Fourth Sunday of Advent in the Liturgical Year of 2020 – 2021

Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter frosty winds made moan

Earth stood hard as iron

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow

In the Bleak Mid-Winter long ago.”   Christina Rossetti

Think back to the days of childhood. Was there ever enough snow?  Nothing bleak about a beautiful, bountiful snowfall. The rush to breakfast, dress for school, last minute homework –all activity suspended, all sound sublimated to silence: traffic stopped—no one is driving at all; no horns blowing, no cop whistles.  Maybe the sound of a foghorn announcing School is closed.  After that, all is still.   All is hushed.  Oatmeal never tasted so good as on a snowy morning.

There is an inner child in us all, in whom our hopes and dreams are ever-present –even now when we, fully grown-up, might grouse, bemoan the shoveling, the icy obstacles to our best laid plans.  Yet even we men and women, waking up to a frosty morn, pause perhaps for yet one more cup of coffee, a deep breath, a long sigh, maybe even a nostalgic note of youthful fantasies before embarking upon our day.

I still dream of bountiful snowfalls. For me, this week’s meager 8 inches were a major disappointment.  Don’t you, too, long for a change from “busy, busy, busy?”  Even when we plan an expected day off, we plan and schedule much too much.  We need more Snow to SURPRISE US, drift us into empty space, nothingness, empty vessels awaiting fulfillment from God.  TIMELESSNESS, dear friends, is true Spirituality: A CONSCIOUSNESS of immanence, of the presence, the power that sustains beating hearts, pulsating lungs.  Advent, now beginning its fourth week, has been calling us to just that kind of “slow down,” inviting us to question how we choose to live out our days.

In some ways, this pandemic has been and continues to be a kind of Advent, a slowing down, an ever-expanding snowy day. Blanketed in sickness and death for millions, with millions more grieving, yet not without hope, not without cultivating in many of us a desire for self-care equally aligned with care for our neighbors. 2020 has heightened our sensibilities to our mortality—as the Cross of Jesus has been doing for 2,000 years. This year, Nature Herself has compelled us to attend to the vulnerable because of our own vulnerabilities in the same way Advent prepares us for deeper insights into Jesus.  We, the remnant, the survivors of the year, should be filled with gratitude and, hopefully, now more than ever, appreciating interruption, inconvenience, postponement as the means to be present to one another, aware of “God With Us” in life and in death. And is not PRAYER a postponement?  It interrupts our activities, however, essential, however important we deem them to be.  Why, to many Catholics, even MASS is an inconvenience.  But dare I say, at its heart, Mass is a respite, a pregnant pause for God not unlike the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary –a marvelous interruption!   Mass can be our “Snowy Day.”  And the Gospel today reveals that our Blessed Mother was remarkably prepared for it!

Have you ever thought of this:  what were Mary’s goals, hopes, dreams beforeGabriel appeared?  What were her plans for her day?  I am sure she was set to do all that was expected of her– kindling the household fire, fetching water at the well, kneading dough, sweeping for a lost coin.  And what of her life’s ambition, her long-term objectives?  Marriage to a rabbi perhaps?  Or another man of equal status or position? Did Joseph match her expectations or was it a match arranged by her parents? How did she come to love Joseph?  What kind of home did she envision for herself and her husband?  Did she want a large family — children, adorable children bustling about home and hearth?   We tend not to acknowledge this basic, entirely human dimension of Mary’s story because we often rush to the end and take much for granted along the way.  

Clearly, our Blessed Mother was invited to postpone her plans just as we have and will continue to do because life will always assault us with interruptions!  Yes, “the best laid plans of mice and men!”  Mary was humble enough to be open, to be fluid and flexible because she evidently devoted considerable time in her days to stop and be still, for pregnant paused to ponder Scripture, Sacred Prophecies, Holy Days, and rituals –to be mindful of God.  Her assent to Gabriel’s announcement could only have come if she had already cultivated a prayerful pace for living. Taking time to affirm for herself that she could believe, she would believe in a promised Messiah, before knowing that she would be the chosen vessel of his Incarnation.

In these final days of Advent, I invite us to carefully, mindfully, cultivate a Snowy Day Sensibility, A Marian Spirituality to live mindfully, moment to moment in HOPE, cultivating Faith’s WISDOM.  Above all, that means we must reclaim and acclaim Jesus as our model for daily living, for we, too, are vessels of Christ’s presence in this world.  2020 has made us ever more attentive to the realities of our human condition. Mary’s assent that we need a Messiah needs to be ours, too. Pause. Ponder. Be Still. Know who you are, continue to hold in your heart all that we are celebrating Now, this day, and Christmas Day, and onward to eternity.  Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Let it snow!

