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Friday, December 20, 2013

Why don't English names communicate a story like ancient names did? - Sunday's reading reflection

What’s in a name?

What can it tell about the person who owns it? Not much, unless it happens to be a well-chosen nick-name. Names like Helen, Sharon or Jason are useful for distinguishing various members of a family; but they don’t say much about the people themselves. A name seldom tells about the personality or life-work of the one who carries it. With some Biblical names it is different. For instance, Abraham meant “Father of a great people” (Gen. 17:5) and Moses meant “Rescued from the Waters” (Ex. 2:10.) Above all, our blessed Lord has names which tell us everything about him: “Jesus” means “God saves,” “Christ” means “God’s Anointed Messiah” and the name “Emmanuel” in today’s Gospel, means “God in our midst.”

Center of our faith

How important is Jesus, really, for our religious belief? Be honest. Ask the man-in-the-street what Christianity all about, and what’s the usual answer? Something to do with loving your neighbour; keeping the law; going to church on a Sunday? Not often will there be a direct mention of Jesus Christ, who is at the very centre of our faith. Ghandi once said, If you Christians took your Christ to heart, the whole world would be Christian.

Our Bridge-builder (Pontifex)

Nowadays, one of the most positive trends is in building up community, sharing efforts and projects with others, seeking out ways find common ground with long-term enemies. In a word, bridge-building and reconciliation with our fellow human beings. The greatest bridge-builder of all, who spans the gulf between us and God, is Jesus Christ. (High-Priest: Pontifex.) “No man has ever seen God; the Only-Begotten Son, who is closest to the Father’s heart, has made him known” (Jn. 1:18.)

Who shares our Lot

At Christmas we will concentrate on the simplicity and poverty of Our Lord’s birth: how human he was, born of a young woman, not in luxurious comfort, but in the discomfort of a stable. That shows him as one of us, the human side of “Emmanuel.” This gospel however mentions the divine origin of Jesus. Although he has a human mother, he has not a human father, but was conceived in Mary by the power of God. This unique way of coming into life, with God as father, and the virgin Mary as mother, underlines who Jesus truly is: both God and man, one of ourselves and yet one with the eternal God.

St. Joseph’s Faith

If this mystery seems deep to us, it must have been baffling for St Joseph. Close to Mary as he was, and yet seeing her pregnant without any action on his part, Joseph could only accept in faith what God’s messenger told him, that the child was in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. With great patience and humility, Joseph accepted the part for which God had chosen him, as human foster-father to the Saviour. This faithful acceptance is just what is required of each of us, when Christ comes into our lives, as “God-with-us.
(Adapted from ACP)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Not always a smooth straight line to God - Tomorrow's reading reflection

In the reading for today, Isaiah predicts what happens centuries later, that a virgin will conceive a son and call him Emmanuel. Isaiah's message to the Jewish people is to be persistent in their hope and trust in God despite the difficulties of their journey in life.

Our life's journey is not always a smooth straight line to God. Throughout our lives, there are times of crises when we may lose hope, or it may be in the mundane that we get off track and lose sight of our ultimate goal. Lucky for us, God's patience is infinite. He does not grow weary of our innumerable stumbles and detours on our journey.

The story of the Annunciation in Luke's gospel demonstrates how Mary is a model of hope and trust in God's plan for our journey. Even she questioned how she could become pregnant without having been with a man. But, when the angel said it was through the power of the Holy Spirit, she replied with those words of unwavering hope and trust in her God, "Behold, I am the handmaid of The Lord, may it be done to me according to your word."

Through persistence in prayer, we rekindle our hope and trust in God. As the angel said to Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God." By her example, let us ask Mary to bolster our hope and trust in God so that we can accept and follow the journey that he has planned for us. May we be persistent in our prayer.
(Adapted from Susan Tinley)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Miracle of creation - Tomorrow's reading reflection

The reading and gospel are interesting history if one wants to know more about the Samson’s parents or John the Baptist’s parents. Here were two couples who were without children and now well past the time to conceive but they continued to have unrelenting faith. That these two couples never lost faith in spite of their hardship is worthy of reflection, but is there another deeper meaning embedded in these readings that is worthy of our consideration?

