Sunday, December 9, 2018

Letting Faith in God Illuminate our Lives

Murillo's Holy Family
The Advent season is about waiting. We do plenty of waiting, don’t we? So did the ancient Hebrews.They often waited for the Messiah to rescue them. Yet the Messiah often seemed hidden.

We often pray for God to rescue us from a crisis of one kind or another, to appear and make things right. Some would say that is everyone’s story.

God seems silent sometimes. But our faith proclaims loudly that God is indeed among us. He is closer than we are to ourselves. Do not be afraid, Jesus proclaims; I am with you always.

The word of God gives us Baruch, in the sixth century before Jesus. Times were catastrophic for the Jews; everything they thought would endure suddenly disappeared. Yet, Baruch spoke of hope: a faithful people who will reflect the glory of God.

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community prayed that we will possess true wisdom, to distinguish what matters in life from what doesn’t, so that we will always do the right thing.

In the Gospel according to Luke, John the Baptizer proclaims repentance: prepare our hearts for the Lord. Yes, ask God to help us to hear the word of God in our hearts and turn toward a God-centered, other-centered life.

During Advent the word of God focuses on three biblical personalities: Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary. Each delivered a special message.
Isaiah spoke about a future Messiah, a liberator, a redeemer, a savior for us.
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who through his own death and resurrection creates a future for us.
The Virgin Mary is the living temple of God, the ark of the covenant. She carried within herself the Word made flesh, a child, Emmanuel, God with us.

The word of God in Advent also briefly references Joseph, who had a dream in which the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”

I ponder couples’ dreams when they learn that they will be parents. Their first dreams are usually for a safe birth, a healthy child. Then they may dream that their son or daughter will excel. Along the way, things may change very quickly. Parents may pray for their child to pass courses, or recover from an illness or a serious accident, or overcome an addiction.

As Joseph learned, the most important things we can dream for those we love are these: that they always will know that we love them dearly, we accept them unconditionally for who they are, we are ready to forgive them their so-called peccadilloes, and that we are always praying that God will grace them.

All these are manifestations of faith. As I view the beautiful windows in our church, and value the light illuminating them, I think of a quote President Bush read at the National Cathedral:
...without faith, we are but stained-glass windows in the dark.

But with the light of our faith, we illuminate the same splendid multi-colored stain-glass window into a "work of art" for all to see. May the light of our faith make our lives a "work of art" for all to see Jesus as our way, our truth and our life.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hope and Goodness

A particular gospel phrase stood out for me this weekend: “Stand upright and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Advent Wreath: Awaiting the Messiah.
How might we celebrate Advent? Some families create a wreath with four candles, and light one candle at the dinner table during the first week, two the second week, and so on. They pray in their own words for the coming anew of the Messiah into their own lives. Other families make a Jesse or genealogy tree to recapture the story of our salvation in the Hebrew bible. Still others have a Nativity scene and invite family members to tell in their own words the meaning of Christmas, God-with-us, Emmanuel. These are but a few customs.

The word of God carries us back in our imaginations to a prophet named Jeremiah who cited the infidelity of the Hebrews to their promises to God. But God is always faithful. And so Jeremiah spoke about hope: God one day will raise up a new king who will do what is right and good for his people.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Thessaloniki in Greece urged them not to so much anticipate the future that they forget how to live here and now. Yes, Paul wrote, care for one another, pray fervently, please God and be ready when the Day of the Lord comes.

The Gospel according to Luke speaks dramatically about signs that will signal the coming of Jesus Christ with great power and glory to transfigure us into the likeness of God.

We gather together in his name before the word of God and around the table of the Lord to hear God’s voice in scripture and to re-experience the sacrificial, life-giving death and glorious resurrection of Jesus. And through this mystery, we re-experience the living Christ who has already made us by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature: sons and daughters of God.

That great news of our faith challenges us this Advent season to look for the good in ourselves, in other people and in everyday situations of life. God is the ultimate good-finder. God so loved us that he became one of us.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Building God's Kingdom

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty, Washington, DC
I really enjoyed Thanksgiving. It's all about gratitude to God for our blessings, and about family and friends enjoying one another’s company.

Sunday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance, the image of the invisible God, the one through whom we have a relationship with the triune God.

Christ the King fits appropriately into the end of the liturgical year. The cycle begins with Advent, the hope for a Messiah, then Christmas with the Messiah’s birth, then the dying and rising of Jesus Christ at Easter, and finally, after Sundays in Ordinary Time, Jesus Christ comes again in great glory and power: Christ the King.

