Monday, November 28, 2011

First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent
Entrance Chant Ps 24(25) 1-3
Happy Liturgical New Year! It is always invigorating to begin anew, and we have so many new beginnings this week. A new year, a new season and a new translation of the Roman Missal. Like all good Catholics across the country, we were ready at Holy Mass with our Mass cards and new responses printed in bold. I was very impressed with our chapel congregation on Sunday that nearly blew us away with their enthusiastic, “And with your Spirit!”
It was a new Sunday, but we sang some very old Gregorian Chant. The Latin words of the Introit (Entrance Chant) are beautiful. My own translation follows here:
To you, my God, I lift up my soul: in you I trust, let me not be put to shame: neither let my enemies laugh at me: indeed, all who wait for you will not be confounded.
One of our cherished Poor Clare customs is to gather around our Advent wreathe to light the candles before each meal. In the evening, the Sisters take turns offering a prayer. This is my own, inspired by the Entrance Chant of Sunday:
To you, we lift up our soul, O Lord our God! We trust in you, we believe in you, we confide all our hope in you! But we see that the winter nights are long and the days will be growing cold, unwarmed by the sun’s weakening rays. We fear the strange sounds in the darkness and the footsteps that are not your own. The enemy of our soul would snare us in our weakness and laugh at our downfall. Our love, not yet perfect, has little power to cast out our fear. So you give us words to express our anguish: “Let me not be put to shame!” “My soul yearns for you in the night, yes my spirit keeps vigil for you”. You listen to our cry, and you come to save us! You are our light and our help. Whom shall we fear? You have already come and you will come, you are with us in our darkest night and our deepest sorrow. We wait for you, watching and waking. We listen for that longed for knock on the door of our hearts so that we can open to you without delay. We remember those who have waited for you and were not confounded—our Holy Father Francis, our Holy Mother Clare and all the saints who have gone before us. With them we lift up our souls. We are filled as with a banquet and our mouths will praise you with joy. We cling to you and your right hand holds us fast. Your love is better than this passing life. Come, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe Year A
Mt 25, 31-46
I have a fascination for words and for the way different languages express reality. Our English language is generally very precise and specific, but one interesting exception to this rule is the word “Love”. While other languages have a diverse vocabulary to identify the different warm, positive feelings we have for a sunset, a chocolate bar, a favorite dog, a friend, a son, a brother, a spouse, or our God, English has only one. Greek, however, has no less than four different words to describe the various forms of “Love”. One of these is “Philia”, which is the deep affectionate love between brethren or close friends. It is said that the person who feels this kind of love identifies himself with the one he loves. So, if my brother or friend is happy, I am happy, if he is sad, I am sad, if someone hurts him, then I am hurt, if he is honored, I feel honored. My brother or friend is my “other self”.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel that He has this kind of love for us. Whatever is done to the least of His brethren is done to Him. He so identifies Himself with us that our happiness is His own. In another place in Sacred Scripture, St. Paul tells us that we are part of Christ’s Mystical Body, so we should all sympathize with one another as the members of the same body sympathize with one another. I will never forget when I dropped something heavy on my foot and fractured one of my toes. Believe me, the whole rest of my body was in deep sympathy with that little toe! There was no indifference over the fate and welfare of this little member. This is what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God: to be in a close union of love with Jesus and with all our brothers and sisters. We must allow His love to flow between us and among us, not only in good feelings but in acts of mercy and kindness. Jesus told us at the last supper, “Love one another as I have loved you”. He has laid down His life for us. Let us also lay down our lives for each other. Blessed Solemnity to one and all! May the fullness of Christ’s kingdom come soon!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thief in the Night

33rd Sun. Year A
1Thes 5, 1-6
In today’s 2nd reading at Holy Mass, St. Paul describes the coming of the Lord as being like a thief at night. Anyone who has experienced a nocturnal prowler in one’s own home cannot be unmoved by this image! About 30 years ago I was sleeping in my monastic cell and I heard a strange noise in the hall. Sleepily I wondered what it was and also why my door was swung wide open. The noises gradually solidified in my mind as those made when someone is franticly opening and closing cupboard doors. My heart began to pound and my limbs seemed glued to my bed. Then a Sister yelled and a leapt to my doorway just in time to see a male figure speeding past. The Sister yelled again, this time with articulate speech: “There’s a man in the house!” I shouted back: “I saw him!” At this point, Mother Abbess poked her head out of her door and we both shouted at her, “Man in the house!” She immediately grabbed the large hand bell used for waking us up and began to ring it while walking quickly down the hall. We followed her, setting up a hue and cry which included, “Call the police!” Soon all the Sisters were aroused and gathered at the foot of the stairs on the first floor. Many had heard multiple footsteps running down the halls, so it was surmised there were several thieves. Some of the Sisters had secured makeshift weapons. I will never forget the bemused expression on the face of a 6 foot 6, broad shouldered policeman as he fixed his gaze on our tough, little Brooklyn-born sister while she brandished a curtain rod as if it were a sword and said, “Just let him touch one of my Sisters!” We told him of what we had seen, our hue and cry and the running footsteps. He glanced down at the curtain rod and said, “If I saw you all coming after me I’d run too!” Upon inspection, it appeared that one of the windows on the first floor had not been closed properly and had given easy access to our unwelcome visitors.
Not only St. Paul, but Jesus even calls Himself a “thief in the night”. So unexpectedly does He come! But does He need to come so unwanted as a thief is unwanted? St. Augustine wonders why we fear the Lord’s coming so much since we say that we love Him. Do we really love Him or do we love our sins more? Or is it perhaps that we just feel so helpless, so out of control of the situation when He suddenly comes upon us? And He does come suddenly, like a thief in the night, not only at the end of time, not only at the end of our own time at death, but even in the unexpected challenges of life. You just never know when He will come, nor how, nor under what guise. But what does He want to steal anyway? Is it not ourselves? He wants us to be His, but we are always on the defense. So He waits to catch us when our guard is down. Why don’t we instead make the job easy for Him and leave the windows open and the doors unbarred. For He only comes to take us to His Father’s house where we truly want to be.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Wise and the Foolish

32nd Sun. Year A
Mt 25,1-13
On Sunday, Jesus tells us the familiar parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. Five are prudent, bringing oil for their lamps and five are foolish, neglecting to bring the essential fuel for their own lamps. When the bridegroom finally arrives after a long delay, the foolish ladies ask the prudent ones for some oil, but are told there will not be enough to go around so they had better buy some for themselves. Of course, oil is hard to come by at midnight, so by the time the foolish get back the door to the feast is barred and they are on the wrong side. Our Lord’s parables always have surprising elements in them which are designed to make us wonder. I would like to focus on the attitude of the prudent bridesmaids. At first glance, it seemed to me that although they might be prudent, they certainly were not very nice. Why didn’t they share their oil so that the others could at least get into the wedding feast? The answer is that no matter how nice we are, how much we may love, how ardently we want our loved ones to come close to God, to live a virtuous life, to indeed be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when the Lord comes, we just cannot do that for them. Everyone must take ultimate responsibility for their own lives. This is the dignity of the human person and the terrible choice for each one’s free will. We can teach, we can give good example, we can encourage, but we cannot give our own relationship with God to another. Every good parent of a wayward child knows this sad truth. Oil often symbolizes the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture. Each one of us must choose to allow the lamp of the heart to be filled with this Blessed Oil so that it may be enkindled with the fire of His love. If the Bridegroom delays, it is so that we have more time to get ready for His feast. Let us be wise and choose well. And let us pray for those who neglect their opportunity.