Redwood Journal is a collection of writings authored by Harry Martin, including book and article publications and blog postings collected from earlier websites. It is, in a very real sense, a journal of the author reflecting his life and work, much among the Coast Redwood country of Northern California. But it is, even more, a journal of his tasks as a servant of the Cross, a douloscross. It is a journal of one who follows He who died upon the Cross, made red by His blood and arose from the tomb through His holy love.
Over the years these tasks have included firefighting, restaurant and camp cook, disaster medical planner, Protestant pastor, Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, fire services chaplain, mental health advocate, Beeswax candle maker, writer and husband and father. All of these tasks, privileged assignments, for this simple servant of Christ have been sought to be done gloria Dei, for the glory of God.
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – 17 January 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: I Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Responsorial: Psalm 40; II: I Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Gospel: John 1:35-42
The new year, 2021 is underway. It has begun as 2020 went, with intense tumult and trial. Especially as we navigate the uncertainty and challenges of the next few weeks we may well be tempted to focus upon the problems, strife and discord. Which reminds me, what we focus upon, what we aim for…we will find.
Life is never promised to be easy or without trials. We can easily recall the ongoing trials and problems of the past year. With perhaps more effort we can also remember the blessings, the realization that Jesus never abandoned us. For even as we may journey in ways we would not choose or plan we are called to learn the power of the promise of Jesus..”I am with you ALWAYS!” And the readings for this 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time speak of the holy adventure, the sacred quest God has called men, women and children upon for millenia.
In the Old Testament reading we see the story of God calling the boy Samuel to serve, to follow God. As we begin this new and holy year we would do well to share from our heart the words of Samuel: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. What if we set our priority to listen for the Holy Spirit, in His Word, in Creation, in His people to be of more importance than the endless chatter of the world?
This sacred listening would cause us to realize, perhaps in ways never seen before, that indeed and truth, we are temples of the Holy Spirit (from our second reading). As we would grow in seeing more clearly, realizing more faithfully that the Spirit of Jesus does live within us, and in each other that our livesand relationships would be transformed. As Catholics our sacred, joyful reverence for Christ in the Tabernacle would start to be expressed in perceiving that God also indwells His people, the Church of God. With this truth, this sacred hope, we would grow to experience what Pope Benedict, XVI said: “One who has hope lives differently”. As we see the conflicts and despair so prevalent among so many we would understand the urgency of our call to follow Christ in faith and courage. And to be lives where Jesus could be realized.
Our Gospel reading shares the account of Andrew and others meeting Jesus and then Andrew leading Peter, his brother, to meet and know the Christ. As fishermen on the Sea of Galilee they were intimately aware of the power and danger in the storms of life. And so it is for us in this new year.
We have experienced great storms of fear, ignorance, doubt and hate, on many fronts. It seems no facet of life is left unscathed. Health and medicine, social and racial wounds of great depth and pain, political rancor and violent strife, climate change with intense storms and fires all bring many opportunities to despair, to doubt, to hate. Even in the Church, the people of God there is strife and discord, in the very temple where God, the Holy Spirit longs to dwell in unity. But in the greatest of trials and discord is the need for and opportunity for…CHRIST. A man who experienced trials and hate of deadly intensity would speak to our hearts for God. St. Maximilian Kolbe said: “Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.”
This early week of this new year is an excellent opportunity to resolve to realize Christ, dwelling in us..AND EACH OTHER. Great are the wounds and needs in our world, our nation, our community, our families. Greater still is the exquisite. grace that is Jesus. May our actions, our words, our hearts be and become true temples for God where for and through us the mercy and hope of Christ can bring forgiveness and healing. As we seek to both realize Christ in our lives and to help others realize Christ in theirs we will encounter many blessings, challenges and surprises of grace. St. Francis of Assisi would lead us to realize our work with Christ: “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart and bring home those who have lost their way.” These words bring us back to the refrain from our Psalm of this day: “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”
I saw a picture of a small monument of this holy privilege, to be a people of healing and hope in Christ, to share Jesus, realized in the storms of life. Think of all those, young and old, who may be crippled in this life but that are children of God called to be free.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Sunday – 10 January 2021
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Responsorial: Psalm 29; II: Acts 10:34-38; Gospel: Mark 1: 7-11
The holy, joyful and beautiful season of Christmas concludes this Sunday with the second Epiphany Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This gem of the liturgical calendar shows so many facets of the light of grace we are given in Emmanuel, God with us. The grace of the first of the sacraments, the revelation of Jesus’ humble love and obedience, the essential lesson of our need for repentance and cleansing are all revealed. All of these truths (and more) are framed in the singular word we know as “baptism”. And to plunge into this glorious grace it is important to understand the Greek word in Scripture is known as to be immersed. Whether the sacrament is celebrated with literal and full immersion or a sprinkling of the holy water it is the holy grace of being immersed in God to Whom we are being called.