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent Liturgical Year 2021


See the source image

Readings: Second Sunday of Advent | USCCB

Each of us are invited to embody aspects of the Scriptures, especially, of course, the life of Jesus. I repeat this adage frequently to myself:  Everything about the Life of Jesus is meant to inform my own life –Yours, too!  In his time, John the Baptist embodied Isaiah’s Prophecy: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be made low;”

What do we make of Isaiah’s spiritual poetry?   What does it mean for mountains to be flattened and valleys smoothed?  Nothing less than all barriers to God are removed.  Images of tree lined paths upon the plains also remind us of the importance of humility, of being “grounded” in God. 

I found inspiration from a film I watched this week.  We live in a highly visually oriented culture, and most of us watch a considerable amount of films and television.  Therefore, we must keep what we watch in conversation with our faith.  The film I watched this time made it easy to do just that.  Entitled ‘THE HOLLY AND THE IVY,” this 1952 British film tells the story three adult children spending Christmas Day with their widowed father who happens to be the village parson.   These young adults have not lived model lives despite their father’s spiritual fervor and the strong morality and high ideals he impressed upon them.  It was not that dad was unsympathetic, nor was he an unforgiving man, yet the offspring never felt they could open their hearts and minds to their “Father” father.  From childhood to the very Christmas depicted in the film, they didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t express their difficulties, their hardships, mistakes, especially not their sins to Father Gregory for fear of causing him disappointment, or exasperating their guilt.  In this sense, “the mountains were too high,” the valleys too low.”  When, finally, the film reaches its climax and the children’s secrets are revealed, there is a powerful catharsis.  The mountains made low, the valleys filled, all from the freedom that comes from being known and understood. That, dear friends, is “the freedom of the children of God.”

The movie proved a great reminder to me that Goodness –however much we experience and strive for goodness –is not the same as “being REAL”—honest in our struggles with faith, hope and love.  Our religious practice must be grounded in “’down to earth” realities.  We are not called to flee in fear from confession, from Sacraments or from one another, but humbly acknowledge that while we strive to imitate Christ, holding ourselves accountable to righteousness and moral integrity,  we must accept each other for who we are and who we are not, refraining from judgment and condemnation in order to say to one another, “I understand,” “I, too, am tempted,”  “I too have failed.”

Do you see why we needed John the Baptist to prepare us for Christ?  Do you see how repentance and forgiveness are the path to Jesus? To encounter Christ, we need to be flattened out!  We need to be open, trusting.  We need to be REAL in order to be GOOD; not only to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but to live the lives our Savior intends us to live.

Optional Second Ending: May we resolve this very day –now with two Advent Candles lighting [JD1] our way– to support one another in prayer, uphold one another in the sacramental life, affirm our need for ongoing forgiveness, to live Christian hope and fortitude.  Indeed, allowing honesty and reconciliation to make straight our path to Jesus, we may indeed address the wrongs we commit and our world’s dysfunction.  Both. Truly.  And remember the path we are walking on is the stairway to heaven.  


 [JD1]

Suggestions for a Prayerful Thanksgiving (And FUN!)

BEFORE THE DAY BEGINS:  

  • Set DVR to pre-record Thanksgiving Day parade(s) and Football Games; pre-record or purchase/rent CHARLIE BROWN THANKSIVING or other cartoons
  • Book or Paper Copy of OVER THE RIVER & THROUGH THE WOODS by Lydia Maria Child * and other Autumn / Thanksgiving Poems such as The MIST & ALL (Keep aside until DESERT COURSE)
  • Community Games to Have on Hand:  Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash
  • A Card Table with Index Cards & pens/pencils, a Small Basket or Shoebox and One Sheet of Paper with these 2 “Treasured Gifts” Questions printed:
    • “What experience this year do I treasure most?”     
    •  “What gift have I received from last Birthday or Christmas to date that I still enjoy?”
  • Music via CD, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube (See item IX below)

II   DURING ARRIVALS and /or Hors D’oeuvres: Invite everyone to print on an index card or post-it their response to this question: “What experience have I treasured most this year?”  and /or “What gift have I received from last Thanksgiving or Christmas to date that I still enjoy?”  Place these “Treasured Gifts” papers in a small basket and place the basket on or near the dining table. During the first course, guests will try to guess who wrote what.

III TRADITIONAL GRACE “PLUS” Each guest identifies how they feel today using one “Feeling Word.” (“Happy,” “Sad,” “Thankful,” “Frustrated,” etc.)  No judgments allowed! Then, pray: “Dear God, Here We Are–Our family and friends–and these are the feelings we bring to this Thanksgiving Day.  Helps us understand the beautiful way You accept each us as we are. Make us confident in your love so that we may be at peace and feel your presence among us.  Help us to make the most of this meal, this day, and our time together.”  Then invite everyone to join in the Traditional Grace before Meals, OR if your company is of mixed religions, substitute the Christian Grace with this: “Blessed are YOU, Source of Life, God known by so many names, help us to experience GRATITUDE, for gratefulness is the pathway to mutual affection and the road to peace. Bless our Meal and our Conversation. Amen.”

