Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tragic news from up north

Someone sent me this; I can't resist posting it....

Friday, December 19, 2008

"They will all come true in due season."

In today's Gospel, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah the priest about the upcoming miraculous birth of his son-to-be, John the Baptist. Zechariah is skeptical, but Gabriel says that his words "will all come true in due season."

Those words struck me. Often it can seem like God's promises are "pie in the sky." When we're stuck in the ordinariness of life, dealing with problems, God's promises seem so remote. It's easy to slip into bad habits, to forget about praying and to lose sight of the spiritual realities of life. Jesus talks about this in another Gospel passage, when he says that if the servants knew when the master of the house would return, they would stay alert. But if he delays, they start to carouse, get drunk, neglect their work...and then the owner shows up when they least expect it and they're out of their jobs!
Advent is all about waiting. So often, God seems to delay. But his words "will all come true in due season." This is even true in regard to our physical health. We can go for a long time and indulge in over-eating, or load up on greasy fries and trans-fats, while never exercising, etc. And for a while everything seems OK, and we seem healthy. But inside our bodies, the plaque is building up in our arteries and one day a stroke or heart attack will take us by surprise. But is it really so surprising? (With this I'm not trying to blame anyone for their health problems, because many things are due to genetic or other factors beyond our control. I'm just saying that some things we do can be harmful over time.)
Spiritually, it's similar. Little things add up over time. Every time we make a choice to pray, or to participate in the Mass, or go out of our way to help someone, we're building spiritual muscles. As St Paul says, "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due time we will reap our reward."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"swaddling clothes"

I hope your Advent is going well! Today something struck me that I never thought about before. Sometimes a word that we hear so often strikes us in a new way. Today, that word for me is "swaddling." The phrase "swaddling clothes" used at Christmas is so familiar. But the thought struck me, "What does swaddling really mean?" So I looked it up in the dictionary, and it comes from an Old English word meaning to wrap a baby up in bands. By extension, another meaning is to refer to limitations or restrictions placed on someone, especially an immature person. Only Luke uses the Greek word sparganoo and this means "to wrap in baby clothes."
So Mary wrapped Jesus up in baby clothes. It reminded me of the part in Genesis, shortly after the fall, when God made clothes for Adam and Eve. It's a very tender detail; even after they sinned, God still took care of little things like that for them!
The idea of being wrapped up is a symbol, perhaps, of the limitations that the Word of God took on at the Incarnation. As Paul says so beautifully in Philippians, Jesus humbled himself, emptied himself, gave up everything out of love for us. In Jesus' being bound in swaddling clothes, perhaps we can see a hint of how he would later be bound for our sins.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Immaculate Conception of Mary

Today is a wonderful Marian feast--the Immaculate Conception of Mary. (It's also my birthday--I've always liked having my birthday on this feastday!)
Sometimes this feast is confused with the virgin birth, but they are two different things. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary's own conception as being free of original sin. In other words, Mary had the special privilege of always being free of sin, and she was full of grace. The virgin birth, instead, refers to how Mary conceived and bore Jesus while remaining a virgin.

This is a great feast because it anticipates what we will one day be: free of sin and confirmed in grace--when we reach heaven. So today holds out for us the hope of eternal life. Unlike us, Mary always said yes to God. That didn't mean she had an easy life. She certainly had much suffering, especially when she saw Jesus die such a painful death.
Today's Gospel is Luke's account of the annunciation. It ends with Mary's beautiful words, "Let it be done to me according to your word." The Greek verb used there for "let it be done" (genoito) is a rare form of the verb. It's in the optative mood, which expresses a strong desire to do something. The grammar involved shows that Mary expressed not only a desire, but a joyful desire. Mary did not say "yes" reluctantly, worrying about what it would mean in her life and how she would explain things to Joseph. Instead, she was eager to do what God was asking of her. Mary's "yes" is a willing yes, an eager yes, a yes that overflows with her love. This isn't just a pious thought, but is based on the actual Scriptural text.

May we too, like Mary, be as eager and joyful in our service of God.