Sunday, December 22, 2019

4th Sunday of Advent

On Tuesday evening we begin the vigil of the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  How did we get here?  Where are we going?  A quick review of the readings is helpful in answering the first question. The second question can only be answered by each of us individually.
The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent emphasized being awake, alert, and prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.  This is not the only time we will be cautioned to be ready. The admonition to be awake, alert, and prepared will be repeated several times during the liturgical year.  

Will we recognize Jesus when He comes?  Will we recognize him  in the child playing?  Will we recognize him in the child still in the womb?  Will we recognize him in the demented ninety year-old?  Will we recognize him in the struggle of the dying?  Will we recognize Him in the face of the poor, or in the face of the spiritually bankrupt wealthy?  Will we recognize him in the assembly of believers and in the proclamation of scripture?  Most critically, will we recognize His Real Presence in the bread and wine consecrated during the Mass?  Will we choose to follow Him?  In the end it always comes down to choice.  Jesus chose us and remains faithful.  Will we chose Him and remain faithful to that choice?

The Gospel for the second and third Sundays of Advent spoke of John the Baptist, the herald of the Son of Man,  the voice crying out in the desert, he who deemed himself unworthy to untie Jesus' sandal.   John’s appearance was the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning.  He was and is the bridge from old to new, from the Old Law to the New Covenant.   A bridge permits continuity.  It brings the past into the present and allows the present to move into the future.  We can never hope to understand the New Testament if we don’t first know the Old Testament.  Indeed, the New Testament makes no sense if it is removed from its moorings in the Old.  

Today’s Gospel is a shift from the previous three Sundays.    
Joseph is the focus.  

Not one word in scripture is attributed to Joseph.  We know that he was righteous only by his actions.  We know that he was a good man only by his willingness to do what God commanded. We know that he was a compassionate man when we read that he was unwilling to expose Mary to shame and thus planned to divorce her quietly. But, it was not only from shame that Joseph wanted to protect Mary. He wanted to prevent her possible death from stoning, the penalty for presumed adultery. 

Ecce Ancilla Domini, 
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum,

"Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, 
may it be done to me according to your word."

Mary’s yes changed the world, it changed the universe, and all that lies beyond the universe.  That yes echoes today reverberating among the planets for those who choose to hear it.  Joseph's yes was unspoken, but it too changed the universe.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”

Joseph's obedience was immediate;  it was without question.. There was no quid pro quo. He did not argue with God. Unlike Ahaz in the first reading, he did not weary God.  Joseph did what had to be done.  Upon hearing the angel’s message he took Mary into his house.  Later, an angel would come with another message.  Without question or qualm Joseph would take his young family to Egypt for an extended exile.  

As we move toward the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord we recall and meditate upon events that are profoundly human.  Over the next days we will sing with melodies both ancient and new, about events that reflect the humanness of the Holy Family.  We will recall that Mary and Joseph struggled the same as we do today.  They experienced the same stressors we do.  They knew the same emotions we know: fear and anxiety, joy and sorrow and everything in between.  

Both Mary and Joseph acted with the obedience rooted in faith. They understood that obedience entails giving up control. They knew that faith is the conviction of things unseen and the acceptance of things that remain inexplicable. 

Tonight at vespers priests, religious, and laity throughout the world will recite or chant the penultimate 'O Antiphon' before and after the Magnificat:

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

"O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay."

St. Joseph pray for us.


Advent is rapidly ending.  BC is very quiet as the students are gone.  Is like living on a beautifully landscaped club.  Not a lot of snow.  Not unhappy that none is in the forecast for Christmas.  Have Masses on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Am always happy to be free of the stress of driving in snow, especially as I don't have 4-wd.  

The photos below both came from Campion Center when I was minister there.  The first is a simple plywood and painted cutout of the Holy Family.  I shot it to get the silhouette effect.  The second is the candles and trees near the altar in the chapel at Campion.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, December 15, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent

15 December 2019 
Is 35:1-6a, 10
Ps 146: 6-7,8-9,9-10
Jas 5:7-10
Mt 11:2-11

Gaudete in Domino semper, 
iterum dice gaudete. 
Dominus enim prope est. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; 
again I say rejoice!  
The Lord is near.  

The first word of the entrance antiphon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent says it all:  Gaudete!  Rejoice!  Only one more Sunday stands between us and the great feast of the Nativity of the Lord; the feast when we celebrate that Jesus, fully God and fully man, was born into this world; the same world where we now live and breathe, work and pray, rejoice and mourn.  We rejoice because Jesus walked this same earth on which we now stand.  

Gaudete in Domino semper.

The joy of this third Sunday of Advent is apparent in the readings:  Isaiah described how  the desert will exult--that lowers will bloom with abundant flowers on the steppes—those steppes will bloom, and rejoice with joyful song.

The psalmist affirmed the joy when he wrote. 

'The Lord God keeps faith forever
secures justice for the oppressed
He gives food to the hungry
and sets captives free.' 

Those who are familiar with Messiah Handel's masterpiece, will recognize verses from Isaiah as part of the libretto.  This includes verses that were just proclaimed: 

"Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, 
and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, 
and the tongue of the dumb shall sing."

In the oratorio, this recitative is followed immediately  by the exquisitely beautiful aria for soprano, alto, or both depending on the version:  “He Shall Feed His Flock."