The word of God today takes us back to the 2nd century before Jesus. The author of the Book of Daniel wants to inspire hope in the Jews who suffered cruelties because of their faith in God. The author here describes a visionary experience at the end of human history. A mysterious “son of man,” comes upon the clouds of heaven. This figure goes before the throne of God, who brings about his reign through the kingship of this mysterious “son of man.” Christians saw in this figure Jesus Christ.

The Book of Revelation speaks to Christians who suffered cruelties because of their faith in God. Jesus re-established that relationship between God and us.

In the Gospel according to John, Pilate asks political questions. But Jesus turns the table, saying the term “kingdom” has to be understood differently. His kingdom is neither political nor despotic.
Jesus’s kingdom is at one and the same time within and beyond us. He challenges us to begin building this kingdom of truth and justice and love and freedom until he comes again in great glory and power.

Many people today cry out for freedom. The word has two facets: freedom from, and freedom for.

What we have been freed from is oppression or tyranny. The thirteen U. S. colonies, for example, rebelled against abuses of their rights and liberties. The civil rights movement in the 1960s protested a social system that condemned people because of color.

Christianity is all about freedom. God became one of us in Jesus to free us from all that keeps us from an authentic relationship with God, one another and the universe.

Yes, we are free so we can serve. All around us are people with hungers: for bread, for peace, for human rights, for justice. Only a society based upon truth, justice, love and freedom can satisfy these hungers and free us to become our true selves: human beings in authentic relationships with God and one another.

Christ the Shepherd-King call us to realize that among the many blessings we have from God is the gift to share God’s gifts with others. In doing so, we are building up the kingdom of God--a kingdom of truth and justice, love and freedom. May we always embody these virtues by doing all the good we can, by all the means we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Jesus Christ Will Come Again

Michelangelo's Last Judgment in Sistine Chapel
Thursday, families will celebrate Thanksgiving: giving thanks to God for life, family and friends. Even amid the devastating wildfires in California, many first responders are stepping up to help save lives and property. We thank God for these brave men and women.

The holidays are here. Here’s my advice: hang around positive people. Surround yourself with what you love—family, pets, hobbies. Tell them that you love them. Live gratefully. Above all, focus on God everyday through prayer.

The liturgical year celebrates the story of our salvation. The cycle begins in Advent, then Christmas, on to Lent. Next, Holy Week. The Easter season concludes with the outpouring of the Spirit anew at Pentecost. The cycle continues in ordinary time. We walk with Jesus as he works signs and wonders proclaiming that the kingdom of God is breaking into our lives.

This liturgical cycle culminates in the final coming of Jesus Christ in glory. Next Sunday, on the feast of Christ the King, we observe the end of salvation history when (to quote the letter of Paul) every human being and all that is will be subjected to Christ, who will deliver the Kingdom of God over to his heavenly Father.

Yes, we celebrate the story that began on the first page of Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” -- a story that ends on the last page of Scripture with the Maranatha prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.” God will transform this universe into his glorious kingdom in all its fullness. We proclaim in the Eucharistic prayer: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”

How this universe as we know it will end, we don’t know. But how is not the question. Rather the question is: Are we ready to meet the Living Christ when he comes to us in the mystery of death?

Today, the Book of Daniel pleads: don’t give up your faith despite the cruelties you’re enduring; the archangel Michael will protect you. Yes, good will triumph over evil.

The letter to the Hebrews recalls the one sacrifice of Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus re-established our relationship with God.

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus speaks about an apocalypse, with symbolic and scary images. Yes, Jesus Christ will usher in the kingdom of God in all its fullness. The Gospel author urges us always to be ready to meet the Living Christ because we don’t know when He actually will come to us in the mystery of death. And if we're not ready today, when will we be?

You may have read the book “Living a Life that Matters.” In his 40 years as a rabbi, Harold Kushner has cared for many people in the last moments of their lives. The people who had the most trouble with death were those who felt they hadn’t done anything worthwhile.

We shouldn’t be frightened that God will end the world as we know it. What we’re really called to do is to begin bringing about the kingdom of God: by getting our priorities straight, being peacemakers; treating one another fairly; helping people know they have a purpose; and giving a helping hand to others. We can become the compassionate eyes and hopeful voice and generous hands and dedicated feet of Jesus to others until He comes again with great power and glory.