John’s Nativity

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Whenever two parishes merge, they never take one parish and move into another. One does not close and simply move into another. A priest explained this once. When two parishes become one they first both must close, and then they all begin as one. In a sense both must die, and then a new parish is reborn. It follows the steps of baptism, first a death and then life. This came to mind during the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.

 So much of Johns Nativity story mirrors Christ’s. Similar, yet also a definite contrast. With John comes the closing if a covenant, so that a new covenant might be born. Both are announced by an angel. With the Annunciation, Mary responds with the Magnificat. With Zachariah, he becomes mute. He is silenced until the herald of a New Testament is born. Then a Canticle. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, He has come to His people to set them free…” In the birth of John, his name does not come from his father or grandfather, as was the tradition. The new tradition begins with a name given by an angel. Yohanan, John, means to quicken or make alive. John is to prepare a path for something new. Jesus. 

Even in Elizabeth, making way for something new is apparent. Elizabeth and Zachariah are old, and Elizabeth is past her childbearing years. They are childless, and she is barren. The natural expectation is a dying, and the cultural connotation is one of sin. There is no expectation of the miraculous vibrancy that is about to begin. A sadness that concludes with a joyous hope. John joyously leaps in the womb of Elizabeth at the visitation. An omen of things to come. One must decrease, so another might increase. One closes, the other opens.

 

The sacred heart

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How can a person describe the Sacred Heart of Jesus? It is a heart commonly wrapped in thorns as mockery. It is a heart pierced, wounded. It is a heart of salvation, charity called love. It is the heart of a shepherd, recall “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It is a heart that offers forgiveness, a broken heart. A heart that offers salvation, a heart pure. A heart sacred. Descended from heaven, born in a manger, it screams follow me. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an old one.

The first reading of the day Dt 7:6-11 : Moses says “You are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own.” God’s Love for man, or God is love, and that is at the heart of Jesus. It is its center. The Sacred Heart if Jesus is God’s love for man. More than love, a love temporary it is fidelity. Fidelity, faithful. Fidelity, loyal. Fidelity, truthful. The Sacred Heart is one of fidelity. The Sacred Heart is one of emotions. Not one of body, but one of spirit. It is the essence of life, an organ revered. Don’t view the organ as a modern physician: to them it is a simple pump. To the ancients it was the seat of life and reason and emotion. It is both emotion and intellect. Think Cupid, think Love. It is a heart that delivered the Hebrews from slavery. That is why John says “This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God….” And concludes: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” God is love, and the Sacred Heart is God. 1 Jn 4:7-16

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.  Mt 11:25-30

And a Sacred Heart calls us, it reaches out. Please note that early on I mentioned “the Good Shepherd” The Sacred Heart is a Shepherd, it is not an organ that simply pumps blood. Imagery is important.

A few days ago.. .

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A few short days ago the opening of the daily readings caught my eye. It began like this:

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, of the grace of God
that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,
for in a severe test of affliction,
the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty
overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

That got me thinking of Macedonia, and of Corinth. Paul talks of the Macedonians and he addresses the Corinthians. A tale of the Macedonian Churches to the churches of Corinth. Later I started reading about the bible that letter was from. It was not about one bible, but different versions of the same. Not only different versions, but also different languages. And then there were the opinions of those that read the same article as me. Some said, “I read this version, but nit that!” “This is good, that is garbage.” This is right and that is wrong. I can see tempers flaring and fists flying. Different communities, different opinions, different attitudes, and different conclusions. Liberal, and traditional, conservative, orthodox, reformed, modernist, futuristic, and labels I have not thought of yet. Scattered and varied, but they have one thing in common with those churches of Macedonia and Corinth. They all belong to the same Church, one Church universal. Each had their own conclusions, and opinions, and tendencies; but they allied with one Church and were part of that same voice. The voice of the Church. The varied voices tried to utter one sound, and how did they decide the sound to sing? They prayed.

 

*oh, those that stormed out of the room? protestants.

The dinner party

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The dinner party. All enter the fast food restaurant and place their order for burger and fries, sit around a table and start to talk. A casual conversation and a casual affair perhaps before a movie? The professional dinner, a call to entertain a client. It’s the sales pitch. The family dinner, communal, bonding and informational. There are a lot of ways people gather for a meal. Each influences the conversation, and each have their own purpose. The first century was no different. The dinner Jesus was invited to had its purpose, and it had its structure. The meal should not be taken out of context. Jesus was invited to dinner not as simple guest. Jesus was the reason for that meal, the meal was arranged around the Pharisee and Jesus. Lk 7:36—8:3 The event was the conversation between the two. The seating arrangement was formal with Jesus and the Pharisee occupying the central seat. Those of influence and importance sat close and within earshot, others a good distance away. Everyone certainly knew their place at the table, and in society. Formal, and rigid. One should remember that Jesus was a prominent member of society, and when he preached he drew enormous crowds. That is a well-documented historical fact.

