New Years is the one holday celebrated by peopel everywhere. They celebrate heaven brnging an orderly world out of the original chaos.

Tuesday, 1/1/13

When I was young the Catholic name for New Year’s Day was the “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord.” With teachers having trouble explaining that to little girls, the Church switched to calling it “The Octave Day of the Nativity.” But, then, the Church gave up on celebrating octaves.

That had them settling on calling it “The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.” Seeing that we have a Gospel in which Mary reflects on everything in her heart, naming the feast for her motherhood seems like a good idea. However, as Catholics we have always been proud of the deep roots of our liturgies, so we don’t like our feasts to keep switching names.

What we should do is take notice that New years is the one holiday that is celebrated by all nations and peoples. It might not hurt us to be in step with the rest of the world. Now, what all other people celebrate at New Years is the creation of the world. Why shouldn’t we too celebrate that?

When those other peoples celebrate creation they don’t commemorate God’s making everything out of empty space. No, they believe that chaos had always existed. For them, creation consisted in heaven bringing order out of the original chaos. That might sound foreign to us, but actually our Bible starts in the same way. The opening line of Genesis is  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth the earth was a formless wasteland.” The original Hebrew for “formless wasteland” was tohu-bohu which sounds like clothes being flung around in a dryer.

An odd thing about the New Years celebration for all primitive peoples is that it consists in acting out their own creation myths. All those people believe that heaven showered the world with blessings on the day of creation. Their myths follow that up with the story of the first people doing something awful, which is their version of eating the forbidden fruit. That caused the gods to run away, wanting to have nothing more to do with sinful peoples.

Primitive peoples act out their creation myths in the hope that they can make the gods think they are back at the beginning when people were innocent. They try to trick the gods into coming back, once again showering the world with blessings.

There is a little of that ancient tradition in the second reading of today’s Mass when we plead to God to “let his face shine” on us.

In the first chapter of his Gospel John told the Greek world that the God of nature existed before creation, then became flesh in the Person of Jesus.

Monday, 12/31/12
Our Gospel, which is the first chapter of the Gospel according to John, is concerned with the Word. We must understand what the Word meant to the Greek audiences for whom John wrote this Gospel.

In ancient times the Greek people had believed in Zeus and the other gods living on Mount Olympus, but the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle brought them to believe in a single God.

A century after those three great philosophers, another influential philosopher named Zeno came along. When the established schools of Plato and Aristotle kept Zeno from teaching in their academy, he addressed his followers from the steps of that academy: and since the Greek word for steps was stoa, people called Zeno and his followers the Stoics.

Now, following Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics taught that there was only one God. What was different about their teaching was that they saw God not as standing apart from nature, but as the beautiful core of nature and humanity. They taught that we all become more Godlike by becoming less a matter of material. They said we did that by developing the scholarly and artistic sides of our human nature, so that the Logos is allowed to shine forth. So, the religious outlook of the Stoics was a good thing. It had people disciplining themselves to become learned and virtuous.

On the Feast of the Holy Family we should show kindness to forgotten brothers and sisters everywhere..

Sunday 12/30/12

A picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus together in the stable turns our thoughts to family life. We call this day the Feast of the Holy Family, but on this day, going beyond Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we thank God for what wonderful things our families can be.

The First Reading from the Book of Sirach supplies us with a grand list of benefits that come to those who are good family persons. They atone for their sins, and are helped at avoiding sins. When they pray they are heard. They store up riches in heaven. They, in their turn, will be gladdened by others. They will live long lives.

Those rewards are particularly meant for young people. But what family life can old people have? Well, instead of grieving over being neglected, they must get out of their selves. They must restore family cheer to others who are alone.

Once when someone standing nearby told Jesus that members of his family were waiting to see him, Jesus told them that his family was very large. He said it included all men and women, old and young, who attempt to live according to God’s law.

Look around you. All the people you see are God’s children. He loves this one, that one, and that one too. He appreciates it no end when you become a brother or sister to any  lonely ones who are his children.

Whoever hates his brother is in darkness.

