Monthly Archives: December 2014

Newness

I moved into the new house in Plan Grande on Friday, December 19. Not everything was moved, nor everything in order. But I spent the night in the house – and participated with the village in the Posadas.

The Posadas are an Advent custom that includes a sung dialogue between Joseph outside and the innkeeper within. It ends with a joyous verse, with a different melody, calling on the pilgrims to enter.

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Here, the people then listen to the day’s Gospel and a reflection, followed by coffee and a sweet bread.

I participated in the Posadas two other evenings. There were over 80 people each night.

As I reflected on the readings for the Posadas and the readings for the last nine days of Advent, what struck me was the sense of something new happening.

An angel appears in the Jerusalem temple to an old priest, Zechariah, and tells him that he’s going to be a father. He is struck dumb – literally. It’s too much for him.

The same angel visits a young virgin, Mary, in a town in the sticks and tells her that the Son of God is to be born of her. She responds that she is the Lord’s servant and the Lord dwells in her womb in an out of the way place – not in the temple.

A sterile woman, Elizabeth, gives birth to John the Baptist. That’s something new and unexpected.

God works and opens ways that are not expected.

God is the God of surprises of newness.

And on December 25 we celebrate the outstanding Good News that God becomes flesh and pitches his tent among us – in poverty.

May God open our eyes to see the newness that God brings about in the world.

And may we be open, with God-among-us, to open new ways for all God’s people, especially the poor.

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Nativity scenes – God in many colors

Where I’m now living in the Honduran countryside I don’t have internet access. (UPDATE: I got internet access in January 2015).

So I’m posting a number of the nativity sets I saw in the Ravenna, Italy, cathedral in February 2013.

God comes to us, in a poor babe in a manger – in many colors:

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O Wisdom

Today the Church begins the use of the “O Antiphons” for the Canticle of Mary at Vespers. In the English-speaking world we are acquainted with them by the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Today Jesus is invoked as “The Wisdom of God”

The Gospel acclamation reads:

O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!

The Magnificat antiphons (from Benedictine Daily Prayer) reads:

O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from the beginning to the end, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

The verse in the Advent hymn reads:

O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orders all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.

How much our world needs this wisdom of God, with so many things disordered. We need the sweetness of a God who comes among us as a poor human child.

This morning I awoke with a song that I had heard in my dream: “You, O Lord, are wonderful, all the days of my life.”

We need to remember the wonderful works of God – and the Wisdom that we are offered to work with God to help restore the sweetness of creation.

This nativity scene from an exhibition in the cathedral of Ravenna makes me think of the Wisdom of our God, revealed in a tiny Babe.

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O Come, O Wisdom of God

The Posadas

A beautiful Latin American tradition is the Posadas. People from the community – sometimes carrying a nativity scene, sometimes with children dressed as Mary and Joseph – go from door to door, seeking a posada, lodging.

The procession is accompanied by a hymn which is a dialogue between Joseph in the street and the inn-keeper inside the house. Finally, the door is opened and the pilgrims are welcomed.

In our parish here in Honduras, Padre German has invited the people to do the posadas starting on December 1, though the traditional starting date is today, December 16.

To celebrate these last nine days before the Feast of the Birth of the Lord, I’ll try to post a nativity scene, starting with several I ran across last year visiting the cathedral in Ravenna.

They suggest that the incarnation of the Lord Jesus happens in every land, in every culture. We just have to have the eyes and the heart to see.

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Revolutionary prayer: Merton and Barth

On December 10, 1968, two great twentieth century religious men died.

One, Karl Barth, was a Swiss Reformed Church pastor and theologian, who is renowned for his role with the German Confessing Church, which saw allegiance to Hitler as heresy and apostasy.

The other, Thomas Merton, was a Trappist monk, famous for his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. In his life of silence in the Abbey of Gethsemani, he wrote books and letters that shared his concern for deep love of God and his opposition to war, racism, and poverty.

Both these men shared a sense that prayer is essential for our spiritual life – and for real change in the world.

