Archive | December, 2006

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

30 Dec

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore. Amen.

-Aurelius C. Prudentius, c. 413; Tune from “Divinum Mysterium”, 12th century.

Leading up to Christmas, I focused in my last several posts on the theme of God’s love by which He sent us His only Son, as the Gospel of John says, “so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life”. (John 3:16)

Despite the amazing gift of Jesus Christ given to us by God who is Love, St. Paul recognizes that this remains a great mystery to even the most devout Christians. However, to scratch even the surface of understanding this mystery, we must behave in a unified, loving manner, just as Christ Himself lived and taught. In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote:

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:

He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.”

-1 Timothy 3:14-16

I include this passage here since these are the verses on which were based the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, which I think appropriately sums up the only partly explicable beauty of the Christmas season. I remember having practiced this song as a member of the choir in high school, and it’s been one of my favorite Christmas hymns ever since.

The hymn begins with an affirmation of the eternity of God. He is the beginning and the end, symbolized by the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Christ, the only Son of God, comes to us and lives through, with, and in those who welcome and who follow Him. Christ, symbolized by the Greek Chi (shaped like an “X” but pronounced as “ch” in English) is co-eternal with the Father; the Father and Son together are the same God in perfect unity. The Holy Spirit is begotten out of this perfect and unified love.

No symbol can accurately portray this mystery of the Trinity. The representations shown in my avatar and on the Easter candle in church are only a simple conveyance of our limited understanding of the Triune God. A much better image of God is shown by our love for one another. We understand that the Lord is patient with us; the divine project of molding humanity into the image and likeness of God isn’t finished yet. God expects us to begin by loving each other as friends, as Jesus declares to Peter (cf. John 21:15-19). We will then progress toward unconditional love for God, for each other, and for self. We will therefore be ready when Christ returns in the same way He went toward the Father. (cf. Acts 1:11) Thus, as one priest told me after a philosophy lecture on religious iconography months ago, with time we become better icons of Christ whom we serve. We are the images of God continually being written by His grace, mercy, and love.

The hymn speaks of angel hosts being among those in adoration of the Lord. They are joined by those who have great power and dominion, yet have stripped themselves of it to become better images and thus hosts of the poor servant Jesus who gave His life for us on the Cross. Therefore, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”. (Matthew 5:3)

The Spanish Franciscan Ignacio Larrañaga, whose book “Sensing Your Hidden Presence: Toward Intimacy with God” I mentioned in a previous post and I continue to read, expresses a similar message: In order to adore God properly, we must avoid making ourselves into idols, with our inadequate and oversimplified concepts of God. Instead we should be prepared to empty ourselves before the Lord. A fuller relationship with God may then seem like nothingness or despair, but this is necessary. God is always with us through it all. Larrañaga writes of our need “to wipe out, to clean and empty our interior of all ‘appropriations’ which have been absolutized and divinized, and, in its place, let God take possession and unfold, there, His holy Kingdom”. (Larrañaga, p. 240) The author then quotes St. John of the Cross:

“The poor man who is naked will be clothed and the soul that is naked of desires and whims will be clothed by God with his purity, satisfaction, and will.”

When we allow Our Lord to liberate us, we will be overcome with praise and joy that will be unceasing even in times of suffering (cf. Job 12). We will all sing of God’s greatness because we will be able to sense its nearness in His creation and ultimately in our entire being.

Lord, with praise and thanksgiving we ask that you be near us when we are troubled and when we are happy. As we hopefully await your coming in glory, may we praise you with hymn and chant and with our whole selves. May we share in your eternal victory over death. Aid us in spreading your Word to every place. Bless us as this year draws to a close and another year begins. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

WRS

Simbang Gabi – Day Nine and Merry Christmas

24 Dec

Only one day remains until Christmas. It was amazing to have participated in the nine Masses of Simbang-Gabi in solidarity with our Filipino brothers and sisters in faith. After each Mass, we had the chance to sample some traditional Filipino food. I noticed how close-knit the Filipino Catholics are in Edmonton. Their celebration of the Mass reflects that. The culture is vibrant in its worship, within and outside the Mass. I am thankful to God for having had this experience of immersion into an important part of this Filipino-Canadian culture. Ultimately, we are united in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” throughout the world. Simbang-Gabi was a testament to that. I experienced nine days of charismatic, joyous preparation for the coming of Our Lord. It is a great way to prepare for Christmas, one I certainly hope to participate in again next Advent.

Last night’s ninth and final Mass of the novena was one of the last Masses to be celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins in Edmonton. His Grace is now Archbishop Designate of Toronto and is set to replace one of Canada’s voting Cardinals, His Eminence Aloysius Ambrozic, who is retiring, at the head of the Archdiocese of Toronto. At the conclusion of Mass, Archbishop Collins was duly recognized for his fine work in Edmonton over seven years of service. He allowed for the organization of perpetual Adoration in a chapel at St. Andrew’s Church, where last night’s Mass was celebrated. Now, people are able to adore the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day. This is quite an achievement. Also, Archbishop Collins has been responsible for an increased awareness of the need for vocations, particularly to priesthood, to the diaconate, and to other forms of religious life. After Mass, the full Church filed out, with people shaking hands perhaps one last time with one of the Lord’s most distinguished servants. As I shook hands with His Grace, I was able to say only “Thank you”. He will be missed as God, through Pope Benedict XVI, has called Archbishop Collins to serve in another part of His vineyard.