Saturday, 12/29/12

In his First Letter St. John says, “Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going.” Taking that statement to heart could help many people clear up the confusion in their lives.

People who are confused and muddled could clear their minds by ridding themselves of vestiges of hatred. By letting our minds replay over and over our dislike for those damned Democrats, or those damned Republicans we tie up our channels, leaving no lines clear for observing and appreciating the beauties of nature and the kind things people are doing all around us. We get hooked into ways of thinking that have become like flypaper from which we  can’t disentangle ourselves.

All hatred is based on mistakes. Get rid of hatred, then, as Zechariah said for us Saturday, “The dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.”  

This year on the Feast of the Holy Innocents we should pray for the families of those twenty innocent children murdered in Newtown Connecticut.

Friday, 12/28/12
On this feast of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents we would do well to turn our sorrow to the families of the twelve girls and eight boys who were slaughtered in Newtown Connecticut on December 15. I am offering Mass today for those children and for their families.

We cannot be sure that Herod brought about the death of the children of Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. Of course we have that story in Matthew’s Gospel, where Matthew next told us that Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt where they remained until after the death of Herod. Matthew went on to say that they then came back to Jerusalem, but since Herod’s son Archelaus was ruling there, they went and settled anew in Nazareth.

What Matthew told us is entirely different from what St. Luke wrote. According to Luke, Mary and Joseph had always lived in Nazareth before the child was born, and they returned there just forty days after his birth.

The Bible stories very often are not factual. Their writers had some message or moral to convey, and they chose traditional stories that helped put across their point. Luke chose one set of infancy stories that were going around, and Matthew chose another set of infancy narratives about jesus.

Anyway, today it is good for us to have this old feast to help us remember and pray for the children and families of Newtown Connecticut.

The Gospel of John presents John as a symbol of love in the Church, contrasted with Peter, the symbol of authority.

Thursday. 12/27/12

Today we honor St. John the beloved disciple. Our Gospel story is one of several that pair and contrast Peter an John. In today’s reading they both run, but John runs faster. However, on reaching the tomb John waits to let Peter enter before him.
We might take this story along with the story of the Last Supper when John was laying against the breast of Jesus, Peter told him to find out which of the disciples would betray Jesus, and John did what Peter told him to do.
We see them again partnered in the last chapter of the Gospel when John’s heart tells him that the man on the shore is Jesus, but he lets Peter dive in to be the one to meet up with Jesus.
Taking all these stories together we are brought to see Peter and John as symbols. Peter symbolizes church authority, while John symbolizes personal holiness that brings one closer to Jesus.
In recognizing John’s role Peter tells us that church authorities must honor holiness. In recognizing Peter’s authority John shows us that respect for church authority must be a part of a holy life.

Seeing that the men who stoned Stephen thought they were doing the right thing, we should give our enemies the benefit of a doubt.

On the Feast of St. Stephen I always like to say a word for the men who stoned him. Sure, they did a terrible thing, but their religious convictions made them feel they were doing the right thing.

St. Luke, in his “Act of the Apostles” identified Stephen’s killers as “members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen.” He went on to say they were Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia.

Let’s look at the way their synagogue came about. Rome had a way for preventing rebellion from the Jews scattered around all of the Mediterranean’s ports. Rome rounded up five young Jews from each place, confining them as hostage in Rome for five years. The threat of executing those boys kept the people at home from rebelling.

The boys chosen as hostages were not very religious to begin with, but after being confined for their beliefs, they usually began taking those beliefs more seriously. Many of them became so religious that when their five years were up, instead of returning to their homes, they settled in Jerusalem to take part in the temple worship. They formed their own “Synagogue of the Roman Freedmen.”

They had come to believe that being religious meant observing kosher, and they were angered by Stephen who was telling people that observing kosher wasn’t all that important.

Of course it was wrong for them to stone Stephen, but God, knowing their good intentions, might have forgiven them.

One thing that inclines us to be understanding of their motives is the fact that their was a young man watching over the coats they took off to throw better. That young man who was encouraging them was Saul, the future St. Paul.

The case of Saul and those young men should warn us against hating people for views they ling to in all honesty.

