Christmas: a rehearsal for the coming year

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

We are on the threshold of a new year yet still in the midst of the celebration of the birth of Our Lord, the Word made Flesh, God-with-us, Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

These days around Christmas and New Years are often punctuated with more than the usual religious observance. Those who never come to Church except at Christmas have been flooded with the light of the Star and the radiance of the Child’s face, perhaps without even being aware that what they so deeply long for has been bestowed on them as a gift. Those of us who celebrate the Eucharist more often, or even weekly, have somehow had our hearts moved by the telling anew of the story that God so loved us that he chose to reach into our lives, to intervene in the history of humanity, in order to claim us as his children, to lift us to his very throne. At Mass we have lifted up our hands as beggars to receive the Bread of Life by which Jesus makes us “parkers of the divine nature.” It is Peter who says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

To “accept him” implies that someone else has given us something—or Someone—and we have the choice of receiving this gift. Every Advent-Christmas Season we take time to ponder and wonder at how God has chosen us before we have chosen him. How foolish are we who act as though we possessed the higher authority to tell God whether he was acceptable to us or not! No. We who were completely unacceptable were received by God by a free act of his mercy. We would have no place in the house of God without the decision of God in our favor, a decision that was made without any merit of our own. St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises instructs the retreatant to imagine the Trinity looking out over the world and seeing the rampant corruption, sinfulness, vice, and rejection of the God on whom they depend for their very life. I imagine the Father speaking to the Son the pity in his heart: What can we do? What shall we do? How can we help them? And thus the Son comes willingly to this earth so that he might lift us up on his shoulders from the mire of our death-creating choices to be seated in glory on God’s throne.

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

St. Paul says so wisely: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17 NET).

Christmas reminds us, as does the Prologue of John read at Mass today, that God’s love to us is completely unmerited, often unsought, sometimes not accepted. Yet God year after year reminds us of his free choice for us, his marvelous gift, his magnanimous generosity to shower upon us grace upon grace.

I like to think of Christmas as a rehearsal for our performance in the upcoming new year. At Christmas we rehearse in a sacred season what we shall live out in the more profane spaces of our life.

  • God chooses us and we learn to choose for others in love and self-sacrifice in the world.
  • God comes to us in the vulnerability and humility of a Babe, and we find the courage to proclaim and to live the beauty of virtues that have been rejected by the society around us.
  • God lifts us up and we find ourselves seeking ways to lift the world around us, the people, nature, media, so that others might one day receive, might accept, what we have been so extravagantly given, we who do not deserve such generosity.

And finally, with our eyes shining with the radiance of the Star and the beauty of the Child’s Face we proclaim that there is more to life than what we see around us, what impinges on our wellbeing, what threatens our futures. God cares. God is here. God gives himself to us that we might be saved even from our very selves. And that is why today we say both Blessed Christmas! and Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Fray Foto via Cathopic

We are a pure capacity for Christ: Moments of Eucharistic Joy

“Which is the more awesome mystery, that God gave Himself to earth, or that He gives you to heaven; that he Himself enters into the society of carnal beings, or that He admits you into the fellowship of divinity; that He takes death upon Himself, or that He rescues you from death; that He Himself is born into your state of bondage, or that He begets you as His children; that He accepts your poverty, or that He makes you His heirs, and coheirs with Himself alone? Surely the more impressive mystery is that earth is transferred to heaven, that man is altered by divinity, that the bondsman acquires the rights of dominion.” (St Peter Chrysologos)

Immediately following the birth of the Word made flesh, we begin to hear of the clouds of rejection and death that will surround Jesus his entire life: the death of the Holy Innocents, the rejection of his own people at Nazareth, and in the liturgy the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr. Jesus came to us to pass from a visible life to an invisible one, from walking at our side to abiding within us, from preaching in Israel to whispering secretly in the souls of everyone throughout the world always and for all time. Our humanity has been taken up in his divinity. It is in the Eucharist, that gift given to us on the night before he died, that Jesus continues his life on this earth, in us, through us, for us, for the world.

