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Archive for December, 2017


Gifts . . . freely given

Jean Restout: The Paraclete

The Seventh Day of Christmas, December 31, 2017

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming.  

Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of God. These seven gifts freely given by the Spirit reside with us – whether we know it or not, and whether we believe it or not. When we least expect it, the Spirit rises to provide us with the tools we need for the circumstances we experience.

Wisdom comes to us with patience and with waiting on the LORD. When we reflect on the persons who hold wisdom, we realize that they listen more than they speak, praise more than they berate, and love more than they disparage. These gifted ones share their wisdom with us, and we do well to share God’s wisdom with others.

Understanding is more than comprehending, more than accepting, and more than believing. Understanding pierces darkness, brings lights, nurtures love in others and enacts love in all. When we practice understanding, we receive more than we expect, and more than we can hold. Understanding grows wherever it resides.

Counsel allows each of us to respond to God’s call no matter how challenging, no matter how awkward, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. Counsel converts fear into courage. Counsel transforms hatred into love. Those who are open to God’s counsel are better able to see The Way of Christ and to follow.

Fortitude brings us the strength to do what needs to be done when few others will do it. Fortitude brings us the resolution to endure suffering, and to allow God’s hand to convert our suffering into joy. When we allow God’s fortitude to support us in difficult times, we remember Psalm 126: they go out weeping and return rejoicing.

Knowledge of the LORD brings us the foundation on which to stand as we enact the work God calls us to do in this world that struggles to be Kingdom here and now. This gift, perhaps more than any other, allows us to speak and act with authority as Jesus does. Knowledge instructs our decisions, lives in our words, and guides our actions. Knowledge informs our sense of justice and mercy, brings order out of confusion, and love out of hate.

Piety is not a saccharine, duty-bound quality of sweetness; rather, it is love bolstered by God’s power, fidelity strengthened by God’s steadfastness, and hope empowered by God’s promise. Piety is faithful because it makes the choice to persist in God’s love and to believe in God’s covenant. Piety does more than just show up. Piety acts with compassion and patience; and piety is unshakable.

Fear of God is not the experience of anxiety or alarm; it is instead love of God for God’s sake. It demonstrates respect, seeks to worship, and shares joy in the experience of God. One who fears the LORD, stands in awe of God’s goodness and is eager to share the Good News of our rescue from pain and worry.

These seven gifts are more than words. They are tangible forces in our lives. They are stones with which we lay the foundation for our relationship with God. Those who would be wise, are also understanding. Those who give counsel also provide fortitude. Those with knowledge and piety live in awe of God who loves us into creation, and who abides with us even beyond the end of time. On this eve of a new year, we do well to open ourselves to these gifts freely given.

Isaiah 11 describes the Spirit’s gifts as does Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12.

To learn more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, visit: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/gifts-holy-spirit/

 

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Hubble Space Telescope: The Pillars of Creation

Creation: And it was Good

The Sixth Day of Christmas, December 30, 2017

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying.  

Light and dark, heaven and earth, plants of many kinds, stars and heavenly bodies, creatures that live in the water and on land, humanity. With each of the six days of creation, God sees that it was good.

Arguments continue between those who believe in a literal progression and those who turn to science for a deeper understanding of our origins. No matter our perspective, the stories in the opening of Genesis bring us an opportunity for deeper intimacy with God.

And it was good. When we understand that God has created all that surrounds us, we often leap to the conclusion that this goodness must continue unchallenged and unchanging. We struggle to understand why natural and man-made catastrophes harm and even destroy the innocent. How does God allow such suffering to take place? How do we handle the stress that comes with persecution both perceived and real? The Apostle Paul writes his first letter to the people of Thessalonica as they struggle to maintain the community they established when Paul was with them.

And it was good. Paul’s letter is so brief, and so inspiring that it is easily read with commentary. Today, particularly if we struggle with the de-creation of a community we hold dear, we find a path forward through chaos with Paul’s verses. They give us an antidote for the suffering we feel when we witness the destruction of our work or the severance of ties that once sustained us. When studying Paul’s words, we remember that, despite the circumstances surrounding us, God always turns harm to good, even when it is difficult to perceive this goodness. Destruction of someone or something we have loved brings us to our knees and asks us to pass through the narrow gate of transformation when we rely on God’s promise that all things are possible. The ruination of some idea or some structure that produces goodness brings us into deeper intimacy with our creator when we realize that goodness supersedes harm always.