The Baptism of the Lord is also the first full manifestation of the mysterious and majestic reality of the Holy Trinity. It is in this early event in the adult life of Jesus, Son of Mary and of God, that the inscrutable glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is made manifest.
And, once again, the timeless relevance of God’s Word and Truth in our times is also revealed. This past week, on Wednesday, the actual Feast Day of the Epiphany, our country experienced the tragic attempted insurrection in our nation’s capital. The events, as they unfolded, defied comprehension. Like most people I found myself, praying for country, all those involved, for our President elect and for he whose presidency is ending. And I continue to try to pray and to try to comprehend these events. And, as always the Word of God brings light in the darkness.
In seeking to comprehend I seek to listen and dialogue with those invested in these events. A particular message deeply touched and saddened me. It came from an individual in response to a thought I shared of the need for mercy and healing throughout our country, especially between the conservative and liberal elements and the need to realize common values. His reply was terse and clear. He stated there is only thing shared and there will only be one thing… and that is HATE.
I have been praying about all these events and also seeking to prepare a reflection for this Sunday. I was tempted to simply ignore the events of the week and just share a simple reflection. But that would be to deny the relevance of God in our times and lives. And to ignore these events would be a futile attempt to ignore the deadly sorrows that are unfolding.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a call to honestly, prayerfully, humbly seek God to show in what, in whom, we are immersed. We cannot deny that there is an intense and deadly pandemic of hate and strife in our country and the world. And just as we are called to heed the dangers and deadly realities of Covid 19 so we must discern the deadly threats of this other pandemic. We must ask God to show us where we are immersed and to seek, daily, His grace to plunge deep into His healing Presence. This holy immersion, this baptism of light and life is found in the fullness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are called to be Immersed in God. The infinite, eternal, holy majesty of God is beyond our understanding. We must humbly rejoice in this great handicap of love. We will never have God, religion, our faith figured out. We are called to know, to relate in real life, to God. Father…Son….Holy Spirit. As a child we are created to trust and love our Heavenly Father. As a prodigal we are called to the forgiveness and mercy of God the Son, the Truth, the Living Word of God. As a redeemed child of God we are called to be filled with the God the Holy Spirit. Immersed in God’s love that forgives and shares the mercy of the Crucified. For all of us who would seek a glimpse of God and to be immersed in the Holy One we would do well to follow the steps of many great saints and of Jesus Himself and look to and listen to God in creation.
To share, daily in the Baptism, the Immersion of our Lord we would also do well to listen not particularly to the chaos in the world but especially to those given by God to help us grow deeper in God. I was moved by words I read in the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti [All Brothers]. He wrote: “Some people attempt to flee from reality, taking refuge in their own little world; others react to it with destructive violence. Yet between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue.” [Paragraph 199.]. In this practical daily immersion in God and holy dialogue Pope Francis goes on the discuss in the urgently needed works of kindness. He writes: ” Saint Paul describes kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit [Galations 5:22]. He uses the Greek word chresto’tes which describes an attitude that is gentle, pleasant and supportive, not rude or coarse. Individuals who possess this quality help make other people’s lives more bearable, especially by sharing the weight of their problems, needs and fears. This way of treating others can take different forms: an act of kindness, a concern not to offend by word or deed, a readiness to alleviate their burdens. It involves ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement’ and not ‘words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn'” [Paragraph 223].
Let us all prayerfully reflect, discern whether our lives are immersed in the dark spirts revealed in the world this week or in the fullness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in relationships not of deadly , destructive hate and division but in the Spirit of dialogue and kindness.
