Advent is a season of waiting. Sometimes the goal of our waiting is not exactly clear in our minds; yet we wait. I wait waiting for an idea or at least the seed of an idea for this weekly column. There are times I am just waiting for just a quiet spot within the day, hoping that an idea will surface. It has been a busy day. Plus the production schedule for the bulletin is pushed forward so that our publishing company employees will have time off at Christmas. I am writing this article more than 11 days before you are reading it. Mass, hospital, wedding rehearsal, bulletin – run, Father, run!
In the 1998 movie “Run Lola Run,” a young woman finds herself in a terrible bind: she needs to gather $100,000 in 20 minutes in order to save the life of her boyfriend, a small-time criminal. The movie shows three possible scenarios for the way her quest plays out. In one sequence, she seems to utter a quiet prayer to God – even though the context of her prayer may not be well-considered. In fact, it may be quite intuitive and lacking specificity. In the scene, she slows to trot, looks up to heaven and says, “I’m waiting, I’m waiting.” I sometimes think of that movie as a glimpse into Advent. Lola is a person of action. There is no stillness or wait in Lola. She does not have the time to reflect and see how all of this is playing out in her life and in the lives of the people she contacts. In the immediate wake of her uneasy prayer, a rather improbable solution to her problem presents itself. Her prayer is answered. Perhaps she was indeed waiting in prayer despite all the outward activity.
It makes me think of Simone Weil, a twentieth-century French mystic whose spirituality is based upon the power of waiting. The title of her best known works is “Waiting on God
,” a title that captures the experience of the prophets, Israel in captivity, the Jewish people awaiting a messiah, or a Christian people awaiting the second coming – and there is nothing that implies this was passive waiting. Weil writes that it is in prayer that we open our souls, expecting God to act even when the content of that expectation remains unclear. For Weil the power of waiting was that it provided the capacity to give one’s full attention to God. Waiting was not correlated to passive inactivity.
In this day’s gospel, Mary received the good news of the Annunciation, and then is on the road to visit with her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps Mary turned her eyes heavenward to silently pray, “I’m waiting. I’m waiting.” And she waits as she returns home, the trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the presentation in the Temple, the escape to Egypt. Busy about many things, yet Mary knew the power of waiting, pondering these things in her heart because she was able to give her full attention to the Lord. In our busy lives may we be given the power of waiting upon the LordThird Sunday in Advent - December 14, 2014
There are lots of different ways to wait. Scripture has over 162 verses that describe all sorts and manners of waiting. I suspect you are familiar with a good portion of the different kinds of waiting – after all, we all wait. In the military, the common experience was to “hurry up and wait.” We all wait. It is a common experience, and yet there are differences in waiting. There is a difference between expectant, on the edge of your seat, waiting; the patient “it will happen in its own good time and there is nothing I can do about it” waiting; and the waiting of dread, tedium, and despair. I think our “are we ever gonna’ get there waiting” because a flight to Europe can take 8+ hours, would fall on deaf ears for our ancestors who traveled months on boats to reach these distant shores. But things change, the world has sped up. Our culture demands fast food, fast cars, and fast answers. We are accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips with laptops and smart phones. We expect pills that will immediately take the pain away…yesterday. We are accustomed to and do not like to wait.
I have been reading the biography of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. An episode in 1922 found resonance with me this Advent. He was waiting to defend his thesis in paleontology before a panel of eminent scientists who frankly wondered if de Chardin, clearly a deeply religious person, could objectively fulfill the requirements of science. At the same time, de Chardin was also waiting to see if the official church would have problems with his thesis. He had been greatly influenced by “Creative Evolution,
” written by the French Philosopher, Henri Bergson. It was a book that the Vatican had placed on its list of Forbidden books, yet it was a book that inspired Teilhard to learn more about the theory of evolution–and in his new work and study in this field, he discovered a scientific justification for the unity that he felt he shared as a human being with the entire world of living creatures. A unity that was deeply Christocentric.
His merger of the theory of evolution and his Christocentric view of the nature of creation lead him to a great Advent insight about time and the manner of waiting on the part of God. De Chardin grew in his appreciation for the amount of time that God waited simply for the emergence of life on this planet earth, let alone the emergence of humankind. He was particularly struck by so many passages in the Hebrew scripture (Old Testament), especially Isaiah, in which the prophetic voices proclaim an “evolved” world in which deserts bloom, there is no more illness, and all peoples stream to Jerusalem. Teilhard de Chardin knew the eons of time needed for life on the planet to evolve, the time needed for humans to develop the capacity to reason and contemplate the coming of a savior – and all the while God waited.
Advent puts us in touch with a deep spiritual reality that we too often neglect. The things of God take time. Holy Scripture is not a fast food meal, but an experience to be savored. Prayer is not a quick fix but an invitation to be changed from within over time. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight but can be quite a journey. Feeling at home in a local church takes time, building relationships that last. A deeper relationship with God is not something we can download from the “heavenly internet.”
During Advent, we are called to become a people who learn to wait, to prepare a manger of the heart for Christ to be born anew – all the while praising God who has long awaited our arrival to his loving embrace.Second Sunday in Advent - December 7, 2014
Three weeks ago, the first reading for the Sunday mass was Proverbs 31: 10-31, sometimes known as the “Ode to a Worthy Wife,” it describes a woman who is more valuable than pearls; lucky the one who entrusts their heart to her. The same weekend the gospel was the “Parable of the Talents.” I suspect the gospel was the focus of most homilists, as it was the focus of my homily. But the passage from Proverbs did not go unnoticed by me. The reading reminded me of my mom.
The days are coming, and perhaps will soon be upon my sisters and I, when we have to make the decision to place our mom in a memory care unit. We are not the first family, nor will we be the last to face such choices. Families face similar difficult choices in many different ways, not just with parents, but with spouses and children. In whatever form, such hard choices come, they are moments that call for reflection, prayer, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
It does not seem that long ago that a conversation with one of my sisters began, “There’s something wrong with mom. She is more forgetful, and it is getting worse.” I could not see it as readily as my sister who lived down the street from mom; I visited mom over near Mt. Dora every other week. I only noticed her trouble with recalling names, but then she has always had a little trouble there. She could tell you the person’s life story in detail, but the name was just a little slow in coming. Eventually we all began to notice even the details were no longer available for recall. Eventually, other events began to occur.
One Thursday morning, while staying over, mom came into the spare bedroom. “You have to help me, the school bus is coming soon, and I don’t know what to wear.” It is 5:30 in the morning. My 90 year-old mom is a little lost in time. “Sure… I can help…but you know its Saturday, right? There is no school today. So why don’t you go back to bed.” When improvisational skills in conversation are increasingly necessary, you know things are changing.
Mom increasingly spends time thinking she is a young woman growing up in Utah. We went through a period when she wondered why we children (not that she recognized us as such – I mean, she was only 20 years old!) would not take her to see her mom, dad, and siblings. Her parents passed years ago. There is only one sister alive and Aunt Carol is just about 20 years younger than mom. Mom had already left home when Carol was born. Mom does not remember her sister Carol. She does not remember her husband, my father. She no longer remembers many things.
Someone described this as the stages of death by memory. I think we have passed the denial stage and realize that our mom, a worthy woman, is beginning to pass away. It is not an easy journey to walk with mom and my sisters, but at least I know the things that lie ahead. As a priest, I have already walked parts of this road with other families. Still…
And we wait. Advent is a time very suited for waiting. During the celebration of Mass, after the Lord’s Prayer, we hear “. . . as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ
.” This prayer reminds us that during Advent, we wait in joy, in hope, and in anticipation of all the wonderful celebrations we are about to experience – Christmas, the coming of Christ into our lives in new ways, the return of Christ in glory at the end of time. As the Church, we wait during Advent and look forward to celebrating the fact that God loves us so much that he sent his Son into the world to save us. This waiting is far from empty; rather, it is full of the hope that God promises us as we prepare for Christ.
We all choose how we wait. This Advent I will try to wait in joyful Hope and to journey with a woman who spent many years journeying with her family. And I will pray that all you find joyful Hope in your Advent journeyFirst Sunday in Advent - Nov 30, 2014
One way of really enriching our Advent journey is to keep in mind the three comings of Jesus. Jesus was born into our past history. Jesus comes to us now in a variety of ways. Jesus promised that he will come again in glory, at the end of time. The Incarnation: Jesus has come.
This is not the coming we await. The first coming of Jesus has already happened. Our preparation to celebrate his birth is the occasion for our deeper reflection. On the first level, it is so important that we really let ourselves experience the power of the Incarnation: God is with us. That God became one of us means that “human” is one of the ways God can be. The deeper we contemplate this mystery, the more we enter into the grace of “God with us.” The more we let ourselves be touched by this mystery, the more we see the connection between Christmas and Easter: all of this is “for me” - for my salvation - to free me from the power of sin and death. My Life Now: Jesus comes to me.
When we open our hearts and our mouths and plead, “Come, O Lord,” we are most directly experiencing our desire for the Lord to come to us and touch us with the grace of salvation - that we might live it with greater freedom and peace. Jesus is present whenever we need him to be present: actually, whenever we turn to him - even with empty hands. Jesus is alive and active in us when we read God’s Word and let it into our hearts. Jesus promised to be present with us whenever two or three are gathered together in his name. And, we know Jesus comes to us whenever our sacrifices and our sufferings unite us with his own mission. Advent is a special time to experience our longing for the presence of Jesus with us now - in all the places we need him most. Our Future: Jesus comes again, in glory.
One of the most transforming graces of Advent is given to us as our longing deepens. The more grateful we become for how God saved us in Jesus, the more deeply we enter into the mystery of how Jesus is with us now. The closer we come to experiencing joy at how our Lord, Jesus Christ came into our world, faithful to God and faithful to our life journey in the flesh, the closer we come to experiencing the mystery of salvation in our everyday lives. And, as our longing is filled with the utter fullness of God’s gift to us, we begin to long with the ultimate freedom: we long to be with him in God. We live more at home in this world because our God made a home in this world. But the whole story draws us to a complete picture of who we are and where we belong. Then our prayer begins to change, in our hearts and on our lips. We still are singing, “Come, Lord, Jesus!” but our song is transformed into the free and complete song of the lover: “Come, and take me with you.” Now we watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ will come again in his glory.
(Preface 1 of Advent) Advent Readings: An Overview
The First Sunday of Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year. This year we will again use the readings from Cycle B of the Lectionary for Mass. Most folks are familiar with the basic structure of the three-year Sunday Lectionary, in which the Gospel readings are taken mostly from Matthew in Year A, from Mark in Year B, and from Luke in Year C. But many Christians, even regular church-goers, may not realize that the readings for the four Sundays of Advent also follow a regular pattern.
On the First Sunday of Advent
each year, we hear some of Jesus’ teachings about the “End Times.” In each case, the text is taken from a passage that comes from the end of Gospels when Jesus seems to be speaking about apocalyptic events. The Second and Third Sundays of Advent
focus on the preaching of John the Baptist. The emphasis is on the role of John as Herald. Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent
the Gospel reading relates to some of the events that immediately preceded Jesus’ birth, including Joseph’s dreams (Year A: Matt 1:18-24), the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel (Year B: Luke 1:26-38), and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Year C: Luke 1:39-45).
The first readings throughout the Advent Season contain various passages from the prophetic books of the Old Testament that Christians interpret as prophecies about the coming of the Messiah or the Messianic age. A pattern cannot be described as easily for the second readings, but prayerful reflection often reveals a pattern of love, joy, peace, and submission of one’s will to God.
The Gospel readings of the four Sundays of Advent come to us in reverse chronology. We start with the end of time. We continue to the period when Jesus was an adult. We end in the days before his birth. Like a funnel, Advent opens with a giant theme, the grandness of Christ the King, and it ends with a specific one, the child lying in a Bethlehem manger.
May Advent be a time of reflection of the coming of Christ in your life, the life of your family, and our community of believers. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phi 4:4)November 23, 2014
Imagine four persons in a room. The first is a powerful dictator who rules a country. He commands armies, directs the lives of millions, and his wishes become law and are enforced. He possesses a brutal power. Next to him sits a gifted athlete at the pinnacle of his physical prowess. This is one whose speed, strength, and endurance have few equals. His is a graceful power for which he is much admired and envied. The third person is a rock star whose music and charisma electrify sold out arenas. Her words can become the anthem for a generation. Her power is a soulfulness of the muse. The fourth person in the room is a newborn, a baby, lying in its crib, unable to clearly ask for what it needs.
The irony is that the baby ultimately wields the greatest power. The infant can touch hearts in a way that a dictator, an athlete, or a rock star cannot. Its innocent, wordless presence, without physical strength, can transform a room and a heart in a way that worldly powers cannot. The powerlessness of a baby touches us at a deeper moral place. It is as though a baby has the power to do an exorcism. It can cast out the demons of self-absorption and selfishness in us.
And so it is with the true power of God. Even though at times we want God the dictator who will right wrongs and establish justice by showing some raw muscle power and banging some heads here and now, such is not the true power of God. The true power of God, in the person of His Son, Jesus, was born as a baby, lived a life apart from worldly power, and he died hanging helplessly on a cross with bystanders mocking his powerlessness. Yet both his birth and his death manifest the kind of power upon which we can ultimately build our lives. The powerlessness of Christ touches us at a deeper moral place. It has the power to cast out our worst demons.
