Tuesday, December 23, 2014

O Emmanuel - God With Us

On the 23rd of December, the Church prays together the last of the seven traditional O Antiphons composed in the Seventh and Eighth centuries as short, simple reflections on the Old Testament prophetic writings foretelling the coming of Christ.  They are traditionally prayed during final seven days of Advent. In more recent times, the O Antiphons have been sung in a different form in the hymn, Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)

The O Antiphons are perfect for a family or community to incorporate into night prayers during those final seven days, December 17-23, and hopefully can be a resource for you and your family in future Advents.

Here is the text of the O Emmanuel antiphon:

LATIN: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

ENGLISH: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Although the calendar date is passed for this year, Christmas Eve still presents wonderful opportunity to pull away from the commercialized "magic" to reflect on the profoundness of the real meaning of Christmas, as the first phrase of O Emmanuel expresses, God with us.

On this eve, the power of the incarnation comes to its full fruition, as Mary bears God himself to the world.  Stop and take a few minutes today (and tomorrow too) to think about that...


Yep, the God of creation, of all things visible and invisible, is here.  Not in some symbolic, ethereal way, but real, 100% in the flesh, pouring all of his divinity into all of our humanity.  Since we were (and still are) powerless to fix our own broken, pitiful state, he has come as one of us (not like one of us...as one of us) to fix it himself for eternity and to offer us our share in the work in time.

I'll leave it at that for now.  Just take a few minutes today, wherever and however you can find a quiet moment, to think about the significance of what happened in that stable in Bethlehem so many years ago.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

From a Line of Sinners

As we begin the last week of Advent and the countdown to Christmas, in this post (originally from December 24, 2013), let's reflect on the significance of Christ choosing to count both the best and the worst of humanity among his ancestors.  Today's Gospel reading, Matthew's account of the genealogy of Our Lord (Mt 1:1-17) is packed with more than meets the eye

"For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians: 22-24)

I once heard it said that, if you really want to know someone, you've got to know where they came from and where they're headed.  The only thing that could probably be added to that is the present.  Along with the past and future, you've got to know someone's here and now, to meet them in their present life circumstances.  To really enter into relationship, in particular the type of caritas or agape relationship that God calls us to, and that we are called to seek out in each other, there has to be a genuine interest in the heart, in seeking out what influences push and pull it, and a willingness to enter into the broken and ugly pieces that we all carry around with us.

This is one way I've been led to approach the the question, "Who is Christ?  Who is this man that we claim worship as God?"    We could spend an eternity exploring and reflecting on the person of the God-man, of mystery of Emmanuel (God with us) and, by his grace, one day we will...for eternity. After all, isn't that what heaven is about?  Isn't it about being immersed in the power of divine relationship, of perfect love incarnate, and of the unlimited truth, goodness, and beauty that we only catch fleeting and limited glimpses of during our walk in this valley of tears?  Isn't it living with full consciouness and perfect knowledge of the One who not only created us, but who loved us with such self-abandon that he lowered himself to give up his life, choosing mercy beyond justice so as not to leave us in the squalor and suffering of our sin?  If not I'm not sure that I would want any other idea of heaven, or any other God, at least for eternity.

As for there here and now, I'll  narrow it to the question of the Who of The Five W's: the person of Christ as One who came to enter into relationship with us and literally save us from ourselves, in the past, present, and future.  He took on a human identity without giving up his divinity so that we might know that, despite our frail humanity, we are no longer bound by the pain of our past, by our present circumstances, or by the future that we so often look into with both hope and fear because we are so powerless to control it.  By entering into our humanity, he literally bent time, condescending (lowering himself) to at once dwell with us as the fulfillment of the hope of our ancestors in faith, as leader and our constant companion on our life's journey, and to raise us to the intended dignity and show us the glorious destiny he has won for us and destined us for by his passion, death, and resurrection.

In the December 16th reflection of Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, entitled Genealogy and Grace, Gail Godwin offers a reflection on Matthew's purpose in beginning his Gospel by recounting the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17), and particularly his inclusion of people who were "...not necessarily the noblest or most deserving person[s] to carry out divine purposes."
For reasons unknown to us, God may select the Judahs who sell their brothers into slavery, the Jacobs who cheat their way to first place, the Davids who steal wives and murder rivals - but also compose profound and beautiful psalms of praise.
And what about the five women Matthew choses to include? Not a mention of Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, the upstanding patriarchal wives of Israel.  Instead Tamar, a Cananite, who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah to get a son out of him.  And Rahab, another Cananite and a real prostitute this time.  And Ruth the Moabite, another outsider.  And Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, is named only as the wife of Uriah, whom King David had killed so he could marry her himself.  Every one of these women used as God's instrument had scandal or aspersion attached to her-as does the fifth and final woman named in the genealogy: Mary, the mother of Jesus, with her unconventional pregnancy.
Matthew's intent in highlighting these women is to make the point that Christ, who as God was able to plan and choose his own lineage, did so in a way that made a bold and profound statement: that he desired to come to us not with the appearance and glory of God (as he is and will return), but in the humility of a 100% human being with very much imperfect ancestors.  In doing so, took on our sin not by sinning himself, but by assuming the sins of the past and all time onto himself. At the same time, in choosing to singularly exempt Mary from this stain of sin, he reversed our trajectory from darkness and sin to light and redemption and prepared for himself a perfect flesh-and-blood tabernacle from which to enter into the world.  Christ chose to enter the nastiness, pain, and fear, and death of a fallen humanity rather than abandon us to the fate we deserved.  He chose love and mercy beyond justice.  Only God could plan that kind of entrance.

