family. She had her particularly ways of relating to her family as our mother's do. She uniquely cared for her son the way that our moms care for us. I like the way she cherishes memories in her heart the way my mother fondly remembers my childhood. The Mary I know likes to sing while she bakes. The Mary I know has a special song reserved for me as my mother once did for me. As I become more familiar with Mary, the more greatly I honor what she did and does for me. It is in her humanity that I find her greatness.

          This day is also the day in which Jesus was given his name at his circumcision. (This is a special feast day for Jesuits as it is our titular feast: the giving of the name of Jesus to the Society that bears his name.) Naming someone is a powerful act. Naming a child allows us to recognize our gratitude for previous generations, to remember a dear friend, or to honor someone who has made a deep impression upon our lives. For that child, we desire that he or she grows up imitating a virtue or characteristic of one whom we deeply admire. A lasting bond is forged between peoples.

          The naming of Jesus reminds us that the angel Gabriel suggested to her that her son be named Jesus, that is, "Yahweh saves." He shall be Emmanuel - God is with us. This name carries a weighty significance. Paul in his letter to the Galatians tells us that it is through Jesus as the Son of God that we are adopted into God's family. Jesus is the one who brings us into God's paternal family as his children in intimate terms. The power of God's familial protection remains with us. In the Book of Numbers, Moses tells Aaron that he is to give the Israelites a blessing in God's name. When the holy name is invoked, the Lord will bless them abundantly. This is the reason we today continue to bless believers, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

          Notice those people, places, and events that we specially name. It could be a favorite family vacation spot, a newly acquired pet, a colleague's nickname, or a room in the house. We also name characteristics to a condition we are dealing with, like alcoholism, narcissism, depression, or powerlessness. Once we identify an appropriate name for something, we have power over it and can relate to it from a position of privilege. We regain power over something once we give it a voice or a name.

          As the new year begins, name your desires. Tell God what you want. Ask for what you need. You may first have to discern most appropriately what you seek. Once you have rightly identified it, the pursuit of that goal is much easier and straight-forward. As we stand at the cusp of a new year, we benefit from all the spiritual resources we can muster. The Trinitarian God is there to aid us, and so is Mary, the Mother of God, who once helped her Son clarify what he wanted and needed. She will gladly do the same for us. Seek out her counsel. She is wise beyond the ages.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  We continue hearing 1 John as he tells us about what it means to follow the Christ. As Christ is the Word of God, if we accept the Word and honor it, we will be honored by Christ. God's love is clearly seen because he adopted us as his own children and we have his protection as a father cares for his own clan. Pay attention to the one who acts righteously. Be cautious of the one who sins because that person belongs to the Devil. We remain in God when we act righteously. We are to love one another and take care of our brothers and sisters. The world will hate us because of our goodness and because our mercy is inexplicable to others. As we belong to the truth, we don't have to worry about the judgments of others. The world's victor is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. As we are baptized, the Spirit, Blood, and water testify for us. We have powerful agents working for our behalf. As we have confidence in God, we can ask anything in his name and he hears us. The One begotten by God protects and cares for us. God will help us discern the important matters in the world.

Gospel: The Jews from Jerusalem sent priests to John to ask him, "Who are you?" John the Baptist tells them that he is not the Messiah, but that the Messiah is already among them. After they left, John points out to his disciples, "Behold. There is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Two of John's disciples turned and followed Jesus. They became his disciples. Andrew becomes a disciples and brings Simon to the Messiah, where he is renamed "Cephas." Jesus went to Galilee. Philip brought Nathanael to him to become a disciple. Nathanael at first was dismissive, but comes to realize Jesus is the Christ. John the Baptist again declares that he is not the Messiah, but Jesus comes to him to be baptized in accordance with the Scriptures. Jesus attends a wedding in Cana where, through the urging of his mother, performs his first miracle.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Basil the Great and Gregory Nanzianzen, bishops and doctors (fourth century), are two of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church. They are known for their preaching especially against the Arian heretics. Basil began as a hermit before he was named archbishop of Caesarea. He influenced Gregory who eventually became archbishop of Constantinople. Their teachings influenced both the Roman and Eastern Churches.