Archbishop Collins’ homily centered again upon Mary, the ideal Christian and a perpetual guide in the life of the Archbishop. Mary believed in God’s plan, even though carrying it out would bring about much sorrow for her. After she was told that she had conceived, Our Lady set off on a dangerous journey to care for Elizabeth. Her aged cousin greeted Mary with great joy, though she felt somewhat overwhelmed. Mary came to visit another humble servant, Elizabeth, who was just another instrument of God’s will.

Elizabeth said to Mary: “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) We may ask similar questions whenever someone acts favourably toward us. How is it that we merit being served by someone else out of that person’s act of selflessness and goodness? At Christmas, we ask the same question of God- How do we merit His promise to send us a Redeemer? God sent us Jesus, not because of what humankind has done well, but out of His mercy and supreme selflessness and goodness. God didn’t need to create us, either, but He did so out of love. He also comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, only because He loves us so much. God’s love is at the root of the great mystery of our faith:

Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

God’s love that gives us Emmanuel, God with us, and promises us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, was made possible in part by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The visitation is but one example of Mary’s obedience and loving service to all people.

May the example of Our Lady of the Visitation be alive in our hearts this Christmas. May we make Mary’s humble “yes” to your divine plan a model for our lives everyday, so that the spirit of Christmas lives forever. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

If this is to be my last post until after Christmas Day (I’m not sure if it will be), then Merry Christmas to all and thanks for all the visitors to this blog and to those who have left many helpful and inspiring comments. God Bless,

WRS

Simbang Gabi – Day Eight

24 Dec

“And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’ Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” (Luke 1:46-56)

I’ve posted the Magnificat before, as part of my ongoing study of the Gospel of Luke on this blog, but with two days to go until Christmas it’s worth posting it and reflecting on it again.

Just after Elizabeth and Zechariah were told that the aged Elizabeth was visited by the Holy Spirit and would miraculously bear a child, Mary accepted a similar miracle from God- she became pregnant with Our Lord Jesus Christ. At first, Mary is described by Luke as being “perplexed” at the greeting of the angel Gabriel and at the message that she would bear a son. (cf. Luke 1:29) Though Mary was confused, she accepted this gift of God. The nurturing of this gift would become the focus of Mary’s life, and would be for the benefit of all people. After thinking about God’s call to her and while visiting Elizabeth, Mary realizes the joy and speaks to its depth in the Magnificat.

Friday morning, since Christmas was coming and my shopping wasn’t done yet, and because the eighth Mass of Simbang-Gabi centered around the virtue of compassion, I thought of times when I have received a beautiful gift and not been immediately able to use it or to appreciate its greatness. But the gift would either benefit me or another person more in the future. I can think of only a few times that this has happened to me directly, but people I know have been affected in such a way.

A child is such a gift. Parenting (I can only guess, since I’m not a parent) can seem like a chore at times. It can be confusing. God gives parents the wonderful task of rearing children lovingly. The life-giving union between a mother and father are a source of God’s love for each other and for their children. Children are God’s miracles, even though they seem like works in progress. Mary knew this, and still she accepted the undertaking. Her child would go on to save the world from sin through His death and resurrection. Mary is the foremost woman in co-operation with God’s promise to all. She is the Mother of God because she shows compassion.

In the Bible, there are at least three occurrences of Mary showing her great compassion: at the Nativity of Jesus Christ, at the wedding at Cana, and at the foot of the Cross.

Prior to the births of John and of Jesus, Mary went to care for her expectant cousin Elizabeth and for Zechariah. Mary’s Magnificat is a recognition of God’s mercy. Importantly, many of the phrases of the Magnificat are affirmations of God’s actions that are done through those who do His will. We are to be instruments of the Lord’s works and praise Him. We are to be merciful; our mercy disperses any arrogance in mind and heart that we may have. We are to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry. If we are rich materially, we should recognize our spiritual poverty and draw upon the source of strength that is God and upon the example of the saints, especially that of Our Lady. God will help His servants in His mercy and remember His promises.

Our ability to do good works in the Lord’s name was made possible by this first act of compassion of Mary. She co-operated in God’s plan, and all recognize her as Blessed. We ponder the merciful and charitable works others do for us, in the same way Mary pondered and treasured God’s Word in her heart. (cf. Luke 2:19, 2:51)

Mary’s second main act of compassion was at the wedding at Cana. The couple being married had run out of wine. It was humiliating to a couple in the Jewish culture of the day to run out of wine at a wedding. Mary cared for the couple at Cana and didn’t want to submit them to ridicule. Therefore, Mary was so confident in Jesus that she turned to Him and asked that He miraculously provide the wedding party with wine. Mary told the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) Jesus did as His mother requested, though His hour had not yet come (cf. John 2:4) and turned the water into wine.

Thirdly, Mary’s compassion was apparent during the Lord’s Passion. At the fourth Station of the Cross, Jesus meets His mother, and up to the moment of Christ’s death, Mary was with Him, even when most of His followers had scattered in fear. Fittingly, then, Jesus Christ entrusted to Mary the care of John, and also the care of all the apostles and of the whole Church:

“…He said to His mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 18:26-27)

Thus, Mary is the model of compassion at the Nativity, at the wedding at Cana, and at the foot of the Cross. She is also our model of compassion today in our lives. When we are joyful, Mary shares in our joy. When we suffer under our crosses, Mary is our example then, too.