“Surely the more impressive mystery is that earth is transferred to heaven, that man is altered by divinity, that the bondsman acquires the rights of dominion.” (St Peter Chrysologos)

This is the life that Jesus gives those who receive him in the Eucharist, for it is he himself that we receive. He becomes our Life in the Eucharist, causing us to live by him as he lives by the Father. Indeed, in our receiving Communion Christ, takes possession of us, consumes our misery in himself, and imparts his divine dignity to us.

Pierre de Bérulle, one of the most important mystics of the seventeenth century in France, wrote in a letter of direction: “Since He was created Head of human nature, we have a relationship with Him, a proportion with Him, an aptitude for Him; we wait to be actuated by Him and to be filled by Him…. We are a capacity, a pure capacity for Him; none can actuate and fill it but He…. We must not suffer ourselves to be in ourselves, except to see to it that Jesus Christ be living in us, and that He may use and enjoy possession of all that is within us.” Then echoing the words of St Cyril of Alexandria he explains that Jesus’ possession of us is by means of the Eucharist. Through this sarament, “we are joined to this divine substance in a real and substatial union, which approaches very nearly to the unity of the divine Persons, and which is a perfect imitation of that unity.”

What do these words awaken in your heart? Remain in what God is bringing about in you by making specific acts that strengthen and deepen what God is making you experience.

What has struck you about Jesus’ giving himself to you in the Eucharist?

Write a pray after Communion based on what has most deeply affected you.

Image Credit: Francisco Xavier Franco Espinoza via Cathopic

Jesus will stand by you: Advent Message

Every Advent, the prophet John the Baptist, a figure larger than life, points us directly toward Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he told his two disciples, directing them to follow after his cousin whom he had baptized in the River Jordan. “Behold the one who takes away the sins of the world. I am not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandal.”

As Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son burst upon the religious scene around AD 28 or 29, the heart of the Jewish people was stirred. This ascetic man dressed in camel hair and eating locusts and honey called the people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. With direct and forceful words he confronted those who came to listen to him with their need to change their life and to be washed in the waters of the Jordan with the baptism of repentance.

(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors,
who were baptized with the baptism of John,
acknowledged the righteousness of God;
but the Pharisees and scholars of the law,
who were not baptized by him,
rejected the plan of God for themselves.)

John was indeed a man sent by God. He had a large following, so large, in fact, that he was seen as a threat to Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee. John the Baptist played a central and very visible role in the immediate preparation for the Messiah, as the most popular and best-known preacher of the day.

He was blessed to see what every prophet of Israel had longed to see: the face of the Messiah.

He had looked into his eyes.

He had poured the water of the Jordan over him in baptism.

He had heard the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

He who had the eyes of all Israel on himself directed all who would listen to fix their eyes on Jesus. “He must increase and I must decrease.”

I tell you,
among those born of women, no one is greater than John.

With these words, Jesus spoke of his cousin with gentleness. By this time, John was no longer the center of attention. He was imprisoned. Hidden. Alone. Forgotten by many. Left aside as Jesus gathered disciples and began to preach with authority in the villages of Galilee.

He was deserted. Friendless. Languishing because of the petty political machinations of Herod. The preacher condemned the king’s marriage to his wife, Herodias as illegal, because she had previously been married to his own brother, Philip. There was nothing in his future now but death.

Despite John’s reversal in fortune, Jesus stands by the Baptist. He affirms his character, his place in salvation history, his value as a person.

Like John the Baptist, we too may experience in our life a radical reversal in popularity, influence, or fortune. We could feel imprisoned by stands we have taken, decisions we have made, or because of the power others exercise over us. What things look like to us or to others doesn’t reflect the loyalty Jesus has in our regard. As he stood by his cousin, Jesus will stand by us. Even if he is the only friend we have, he is the only Friend who in the end ultimately and forever and ever will matter.