Tuesday: The Name of Jesus was given to the infant as the angel foretold. In the Mediterranean world, the naming of person stood for the whole person. Humans were given the power to name during the Genesis creation accounts. If one honors the name of the person, they honor the person. The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.”

Wednesday: Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious (1774-1821), was born into an Episcopalian household where she married and had five children. When her husband died, she became a Catholic and founded a girls’ school in Baltimore. She then founded the Sisters of Charity and began the foundation for the parochial school system in the U.S. She is the first native-born American to be canonized.

Thursday: John Neumann, bishop (1811-1860), emigrated from Bohemia to New York and joined the Redemptorists in Pittsburgh before being named bishop of Philadelphia. He built many churches in the diocese and placed great emphasis on education as the foundation of faith.

Friday: Andre Bessette, religious (1845-1937), was born in Quebec, Canada. He joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross and taught for 40 years at the College of Notre Dame. He cared for the sick and was known as a intercessor for miracles. He built St. Joseph’s Oratory, a popular pilgrimage site in Canada.

Saturday: Raymond of Penyafort, priest (1175-1275), was trained in philosophy and law and was ordained in 1222 to preach to the Moors and Christians. Though he was appointed bishop of Tarragon, he declined the position. Instead he organized papal decrees into the first form of canon law. He was later elected Master of the Dominican Order.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Jan. 1, 1598: Fr. Alphonsus Barréna, surnamed the Apostle of Peru, died. He was the first to carry the faith to the Guaranis and Chiquitos in Paraguay.
·         Jan. 2, 1619: At Rome, John Berchmans and Bartholomew Penneman, his companion scholastic from Belgium, entered the Roman College.
·         Jan. 3, 1816: Fr. General Brzozowski and 25 members of the Society, guarded by soldiers, left St. Petersburg, Russia, having been banished by the civil government.
·         Jan. 4, 1619: The English mission is raised to the status of a province.
·         Jan. 5, 1548: Francis Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the church, was born at Granada.
·         Jan. 6, 1829: Publication of Pope Leo XII's rescript, declaring the Society to be canonically restored in England.
·         Jan. 7, 1566: Cardinal Ghislieri was elected pope as Pius V. He was a great friend of the Francis Borgia and appointed Salmeron and Toletus as apostolic preachers at the Vatican. He desired to impose the office of choir on the Society and even ordered it. He was canonized as St. Pius V. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Prayer: John XXIII

The history of twenty centuries begins in this stable, for the child is in very truth the source of all things.

Prayer: Athanasius

Flesh did not diminish the glory of the Word; far be the thought. On the contrary, it was glorified by him.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Prayer: Leo I

A day of new redemption has dawned for us, a day prepared from antiquity, a day of eternal blessedness.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours

By your miraculous birth you have fulfilled the Scriptures; like a gentle rain falling upon the earth you have come down to save your people.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Homily (long form)

                No matter how many times we hear the Nativity story, it remains fresh and dramatic. Although the readings remain the same, something within changes each year -sometimes we find an obscure detail to capture our imagination and to bring new meaning to the story. Or we read scripture by paying attention to the emotions of each of the characters. This year, we are more experienced and perhaps a little wiser and we realize that we need a savior to be born for us. When we contemplate what God has done for us, we are amazed that this tiny child was given to us so that we are no longer separated from God. This is an awesome gesture on God's part.
          Isaiah's words speak to the heart of our need for a savior: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone." When we realize how messed up our lives are, we appreciate more fully what God is doing for us. We need hope. We need hope in our hearts once again so we can enjoy life as our true selves desire. We look upon this feast with wonder and awe, and also soberly because we know our salvation has to come from the outside. We cannot save ourselves, and God in his goodness has chosen to do it.
          I always find it fascinating to meditate on how God is feeling on this night. Mostly I sense God is proud and well-pleased. God often gets overlooked because we focus on the newborn boy, but God is ecstatic that first events that lead to our salvation have begun: Jesus Christ is born for us. God set in motion the events that will bring us back to him. God is the giver of every good gift. God is in every Christmas present we give and receive. I think of this quote from Ingrid Undset,
          "And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans ~ and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit ~ and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused ~ and to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.

