Thoughts on Gospel Reading for Holy Monday, John 12:1 – 11:
Today Jesus was invited to dinner by his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, siblings. It had to be a joyous evening that flowed from a deep gratitude: their brother Lazarus was physically once dead and now is alive because Jesus raised him from the dead!
The ointment, aromatic nard, must’ve been a very precious possession. Mary doesn’t put a price on it because Jesus is worth infinitely more. She anoints the feet of Jesus with the ointment and dries his feet with her hair. What generosity and love! The fragrance of it permeated the house (in contrast with the stench of corruption from the dead body of Lazarus just a few days earlier!) Usually, the honored dinner guest has their feet washed with plain water, and one of the lowest servants is relegated with task. Mary’s gesture was prophetic, a preparation for his burial, in advance. But Judas isn’t having it.
It wasn’t just Jesus who invited, the disciples were there as well. Judas protests that the ointment could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But that’s because he was thief who helped himself to the moneybag which he was in charge of. He was thinking in terms of dollars and cents for his own benefit and not for the poor. “How can I profit from this?” Giving to the poor was just an excuse that he threw out there to mask his true intention – – and if the ointment was sold, he would’ve stolen from the poor!
It’s interesting what Jesus says about it – – I think it’s a reverse way of saying, “whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” If whatever you do for the poor, you do for Jesus then whatever you do for Jesus, the Divine Person himself, right before you, you do for the poor. Jesus is that inextricably united to the poor. What Jesus seems to be saying is that, “you will always have me in the person of the poor, but you will not always have me in person – – as I am now before you.” And so he consented to Mary’s anointing and praised her for it.
Mary of Bethany didn’t count the cost, no expense was too much, nothing was too extravagant – – because she knew who it was in her midst. As for Judas, he did not value Jesus in the least, putting a price on him: 30 pieces of silver. He couldn’t see Jesus for who he was. And that brings him to the betrayal. He sold Jesus out to people who wanted to kill Lazarus after Jesus raised from the dead, which was the greatest of his works so far attesting that he was Messiah and Lord God.
It was sad to watch (not just watch, but remotely participate in, prayerfully and with as much reverent attention as possible) – – the Mass for Palm Sunday.
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Many feel abandoned at this time. Why has God allowed us to be plunged into this darkness? As I watched, I thought about the suffering that Christ went through. We must go the way that the Master went. If he suffered how can we be exempt? The Church is the Body of Christ. If the Head suffers, the Body suffers as well. God has allowed the Members of Christ to actively participate – – not just theoretically, but actually, concretely and experientially in the sufferings of Christ. We feel it. We enter into it. But if we share in the sufferings of Christ, we will certainly share in his glorious resurrection from death. It turns out that he really is the victorious king. Psalm 22, that Jesus also prays on our behalf), which begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” ends in praise of God, “for he not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
From beginning to end, the Bible is the story of God’s love for the pinnacle of his creation: man and woman (of course this refers to humanity in general, including children). The Bible is a collection of books spanning multiple literary genres from narrative to poetry – – but it still tells one story, if read in its context as a comprehensive whole. It’s the story of God’s love which has no bounds, even when it is rejected – – and that happens a lot – – he keeps offering it again. That’s basically how to read the whole thing: cycles of fall and restoration, exile and return. Ultimately, return will be definitive and permanent.
God created man, meaning the human race, out of love. Not only that, he wishes to dwell with the human race as a friend wants to be where the friend is. Love is not satisfied with anything else. And God himself is essentially love itself. We are created by love, for love. That’s the meaning of the Bible.
Throughout 2019, I was taking a course of 2 semester long classes on the Old and New Testaments. It was offered by the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC) which exists to educate and instruct adults in the Catholic faith through an entire curriculum of teaching that covers philosophy, literature, history, the modern world, and Scripture. Good stuff. And it’s all completely free! I’ve learned a lot from the ICC, and the recent course has been no exception! It was taught by Father Sebastian, a very gifted Scripture teacher and Byzantine Catholic priest. I learned a lot from him, and from the book that supplemented our reading of the Bible, Walking with God, by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.