Jesus is the one who knows our hearts.

Jesus is the one who understands what is happening to us.

Jesus is the one who cares about us always.

Jesus will always defend us.

But I am not John the Baptist, you may say.

“I tell you,
among those born of women, no one is greater than John;
yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.”

The Baptizer washed in the Jordan River those who repented as they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. In the sacrament of Baptism, we have received so much more. Louis Bouyer in his book Liturgical Piety describes the effects of the sacrament of Baptism as nothing short of dying and rising again. When the person to be baptized goes down into the water he or she disappears completely. When they emerge they are no longer the same person. The “dusty image of Adam” has been blotted out and now, washed from their sins, they are a new person in Christ. Christ lives in them. They are conformed now to the divine pattern revealed in Christ and now imprinted on them.

How blest are we, even if we are the least in the Kingdom of God. How blest!

As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, let us rejoice that Christ lives now in us, and that washed from our sins, we are a new person in Christ. This is indeed the good news!

Image by Thomas from Pixabay 

When we find ourselves in darkness we can expect God to intervene

I find it very meaningful that the Lord was born in the night, that the angels announced to the shepherds the good news of the Savior’s birth while they were sleeping in the fields at night, and that the Kings followed a star visible in the night sky in order to find the newborn King. Jesus proclaimed himself the Light of the World and light is most clearly seen when it shines in the darkness.

We can be “lost in the dark,” personally and as a society. We are living through a particularly dark time in history. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what’s really true or really good… How am I fooling myself and how is society fooling itself… Where is evil promoted as good and good denigrated as an evil…. In the darkness we can feel drowsy, overwhelmed, distracted, frightened. It is when we are in the darkness that we can expect God to intervene in what seems to be impenetrable confusion or illusion with the light of truth which is always an announcement of how God is with us.

Contemplative Prayer Guide with the Masterpiece

Rest your gaze on the image. Let your gaze be the path that returns you to the center.

After a few moments of silence, close your eyes and become aware of your desire to be with God at this moment. Ask God to help you let go of whatever may distance you from his presence to you.

Now open your eyes and let your eyes rest on the image.

What do you notice about the people in the image? What are the emotions that seem to be expressed in the image? What meaning does the light and dark parts of the image have for you? How does the image touch you? What surprises you about the image? What do you not like about the image?

When distractions occur, return intentionally to gazing at the image.

Close your eyes and enter into the event depicted in the image.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2)

Interact with the people in the story. Speak with them. Take part in their emotion, their faith, their courage…

Do you feel close to one of the people depicted in the image?

Does the image remind you of some event or some person in your own life?

Just sit and soak in the grace that arises from the image.

Ask Jesus: “What do you want me to take from this time of prayer as I return to my life?”

Image: Govert Flink Angels Announcing Jesus’ Birth to the Shepherds, public domain

The Divine Heart of Reality – A personal Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 12)

This is part of an Advent series of Gospel contemplations in the spirit of the Ignatian Exercises. The introduction offers the format for Gospel Contemplation.

This is an Ignatian Gospel meditation that extended over a week of quiet prayer. The last grace I felt Jesus was telling me I should be asking for was the gift of joy. So this is where I began this meditation on the birth of Jesus.

Entering Prayer

Psalm 99 (TPT)

Come on, everyone! Let’s sing for joy in the Lord!
Let’s shout our loudest praises  to our God who saved us.
Everyone come meet his face with a thankful heart
make him great by your shouts of joy!

…Come and kneel before this Creator-God!
…For we are the lovers he cares for and he is the God we worship.

…Your ancestors challenged me with their complaining
even though I had convinced them of my power and love….

Jesus, how gently you teach me.

Joy is not a feeling.
It is not a satisfaction with one’s own place in the divine plan.
It is not “everything going my way.”