III         FIRST COURSE ACTIVITY (Soup/Salad/Antipasto): Treasured Gifts: Each person takes a paper and reads it aloud. Guests try to guess who wrote it—i.e. match the statement with its author.  Once guessed, invite the person to share why he or she is thankful for this gift. 

IV         DURING THE MAIN MEAL: Invite each Guest to share his or her memories of the best Thanksgiving OR ANY SPECIAL MEAL that they have ever experienced and why it is an important memory for him or her.

V          AFTER THE MAIN MEAL PRAYER:  Thanksgiving is a Day of Gratitude which is a Day of Prayer. Before we take a break, I invite us to share our prayers for one another and others.  For whom and what should we pray?” Close with Psalm 121.

VI         AFTER MEAL WALKS & PRE-DESSERT CLEAN UPS: Postpone desert and encourage Physical Activity: walks outdoors or help in the kitchen if weather does not permit, Football fans can catch up on the game; Others PLAY COMMUNITY GAMES and/or access your DVR for the recorded PARADE(s) or Cartoons. 

VII       DURING DESERT:   

  1. Together recall the Thanksgiving Poem: Over the River and Through the Woods –After everyone has had a try reciting or singing a verse, pass around the copy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over_the_River_and_Through_the_Wood
  2. Invite guests to share any favorite poems, rhymes, riddles or Autumn memories.

VIII      EVERYONE JOINS IN FOR FINAL CLEAN UP (OR, if space limitations in the kitchen, create Two Teams:  Those who go for walks and/or into the living room; and those who help in the Kitchen.  Try to have each team mixed with all ages, both men/woman/boys/girls if possible.  Each team memorizes OVER THE RIVER—as many verses as possible. Afterwards, gather together and see which Team remembers the most. 

IX         SOCIAL TIME:

  • Community Games to Have on Hand:  Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash
    • Dancing: Access Music via CD, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube
      • Old Fashioned WALTZ; I recommend “O Mio Babbino Caro” sung by Kiri Tekanawa (CD: Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Verdi & Puccini Arias;
      • Celebrate Married Couples with “I Dreamed of You” by Barbra Streisand: (CD Barbra Streisand: A Love Like Ours;

X          Farewells As each person prepares to leave, ask if they would like a final Thanksgiving

Blessing.  If yes, the Hosts may place their hands on each guest’s head or shoulders and

pray the PRIESTLY BLESSING from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6: 24-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! “Conclude with “Safe home!  Godspeed!  God bless!”

OPTIONAL CHARITABLE COMPONENT TO THANKSGIVING DAY: INVTIE GUESTS TO BRING A SINGLE $ 1. BILL for each member of his or her family or party to participated in a PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME. Designate a charity and let them know what the dollars are for in advance OR have everyone vote on one of two or three choices before Grace (E.G, Catholic Charities for Puerto Rico Relief or Catholic Relief Services or Unicef.) Have some extra $1. bills around for those who forget.). The FIRST TIME anyone forgets to say Please” or “Thank You,” from the beginning of the Meal (after Grace) to end of dinner (i.e. “please pass the potatoes; thank you), he or she gets a WARNING.  The SECOND TIME he or she must surrender their dollar into a basket. Proceeds go to the previously announced charity. At the end of the day, people may contribute the Remaining Dollars or additional $ if they wish to the cause.   

More Details at https://frjamesdiluzio.com/2017/11/18/keeping-thanksgiving-spirit-filled/ 

Lydia Maria Child’s OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS

To Accompany Fr. James DiLuzio Facebook and YouTube videos reciting and singing the same

Over the river and through the wood,

    To grandfather’s house we go;

         The horse knows the way

         To carry the sleigh

    Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the wood–

    Oh, how the wind does blow!

         It stings the toes

         And bites the nose,

    As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the wood,

    To have first-rate play.

         Hear the bells ring,

         “Ting-a-ling-ding!”

    Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river and through the wood,

    And straight through the barn-yard gate.

         We seem to go

         Extremely slow–

    It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood–

    Now grandmother’s cap I spy!

         Hurrah for the fun!

         Is the pudding done?

    Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

These are variations:

The original piece had twelve stanzas, though only four are typically included in the song.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”

Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

The following verses appear in a “long version”:

Over the river, and through the wood,
with a clear blue winter sky,
The dogs do bark, and children hark,
as we go jingling by.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, “Ting-a-ling-ding!”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood,
no matter for winds that blow;
Or if we get the sleigh upset
into a bank of snow

Over the river, and through the wood,
to see little John and Ann;
We will kiss them all, and play snow-ball
and stay as long as we can.

Over the river, and through the wood,
trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound!
For ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood,
Old Jowler hears our bells.
He shakes his pow, with a loud bow-wow,[1]
and thus the news he tells.