The Scripture course really put the prohibition against idolatry and the event of the exile into Babylon into a new perspective for me. In Exodus and the books following, God repeats the commandment to have no other gods beside him and to love him with all of one’s heart, mind, and strength. All the other commandments and even the dietary and ceremonial laws of the Mosaic covenant, have this as the heart and source. It all comes down to this. As Father Sebastian would always point out, ultimately God doesn’t care if you put bacon and cheese on your burger. The practices of the kosher laws were intended to keep the people’s hearts pure. Surrounding pagan cultures had their own ways of doing things, and Israel was to avoid imitating them so as not to worship falsely as they did. The people of Israel (not the modern State) were to be set apart for God, in order to act as a light, God’s instrument for reaching and winning over the other nations. Israel was to be the older brother, leading his siblings to know and love their Father. It wasn’t some kind of superiority complex, “look at us, we’re better than you,” etc. Israel was not meant to be like everyone else, but to be holy as God himself is holy. If they lived like everyone else, how could the other nations come to know and love God? The worst thing then would be idolatry, rejecting God as the only one who could lead to man’s fulfillment and flourishing.
There were many warnings against idolatry, especially in Deuteronomy which contained a whole section of curses and punishments that fall upon the people if they were to abandon faith in God and engage in pagan practices of worship. In short, they would lose it all. They would be lost and lose their inheritance, and ultimately end up in captivity again.
Unfortunately, in the history of salvation, there was a lot of backsliding. Even shortly after their liberation from Egypt, some of the people longed to go back. Kind of like Stockholm syndrome, missing their captors. That’s why they wanted to worship the golden calf, it reminded them of Egypt, where the false god Aphis, depicted as a bull, was worshiped. Animal sacrifice was instituted as a means for the people to make a break from this false worship of animals. Destroying sin.
The Establishment of King and Temple
When the Israelites regained the land of Canaan or Palestine, they had to continually ward off the other neighboring people to preserve their way of life and worship rightly. Often, the people would slide into the behaviors of their neighbors instead of being the lights God intended them to be. They were like children tossed to and fro. Although they knew the law of God, they failed to keep it.
After Some time of settling the land, and being led by various judges (see the Book of Judges), the people of Israel desired to have a king rule over them just like the other nations around them. The reality was that God had been king over them all along, nevertheless, God granted their request through the prophet Samuel who anointed Saul as their 1st king. However Saul committed acts of disobedience towards God and David was raised up in his stead. All the 12 tribes of Israel accepted him and he was anointed king over them all.
The Greek word behind “Good News,” is loaded with meaning, the heralding or announcing of the victory of the king. Whenever a king and his army were successful in battle, the news of his triumph and exploits went before him and the people were all to celebrate. Even though that Israel requested a king while God was their king all along, God granted the request and would work through the human king as his representative. So there were 2 kings, the Divine King and the human king. And everything was just great because the king and the people worshiped and served God as he deserves. Well – – maybe for a little while. Thus began the Golden age of Israel.
Prior to this time, God dwelt among his people in the form of the great glory cloud, or Shekinah. His presence was within the Tent of Meeting which Moses constructed for the nomadic people. This illustrates just how much God desires to dwell among his people and be their God. The glory cloud was a visible manifestation and reminder of this. Eventually, a Temple was built to house the Ark of the Covenant over which the Shekinah rested upon. God dwelt among the people with his presence as a great cloud of glory in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Downfall Begins
King David, The Anointed or “Christ,” (as all anointed kings were known, including Saul), flawed like the rest of humanity, but humble and righteous before God, was promised that his kingdom would last forever (2 Samuel 7). His son Solomon, even though he actually built the Temple, began introducing the false worship of foreign “gods” through his marriage alliances. Ironically, this wise man became a fool building shrines to idols worshiped by his pagan wives. These interactions with other nations were forbidden because they ultimately lead to worshiping as they worship, as proved to be the case with King Solomon. Because of harsher policies enacted by King Solomon’s son Rehoboam , the kingdom splintered into the Northern kingdom of Israel with its capital of Samaria, and the Southern kingdom of the tribe of Judah that preserved the line of David and valid temple worship in Jerusalem (although they had their share of bad kings.