          My heart warms when I think about how God feels as he gazes upon you gathered here. I think he wants to say, "Welcome home. I'm glad to be with you. It is wonderful that you have come together again. I want to share my whole life with you. I want to share my most prized creation with you - my Son, called Emmanuel - God is with us." I feel in my heart that God acknowledges and is deeply moved by the love you show him. He wants you to know he is always part of your life - in the good times and in the messiness and in the normal course of daily life. God feels great tenderness and affection towards you. Let God be good to you this Christmas. Let God shower many graces upon you. Just open your heart to receive them.
          I imagine God also feels vulnerable because he will become a human infant in the most precarious condition possible. He, like the shepherds who live in the fields, has no home. The only one he gets is the one we give to him. He knows this is risky because our hearts need to grow to have some room for him. Without our growth, Christ has no place to live, and God knows many will turn away from him and want to harm him.
          My daydreaming over these readings takes me to the shepherds' stories. Scripture tells us they live in the fields. Shepherding is a nomadic way of life, not a job that one holds. There's no house to return to. Perhaps a shack or a lean-to, but no permanent dwelling - just the fields. In my prayer, I see not only a group of male shepherds that the movies and Christmas cards portray, but their entire shepherding family. It startled me that for the first time I saw the wives and children of shepherds and my heart went out to them because I want them to have a sturdy home. I want a better life for them. I want them to be afforded all the resources that a more prosperous family has. It appears odd that the multitude of angels appeared to them, but each of us has a bit of shepherd within us. We have times when we have felt isolated and disregarded by a larger society that looks askance at us. We've had periods in our lives when we've felt not welcomed and "not at home." And yet the shepherds have a privileged place. It was to them the news of this kingly child was told, and they could relate to him - because neither of them had a home. Both the child and the shepherd needed to build a home inside each other's hearts - and this can only come when our hearts are open to God's invitations.
          Somehow, the infant's birth warms our heart and begs us to bear with one another. He continually draws the best out of us. He makes us look upon even our greatest adversary with whatever kindness and patience we can muster. We know the Christ-child only wants what is good for us and for our neighbor. He knows the cruelty that exists in human hearts. He wishes we would change but he doesn't force it. God never acts with force or violence. God never acts with force or violence. In fact, the child  doesn't do anything but rest in a crib and in his mother's arms. He causes us to gaze upon him and marvel at him. This tiny boy will become everything that Isaiah said: Wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, and Prince of Peace.
          However, he is not that today. He is merely a human baby who hungers for food and human affection. He merely wants us to pick him up and hold him close to our chests. Nothing more. That's right. Pick him up. Hold him. Squeeze him and tell him that he is beautiful. That's what infants need. Kind words and a warm human touch. How else are we going to know him unless we embrace him warmly and let him into our battered world. We have much to say to him. Today it is good for us to tell him our hopes and dreams for our lives together. All he can do is absorb the love you give him at this point. Give him your love. Give him your love. Let this be the first thing he encounters in this world. He will return it someday. He will tell you that you have a beautiful face. He will certainly remember you. It is our time just to be with one another and to waste time enjoying each other. That's all he wants.
          As we look at him, we cannot help but see God, the Father, who set this blessed event in motion. Jesus is here for us because God wants to be among us. God long desired to bring us back to him because he misses us. The birth of Jesus is like God giving the human race a big warm cosmic kiss on the forehead. It is merely a token of the great love God has for us. No wonder why the choirs of angels sing to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of goodwill." Let us tonight receive the news of the angels deep within our hearts. Let us become familiar with the tune so it can erupt forth into our song of praise. Then, from each day forward let us sing heartily and fully like the shepherds and angels on this happy day of our salvation. Glory to God, Glory, and peace to all of you, dear people of Goodwill!

Prayer: Bede the Venerable

A soul that has believed has conceived and both bears the Word of God and declares God's works. Let the spirit of Mary be in each of you, so that it rejoices in God. 