Worldly power imposes. Divine power proposes. It is the proposal of the helpless child, arms raised upward, inviting you to embrace the innocence and love. Christ, as the Southern author Annie Dillard says, is always found in our lives just as he was originally found, a helpless baby in the straw who must be picked up and nurtured into maturity.
Such is the power of Christ the King.
May the power of Christ the King be with you and your family during the Thanksgiving Holiday.November 16, 2014
Thomas Eric Duncan, Nancy Writebol, Kent Brantly, Amber Vinson, Nina Pham, and Rick Sacra – what do they have in common? They are US citizens who contracted Ebola and were treated here in the United States. Thanks to our skilled and talented health care professionals, all fully recovered, thanks be to God. Like many of you, I held my breath just a bit when the first news came of nurses being infected here at home while treating patients. I had visions we were about to live Stephen King’s novel, The Stand
, the story of a military-made superflu that wipes out 99.4% of the population.
While the Ebola virus is quite deadly, it is not very contagious. Epidemiologists give infectious diseases a number called an “R0.” The number for measles can be as high as 18. For polio it is about 6, for influenza about 3. The Ebola R0 number is about a 2.
Here in the United States, we can quickly identify people who are sick or at risk – as well as those they have been in contact with. We can isolate or quarantine some or implement programs to reduce points of contact, e.g. closing schools when flu breaks out. And we have the means to broadly communicate the status of such things to a wide population. In addition, here at home, we have about 24 physicians for every 10,000 people. In Guinea, there is one physician for the same number. In Sierra Leone, one physician must care for 50,000 people. And in Liberia, there are a few dozen doctors for the entire country of 4.4 million people. Such nations even struggle to procure latex gloves for their health workers or bleach to disinfect beds upon which victims have died.
I have been musing about the Ebola virus, and if it had come to the urban slum of Kibera (Nairobi, Kenya) where I lived for a time. A little less than a million people are said to live in Kibera. I suspect Kibera is about the size of South Tampa. People are crammed into the area. There is often no clean water, sanitary conditions are – shall we say – challenging, and it is an area where a virus can thrive, spread, and bring death. The fact that Ebola’s R0 is about 2 is cold comfort for a place where there are not enough doctors or trained health care professionals, where there are no isolation units, and communication in such times is based on rumor and fear. I understand how the Ebola virus can ravage the packed urban slums of West Africa. I only have to image what would happen in Kibera.
But consider this. What is the difference between the response here and in the slums of Africa? Lots of technical answers could be mustered, but a significant part of the response has to be poverty. It simply creates the conditions for the possibility that a relatively low R0 virus, already deadly, can become pandemic.
Fr. Michael Rozier, SJ, writes: “We are no longer just the victims. We also become responsible for its devastating toll on human life. This is much more difficult to accept. Suddenly the outbreak narrative becomes much less attractive, because it no longer has a tricky, microscopic virus as the villain. Humans become co-conspirators. The outbreak of Ebola eventually will be stopped. It will extend for months longer than our attention span, but like previous instances of the disease, it will be extinguished. Yet the social conditions that allowed its spread will continue in every corner of the world. If we learn anything from Ebola, the lesson should not be related only to this particular disease, because another infectious disease is going to emerge in short order.” (America Magazine, Nov 17th issue)
Next month our parish is sending a team to Haiti for a dental mission and to assess how we can help at least one place in the world where poverty is the norm. I am not sure what the result will be, but our good people will begin the dialogue so that we are not “co-conspirators,” but are sisters and brothers in Christ to the people of Beau Sejour, Haiti. Please, keep them in your prayers.November 9, 2014
In February 2014, Bishop Lynch published the results of a Vatican survey on the family. Unlike the vast majority of the US bishops, Bishop Lynch had opened up the survey to broad participation by the faithful of our diocese. More than 7,000 people responded to the survey’s questions about matters that are important to family life in our modern day. I reported on the Bishop’s summary of our responses earlier in the year, but a short summary would perhaps be helpful. In part, the people of our diocese responded:
- There was very strong support for the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman.
- The Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.
- An adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
- Something needs to be done to reconcile and welcome back the divorced and remarried beyond the present annulment process.
On Sunday morning October 5th, Pope Francis opened an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. His opening remarks to the gathered bishops was about Synod assemblies: they “are meant... to help God realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.” The Pope emphasized the potential for this entire synod process to be a major turning point for the Church, when he told them that “the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.” He made clear to them that over the two weeks of meetings the bishops could help realize “God’s dream” for his people or “thwart that dream.”
While on Pilgrimage in Italy last month, by happy circumstance I was able to have breakfast with our Minister General of the OFM Order, Mike Perry, someone I have known since my days in Kenya. Fr. Mike hoped, that at the end of the Synod, there would be transparency, conversations would not be prematurely closed off or decided too quickly, there would be honest dialogue, and the response would be pastoral. I think Fr. Mike would be happy with the results so far.
Since the close of the Synod, Catholic news, internet, and general newspapers have been filled with what happened, didn’t happen, and how to understand it. I would defer to folks far more insightful than me about the manner in which all this will play out.
” (or report) published at the close of the Synod, serves as a starting point for a larger Synod gathering in October 2015. Just as Bishop Lynch operated with great transparency, the relatio
was also presented with great transparency, including sections that did not win the necessary votes for complete approval. Pope Francis asked to have all of the paragraphs presented in the “final” report, even those that failed to win the majority needed for full passage (a two-thirds majority). Among the paragraphs not receiving adequate votes were two; one dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics, the other with LGBT Catholics. Additionally, the Pope asked that the voting results be shown alongside all the paragraphs, which were voted on separately. This is a transparency unheralded in episcopal, curial, and papal deliberations.
In his closing address, Pope Francis asked the bishops to continue the dialogue without being trapped by a “hostile inflexibility” to the movement of the Spirit of compassion or a “deceptive mercy [that] binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them.” The Pope also reminded them that in the end it was the “Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque [church]” – calling them to go forward with a heart transparent to the workings of the Spirit.
Perhaps the “victory” all perspectives can claim is a victory for transparency.Novemeber 2, 2014
This past weekend I attended my US Naval Academy Class of 1974 reunion… I will leave you to do the math. It was a nice chance to catch up with classmates, roommates, guys on the swim team, and people with whom I served in the fleet. It was interesting to see the path in life that people took in the intervening years. Many of the folks there had served 20+ years in the Navy or Marine Corps and then gone on to second careers – and from which they were planning to retire in the months to come. Lots of my classmates had children who also attended the Naval Academy – some of that next generation had already taken command of ships, submarines, and all manner of military units. And of course, there were pictures of grandchildren…lots. In other words, it was a college reunion and a grateful assembly of families who had long and faithfully served their country. It was a blessed time.
While there, I was privileged to concelebrate Mass at the USNA Chapel with the two Catholic chaplains and a young priest from the Diocese of Sioux Falls (Class of 1999). As you might imagine, there were lots of folks and midshipmen that were interested in finding out how a Naval Academy graduate ended up in the habit of a Franciscan friar. At the end of Mass, it was like Sunday morning in Tampa, with lots of great conversations on the “sidewalk.”
Later Sunday morning our Class held a memorial service for our classmates who have passed away in the line of duty and in life. It was an interesting prelude to our celebration of All Souls Day this weekend. All Souls is a day when we remember all the faithful departed, known and unknown, whose souls are in the hands and mercy of God. Most often we focus on our family members and a small circle of intimate friends. But All Souls is a day we cast the net of our family and prayers much wider to souls known and unknown to us.
Certainly there is a very strong bond between Academy classmates, but in truth I did not know most of the 900 or so graduates. One’s sphere is generally limited to the Company of men with whom you lived for four years, people in your academic major, and perhaps your sports team. In my case, swimming was a year-round sport making my world even smaller. Though I did not know (or could not remember) many names on the memorial list, it was still sobering to read the list of classmates who has passed away. One of my roommates was on the list; he passed away while I was living in Kenya. Many of the early deaths were aviators whose career was certainly higher risk than life in submarines. As we aged into our late 40s and into our 50s the list began to acquire more names and the causes of death more connected to our age than our military careers.
One man was a well-known character in our class. He came to our USNA class having already served as a Gunnery Sargent in the Marine Corp, and as you might imagine we were all somewhat in awe of him. He graduated and served a career in the Corp, retired, but took his own life a few years later. And it makes you wonder what happened to a life that once loomed so large and promising. Such things are known to God alone. We who remain, can only offer up our prayers for the faithful departed.
As I sat in the chapel, in the quiet, the words of the Second Eucharistic prayer came to mind. It comes just after we have prayed: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.” In a way, we recall the good people known to us in this lifetime. But what about the ones we did not know? I am comforted by the words as the Eucharistic Prayer continues: “and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face. Have mercy on us all, we pray.” The souls of all the departed are in the hands and mercy of God. They are in our prayers.
Today is a day we pause and remember those people known to us, those we did not know, and people known only to God. And we commit our prayers to them that when all things are complete at the end of days, we too will celebrate a reunion with them in God.