Return the Mass to Christmas

Tuesday, 12/25/12

Good people are always campaigning to put Christ back in Christmas. Let’s go one further. Let’s put Christ’s Mass back in Christmas.

Back before there was any Santa Claus. Even back before  the birth of Santa’s prototype of St. Nicolas; people celebrated the birthday of Jesus with a special Mass. The Mass was so central to the celebration that it was called Christ’s Mass Day, later shortened into Christmas Day.

I like having the opening chapter of John’s Gospel for today. It is great in describing Christ’s pre-existence.  As the Son, or as the mirror image of the Father, he was the Father’s model for all he created: for music, for DNA, for clouds against blue skies.

 I love John’s phrase, “In him was life, and the life was the light of the world.” To my mind, in saying his life was the light of the world John was saying that Christ’s life is the source of all terrestrial energy: of electricity and human thought.

The great thing about John’s account in his Chapter One is that John tells us that the immensity of the Son for us was constricted into the form of one helpless baby. 

I say, “Let’s put Christ’s Mass back in Christmas.” Let’s fully rejoice at the moment when Christ becomes present on our altar, much as he became present in Bethlehem. This is the real celebration of Christmas.

No room in the inn for the Holy Family

Monday, 12/24/12

On Christmas Eve we think of Mary and Joseph arriving at Bethlehem where there was no room for them in any of the town’s inns. I had the school children put on a play about that one time. I had them  imagining that there were seven inns that turned the Holy Family away. The proprietors of those inns each represented one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

At the House of Pride Miss Prissy Pride told them their inn was only for the better sort of people. The lady at the House of Greed said, “If you have the money, I can be a honey.” Lulu at the House of Lust took a shine to Joseph. At the House of Anger Mr. Banger Anger told them to move on. At the House of Gluttony the lady offered Mary a lick of her sweet potato that she had dropped in grease. And so on. 

It was fun for the kids, but it had its serious side. If you want Jesus and Mary and Joseph to stay with you tonight, you must make sure that your heart has not been given olver to a vice that would drive them away.

Sixty years and the mass means more each day

Sunday, 12/22/12

On this Sunday before Christmas just sixty years ago today I offered my first Mass. Even now I love saying Mass every day. My appreciation of the Mass has been growing, thanks to my having time to study Church History.

It has pleased me greatly to discover how our Eucharistic Prayers grew directly out of the grace Jesus offered at the Last Supper. At every meal the family head made up his own words for the grace at meals, while he had to follow a fixed pattern.  As the host he had to first lead the diners in recalling God’s favors to them. Secondly, he called down God’s Spirit to unite them all. Thirdly, he asked them to unite with him in becoming a pleasing gift to God. The Greek word for pleasing gift was eu-charis.

At Mass I follow the altar missal for the consecration, saying, “This is my body which will be  given up for you.” However, I see more meaning in the way Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul, writing in Greek actually quoted Jesus. He said, “This is my body which is given up for you.” He said that as the third part of the grace where he was making a pleasing gift of himself.  

It is this giving up oneself as part of the pleasing gift that makes the Mass a sacrifice for Christ, for the Apostles, and for us. At the end of the First Century the handbook for Christians had this directive:

On the Lord’s Day after you have come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist,  having first confessed your offences so that your sacrifice may be pure.”      

As the earliest Christian gatherings became too large for sharing a full  meal the Apostles did away with serving food. However, they kept the table grace as a strong link to the Last Supper. At their Sunday rituals they imagined they heard Jesus asking them to join him as part of the pleasing gift.

That was to undergo a change after 375 A. D. when Christian Europe was almost overrun by Arians Those were people who had the Gospels, but who regarded Jesus as no more than a good man. At that time the emperor of the West resided in Milan, where for twenty-four years Auxentius, an Arian bishop had been bringing the people to believe that Jesus was no more than a good man. When Auxentius died, the emperor told the governor of northern Italy to get the people together to choose a new bishop acceptable to Arians and Christians.

At that gathering a boy cried out, “Let the governor be our bishop.” That found surprising agreement even though the governor, a man from a Christian family, had never been baptized. He was immediately baptized and consecrated bishop. That was St. Ambrose.

