December 18, 2018

Gabriel - The Angel of Advent

When St. Gabriel appeared to a humble handmaid, he became the first evangelist.  Through the meeting of the archangel with this woman of faith, heaven evangelizes earth.  Sent from above, the heavenly power makes known a truth that has humbled all of heaven, and the humility of this virgin welcomes it in faith.  He does not come to overwhelm, frighten or oppress this creature full of grace. He comes with a greeting and a word of courage to this Daughter of Zion. He makes known what her intelligence could not fathom. Divine promises are fulfilled in an unanticipated way. The unimaginable message surpasses every hope. By the ministry of an angel, the Word is conceived first in the human heart, but then in the womb - and through this heart, every heart has new hope, and through this womb, all wombs made sacred.

December 17, 2018

Gentleness of Advent

As the Christmas mystery draws near, we are tested by Divine Gentleness to a greater love. Our meanness of spirit is revealed in flashes of anger over something trivial or in a bitter judgment of heart that we want to forget, but find ourselves unable to let go. We wound with a glance and kill with a single whisper. Even our smiles in a tense moment betray hostility. In all of this we confront how countless banalities and irrational judgments threaten our freedom to love. We also discover our sluggishness toward God. We distract ourselves from the promptings of the Gentle God because they are inconvenient, and then we wonder why He seems so distant.

For all this, we have reason to hope and our hope is not in vain. Divine Love is not content to allow us to wallow in self-pity or wrath. The Almighty permits our failures only so that a greater victory might be ours. He knows what we face and He has taken our side, implicating Himself in our plight. He enfleshes Himself in our hearts and works to be brought to birth in our actions. The Just Judge tests only to encourage us to turn to Him again and to allow Him to reveal the perfection of His power in our weakness.

If we have fallen, it is not too late to ask the Lord to lift us up. If we have wounded a heart that is close to us, ask the Lord for the humility to admit fault and make reparation. He will give this grace. If we cannot forgive or forget an offense, submit to the Holy Spirit who teaches compassion and how to intercede for those who have hurt us.  Our mysterious Advocate will not fail us. Above all, cling to the love of God when love seems impossible. Love rebuilds what we have destroyed, and whatever it costs in prayer and sacrifice, it is worth the expense. For in the grace filled effort to love, our inadequacy is met with a Divine caress.

December 16, 2018

Rejoice, Daughter Zion

The joy of the Mother of God, in these days drawing close to the nativity, opens up new depths of the Advent Mystery. She personifies the New Jerusalem, and the title Daughter of Zion applies to her in astonishing ways.  She is an icon of the Church, the Bride for whom the Bridegroom comes. Mighty divine relations of Father, Son and Spirit impact frail human relations in her, not to destroy or diminish, but to renew in love. And in her womb, the Word made flesh is become her joy, and Her soul, in response, declares infinite magnitudes that this world cannot hold.

How can any frail human words proclaim the Almighty Word? How can this finite creature express infinite meaning and communion? Even still, something in her maternal heart explodes into action and no power in heaven or hell can hold her back. And because she personifies the Church, we who are members of Christ's Body are part of this very jubilation. We are, each of us, words of the Word made flesh. Because God draws close to us, our lives in their very particularity and limits are implicated in the joy of magnifying the infinities of Divine love.

Who could have guessed that the Lord's promises would be fulfilled in this way? The prophet Zephaniah commands the Daughter of Zion to shout for joy, and the Handmaid of the Lord exclaims, "My spirit rejoices in God my savior." He declares that the Lord, the mighty Savior, is in her midst, and she foresees that "all generations shall call me blessed."  He foretells that the Mighty God "will rejoice" over her and "sing joyfully" because of her, and she exclaims, "My soul magnifies the Lord."

To magnify the Lord, we must welcome Him with the surrender of our whole existence. We must make ourselves vulnerable as He has become vulnerable to us. This means whole mountains of sluggishness must come down and valleys of indifference filled with empathy for others.

John the Baptist's message help us make the crooked ways of our hearts straight. He knows that the Lord is close at hand and answers the anxious questions of those who know they were not yet prepared. If even he once asked "Are you the One?", do we have any hope of responding to the truth and light of the Word who comes to us?

