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Saturday, January 4, 2014

1 John 3:11

Pierre Louis Cretey: The Nativity

Pierre Louis Cretey: The Nativity

Loving One Another

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another . . .

The ancient Shema tells us how we are to live as children of God.  The Apostle John reminds us that we already have the answers we seek.  The Gospels describe how God has come to live among us, entering the world as a vulnerable child.  The message is always the same . . . we are to love one another, even those whom we do not wish to love.

On this eleventh day of Christmas, enter the words Love One Another into the blog search bar and consider what this message means for us as Christmas people.

For more information on the Shema enter the word into the blog search bar or go to: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/shema.html

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lamentations  – Poignant Grief and Unquenchable Hope

Stomer: Adoration of the Shepherds

Stomer: Adoration of the Shepherds

The seeming conflict between human weakness and divine power is one we humans constantly explore; we can never quite understand the inversion of logic that Jesus brings to the world much less put this inversion of thought into action ourselves.  When we experience dreadful times we must turn to the truth that we are made whole in our emptiness, that sorrow always carries with it joy, and that God resides with those who are broken and forgotten.  In our deepest grief transformation lies in the outrageous hope God offers us . . . in this hope beyond hope that the incredible promise of Christmas is indeed true. The Book of Lamentations may seem like as unusual point of reflection as we enter fully enter the Christmastide but we find something here today that speaks to our human circumstance.   We discover that grief is always a subtle presence at any celebration . . . and that restoration accompanies all loss when we remain in the Spirit.

The five laments found in this book of the Bible “combine confession of sin, grief over the suffering and humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of Yahweh’s love and power to restore.  The union of poignant grief and unquenchable hope reflects the constant prophetic vision of the weakness of man and the strength of God’s love; it also shows how Israel’s faith in Yahweh could survive the shattering experience of national ruin”.  (Senior 1017)  The inversion the Christ Child brings to the world is the same conversion of the Old Testament Yahweh.

A few weeks ago we studied Psalm 90 and reflected on its truth.  In this sacred poem we find our human limitations compared with God’s infinite goodness; we are told that God transforms even our most crushing suffering when we hand over our pain.  It remains for us to act on this knowledge.  It is for us to see the connection between the deep heartache of human distress and the nativity of inestimable hope in the person of Jesus.  Why reflect on a centuries-old lament when we celebrate happiness?  Because Christ represents the only true passage from the inconsolable grief we experience to the indescribable joy we say we seek.

Picture1And so we might spend a bit of time today reflecting.

Do we really want to be happy or do we sabotage our chance to know true delight?  Each of us must make this journey to uncover our hidden plots against ourselves and others. 

Do we honestly want to experience true gladness or do we dwell in the lamentation of our lives refusing to step into the joy fearing that the promise of Christ is yet another disappointment?  Each of us must be willing to hand ourselves over to God and to give a full and candid accounting of our days. 

Do we truly believe in the conversion of poignant grief through the transforming power of unquenchable hope?  If so, and if we honestly wish to live in true Christmas joy promised by the Christ Child, we must plumb our own depths of lamentation and ask: What do we prefer, a life of frustration and illusion or a life filled with promise, trust, and joy?  

It is for each of us to pause today.  What is the true message of the Christ Child?

It is for each of us to decide today.  Do we believe in the message of Jesus’ Nativity?

It is for each of us to act today.   Are we prepared to carry God’s unquenchable Christmas hope into the world for the conversion of our most poignant grief?

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1017. Print.   

For a reflection on Psalm 90, go to: http://thenoontimes.com/2012/12/10/gods-eternity-our-fraility/

For more on the Book of Lamentations – Surviving Ruin go to: http://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-old-testament/the-prophets/lamentations-surviving-ruin/

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Friday, January 6, 2012 – Matthew 9:35-38 – Epiphany

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again. 