For Merton, prayer opens us to the new horizons that God is always revealing to us, if we would listen in prayer. In Contemplation in a World of Action, Merton wrote:

Prayer and meditation have an important part to play in opening up new ways and new horizons. If your prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life—and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and “safe”—God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing, in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand. In this way our prayer and faith today will be oriented toward the future which we ourselves may never see fully realized on earth.

In prayer, we can be vulnerable enough to lay aside our visions and open ourselves to the vision that God has for us and for our world. God opens us to what is possible – with God’s help and vision.

I think that is why Karl Barth saw prayer as important and wrote:

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of our uprising against the disorder of the world.

When we pray we acknowledge that the powers of this world are ephemeral and often tied to fear and violence. When we pray we can see that allegiance to Hitler – and to systems of violence and racism – are apostasy, refusals to acknowledge a living God who call us to solidarity and nonviolence.

Prayer does not take us out of the world; prayer takes us where we can see that the world is not as God wants it; and prayer can change us so that we can be signs and agents of God’s vision for this world and for the Kingdom. Prayer can be revolutionary.

Hearing the poor

My dear Lady,… this I beg you, entrust your mission to one of the important persons who is well known, respected, and esteemed, so that they may believe him. You know that I am a nobody, a nothing, a coward, a pile of old sticks… You have sent me to walk in places I do not belong. Forgive me and please do not be angry with me, my Lady and Mistress.
St. Juan Diego

 On December 9, 1531, a Christian from the Chichimeca tribe, Juan Diego Cuatitlatoatzin (“the talking eagle”), was called by the Virgin. She told him to go to the bishop and ask that a church be constructed on the hill of Tepeyac.

The bishop was skeptical, to put it mildly. But several days later the Virgin had Juan Diego gather roses in his tilma, his cloak, to show the bishop a sign. But an even more impressive sign was the image of the Virgin imprinted on his tilma, the image we now know as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

“Who would listen to an ‘indio,’ an Indian?” some would say. What can one of those uneducated savages teach us, who have been trained in the schools and churches of Europe?

That message is what Juan Diego seems to have imbibed from the Spanish invaders. It is a message that the poor, especially the rural poor, still receive from much of the world – especially here in Honduras. “You are just an ‘Indio;’ you don’t know anything. Let us tell you what to do and how to do it.”

This message comes not just from foreign institutions; it comes from people in their country, even in the government. A few years ago I read of a Honduras president of Congress who called the people “gente del monte,” which can be variously translated as “hill billies,” “hayseeds,” “people of the weeds.”

But said to say they also sometime get this message from the church. I have heard radical priests denigrate the poor because they don’t understand things.

But the message of the Virgin of Guadalupe is that God speaks to us through the poor. Sometimes those with the least education are those who can show us the wisdom of God.

This is the message of Jesus that we find in the Gospel for the Mass of St. Juan Diego:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have reveled them to the simple.
Matthew 11: 25

Today, Lord, help me to listen to the little ones, so that I may hear your voice and respond in love, as Juan Diego responded to the call of Your Mother.

Mary Immaculate

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

The feast refers to a teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary was conceived without original sin, through the working of the redemption of the human race by Jesus.

The teaching does not deny the saving power of the death and resurrection of Christ but recognizes that God’s grace is not limited by time (or place).

Mary was conceived sinless – and, by being in the presence of God all her life – remained sinless. It was God’s doing, not hers.

On this day, we who are beset by sin – not only original sin, but our own sins – might remember God’s loving grace and ask for forgiveness so that we might share in the joy of the Lord and live in his gracious love.

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This feast is special for Franciscans since they have been advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, especially Blessed John Duns Scotus. Though many theologians (including Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure) opposed it, we can find its roots even in St. Efrem the Syrian (306-373) who wrote in one of his hymns: “No blemish in you, my Lord, and no stain in Your Mother.”

Below is a photo of a large mural int he Vatican Museum of the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have no idea who all these people are – though I can identify Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans.

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Mural, Vatican Museum