It includes what could be seen as good advice for all of us: "come unto Him all ye that labor, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest."

As was true last Sunday, the gospel related more about John the Baptist, the herald who announced the news of Jesus, the voice of the one crying out in the desert, the kinsman who felt unworthy to untie the sandal of the one who was to come.

When John sent messengers to inquire if Jesus was indeed he who was to come, Jesus' instructed the messengers, 'tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.'

On this  Gaudete Sunday we celebrate that our redemption through Jesus the Lord, the one who feeds his flock like a shepherd,  is near at hand. Our celebration will increase another in two more days.  On Tuesday evening, December 17,  we will recite the first of the “O Antiphons” that introduce the Magnificat in the Liturgy of the Hours.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

“O Wisdom, 
O holy Word of God.  
You govern all creation with strong yet tender care.  
Come and show your people 
the way to salvation.”   

Each day thereafter, ending on December 23, we will recite the subsequent antiphons, which give another name for Christ, and describe yet another attribute of the one who comes to free us from our sins. 

O Adonai
O Radix Jesse 
O Clavis David
O Oriens
O Rex Gentium 
O Emmanuel

In this case, the Latin is critical to understanding these magnificent antiphons. When the antiphons are written in a column with one per line and the first letter after the 'O' is read from bottom to top the result is a Latin acrostic Ero Cras which translates "Tomorrow I will be there" or "Tomorrow I will come"  

Like the farmer in the Letter of James we must be patient, we must still await the precious fruit of Mary’s womb.  The blessed fruit of that womb, Jesus, the savior of the world. . . . . 

Gaudete in Domino semper, 
iterum dice gaudete. 
Dominus enim prope est. 
Just gave this homily at the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Jamaica Plain, MA, not far from oour novitiate when I was there 22 years ago.  It is in an enviable location in that it backs up against the Arnold Arboretum.  They know there will never be any kind of developement behind their garden.  

The photos below are from Vermont a little while ago.  The snow at 2000 or so feet is different and of much greater amount than down at sea level.  These were taken at the beginning of a storm that dumped 17 inches at that level and perhaps an inch at seas level.   

Fog and snow are among a photographers best friends.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

1st Wednesday in Advent

4 December 2019
Is 25:6-10a
Ps 23
We are now in the first week of Advent. The wreathe was blessed on Sunday. In many churches the beginning of Mass was heralded by the ancient chant 
Veni, veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel.
O come, o come Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
began the Mass. 
Advent is not a stand-alone season, anymore than is Christmas (though it is treated as such by many), Easter, or even ordinary time. Advent is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. We are now on the fourth day of that new year. 
Advent is not meant to be a synonym for frantic shopping. It is a time to prepare oneself for the commemoration of the Nativity of Our Lord. Advent was not created by Martha Stewart as a time to plan menus, run berserk with a glue gun, or ice cookies with uniquely individual messages as place markers. And it is definitely not well-observed by the office "Holiday Party," an event that can be a minefield of risk to one's job, marriage, and sanity. My advice for getting through the office holiday party safely: Don't Drink anything stronger ginger ale, even if the boss insists (I take this new medication . . . . )
Despite secular messages to the contrary, despite a government and many universities that are trying to remove all religious associations from the word Christmas, despite attempts to ban the word itself,
Advent is a penitential season. It is a season of preparation for a holy day. Thus, the priest wears purple vestments and there is no Gloria at Sunday Mass. It is a time for prayer and meditation, a time to contemplate what we will soon celebrate, Jesus ad venire, Jesus coming toward, and into, the world.
We heard in the first reading from Isaiah about an idyllic time that has, at least in part, yet to exist, a time in which hunger, pain, suffering and death will be banished. 
". . . he will destroy death forever
The Lord God will wipe away,
the tears from all faces." 
The promise that 'he will destroy death forever' was fulfilled in Jesus. We are reminded of this in the responsorial psalm, Psalm 23, which is probably the most well-known and frequently recited of the 150 psalms in the psalter. 
"Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come."
This too belongs to the promise fulfilled in Christ. 
As we gaze at the single candle in the Advent wreathe, a wreathe that will be fully lit before we have time to catch our breaths, we are called to sing in gratitude with the psalmist: 
"You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows..”
Veni, veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel.
The photo is a life-sized sculpture on the grounds of a monastery. The monochrome is perfect for the subject. Tried a black and white conversion but didn't like it. It needs to be this pseudo-sepia. 
Went to Pittsburgh on Sunday to attend a series of work-related meetings on Monday with the plan to return Monday night. All went well until our BC group of five got to the airport. Three were on a 4:10 Delta flight to Boston and two on a 6:01 to Boston. I was on the latter flight. The Delta flight was canceled rather quickly when the extent of the weather in Boston was known. The three were able to transfer to our flight. Which was promptly delayed. We went to TGI Fridays. 
The gate crew was terrific and accommodating. The flight delay was extended about every hour. Long story short, the flight that should have touched down at Logan at 7:25 PM or so took off at 12:45 AM and arrived at 2:45 AM. One of the guys in the group who lived nearby gave me a lift home. As the T closes at midnight until 5 AM this was a deeply appreciated act. Crawled into bed at 4 AM. Phone on airplane silence. Woke at 10:00 AM. Still feel like "the wreck of the Hesperus" to use one of mom's favorite terms.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD