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BAPTISM OF THE LORD (B) + Jan 10, 2021 + (RDNGS: Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)
A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (MK 1:7-11) Is there a more important message than this identification of Jesus? We are told “It is the manifestation (“Epiphany”) of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God.” (CC 535)
But why did this important message come through a voice from heaven? A voice from heaven can be heard only by those who are there then (in that place and at that time). “Only Jesus saw that the sky was rent in two; only he saw the dove descend; and the voice spoke directly to him. There is no indication that anyone else saw or heard anything. This appears to have been a private affirmation of his messianic importance.” (Bergant, Dianne, Preaching the New Lectionary, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1999) What about everybody else? Isn’t it important for everyone to know that Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom God the Father is well pleased?
This same sort of puzzle arises from Isaiah who says the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind; and the Gospels testify that Christ really did so. But he opened the eyes of only a few blind people – those blind people who were there then (in that place and at that time). What about all the other blind people, in other places, in other times? Why didn’t Jesus heal all blindness everywhere with one impersonal command: e.g. “Let all the blind people of the world be healed.”?
Perhaps this is what we can learn from today’s readings: In the voice from heaven and in the miracles of Christ, God shows that he is committed to the good of particularity, i.e. … of each particular person. God does not send the news about the Messiah as an impersonal message directed impartially to all humankind. He identifies Jesus as his Son by a voice from heaven heard by a particular person at a particular time. Similarly, Christ does not issue an impersonal decree about nameless blind people taken as a group. Christ heals some particular blind people who happened to be at a particular place at the particular time when Christ was there also.
And this is where we come in. Sometimes, on our community bulletin board we see group photographs on some of the Christmas Cards from other communities throughout the world, or when we surf the web sites of some Cistercian communities, we might feel that, as an individual monk we are also just an unnoticed, nameless member of one Cistercian community. But as far as the Lord is concerned, each one of us stands out as the particular person he/she is. God does not relate to us as nameless members of a community. He calls and he heals one particular person at a time … as each individual monk/nun comes to him.
But then you yourself – not as another member of the Order, nor as a member of this community, but you, the real you – need to come to the Lord, to face him, know him, love him, and let him heal you. Come as yourself, as you are, here and now. (SOURCE: Stump, Eleonore, SLU, 2018)
“Each one of us has been sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. Each of us must enter into his death and resurrection. We must enter into humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and “walk in newness of life.” – Rom 6:4. (CC 537).
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January 1 – Mary, Mother of God -‘21
Today we begin a New Year, leaving behind us all that transpired in the past years, and heading into the new life which God in His Love and Mercy bestows upon us, as a mark of the extent to which truly His Face does shine upon us! And as proof of His shining upon us He gives us His own Mother to be our Mother.
“Woman, behold your son. Son behold your Mother”. In these simple words, Jesus bestows upon us His Mother to be our Mother. She is Mother of God in as much as she has given her own human nature to the very God Who created it. But she is equally our Mother in as much as she gives to us that divine nature which she possessed from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. And it is in sharing in that divine nature that we truly become sons and daughters of God and can address the very God as “Our Father”.
It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that Mary became the Mother of God; and it is through the same gift of the same Holy Spirit that we become sons and daughters of God. In this, the original plan of God at creation is fulfilled: “Let us make man and woman in our own image and likeness.”
And Mary is our Mother because it is through her that we receive that Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit Who came upon Mary, making her to be truly the Mother of God.
It is because of this that our Father St Bernard can remind us that no matter what trials or temptations may afflict us in life, we need only to “Look to the Star. Call upon Mary” It is in simply calling upon Mary that we are assured of receiving an ever-greater share in that divine life which she brought into this world and which she bestows upon each one of us. It is this which makes her to be truly “Our Mother”. Even if we may have never known our earthly mother, yet we are assured of fully knowing our heavenly Mother who is constantly interceding for us and by that fact constantly bestowing upon us an ever-greater share in that divine life which she received in her fleshly Son, Jesus Christ.
Mary received that Holy Spirit by constantly reflecting on the Word of God – both that found in the Scriptures and that which she heard from the angel. We also are to grow in that same divine life by similarly reflecting on that same Word of God which comes to us through the Scriptures, through our spiritual reading and through our prayer – simply being attentive to that Word of God present and
speaking within our heart. That is the ever-new infusion of divine life within our being, a life which she watches over and nourishes by her own attentiveness to what the Spirit is doing not only within herself, but within each one of us, her children.
It is she who, as our own Mother and as Mother of God, is the first to bestow on each one of us that same blessing which God gave as His special blessing on each one of us as we begin his New Year:
“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine
upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance
upon you and give you peace”.