Ambrose hit on an amazing scheme for getting the people to revere Jesus. He ordered everyone to give to Jesus in the Mass the same honors they gave to the emperor. Making Jesus into an emperor, people were commanded to kneel before him, and to bow at his name. Only gold vessels and fine linen cloths could touch the host.

His trick worked, respect for Jesus soared. But there was a draw back in that it altogether changed the nature of the Sunday ritual. Where people had once been imagining themselves reclining with Jesus and the Apostles, listening to Jesus asking them to unite with him in a pleasing gift to God, Ambrose had them imagining themselves at the back o an imperial audience hall with the ushers commanding them to bow.

Jesus had insisted that his kingdom was not of this world. He doesn’t want you to think of the Eucharist as our emperor. He wants to see it as his invitation for you to join him as part of the pleasing gift to our loving Father.

My 60 Year Ordination Anniversary

Saturday, 12/22/12

I was ordained a priest on this day sixty years ago, and on this anniversary I want to look back on my active years, but first let me say something about my five years of retirement. They began with me musing on the words of Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Feeling that the opposite of that would be true, I have been using this keyboard to examine my life. I first wrote a five hundred page memoir I called One Happy Old Priest,  Now I am three hundred pages into what I might call A Happy Old Priest’s Take on Christianity.

But, back to the active years God gave me. They fell into three spans. First, over in Korea at the end of their war I was pastor of Yang Yang County where we had no electricity. In my middle years I taught on three different levels. For the last third, I was pastor in Florida, blessed with an active parish council.

At the beginning of my sixty years the Church was a boot camp. As seminarians we studied in a Latin we halfway understood. As priests we never gave weekday homilies.  It was just Latin Masses with our backs to the people. We didn’t do weddings with Protestants in our churches, and we’d sin by attending their churches.

Two open-minded statements from Vatican II helped us leave that grimness behind. “The Declaration on Religious Liberty” stated, “The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.”

Even finer were the opening sentences of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”  The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.”

God's provision for bringing babies into the world is almost unbelievable.

Friday, 12/21/12
The Gospel brings us to the meeting of the freshly conceived Mary with Elizabeth who was in her sixth month. Their meeting gives us the opportunity to look anew at God’s wonderful provision for bringing babies into the world.

Sixty years ago I was vacationing with a couple who had two young daughters. The mother, Jane, was laughing over a mother-daughter chat she had with seven-year-old. Pattie wanted to know where babies came from, but when Jane gave her a clinical description of the process, Pattie got angry with her, saying. “Nobody could believe that!” I am with Pattie on that. It is unbelievable.

Louise Fields, was in the delivery room at St. Vincent’s for forty years. After that I asked her if when she watched the first child come into the world, she thought it was an unbelievable miracle. “Yes, Father. I thought the first child was a miracle from God. And on my last day when I watched the last of a very long line of them I saw it as the same wonderful miracle.   

The Bible says, “You knit me in the womb” and it says, “I am wonderfully made.” These are grand things to think about. They make God so real for us.

Mary's Son took shape in her heart before he took shape in her womb.

Thursday, 12/20/12

We could take guesses as to Mary’s reaction to the appearance of Gabriel. Artists have her praying, or working, not walking. One thing they agree on is in seeing her as alone when she heard the words, “Hail full of grace! The Lord is with you.”  

I have a friend who never married. There was one time when a man proposed to her, but she thought he was talking to someone behind her. That has me wondering if the sixteen-year-old Mary might have asked, “Who me?”

She would have been pleased to hear the angel telling her she had found favor with God.
But when he said that she would conceive she stopped him. “

How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

It was enough for her when the angel said the Holy Spirit would over shadow her, and she took it calmly when he explained that the child would be called the Son of the Most High. It was as though that son had taken shape in her heart before he began taking shape in her womb. The deep love that would take her to the foot of the cross already had her whispering to her son under her breath.

Having got everything straight, Mary was queenly in dismissing God’s messenger, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. ”

God knew Jeremiah before Jeremiah was conceived. The same can be said for you.