Prayer: O Antiphon - ERO CRAS

If you take the last seven days of Advent, the O Antiphons, and arrange them by taking the first letter of the messianic title in Latin, the letters will spell ERO CRAS, which translates to Tomorrow, I will come.

Prayer: Benedict XVI

Let us ask Mary to teach us how to become like her, inwardly free, so that in openness to God we may find true freedom, true life, genuine and lasting joy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prayer: O Antiphon - O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, God-with-us, our king and lawgiver, the one whom the nations await and their savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Prayer: Clement of Alexandria

Listen to the Savior: I regenerated you, I set you free, I healed you, I redeemed you, I will give you life that is unending, eternal, supernatural. I will show you the face of God. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prayer: O Antiphon - O King of the Nations

O King of the Nations and their desire, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

Prayer: Teresa of Calcutta

It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you … yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brothers and sisters and offer them your hand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prayer: O Antiphon - O Radiant Dawn

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of light eternal and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Christmas Day

December 25, 2011
Mass during the Day
Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

          No matter how many times we celebrate this feast, it remains fresh and exciting. Although the readings remain the same, something within in changes each year. We are more experienced and perhaps a little wiser and we always come to the point in which we realize that we need a savior to be born for us. When we see the way God acted, we are amazed at this tiny child who was given to us so that we will no longer be separated from God.

          Isaiah's words speak to the heart of our need for a savior: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone." When we realize how mucked up our lives are, we appreciate what God has done for us. With each passing year, we get more battle scars and wounds that continue to smart, and if they do heal, scar tissue remains. We look upon this feast with soberly because we know our salvation cannot come from within us.

          I have listened to many stories from people who have lost loved ones recently or a long time ago. These friends and relatives are sorely missed and the sorrow of those losses, though they lessen, will not go away. We do our best to remember them and keep them present in our celebrations, but a piece of us is missing as they are gone. The death of a parent or child is so final and we feel like orphans. There is part of us that we cannot reclaim or replace.

          Holiday celebrations get messy as the usual family patterns show us that as much as we try, wholesale changes will not occur in the family or in a particular relative. We realize we cannot change a person and it is best to not even try to fix someone else. We try to be careful with our choice of words, but self-editing makes us feel guarded at a time we want to be free. The whole business of gift-giving creates great anxiety because of the many attachments that go along with one's generosity or failure to receive well. Throughout it all, we are determined to enjoy the day, to experience the true meaning of Christmas, and to come away with good memories of people we deep down love.

          Christmas is complicated. The build-up to the day creates its own concerns and we have great expectations despite our experiences. Each Advent, we set out with good-will to make this present holiday special and it is awful when that good-will gets battered. Many times we fret the advent of the day.

          But somehow, the arrival of the tiny child warms our heart and begs us to give one another leeway. He makes us look upon even our greatest adversary with whatever tenderness we can muster. We know the Christ-child only wants what is good for us and for our neighbor. He knows the cruelty that exists in human hearts. He wishes we would change but he doesn't force it. In fact, he doesn't do anything but rest in a crib or in his mother's arms. He causes us to gaze upon him and marvel at him. This tiny boy will become everything that Isaiah said: Wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, and Prince of Peace.

          He is not that today. He is merely a human infant who hungers for food and human affection. He merely wants us to pick him up and hold him close to our chests. Nothing more. How else are we going to know him unless we hold him tightly and let him into our shattered world. We can save all the stories for later, but it is good for us to tell him our hopes and dreams. All he can do is absorb at this point. It is our time just to be with one another. That's all he wants.