I rejoice, shouting praises because God has saved me.
I exalt God.
I meet him face-to-face and the meeting itself opens of a flood of eucharistic-worship.
His Face. I love him!

Joy is the reward, the result of loving praise offered 24-7 by a grateful heart of one who has escaped utter devastation by God’s acts of power and love towards his lovers that he cares for.
You have shown me your power (Baptism=death and resurrection) and your love (Communion).

Grace—self-forgetfulness: absorption in Jesus.

Imagining Yourself Present

…A child, I am kneeling next to Mary at the side of the manger… My left hand on the rough wood, covered by hers, my right hand on Jesus’ head.

Angie Menes, Cathopic

The force of her adoration. Not a feeling but the reality of Jesus’ possession of her. She can’t tear herself away from his face.

Imagining the Gospel Events in the Present

My hand gently rubbing Jesus’ head as he lies in the manger, hours after birth.
I am a young woman… Jesus, a baby, newly born.
Flesh—the Word made Flesh.

I am touched deeply by his mercy, his smile, the outpouring of God’s love..
I pour myself out in worship.

Our faith is rooted in this very human experience, in real historical events, the tender touch of the everlasting Real….
About God becoming flesh and flesh being taken up by the Word made Flesh.

I rest here, touching the heart’s sunrise, the Dawn of our salvation.
My own inner mental constructions I set aside. I bury them in the name of Jesus and return to the eye of heart. Jesus… Jesus… Jesus… I stay connected to my own humanity and to the humanity of Jesus Christ.

grateful praise…
humble joy…

Observing Attractions and Resistance

Jesus (Phil 2:5ff)

  • he did not cling to equality with God
  • emptied himself
  • became man
  • died to rescue us the ungrateful…

Here, in the manger before me, Jesus is emptied of his divinity
I need to empty myself of Self.

At death I will have wanted to have already let go of everything.
Jesus let go of his Glory to be Servant.

What is this resistance within me?

What our minds select to focus on and ignore is regulated by our desires, absorbed by our egocentric preoccupations. As our desires are purified our perceptions are transformed…
Jesus, help me…

Entering the Mystery of the Story

Jesus (Phil 2:5ff)
Humility is the emptying of oneself for the sake of making room for otherness.
The Father poured out his love in creation, making room for us, his creatures, all creation, who would be welcomed into the dance of humble giving and receiving, loving and surrendering, that is the Trinitarian life, the atmosphere of eternity. However, in the garden we chose not to obey, not to worship, not to wait, not to believe in God’s love and his designs…

The Son emptied himself for our salvation, to restore us to the glory for which we had been created.

The Spirit is poured out on the earth at Pentecost, through the sacraments, in prayer, in grace, in divine designs for the sanctification and deification of every person on this earth until the end of time when we will be all one in Christ and stand before the Father to his Glory.

Quiet awe….

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay 

Moving through deepening levels of stillness

I am a child again… playing…around the manger…. Nothing to grasp at… Nothing to show…
We are asked by Jesus to be children, the only way to receive divine guidance is to be a child, without self-guidance, worry, fear, vanity. To plan our responses to possible future circumstances is to pile up useless worry and vain fears and vain alarms and vain hopes…

I am but a child playing beneath the manger, looking at all the adoring angels… Receiving the impressions God makes through subtle movements in my soul.

My Father is acting. I can play. The divine Heart of reality. Worry accomplishes nothing.

Stay present. Don’t plan for the future at the expense of the present childhood.
Jesus lived the present of each moment, trusting all to his Father’s acting.

Rest here in the present, beneath the manger, surrounded by the angels. Stay here. Soak in whatever God is accomplishing and bringing about.

Desiring to follow Jesus

Jesus, what is the gift I should be praying for?

I immediately hear within myself the word “intimacy.” You should be praying for intimacy.
Mary and Joseph were “children.” They lived in your hands where they were secure (not safe), led, cared for, protected, as you shepherded them through life, simple as doves.

