Monday, December 25, 2017

Hail and Blessed be the Hour and the Moment...

A Traditional Prayer to Obtain Favors

Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment
in which the Son of God
was born of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.

In that hour vouchsafe, O my God,
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of his Blessed Mother.


Monday, December 18, 2017

"Do Not Be Afraid"?!

As the Nativity of our Lord approaches, God continues to send his holy angels with the exhortation, "Do not be afraid!"

In response to the part of us that might be tempted to imagine God as a legalistic judge who is trying to catch us being bad, we need to hear the reminder, "Do not be afraid!"  The Christ child waits for us to draw close to the manger in Bethlehem so that he can reach out and grab hold of our finger with his perfect little hand.

In response to the part of us that might think God just wants us to try to be a nice person (if and when we can), we need to hear the reassurance, "Do not be afraid!"  Mary and Joseph prove that the path of holiness is possible for anyone who is ready with a humble "yes" to the Presence among us, moment-by-moment and day-by-day.

In response to the part of us that might imagine God as somewhere "out there," indifferent to our worries and sufferings, we need to hear the invitation: "Do not be afraid!"  The Nativity scene calls us to lay our burdens before the Child in swaddling clothes, since he knows that we come not with gold, frankincense or myrrh, but only with our "issues."

In response to the part of us that might whisper we are not worthy to live in friendship with God, we need to hear the rebuke, "Do not be afraid!"  After all, Jesus is born to die not because we are already perfect but because the gift of his grace makes us absolutely perfectible.

In response to the part of us consumed by compulsive coping mechanisms and craven by disordered consumption, the God who IS simply smiles:  In the pre-verbal Word made flesh, whom Mary and Joseph carry forward into history, we encounter the reason for our hope; we then head out to share the conviction with all those we meet--"Do not be afraid!"

Monday, December 11, 2017

Guadalupe and Gaudete: An Advent Ode

Virgen de Guadalupe

God's merciful plan envisioned from eternity
longs to join heaven and earth in Her maternity.

Ancient people chosen in God's holy covenant,
salvation from slavery for a faithful remnant.

Then a singular grace precedes Paschal Mystery:
an Immaculate Heart transforms human history.

Beloved Daughter of the Father, Spouse of the Spirit,
Mother of the Son whispers Love so all can hear it.

Down the centuries God's kingdom continues to come,
until December roses cause distant hearts to hum.

Blessed Virgin identifies and sides with the least;
on behalf of all peoples, She slays the ancient beast.

United in spirit under Her motherly cloak,
siblings without borders break division's weary yoke.

Peace and healing come through Her dear Child, God's holy Word,
Multilingual voices sing praise with "Joy to the World"!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Who Chooses to be Poor?

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who...emptied himself, taking the form of a slave."

(Phil 2:5-7)

A recent CARA survey revealed that 50% of American Catholics said that a lack of effort is generally to blame for a person's poverty (vol. 23, no. 2, Fall 2017).

Maybe it's time for an Advent gut-check: Do I really think that people who have been born into generational poverty just aren't trying hard enough to get out?  Do I really think that there are no social structures in place which powerfully impact those living in poverty?  If so, then the myth of a "wealth and wellness gospel " has clearly taken root in my heart: My successes in life are all a result God's blessings in reward for all of my heroic efforts--me, his worthy servant.

The reality of God's self-revelation cuts against this attitude of blame and shame toward the poor.  After all, no one chooses to be born into poverty, except the Son of God.  

But why does the Incarnate God choose to be born poor?  Clearly it is not to provide a context for some amazing "rags to riches" story line of worldly success, since the King of Kings also chose to die stripped and dispossessed on a cross--which wasn't even his own.

Moreover, the Lord shows no disdain for the alleged "lack of effort" of the poor when he proclaims that: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor" (Lk 4:18)?  We might even have to admit that he shows a preferential love of the poor when he begins the Sermon on the Plain with, "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours" (Lk 6:20)!

These not-so-subtle--and rather shocking--words from the Word made flesh should signal the
type of attitude we must have as disciples of Christ Jesus.  Ours should be an attitude of solidarity with the poor--an attitude of voluntarily divesting ourselves of riches, just as the Son of God himself did.

The temptation to think about the "worthy" and the "unworthy" poor may be a particularly appealing form of idolatry to Americans.  This is certainly a land of great opportunity, but the myth of the "American dream" implies that opportunity is equally available for all.  It assumes that wealth is a blessing, and yet conveniently ignores Jesus' blunt warning, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Lk 6:24).

Maybe American Christians find it difficult to prepare for the coming of an impoverished Savior because of our surfeit of earthly riches.  Maybe we are simply content with our finite consolations, and thus unable to open ourselves to the Infinite rewards which the kingdom of God can alone deliver.

Let's pray that this Advent brings a renewed spirit of evangelical poverty into our so-easily hardened hearts:  May we prepare anew to welcome that Child, "dressed in swaddling clothes," and then journey with his Holy Family empty-handed into exile.  After all, as Dorothy Day observed, "The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor." 

Love sees such things, which is why Jesus says to each of us and to all: "Watch!"