Variations from http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Over_the_River_and_Through_the_Wood

Homily by Father James on the Gospel of Luke 15: 1-10 The Lost Sheep

Daily Scripture Readings may be accessed here: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110520.cfm

Usually when we hear the Parable of the Lost Sheep we think of other people –the relatives and friends who have left the Church, the people in prison for embezzlement, fraud, or violence, or those without any faith.  Today, however, I invite us to see ourselves as Lost Sheep, too, but as people whose faith affirms that Jesus will come and find us.

When we who receive the sacraments hold on to resentments, and brood over injuries—we are Lost Sheep.

When we pass judgment on others especially those who do not vote as we do, think as we do, live as we do—and we want to send them all to hell in a handbasket, we are Lost.

When we are absorbed with “compassion fatigue,” and refuse to hear one more story of anyone or group suffering or victimized, or worse, when we want to blame the victims, we are Lost.

When we despair and believe that nothing good will ever happen again—we are Lost.

Today, we must appreciate faith’s reality that Jesus comes looking for us.  We depend upon Him. We need Him.  For even in our commitment to faith, we delude ourselves that our attitudes are righteous, when, in fact, we are not Christ-like at all.  As we approach the Eucharist today, may we cry out to Jesus: “Here I am Lord. Find me here!” The Good News is Jesus has found us in the past, He is with us now, and he find us again and again and again. For we, the faithful, too, often lose our way. Come, Lord Jesus! Find us here. Inspire us to do your will.   

Luke Live Online Commentary: Luke 2: 21-40

In this section you will hear about Mary and Joseph observing the Mosaic Laws, dedicating their son to God and later, including him as a 12-year-old in the Passover celebrations at the great temple in Jerusalem.   I invite you to connect these stories to your experiences of sacraments of initiation—Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation—and/or other rituals and rites of passage such as bris, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, pilgrimages of any and every kind, be it to Lourdes or Jerusalem or Mecca or the Taj Mahal.  In addition, you may want to discuss your sensibilities about biblical prophecies and other forms of prophecy be they premonitions or hopes or expectations for yourself and for children in your life. 

Let’s explore with greater emphasis the benefits and burdens of rituals in our lives.  Sometimes we are drawn to them, sometimes they evoke ambivalence, and sometimes we anticipate them and flee!  Yet, we would be hard pressed not to allow some concrete explanations of their value.  In essence, rituals make public the inner personal dynamics and choices people make.  They affirm our inter-connectedness, that we belong to a people, a group, a faith or country, and, in terms of Christian Sacraments, that we belong to God and are part of Jesus’ story, perpetuating his love and truth throughout our lives.

Rituals make evident that we depend upon one another for support in life’s passages with all their corresponding joys and sorrows. I hope you take some time to use Luke’s brief but richly condensed portrait of Jesus’ childhood as a springboard for appreciating and understanding rituals in your lives.

          One of Luke’s primary purposes here is to show how Jesus and his parents are rooted in Judaism and are faithfully attentive to the God of Israel.  We also have here a wonderful example of the importance of multi-generations of faith and how the young and the old benefit from interacting with one another.  Many complain we no longer have true wisdom figures like Simeon and Anna among our seniors today.  Is that true or are we simply not paying attention to the elderly?  Or, if our seniors are feeling weary, maybe it’s because we do not draw them out, energizing them with our inquiries and interest.  And as for Simeon’s and Anna’s words—would that we all long for peace, consolation and the redemption of the world as they did.  What do we need from one another today to keep that hope alive?

Meditating on PROVIDENCE

I invite you to see my latest Luke Live Online! on YouTube and the reflection on the hand of God in all things to rejuvenate, transform, make good on the human condition and the vagaries of Nature. Faith –all the great faiths of the world invite trust in Providence. Every birth is willed by God –not its imperfections or illnesses–as a beginning toward transformation in this world of seeing, feeling, touching, being into an eternal communion. Go to:

Here’s a copy of the poem I read around in The Atlantic issue September 2018. The poem is by Carl Dennis and may be found in his collection NIGHT SCHOOL.

PROVIDENCE 

By Carl Dennis from his collection NIGHT SCHOOL 

PROVIDENCE seems to be one of the words

That shouldn’t be mourned as it falls from fashion.

Goodbye to the notion that whatever happens

Is meant to happen, foreseen and approved

By a thoughtful heaven.  A word that’s proven

Invaluable to the privileged when they’ve cautioned

The less-than-privileged to be content

With the portion that happenstance has assigned them. 

It’s the work of providence that you were born

To a sharecropping family on a hardscrabble farm,

Not to the family that owns the land. 

Goodbye to the word, and yet its disappearance

Might make it harder for the sharecropper’s daughter

To explain to her husband’s wealthy parents

Her reluctance to take a pill guaranteed

To make the baby boy she’s soon to bear

More handsome and clever than he would be otherwise.

Providential, meaning the baby for her

Is a gift meant to be welcomed as is, not a kit

To be assembled at home in the latest style.

A gift whether or not he later looks back

On his birth as providential or as a simple

Piece of good luck, providing him with a mother

Who would urge him to do the work

That pleased him most,

Work she believed he was meant to do. 

