Monday, December 28, 2015

Celebrating Silver: Sealed with Surprises, Gifted with Grace

Twenty-five years ago, the “ask” to senior prom wasn’t as creative as it is these days.  Nor was the typical marriage proposal!

Maybe it was just us and our otherwise knuckle-headed friends, but there were few elaborately planned and extravagantly executed proposals. It was typically a matter of picking the right time and place and then hoping for the best.

Our not-so-clever engagement involved a decent dinner out (“Hyde Park’s Answer to the California Fern Bar”?!).  The evening started with my uncharacteristically pushy request for a back corner table, followed by awkward small talk, and then a nervous toast after Tracy had had enough to eat and before my dinner had gone completely cold.  In other words, strategic thinking at its best :) 

The toast was simple, but in its own way perhaps prophetic:

“To the surprise of the Sacraments, and a lifetime of adventures in grace.”   

In some ways, the marriage proposal managed to surprise both of us; since we were among the first of our friends to get married, it probably came as a surprise to many others as well.  Since cell phones were not yet legion, we had to scurry back to a land-line in order to share our joy with family and friends across the country.

Central New Jersey at the end of December may not seem like a destination wedding by today’s standards, but it was absolutely magical.  Aunts and Uncles who had never ventured near NYC flew in through a snowstorm.  The quiet parish church was packed, and it somehow felt like there was a heavenly host of helpers joining us through the ceremony.  Immediately after we had exchanged our vows, Tracy’s legendary sigh (or was it a gasp?!) brought down the house.

At the reception, two memorable toasts reiterated themes from the powerful homily at the wedding, reminding us: 1) the main work of a husband and wife is to help each other get to Heaven; 2) from those who have been given much, much will be expected.  A vocation to Christian love is serious business, we were reminded.  But we were young and so took the challenge as an exhortation.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why a Child with Many Names is Much Loved

One of my mother's favorite sayings is that "a child with many names is much loved".  Why is this the case?  Because mom says so, of course!

Why it may be true that we created nicknames for all of our high school and college buddies as some odd sign of affection, there may be other reasons why this Child has so many names. Holy Mother Church spends the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve by sharing ancient titles for our coming Lord, as if the Christ Child is supposed to be most loved. After all, this Child offers a path by which all children can receive the gift of supernatural adoption; he invites people everywhere to the liberating life of spiritual childhood--radical trust in the love of a Father who calls each of us by name.

From December 17th-23rd, these "O Antiphons" are used as the Gospel acclamation at daily Mass and as the Magnificat antiphon in evening prayer. These names offer us different glimpses into the multifaceted identity of the Lord of Lords.

As you reflect on the list below, consider whether there is one that speaks to your heart at this point of your faith journey.  Perhaps it is one that reminds you of a familiar line from a classic Advent hymn; perhaps it is one that offers a renewed perspective on the Promised One, whose path to meet us was prepared from the beginning of time: 

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Christ's Church of Mercy Opens the Door

Opening a Holy Door for the Father of Mercy

A merciless paganism coerces people into its way of life.
A church without mercy "meets people where they are"
but fails to lead them where they really want to be.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to a fresh start,
even when people feel stuck,
inviting them to a new Way, Truth, and Life.

A merciless paganism insists that we live in a gray, colorless world.
A church without mercy embraces “living in the gray”
but fails to help people see that the Light still shines in the darkness.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to the full spectrum of beauty,
often shrouded in a dreary world,
giving people hope for the coming Kingdom.

A merciless paganism glorifies perfect people and disposes of the rest.
A church without mercy reassures people that "nobody’s perfect"
but fails to help them realize that everybody’s perfectible.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to heavenly perfection,
hand-made for the imperfect,
giving thanks to the One for whom nothing is impossible.

A merciless paganism judges people, not actions.
A church without mercy fears sounding "judgmental"
but thereby acts in complicity with sin.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to distancing sinners from their sins,
even the most egregious,
showing that God's gratuitous grace can make all things new.

A merciless paganism preaches self first,
others next (when convenient), and god third (whatever that means).
A church without mercy affirms trying to be good to others and self
but not for the greater glory of God.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to putting First Things first,
even when they are not politically convenient,
affirming God's presence in and through our works of mercy.

A merciless paganism claims that revenge is justice.
A church without mercy thinks a Year of Mercy is just and right
but hopes it doesn’t require personal and communal conversion.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to Justice in the flesh,
even as the answer to our deepest longings,
recognizing that God became human so that human beings might become divine.

A merciless paganism champions a fatherless world.
A church without mercy doesn't mention the Father for fear of offending
but doesn't fear offending the Father.
Christ's Church of Mercy opens the door to a hero's welcome Home,
even after years of wandering,
rejoicing in the tender embrace of Jesus' Abba, our dear Papa.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Pray for Us!

St. Maximilian Kolbe had a world-changing devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title she herself disclosed at Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception." As founder of the "Militia of the Immaculata," he envisioned a spiritual army of faithful sons and daughters who would lead the whole world to Jesus through the intercession of their Immaculate Mother.

Here is Kolbe's prayer to Mary Immaculate on the patronal feast day of the United States--and the day Pope Francis has chosen to open wide the holy doors of St. Peter's Basilica for the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy:

"I greet you, ever-blessed Virgin,
Mother of God, throne of grace, miracle of almighty power!
I greet you, sanctuary of the most Holy Trinity and Queen of the universe,
Mother of mercy and refuge of sinners!
Most loving Mother,
attracted by your beauty and sweetness and by your tender compassion,
I confidently turn to you and beg of you to obtain for me of your dear son
the favor I request in this prayer (here mention your request).

Obtain for me also, Queen of Heaven,
the most lively contrition for my many sins
and the grace to imitate closely those virtues which you practiced so faithfully
especially humility, purity, and obedience.
Above all I beg you to be my mother and protectress,
to receive me into the number of your devoted children,
and to guide me from your high throne of glory.
Do not reject my petitions, Mother of mercy!
Have pity on me, and do not abandon me during life
or at the moment of my death.

Daughter of the Eternal Father,
Mother of the Eternal Son,
Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Temple of the adorable Trinity,
pray for me.

Immaculate and tender Heart of Mary,
refuge of the needy and hope of sinners,
filled with the most lively respect, love, and gratitude,
I devote myself forever to your service,
and I offer you my heart with all that I am and all that belongs to me.

Accept this offering, sweet Queen of Heaven and earth,
and obtain for me of your dear Son, Jesus Christ,
the favors I ask through this prayer.
Obtain for me also a tender, generous, constant love of God,
perfect submission to his adorable will,
the true spirit of a Christian,
and the grace of final perseverance.