The word “compassion” derives from the Latin “com-“(with) and “-patie” (to suffer). One who is compassionate is prepared to suffer and to empathize with another. Compassion involves a passion- a sense of urgency. The greatest Passion is of course that of Our Lord leading to Calvary. We turn to Our Lady as the perfect example of one who is with us and shares life with us at every step on the journey. We pray:

Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope,
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile show unto us
The blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Amen.

WRS

Simbang Gabi – Days Six and Seven

22 Dec

Magandang gabi…That’s good evening in Filipino. I along with a group of friends got a bit of a Filipino lesson from the priest after Mass tonight. Tonight’s presider is one of the youngest Filipino priests in Edmonton, and is therefore affectionately known in the Filipino community as “the baby priest”. Christmas, the celebration of the coming of our Baby Priest, is drawing ever nearer now. There are just over three days to go, and two Masses to go in the Simbang-Gabi novena celebration.

Today was a beautiful and very busy day for me. Between the end of work and the beginning of Mass, I had a meeting with the president of St. Joseph’s College, where I take courses and normally attend Mass. This was the first of our roughly bi-weekly meetings that will, I hope and pray, prepare me for the next step on the road to priestly ordination- becoming a candidate of an order on which I have yet to decide fully. This road of discernment is a long one, as I was duly reminded. One does not and ought not to fully commit to Holy Orders until the day the Bishop confers that responsibility upon a man. However, the journey is exciting. I pray, though, that I may never lose sight of God’s call amid the enthusiasm. I offer the same prayer for all those discerning vocations.

From St. Joseph’s College, I was off to attend the seventh Mass of Simbang-Gabi. My thoughts kept coming back to the role of children in our lives. In yesterday evening’s Gospel reading, the account of the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary was told. Gabriel not only tells Mary that she would bear a son despite her virginity, but also that her cousin Elizabeth would conceive, though she was deemed to be too old. Mary then assents to the will of God, and the seed of our salvation is placed within her.

This appearance of Gabriel occurs in Nazareth, a town with a somewhat poor reputation. (cf. Luke 1:26) In fact, when Jesus called the disciple Philip to serve Him, and then sent Philip to ask Nathaniel to follow Him also, Nathaniel’s first reaction was: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Philip responded to Nathaniel: “Come and see.”

Philip’s response to Nathaniel echoes that of Christ and of His followers. Our human nature is sullied by sin, yet there is much good in humanity. This goodness can be difficult to discern in some people. However, Christ beckons us to “come and see” what He has fashioned: a people created in His own image in order to aid in His works. (cf. Genesis 1:27-28 ) Children often see this goodness most clearly. The young are idealistic, working for justice, love, and peace. Speaking of peace, during last night’s Mass a child left his pew to make the sign of peace with as many people as possible before the singing of the “Lamb of God”. The child’s energy brought a smile to me. I pray that peace in the world becomes this easy with time. If only our leaders had the eyes of a child to see people in a congregation to greet with a sign of peace. If only they had the lips to whisper, “Peace be with you”. If only they had the hearts to welcome the Lord’s peace in return. When we see the face of God in a child, let us not harden our hearts…

As we celebrate at Christmas, the Lord comes to humankind, which has a bad reputation, like Nazareth did in Jesus’ time. We lack understanding of God’s peace. But with Jesus Christ, who came to us as a human being Himself to redeem us from our sinful tendencies, salvation and eternal peace become possible, not because we deserve this, but because God freely wills to share of Himself with us.

In accordance with this gift, we are first called, usually as infants, to the Sacrament of Baptism. With Baptism we die to sin and rise again in new birth in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we grow, our parents, guided by God, teach us the ways of righteousness and love. When we then come to more fully recognize our Christian mission in the presence of God, we are “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, God’s sign of approval and of perpetual aid, upon receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Our journey doesn’t stop there, though. We the children of God will continue to go through times of joy, sadness, elation, and hardship. It occasionally becomes difficult to maintain a sense of perspective. Thus we go through life restlessly. It’s important to recognize our ultimate purpose as did St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” (Confessions, I, 1)

God comes to enlighten the dark, confused lives of His children, and we respond in thanksgiving. Our thankful response should involve good works in God’s name. Our good works are a way of sharing of ourselves, just as God shared of Himself by emptying Himself on the Cross. Our small acts of sharing don’t need to be as dramatic, though we should be prepared to lay down our lives if necessary.

Christmas, the priest said in tonight’s homily, is a time of giving and of sharing. Sharing gives us joy, since a part of what we share remains with us. A more proper act of giving, where we divest ourselves of something possessed formerly in order to follow Our Lord, is then possible even when such an act is difficult. When we welcome Christ into our innermost being, we come to share Him with others, and we the children of God increase in our joy.

Lord Jesus, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, who bore you in her womb, the infant within Elizabeth leapt for joy at your presence (cf. Luke 1:44). May we joyfully welcome you into our lives, too, and share your wondrous joy with all your people. We pray:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. Amen.

WRS

Simbang Gabi- Day Five

20 Dec

The priest presiding over the fourth Mass of the Simbang-Gabi novena centered his homily on St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy. In Matthew’s Gospel, there are five women mentioned: Tamar, who seduced Judah in order to advance his familial line, Ruth the foreigner, Rahab the harlot, Bathsheba the adulteress who nonetheless bore King David a son, Solomon, and Mary, who conceived while in a state of virginity. This bizarre genealogy culminates in God becoming Incarnate as Jesus Christ. I wrote in my last post that we are part of this seemingly bizarre plan. God calls us to salvation, and makes union with Him available to us by sending His Son to become one like us.