The northern kingdom completely apostatized from the beginning and abandoned God through their practices of syncretism, blending into paganism (because of people like the wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel), and eventually were taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Prophets, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, and Amos warned them but they didn’t listen. And so, these 10 tribes of Israel were dispersed and assimilated into other cultures (722 A.D.). The poor people who remained intermarried with pagan tribes from other lands conquered by Assyria and sent to settle the land. Eventually, these people became the Samaritans. That was the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
While they had a better track record, the Kingdom of King David in the southern part of Palestine fell into grave apostasy as well. People were worshiping false gods, especially those worshiped in Babylon. Prophets such as Isaiah in the beginning and Jeremiah towards the end (i’m getting there), warned them to repent to no avail. Even the kings, the worst of whom was King Manasseh who sacrificed his own children to Molech, fell into serious idolatry. But that was kind of a cycle. There were good kings such as Hezekiah and the great-grandson of Manasseh, Josiah. However, when the last good king died, Josiah, it was too late… destruction was already set in motion, In about 586 BC, the rising Empire of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar completely devastated the land of Judah. The last king of the House of David, Zedekiah, saw his sons murdered right in front of his eyes before he was blinded and led off in chains. This ended the Davidic dynasty and it seemed that the promise that the kingdom would last forever came to a screeching halt.
The Temple with all its splendor and beauty, the place which housed God’s own Presence, was brought to the ground. The people had taken the Temple of the Lord for granted and believed that no destruction would overtake Jerusalem. All the while, they lived however they pleased and in a sense, cheated on God to whom reading they belonged. Shortly before its destruction, the prophet Ezekiel had seen a vision in which the Glory Cloud, the Shekinah, the manifestation of God among his people since the time of the Exodus, which hovered over the Ark of the Covenant, just up and left the Temple. And then it was brought to the ground.
The people of Judah, the remnants of the 12 tribes of Israel found themselves in a foreign land (because they forfeited their own through disobedience and idolatry. All of Jerusalem was completely decimated and they lost their human king as well as the Divine king whose presence left them. And so ended the glory that the people had been given by God, and they lost it all – – the warnings and curses of Deuteronomy came to pass because they rejected God.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. 16 The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! 17 For this our heart has become sick, for these things our eyes have grown dim, 18 for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it.
19 But thou, O Lord, dost reign for ever; thy throne endures to all generations. 20 Why dost thou forget us for ever, why dost thou so long forsake us? 21 Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old! 22 Or hast thou utterly rejected us? Art thou exceedingly angry with us?
It almost feels as if the zombie apocalypse is upon us and the sky is falling. Everything seems so dark and silent. Everything has changed in such a short amount of time and nothing will ever be the same. There are a lot of things that we could be anxious about right now. I’m concerned about the havoc that the coronavirus is wreaking, especially the suffering and death caused around the world because of it. About more than 6000 people have died in Italy, probably about double then in China where the first cases occurred. Anyway, it must be taken seriously in order to be eliminated. Every precaution must be taken, social distancing – – a term I’ve never heard before – – is crucial. Social media distancing might be a good thing as well, avoiding all this news about the catastrophe. Well maybe in moderation because it’s so important to know what’s going on, and of course there are so many great things happening through the availability of live streamed prayers, above all, the Holy Mass.
There is hope and light amidst the darkness. I truly believe that incredibly great things will come forth from this, which I will try to elaborate on later, God willing. Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation and I was compelled to share a few words about it on Facebook, so I share them here as well:
The suffering and deaths of people around the world due to the coronavirus really brings the value of life to focus. Today, March 25, is the great solemnity of the Annunciation when Life itself, through whom we have life, was conceived in the womb of 1 of his creatures. Because Mary said yes, Jesus came into the world to share in our humanity, to live among us, to suffer with us and lift us up that we might share in his Divinity. Even though it looks dark, there is light because the Light shone – – and shines no matter what.
I also recorded a short video clip even though it goes against my nature as painfully introverted! Will add it here as an update…
Today there are no signs of the things commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day such as parades, green beer, shamrocks, and leprechauns. Well, maybe shamrocks here and there but no one is around to display flashes of green and no one is around to see them. Anyway, with the lack of the symbols, mostly superficial, we are afforded the opportunity of getting to the heart of the man behind the usual celebrations of March 17.