This week, this holy day, let us each seek the Holy Spirit to show us where, in Whom, we are immersed. May the infinite depths of God’s holy Love and Presence drench and fill us in our Creator, Redeemer and in His kindness shown to each of us from the Cross.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 60:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 72; II: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
“May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts.” So begins the collect for the Mass of the Epiphany of the Lord. Many are the rich and worthy traditions of the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We sing and reflect upon the three kings following the star and the gifts they brought for the baby Jesus. And in the fullness of this liturgical season we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana of Galilee. Each and all of these events share with the seeking heart a lesson of the path of those seeking to grow in their realization of God, of Jesus, in their life. But more accurately the splendor of Epiphany is, first and foremost, about the manifestation of God in creation and in our lives. The splendor of hope that is God seeking us in our darkness.
To explore the Epiphany manifestations of God, in Christ Jesus is a pilgrimage of all eternity. For it is to explore and realize, learn and experience, the infinite splendor of God’s majesty. Epiphany is to come to and know…Jesus, God come in the flesh. This journey to Jesus will bring us to grow in the beauty and power of His holiness, God’s resolute justice, the Creator glory, the blood stained splendor of His passion and the infinite glory of His resurrection. It is a journey where we face the darkness of this world and trust in the hope of the Light who is the Christ. Like the Magi we will never know the power and pull of the star unless we accept the place and purpose of the dark nights of our souls. God allows the dark to teach us to rest in Him and trust and rejoice in the dawn.
Again, infinite are the epiphanies of God. But let us follow the Holy Spirit to explore but four manifestations of God so urgently needed as we begin the new year of 2021. Let us grow to better know and experience Christ our Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love.
As this new year dawns strong are the hopes we share. Of course we share our human hopes, health over the pandemic, healing for the nation, the environment and especially hope for a new dawn of the sacredness of all life. But as important as these hopes are we must learn that if they are to be they must take root deeply in the Hope who is God. Human hope, medical, financial, political, even religious is limited and confined by our humanity. Now, more than ever, we must grow in the eternal, infinite hope who is our Lord. It is in the dark wilderness of our sorrows or disappointments we must allow God’s holy angels to lift our hearts and eyes beyond our despairs to the Light of His star. Despair, anger, hates rooted in fear, have no place in the lives of those who seek the King of Bethlehem. Yes those despairs of this world are very real. But greater is the Light who has come than the darkness of this world. Let the Hope who is Jesus awaken our hearts each day of this year.
We sometimes overlook the splendorous manifestation of God’s mercy in the journey of the kings to worship Jesus. The magi were very likely from the Persian realms of present day Iran and Iraq. They were gentiles, pagans. Idol worship was their religious practice. The Incarnation of Jesus came when the Jewish people were oppressed by the Gentile Romans. They had endured centuries of warfare and conquest from the Babylonion/Persian empires. Aside from the very stringent Mosaic restrictions of involvement with those people there were very rigid religious barriers to any encounters beyond the minimal needs of business or travel. It would be profoundly interesting to glimpse the hearts of Mary and Joseph as the magi came into the house where they stayed with the baby Jesus. But they welcomed the kings into their midst. They all were called by the the infant Son of God to an holiest manifestation of God who is mercy. God well knew who He was calling to follow the star to Bethlehem. And like each of us God called them to grow far beyond where they were, to a manifestation beyond their expectations and dreams. Scripture and history say little of what happened with the kings aside from the mercy of God sending the angel to lead them home another way from the perils of Herod. This holy season we are called to continue the journey they began to encounter the new eternal mercies in Christ. To return to our homes, led by His angels to be heralds of God’s forgiveness, of His mercy. Sadly there are many that some may believe are unworthy to come and worship Christ. After all they don’t follow the teachings that are given and cherished. Their practices are not acceptable to the standards of the faith. But they would come, seeking Jesus. Will they encounter a manifestation of His holy mercy and hope that all humanity yearns for? Will they be able to encounter Jesus in us? He who calls them in mercy, born in our hearts?