It is a recurring theme along our journey of faith: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts”. (Isaiah 55:9)

God’s plan is weird and surprising to our simple minds. We cannot understand the mysteries of God, yet to God all including Himself is simple and unified.

God presents us with yet another mystery as we continue on the way to the celebration of Christmas. The Gospel reading for the fifth Mass of the novena was that of the foretelling of John the Baptist’s birth from the Gospel of Luke. (cf. Luke 1:5-25) Zechariah, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth are said to have been “righteous before God”. (Luke 1:6) However, Zechariah was unable to comprehend the angel’s message that Elizabeth would bear a son. Elizabeth is described by Luke as “barren” because of her age. This term appears many times in Scripture. One occurrence that stands out is in Genesis, when Abraham’s wife, Sarai, is described as barren. (cf. Gen. 11:30) This is the first adjective in the Bible associated with Sarai.

The word “barren” is meant as an agrarian metaphor here, since Genesis was likely written to teach a civilization dependent upon farming. A barren soil would produce no new grain. Human reproduction, in the absence of today’s science, was understood along the same agrarian lines- within the man was a very small human being, similar to a seed. In fact, the Greek word “sperma”, whose English translation is self-explanatory, literally means “seed”. This “seed” would grow into a visible human being only when implanted in the woman’s womb, which functioned like a good soil.

God mysteriously made Sarai’s womb, considered unfit for conceiving a child, fertile. When God told Abraham of His plan to do so, Abraham “fell on his face and laughed”. (Gen. 17:17) But Sarai- eventually Sarah- did conceive and give birth to a son, Isaac, whose name is Hebrew for “he laughs”. (cf. Gen. 21:1-7)

In Zechariah’s case, he too didn’t believe that his “barren” wife was able to conceive, but she did so because of a miracle of God. Zechariah was made unable to speak until after the birth of John the Baptist. He couldn’t laugh as Abraham did; Zechariah was left to silently await the birth of John, and to wonder at the splendor of God. (cf. Luke 1:22)

As we await the celebration of Jesus’ birth, it is sometimes commendable to remain silent. We can speak, but then we are challenged to speak wisely. Even so, our wisdom cannot approach God’s wisdom. So we are better to wait, prayerfully and silently in awe.

In our waiting, our hearts become the fertile soil in which to grow faith, hope, and love. Jesus says so in His parable of the sower:

“When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold’ As He said this, He called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’” (Luke 8:4-8 )

Lord, we open our hearts and lift them up to you. Help us to be fertile soil for your Word to come to dwell intimately within us. Be moisture that sustains the growth of our small seeds of faith, buried in the ground. Help us to reach the light of Heaven, making the thorns insignificant. Help us to be hopeful during the dark nights of faith when we await a new day. We pray in the words of the Psalmist: “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my hope in you never wavers”. (Ps. 71:6) Amen.

WRS

Simbang Gabi – Day Four

19 Dec

I wrote in my first post on the Simbang-Gabi novena that this Filipino tradition of gathering for Mass for nine consecutive nights is meant to commemorate the nine months during which Mary bore Jesus in her womb.

At the end of last night’s Mass, those who had attended all four Masses of Simbang-Gabi so far were asked to write their names on a sheet of paper. There were about a dozen names on the paper when I signed it. My immediate reaction was to think to myself that the novena was less than half-completed, so it seemed slightly early to be recognized for attendance. But then I thought of the significance of Simbang-Gabi, related to the pregnancy of Mary with Our Lord.

At the beginning of the fourth month of pregnancy, the biologically-designated embryonic stage ends; the child is now termed a fetus. Jesus, like any child, was well along the development path. At this stage of pregnancy, the heart beats, taking in oxygen-rich blood delivered from the mother through the umbilical cord and pumping this blood out to nourish rapidly growing and dividing cells. The central and peripheral nervous systems are coming to full development. The youngest age at which a child can survive outside the womb today, with medical intervention but no matter, is about 20 weeks- just one more month. At four months, the child is taking on an even more distinctly human form, and external signs of the mother’s pregnancy may be more noticeable.

As for Jesus, his growth inside Mary was surely beginning to be recognized, too, just as those attending the novena Masses were recognized. Mary’s pregnancy was a problem, though, because Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, feared that Mary had been unfaithful to him. She could have faced being socially repudiated, or even worse, death by stoning. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph resolved to dismiss Mary quietly to save her from ostracism or from death for adultery. However, God had other plans. He knew that Joseph was righteous and obedient, so He sent the angel to Joseph in a dream:

“Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived within her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

After Saturday’s Mass, I went with a group of friends to see the beautiful movie, “The Nativity Story”. The scene with the angel appearing to Joseph is one of the most touching and well-filmed scenes. It shows Joseph as an ordinary human being, albeit one whom God grants special knowledge of His plan. Joseph, though he is told not to be afraid, is shown discussing lingering fears with Mary in a later scene. Joseph tells Mary about the vision of the angel. Mary then asks him if he is still afraid. The ever-honest Joseph hesitates slightly, then affirms that he is still somewhat afraid. He then asks Mary the same question. Mary also admits some fear. She then speaks of Joseph who would give of himself before asking anything in return. Joseph’s faith and God’s miraculous action comfort her. Though this discourse is extra-scriptural, these scenes could well have taken place between Mary and Joseph. The Holy couple is, in many ways, like all of us. We fear often. We fear death and the judgement of God, but also we fear difficult tasks. Without a doubt, one of the most difficult tasks is that of raising children.