And that is where we are arrive at Christmas.  Light has pierced the darkness.  God with us has come into the world, to take the burden of our fallen and broken state onto himself, beginning with the past, because only he as God is strong enough and wise enough to rid us of it once and for all.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Muslim Go Boom! - WND Commentary by Matt Barber

This is by far the best commentary/op-ed I've come across all week.  Matt Barber (entertainingly) argues the stark truth, that:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cleaning House

Do you or have you ever met someone who enjoys cleaning?  I mean really enjoys it, as if there were nothing else the person could see themselves doing more than cleaning.  When someone tells me they do, it automatically raises the question, at least in my head:  Really?  Do you really enjoy it, for it's own sake?  Don't get me wrong, I like love a clean room, clean house, clean garage, clean car, clean clothes...you name it.  There's just a deep-down, simple, good feeling that comes from having things sorted, straightened, unsoiled, and fresh, especially when it has been returned from the alternative state.  There's just something in the normal, rational, god-fearing human soul that gravitates toward things being that way.  There really is more truth to the old adage, "Cleanliness is next to godliness" than meets the eye.

But, cleanliness is an end state.  The process to get there, of expending time and sweat to put things back the way we wished they had been all along, isn't nearly as fun as being there.  On second thought, it just isn't fun period. Not at all.  For me at least, it usually comes more out of necessity than of choice, and has to be disciplined and enforced (parents, you know how this goes, right?).  I can almost always think of at least a half dozen other things I'd rather be doing, or places I'd rather be, like reading, taking a nice long run, you name it.

One of the greatest motivators to just get it done when it comes to cleaning is the arrival of guests.  Knowing that they are coming to visit suddenly gives us a sort of hyper awareness of everything in the house that isn't absolutely immaculate.  Those dust bunnies that have been hanging out under the bed for a few weeks now?   Odds are the guests will never, ever lift up your covers to see them, but you know they're there and with just the the thought of it, they might as well be screaming out loud enough for the neighborhood to hear, "Clean me.  Clean me!"

Back the the "unfunness" of the task at hand (can you tell how much I haven't felts like cleaning this weekend?)... Heck, we here in American despise cleaning so much--and our time doing anything but is so precious to us--that we even outsource it.   We have an entire industry built around providing cleaning services, both at home and in the workplace.  And even when we don't pay directly for someone else to do it, we consult with others about how to clean up because we don't even have time to think  and plan how to do it.  Sometimes we pay big bucks for this too, for someone to think for us and tell us what needs to be cleaned and how we should do it.

Not only that, but once the end state of having everything clean and in its proper place is attained, it's so easily lost.  I mean it's just downright demoralizing, isn't it?  I don't know how many times I have spent the better part of a weekend cleaning our garage, organized everything, sweeping, re-arranging shelves, and re-establishing a system for maintaining that hard-earned end state, all the while thinking, "This time it will work.  It will stay clean, everything that's used will put back in it's place, I will never have to spend hours cleaning again, and the life of garage storage will go on happily ever after."

Mmm hmm...Riiiight.  Somehow it just doesn't work out that way, and in a matter of days, weeks, or months later, it seems like we are back to square one and needing another round of neatness intervention.  I think we all (sane people anyway) really do like to have things as they should be.  It's the process of getting there that's not fun, and keeping things that way can seem downright impossible.

And so it is with the spiritual life.

The Church, recognizing that we need a periodic reminder to set aside time to sweep and straighten the "house" of our souls, gives us Advent season as a dedicated time to prepare for the arrival of the most important house guest, the King of all creation.

The readings for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, begin with one of my favorite (and perhaps one of the most well known) verses from Old Testament scripture: the prophet Isaiah's message of hope and promise of salvation that flows from the old covenant into the new.  Through the prophet, God speaks to remind us both of our need to diligently and expeditiously "prepare the way of the Lord," to get about the nitty gritty work of cleaning house, so to speak, in our souls, all the while lifting our eyes and hearts to the hope of the future kingdom.

A voice proclaims:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low;
The rugged land shall be a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A voice says, “Proclaim!”
I answer, “What shall I proclaim?”
“All flesh is grass,
and all their loyalty like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.”
“Yes, the people is grass!

The grass withers, the flower wilts,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!

Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care.
- Isaiah 40:3-11 (NAB)

With these words, the prophet points us forward through the trials, difficulties, and flat out spiritual warfare--with our own personal sins and the societal evil that we seem so powerless to cure--to look toward the fullness of time, when the "space" of creation, dragged down through history by man's sin and disobedience, will be restored to its immaculate end, to our promised salvation and the fullness of God's kingdom, as St Peter writes in the conclusion of the second reading:

But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

-2 Pt 3:13-14

As I mentioned in a previous post from 2/14/2010, Now Comes the Best Part, the most beautiful and concrete way to take up this spiritual house cleaning, and to get rid of the sin that mires and clutters our souls, is to make a good confession.   It is often a very difficult and laborious experience to have to voice our failings and shortcomings, but as with all cleaning work, it must be done, and habit makes it easier.  And the result after this cleaning is complete is joy and encouragement as our soul is swept clean.  So, during this Advent season, let us hasten to make way in our own hearts for the coming of He who seeks to dwell there, and by doing so bring a little light, fresh air, and clarity, to our own little part of his kingdom.