For more Commentary and Reflection on Luke 2, go to:

Commentary # 1 on Luke 2: 8-10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TeQ5jkm2Uc&list=OLAK5uy_kSpuk0fEKreIIDqDkJpGy2fzWsBz7hJ2I&index=10 Additional Reflections on Jesus’ Birth follow in Commentary # 2 and # 3 Below.REPLY

Commentary # 2: MORE reflections: The Angels Sing for You, too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoA1mPC1g1w&list=OLAK5uy_kSpuk0fEKreIIDqDkJpGy2fzWsBz7hJ2I&index=11REPLY

ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3KB__57iYWVIvWsnmIyPow

1. What was your experience of applying ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH to your birth?  

2.  For Christians, combining stories of Jesus’ birth and our births confirms our belief that His story is ours, and our stories are His.  The result: the very best of who we are reflects “Christ in us” to others.  Did the song exercise help you own that?  Why or why not?

3. For listeners of other faiths or philosophies, what song (and /or literature) would you use to affirm your birth, your goodness–the best of who you are? In what ways do you understand your scriptures to point to the ways you understand yourselves?

4. For Christians, what about our belief that God shares in all aspects of being human with us through Jesus, brings you the most comfort?  The most? What aspects of this belief that we call “The Incarnation” may challenge you or trouble you?

LUKE LIVE Online Session 8: CHAPTER 2: 1 – 7 accompanied with the Song Meditation: NIGHT OF SILENCE / SILENT NIGHT

Begin by going to my recitation of this passage with the accompanying Song Meditation. Simply copy this link and paste in your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X0Qw_Dq4T8 As you listen, you may follow along with the following text

The Birth of Jesus. [a]In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus[b] that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.[c] She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Night of Silence / Silent Night Counterpoint CREDITS

Kantor, Daniel © 1984 by GIA Publication, Inc. 7404 S., Mason Ave. Chicago, IL 60638;  http://www.ocp.org/compositions/30161

This arrangement by Paulo J. Almeida http://www.pauloalmeida.com/

Piano: Laurence Rosania http://www.ocp.org/artists/1268

Violin: Christiana Liberis  http://www.christianaliberis.com/

Cello: E. Zoe Hassman

Flute: Matthew Wright http://facebook.com/matthewalanwright

Oboe: James Mobley  https://www.facebook.com/jmdesignstudio

Glockenspiel / Bells: Paulo J. Almeida http://www.pauloalmeida.com/

Night of Silence / Silent Night Counterpoint

Cold are the people—winter of life

We tremble in shadow this cold winter night

Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping.

Will they ever echo the sunrise?

Fire of hope you’re are only warmth—

Weary!  You’re flame may be dying soon.

Silent Night, Holy Night,

All is calm, all is bright

‘Round young virgin, mother and child,

Holy infant so tender and mild—

Sleep in heavenly peace!   Sleep in heavenly peace!

Voice in the distance calls through the night

On wind you enfold us, you speak of a light!

Gentle on the ear you whisper softly

Echoes of a dawn so embracing!

Breathless love awaits darkened souls

Soon we will know of the morning!

Spirit among us, shine like a star!

Your light that guides shepherds and kings from afar.

Shimmer in the sky so empty, lonely

Rising in the warmth of your son’s Love!

Star unknowing of night or day

Spirit, we wait for you loving son!

You have just heard part of the traditional Christmas proclamation including Daniel Kantor’s Night of Silence with Franz Gruber’s Silent Night in counterpoint. 

  1. What feelings are evoked?

I love the fact that Kanter’s NIGHT OF SILENCE was composed as a counterpoint to SILENT NIGHT.  If you like, repeat the track, with your group singing verses of Silent Night to my singing NIGHT OF SILENCE. That experience, or just knowing about the song’s complementarity, offers a visceral understanding that unity and diversity can and must co-exist in our world for Peace to be realized. 

Luke Live Online Session 7: More Reflection on Zechariah’s BENEDICTUS

I am often asked why Luke was inspired to include the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist’s birth in relating Jesus’s story to his primarily Gentile audience.  Luke had to make evident to them that Jesus were rooted in Judaism which alone, among all other religions at that time, had identified one, true God. Furthermore, Luke’s listeners had to understand that God willed Jesus to manifest Israel’s prophetic teachings: the importance of an honest, reverent relationship with God over and beyond the temple cult, the insistence that we improve the quality of our relationships with others especially those who suffer from society’s neglect, disrespect or prejudice, those who lack opportunities for work and livelihood, and those who suffer from being sick and/ or disabled.  Also Luke’s Gospel will affirm the central Christian witness that God intended Jesus to inaugurate the Pharisaic belief in resurrection from the dead. The Jewish sensibility that the Messiah required a forerunner was an essential link to all of this.  Here ‘s my commentary on Zechariah’s Canticle “Blessed be, the Lord,” also known as “The Benedictus” (Latin for ‘Blessed’).   The same insights gleaned from Mary’s Magnificat apply here.  Moreover, Zechariah’s Canticle highlights even more dramatically how the vision of prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Malachi and others was about to be realized in a way. 