          As we look at him, we are also pointed to God, the Father, who set this blessed event in motion. Jesus exists for us because God willed it. God long desired to bring us back to him because he misses us as we miss our loved ones. The birth of Jesus is like God giving the human race a big kiss on the forehead. It is merely a token of the great love God has for us. No wonder why the choirs of angels sing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of goodwill." May we sing heartily and fully like the angels on this happy day of our salvation.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  Stephen is honored as the first martyr to the faith the day after Christmas to show the serious nature of discipleship. John the Evangelist, who is often referred to as the Beloved Disciple is celebrated on the 27th. As he was the one who reclined on the shoulder of Jesus at the Last Supper and is known to be a cherished friend, his feast day is celebrated close to Christmas. The Holy Innocents are remembered on the 28th. They are the young boys of Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod to eliminate the newborn king. The first letter of John is read to show the true aspects of discipleship. The one who knows Jesus will keep his commandments out of love and respect for him. John also warns against those who come falsely in the name of Jesus. We have to do our best to know him so we can tell who is not of the Holy One. In the devotion to the Holy Family, the Genesis account of Abram receiving the covenant from God is recalled. Offspring, land, and prosperity will belong to the children of Abram. 

Gospel: In Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to beware of men because they will hand you over to courts and will persecute you because of your faith in him. On John the Evangelist's feast day, the account of his running to the tomb ahead of Peter is recalled. John looked into the empty tomb and believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. In Matthew, Herod realizes he is deceived by the Magi and send his army into Bethlehem to kill all the boys under two years old. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt. As the time for purification had come, the parents of Jesus bring him to the Temple where he meets Simeon who takes the child into his arms and blesses him. He then meets the elderly Anna who tells his mother that her heart will be pierced by a sword for the boy will be the savior of many, but his unfortunate circumstances will cause her heartache. The Prologue of John's Gospel presents the main theses of the Fourth Gospel: that Jesus who was with God at creation dwelt among humans, but they failed to know and accept him.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Stephen, the first Martyr (d. 35), was one of the seven original deacons chose to minister to the Greek-speaking Christians. The Jews accused him of blasphemy. Though he was eloquent in his defense, Saul of Tarsus condoned his death sentence.

Tuesday: John, Apostle and Evangelist (d. 100), was the brother of James and one of the three disciples to be in the inner circle. He left fishing to follow Jesus and was with him at the major events: the transfiguration, raising of Jairus' daughter, and the agony in the garden. He is also thought to be the author of the fourth gospel, three letters, and the Book of Revelation.

Wednesday: The Holy Innocents (d. 2), were the boys of Bethlehem who were under two years old to be killed by King Herod in an attempt to eliminate the rise of the newborn king as foretold by the astronomers from the east. This event is similar to the rescue of Moses from the Nile by the slaughter of the infant boys by the pharaoh.

Thursday: Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr (1118-1170), was the lord chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury in England during the time of King Henry II. When he disagreed with the King over the autonomy of the church and state, he was exiled to France. When he returned, he clashed again with the king who had him murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.  

Friday: The Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, was a feast instituted in 1921. It was 
originally the 3rd Sunday after Christmas. The Holy Family is often seen in Renaissance paintings - and many of those are of the flight into Egypt.

Saturday: Sylvester I, pope (d. 335), served the church shortly after Constantine issued his Edict of Milan in 313 that publicly recognized Christianity as the official religion of the empire and provided it freedom of worship. Large public churches were built by the emperor and other benefactors. Sylvester was alive during the Council of Nicaea but did not attend because of old age.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Dec 25, 1545. Isabel Roser pronounced her vows as a Jesuit together with Lucrezia di Brandine and Francisca Cruyllas in the presence of Ignatius at the church of Sta. Maria della Strada in Rome.
·         Dec 26, 1978. The assassination of Gerhard Pieper, a librarian, who was shot to death in Zimbabwe.
·         Dec 27, 1618. Henry Morse entered the English College at Rome.
·         Dec 28, 1802. Pope Pius VII allowed Father General Gruber to affiliate the English Jesuits to the Society of Jesus in Russia.
·         Dec 29, 1886. Publication of the beatification decree of the English martyrs.
·         Dec 30, 1564. Letter from Pope Pius IV to Daniel, Archbishop of Mayence, deploring the malicious and scurrilous pamphlets published against the Society throughout Germany and desiring him to use his influence against the evil.
·         Dec 31, 1640. John Francis Regis died. He was a missionary to the towns and villages of the remote mountains of southern France.