With God’s help humankind is called to be stewards of his creation- to be procreative and not just reproductive. This is difficult, particularly in crisis situations. Single parents still face adversity. Those who may have made an unwise choice, granted, still require and deserve our prayers and compassion. The same goes for couples whose marriages are troubled, or those who are open to life but who are unable to conceive. There is an adage that it takes a village to raise a child. The entire community therefore shares in a procreative mission.

God calls us despite knowing that we are beset by original sin. In this way, God included some otherwise shunned or forgotten people in His plan to send us a Messiah enrobed in human flesh. Last night, the priest cited the women in Matthew’s genealogy: Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Mary. These women are an example of how little we understand God’s plans. In the case of Matthew, his target audience was mostly Jewish. In Jewish custom, women were the propagators of the religion, whereas the legal lineage, detailed more in Luke, as I mentioned in a previous post here, and in 1 Chronicles, depended upon the father. For example, if the mother were Jewish and the father a Gentile, the child would still be Jewish. But it was problematic if the mother were a Gentile or if she were of questionable moral character. Matthew mentions Rahab, a harlot, Ruth, who was a foreigner, Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David and subsequently lost that child but later bore the future King Solomon, and Mary, who conceived Jesus though she was a virgin. In all these cases, we fail to grasp the miraculous nature of God who worked through this “flawed” and atypical genealogy to bring us Our Saviour, Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”. (Matthew 1:23)

As I exited St. Theresa’s Parish last night, I walked by the statue depicting the church’s Patron, St. Thérèse de Lisieux, who is also known as St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. St. Theresa is traditionally shown clutching roses in one arm and the Cross with the crucified Lord in the other. Jesus is our Rose, born to us on Christmas Day, who freely allowed himself to be crowned with the thorns of human cruelty in order to save us from our sin on the Cross. This depiction of St. Thérèse de Lisieux unmistakably links the glory of the nativity to that of Christ’s Passion, though in getting caught up in Christmas celebrations many would scarcely connect this message with that of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. However, the magi, who brought the burial perfume myrrh along with gold and incense as gifts, did see this connection. (cf. Mt. 2:11) Interestingly, as I was researching the meanings of some Biblical names recently, I realized that “Mary” is derived from “myrrh”. The Blessed Mother of God said yes to the assignment of raising Jesus and of being with Him until the end of His earthly life. This task would bring Mary much suffering, but also much joy.

Dear God, you sent your Beloved Son to us. We are unworthy and flawed in our ways, but we are blessed. Bring us to the eternal salvation which you deeply desire for your people. Also, we pray for the more than 1400 people killed and the 1.5 million affected by Typhoon Durian in the Philippines. May the dead be raised to life at your side and have no fear, and may those left behind in disaster’s wake be comforted. May we be guided to do our best to help our Filipino brothers and sisters in crisis. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, pray for us…Amen.

WRS

Simbang Gabi – Days Two and Three

18 Dec

In the quiet of the night, or in morning’s early light,
Is your heart prepared for a King?

Will you hear an angel sing?
Will your own hosannas ring?
Is your heart prepared for a King?

Wait! Watch! Pray for the One who brings hope to a wearied earth.
Wait! Watch! Pray for the One who brings peace, who brings peace by His birth.

Can you see the shining star?
Does it call you from afar?
Is your heart prepared for a King?
Is the babe of whom we sing born to be our God and King?
Is your heart prepared,
Is your heart prepared,
Is your heart prepared for a King?

–Robert Lau

This hymn, which has been used by Taizé, the worldwide interdenominational youth group founded by the late Frère Roger, was sung during the preparation of the gifts for the second Mass of Simbang-Gabi last night. I think it did well to focus the congregation’s attention on the theme of the readings and of the Mass as a whole.

The theme of preparation also leads us into the Mass celebrated today. Today is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for joy. As the priest said in today’s homily, during the third Mass of the Simbang-Gabi novena, joy comes with preparing the way for the Lord to enter our lives fully. Joy doesn’t necessarily entail being happy all the time. Faith can be difficult. As St. John of the Cross and other saints have alluded to, the deeper one’s faith, the more distant one may seem from God, though the Lord is always present and close at hand, calling us and knocking at the door. As faith deepens, we allow the One who is with us to work through us and to become intimately one in us. Thus is the joy of faith.

During Advent, people can be seen preparing for Christmas in three ways. Firstly, many are preparing impatiently. Those who wish Christmas would just come, with no more shopping, no more massive crowds, baking, or decorating, fall into this group. We who are at times impatient in awaiting the Lord’s coming are like the child in the back seat of the car on a long trip repeating ad nauseum: “Are we there yet?”

Secondly, some may prepare for Christmas with dread. The priest cited students wearied by exams as falling into this group. Others dreading Advent and Christmas include the poor, the homeless, or those whose families live in faraway countries, like many of the Filipinos celebrating Simbang-Gabi in Canada or those who have no family. We pray that these people may experience some joy in Christmas despite their very real hardships.