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012 – Luke 11:37-54 – Unmarked Graves

The Pharisees Question Jesus

Jesus warns his listeners, Woe to you!  – and he also warns us – that we might fulfill the letter of the law and completely miss its spirit.  Jesus describes for the Pharisees and others – and he describes for us – what it means to be his true disciples.  Jesus tells the dinner guests – and he tells us – how to avoid becoming unmarked graves that people walk over without even realizing.

Jesus also speaks to those who know the law inside and out; he challenges the lawyers and scribes and points out how they block entrance to the kingdom by their obtuseness and their stubborn inflexibility.  He also warns all that we are judged by what we do and what we do not do.

Commentary tells us that here Jesus delineates six woes and we might take the opportunity to examine ourselves today.

Do we worry about our outward appearance and cleanliness and neglect our true selves, our souls?

Do we speak with piety and yet rebuke the marginalized and broken?

Do we make a show of our tithing and do nothing for the poor?

Do we seek honor and fame while we isolate and segregate those we see as unworthy?

Do we overly obfuscate and complicate the simple law of love that Jesus gives us and steer others away from the true Way?

Do we attempt to supersede the Holy Spirit by encouraging others to worship us rather than God?

With Jesus’ words we see the easy pitfalls that line the pathway of our journey.  We will want to look for the small and subtle ways in which we complicate the simple instruction to love one another.  We will want to gather around ourselves like pilgrims who openly share the difficulties of the road; and we will want to move away from those who lie in wait to catch others in something they might say.

The Scribes and Pharisees Hear Jesus

Today’s picture is one we will want to keep with us for a while before we leave the Christmas season because it gives us insight into how to best deal with the kind of envy and greed that both lures and surprises us.  In the Christ Child, we have just been given the dual gifts of hope and light; we have received these as tools we might use to conquer the narrowness we see today in the scribes, the Pharisees and even ourselves.  These are the instruments we will use to avoid embroiled arguments, byzantine squabbles and superficial bickering.  The presence of the Christ in each moment of our lives is all that saves each of us from becoming the unmarked grave of a life lived . . . and lost.

And so let us pray as St. Paul prayed with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:12): Our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world . . . with the simplicity and sincerity of God, [and] not by human wisdom but by the grace of God.  Amen. 

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Friday, December 30, 2011 – Nehemiah 9 – Confession

Carpaccio: The Flight to Egypt

This is the perfect time of year to think about our relationship with God – this God who comes into our lives as one of us in such a humble way that his family must beg for shelter, and within days of the child’s delivery they must flee into exile.  The Messiah’s family life is one of constant dichotomy and this is fitting for it reflects our own lives of surprises, disappointments, and promises both fulfilled and unfulfilled.  Our days are a series of hills and valleys, of ups and downs that make us anxious and fearful – we wish everything to be settled and determined.  These highs and lows show us our mortality and make us uncomfortable – we prefer a life in which we control all. 

From the very beginning of Jesus’ story we see his family’s split reality; they are welcomed and gifted by both shepherds and magi . . . and they are hunted by Herod’s soldiers.  (Matthew 2:1-18)  In today’s Noontime we go back to the time when the people of Israel have come home to Jerusalem after exile.  They too, live lives of dichotomy, lives full of fear and hope for they know that the nation’s disobedience and errant ways have separated them from God; yet they hope for a return to their special status before God. 

The Israelites gather to pray in unison with their priest Ezra, and as they begin their confession they recognize the great dichotomy that is their life: It is you, O Lord, you are the one; you made the heavens, the highest heavens and all their host, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them.  To all of them you give life, and the heavenly hosts bow down before you . . . These promises of yours you fulfilled for you are just . . . But they, our fathers, proved to be insolent; they held their necks stiff and would not obey your commandments.  They . . . no longer remembered the miracles you had worked for them.  They stiffened their necks and turned their heads . . . but you are a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy; you do not forsake them. 

These people whose fathers and mothers were deported to foreign lands and ruled by pagan rulers comprehend that their cold hearts and stiff necks took them into darkness.  They also understand that their God is so loving and compassionate that despite their own shallowness and fickle ways, they may confess and ask for forgiveness. We might wonder how many of us would forgive such a people.  As soon as they had relief, they would go back to doing evil in your sight . . . they were insolent and would not obey your commandments . . . they turned stubborn backs, stiffened their necks, and would not obey.  You were patient with them for many years . . . you did not forsake them, for you are a kind and merciful God. 

Murillo: The Holy Family with a Little Bird

The Israelites have suffered to the point of exhaustion and in their extremity they recognize that they have no place to turn but to God.  They recognize the dichotomy of the goodness and weakness in their lives; and they also recognize God’s immense generosity in welcoming them home.   We see this same dichotomy of extremes in the Christmas story.  When God comes to us as a babe born in a stable to a family that must move into exile, it is easier for us to confess as the Israelites do.  When God comes to us a child welcomed by shepherds and wise men but also hunted by kings, it is easier for us to believe that God understands the dichotomy in our own lives. 

It may seem a great irony that we seek protection and sustenance from our God who comes to us as a vulnerable child needing shelter and care; yet how well this reflects the divergence we experience in our own lives.  How odd this seems at the outset and yet after reflection . . . how fitting.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011 – Mark 11:1-11 – Jesus’ Entry into Our Lives

Zurbarán: Adoration of the Shepherds

In yesterday’s Noontime we considered how much we rush toward Christmas only to miss its deep promise and sure gift – the gift of Christ himself.  Today we continue our reflection . . .

The Noontime reading takes us to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem; the natural culmination of the Savior’s life lived in humble obedience to God, although we might not see it at first.  We know that Jesus will be crucified and we shrink from that knowing, wondering how much or how little we have to do with Christ’s suffering.  The people in today’s story follow Jesus into the town; Jesus goes to the Temple, enters and looks around.  The gift has been given and now the promise is to be fulfilled.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light . . .

See, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: say to daughter Zion, your savior comes!  Here is his reward with him.  They shall be called the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord, and you shall be called “Frequented,” a city that is not forsaken.  (Isaiah 62:11-12)  The prophet Isaiah proclaims with joy the arrival of the remnant’s reward.  We look for the meaning in this Feast of the Nativity; we look for solutions to big and little problems.  Suddenly, the event is over . . . or is it?

The mystery of Christ’s entry into our world and into Jerusalem is too much to take in.  Why does our God love us this way?  The beauty of Jesus’ coming into the world and into our lives is too much to believe.  Why does our God abide with us always?  How can we abide with this gift and promise . . . now that God has made this entry into our lives?

And so we pray . . .

Good and constant God, You have proclaimed to the ends of the earth that our Savior comes . . . and still we complain.  You have announced glad tidings, peace, good news and salvation . . . and still we forget.  You have told us that we who have who walked in darkness have seen a great light . . . and still we doubt.  You have loves us and brought us abundant joy and cause for great rejoicing . . . and still we rush on. 

Good and persistent God, Hold us closely, remind us of you strength often, speak to us always of your compassion, tell us again that we have not been abandoned, remind us that we are not forsaken, ask us to linger with you . . . hold us from rushing on.

Good and loving God, You have entered the world as a babe.  You redeem the world as a savior.  You love each of us more than we can understand.  Continue to bring us the mystery of your story.  Continue to enter into our lives each day.  Catch us and hold us always in your arms so that we might not move past you.  Enter fully into all we say and do . . . so that we do not rush on.  Amen. 

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Monday, December 26, 2011 – Mark 11:1-11 – Jesus’ Entry into the World

Murillo: Nativity Shepherds

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing . . . (Isaiah 9:1-2) The prophet Isaiah anticipates the joy that will come into the world with the birth of the Messiah.  We anticipated the coming of this holiday, expending energy on little details and big decisions.  Suddenly, the event is over . . . or is it?

In a too-quick, on-to-the-next-thing world Christmas has ended.  Evergreen trees that a few hours ago decorated family rooms with a display of tended ornaments and artificial lights now lie bare at the curbside for recycling.  Presents opened and exchanged are nestled into their new places in the hubbub of our lives.  Objects stowed, family and friends greeted, back to work until the next holiday.  We have waited and shopped and prepared in anticipation for weeks . . . and now we may be tempted to rush on . . . and so miss the gift and promise of Christmas.