The penitent woman, Mary Magdalene, knew her place in society. The Pharisee in the text announced it, and according to the rules of society she should have been distant from the main event. The Pharisee also announced that a sinner, a ritually unclean person, should never have contact with the likes of a Pharisee. In public a Pharisee would cross the street to avoid such a person. One can say they had a paralyses of fear regarding the unclean. In their beliefs sinners, unclean, cripples, the infirm, the blind, were all out of Gods favor. They were denied entry into heaven regardless of their actions. They need do nothing wrong to be cast into hell. Contact with such people could result in their own heavenly demise. Pharisees were separated by choice, fenced off by all that could harm them.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God loved us and sent his Son
as expiation for our sins.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Jesus was the polar opposite. He sought the infirm, the cripple, the unclean, and the sinner. If the penitent woman had not touched Him, He certainly would have reached out to her. Such is His nature. There is the dinner conversation. The difference in theology. Jesus sought those like the penitent woman so that they might gain entry into heaven. The Pharisees avoided them out if the fear that they might hinder their own heavenly aspirations. The dinner conversation is Jesus preaching God’s forgiveness. While sin might keep her from the LORD, her tears bring her back. That is the fundamental description of repentance and forgiveness. The dinner conversation gives reason for the confession of sins.

One burning question becomes how the Pharisees become so hardened towards the sinner, as scholars they certainly should have recognized their God as a God of forgiveness. The entire history of the people of the covenant is one of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. The first reading  2 Sm 12:7-10, 13 is a simple example of the sin of David in pursuing the wife of Uriah the Hittite. In the conversation about the event between David and Nathan, David recognizes his sin, and Nathan recognizes God’s forgiveness. This sin is but one sin of an individual, the sins of the nation are their history. And so is the LORDS forgiveness of sins. The Pharisees were formed from the Babylonian exile, an exile attributed to the sinful nature of a nation. Their presence in Judaea was the result of the collapse of their native Israel. According to their own history, weren’t they also outcasts? Shouldn’t they have clearly seen their God as one of compassion and forgiveness? What caused their hardness of heart? What caused them to deny their own sins, and to cast their sins onto another? Perhaps they should have learned a lesson from Mary Magdalene, her tears of confession and her humility, and her faith in the LORD. Her tears, an honest confession, and every aspect of her posture tells of her humility. Her posture also tells of her praise of God, she anoint His feet. Humility and adoration. She knew her place at the table, but also recognized where she needed to be in the eyes of the LORD. On the other hand the Pharisees knew where they wanted to be, and thought they knew how to get there, but somehow missed their mark. One has to wonder what happened after that meal. One should read the Psalms Ps 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11

Eleventh Sunday of ordinary time.

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Well, it certainly has been a busy liturgical week. First, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and then Mary’s followed by the eleventh Sunday. A day devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus always takes me by surprise, because to me all of Christianity is a celebration of that Sacred Heart. It took a bit of digging to find the reason for the formal declaration of that feast, and then a little more research to understand a few of the technical terms. The feast of the Sacred heart of Jesus was introduced to counteract some of the theology of the Calvinists and Jansenism that was popular in the 16 and 17 centuries. What took some research was learning a little about these movements, I have never been a member of either group and confess I have little interest in them. Both are described as Christian movements that were noted for their lack of Joy, to some they are the Christianity’s of eternal damnation and that is a variant I am most unfamiliar with. It causes me to pause when I encounter a Christianity without joy, but then to enter into the feast of the sacred Heart of Mary while pondering eternal damnation leaves me flabbergasted. If one cannot see the joy in either Christ or Mary, one is simply blind to the faith.

Christ after all enters the world with the jubilant display of Christmas, his annunciation is accepted by Mary with “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior. ” The sacred heart of Jesus without a doubt enters into creation joyfully. That whole idea of a joyless Christianity left my head spinning. When I entered Mary’s feast day, I remained dazed, but began to ponder both her day and Christ’s through the rosary. As I approached that thought of joyless Christianity, I meditated in the joyful mysteries of the rosary and they are the mysteries that so describe Mary. The Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation and fining of Jesus in the temple. They are the mysteries that always remind me no matter how much darkness there is, the Joyful is just around the corner.

Mary, and the sacred heart of Mary, is all about joyfully accepting Jesus, and being faithfully committed to God. Why then would Mary accept Christ with Joy, if He was to be all about morbidity? Quite the contrast, Jesus declares himself “the bread of life.” He declares himself “the way, truth, and life.” He tells those concerned with death to “let the dead bury the dead.” His was a ministry of life abd vitality, brimming with so much life that He could even bring the dead back to life. A doom and gloom Christianity I do not understand.

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

From these two great celebrations, I approach a Sunday of ordinary time. On this Sunday the mustard seed enters into the season for the first time, the smallest of seeds that becomes the largest of plants, and so often associated with faith. It tells of what one could accomplish if they have faith the size of a mustard seed. Again, I turn to the sacred heart of Mary to look at her faith. Her faith, and faith is likened to a mustard seed, was the joyful acceptance of God into her life despite the consequences. From her acceptance of the will of God at the Annunciation, which was a demonstration of her faith in God, came salvation. The Passion of Christ is Gods love for humanity. Our salvation is at the very heart of Jesus!

Faith the size of a mustard seed, became the size of the mightiest of trees. To look at what faith the size of a mustard seed can do, one only has to look at the faith in the Sacred Heart of Mary at the annunciation and all it has accomplished. It was her faith that introduced us to that Sacred Heart of Jesus, and today is the model of how to approach Christ. Faith the size of a mustard seed becomes the mightiest of trees. It was her faith that became the model of the Church.