Also, it is important to fulfill our role as good stewards of what we have. If we have plenty of something to spare, then part with it to help those with less. Also, it is essential to be content with the many gifts of time, talent, and treasure that we have. (cf. Luke 3:10-18 ) Justice, forgiveness, and kindness toward others ought to be desired and acted out. We pray that we may not turn back a brother or sister in need. For St. James reminds us, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”. (James 2:17)

If we do this, loving our neighbour as ourselves, our faith will be strengthened and we will find ourselves in the third group, among those preparing joyfully for the Lord. Christ, who is joy, will come to reside deeply within us, each of us individually and as a community. Faith gives us hope, so that in times of impatience, of dread, or of feeling distant and forsaken by God, we may have certainty of better times that are promised to us. Faith and hope lead us to love, even when God is only seen “through a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus “now faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Lord, strengthen your people in faith. Aid us in preparing for your coming in glory. You show us the way of hope and love in your life, death, and resurrection. Thank you, God, for the gift of your only Son. Grant us joy, peace and hope in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Gaudium, pax, et spes in terra. May our hearts be prepared for a King. Blessed Mary, Mother of God, and St. Rose of Lima, Patron Saints of the Philippines, pray for us. Amen.

WRS

Simbang Gabi Day One

16 Dec

Ama Namin (The Lord’s Prayer)

Ama Namin
Sumasalangit Ka
Sambahin ang Ngalan Mo
Mapasaamin ang Kaharian Mo
Dito sa lupa at para nang sa langit
Bigyan mo kami ngayon ng aming kakanin sa araw araw
At patawarin Mo kami sa aming mga sala
Para nang pagpapatawad namin sa nagkakasala sa amin
At huwag Mo kaming ipahintulot sa tukso
At iadya Mo ka sa lahat ng masama.
Sapagkat sa Iyo nagmumula ang kaharian, kapangyarihan at kaluwalhatian,
Ngayon at magpakailanman. Amen.

Last night was the beginning of the Filipino preparation for Christmas, the Simbang-Gabi novena, in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Simbang-Gabi literally means “Mass at night”. Mass will be held for nine consecutive nights to commemorate the nine months that the Blessed Virgin Mary was pregnant with the child Jesus. This is the first time in the roughly forty-year history of the Filipino community in Edmonton that a Simbang-Gabi celebration has been organized, thanks in large part to the Knights of Columbus. Filipinos in Edmonton are understandably very proud.

It was even more beautiful to see many Catholics of other cultures join in the Simbang-Gabi novena. I recommend to any Catholic wanting to be exposed to another culture to attend Mass in another language. Last night, many of the hymns were in Filipino, as were parts of the introductory rite, the homily, and the Eucharistic prayer. It reminded me of the preparation for World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. A few weeks before going on the pilgrimage, youth in Edmonton attended Mass in German at St. Boniface parish. Most of us could only follow the order of the Mass, not knowing it word by word, yet most still participated joyfully and attentively. I felt the same last night, especially when the priest opened the homily with a long discourse in Filipino. There was laughter after a joke that some didn’t understand. The priest then assured us that an English translation of the joke existed. The joke went something like this:

A family had gone out for a beautiful dinner the night before at a restaurant called “The Rose”. The husband had bought his wife a large bouquet of flowers for the occasion. The next morning, he couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant, so he asked his son. The son replied that the name of the restaurant was the same as the kind of flowers that his father had bought his mother the night before. Still confused, the husband found his wife and asked her, “Rose, what was the restaurant that we visited last night called?”

Similarly, we often forget the Lord, especially during the busy preparations for the worldly aspects of Christmas. The Gospel of Matthew, read last night, shows how the disciples had forgotten the Lord and the reason for which He came. They, like the scribes, were pre-occupied with the status-quo and with the letter of the law. Christ is something more than that:

Then the disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10-13)

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the Lord’s way, but at this point he was about to be put to death by Herod, and many people had still not remembered God. But God will never forget His people. He has carved us on the palm of His hand, says the prophet Isaiah. (cf. Is. 49:15) This Christmas as always, the Father sends His forgetful people the gift of a Messiah, born of the Immaculate Mary, Mother of God. May the Spirit help us to remember God, this Advent and forever, just as our names are indelible in the mind of the Lord.

There’s a bit less than two hours left until the second Mass of the Simbang-Gabi novena starts, so I’m off…I’ll reflect more on Simbang-Gabi later. Pray that we may stand in solidarity with the Filipino community and people of faith all over the world this Christmas season. Also, we pray for the Archbishop of Edmonton, Thomas Collins, who has been assigned to replace the retiring Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto. I wish His Grace Thomas Collins all the best and will miss such a fine Archbishop. One may speculate on whether he will receive a red hat at a future Consistory…We pray for Archbishop Collins, one who has ably brought the light of Christ to many so that we may always remember Him as He remembers us and calls us by name. Amen.

WRS

Intentions and Thoughts on Love

15 Dec

“We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 John 4:19-21)

A group I met with last night was given this passage to reflect upon. It, as well as several related verses, have special meaning for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, these verses conclude the Apostle John’s discourse on God defined as Love. John opens this section with the words: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”. (1 John 4:7-8 ) Another part of John’s letter was used by Pope Benedict XVI to open his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love): “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them”. (1 John 4:16) This last verse is especially significant because of its use of the rarely-employed verb “to abide”. Definitions of this verb that I found include “to remain in one place”, “to dwell or sojourn”, or “to continue to be sure or firm”.

These definitions could all apply to the relationship between God and humankind. God is always with us. We are able to choose God because He first chose us by name as His own. He remains in one place, calling us into loving communion with Him. The call is firm yet patient. Also, if we surrender to God’s call, He will come to dwell within us.

Through prayer, we come to proper discernment of the sure, constant, and patient beckoning of the Lord. We come to know the will of God and to accept it with humility and with joy. Many people, including myself, find prayer difficult many times. It doesn’t help that Advent and Christmas, the time of commemoration of, preparation for, and anticipation of the Lord’s coming, are so busy, but it’s important to take time to pray. Then we will come to realize the depth of the loving essence of God, who gives us the gift of His only Son.

Lately, I’ve been reading a book entitled “Sensing Your Hidden Presence: Toward Intimacy with God” by Ignacio Larrañaga, a Chilean Catholic writer. Larrañaga offers many helpful tips on different ways to pray. In one section, he writes about vocal prayer, meditation on the psalms, spiritual reading, group meditation, community prayer, liturgical prayer, and charismatic prayer. I would need another post (or more than one) to adequately reflect on all these types of prayer. However, I would like to share some quotations from the book that I find particularly profound:

“There may be a time when silence takes over for the words, and there remains only silence and Presence. In that case, remain silent in the Presence. Conclude with some resolution for your life.”

“Let yourself be invaded by the living presence of God, enveloped by the feelings of dread, exaltation, praise, contrition, intimacy, sweetness, or other feelings that fill these words”.

Ignacio Larrañaga implies here that for prayer to have its effect of allowing God who is Love to abide in us, words must be filled out, otherwise they mean nothing. Prayer replaces the need for words. It becomes an act of simply listening to God’s call and then responding to it. This is in line with the instruction of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words”. When words are not used, it is sufficient just to stand in awe of the Lord and to act in accordance with His supreme benevolence.

This move to discover God’s benevolence and to spread it by our own words and deeds can be found in the Church and her mandate. The early Church was described as a community, by the Greek word “koinonia”. The reading of and reflection on the Word of God would foster this community spirit. Furthermore, the New Testament was written in “koine”- common- Greek.

During last night’s reflection, four ways were listed by which the Church continues to bring about a sense of “koinonia”.

The first is preaching by word. The Greek term for this is “kerygma”. This kind of sharing of faith is done in speech, such as in a group discussion, or in writing, such as in a book on prayer or on a blog…Lord, help us to communicate your Word clearly, using words if necessary but then increasingly yielding to your power and love to fill out and then to replace our words. St. Gabriel the Archangel, Patron Saint of communication, pray for us…

The second is profession by blood, “martyria”. We pray for those who continue to give up their lives for you, O Lord, and for your instrument of faith, hope, and charity on earth, the Church. St. Stephen, first martyr, pray for us…

The third way of advancing the goal of a loving community is by service, “diakonia”. Let us pray for those who serve God in the manifold ways, especially the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and all those who minister as priests, deacons, bishops, men and women religious, married persons, and single and consecrated single people. Lord, may you bring more people into your service who model Jesus who washed the disciples’ feet. For “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt. 9:37-38 ) St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Patron Saint of vocations, pray for us…

Lastly, the fourth way of bringing about loving community is “leiturgia”, common or liturgical prayer. We pray that those who attend Mass or other services may sense the urgency and joy of God’s mission for all. We pray for those who do not believe or do not regularly participate in sacramental observance. May these people come to sense God’s embrace through the insistent and patient welcoming of His Church and all her members. St. Pius X, Servant of the Servants of God, liturgical reformer, and propagator of the Church’s sacramental message, pray for us…

All holy men and women, pray for us…Amen

WRS

Genealogy- Luke 3:23-38

12 Dec

“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)I ended the last reflection from Luke’s Gospel on this blog with that passage. As I typed it, I noticed the footnote related to it at the bottom of the page in the Bible. The footnote read: “Other ancient authorities read ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’”. The verb “to beget” is remarkable in that it can mean to reproduce biologically, or it can mean to bring about one’s own self in an act of supreme love, as God the Father did in eternally begetting God the Son, in the non-biological sense. From this love between the Father and the Son there proceeds the Holy Spirit, according to what Catholics profess in the Nicene Creed. Thus, God’s perfect love unites three persons in one God- in the mystery that is the Trinity.

God the Father is “well pleased” with God the Son as He begins His mission to unite all people to Himself. The Father is pleased, then, with the obedient unity of the Trinity. We are also called in Jesus’ name to the same unity within ourselves, with each other, and with God. No matter what is written here, though, this unity and love remains a mystery. We don’t understand it, and all the books of the world contain only a fraction of the knowledge of what this true love is about. (cf. John 21:25)

As Jesus begins His earthly mission, it becomes increasingly clear that the Son of God is begotten for the salvation of all people. However, despite the misunderstanding of even some of His closest followers, the biological lineage of Jesus is subordinate to His loving relationship with the Father. But the accounts of Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospels of Luke and of Matthew appear at first to be descriptions of Jesus’ biological family tree. One then realizes that the Matthean and Lucan Gospels seem contradictory. Luke, for example, mentions more generations (77) than does Matthew (42). A closer look reveals that the Gospel genealogies are more than simple biological sketches. Luke’s Gospel reads:

“Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work”. (Luke 3:23)

Luke rarely mentions Jesus’ age. So far Jesus’ age has been referred to only twice: He was eight days old when He was presented in the Temple (cf. Luke 2:22-32), and twelve years old when He became lost in Jerusalem. (cf. Luke 2:41-51) People’s ages are written in the Gospel of Luke only at particularly momentous occasions. At this turning point, as Jesus begins His ministry, He is on the way to redeem us from our sins, to rise from death, and to return to the Father.