Mindful that we are in the Advent season and just one week away from the most beautiful birth of all, that of Christ Jesus, the reading and the gospel reinforce how truly precious the creation of life is and the joy that comes to parents when they are first made aware that they are with child. And then, is there anything greater for the couple than the birth of their child and to experience the miracle of creation? Thus as we head into these last 7 days before Christmas let us keep our focus not only on the power of prayer but on the miracle of creation.
(Adapted from Steve Scholer)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Promises - Tomorrow's reading reflection

At this point in the middle of our Advent journey, we can pause to enjoy what this week is about.  Each day, we can be asking for the grace to let Jesus into our hearts – to let him be closer to us and to let ourselves be closer to him.

The promise made to Joseph was that the result of his openness to cooperating with God’s plan would be:  “God is with us.”  Joseph couldn’t have imagined what that would mean.  At times, we can’t imagine what that means for us, today.

Jeremiah knew the problem.  King David’s line had been virtually wiped out.  But Jeremiah trusted God’s fidelity.  With the same image of a shoot coming forth, Isaiah could proclaim that “a shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse (David’s father).”

This is good news for us today, whenever we see only darkness, and can’t imagine a light shining for us to guide the way.  At times, we see only dead ends.  We sometimes are so discouraged by the stresses and challenges we are facing that it is difficult to even think about promises of hope.  We can feel trapped – stuck in a situation that fills us with fear, or anger, or which has simply suffocated any ability to dream.

Today, we can pause to remember that “God is with us.”  We are not alone.  And, in this pause, we can ask for the grace to let Jesus into our hearts – to let him in, past the barriers.  What are the barriers?  A pause today could help us identify them.

This is what Advent is for.  It is an opportunity to open our hearts to Jesus’ coming today, in the midst of our darkness.  This is not something abstract or intellectual.  It is personal.  If I let him love me, forgive me, tell me I’m precious, that I’m not alone, then I can face any challenge with hope.  This is what real joy is all about.  And, even when our union with Jesus leads us to the Cross, we are with him on the path to eternal life.

Let us all pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” with deeper, more personal meaning today, and each day in the days ahead.  And, let us let him come into those places of our lives where he so wants to come with tenderness, comfort, healing and life.
(Adapted from Andy Alexander, SJ)

Monday, December 16, 2013

One heck of a family tree - Tomorrow's reading reflection

Several years ago the director of an RCIA program in the Omaha Archdiocese was taken aback by a candidate who said “You’ve been telling us about Jesus. I came here to learn about the Church . . .”  The Christian church indeed has organizational features – rites and rules – just like any human social grouping, and one ought to know something about them. But the Church is not about itself (what Pope Francis refers to as “self-referential”). It is about Jesus. It is an assembly of people who have committed their lives to Jesus, to being Jesus’ presence in their world. As Vatican II said, the Church is the sacrament of Christ for the world.

In his gospel St. Matthew is telling his early Christian community about Jesus. Interestingly the word our lectionary translates as “genealogy” is, in the original Greek, “genesis” – the same as the name of the first book of the Bible. This is the beginning of the story of Jesus. Matthew says that, in Jesus, God has made a new creation, a new Adam. He starts his story with Abraham. 

It’s a curious family tree – consisting of saints, sinners, petty oriental potentates, wastrels, incompetents, womanizers. It even mentions five women (distinctly unusual in ancient genealogies) – some of them pregnant under irregular circumstances. Is this how God enters into human affairs?  The list of 42 names in Matthew’s genealogy traces Israel’s journey into Egypt and back, God’s rescue of an enslaved people, the triumphs and failings of the monarchy, the exile into Babylon and subsequent rescue, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, only to be conquered by Greek and then Roman invaders. It’s all there. If only we knew our Bible history! What stories those names would evoke!  As has been said, “God writes straight with crooked lines”.

Matthew knew that his community could not really understand Jesus if they did not understand that chain of God’s interactions with Israel. Israel was a chosen people, not in the sense of having been granted special privilege (though they certainly experienced that), but chosen precisely to manifest to the world in concrete actions and events who God is and what God’s will for God’s creation really is. That’s exactly what Jesus is and does. And that’s how he is the fulfillment of that first 2000 year history.

In eight days we will celebrate once again the birth of baby Jesus. Babies are promise, they are potential, they are hope. This baby shows us God, a God who takes on our human nature in all its failings and tawdriness and, by making it possible for us humans to share in the divine, what the potential in every human being really is.
(Adapted from Robert P. Heaney)