Since the Exodus, Israel professed God as the great Liberator, the One who frees people from oppression.  Ever after, faithful Jews insisted that what God had done for their ancestors, God would continue to do for them and for all who seek God with a sincere heart.   Zechariah embodies this belief as he rejoices that his people will now be “free from the hands of enemies” and “free to worship God without fear” i.e., without interference from worldly powers.   When Jesus began his public ministry in Nazareth, he, too, embodies this truth by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “God has anointed me … to let the oppressed go free.” 

Continuing with the Canticle, Zechariah makes clear that FREEDOM FROM OPPRESSION IS part of a progressive movement in which ultimately the entire world will accept God’s invitation to treat all people as equals–all peoples as children of God.   Each in their own way, the Hebrew prophets insisted that God had invited Israel to become the world’s leader in this progression that would ultimately achieve harmony and peace for peoples everywhere.  Through Judaism, and, for Christians, through Jesus, God invites humanity to return to the glory of Eden–the world as God intended it before free will turned much of humanity against God and God’s ways.  As Zechariah’s canticle continues, this concept becomes clearer. 

“Filled with the Holy Spirit,” Zechariah looks upon his son John and declares that this forerunner to Messiah will “give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God.”  This statement puts all peoples, all nations and all religions on equal footing.  Indeed, one common denominator for humanity is that “everyone needs forgiveness.”  Life and Hope cannot be sustained without it.   It is this honest and humble recognition that will move the world out of its tribal sensibilities (the “us” against “them” mentality) toward a universal brotherhood and sisterhood working out conflicts with equanimity.  

Of course, to forgive and receive forgiveness presents many challenges for us today as then.  The choices as to the degree of accountability that each act of forgiveness must include wreak havoc with our souls.  After all, it is not easy to decide how much, how little to exact from those who have harmed us or harmed others.  Indeed, there are times when making demands on offenders is fitting, just and right.  For example, there are times to insist that money lent to a relative or friend be paid back in full.  Such accountability empowers the relative or friend to mature, to take responsibility for his or her actions.  Other times, however, it may be best to wipe the slate clean and grant complete clemency.  In the case of abusive relationships, it is right and just to abandon the relationship altogether—especially when the abusive party makes no attempt to change or proves incapable of improving. Forgiveness, like all human values, requires faith, dialogue and discernment with others.

Taking all of this into account, we need to note that the Bible offers a progression in its examples of how and when forgiveness is offered.  One of the oldest biblical writings, for example, comes from Leviticus 24: 20 in which we find justice expressed as “an eye for an eye” which began to put limits on exacting justice.  Genesis, however, (stories and events documented generations after the older “legal texts” of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy[1]) offers us “the mark of Cain”—evidence of an even greater mercy.  You will remember God does not kill Cain for murdering his brother Abel.  Moreover, God’s mark on Cain forbids others to take revenge upon him (Genesis 4:8—16).  These sensibilities deepen over time throughout TANAKH and Jesus builds on these as evidenced n Matthew’s Gospel’s Sermon on the Mount (MT: 38—42) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6: 27—42).  These prescriptions reach their ultimate manifestation through Jesus himself when he cries out on the Cross “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”   Note that there is no exemption clause here—every one and all are forgiven.   Ultimately, when we take the Bible as a whole, it insists that accountability always leaves hope for the offending party, even as it grants us some satisfaction in terms of justice.  Hope is embodied in the opportunities it offers offenders to change, to make amends so that he or she can reclaim their inherent, basic, common human dignity.  Humanity’s survival is dependent on a universal commitment to forgiveness for genuine love to manifest itself and grow in the world. 

For Discussion:

  1. What biblical stories exemplify the importance of Zechariah’s pronouncement of the necessity for forgiveness of sins?  Consult the ways all world religions, world literature, drama, films, television stories offer catharsis through forgiveness. How do you relate to these stories?  How do they impact your understanding of forbearance, patience with yourself and others, mercy and forgiveness of yourself and others in your life?
  2. Recall your childhood experiences of forgiveness and accountability.  Was there a proper balance? How have these experiences informed your adult sensibilities?
  3. What are your personal experiences of forgiving and being forgiven as an adult?  How do you balance forgiveness and accountability in your life now? What criteria do you use? To what extent do the Golden Rule and Platinum Rule apply?
  4. In what ways might you be struggling with forgiveness and accountability today?  (Apply this to yourself as well as toward others.)
  5. What historical and contemporary world events challenge your faith tradition or alter your convictions about forgiveness and the balance of mercy and justice?