Charles (Charlie) Pellerin: NASA’s former director of astrophysics

And it was good. Today we ponder the loving act of creation, our willingness to believe God’s promise of love, and the belief that God will always lead us out of the darkness of de-creation.

And it was good.

Read about recovery from disaster: “What went wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope (and what managers can learn from it) NASA’s former director of astrophysics, Charlie Pellerin, has learned a thing about leadership and project failure” at https://www.cio.com.au/article/420036/what_went_wrong_hubble_space_telescope_what_managers_can_learn_from_it_/

For more information on the M16 Eagle Nebula pictured above, click on the image or visit the NASA site at: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-goes-high-definition-to-revisit-iconic-pillars-of-creation

For notes and commentary on 1 Thessalonians, visit: http://biblehub.com/1_thessalonians/

To learn about connections between Paul’s letter and the stress produced by persecution, visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/3-stress-persecution-1-thessalonians-213-20

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Torah: Law and Covenant

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

The Fifth Day of Christmas, December 29, 2017

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Our origins and beginnings, God’s redemption and deliverance, our holiness and worship, service and work, God’s law and covenant with the people. The first five books of the Old Testament are five gold rings that we might wear on our fingers as we remember how God has acted in our lives, and has called us to a holy way of life.

We might take time today to read stories of creation and the patriarchs whose lives bring us vivid examples of how we might – or might not – respond to God’s call. On the other hand, we might want to explore the exodus story that we re-live during Lent and Eastertide each year. Some of us might be interested in the minutiae of the law or in the early Temple rites. Finally, we may want to explore the Christian perspective of these ancient Jewish scriptures because for Christians, “the Pentateuch portrays the pilgrim people waiting for the full realization of the kingdom of God.”

No matter our perspective, no matter our circumstances, these five golden rings bring us a foundation and a vision for the kingdom we know is already among us.

For more about the Torah, or Pentateuch, visit: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-written-law-torah or http://www.usccb.org/bible/scripture.cfm?src=_intros/pentateuch-intro.htm

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The Gospels: Stories

The Book of Kells: The Four Gospels

The Fourth Day of Christmas, December 28, 2017

From snopes.com: “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is what most people take it to be: a secular song that celebrates the Christmas season with imagery of gifts and dancing and music. Some misinterpretations have crept into the English version over the years, though. For example, the fourth day’s gift is four “colly birds” (or “collie birds”), not four “calling birds.” (The word “colly” literally means “black as coal,” and thus “colly birds” would be blackbirds.)

No matter the color of the birds in these lyrics, most critics agree that the number four refers to the Four Gospels in The New Testament canon. The first Gospel, scholars generally agree, was written by Mark in the first century. Concise, quick-moving, written to a Roman audience, this book is described as: vivid and detailed, active and energetic, wondrous, and demonstrating power over devils. The Gospel of Matthew was also written in the first century but after Mark’s Gospel. A topical retelling of the Christ story, it holds less joy than other Gospels but shows itself as an official, didactic, story of rejection and even despondency. This Gospel is sometimes referred to as the Jewish Gospel. Along with the Book of Acts, Luke writes the third Gospel of prayer, and praise, women, the poor, and the outcast. This artistic Gospel is written before the fall of Jerusalem (70 C.E.) for gentiles and Greeks who were coming into the growing Christian community. The final Gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem by John of Patmos; and he is also believed to be the writer of the Book of Revelation. This story is a celebration of feasts and testimony. Full of symbols, this highly spiritual Gospel brings God’s Incarnation into sharp reality.

Although these stories vary in detail, approach, style and focus, taken together they bring us a diverse and passionate accounting of Jesus as King (Mark), Jesus as Savior (Luke), Jesus as the Son of God (John), and of the Kingdom (Matthew) into which he invites each of us.

When we read the opening and closing verses of each Gospel, with an understanding of the writer’s audience, we begin to more fully realize God’s love for creation’s diversity, and the great variety in the stories that tell us of Emmanuel, God’s presence among us.