I beg for the grace of intimacy…so that with adult responsibilities I may cling, like Mary and Joseph and Jesus, to you, Father, as a child to its mother. In this is true joy.

What would this look like? How would it play out in my relationships? In prayer? In service? In play?

Psalm 99 (TPT)

Come on, everyone! Let’s sing for joy in the Lord!
Let’s shout our loudest praises  to our God who saved us.
Everyone come meet his face with a thankful heart
make him great by your shouts of joy!

…Come and kneel before this Creator-God!
…For we are the lovers he cares for and he is the God we worship.

The Eucharist an Extension of the Incarnation: Moments of Eucharistic Joy

We are in the first year of the Eucharistic Revival here in the US and I am blessed to be able to be a small part of the great work that is being done. Reading about the Eucharist has become more than a study for me. It has become a leap for the heart! In the series Moments of Eucharistic Joy, I share just a moment of that heart’s leap with you that we all might find in the Eucharist the absolute joy of our lives.

“The Eucharist, according to the testimony of the holy Fathers, should be regarded as in a manner a continuation and extension of the Incarnation. For in and by it the substance of the incarnate Word is united with individual men” (Pope Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis, no 7).

This Advent I am not spending my time as if I were waiting for Jesus to come this Christmas. He has come in his Incarnation, and in the Eucharist he abides with us and we in him!

I am not going to pretend that we are still walking in darkness. Christ is the Light of the World, and he has called us to be His Body, His hands, His feet, His voice in the world today!

Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay 

I am not calling out to him as though he were far away, as distant as the stars. I will rejoice that he is near! He is here! He is within us! One with us! For in and by the Eucharist, the “the substance of the incarnate Word is united” with each of us who receive him.

I am not going to long for him before a nativity creche where the Babe has not yet been laid. I will pour myself out in worship before the Christ in the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is “the continuation and extension of the Incarnation.”

We celebrate in Advent and Christmas, the Incarnation—Christ assumed a human nature to His divine Person. In the Eucharist this same Christ gives himself to each one who receives the Eucharist as nourishment so that we are nourished by His Body, Blood, Soul and divinity. “The Eucharist is the divine means chosen…by which He who took on our humanity gives to us a mysterious share in His divinity, in His divine Life” (Dr. Lawrence Feingold, STD, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri).

Image Credit: Rita Laura, Cathopic

“…in but a very little while” – a personal Advent Gospel contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 11)

Imagining the Gospel Events in the present

This is part of an Advent series of Gospel contemplations in the spirit of the Ignatian Exercises. The introduction offers the format for Gospel Contemplation.

The flour dusted us both as we laughed together. Mary and I, a neighbor, are enjoying ourselves in the late afternoon, as I teach her my recipe for bread.

A knock on the door. It is Joseph. “Mary,” he says quietly. “I have some news. Please come over here.” I watch from the kitchen as he gently leads Mary apart. So quiet, so calm, such resting peace in the soul of this saint.

The soldiers have announced the census and he and Mary must go to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David…. The city in which was to be born, according to the prophet Micah, the Messiah….

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

How quickly everything changes. How gently he tells her. I watch their silhouette in the next room as the sun falls. They motion to the baby things all ready…. Leave home, family, security, love, assistance in those first days of motherhood…. To strike out on their own at this most delicate part of Mary’s pregnancy….

…into the unknown where the unexpected is the norm….

How easily Mary lets it all go. She is handmaid not manager. She willingly assents to bring the Prince of Peace into the darkness of a long journey into a small village where he would meet the occupying force and the prince of darkness. Where light would begin to shine. Where glory would begin to trumpet out the coming of our God.

As a woman recently told me after she shared her story of struggles and sorrow, “There is always more going on than we know.”

Joseph Parrocel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Observing attractions and resistance

I, as an older neighbor, and as myself, felt within my heart movements to manage and control and plan and reassure. No. I have to let them live their own life and fight their own battles. I have to disappear from this story. It is theirs. I feel decentered, unseen, left behind.