There are abundant resources that help us engage in the process of forgiveness—forgiving yourself, forgiving others.  See the corresponding page on the website for some suggestions:

There are abundant resources to explore forgiveness in your life.  Here are just a few:

Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn:

DON’T FORGIVE TOO SOON  (New York: Paulist Press, 1997)

http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/3704-6/dont-forgive-too-soon.aspx

HEALING LIFE’S HURTS: Healing Memories Through Five Stages of Forgiveness (New York: Paulist Press, 1988)   http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/2059-3/healing-lifes-hurts.aspx

Paulist Father Frank Desiderio’s Forgiveness Retreats: http://www.forgivenessretreats.org/

Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/do-the-right-thing/201403/forgiveness-4-helpful-strategies-do-it-better

The Center for Non-Violent Communication: https://www.cnvc.org/

[1] Genesis: Introduction by Jon D. Levenson in The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 11

Other sources include http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Book_of_Genesis:  composed “just before or during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century, and the Priestly final edition was made late in the Exilic period or soon after.”  FYI, scholars consider the OLDEST book of the Bible, the first to be recorded in writing is JOB.

EXPLORE Parallels between Zechariah’s Canticle and the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The Canticle of Zechariah parallel lines:
69 [t]He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, 70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
72 to show mercy to our fathers
 and to be mindful of his holy covenant
73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, 74  rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness
 before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lordto prepare his ways,
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God
    by which the daybreak from on highwill visit us
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
    to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL VS. 5 TO 7  Verse 5: O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;

make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain
  (Verse 4 has this line: “O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem (i.e. David), from every foe deliver them.”                             Verse 6: O come, O Day-Spring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadow put to flight.  Refrain   Verse 7:
O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all humankind;
O bid our sad divisions cease,
And be for us our King of Peace.  Refrain

1. What feelings are evoked by listening to this portion of the hymn?

2. You’ve noticed that the hymn makes reference to the importance of Davidic descent in ancient Judaism and this concept of a “royal family” exists in many times and cultures. From ancient times up to the late middle ages, the world valued ancestral blood lines in leadership and revered them.  Of what benefit is that to us today?  Can we translate the importance of an ancestral line to a modern mindset?  If so, how?  If not, why?

3. Invite discussion on the many ways religious and spiritual leaders build on their predecessors’ lives and actions.  What can we learn from this dynamic? 

Luke Live! Online: Reflection on Mary’s Prayer THE MAGNIFICAT

The Canticle of Mary. 46 And Mary said:*

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

48 For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

49 The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.

51 He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

53 The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,

55 according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Now let’s take a closer look at the words of Mary’s prayer that you have just heard. Tradition identifies this prayer as “The MAGNIFICAT.” “Magnificat” is a Latin word. Its English equivalent is the word “magnifies.”  The Christian tradition translated Luke’s original Greek into Latin and from Latin into English with the phrase “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Scholars who created the New American Bible translation chose the word “proclaims” in this context.  Thus you heard Mary say in this translation, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Other translators coined these phrases: “My heart praises the Lord” (Good News translation), “My soul glorifies the Lord” (NIV), “My soul exalts the Lord” (New English Bible).  The Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Versions (NRSV) returned to the more classic English translation “My soul magnifies the Lord” as do all of the King James versions. 

To magnify is to enlarge—i.e., to make God’s greatness more evident. The words “praise” and “proclaim” accomplish the same purpose. The more we praise God, the more opportunity for people to ponder God and God’s greatness.  Both Christians and Muslims see Mary’s willingness to conceive and give birth to Jesus as a perfect witness to God’s greatness.  Her willingness to trust God in this miraculous conception also emphasizes the importance of surrendering to God’s will.   And even though Mary is not part of the Hebrew Scriptures, her cooperation with God, which we call GRACE in this moment, concretizes her Jewish sensibilities inherent in the words of Psalm 79, verse 13: “We, your people, will give thanks to you forever; through all ages we will declare your praise.”   Also Psalm 111: 3: “Majestic and glorious is God’s work, God’s righteousness endures forever.”  Thus Mary can rightfully say, “from now on will all ages call me blessed,” and “God’s mercy is from age to age.”  Remember, Grace has an uncontainable quality that extends far beyond any one individual or group or place or time.  Indeed, many faiths and philosophies uphold that “goodness begets goodness,” ‘truth strengthens truth,” and that “love knows no boundaries.”  

In Mary’s prayer we also find affirmation of the great reversal promised in the Hebrew Scripturestraditionally called TANAKH[1]: “the poor will be exalted, the exalted humbled.” Most notably there is the Song of Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel 2: which contains phrases such as

“My heart exults in the Lord, 

my strength is exalted in my God.

 Speak boastfully no longer nor let arrogance issue from your mouths.  The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, 

while the hungry batten on spoil. 

The Lord makes poor and makes rich. He humbles, he also exults. 

He raises the needy from the dust; 

from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.” 