To learn more about each Gospel, click on the links or visit: www.biblehub.com

To learn more about what the Gospels are and are not, visit the PBS Frontline page on The Story of the Storyteller at: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/gospels.html 

Snopes last updated December 23, 2015 https://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp

 

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Song of Songs 6:1-3: Discovery

The Three Magi

The Third Day of Christmas, December 27, 2017

In the old carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, our true love brings us three costly French hens on the third day. This extravagant gift might reflect the gifts of the three magi to the Christ child of frankincense, gold and myrrh; or they might remind us of the essential virtues for life: faith, hope and love. Today we consider another powerful Trinity present in our lives: Creator, Redeemer, and Healer, giver, receiver, and gift – a duo of two who hold between them the essence of their love . . . the Holy Trinity. Looking for clues to discover more about this mysterious relationship we experience with God, we explore Solomon’s Song of Songs.

“Determined to share her lover with no one, the girl refuses the aid offered by the daughters in seeking him.  She implies that she had never really lost him, for he has come down to his garden”.  (Senior 796)

We often spent time thinking about our need to trust and obey God when we feel trouble brewing.  Can we imagine ourselves as ardent lovers of God?  Can we see ourselves as determined as this young woman in today’s Noontime?  Can we see ourselves as settling for nothing less than full discovery of God even within our most intimate selves?  Can we believe it possible that God might have a unique, genuine and loving connection with each one of us . . . without forgetting who we are and what we need?

With God all things are possible.  We have only to ask.  God loves us more ardently than any earthly lover might, and we might love God more than anything or anyone on earth.

How much time do we spend in quiet discovery of God’s goodness each day as balanced with the time we spend worrying about all we believe we need from God?  How much effort do we give to tending our own garden to make it ready for the visit of the lover who is anxious to bring us what we need before we ask?  Do we go out in search of this most excellent lover who awaits us with joy even when we are in the midst of our suffering, or do we sit at home and pine?

Do we seek sorrow or joy, separation or union?  How much effort do we really give to seeking God?

Zurbarán: St. John of the Cross

I paraphrase here the third of St. John of the Cross’ Dichos, or Sayings: Although the road is wide and soft for those who have the will to walk it, you will still need strong feet, an eager spirit, and obstinate determination.  The pathway to the lover’s garden is inviting, but not easy.  There are always stones in the path, low-hanging branches and slippery stepping stones that cross the stream.  Do we pursue this Lover God as ardently as we pursue our daily wants and desires?  Are we willing to put aside our agendas to take up the one we are given by the one who loves us best?  Do we secretly undermine our own efforts to find intimacy with God, or is this life of God’s one we choose to discover? Do we give up in our search of the beloved, or is this a lover we seek with passion?

Perhaps we have been searching and have discovered this intimate God already.  Perhaps we know precisely where Christ sits among the lilies.  Perhaps we browse along the paths with the Spirit when we are both troubled and happy.  If not, then let us go.  If so, then let us celebrate.

Where has your lover gone? 

My lover has come down to his garden . . . to gather lilies . . . my lover belongs to me and I to him . . .

Adapted from a favorite written on August 13, 2010.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.796. Print. 

To read the O’Henry (William Sydney Porter) story, The Gift of the Magi, visit: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/GifMag.shtml

To better understand the three gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/

To read John of the Cross’ poem, Dark Night of the Soul, along with a brief commentary, visit: https://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/christian/the-works-of-st-john-of-the-cross/dark-night-of-the-soul/index.html

Find John’s Dichos at: http://joshuakezer.blogspot.com/2012/01/sayings-of-light-and-love-dichos-de-luz.html 

For reflections on the mystery of God as three persons in one, enter the word Trinity into the blog search bar and explore.

For more on the Trinity, visit: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Trinity-Christianity

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John 1:1-14: Logos

The Second Day of Christmas, December 26, 2017

Many of us are familiar with the old Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and we may also be aware of varying theories about the derivation of the lyrics and tune. A number of resources report – some correctly and some incorrectly – the reason for the song’s origins, but in this holiday season we will put argument aside and enjoy celebrating the symbols we find.