This sharing of Epiphany with Jesus and each other brings us to grow in hope and the freedom of God’s mercy that will empower us to journey on in holy joy. We all, holy or seeking, strong or crippled are called to Christ. We are called to Him who comes to us where we are and brings us to where we are created to be…with Him. This holy, Epiphany joy is a manifestation of the Savior He longs for us to know. Think of the kings as they finally find Jesus in Bethlehem. The relief, the JOY as they entered into His Presence! Think of the gifts they gave, with joy, even in their surprise at His humble home. One of the greatest secrets of encountering our epiphanies is in the giving God calls us to share. Indeed God calls us to give beyond what we see as our abilities….or inabilities. God calls us beyond our own handicaps to help others. For we are all crippled by this life. Except in the Presence of Emmanuel. God wants us to heed His Epiphany call to share His joy in a world crippled in the darkness of worry, fear and hate. It is ours to share for in His Presence we will know Epiphany joy rooted in His eternal love.
The visit of the wise men is just the beginning of the Epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ. What continues with His baptism, the wedding at Cana and the many miracles and teachings that followed was climaxed in His Passion and death on the Cross. Jesus came for each of, for all of us, to manifest His Hope, Mercy and Joy. All of which are rooted in the splendor of God’s Love. We are all familiar with the scourges of the Covid 19 pandemic. The intense, pain of so many dying separated from family and loved ones, the struggles of the many caregivers kept from family and home by countless hours of work, the sorrowful restrictions and prohibitions of gathering with extended family, social groups, communities of worship has become a powerful message about a greater sickness in our world. So many suffer from the pain of loneliness, of broken relationships, love unrealized. Many die from the medically affirmed reality of broken hearts. It is to this lonely, hungry world Jesus came to manifest His love. Jesus calls us, as we are, to know the epiphany of His love as we are. Some would say well..not so fast. Yes God loves us. But God expects us to love Him in lives free from sin and evil passions. THEN we may know those manifestations of His love. Yet this does not follow the lesson of the pagan Magi kneeling before Jesus. It does match the mercy Jesus gave to Peter as he washed the feet of him who would soon deny the Christ. It does not follow with the manifestation of Jesus on the Cross to the thief who saw the Son of God on the Crucified and was promised the Paradise of His holy love that very day. Indeed for God SO LOVED the WORLD that he gave His Son to manifest His Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love to and through each and all of us. It is as we encounter Jesus who IS LOVE that we are then changed to become the people He has redeemed and created us to become.
May this be an holy year of an ever on-growing Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Presence of Jesus, His Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love be with you.
Bible Readings for Christmas Eve Mass at Night: I: Isaiah 9:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 96; II: Titus 2:11-14; Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
We are all familiar with the beautiful story of the Nativity of our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Sometimes when something, however meaningful, is so familiar it can be easy to become dull to the power and beauty of the story. This season of Christmas in this extraordinary year let us consider the Christmas story from a slightly different but very Scriptural perspective. Let us seek the Holy Spirit to help us join with the Holy Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the angels and the furry creatures around the stable that first Christmas. In this year when for so many Christmas Liturgies are not what we would hope perhaps this first story of the first Christmas may help us celebrate fully, if perhaps, in ways unexpected.
Fourth Sunday of Advent – 20 December 2020 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: II Samuel7:1-5, 8b-12,14a, 16; Responsorial: Psalm 89; II: Romans 16:25-27; Gospel: 1:26-38
For the Catholic Christian(and all Christians) Christmas is a very special time of celebration. As the last week of Advent draws to a close the anticipation of the Christmas Vigil Mass and the Mass of Christmas Day brings a great peace and joy. With the dawn of the Christmas season we focus our hearts on the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus into our world. This holy season (again the Catholic Liturgical year) will culminate with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as a part of Epiphany in January. From the expectations and hopes of Advent we enter into the celebration of Emmanuel ~ God with us! This joyous dawn of Jesus with us leads to the renewal of Epiphany ~ The Manifestation of God’s Presence and Grace!
But why, this 4th week of Advent, are we looking so far ahead? Again, Advent is a season of preparation and anticipation…of and for Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. And this year of 2020 we need God’s grace and Presence in ways we would never have expected. The uncertainties and challenges of this passing year are still part of our journey. For many the opportunity to gather and worship for Masses, throughout the world are uncertain at best. As the pandemic surges we hear of Italy and much of Europe being locked down. So whether we gather for outside Mass, perhaps inside in some places or in the spirit in our homes we gather in solidarity with those unable to go to Mass. And we gather to prepare, anticipate and celebrate perhaps in ways and more deeply than we ever have before.
The beloved decorations and music of our churches may be left unused this year. But the preparation and decorating of our hearts and homes can be more powerful and beautiful than ever. Even as, we in respect and love for the health and well-being of others, curtail our gatherings of faith and families we still can pray and prepare for Emmanuel, God with us.
