News Briefs, Dec. 26

Catholic News Service is the official news agency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read their News Briefs for Thurs., Dec. 26

Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Dec. 27

Today’s Readings from USCCB

“God is love.” There’s hardly a less controversial statement in modern Western culture than this one. But if you were to press people as to the implications of this simple statement, you’d quickly see a divergence from the scriptural witness to this belief that God is, in His very Three-Personed nature, sel-giving love.

It is St. John the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate on this third day of the Octave of Christmas, who tells us that “God is love.” But he also unpacks that simple statement throughout his three letters in the New Testament, and his Gospel account. We might say that these four books of the New Testament are a primer in both the nature of divine love, and its practice.

My favorite single verse of Sacred Scripture is from St. John’s first letter: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and offered His Son as an expiation for our sins.” The life of St. John the Evangelist bear witness to this truth. He was, of course, the only of the twelve Apostles to remain with Jesus during His Passion and death. Perhaps owing to this fidelity, he was the only one of the Apostles (excepting Judas Iscariot, of course) who was not martyred. Perhaps also owing to his fidelity to the Crucifixion of Love in the Flesh, it was to John that Jesus entrusted His Blessed Mother. All this illustrates why St. John the Evangelist is called “the Beloved Disciple”.

Reflections for Christmas

Readings from USCCB

The story of today is so familiar yet so new every year, every Christmas. It is so simple and beautiful that a child can grasp the image of a baby in a manger and so meaningful that we, no matter our age, can learn something from every telling. My favorite part of Christmas is the re-telling of that story in the children’s Mass I attend. In a dramatization called a posada, young people – probably about 13 years old – play the part of Mary and Joseph. Wearing simple costumes, they travel through the darkened, crowded church, stopping at several places to ask for a room for the night, only to be turned away. At the back of the church, a new mother hands over a little just-months-old baby to Mary. The two young people walk up the church’s center aisle, Mary oh-so-carefully holding the small bundle of life. The priest meets them before the Nativity scene at the altar and the little baby takes his (or her) place in the manger for a few moments of prayer before Mass starts.
This simple re-enactment always brings tears to my eyes because the presence of that little baby really brings home the grace of God becoming man. Despite the hardship and the pain, there is such joy at any birth. The act of God becoming man in a humble, all-too-human way can give us all hope in the rebirth of goodwill and peace. We are people who have walked in darkness and now have seen a great light. We can sing a new song, be glad and rejoice. The grace of God is here to help us learn to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age. Let us take this story and the good news of great joy into our hearts and let the joy and peace flourish. Let us be thankful for this great light. Let us keep the light burning brightly in our hearts and in our lives. Let us hold this simple story in our hearts throughout the year.

Carol Zuegner
Creighton University

Advent Reflections for Mon. Dec. 23

Today’s readings from USCCB

Advent is a beautiful season of the year. Christians wait and pray for the coming of the Lord. The liturgical texts focus on the Lord’s first and last coming. We anticipate Christmas but we also are reminded that the Lord is at hand. Each Sunday we confess, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Along with these comings, St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminded us of a third coming that we can celebrate during Advent or any season of the year. This is the coming of Jesus into our hearts as Lord. In the words of one of our seasonal hymns,

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

The fact that Christ came and will come again is critical to our faith. But what difference do those comings make if he has not come into our lives and transformed us into his image? If you are one of his disciples, thank him during Advent for the wondrous gift God has given you by personally entering into your life. Meek souls still receive Him.

The Malachi passage refers to the coming of the Lord God as a refining fire. God will come among his people to purify them so “that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.” Before this God will send Elijah, the prophet, who will work to reconcile the people to God and one another. Several things about this passage stand out to me. First, Jesus alludes to this text in referring to John the Baptist as Elijah, the one who would come to prepare the way of the Lord. Second, the mission of Elijah is to reconcile parents and children. Is it any wonder that John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance? It takes humility to confess your sins, turn from them, and be baptized. That is exactly what divided families need. Humility will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents. Finally, when Jesus referred to his forerunner, John the Baptist, as Elijah, based on the words of Malachi, it should not shock us that this shocked his hearers. According to Malachi, Elijah will be the forerunner of God himself.

I love the gospel passage for various reasons. One of them is that my wife and I named our oldest son John and I took great delight in quoting this passage when people asked me his name: “His name is John.” Advent reminds us that we live in the kingdom of God by trust. Zechariah learned the hard way that God does what he says. Advent is also a great season for us to meditate upon the mystery of the incarnation and to express our joy that God has come among us. Zechariah’s “mouth was opened, his tongue was freed, and he spoke blessing God.” If you are one of those Catholics who does not sing during Mass, may God pull a Zechariah on you on Christmas so that your mouth is opened and your tongue freed to praise and bless our glorious God! Silence is a good practice for Advent but not for Christmas.

Have a Blessed Advent, what is left of it. And have a Merry Christmas.

George Butterfield
Creighton University

Reflections for 4th Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings from USCCB

God is With Us
“Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be as deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” (Isaiah 7:11)

The king refused God’s request. After all, he too was a king and knew better than pester God for signs. But Ahaz’s humility was fake; he had no clue just how he wearied God. God wants our hunger, sorrow, and desire, not phony excuses. In Ahaz’s eyes, only one king really mattered. He tried to hold on to his seat at the center of things. But that is not where we find ourselves.