Clearly the Divine Action is to reconcile peoples to their proper state of living:  a celebration of our common humanity—everyone standing before God as equals.  This is a “great reversal,” indeed, for so much of human history progressed—just as our world continues to progress—at other people’s expense.  God’s reversal through prophets and through Jesus insists that we implement checks and balances on progress for everyone’s mutual benefit.  Indeed, the biblical vision obliterates the importance of status and heritage because they distract us from the common vision that we are all one.  Ultimately, social rankings are illusions.  At the end of each and every day, everyone needs air, water, food, clothing shelter, sleep and, yes, toilet facilities.  We must not take any aspect of our humanity for granted.  The Book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “As they came forth from their mother’s womb, so again shall they return, naked as they came, having nothing from their toil to bring with them.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:14)

When all social divisions cease, every person is as important as another.  This is humanity’s one, unifying vision: Every individual is an instrument of Providence.  Believers are invited to live daily in awe and wonder that we are able to experience life and love because of God and through God.  The Catholic liturgy proclaims God as the one “In whom we live and move and have our being.”  (This is a direct quote from the Book of Acts 17: 28.) In secular terms, gratitude for life itself breeds humility which, in turn, brings people together.   

INTRODUCTION TO AVE MARIA

         Now I invite you to collect your feelings and thoughts about THE GREAT REVERSAL, AND THE ANNUNCIATION AND VISITATIONS PASSAGES through my song meditation, Schubert’s AVE MARIA.  The words are Latin but they comprise Luke 1, verses 28 and 42.  Verse 28 recalls the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary that preceded the Visitation passage you just heard. Gabriel calls out to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The next line of the prayer and lyric echoes Elizabeth’s words to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  For Christians these words are an affirmation of our belief in the “Incarnation,” God entering into human history as a human being.  We’ll explore that further in subsequent tracks.  I invite listeners from other faiths to meditate on the ways your religions affirm God’s presence in the world through people of good will in all times and places. 

The song’s second verse addresses Mary as Mother of God, that is, of Jesus. Christians believe Jesus to be both fully God and fully human—the complete manifestation of God to the material world.  Both aspects of Jesus are inseparable, therefore Mary is the mother of the ONE who is both God and human. That is followed by a prayer of petition that Mary will pray for us now and at the hour of our death so that we may be with God for all eternity.   These themes also have secular counterparts that can be part of your discussion with relatives and friends who hold other faiths or maintain more secular perspectives.  

“Full of grace” is to be blessed, to be congratulated, to be filled with good news, good thoughts–to be caught up in a life-affirming enterprise.  Prayer, which comprises the second part of Hail Mary, for example, is an active expressions of HOPE in eternal life.  Its secular counterpart is the concept of horizon—a reality that can be seen or envisioned but not fully grasped because, like the horizon itself, it beckons only to recede further into space and time.  Recede though it may, the impact of horizon—magnificent sunrises and sunsets–lingers and we are able to grasp some of its energy and inspiration in the here and now.   Here then is Schubert’s AVE MARIA.  Additional commentary with questions for discussion will follow. 

 Here are links to two of my recordings of AVE MARIE -one Audio Only with Instrumental Ensemble from my CD The Gospel of Luke In Word and Song; The second is a Video with piano accompaniment by Laurence Rosania.

Latin Catholic prayer versionLiteral English Translation 
Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Maria, gratia plena,
Maria, gratia plena,
Ave, Ave, Dominus,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris (tui),
Ventris tui, Jesus.
Ave Maria!

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Ora, ora pro nobis;
Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc et in hora mortis,
In hora mortis nostrae.
In hora, hora mortis nostrae,
In hora mortis nostrae.
Ave Maria!
Hail Mary, full of grace,
Mary, full of grace,
Mary, full of grace,
Hail, Hail, the Lord
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed,
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Thy womb, Jesus.
Hail Mary!

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Pray, pray for us;
Pray for us sinners,
Now, and at the hour of our death,
The hour of our death.
The hour, the hour of our death,
The hour of our death.
Hail Mary!

For more on Schubert’s AVE MARIA, see: 

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Ave_Maria_(Schubert)


[1] I want to emphasize the Hebrew word TANAKH in sensitivity to our Jewish friends.  What Christians call “The Old Testament” is actually the writings of The First Covenant, i.e. God’s covenant with Israel—the descendants of Jacob aka Israel.  The Covenant through Jesus for Christians is truly a Second Covenant. The Jews call their books TANAKH and so we respect them by using this title rather than “Old Testament.”  Contemporary Christians affirm the validity of God’s Covenant with Israel grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Romans 11: 29 and in the Catholic Ecumenical Council known as Vatican II (1963-65) in the document NOSTRA AETATE (“In Our Time”) See

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html  In truth the people of Christian History have been disrespectful of Judaism and contributed to anti-Semitism and violence against the Jewish people.  Yet, Judaism constitutes the very foundation of Jesus and therefore Christianity.  In that way our ancestors neglected to observe the Fourth Commandment (Catholics) aka Fifth Commandment (Orthodox Christians and Protestants): Honor your Father and your Mother.