St. Patrick is definitely a great Saint for these dark times. I woke up this morning with the words of the prayer that he is said to have written:
“I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me From snares of devils, From temptation of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.
I summon today All these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, Against incantations of false prophets, Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics, Against craft of idolatry, Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul; Christ to shield me today Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me […]
It’s a beautiful prayer in its entirety but I was especially thinking of these parts today in light of the current coronavirus crisis affecting the whole world. I think that it reveals a lot about Saint Patrick himself. Most powerfully, these words show us that God was the source of his strength and the One Whom he was centered on.
It was the Almighty arm of God that sustained him throughout his life, from the time he was kidnapped and taken into Ireland as a slave to the time he returned to Ireland as a Bishop of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as an ambassador of Christ Jesus. God was watching over him and protected him from all those who wished to harm him in any way.
St. Patrick brought the light of Christ into the darkness surrounding the Emerald Isle. He stood off against the Druids who were responsible for keeping the people of Ireland shrouded in the shadows of pagan beliefs. There is the story of how he lit a bonfire in defiance of the customary lighting of fire that was always done by the Druid priests. This was done by St. Patrick who was celebrating the great Feast of the Resurrection, the Easter Vigil, when Christ conquered death. it is said that he cast out all of the snakes of the land. Whether or not he literally did this or if this is symbolic of his casting out of dark forces, you get the idea of what a force he was. And so, I think we would do good to seek his intercession in this time when the pestilence of coronavirus is affecting thousands of people around the world and is responsible for the deaths of thousands.
St. Patrick, may we trust in God as the source of our strength. In the name of Jesus Christ, help to guard against anything that could cometo harm us, especially this virus.
God willing, I hope to be back here with some more thoughts.
It’s February 11 again, and that means that I’ve been thinking about Lourdes all day (see Lourdes post). The experience was so unforgettable that much of my time there vividly stands out in my mind even though it will be 20 years this August. The ripple effect of the spiritual healing I received in Lourdes continues to be felt, whether consciously or subconsciously. Having been in that holy sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes reminds me to persevere and live my life with confident hope.
Even though it’s rough going at times, life is definitely worth living. Yes there is suffering and hardship but the darkness always gives way to the light found at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been thinking about the blessing it is to be alive especially after watching recent celebrations of life such as One Life LA, the March for Life, and the Walk for Life West Coast. Every life has value, from conception to natural death. In spite of the trial of another broken arm and the limitations that come with it, I know that my life matters.
This Sunday it will be 6 weeks since I broke my left arm. On Epiphany Sunday, In the church parking lot as we were about to leave, my arm got stuck on the van door and went backwards as my chair raced forward. The blanket on my lap partly slipped on top of the switch used to drive and there was nothing that could have been done to stop it because I had the speed on max. Good thing the other side door was closed or I could have actually toppled out right onto the pavement. “I am about to break my arm,” was what flashed through my mind as it happened almost as if in slow motion. Sure enough, moments later, in the hospital, the x-ray indicated a fracture in the upper left arm. In retrospect, I could have even dislocated my shoulder – – I remember actually touching the cold metal of the van door as I was forcefully propelled inside. But thanks be to God it was limited to this.
As I waited in the emergency room with my parents, I had an inexplicable inner peace that could only come from the Holy Spirit. I didn’t freak out, become overly sad or downcast, nor did I feel that it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. The sense that everything would be okay just enveloped me. I was allowed to remain calm by the grace of God.
But this is not to say that the ordeal has been easy since the 1st day it happened. It’s been more challenging to just get up and out of bed and go about my morning routine. Sometimes I just wanted to stay in bed, thinking it would be easier. But that has its own set of problems, such as sitting up and eating without too much trouble, or the feeling of being stuck. I was just watching Netflix and listening to audiobooks until I decided to make every necessary effort to get in my chair each day. And it’s been worth it.
As I said in the beginning, life itself is worth living. And this becomes apparent when God gives you opportunities to manifest His goodness in the midst of all the trials. The fact that I can actually speak and use my voice to encourage people who are going through similar trials, is an example. Recently I learned how to use Dragon Dictate for Mac to navigate the computer by voice command in addition to merely dictate text (like I’m doing now). Besides that, I can now drive my chair with a plug-in switch in my right hand. Up until the freak accident, I drove and moved the laptop track-pad/mouse with my left hand. Because I can drive again it is easier to converse with friends and visitors. Even if I couldn’t do these things, my purpose is in being rather than in doing. There is a quiet peace and even joy that comes with suffering which I cannot explain.