Should we ask God for signs? In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor condemns Jesus for refusing to give us signs when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. If only God had turned stones into bread, then humans would have the proof we need. For this cardinal, people seek signs because they are too fearful to embrace true faith.

Do we hesitate to look for signs? After all, education teaches us to view the universe as matter in motion that follows mathematical laws. We learn that what is unexpected always has a cause, even if we haven’t discovered it yet. There is nothing new under the sun, we say. Yet Advent is a time of expectation, of awaiting the remarkable.

Look closer: our lives are full of signs of beginnings. When the robin returns, spring is close at hand. A first cry means the baby is born. To build peace after years of struggle, Nelson Mandela extends a hand to his jailers. A candle is lit in the darkness. Pope Francis kneels and washes the feet of a Muslim girl. Witnessing the presence of the sacred, we sign the cross.

God promised that a child will be born whose life shows how “God is with us.” Who would have thought a son of God would be conceived by an unwed mother, be homeless at birth, a refugee for years, tortured and crucified as a criminal, only to return to his friends after the resurrection? Our horizon shifts. There is much more to reality than what we expect.

When we find our place with the poor, with the child, with the single mother, with the gang member, with our enemies, we are the signs that God is with us. Pope Francis warns us not to close our doors to sinners and imbibe our own righteousness. In his recent letter, he writes, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” God’s kingdom is not a fortress. When we move outside the walls, we share in the freedom of God.

Jeanne Schuler

Advent Reflections for Sat, Dec. 21

Today’s Readings from USCCB

Some feastdays that we celebrate seem to be too rich or too complex for us to do them justice in either our celebrations or our homilies. I think here especially of Holy Thursday, but I have the same feeling about Christ’s Baptism and the Transfiguration. The one that interests me the most, however, is what we are focusing on in this passage from Luke.

When we celebrate on March 25, what happens here, we call this the feast of the Annunciation, and what we center on almost exclusively is Mary herself and her response to God. That is not what the word “annunciation” indicates, however, although that centering is better than dwelling on Gabriel impersonally announcing to Mary what God is about to do, as if she had no voice in the matter. That is simply not what Luke says.

If we wished to retain the concentration on Mary and on her response, we might well begin to refer instead to this as the feast of the Invitation, where the Father asks whether Mary would be willing to bear His Son. This could bring out the respect God shows her as well as the very personal attitude she manifests in accepting.

I myself would prefer to call it instead the feast of the Incarnation, since considering our position on the point at which a human life begins (and consequently our position on abortion), this is the day on which we celebrate the most central event in the history of the universe and all creation. I think we might well transfer some of the emphasis we give to Christmas to this day, whether the quiet scene with Mary and Gabriel has all sorts of warm images and memorable stories attached to it or not.

We might do a sort of contemplation of this scene in our prayer. Where is the Father in all of this? And the Second Person? What is Gabriel thinking as he appears and speaks for God? How does Mary feel in having such a visit, even in just the first moments? How does she feel as the angel leaves her? Just exactly what is it that the Spirit does (outside of the obvious physical arrangement)? Talk to each of them and ask them to tell you.

And what does any of that say to each of us about our own lives?

Chas. Kestermeier, SJ

News Briefs, Dec. 19

Catholic News Service is the official news agency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read their News Briefs for Thursday, Dec. 19.

Reflections for Dec. 20

Readings from USCCB

Of all the contrasts between Zechariah and Mary in St. Luke’s infancy narratives, the starkest is found in their responses to the good news announced to each. What makes Mary’s response to St. Gabriel even more striking is that objectively, the message entrusted to her was much more difficult to understand from an “earthly perspective”. After all, what Gabriel announced to Zechariah was news which he and his wife had been longing to hear for many years. While the facts foretold by Gabriel were unlikely from a human standpoint, they were not impossible even by human standards, and had precedent in biblical history.

Mary is unique. Her response to the Good News is possible only through faith. Zechariah did not even have faith in a human possibility. Yet Mary has faith in a seeming human impossibility. She trusts that God will accomplish what He wills, and speaks only of what He wills. How different are you and I: we speak not only of what we will, but also of what we desire and dream about, what piques our interest even momentarily, and even what would harm us. Worse yet is what we so often do, which in facts harms us spiritually, bodily, emotionally and in other ways: in fact, “personally”, in its fullest sense.

Mary is a person as God created human persons to be. Jesus is a divine person (with a human nature), but Mary is like you and me in that she’s a human person. But she lives up to, and shows us what it truly means, to live as a person, which means fully to relate to others, and to the Other who created and redeemed us in His Son. Mary accepts God as her Creator and Savior, and lives for Him rather than for herself.


News Briefs, Dec. 18

Catholic News Service is the official news agency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read their News Briefs for Dec. 18

Priest invents Confession tool for deaf

A Philippine priest serving in the United States has invented a device to make it easier for the deaf to go to confession, the Philippine bishops’ news service reported.

The device, according CBCP News, “consists of two laptop computers running on special software and connected exclusively for penitent and priest to type on and send their messages to each other … Priests who are not skilled in sign language will be able to communicate with deaf people using the chat function through a secured setup of two connected computers with American Sign Language (ASL) instructions and videos.”

Father Romuald Zantua’s device is awaiting the approval of the Holy See.