The first gift is a partridge in a pear tree, and is symbolic of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The mother bird of this species will feign injury to lure predators away from her young, and some say that it reflects Jesus’s words when he laments in Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” (Snopes) Yesterday we reflected on Christ as our savior or Messiah and we recognize his willingness to endanger himself in order to save the faithful.

Two turtle doves in St. George Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Coale)

On this second day of Christmas, we celebrate the presence of Christ as Logos in both the Old and New Testaments. Footnotes tell us that here that John the Evangelist lays out the themes that develop as his Gospel continues: life, light, truth, the world, testimony, the pre-existence of Jesus, the incarnate Logos who is God’s revelation and his expression of his love for us.  When we think of the stories we hear and read in this Gospel, we know for certain that God is calling us to be diverse, to tend to that diversity and to place our hope in this diversity – because it is in this diversity that the Spirit manifests itself best.

God, most especially in the person of Jesus, calls us to intimacy. God asks us to commune with one another in a way we think is impossible. God asks much of us, both also gifts us with much. In this Christmas season, let us consider the gift of Logos, God’s Word, to all of creation brought to us in the sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas.” snopes.com, 17 Dec. 2017, www.snopes.com.

Includes notes from autumn of 2007.

To learn more about the status of turtle doves, click on the photograph of the dove pair, or visit: https://www.aol.co.uk/travel/2015/10/29/puffins-turtle-doves-facing-extinction/

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Matthew 22:41-46: Messiah

Bartolomé Murillo: The Adoration of the Shepherds

Christmas Day, December 25, 2017

Being a teacher, Jesus asks his listeners a question to see if they have fully understood the enormity of his message; and when it is clear they have not . . . he calls forth the very principal on which they stand to show them where they err.  He truly is a master.  He uses what we say and do to mirror back to us the echo of what we declare.

From today’s MAGNIFICAT: From the beginning of time, God has acted to reverse the loneliness which represents the consummate curse to the human race – an experience analogous to hell.  Even this master defers to his creator, God, in all the important decisions of his life.  He responds to the call of love which washes away the fears of loneliness, anxiety, betrayal, failure and abandonment.  This master obeys the voice within that calls him to act in and for love.  If Christ does this, if this is what it means to be Messiah, then how can we believe that we know a better way to exist?  How do we dare to defy God?

From today’s MAGNIFICAT reflection by Mother Elvira Petrozzi:  If you are able to be an instrument in the hands of God, if you have trust, love, and the patience to accept His plans for you, He restores to you what you have given, one hundred times over . . . Those who trust in him will not remain imprisoned in their little plans.  I have seen young people who built a cage with their own hands and then fell into desperation because of it.

Christ built no cages; he opened doors and windows.  Christ did not succumb to the siren song of Satan to be like gods.  Christ obeyed the voice of his vocation.

I am reminded of a favorite verse from Jeremiah: For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for your woe! (29:11)

This is what it means to be Messiah.  Obeying God for love of God rather than out of fear or laziness.  Loving God for the passion we feel for God rather than from a sense of duty or response to a whim.  Committing ourselves to the Messiah even as the Messiah commits himself to God, this is what we believe.  This is what we follow.  Enormous plans for our joy, rather than little plans for woe.  Awesome plans for a serenity that comes from doing what is good and right and beautiful . . . even though there may be pain in the interim.  For . . .

It is in the doing that we redeem and are redeemed.

It is in the acting that we declare and are declared.

It is in the obeying that we love and are loved. 

This we know.  This we believe.

Let us rise up and follow the Messiah born to us this night. 

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 12.2 (2009). Print.  

Adapted from a Favorite written on February 12, 2009.

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Tobit: Prayers for Death . . . and Birth

Juan de Valdés Leal: The Archangel Rafael

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017

God hears the pleas of two desperate people in two distant places, and he sends his special messenger Raphael to guide Tobiah in the healing of Sarah and Tobit.  Tobiah is first the faithful son and later the courageous and abiding spouse.  Sarah sees no reason for her existence based on a series of marriages that fail because a demon has become enamored of her. She becomes separate from everyone in her intense and desperate grief.  Tobit, a good main who is faithful to his Jewish beliefs, has also become separate his blindness. Yearning for the light, he seeks death rather than continue in the darkness.  He, like Sarah, feels alone; they both search for the reason that God has visited punishment upon them when they know themselves to be innocent of doing wrong.  They stand judged by others because Old Testament thinking saw misfortune as a punishment for sin.  Some of us may from time to time feel like this man and woman.