This last Sunday of Advent brings to us Scripture steeped with the eternal hopes and joys of the promise of the Messiah, the Christ…Jesus our Savior. It is especially in the Gospel as we read the familiar account of the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary we enter into the heart of both the hope and promise of Advent and the joy and power of Christmas. We also realize that this holy encounter was fraught with deep fear and uncertainty. Mary, our Blessed Mother is not simply a model of greatest holiness and faith. She was, and is a profoundly humble woman but grace-filled lesson of the eternal experience of Emmanuel, as she said her yes to the angel.
Mary, in her Advent journey, shows us the Emmanuel path that has not changed through the ages. Mary, her betrothed Joseph, all who would love God are called to meet those sent from God. Mary undoubtedly was busy about her day as a young maiden when Gabriel appeared. And her life was changed. Eternally. We often would think, well if God would send and angel and tell me what He wants it would be much simpler. God does send His messengers to us all. Scripture is very clear that we each have our Guardian Angels. We perhaps, in retrospect, think of people that had a powerful impact on our lives, for God. But God also sends us His messengers through circumstances, perhaps controlled by angels unseen. Great blessings, unexpected encouragements among struggles, disappointments and even illness, pandemics are messengers of grace. The story of Job, the life of David, the Apostle Paul all show us how both blessing and trial can be the Sent of God. Pope Francis in his book [Let Us Dream A Path to a Better Future] affirms this grace as we see the crises as an opportunity to grow with God: “To come out of this crises better , we have to see clearly, choose well, and act right. Let’s talk about how. Let us dare to dream.” I believe this especially applies to our experiencing Emmanuel, God with.
Mary’s encounter with Gabriel was a crises of extraordinary power. She was (very logically) afraid. But she shows us that by seeing and growing in the Truth, in hearing and humbly listening she would experience more than she could ever imagine, of God being with her. Mary did NOT understand all that Gabriel told her would be. Even at the Passion of her Son her grief was so intense she could not understand all that God was doing. But Mary believes. Even to this day as she prays for us and seeks to lead us closer to her Son, she believes.
The opportunity for us this profound year of 2020 is the same. God has not changed. The angels and saints would call each and all of us to listen to the Living Word, Jesus, Emmanuel. Through the people and events sent us we can hear God’s call to trust and give our Yes, with Mary and other faithful, to God. What do the worries and frustrations of the pandemic bring to us? They bring us a daily place to listen to the will of God, perhaps grow in our worship and love of Jesus in ways very different than what we may like. But we rest assured, God is with us as we, with Mary say :“be it done to me according to your Word.” [Luke 1:38]
This Yes to God is deeply rooted as a response to a statement shared by Gabriel. The angel said “Nothing will be impossible for God.” NAB version. The words are strong but they have lost much of their power. The older versions are worded as : “For WITH God nothing shall be impossible.” RSV version, (emphasis mine). This holy promise is sent from the very heart of God to all who will trust and say yes to His Son. It is an holy invitation of eternal, infinite love to join with Emmanuel in an adventure of grace for all eternity. What is God calling us to share? Our Advent YES will lead us to the joys of Christmas in ways we have never known.
Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudate Sunday ~ 13 Sunday 2020
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Responsorial: Luke 1:46-48, 49, 53-54, II I Thessalonians 5:16-24; Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
Gaudate Sunday – The Advent Sunday of rejoicing. It is the Sunday when the pink Advent candle is lit and in the Church usually the clergy will wear vestments of rose color, expressing the joy of Christ’s coming. This extraordinary and difficult year of 2020 it is this eternally real joy found with God as being very relevant.
It is one of the most basic desires of humanity of all ages to be happy. The infant is happy when they are fed, clean and secure in love. The desire for happiness only grows, as we do, more complex and deep. To belong, to be sheltered, free from hunger and pain, to have relationships that bring fulfillment and security is felt as the key to happiness. And truly each of those basic human needs and desires, when found, can make one happy. For a season.
But this is Gaudate Sunday, a day of rejoicing. It is significant the the contemporary meaning of the word, rejoice, is to feel joyful, delighted. But the now archaic meaning is different it is: to fill with joy, to gladden. [Source: The Free Dictionary]. In our post modern age the focus is on the meaning focused on SELF. In times past the meaning was as a verb focused upon others. This distinction is important if we are to both hear and experience the purpose, power and light of Scripture this joyful, holy day.