Today’s Noontime takes us to another part of the Christmas story; although we might not see it at first.  We find ourselves at the gates of Jerusalem about to enter with the Master.  He sends some of his followers into town in search of a colt he knows is tethered in a particular place.  Strangely, the animal is lent; the disciples answered just as Jesus told them to do when bystanders questioned them.  The colt is brought, people spread their cloaks on the road and raise leafy fronds as they sing: Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  The gift has been given and now the promise is to be fulfilled.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light . . .

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!”  (Isaiah 52:7) The prophet Isaiah announces with joy the entry of the Messiah.  We looked for the coming of the Christmas holiday, offering prayers for big and little petitions.  Suddenly, the event is over . . . or is it?

In a too-fast, we-are-so-connected world Christmas is over.  Cranky relatives have been visited or called; old emotions and arguments boil to the surface to be put back into place.  All as it should be until the next occasion.  We have thought and reflected in anticipation for some time . . . and now we are eager to push on . . . and if we push on too quickly we miss the true gift and the eternal promise of Jesus’ entry into our lives.

And so we pray . . .

Good and gentle God, you come into our lives as both a vulnerable child and a determined savior.  Help us to linger in this message.  Encourage us to slow down so that we can take your message in.  Abide with us as we sink into the mystery you bring to us of your eternal and always constant love.  We rest in you this day and this night . . . as we ponder the gift of your entry.  Amen. 

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Monday, December 19, 2011 – Numbers 9:15-23 – God’s Presence in the Desert

Yesterday we reflected on the image of the fiery cloud, the pillar of smoke and flame that both guides and protects the Hebrews.  Today we remain for a while in this image as we begin our final desert crossing to Christmas.  Many of us have too much to do in the days that run up to December 25th.  We must be wary of placing all our energy in the physical preparations for the coming holiday because we will need much more than food, water, and a sturdy tent to cross through the desert of consumerism; we will need patience and forbearance, to navigate shopping malls, food stores and traffic.  And we will need forgiveness and compassion to plot a successful course through tricky family dynamics, demanding colleagues, and the needs of friends and strangers.  We will want to fill our internal stores with heavy doses of God’s Word, God’s voice . . . and God’s presence. 

So much of life seems to be a desert existence, a constant struggle against unseen but powerful forces that appear to control all we do and much of what we think.  In dark days we struggle against headwinds that deliver blasts of driven sand; we hunker down in our tents to secure ourselves against the onslaught.  When we must move from place to place, we barely survive the trek from one oasis to the next.  There are times of happiness in which we experience joy; yet with those times there is often a sense of impending doom; somewhere inside us is a haunting that tells us to enjoy our contentment while it lasts because darkness stalks us on each leg of our journey.   The desert crossing is one we do not want to experience alone.   We know that we will need both stamina and provisions yet where do we find the surety and comfort that will see us through?  There is only one presence that provides all for the body, mind and soul . . . the presence of God. 

Gobi Desert Oasis

It is the fool who prepares carelessly for the wilderness journey; a wise woman or man goes first in search of God.  The fool stores up supplies and necessities; the wise one makes plans and trusts in the Lord.  The fool believes that security and comfort can be purchased; the wise one knows that happiness and eternal safety lie in doing what is just.  The fool relies on personal strength and durability; the wise one perseveres in seeking God, knowing that everything we need for the journey is found in one place . . . only in the presence of God.

The fiery cloud we reflect on today is a pre-figuration of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sends after his Ascension to the Father as tongues of fire that produce speech that all can understand.  (Acts 2)  Just as Jesus and Scripture are the Word of God, The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God, and for that reason this advocate has inspired the writing of scripture. The symbols of the Holy Spirit are: water, the oil and the seal of anointing, fire, the hand/finger of Jesus who heals, the dove which finds the olive branch after the flood along with the dove which descends at Jesus’ baptism, and the image of cloud and light.  This cloud that accompanies the Hebrews, descends when Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem and also at Jesus’ Transfiguration.  This Spirit surrounds Jesus at his Ascension.   This Spirit lives with us today to accompany us on our desert wanderings.  This Spirit is the presence of God. 