Wednesday, 12/19/12

Both readings today tell stories of women conceiving a child at an old age when such a conception was impossible. Those stories are in the Bible to remind us that all births are miraculous in that the souls are direct gifts from God.

God spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God could say the same for reach of us.

When I was young I always heard that our souls were in heaven before we were born., and I used to say, “Yes, I remember some of that, but not much.”

In the first thousand years of Christianity the saints leaned on the teachings of Plato who thought that our souls came down from heaven to be imprisoned in bodies for a time.  They saw themselves as symbolized by sunflowers that keep turning towards the sun with the hope of  getting back to their real home.

In the second thousand years of Christianity we have seen more sense in Aristotle’s teaching that God creates our souls at our moments of conception.

Whatever your philosophical bent you can thank God for having made you wondrously well. 

St. Joseph was in a tough bind.

Tuesday, 12/18/12

Some time after Mary had been solemnly betrothed to Joseph she went for a six month visit to her cousin's home in Judea. On her return all of Nazareth could see that she was well on in  her pregnancy. Betrothed couples, even before their formal wedding, were expected to sleep together a few times, so everyone in town was happy that Joseph was not impotent, and Mary was not sterile.

For her own reasons, Mary did not speak to Joseph about how she had become pregnant, and Joseph was left to feel that some man had seduced her on her trip south. It would have been easy for him to let people go on thinking he was the father, but his righteousness stood in the way. Without even knowing who the father might be, he felt it would be an unjust act to take that man's child as his own.

It would be wrong for him to take Mary to his home, but it would also be wrong for him not to take her. There is a modern word for a situation where you are damned if you do, but damned if you don't. You are in a bind.

Happily, an angel came and removed him from his perplexity. But Joseph remains a saint to whom we can pray when we are in a bind.

When we had this Bible study in a Seventh Grade class I had each kid describe a situation in which he or she was in a bind. One kid wrote, "I was in a bind when my father asked me to be best man when he was marrying someone else."

Our Lord's genealogy showed that he was more Jewish than the Pharisees.

Monday, 17/12/12

Thirty years ago I took over teaching Religion to the top grades in out parish school. In choosing the essentials to teach, I decided on having the Seventh Grade do a close reading of one of the Gospels. I had secretly decided on using Luke, but as a show of democracy I asked the kids which Gospel to take up. Unfortunately, they called for Matthew, a Gospel I knew nothing about. However, after studying it, and teaching it for twenty-four years, I came to understand Matthew’s quite different approach.

The Jewish religion had been altogether centered on worship in Jerusalem’s temple, so after the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A.D., the Pharisees had to find the one thing that could still separate Jews from non-Jews. They decided that a true Jew was one who honored his ancestors by observing kosher and not mixing with Gentiles. So they began telling the Jews who had become Christians, and who ate with Gentiles, that they could no longer call themselves Jews. Then, they began saying Jesus was not a true Jew because he didn’t avoid Gentiles.

To prove that Jesus honored his Jewish ancestors, Matthew began his Gospel with this genealogy that showed Jesus to be the descendent of Abraham and David. You can’t be more Jewish than that.

Jewish genealogies were never expected to be accurate, and this one certainly was not. While eight hundred years elapsed between Abraham and David, just four hundred elapsed  between David and the Babylonian captivity, and six hundred  elapsed between that captivity and St. Joseph. And yet this account tells us there were fourteen generations in that eight hundred year span, in that four hundred year span, and in that six hundred year span.

Matthew knew the very tricky way Oriental minds worked.  He knew they would mentally break the three groupings of fourteen generations into six sets of seven generations.  With that, Jesus would fit in as the first of the seventh set. It sounds crazy, but For Jews back then that position marked one as God’s beloved.

Such genealogies never included the names of women, but Matthew purposely included three women in the ancestry of King David.  They were Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. They were all Gentile women. Since those Gentiles were good enough for David, they  should have been good enough for the Pharisees. 

Following John's advise, we become holy people by putting our hearts into the work he has given us to do get done.

Sunday, 16/12/12

Struggling lines of people were lifting their knee out into the Jordan to be baptized by John.  Some of them were calling out their sins, while others were calling out questions.

Like, the tax men were asking what they had to do to please God, and John calling back to them, saying, “Don’t charge them a penny more than what is right.”  Or, soldiers were asking what they had to do to please God, and John had two things to say to them: he said, “ Don’t bully people,” and he said, “Learn to live within your wages.”

We can imagine that people found that too plain. Having travelled for days to question the super holy man, they would have expected something more spiritual, like fasting on bread and water, or meditating on mountaintops.

But John was God’s voice, and he was saying what God wants is for all his human children to get along  by each of them doing his or her duty, and by observing the Golden Rule.

At Christmas time a lady I know wanted to send good wishes to a hard working office mate. Instead of finding something from Hallmark, she showed her appreciate by wrapping up and giving her a framed poem entitled “To Be of Use.” The shortest of its four verses says:

I love people who harness themselves, like oxen, to heavy carts,
Who pull like water buffalo with massive patience,
Who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
Who do what has to be done, again and again.

Many things in the Bible cannot be taken literally, because they were written with poetic license.

Saturday, 12/15/12

In today’s Gospel the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

It was not unreasonable for the scribes to have believed that Elijah must return to this earth before the appearance of the Messiah. That was the teaching of the Old Testament.

In Chapter Two of the Second Book of Kings they were told the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Then, in The Book of Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament, they read the very last words of the Old Testament. They were, “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord comes.”

Jesus answered the question of the disciples by saying, “Elijah has already come.” He led the disciples to understand that he was speaking of John the Baptist. Earlier n Matthew’s Gospel, 11/14, Jesus had said of John, “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah.”

Now, Elijah and John were separate Individuals, with different DNA, living in different centuries. So, in saying John was Elijah Jesus was using poetic license. We must see this as the key for reading most of the Bible. It uses all kinds of figures of speech that must be taken poetically.

In Chapter Twenty-three of Matthew where Jesus told people to call no one on earth your father or master, his meaning was that when compared with God earthly fathers and masters have no importance, but he didn’t mean that we should stop using the words master and father.

In Chapter Five of Matthew we find another example of when Jesus did not want to be understood literally. That was where Jesus told us to gouge out an eye that causes us to sin. If we did that we would all be blind. James Hilton, the fine author who gave us Shangri-La, wrote a novel called Without Armor. It was the story of Christian White Russians fleeing the Reds. They nicknamed one of their refugees Popeye. He had plucked his eye out for looking at something he shouldn’t have. They treated him as a fool for not knowing that Jesus didn’t want to be taken literally. God does not want us to be fools.

St. John of the Cross made heavenly voyages like that one of Neil Armstrong's.

(Last week for Friday, 12/7 I looked at the calendar wrong, posting the homily for 12/14, today’s feast of John of the Cross. I’ll just repeat here what I posted then.)

Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591. Back in the Middle Ages it was only those with noble blood who had the backing to become canonized saints, but John made it on his own. With his father dying when he was eight, John did clean up work at a Spanish hospital to earn enough to keep his mother and the little kids alive. When St. Francis Borgia opened a nearby school for the needy, John amazed his teachers with his swift learning.

The local Carmelites, impressed with his scholarship, enrolled him at the university of Salamanca where he studied with a scholar who, breaking a church ban against translating the Bible into Spanish, produced his version of “The Song of Songs”. While Jeremiah saw the Israelites as God’s loving bride, following him in the wilderness; the Song of Songs goes further. It sees one’s soul as a maiden longing for God’s sweet embrace. People not familiar with the book wonder how it got into the Bible. Here is its opening.

Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth!
More delightful is your love than wine.!

John was to use this book as the inspiration for his two great spiritual works, “A Spiritual Canticle,” and “The Dark Night of the soul.”