The joy of Gaudate Sunday is not experienced in the lighting of a pink candle or the priest wearing rose (or pink) vestments. The joy of the Lord is realized when we take to heart and life the words of Isaiah, St Paul and the Gospel. We live in times when darkness and discord is very real and powerful. Many, even sadly among Catholics and Christians, are expressing deep fear and frankly faith in the darkness. But the sacred writers we read this day lived in times of intense darkness as well. And they realized the Light who is our Lord. And they trusted, with intense joy, the Light of Christ would never be extinguished. They also allowed their lives to not just be seekers but servants of this eternal joy who is Jesus. They realized the extraordinary joy and adventure God called them (and us) to share, to bring His joy to others. Whether it be the powerful and wealthy or the sick, imprisoned and broken hearted. In fact Isaiah proclaimed and Jesus fulfilled that it was especially to those deemed unworthy that they were sent. To bring the light, God’s joy to those in darkness as Servants of Joy.
We are all blessed this weekend to have an example of this grace-filled adventure of holy joy. Saturday, December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the celebration of the apparition of our Blessed Mother to St. Juan Diego in the year 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac in what is now a suburb of Mexico City. While celebrated with deep and fervant veneration among the Latino faithful it is important to understand that Our Lady is the Patron of the ALL America’s. And her visitation is an exquisite lesson of being a Servant of Joy and the Light of Christ.
St. Juan Diego was, by the standards of the world, a most unsuitable candidate to become such a powerful part in the Kingdom of Christ in the Americas. He was an unwealthy, uneducated yet faithful farmer in what what would become Mexico City. Sources indicate he was indigenous to the land perhaps of the Aztec people. He would become the first native American to be canonized as a saint by the Church.
His story, briefly, is that one day as he returned from the local Franciscan Mission where he received faith formation, our Blessed Mother appeared to him and said he was to request the local bishop to build a chapel in her honor. He did so faithfully and was turned away by the bishop. Mary again appeared and after hearing his concerns that he was unworthy and unqualified for the task she instructed him to return to the bishop who was more open but asked for a sign that this was the will of God. The faithful servant once again encountered Mary in spite of trying not to face her with disappointments and having to attend to a dear uncle who was dying. The Blessed Virgin gently remonstrated Juan Diego with words well known to many, : “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” Juan Diego’s uncle was healed. She then instructed him to go to a special place where he found an abundance of flowers blooming out of season. A place not suitable for the flowers to grow. He gathered them in his mantle and returned to Mary who rearranged them and told the faithful farmer to bring them to the bishop. Juan Diego did so as a servant of joy would do. Upon seeing the bishop he opened his mantle and the flowers cascaded to the floor. And upon his mantle (tilma) there was the blessed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The tilma of St. Juan Diego’s with this holy image is on display, centuries later, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. And her image is found in Catholic Churches especially in the Americas.
It is in this joyful and beautiful account we see the elements of Gaudate Sunday being lived out in the followers of Christ. It is a lesson that being Servants of Joy is an holy privilege that is not confined to those on this side of eternity. The angels and saints, and most profoundly our Blessed Mother bring us ever closer to Christ, the source of eternal joy. They also help us to yield to the promised Holy Spirit in our daily walk and to not be just seekers of happiness but servants of joy.
We also can learn that it is very often those deemed unworthy that are called to be servants of God’s eternal joy, along side those more seemingly able and blessed. And perhaps most vividly it is a clear message of to whom this light, this joy of God is especially to be brought. The indigenous people of the Americas were seen by most Europeans as being very much on the margins of humanity. Especially the governing forces saw the native Americans as subjects to be managed and used, for the benefit of the crowns. The missionaries, while not always as they should did try to see and bring the indigenous into God’s Kingdom.
So it is in 2020. Many are on the edges of survival. Many are considered only acceptable IF certain criteria is met. And many are struggling in a world of dark confusion, sickness, strife and despair. We must take seriously the words shared by St. Paul to not quench the Holy Spirit in each other, in those longing for the light and joy found only in God. We must quench instead our hurtful words, attitudes, fears and doubts that would build barriers to joy, to Jesus instead of doors of hope that others may come in.