Joseph and Mary dropped their plans, preparations, and preferences. They saw in the census the striking of God’s hour for they couldn’t have been ignorant of Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This political decision by the country’s occupying force was how God would have them go, now, at his bidding, to Bethlehem where Jesus was to be born. Joy. Praise. Yes.

How many others they met along the way may have been bitterly complaining, “It isn’t fair! I can’t wait to rid the country of the Romans! This is the worst time for us!” How many of their friends probably said, “It doesn’t make sense for you to go now!” “It’s too dangerous!”

For me, their neighbor, their journey to Bethlehem effectively takes the birth of the Child out of my control, for I would have been midwife and friend and companion.

I feel drawn—so drawn—to the simple freedom of Joseph and Mary. They were like feathers in the wind of the Spirit, their lives like pencils in the hand of the Most High writing the story of salvation.

You, God, lead the way, like a Pillar of Fire in the night. We have only to see, to trust, to obey and all will work out as you have planned for our coming to stand before you in your glory—all of us together—kings and beggars and prophets and virgins and saints and sinners—all.

Joseph and Mary were ready to walk into danger, darkness, uncertainty, making what seemed to be irrational decisions at your Word in your divine decrees.

I face what it is to stay behind, to let go of my plans and preparations and projects. They were young parents to be, I am older now. A life lived. Gratitude, yes, but also regrets.

Entering the Mystery of the Story

(From the first reading on Friday, the first week of Advent Isaiah 29:17ff.):

“But a very little while…

the thrill, the anticipation, the expectation of God SOON

…and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard…

Lebanon had been stripped of its cedars by the Assyrian invader, so as to be the wilderness that Isaiah refers to in chapter 22, verse 15. Lebanon shall regain its glory, once more being as Carmel, or the “fruitful field…” An orchard—cultivated, fertile, fruitful, owned, protected, loved, useful according to the plan of God.

…the deaf shall hear… the eyes of the blind shall see… will ever find joy in the Lord….

a re-creation: Jesus, I need your recreating power in my life—the touch that brings something out of nothing, the breath that brings life out of death.

…[in] but a very little while…”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Moving through deepening levels of stillness

I cede my life-plan and purpose to the advent of your salvation.

“With the rising of the sun, we shall soon see the King of king and Lord of lords, coming forth from his bridal chamber…” (From the Liturgical Christmas Novena, Day Nine, Antiphon for the Magnificat).

The sky shall unfold
Preparing His entrance
The stars shall applaud Him
With thunders of praise.

The sweet light in His eyes
Shall enhance those awaiting
And we shall behold Him
Then face to face

…in all His Glory…. (Sandy Patty, Lyrics of “We Shall Behold Him”)

The sky shall unfold…

As Mary and Joseph were taken up with the coming of Jesus, so am I….

Tasting the sweet light in His eyes…

Jesus is here. I am here. The Mystery is here.

Image Credit: tinvalro via Cathopic

Desiring to follow Jesus

In ordinary things of life keep focused, as Mary, on the sweet light of His eyes and his coming “[in] but a very little while.”

Maranatha. O Lord, come. Create anew. Execute your plan of salvation. How beautiful you are. How lovely the sweet light in your eyes. I am but a handmaid, yet I behold you face to face. You always initiate the next step of salvation in history, and in my life, and in my today. Your Face, O Lord, I seek. Let me see Your Face and I shall be saved.

Conversing as with a friend

What is the grace I should be asking for? A simple question to Joseph and Mary.


Throwing yourself into the folding of God’s Joy on earth

With no more cares and personal projects

For the sake of God’s joy

Stillness. Silence. Resting. Tasting. Receiving.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

What will it look like when I live out of this joy, embody this joy, share this joy as a way of being…at prayer, in relationships, in ministry, in community?

Featured Image:Giotto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons