Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, February 2, 2014: A sign that will be contradicted...

So much of our faith is rooted in paradox.

In contemplating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which we celebrate this Sunday, St. Cyril of Alexandria referred to Jesus as “a Sign of Contradiction,” echoing the words of the righteous man Simeon who, along with the prophetess Anna, was able to recognize the greatness of the Messiah in the small being brought before him in the Temple:  Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted (Luke 2).  But what is so inherently contradiction-laden or paradoxical about Jesus, and how does this feast help us to explore that paradox?

In our reading from the prophet Malachi, the coming Messiah is presented as a being both sought after and feared:  And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire… Yet simultaneously, Malachi asks, But who will endure the day of his coming?  And who can stand when he appears?  Like the refiner’s fire, our Messiah, a light for revelation according to Simeon, comes not only to enlighten but to purify, a process that can be harsh as the lye that cleanses cloth, or the fire that removes impurities from gold.  The symbolism is at once affirming and awe-inspiring, maybe even at times a bit frightening.  Can we stand when he appears?

Another paradox rests in the dual nature of Jesus:  at once God and man, as our reading from Hebrews reminds us.  Like his human brothers and sisters, Jesus shared… in blood and flesh, so that, by aligning himself with sinful humanity, he might expiate the sins of his people.  He will suffer in the flesh, on the Cross; tested through suffering, he is the source of salvation for all.  It is the paradox of the Cross, foolishness to those who are perishing, yet the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor 1).  Can we embrace this paradox?

We as a Church are called to embrace not only the Incarnation of Jesus, God born Human, but also the death and rising of Christ.  Like Mary, to whom Simeon prophesies, you yourself a sword shall pierce, we too must confront the sword that pierces, the self that dies with Christ, and the resurrection that we know through him.  Jesus, in his first solemn introduction into the temple as a baby, consecrated to God, is an occasion for peace for Simeon, even as Psalm 24 reminds us that Jesus is also the king of glory, strong and mighty in battle.  As Simeon notes, Jesus is also destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel; the presentation of the divine intention for humanity, Jesus reflects not what humanity is, but what it can become.  It’s up to us to embrace the potential of the Cross in all its paradoxical nature, as we are refined by the Light of Christ, and to expand our own capacity to open ourselves to God’s salvific action in our lives.

Simon Vouet, Presentation of the Lord (1640-1641), Louvre.
For further information on Vouet's painting, click here.

Image source (1)
Image source (2)
Quotation source

Monday, January 27, 2014

Be at Peace

Be at peace.  Do not look forward in fear to the changes and chances of this life.  Rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God, to whom you belong, will in His love enable you to profit by them.  He has guided you thus far in life, and He will lead you safely through all trials; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in His arms. 

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday.  He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.  Amen.

--St. Francis de Sales
(Feast:  January 24)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, January 26, 2014: The kingdom of heaven is at hand...

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!  Imagine being in the first crowds Jesus addressed after the arrest of John the Baptist, as this Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew recounts.  Would you be one of the ones whose response was radical, like the first four apostles called by Jesus:  immediately they followed him?  Would you recognize the great light that has arisen, a sign of salvation to the Israelites in ancient times, a sign of hope for Jesus’s contemporaries who expectantly await the Messiah?  Would you sign up without hesitation for the salvation he promises?

We know, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, that salvation comes at the cost of Christ crucified.  Post-Crucifixion, we know that there is intense and limitless love in the death of Jesus, the death that guarantees our salvation.  It may make us uncomfortable to contemplate the truth of Jesus on the Cross, yet it is a cross we must embrace – Jesus took our sins to death with him on the Cross – even as we embrace the resurrection, and the joy, that followed.

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness, cries Isaiah.  For Christians, Jesus’s coming echoes this end to chaos, when God broke the primoridal gloom and distress, opening the way to abundant joy and great rejoicing.  As Jesus begins his ministry – of teaching, proclaiming, and healing – his followers are transformed both physically and spiritually, as his words offer healing of the spirit even as his actions cure their ills.  They are called to believe in God’s power to save, and to rely on God’s presence as a refuge of salvation, as in Psalm 27:  The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?  What a reason for joy!  And, as that ministry ends, on the Cross, those same followers are called to remain united in the same mind and in the same purpose, knowing that their ultimate union will be perfect union in heaven, the loveliness of the Lord in the kingdom, now, at hand, and forever.

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Letter from a Grateful Mom

Pope Francis has revitalized a ‘Vatican Almoner,’ a centuries old position of someone to hand out alms.  Well, the Pope has nothing on the St. Vincent de Paul Conference at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.  We have our own Almoners – you, our most generous parishioners.  The almoner’s duties are two-fold according to the 13th century organization established for papal charity – carrying out acts of charity and raising the money to fund them.  Together, OLMC Conference members and OLMC parishioners – are a very effective almoner team.

Recently, our conference ‘adopted’ a family.  We have never been able to do this in the past, but your generosity made it possible.  A mother and her two young children recently moved into an empty apartment.  They had been homeless for many months and were thankful to be able to sleep on the floor in a safe, warm place.  With your help, we were able to furnish her home and ensure a very blessed Christmas for them.  Her heartfelt letter of thanks is above.

St. Vincent de Paul’s Sunday collection takes place on the fifth Sunday of every month that has five Sundays.  In 2014, your opportunities to donate will be on March 30, June 29, August 31 and November 30.  If you can’t give at that time, a donation can be put in an envelope labeled St. Vincent de Paul and dropped in the collection basket or the poor box at the back of the church.  Thank you for all you do for St. Vincent de Paul!

The above message is reprinted with permission from OLMC's St. Vincent de Paul Conference.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Landfill Harmonic

What do we bring, each and every one of us, to the Mass?  Do we brings hearts willing to enter in, willing to engage and be engaged by the power of God within us?  Do we enter knowing that we are participating in something extraordinary -- God present in us, through us, with us?  Being an active part of the "body" is an important part of any musical ensemble, as the video above will demonstrate, but commitment -- fully invested engagement in the activity at hand -- is equally essential.  And no matter how little we believe we start with, we are all capable of deep engagement as active members of the body, giving witness to the miracle that is God's love in our lives.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, January 19, 2014: Called to be holy...

Why do we gather together at Mass?  And what does it have to do with being holy?

Our readings this Sunday have a message for us about community, and more specifically, about the nature of worship within community.  When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he calls them to work harder at eradicating the divisions that have sprung up among them, striving to be marked by unity as one Christian people:  united in the same mind and in the same purpose.  He also reminds them that, baptized, they are called to be holy.  But what does that mean, exactly?  In a sense, it means that they (and we) are called to make God present, to proclaim God’s presence, not just as individuals, but with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When we worship together, we are witness to God’s love in our lives, with a new song in our mouth, a hymn to our God, as Psalm 40 reminds us.  We are to announce God’s justice in the vast assembly and not restrain our lips. It is a starting point from which we go forth into the world, sent, like the apostles, to reveal the Good News.

When the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, John’s Gospel tells us, it remains upon him.  What more beautiful reminder to us that God came to earth to remain, in the context of the people God would call through Jesus, those who allow God’s life to grow within them, who allow themselves to live in God.  We gather in one assembly every Sunday, first of all, so that this presence might fill us and be manifest, so that Christ might be present in us and through us – we gather, so that we might be the Body of Christ, united in the same mind and in the same purpose.  And as such, we, like the people of Israel in our reading from Isaiah, must call all nations to ultimate union with God as we give witness to God’s activity in our lives; we must be that light to the nations, founded by God, fueled by God, centered on God. 

Why do we gather for Mass?  Ultimately, one hopes, because our hearts are so filled with love—for God and for other—that our gathering is a natural and joyful expression of that love, a response to the call of our baptism to be holy, so that we might go forth to reveal the love that is God, present and active, in our lives, every moment of our lives.

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source