In attaining to a heavenly embrace with God, John of the Cross can be compared with Neil Armstrong who walked on the moon. In enduring a stripping of his soul in the “Dark Night of the Soul” John was as heroic as Earnest Shackleton who survived eighteen months on Antarctic ice.
To launch his novices on their own great voyages of discovering God, John wrote The Ascent of Mount Carmel. The opening chapter insisted on the need for complete personal peace as the starting point of any journey to union with God. That chapter tells us that peace is the freedom from the frustration brought on by thwarted desires. It says the only way to avoid frustration is to not allow any desires to take root in our hearts.

Today we honor St. Lucy who left us her eyes.

Thursday, 12/13/12

Today is the Feast of St. Lucy, or Sancta Lucia, who was put to death in 303 during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. None of the stories about St. Lucy can be authenticated, but the abundance of fond Christian traditions dealing with Lucy earn a right to our attention.

Lucy’s mother Eutchia was a lady who for years had suffered from dysentery. That had the pair journeying from their home in Syracuse Sicily to the tomb of St. Agatha in Catania Sicily. Eutychia received her cure, and Lucy heard the prophecy that her tomb in Syracuse would be as famous as Agatha’s in Catania. That prophesy settled Lucy’s mind on what she had been secretly intending. She vowed her virginity to God.

Before her father died he had left Lucy’s dowry money with her mother Eutychia. With Lucy having made that vow, Eutychia took the sum bequeathed for Lucy’s dowry, giving it to the poor.

When Lucy’s intended learned of Lucy’s unwillingness to marry him, and when he heard of Eutychia’s giving to the poor the money he had been counting on, he reported Lucy to Diocletian’s soldiers as a Christian. For her tenacious beliefs the judge sentenced Lucy to life in a brothel, but Lucy, standing before him, declared that as long as she withstood sin in her heart, nothing forced on her would be sinful for her. She said, “We can never  be forced to sin against our will.”

A miraculous aspect of the tales told about Lucy had it happen that  when the soldiers tried to haul her off, her weight seemed to have increased to too many tons for the soldiers to budge. The story goes that they even hitched her to a team of oxen. When it could not move her, they finished her off with a dagger into her throat.

Lucy is the patron saint of blind people. One tradition has it that her fiancée had a fondness for her eyes, and he received a gift of them at her execution. Dante gave Lucy, holding her eyes, a very high place in his Paradiso.

I heard a story about church officials centuries later opening Lucy’s tomb in Syracuse. Finding her corpse still fresh under a linen cloth, out of respect for the Lord’s virgin, they reinterred her without lifting the cloth.

Today all the Americas honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Wednesday, 12/12/12
Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron feast of all the Americas. Every year we hear her story. On December 9, 1531 Juan Diego, a simple Nahuati Indian, was hastening into town for medicine and a priest for his uncle when on a slope known as Tepeyac he was confronted by a light filled fifteen or sixteen year old young lady. Speaking to him in Nahuati, she asked that a church in her honor be built on that site.

Juan Diego got in to see the Spanish bishop, and speaking through an interpreter he conveyed the lady’s message. The bishop, perhaps to get rid of him, told him to go back and ask for a sign. When Juan again met with the lady, she told him to gather roses from the top of Tepeyac Hill. The season for roses was past, but turning, Juan saw a bush blooming gloriously, so he gathered its buds in his tilma, then hurried back to show them to the bishop.

When he unrolled his bundle the bishop and those with him saw on it the colorful image of a lady standing above a new moon, crushing a serpent under her feet. (The painting on the pancho-like garment of rough burlap does not seem to be a trick.)

Perhaps you know the story better than I do. I had always wondered what the name Guadalupe meant. One explanation I have heard is that in Nahuati it would mean “The lady who crushes the snake.” That would refer back to Chapter Three of Genesis where we read that God would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and she would crush the serpent's head.

Although Pope John XXIII called Our Lady of Guadalupe the Mother of the Americas, and Popo John Paul II named her the patron saint of North and South America, we seldom hear of devotion to her outside of Mexican circles. Our gringo snobbery could even be sinful in God’s eyes. There was a bit of that last weekend. Jenny Rivera, a Mexcan-American singer with fifteen million albums died in a plane crash. There was great mourning up and down the border, but outside of the Southwest people just asked, “Jenny who”?