In Lourdes, the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary told St. Bernadette that she is not promised happiness in this life, but in the next. This does not mean that we are to be completely miserable here but that the fleeting glimmers of happiness are not guaranteed to last, and cannot be compared with the glory of eternal life that is assured to us in Christ Jesus, who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. Praise be to His Name!
Edited to add:
2 things that stand out to me:
My dignity and value do not flow from what I can or cannot do. Just existing as a vessel through which God works, praying for others, giving God glory and praise with every breath is sufficient when you find that you physically cannot move. I reminded of how St. Bernadette spoke of her time spent in the infirmary which was quite often because her poor health. To paraphrase: “I am doing my job, I am suffering.” But like St. Bernadette we can spiritually be transported to the Grotto of Lourdes and find peace and consolation in the midst of it. I don’t know where your happy places are, readers, but I like to go to Lourdes in my mind for refreshment.
Before I broke my arm, I was getting ready to respond to a non-Catholic regarding the idea of Mary as Co- Redemptrix. He thought this title took away from the role of Jesus as sole mediator and Redeemer who is the author and cause of salvation. However, what it actually means is that the Blessed Virgin Mary was given a share in the suffering of Christ and participated in it in a way that only a mother can. Her heart was pierced through when her Son’s heart was pierced by the lance of the soldier (Luke 2:35). As I was lying in bed a week or 2 after the accident, I saw how my mom had to frequently walk from one end to the house to the other to attend to me. She was there sitting beside me and even at one point tripped over some wires in my room. I saw that she was suffering as well because I was suffering. Although I was the one with the broken arm, my mom was suffering too. To suffer with. This is exactly what Our Lady does. She did this for Jesus and she does this for us when we are suffering. She was there for St. Bernadette.
Oh yeah, there is a another thing: when I broke my arm, my chair was on max speed. Yes, I was speeding prior to the accident. Don’t speed. Prevention is better than the cure. Some sufferings can be avoided or at least mitigated. Good advice that!
Christianity is universal, or Catholic, in its fullest expression. Jesus Christ came for all people in every time, place, and culture. It’s not imperialism or colonialism to bring the Gospel, the Good News of the Great King, and introduce him to the world. Because he created the world.
Today, I think about 35 the 26 Japanese martyrs, St. Paul Miki and his companions. They, like Christ, were crucified, and for his sake. They proclaimed him to the end, singing Psalms, praying prayers, thanking God, and repeating the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. This is all while they were all fixed to crosses, on a hill in Nagasaki. St. Paul Miki was given the strength to preach Jesus, acknowledging that he was Japanese and indeed, dying because of his profession in Jesus Christ his King.
St. Paul was a Jesuit seminarian and a native of Japan. His parents were Catholics. St. Francis brought the message of Christianity to Japan and laid the groundwork. While initially received by the shogunate and Japanese Imperial government, Christianity was banned by the late 1500s. Catholics were being persecuted, among them, St. Paul Miki and a group of catechists, priests, and even one as young as 12. Some of these were from the Philippines, Spain, Portugal, and even Mexico. But most were from Japan.
The Emperor, Hideyoshi, ordered for them to have their ears cut off as a sign of disgrace they were marched from Kyoto to Nagasaki, around 480 miles. They embraced their crosses there. Before they were pierced through with spears, St. Paul Miki preached for the last time and forgave his enemies.
There is a memorial and Shrine dedicated to these first martyrs of Japan, there in Nagasaki.
Christianity continued in Japan after persecutions and missionaries were surprised to discover the presence of hidden Christians (Kakure Krrishitans) who kept the faith alive.
It’s always good to catch a movie at the theater, (weather permitting), during the week of the Christmas Octave. As I’ve mentioned many times before, Christmas Day is 8 days straight and the season continues to at least after the Epiphany (Three Magi/Wise Men/King’s Day, January 6 this year). The weather was in the 50s so I figured why not. I saw it, accompanied with the help of room, and with a friend, and his son, who had been wanting to see it and was free last Saturday afternoon. Thanks be to God!