I have always liked this image. It is, as we have said before in our Noontime reflections, not a place of destruction but a place of sure refuge, a place of certain peace.  It is something we can step into when we find we have a very difficult and frightening task to complete.  It is a fiery pillar of refinement that draws us toward and not away from God.  It is a blazing column of smoke and ash that scours off the excess of life to leave behind the pure gold of God’s presence.  It is the only sure guide and protector that will guarantee us safe passage through the searing experience of the desert. 

For more information about the Holy Spirit, see Article 8 in the Catechism at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

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Sunday, December 18, 2011 – Numbers 9:15-23 – The Bidding of the Lord

In Numbers 9 we see the Hebrews put all of their trust in God.  May we learn to be faithful to the Lord in our daily wandering rather than be lured by little gods.

In the Exodus story we know that the Hebrews stumbled in their journey of fidelity.  May we turn back to God in all of our drifting and forgive others as God forgives us.

In Numbers 9 we see the Hebrews do the Lord’s bidding when the Fiery Cloud settles into the desert sand to rest; we see them rise to follow the pillar of smoke and flame when it is time to journey.  May we place all trust in the Lord rather than resort to our own schemes and small plans.

In the Exodus story we know that the Hebrews grumbled about God’s care of them in their journey of transformation.  May we always seek counsel in the Lord and share the Word we hear with fellow pilgrims.

In Numbers 9 the Cloud tarries for days or rises after only one evening’s rest so the Hebrews are unable to predict God’s movement in their lives; yet they know that the Lord is with them in the Fiery Cloud.  May we learn patience in the Lord and give thanks for the many surprises that await us.

In the Exodus story we know that the Hebrews grew impatient with God’s timeline and grumbled about God’s provisions.  May we keep in mind how great is God’s generosity and share God’s love with others.

As a child, I loved to hear my Mother read out the chronicle of the people who wandered in darkness for generations, doing God’s bidding despite their frustration.  Somehow I knew that there were great lessons to be learned in this long story of turnings.  Mother’s calm and steady voice would rise up to give emphasis to the peril the Hebrews endured; it would fall to a low and gentle register to underscore God’s constant presence and encouragement to the people.  Closing my eyes, I stored those reassuring sounds and images for unknown times in my future.  As I grew I began to encounter my first overwhelming obstacles and remembering the comfort and safety of those drowsy evenings with Mother reading about the Fiery Cloud that served as guide and guard, I drew on those stored images.  When fear threatened to paralyze me or lead me in the wrong direction, I allowed that pillar of fire and smoke to draw me toward God.  Even today when I meet with an obstacle that threatens my physical, mental or spiritual life, I move toward the Fiery Cloud to step inside.  And there I find a sanctuary that none can penetrate.  I find a peace that none can rattle.  I find a floating solidness that both sustains and carries me toward God.  And in God all problems both great and petty melt away.

In a few short days we celebrate Christmas, the feast of God’s arrival among us as one of us.  It is a celebration of Light against Darkness, of Hope against Desperation, of surety in a world that offers only turmoil.  Let us turn to the story of the people who once walked in darkness (Isaiah 9), let us follow the Fiery Cloud as we wander through the dangers of the desert, and let us step into the pillar of smoke and light when the chaos of life menaces.  For there is no better sanctuary than God.  There is no better hope than Christ.  And there is no better peace than the serenity we find in the Spirit.  

And so we pray . . .

Let us rise as the Hebrews rise to do the bidding of the Lord.  Let us rest as the Hebrews rest to await the wisdom of the Lord.  Let us follow as the Hebrews follow . . . to do the bidding of the Lord.  Amen. 

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