Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 18 - St. Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him
in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife
into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
- Matthew 1:20

In the 15th century “Cherry Tree Carol,” Joseph and Mary are making their way to Bethlehem when, stopping in a cherry orchard, Mary asks Joseph to pick some cherries for her. Joseph, with spite, answers, “Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee.” In the carol, it is only after witnessing a miracle of the cherry tree bending down to offer fruit to Mary that Joseph accepts the divine nature of his young wife’s pregnancy. 

This song, however, hardly reflects the simple obedience and faith Joseph shows in the Gospel for December 18. Although the gospels do not relate any words of Joseph, his presence and actions testify to his silent love for Mary and her Son. And, while Joseph is, in many ways, only a silent figure standing at the edges of these well-known gospel stories, he is an essential part of the Advent mysteries. 

As a “righteous man,” Joseph would have been a devout observer of Jewish law and custom, a faith which he would have dutifully handed on to Jesus. But Joseph’s relationship with Jesus was that of a father to his son and, as Lucien Deiss, C.Ss.P., has observed, “The most beautiful and truest thing we can say on this topic is that Joseph was so good, so tenderly lovable that as a child Jesus learned to discover in him the heavenly Father’s image” (from Joseph, Mary, Jesus).  
Moses and the Burning Bush (by Marc Chagall).
This reminds us of the title ascribed to Christ
in this evenings "O" Antiphon. 
Like Joseph, each of us is called to trust that what God has promised us will be given to us. Beyond this, however, we are also called to obedience - the willingness to listen with the "ear of our heart" which Joseph embodied. The fear and frustration he might have experienced because of Mary’s pregnancy or the angel’s command gave way to love and an openness of mind and heart that allowed him to see with the eyes of faith the gift God had given to him and to the world.

A Prayer for the 18th Day of December + O Adonai
O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

An Advent Appeal - Supporting Elderly Religious

Yesterday afternoon I received an financial appeal from the Oblate Sisters of Providence. This is a community founded in 1829 by Mother Lange, a Cuban who eventually settled in Baltimore where she established a community to work with French-Speaking Haitians. This was the first community dedicated to the care of African Americans and was, itself, the first African American religious community. They were - and continue to be - champions of racial justice and ministry to the poor.

For a number of years I have been aware that this community (which has continued their founder's mission to serve in African American communities throughout the U.S.) has struggled to provide medical care for their elderly members. The money just isn't there. And, sadly, this is a reality for many, many religious communities. (This fact was highlighted in the report on U.S. religious women's communities released this week by the Vatican.)

Mother Mary Lange
Foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence

I want to invite you in these days before Christmas to make a financial gift to a religious community to help cover the expenses of caring for the elderly and infirm priests, brothers, and sisters. Some communities literally have hundreds of individual members who need acute and ongoing care. 
This is the Year for Consecrated Life and a great time to say "Thank You" to all of the men and women religious who have given their whole lives to teaching, healthcare, social justice, evangelization, pastoral care, and prayer. Religious deserve our respect and admiration but, sadly, our culture has done an amazing job dismissing the work of generations of holy and loving women and men of faith. It is our responsibility to care for them the way they have cared for so many others.

Even if you aren't Catholic, I encourage you to consider this invitation as well. My guess is that wherever you are, there is a hospital, mission, food pantry, school, or some other charity that was or is run by a religious community that needs your help.

Although I mentioned Oblate Sisters of Providence, there are needs in every religious community. If you were taught by religious sisters, priests, or brothers or have ministered with them, considering sending a gift to that community as a sign of your gratitude. If you would like to give a gift to the U.S. Bishops "Retirement Fund for Religious," click here.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this Advent invitation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 17 - St. Aloysius Gonzaga

* December 17 marks the beginning of the "O" Antiphons, privileged days celebrated the week before Christmas. The image that will accompany of each of the reflections for these days is inspired by the proper "O" Antiphon for that day and the concluding prayer is a translation of each of these seven texts that celebrate the coming of Christ using the powerful imagery of the Old Testament. To read an article I've written on the "O" Antiphons, please visit:

He crouches like a lion recumbent,
the king of beasts--who would dare rouse him?
The scepter shall never depart from Judah,
or the mace from between his legs,
While tribute is brought to him,
and he receives the people's homage.

- Genesis 49:9b-10

The entrance of God into the world at the birth of Jesus is an event which forever changed the course of human history. In fact, the Incarnation of Christ is the fulfillment of history. The promises made to the patriarchs and prophets, the hopes of God’s chosen people, and the visions of seers and sages from far-away places were realized in the birth of the Christ at Bethlehem.

The power of the new-born King, the One who would rule God’s people with justice, and the afflicted with right judgment (cf. Psalm 72:2), found its most perfect expression not in the signs and wonders that Jesus worked, but in his stretching out his hand, granting freedom and absolution to his people, as he hung upon the cross: “He stretched out his hands when he suffered in order to deliver from suffering those who believed in him" (St. Hippolytus of Rome, Traditio apostolica).
An ancient icon of Holy Wisdom (center) -
with Mary and St. John the Baptist -
the title of Christ celebrated on December 17.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was the eldest son and heir of one of the most powerful, influential, and, at times, corrupt families in sixteenth century Italy. A prince of the Holy Roman Empire, he walked away from wealth and power, his birthright, to enter the Society of Jesus. Far from the safety and privilege of the palaces of his youth, Aloysius died at the age of twenty-three after carrying to a hospital a plague victim he found lying on a Roman street.
Aloysius knew the importance of family and of family history. He would have recognized his own family story in the genealogy of Jesus—a mix of saints and sinners. The unlikely assortment of the good, bad, and indifferent that makes up Jesus’ family tree (proclaimed in today's Gospel) is also a perfect image of the Church. As Gail Godwin observed, “Matthew’s genealogy contained—and continues to contain—the flawed and inflicted and insulted, the cunning and the weak-willed and the misunderstood. His are an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints.” (from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas). It is a powerful testament, as we enter these days of final preparation for Christmas, that God is using us, with our gifts, talents, flaws, failures, and like Aloysius, family histories, to bring him into the world today.


A Prayer for December 17 + O Sapientia
O Wisdom who came from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly.
Come, and teach us the way of prudence.