Nostalgia swelled up again as the title scrolled down the screen accompanied by John Williams’ famous score. (I will try not to give away any spoilers). It was a good movie, enjoyable, very satisfying conclusion to the series. Well at least I hope it’s a real, definitive conclusion. They should just leave it alone. In the words of the little safety cone looking droid, “no thank you,” to anything further. I’m saying this because I don’t want the risk of anymore bad Star Wars movies. And I think the last one, “The Last Jedi,” was inarguably the worst of them ever. i mean it was a total parody making fun of Star Wars. A complete joke that can’t even hold a candle to “The Phantom Menace.” I digress. The Rise of Skywalker, while admittedly not the best Star Wars movie (that distinction goes to either a New Hope or Empire strikes back – – I can’t decide), was a good movie, enjoyable, with plenty of quotes from the previous movies of course, because it has to have something to fall back on.
As I watched it I was pleased with the way it kind of corrected the misdirected trajectory of “The Last Jedi.” For example, towards the end of Episode 8, it seemed that the rebel forces went down to just a handful as did the leadership of the “First Order.” Not exactly, according to Episode 9. Also, the question of who Rey’ s parents really, really are is really answered. And how does Kylo Ren will really feel about that “ridiculous” helmet/ mask. Speaking of Kylo/Ben Solo still very much believes in the Force and depends on it contrary to what he seemed to be telling Rey in Episode 8. The movie kind of actually knows where it’s going in terms of the plot. Still, the story and writing is kind of sloppy I think.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I will say that there is much redemption in “The Rise of Skywalker.” And there are some good themes:
My friend Mike, picked up on something that had occurred to me as well. The Jedi and all the good guys don’t defeat the Sith and evil forces in isolation. The main character needs the rest of the supporting team to take down the bad guys and this concept applies to the other side as well. This is true of all the Star Wars movies. No one does anything strictly on one’s own power and sole efforts, without the assistance of others, not even Han Solo. This idea, echoed in the movie, is pronounced in the belief of the “Communion of Saints.” Even in death, there is no separation from being in communion with those gone before you. In the case of Star Wars, Jedi ghosts. In the case of reality, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus, especially death, because he defeated death definitively. In Christ, the head of the body, all the members are united whether living on earth, heaven, or purgatory. We can help each other out. Just as the Jedi ghosts offer assistance to the struggling living, the Saints in heaven help out the saints on earth.
One scene that is etched on my mind and will remain so, is seen towards the end. The battle is dire, like Frodo on Mount Doom dire, and it’s up to one person (kind of, but not in isolation) to put an end to the dark forces (for how long in this case, I have no idea. Again, hopefully forever.). It seems that all the evil combined, that we have ever known since in New Hope is being harnessed against someone who is outmatched. But all the good that we have ever seen in the Star Wars movies is also at work. This power flows through the heroic Jedi. We see the idea that one Jedi can possibly have all the power of all the ones who went before. Truth there is to this idea:
Anyone who is is in Christ through baptism, bearing his name, has his life and power flowing through him. We have the Gift of the Holy Spirit, a Divine Person, not a interpersonal force, flowing in us. He unites us, as branches, to the Vine who is Christ. A Christian is united to the rest of the body, through and in the Head. Christ lives in us, including those who went before us. And Christ is one. Therefore all who are in him are one in him, in a real sense. We are one in him and his power that flows in him. All the power of all who preceded us in Christ is ours as well. We can do all things in and through him.
Life in Christ is the gift of God for us at Christmas. We are given a share in the Divine Nature by his sharing in our human nature. By his human birth, our humanity is elevated. The surpassing power is from him; we can do all things through him. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. (Psalm 19).
Everybody who knows me knows that I get cold very easily. When winter starts coming through, I begin to basically hibernate. I don’t go outside at all when it is anywhere from 43° to 32°F or lower. Unfortunately, I am forced to miss Holy Mass on Sundays several times. Bundling up works, which is what I do even in the lower 50s, but only to a certain extent. Many layers, and I’m still cold. How cold? My body temperature has been known to drop to 92° with me functioning normally. Call me Iceman.