He gives us that peace as we receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in these Mysteries today and each day. And in receiving that Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we also share in that immaculate nature of Mary, our Mother and the Mother of God.
+YOUR LIGHT HAS COME Epiphany 2021
“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” For me these words are loaded as they address us today. To rise up in splendor is an invitation to own our dignity as children of God. We are to be a holy city, a place where God dwells and in fact, this is what this Solemnity reveals as it calls us to see the work of grace taking place in our lives. Our Light has come, Jesus is in our midst, the glory of the Lord shines upon us.
We may not feel this but Jesus is within our hearts and leading us all day long to live the lives given us. We fall and fail but we are constantly getting up again and letting Him shine in and through us for the good of others.
Darkness covers the whole earth! Perhaps more than ever we are aware of what’s happening as the pandemic continues to spread, as new strains that are even more contagious are taking their toll. We live in a world where climate change is giving rise to worse storms, hurricanes, flooding and fires than we have known in the past. And yet we are told: “nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance. Christ is ever the Light of the world however flawed and subject to destructive forces, offering a way through and beyond all that is harmful.
Where do we see God being manifested in our world of today? This is a challenging question that has stayed with me as I prepared these few reflections. I’m sure the answer to this question is different for each one of us and it would be fascinating to hear how each of you would respond.
What our Scripture readings bring home is that God taking on our human flesh and then visited by the Magi is to show that he is not only the Savior of a chosen people but of every Nation. The Incarnation is the manifestation of God’s love and care for every human being. As often as we in turn show the same love for each of our brothers and sisters, we bring to fulfillment the divine plan.
No matter where we are, what we may be asked to do, we have the opportunity of being living signs of that Light that has come to transform the human family into a wonderfully gifted entity. We are one with the Gentiles spoke of in the letter to the Ephesians we just heard who “are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
The star that guides us as it guided the Magi is the light of faith so let us become overjoyed as they were at seeing its light. It will guide us as it guided them to enter into our own life’s setting and there to find the Child with Mary his Mother. Each of us gathered here is ever entering into the simplicity or complexity of our own lives so as to see where we find God become flesh, find God sharing in all that is a part of our own human lives.
Might this be one of rich stores of meaning we find in the Eucharist each day when the very simple elements of bread and wine are changed into Christ’s own Body and Blood. As we let the Light of faith shine through our lives, we become one with him in his glory. Then it is that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us, He who is the Light of the world.
December 24, 2020
Who are you, God, she asked,
And God replied: “I Am. I am who I am.”
“I am the origin of all life. I am the energy that drives everything in the universe. I am love.” Tonight, we celebrate two incarnations. The first took place somewhere around 13.7 billion years ago when God shared God’s self with the whole of creation. The book of Genesis describes it in this way:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”
Richard Rohr, reflecting on Franciscan spirituality remarks that Christ is not just Jesus’ last name. He writes: “I want to suggest that the first incarnation was the moment described in Genesis I, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.” He is suggesting that the Christ is God’s presence among us from the very beginning. The Christ figure is not limited to the human person of Jesus but rather “Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God.” The Christ is God’s plan from the very beginning. The Christ is God with us with us from the outset of creation.. Another way I have found helpful to think about this is that we have God’s DNA in us. Why did God create us in first place – was it not to share life and love?
The gospel of John picks up on this theme in its opening – a passage I have always loved.
“In the beginning there was the Word: the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. The Word was present to God from the beginning. Through the Word all things came into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being. In the Word was life, and that life was humanity’s light – a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that the darkness has never overtaken.”
Word, Light, the Christ – all descriptions of God’s presence from the very beginning. God spoke, it came to be, and God saw that ii was good. This is God’s first incarnation into our world.
But that was not enough to satisfy God’s love for us. Tonight’s first reading from Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Going back again to John’s gospel, he announces: “And the Word became flesh and made a dwelling among us.” God has chosen to enter even more deeply into our humanity, living as we live, a helpless baby, growing, learning, playing, dancing, teaching, walking the desert paths of Israel. Through Jesus, God shared our emotions, our frustrations, our hopes and dreams, and our suffering. God knows and understands our loneliness, our joys, our sorrows, our temptations, our moments of peacefulness and surrender through the experiences of the human person of Jesus.
Richard Rohr writes:
“We do not need to be afraid of the depths and breadths of our own lives, of what this world offers us or asks of us. We are given permission to become intimate with our own experiences, learn from them, and allow ourselves to descend to the depth of things, even our mistakes, before we try to quickly to transcend it all in the name of some idealized purity or superiority. God hides in the depths and is not seen as long as we stay on the surface of anything – even the depths of our sins.”
It is this second incarnation that we celebrate this night in the midst of intense suffering all around us. For many it is truly a night of darkness. Some will experience loneliness and mourn the loss of loved ones this Christmas. Some will be very sick or dying, perhaps at this very moment. Many will be bone-weary in their attempts to care for the sick and save lives. Parents will be separated from their children and refugees crushed together in unhealthy camps. The homeless may be shivering in the cold. Others may be wondering if they will find food for their family. It will not be a happy time for many people. And yet, we have hope. It was the very poor and suffering that Jesus sought out. Our God has not forgotten this planet, this people, this blossoming of divine creation. Emanuel, “God with us” is in our midst, in our very DNA, in our minds and hearts. With the angel we can say:
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: that you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Who are you, God, she asked?
And God said: “I am. I am who I am.
In you, God, a light will shine in our darkness.
In you, God, we will find love.
In you, God, we will discover who we truly are.
In you, God, we will find peace.
CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT MASS 2020 + Gethsemani
Human words can hardly express what GOD – who is LOVE – has done for us. Who can ‘translate’ the Word of God, the very Son of God, but God Himself?
The Readings we just heard during this Vigil, and all the readings, hymns, and antiphons provided by the Church and our Brother Luke – during these four weeks of Advent, have sought to create in us a deep sensitivity, a greater love – for the Mystery of Christmas, the Nativity of our Savior Jesus, the Son of God.
Brothers, we are gathered here tonight to celebrate a Birthday to commemorate a birth – the likes of which the world had never seen before – or since – in which God became one of us. The Word, the Son of God, is made flesh; translated, his name is Jesus, Emmanuel (“God with us”).
How can we appropriately celebrate the event that bears witness to the marriage of God with human nature – that ” Wonderful Exchange” – as the liturgy refers to it? We can adore today the infant Jesus – together with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds in a simple child-like way. We can imitate Mary who treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. It is in pondering these things, in contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, that we can come to know and understand, to some extent, God’s View of human nature, imperfect, yes, but by divine election made worthy of divine love. (The coronavirus ‘time to do this’)
Our Christmas faith, however, also needs practical expression. The birth of the Lord, the Word of God, as one of us, has become, yes, a “Wonderful Exchange”!. Understandably, Christmas has become a time for giving – and receiving – gifts. Yet, this exchange becomes meaningless if we withhold ourselves from the Lord and from one another.
Every one of us needs Jesus, and we, thanks to the great work of God that began with the Incarnation, are called to be Jesus to one another, and for one another. Like St Paul may we realize as he, “I live now, not I but Christ lives in me!” A “Christian” is one in whom Christ lives! The non- Christian can and does say – this is a bit much, how can this be?
Through divine election the Son of God has taken on our nature that he might live in us and we in him. Recall one iconic revelation of this – when St Francis met a leper! The Christ in Francis recognized Christ in the leper. Only sin can and does negate such a reality.
It is in giving Jesus to one another and in receiving Jesus from one another that the Incarnation continues in the world today. The Son of God desires to live in us today, just as truly as he desired to take flesh in Mary’s womb!
Here, in our Eucharist on this Holy Night – and every time this Eucharist is celebrated, there is another ‘wonderful exchange’:we offer gifts of bread and wine to the Father, and through the working of the Holy Spirit these gifts become the Body and Blood of Jesus himself! He became one of us to give us a new heart, a child-like heart that enables us to give ourselves to God and to one another; he comes to give us a heart that is continually open to, turned to the Father, disposed to do his will on earth, disposed to love one another as he loves us; an adoring heart that gives glory to the Father. With such a heart full of Deep Peace, Love and Gratitude let us celebrate this Birthday of the Lord . Amen!
Come Lord Jesus!
Isa. 9:1-6, Titus 2:11:14, Lk. 2:1-14 Fr Alan
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+ADVENT IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST BERNARD Chapter Talk 6 Dec.’20
Pondering on what I might share with you this morning, I felt myself drawn to Merton’s Seasons of Celebration. We have used this for 2nd Nocturn readings in the past but his chapter on St Bernard’s thoughts on Advent deserves further consideration.
Fr Louis tells us of how:
“The twelfth century Cistercians place a special emphasis on the coming of Christ by His Spirit to the Christian Person. Like the Rhenish mystics they contemplate His hidden birth in our lives, His Advent here and now in the mystery of prayer and providence.” (p.61)
As we think of contemplating about “His hidden birth in our lives” we are given a lot to ponder, a greater appreciation of what becomes all too easily mere routine in our daily lives. We are engaged in a lot of extra work these day will all the shipping of our products going one but this too can become routine unless we are serving a deeper purpose in it all.
We have dedicated ourselves to a whole life of prayer. This is our contribution to the whole of the Church and of our society our time that is going through a lot of trauma. What I would hope from these reflections is a greater sense of gratitude for the gift we have been given. The hidden nature of our life may leave us vulnerable on many levels. As Merton describes this:
“Following an austere and lonely path, deprived of earthly consolation, living in emptiness, aware of their dependence on God, Cistercians live ‘as little ones,’ the Children of the Church. In this way they seek God Himself, beyond all visible things, and because they seek Him in faith he comes to them hidden in the Sacramentum of Advent.”(pp. 62-3)
We live in a world where public opinion through instant communication is more and more common. It is all too easy for any one of us to wonder if we are making any real contribution to all that is going on because of the very hiddenness of our life. Contrary to appearances, our faith empowers us to make the most lasting change in our world, opens the way for the very Advent of Christ so desperately needed. Merton points out that St Bernard sees:
“The Sacrament (of Advent) is the Presence of Christ in the world as Savior. In his theology Advent does not merely commemorate the Incarnation as a historical event, nor is it a mere devotional preparation for the Feast of Christmas, nor an anticipation of the Last Judgment. It is above all the ‘sacrament’ of the presence of God in the world and in time in His Incarnate Word, in His Kingdom, above all His presence in our own lives as our Savior.” (p. 64)
The presence of Christ in our hearts, in our daily lives overcomes all the obstacles to our human and divine growth. This Christ, Merton tells us:
“never grows tired, for He is the power of God, ever ready to revive us and lift us up. But we must call upon Him for help in our battles. Finally, He ‘stands for’ us, He resists within us. If He be for us, who is against us?…He himself will overcome evil and deliver us from forces that we would never be capable of resisting by ourselves. This is the fortitude of faith.” (p. 65)
I don’t think enough can be said about this closeness of Christ in our lives. It is easy enough for us to think of Christ as off somewhere else in the universe, who only on the rare occasion is felt to be near and ready to strengthen us. St Bernard and then Merton are reminding us that His divine presence is far more invasive, far more available and ready to take hold of the whole of our lives if we are aware and open to his presence. Advent sets the tone for the whole of the Church year, sets the tone for the whole of our lives of prayer.
I know that the words of Jesus in chapter 15 of John’s gospel have become more and more loaded in my own life. Jesus saying that without him we can do nothing is revealing far more than most of us can begin to fully grasp even though there could hardly be anything said that is more intimate and loving in all of Scripture.
Fr Louis inspired by St Bernard sees how this season takes us into this great mystery, into something more than the mind can grasp. To end with one more quote from Merton, he tells us that God’s Word continues to take flesh in our lives:
“in order that His Incarnation, prolonged in His Mystical Body the Church, might finally terminate in the glorification of the Whole Christ at the right hand of the Father in heaven. ..Our life is hidden with Christ in God.” (pp. 66-67)
ADVENT – 2020 – FIRST SUNDAY: ISAIAH 63:16-17; 64: 1-8; PS 80; 1 COR 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
The readings of this first Sunday of Advent focus on the world of human pain. The placement of these particular readings at the beginning of Advent helps our understanding of the entire season. Isaiah’s lamentation is a prayer of faithful people in the midst of suffering: religious souls lament the absence of God; tender hearts lament the fate of those who have been marginalized; broken spirits lament the suffering that touches the lives of those effected by war, climate change, poverty and the pandemic.
Isaiah, the prophet is longing for the love of God, but what he finds instead is what he cannot bear. God is angry and has hidden his face. How can this be? God angry? God gone? How can this be? Doesn’t God love us? Where is he? Why isn’t he here?
Isaiah answers these questions, but in the saddest way. The reason, the prophet says, lies in our sinfulness. God is not gone from us because he has forsaken us. Our sins, our weaknesses, our willfulness, our pride, our failure to love, our failure even to accept the love of others … all of these have made us wither. We are like fallen leaves, dried up and unclean; our guilt carries us away like the wind.
But how are we supposed to be holy – clean and good – for the Lord, except by the Lord’s own doing? No one can make himself holy by his own efforts. Only God’s grace can make a person holy. And so Isaiah cries out to God, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways? … You are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands … Be not so very angry, Lord, keep not our guilt forever in mind; look upon us who are all your people.”
There is an answer in today’s Responsorial Psalm. The Psalmist cries out, “Lord, make us turn to you!” This is a cry from a person who wanders from the Lord. He wanders because he wants to … that is the sad truth. But when he can’t find God in his wandering, he cries out to God, “Lord make me turn to you!” Then he wants fervently not to want the very wandering he is so prone to want.
It may be then that God lets us do what we want to do, including wandering from him, so that finally we at least want to want him. [Wasn’t it Augustine who said, “Sin is a punishment for sin.”?] Maybe we will find God when we cry out with the Psalmist, “Lord, make me turn to you!” . . . . . . END