It is with the angels and saints God calls us to be , today, servants of His Joy. Perhaps we are unable to go to places of great need. But all of us are able to open our hearts to those in darkness. To learn and understand and realize that while the darkness of evil in this world can be very great the light who is Jesus is unquenchably greater. We bring Him in friendships, compassion, in prayer. As great are the sorrows of this strange year even greater is the hope and light who is Jesus. May we, with St. Juan Diego, our Blessed Mother and each other bring God’s joy and light into the darkness of the world.
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8 December 2020 Tueday
” To become the mother of the Savior. Mary was “enriched by God with gifts appropriate to the role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.”…Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary “full of grace” through God was redeemed from the moment of her conception.” …Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
The Most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by the virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of sin.” Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraphs 490- 491.
So we remember and celebrate this holy day as we venerate and love Mary, Mother of God and the Church. This celebration is so powerful as we meditate upon Mary’s example and call to the faithful.
Mary shows us the grace and power of knowing, hearing and saying Yes! to the Word of God. “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Fearless, Faith-filled, humble her yes opened the way to the Savior, her Son.
As her yes resounds to and through us today Mary also shows us the focus of an humble follower of her Son. “My soul doth magnifies the Lord”. This short statement of focus gives us an essential key in the walk of faith, and discerning God’s will in our lives. What? Who? is being magnified by the words, the choices being made.
Mary, a disciple of Truth. Jesus would proclaim: ” I am the Way, the Truth the Life.” Mary exemplifies that this growing in the Truth who is Christ is a journey. From the Annunciation, the Finding in the Temple, The Miracle at Cana of Galilee, and painfully at the Passion of her Son and joyfully, at His resurrection Mary walked the path of growing with her Son in the Truth that brought her ever greater freedom. Even the journey of the Church with the teaching of the Immaculate Conception affirms we are still growing in Truth. We don’t know it all. Only God does.
Let us each take time to be with our Blessed Mother today, and every day. May she, who is full of grace help us grow ever closer to her Son, our Savior. Jesus.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Responsorial: Psalm 85; II: II Peter 3:8-14; Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
“Prepare the Way of the Lord…” These words from the Prophet Isaiah resound in the first reading and the Gospel this Second Sunday of Advent. For those of us who are fans of George Frederick Handel and especially The Messiah these words resonate in the beautiful opening Accompagnato. We can hear the Holy Spirit call to us to become and be the people of the Messiah proclaiming and living the comforting hope of His grace and preparing the ways for Christ to come into our hearts and lives and in the the lives of all creation.
This message resonates this year in ways unimagined last Advent. We are a people needing to follow the way that is Christ as we hunger for and seek His coming. This Second Sunday of Advent we face the probable reality that Advent liturgies, the celebration of the Christmas will be deeply restrained in our parishes and families. In the shared call to heed the health and welfare of ourselves and our neighbors the ability to gather will be a hope we seek, hopefully in the coming calendar year. But these challenges in no way hinder or compromise our ability as individuals, as faith communities, as families to fully and joyfully seek our coming Lord and to Prepare the Way of the Lord ~ A Path to a Better Future.
This past year has been a year of crises. In health, economies, in nations, especially our own, politically and worldwide in our shared home, the environment. This flood of crisis could well overwhelm us as we see this year draw to a close. But these shared challenges present to us incomparable opportunities of grace, opportunities to prepare for our coming King as never before. Prayerfully, to help us all awaken and heed these gifts I want to share a new book written by Pope Francis entitled: Let Us Dream – A Path to a Better Future. I would ask, urge, each of you to read this as a special grace this Advent to help us, together to Prepare the Way of the Lord. I just received my copy and am deeply moved. Although I have not finished reading this short book I want to use the chapters to help us this extraordinary Advent. It is beautifully written but it also calls us to face some deep, difficult challenges as people of the Messiah.
As we heed the Scriptures for today (and yes PLEASE prayerfully read the Word of God for Mass) we see this message so powerfully proclaimed: PREPARE the Way of the LORD, Make Straight His Path. In the Gospels of late Jesus has been calling us to Prepare, Be Ready, Listen, Watch! If the events alone of this past year do not awaken in us this call of God in our lives we are in a very dangerous place. Much is happening. We are called, not to be spectators, but participants in these events of grace. We are called to dream and prepare for a better future that of a future where God and His ways prevail. Not just in a aspect of liturgy or devotion but in and through all our lives and creation.