The Daughter Zion is not discouraged or afraid of such anxieties, and she know the assurance that we need as the Word is conceived in our hearts. For she knows the question of the Baptist and the questions in our hearts have an answer. She knows this answer is not a puzzling proverb to quiet our minds or any clever technique by which we surmount anxieties. The answer is her Son, the Word of the Father who speaks into the whole earthly existence of our very being. She knows a simple act of trust in Him is greater than all fears no matter the threat we face. Her hope is grounded in the Word's triumph over evil and lives in the Holy Humanity that He has won on the Cross. This means Mary's hope lives in the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Daughter of Zion knows that the Lord has come to forgive sin and to defeat the enemies of holy humanity.  She ponders the words of the Word that live in His Body as His members These same words echo the Word made flesh in the world. Each saint is a new expression of the Word who has come, not to condemn, but to save. And we, the members of His Body are born as was He, not into a welcoming world, but into one in which we are not received. The Virgin is not dismayed by this and Advent invites us to see what she sees.

Mary ponders the greatness of the Lord in the hearts of those who are obedient to the Word. Betrayal, denial and abandonment in the Church are no more than the stammered syllables through which the Father whispers His mysterious love into our pain. The story that He entrusts to us does not end in misfortune. In the limits of time and space and in the brokenness of human misery, new joy fills the Virgin as the words of the Eternal Word are born anew in our midst.

December 14, 2018

The Mission of the Baptist in the Advent of the Lord

The mystery of John the Baptist cries out in a world whose love has grown cold. His voice tolls to awaken our dull consciences. He calls out to help us recognize the truth that only love knows. If we do not hear this testimony, it is easy to forget what it means to be, not only a Christian. but simply human. Christ comes for humanity and to prepare for Him, we must return to human tenderness. Such is the mission of the Baptist in the advent of the Lord.

If we would heed his message, God would make our hearts vulnerable to the joy of Christmas. If we set his testimony free in our hearts, the Baptist's cry has the power to limit on what the world can claim from us. If we allow him to admonish us regarding the truth about marriage and family, about faithfulness and sin, about God and our neighbor, we would not be trapped or embarrassed by our own rash judgments. Let us live in denial no longer but obey his call to act justly and to love tenderly.

Obedience to the messenger prepares for the coming of Word of the Father. Yes, John still challenges us to step out of the shadows of sin and to wash in the waters of truth. If we are comfortable, the Camel-hair prophet makes us uneasy.  If we are arrogant, his message humbles us. If we are confused, he is there to clarify. If we are discouraged, he helps us find the heart we need. Will we recognize the hour of our visitation?

In the lifeless desert of secular living, who can help us find Living Water? Indulging heaps of technology, we have become spiritually dull. In our self-conceit and self-interest, we live imprisoned in our egos. Fearing inconvenience, we have robbed ourselves of the greatness of God's love. Condemning our enemies and exacting payment, we owe debts that we cannot repay.  Thus, the Forerunner comes to cut through our fear, insobriety, and lust for control - and makes us humble before the truth once again.

Where is the wilderness in which he ministers? This testimony echoes in the distressing outburst of an autistic child, and is heard in the quiet sobs of a grieving widow. It resounds among the brokenhearted who have lost it all and even thunders among the cynical who risk being lost forever. This cry is familiar to the powerless and poor. It is repeated by the forlorn and the forsaken.  It is the hope of the homeless and the humiliated.  The diseased and the dying draw close to it.

To hear this spirit of Elijah, withdraw into your heart, be still and attend to your conscience.  When you hear his voice, do not delay but act. Obey his instruction to confess your sins and to make reparation for what you have done and not done for others. Let him admonish you to not abandon those that God has entrusted to you. He tells you to reconcile with those in your household and to persevere with one another out of reverence for Christ. Return kindness for injury. He bids you to seek forgiveness from those you have hurt and to forgive those who have wounded you. If someone were to say this is impossible for men, he would be right. Do not be discouraged but listen again to the Baptist: he beseeches you to go to the Bridegroom and ask Him for the grace - for he knows that all things are possible for God, and that the Lord fulfills His promises in unanticipated ways.

December 11, 2018

Our Lady of Guadalupe

This mysterious Woman came to the poorest of the poor with a mysterious word of hope when hope was most needed. She did not declare it to the powerful. She did not entrust it to those comfortable with life. She did not go to someone highly regarded in the world. Instead, she put her hopes in a simple and hidden heart of a humble man in a very broken time.

He thought he could avoid her impossible task, but she found him. He thought he was not worthy, but she told him not to be afraid.  In the end, while it was neither convenient nor comfortable, he obeyed her maternal request, and his obedience allowed her to awaken faith in those whose dignity was on the line.

This mysterious Woman comes again. Entrusted to us as our Mother, she is a gift from Jesus who has given us everything. Holding nothing back, He hopes that we will take her into our homes. Are we simple and hidden enough for her to find us? Are we meek enough for her to rely on us?

For many have forgotten hope and many more long for peace, and she cannot be indifferent to their plight. She wants them to know her Son. If we welcome it in prayer, her maternal love gives us courage to witness to the Savior of the World.