After the brief but important mention of Jesus’ age, Luke continues by relating Jesus through the family ancestry of Joseph, who was Jesus’ father, “as was thought”. (Luke 3:23) Joseph is Jesus’ legal guardian. Naturally, people would associate Jesus with the humble carpenter. Those who heard Jesus and who were amazed, as well as those trying to deride Him, would proclaim, “Is not this Joseph’s son”? (Luke 4:22, cf. John 6:42) Joseph himself didn’t fully understand his relation to Jesus, especially how Mary was able to conceive a child though still a virgin, but he was comforted in a dream by the angel. (cf. Matthew 1:20) When their child stayed behind in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary looked frantically for Jesus, not understanding how this episode related to God’s plan.

Yet Joseph was always faithful to the law, to his family, and to God. He registered the family as required, settled in Nazareth, and cared for his wife and son. Although it is not recorded in any of the Gospels, Joseph likely taught Jesus many things about carpentry. In any case Jesus was fully human, in all ways except sin, as well as fully divine. He was completely in this world, so it is conceivable that He not only knew Joseph’s earthly trade, but that He was totally obedient to Joseph and to Mary, just as He obeyed God fully in order to sacrifice Himself and thus to accomplish His salvific mission.

In relation to the Lord’s mission, ours is much simpler. Our daily vocation and commandment is to love each other as ourselves and to love God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has already taken care of the rest. Within this broadly-defined mission of love, we have many smaller missions. We are mothers, fathers, children, godparents, and relatives to one another. We share this familial bond. We work to earn a living. We reflect on spiritual matters. Some of us are married, or are priests or religious, or are consecrated single people. No matter, we all have little missions. We also sometimes take on selfish missions that unfortunately distract us from the mission of love. For these times we ask the Lord’s forgiveness.

As I thought about what to write about Luke’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, I remembered how much time and energy my mother, and I to a lesser extent, invested in finding out our family’s history. We started by looking for records from my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Grandma grew up in a small Francophone Catholic town called Lafontaine, Ontario, on the south shore of Georgian Bay. Lafontaine was settled by tradesmen, fishermen, and farmers from many communities in Ontario and Quebec. Those who came to Lafontaine often mistrusted each other. This mistrust reached a near-boiling point with the appearance of the legendary wolf of Lafontaine. In the legend, the wolf terrorized the townspeople, killing their livestock. One farmer who lost about forty sheep, Colbert Tessier, blamed a fisherman, François Labatt, for his loss. Tessier assumed that Labatt’s two dogs were responsible, and set out to destroy them. Despite the wolf’s destruction of livestock, the wolf loved children. One night, a two-year-old child went missing. The townspeople, having realized that a wolf, not a dog, was ravaging their livestock, feared the worst. Later, the child was found near a stream. Skid marks and wolf tracks on the bank suggested that the wolf had saved the child’s life, pulling the boy from the water. Nonetheless, it was too late to save the wolf, as the townspeople were determined to kill it. A blind man eventually succeeded in destroying the wolf. A high mass was sung over the pelt of the wolf. This united a community. Colbert Tessier agreed to replace Labatt’s dogs. A child was saved. This boy would go on to become a priest and possibly the writer of the legend.

I translated the text of the legend of the Lafontaine wolf from French to English so that my Anglophone family members could understand it*. In so doing I came to a deeper understanding of a piece of my family’s history. Genealogy has a unifying effect- people who love each other work together toward a common goal: an increase in knowledge of family ancestry. This was fun and also a wonderful opportunity.

Similarly, reading the Biblical genealogies of Jesus unifies us with Christ’s mission. According to Luke, Jesus is “the son, as was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God”. (Luke 3:23-38 )

As I said earlier, Luke mentions 77 generations in relating Jesus to God. Remember, Lamech, father of Noah, lived to be 777 (not literal) years old. (cf. Genesis 5:31) Also, Jesus says to forgive endlessly, not seven times but seventy times seven, or 77 times, depending upon the translation. (cf. Matthew 18:21)

Matthew’s Gospel mentions only 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. The order of the Matthean account is the reverse of that of Luke. Many items seem contradictory between the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke. But this needs not be so if one avoids reading too literally. There are, of course, interesting parallels as well as pertinent differences. In Luke, there are 42 generations from David to Jesus. In Matthew, there are 42 generations in total, which are organized into three sets of 14 (Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian exile, and from the exile to Christ)- two times seven, and Matthew mentions five women that Luke does not.

 

 

 
I can see how genealogy can be interesting. I worked with Mom on her genealogical project. Many people have done the same with their families’ record. The Mormons keep a very thorough genealogical record. People gravitate toward genealogies, albeit false ones, like that found in the da Vinci Code. In the case of the Gospels, genealogy brings us back to God, though not necessarily through a biological or legal line, but through love. God does not think strictly according to human thoughts, but transcends them.Lord, bring us to the unity with Yourself that you desire. Help us no longer to be slaves, but friends. Make us your own sons and daughters. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, God with us, Emmanuel. Amen.

 

 

 

 

WRS

 

*The French version of the Lafontaine wolf legend, as well as a partial English translation of it, can be found at http://www.festivalduloup.on.ca.