In the book of Pope Francis he helps us understand that indeed we are in times of intense crisis. They are as our Holy father expresses times of reckoning. The Covid 19 perils have forced the world to realize immense dangers and unprecedented demands for care and solutions. So many medical professionals have sacrificed, even their lives as they have sought to help the sick and dying. Tragically, sadly, so many have mocked the pandemic, refused to even wear a mask, sharing their convictions that it is all an hoax. Indeed it is a time of reckoning.
The crises realities are also seen in the political/social upheavals where the once simple conviction that we are all Americans working for a common good, even with our many differences is not what many proclaim or live. The divisions and strifes between diverse peoples is a deadly horror that we must, together respond to. And with the divisive strife between liberal and conservative, Democrat or Republican we face wounds needing healing mercy.
And the crises of our environment, of climate change, would cause those who will listen to hear Creation crying out, begging for mercy. The lack of rain in California, the unprecedented hurricanes in the gulf, wildfires in normally green and damp Scandinavia, huge tracks of rain forest destroyed in South America, vast miles of plastic floating and polluting our oceans all bear a harsh witness of the greed and neglect of humanity.
The disregard of life, yes for the unborn, but also for the living, the homeless, the refugees of climate change and political oppression, those dying of hunger for bread and water as as those hungering for love and belonging all call out to God for mercy and justice.
All these, and more are what Pope Francis would call us to see and to hear. IF we are to prepare the way of the Lord,if we are to dream we must awaken to the living nightmares so many are suffering. We cannot afford to be like the proud Pharisees who just crossed the road as they came upon the man robbed and injured. To free the dreams of God within us we must see, hear the suffering and sorrows of the world, of humanity and then allow His grace to free His mercy and grace to prepare His ways. We must see the sufferings of all creatures and realize the sufferings of the Creator calls us to choose.
Life is continually a time of choosing. Advent is a time of special holy grace to look at our choices and to improve them for God, others and ourself. It is a time to repent. ALL the faithful are called to prepare the way of the Lord. We can become very comfortable in how we think that is to be done, by others and ourself. We can become, frankly, very set in our ways of following Jesus, of our worship, of our discipleship. And we can fall asleep in our faith. Crisis awakens us. Whether we want to or not we have to face truth and our call to grow in The Truth, Jesus. So God allows pandemics, wildfires and evacuations, personal crises, community changes and crises. He does so that we will see and listen to what is happening and hear His voices calling us to respond and prepare His Way.
We can choose denial and indifference. We can choose judgement and dismissal of others we deem unworthy. We can choose to pretend this earth is fine and what happens elsewhere is really not my concern or responsibility. We can choose to do anything else but…pray and act. Or.
We can choose to prayerfully prepare His Way. We can choose to see our world, each other, ourselves in His mercy and plan. We can choose to act, to build bridges of mercy and life instead of walls denial, indifference and pride. We can choose to heed the Psalmist for today as we seek to prepare ways where:
Kindness and truth shall meet, Justice and peace shall kiss, Truth shall spring out of the earth and justice look down from heaven.” ~ Psalm 85
We can choose to understand and realize our coming King is Lord of Heaven AND EARTH and that when he calls us home He will want to see how we cared for, treated our earthly home and the creation , the fellow creatures with which we shared. Or not.
It is as we see, hear, as we make our choices we will know it is time to act. To prepare the Way of God. This is eternally more than just how we may worship or pray. It is how we ACT in the whole of life. This season of Advent is a time when God would shake us and say, WAKE UP! It is time to be ready. It is a time to make ready the Way of the King. Our Advent and Christmas liturgies will not be as we would want or choose this strange year. But they can, nevertheless, be grace-filled and joyful times, in ways we would never expect. Advent, and especially Christmas are times filled with dreams. So it would be for those willing to Prepare the Way of the Lord and to build a path to a better future, a path more fully into the Presence and love who is our God.
“This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities – what we value, what we want, what we seek – and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of. What I hear at this moment is similar to what Isaiah hears God saying through him: ‘Come let us talk this over. Let us dare to dream.” ~ Pope Francis in Let Us Dream – The Path to a Better Future.