Yesterday in chapter three, we read that Tobit and Sarah’s desperation has reached such depths that each, in distant privacy, prays for release from this world.  As they pray for death, their prayers rise to God intertwining like spirals of incense.  God hears these petitions and sends Raphael to accompany the faithful Tobiah in his journey to knit together these wounded souls.  God intervenes when we sometimes least expect it . . . and in very surprising and confounding ways.

Rembrandt: The Angel Rafael Leaving Tobit and his Family

The journey that Tobiah takes is a long and complicated one.  Yet he accepts his father’s request, finds a traveling companion (Raphael in disguise) and perseveres faithfully without fully understanding how his actions will result in anything good.  He continues, he obeys, he listens for and answers the call.  This is how we must live.  It is how we must act.  This is how we find consolation and healing. It is how we encounter God.  This is how we become wounded healers.  This is God’s plan.

So after reflection with the story of Tobit, we pray.

Sometimes we must reach the point of desperation in order to know what we truly hold sacred . . . and that we are sacred healers.

Sometimes we must fall into the abyss in order to find God’s abiding presence . . . and our own divinity.

Sometimes we must cry out from our aloneness in order to understand that true and deep hope is also bold and outrageous . . . and that God’s best hope lies in us.

Sometimes we must be victim to our darkest fears in order to lay aside our anxieties . . . for then we see them as prison bars that separate us from God.

Sometimes we must be blind in order to see.

Sometimes we must feel unloved in order to be loved and to love truly and deeply.

Sometimes we must reach the point of desperation in order to know what we truly hold sacred. And in that spot, in that distant place that is actually dep within, we will find our consolation, our birth in Christ.  Amen.

For a beautiful rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5mdybeyLVc

Adapted from a reflection written during Advent 2007. Tomorrow, on Christmas Day, the Messiah arrives.

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Tobit 3: Seek Consolation – Death

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet: The Raising of Lazarus

We have sought consolation from paralysis, blindness and deafness. We have looked for peace when we are speechless or plagued by possession. Today we reflect on how we might seek comfort in the face of death or deep loss.

We know the stories of those Jesus raised from the dead while he walked among us as human: his friend Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, the synagogue leader Jairus’ daughter. We also know the story of how, through the intercession of the risen Christ, Peter brought Tabitha/Dorcas back from death, and Paul called back Eutychus. When we look at the Old Testament, we remember that Elijah restored life to the widow of Zarephath’s son, and Elisha to the Shunammite woman’s son. And perhaps most importantly, we know that Christ has the power to return each of us to eternal life once we leave this earthly one.

Henry Thomson: The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

All of this reflection on restoration speaks to our desire to overcome death. It exemplifies our hope that deep loss is not permanent. And it resonates with our expectation that Christ’s love for each of us calls all of us to union with him . . . out of certain death and into certain life. In this holiest of seasons when we celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world, we return to one more story of restoration. The story of Tobit and Sarah.

I have always turned to this Book when I am in the middle of a hopeless situation, when the circumstances in which I find myself offer absolutely no anticipation of salvation for myself or for someone I hold dear.  Each time I spend time with these verses, I come away refreshed by the themes the story offers: healing, restoration, desperate prayers made, and desperate prayers answered.  There are soap-opera elements, cliff-hanging events. There are people focused on money, power and sex; yet, over all of these forces, love holds sway.  And it is the only place in the Bible where Raphael is featured.  He is, indeed, so important that the story cannot take place without him.

James Tissot: The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain

So why does this archangel visit these characters disguised as a traveler? How does he bring them hope, rebirth and transformation? What is the attitude of each character before God the Creator? And what might we take away from the lessons laid out here?

If we have to read the whole of Tobit today, let us do so. If not, let us focus on Chapter 3. Tomorrow a Prayer for Death . . . and Birth.

Adapted from a reflection written during Advent 2007.

For a quick re-cap of the Old and New Testament resurrection stories above, visit: https://www.gotquestions.org/raised-from-the-dead.html

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