I’m not at all a fan of the winter weather. And today’s the first day of winter, December 21 I miss the sunshine.
In the summer, I am known to sit outside for hours, soaking up the sun so to speak. For as long as I can, I just stay there avoiding any semblance of shade until it gets too humid or my face and hands feel like they are burning off. But I just can’t get enough of the sun. I feel energetic and strengthened by the sun. I am like Superman who gets his energy and strength the sun. One glimpse of a ray of sunlight makes me extremely happy.
I often ask Alexa for weather updates. She politely obliges and tells me that it’s 30 something degrees outside and that there will be plenty of sun but then she adds – – “enjoy the sunshine!” I think she’s mocking me.
I am writing this reflection on the first day of winter, December 21. It is the last Saturday of Advent, the second and final stage of preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is the day that the Church cries out:
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
Traditional O Antiphon, O Dayspring or O Oriens
During the eight days right before Christmas, there is a series of antiphons which are sung or chanted at evening prayer or vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. I believe I have written a little bit about them before, here on this blog. Anyway, these antiphons are called the O Antiphons, and they are each based on a messianic prophecy found in Book of Isaiah, for example, the one for today:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.
The O Antiphons also make up the verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:
I really love praying on these titles which are ultimately fulfilled in the long expected Divine King, Jesus the Christ or Messiah. The all antiphons supercharged last-minute preparation for Christmas as they express our longing for a Savior. As I am particularly missing the sunshine today because it is cold and dark, I am reminded that it is Jesus who is warmth and light. He is the light shines in the depths of darkness, including the darkness within, illuminating it with the radiance of his life. The darkness cannot fathom or bear the light that he brings and Is destroyed under his brilliance:
“For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”
Malachi 4:1 – 2
For all those who receive the Light, the Light changes them into himself, strengthening them to shine it onto others. That is why he who said, “I AM the Light of the World” can say to us, “You are the Light of the World.” This is what we long for, for the true light to come into the world and enlighten, transform, and elevate us, we who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. And one day, the day that will never end, when the cold and chill are done away with, these words will come to pass:
And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
“if you have enough breath to complain about anything, you have more than enough reason to be thankful for something.”
– Mattie Stepanek
That is one of my favorite quotes. Considering that the one who said it had to use a ventilator in order to breathe, it’s all the more powerful. Mattie was grateful for his life in the midst of his circumstances and remained joyful. He wasn’t a complainer. And there was much that he could have complained about. After all, he was raised by his mother who had the same disease in adulthood, lost several of his siblings when they were very young, had to use a wheelchair, needed a ventilator, etc. But he wasn’t given to complaining, rather, he spent more time giving thanks. Gratitude. That was Mattie’s secret as to why he was joyful and not bitter.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where it’s difficult not to complain. Reflecting on my own life, it’s usually when I’m faced with some kind of perceived injustice or slight against me or people I’m sympathizing with, or some difficulty or imagined difficulty I’m having. I’m so blessed and privileged to even be able to have the ability to complain—- I can breathe, I have life. It’s when I take a moment to stop and realize this, the strong feelings of wanting to complain start to subside and everything falls into perspective.
It’s important and necessary to be thankful. We can hardly live on this earth without being people of gratitude because there’s always something we can complain about. We will go completely crazy thinking about the difficulties and whatnot. Looking at it more positively, we have to have this “attitude of gratitude” in order to appreciate life. Hopefully we will eventually begin seeing blessings all around us to the point of seeing them even behind the difficulties and suffering.
Ultimately, who is it that we are thankful to if not to God “from whom all blessings flow.” Everything we have is a gift, including that next breath we take. Our very existence is a gift to us. Our talents, treasures, abilities, friends, families, and even the selfless good works that we do our gift to us from God. Sometimes some non-Catholic Christians get it twisted and think that Catholicism teaches that we ourselves are responsible for our good works and can even earn our salvation through them. That is not what Catholic Christianity teaches. Not all. On the contrary, we believe that God gives us the grace to do good works in order to cooperate with him in his saving plan. Not only that, he shares his glory with us in making us his children – – this is the principle behind our understanding of Saints with a capital S. There is much to be thankful for. How immeasurably generous God is to us!