Prayer gets better as it gets simpler. We don’t need a lot of words to commune with God. A phrase or even just a word can center us, focus us, carry us, it seems, into God’s very presence. For me now the word is “close”.
Christmas is a feast of “close” —close first as opposed to far. God is the Great Traveler, on the longest journey: “While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, your almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from your royal throne.” (Wisdom 18 14-15) God enters our world and joins our race God’s Son empties himself to fill the abyss between divine and human, to close the distance between God and ourselves. He claims no exemption from infancy. He enters the world as we did, as a baby. God eternal has a birthday. God almighty becomes helpless. God all-knowing is ignorant. God’s word is unable to speak. “The word became flesh and pitched his tent among us,” He came to share our lot, to live our life and die our death, one of us right from the beginning. Close.
Close as opposed to cold, distant, indifferent, uninvolved, unapproachable. He not only shares our existence. He shares his parentage; his Father becomes Our Father. In St. Paul’s words, “God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, the spirit that cries ‘Abba’” (Gal 4-6). Abba. Aramaic for “dad”. Because Jesus is our brother, God is now dad, family. Close. And because God is beyond gender, God is also mom. So close.
Close as in union, communion, intimacy, oneness, love. Jesus relentlessly closes the distance. “You are my friends.” (John 15-14) “I am in my father and you in me and I in you.” (John 14-20) What could be closer? Staying close and growing closer. “Remain in my love,” (John 15-10) “Now we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3-2) Unimaginable closeness. Identification with God. “We shall be like him.’ What is there about us that makes God want to be so close? Maybe it’s better not to question it; maybe we should just try to live up to it.
Listen to your life
So much has happened
since this happened
two thousand years ago
Pause and look
at this scene
of shepherds, camels and kings
And ask yourself
can I ever fulfill
set for me
by this tiny child
in the crib of Bethlehem
hopes made known
when he said to the fishermen
he first met by the Sea of Galilee
Come follow me
imitate what I do
live my life through yours
turn your back
on those in need
out your hand
to one who is falling
to enjoy life
by pausing to look at a tree
by listening to
Honor a person
him or her by name
that simple deeds
cause things to happen
that your presence
is a miracle
who you are before
you wish to know another
doesn’t come from pages
but from heard silence
Pause once more before
of shepherds, camels and kings
and listen again
to the holy infant’s hopes for you
to live his life
May we have peace………
4th Sunday Advent – C 12/20/15
Some 24 years ago, I was with my wife, Linda, and daughter, Whitney, in Paris, getting ready in a few hours to board the overnight train to Rome, Italy. Whitney was six years old at the time.
One of Whitney’s favorite stories that I had been reading to her for years was The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry. It is a delightful story, simple enough to be enjoyed by children, yet profound enough to be appreciated by adults.
Much to Linda’s anxiety that we would miss our train, Whitney and I grabbed a cab and set off to the famous English-speaking Shakespeare and Company bookstore on the Left Bank to purchase the French version of The Little Prince.
Over the years, it has become a special tradition that my daughter and I share. As she or I have traveled to a foreign country, we’ve purchased copies of The Little Prince written in that country’s language. Translated into more than 250 languages, it is the third most translated book in the world. We now have versions in French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Whitney studied at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and I just found a version of the book in Zulu.
The story is that the Little Prince is an alien from another planet. One day he finds himself stranded on earth. Naturally, he’s lost and confused.
One inhabitant on earth who helps him is an animal, a fox. Eventually, a deep friendship develops between the two. The fox is wisdom, personified, and teaches the little prince such things as “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
At one point the Little Prince and the fox must go their separate ways. Just before they do, the fox insists on setting the exact time for their next meeting.
They agree on four o’clock of a very specific date certain. When the Little Prince asks the fox why he wants to set the time so exactly, the fox says, “If I know you’re coming at four o’clock, then I’ll begin to be happy at three o’clock.’’
I know many of us are still caught up in last minute shopping, the chaos of the moment, in fact, annoyed if we have to go to another Christmas party.
But please just stop and think about the winnowing fan that Fr. Frascadore gave us last week, and remember his words, “Place them beneath the tree to remind you to hold on to the precious and abandon the worthless.”
The 4th Sunday of Advent can be like the fox, “If I know you’re coming at four o’clock, then I’ll begin to be happy at three o’clock.’’ This Sunday begins a week of special anticipation. Christmas is only a few days away. And like the fox, we can begin to be happy, because we anticipate with joy the arrival of another “little prince,’’ the eternal Prince of Peace.
May He bring peace to you individually, to your family, to this community, this country. May the Prince of Peace bring peace to a planet even more frightening than what the Little Prince found.
12.13.15 3rd Sunday
When I was a kid
I never knew what I wanted
Now that I am not
a little kid
I know exactly
what it is
I want for Christmas
a winnowing fan—
…yes winnowing fan
And the reason
I want a winnowing fan
is that Jesus had one
brought a winnowing fan
In his time
farmers after harvesting
fields of wheat
Would separate the grain
from their shells
of dried grass
By tossing the crop high into the air
and as it fell
fanning it vigorously
The ripe kernels of grain
would be caught by a platter
and the dry grass whisked away by the wind
What Jesus is telling us
with his winnowing fan
we can separate the precious from the worthless
To hold on tightly to what is precious
in our lives
our loves and our hopes and our dreams
And to get rid of the worthless things
in our lives
our angers and jealousies and vanities
On your way out of church
today we have hand made winnowing fans
for you to take home
Place them beneath the tree
to remind you
to hold on to the precious and abandon the worthless
2nd Sunday Advent – Cycle C 6 December 2015 Luke 3: 1-6
Advent is supposed to be a time of quite anticipation, but the reality is that with our rush and crush of Christmas shopping, parties, and frustrations over parking at the mall; Advent is anything but a time for us to think about the wondrous gift that will occur in a few weeks – the gift of Christ being borne into our lives. As Fr. Frascadore said last week to the RCIA candidates, “The first words that Jesus Christ spoke to us on earth was a baby’s cry.”
Two weeks ago, as we were coming down the aisle to begin mass, I glanced over and saw Jenna and Bill Campana and their son Evan. I baptized Evan in 2013, he is now 2½, and he was sitting there eating Cheerios out of a plastic bag.
It reminded me of a 1998 article written by a good friend, Denis Horgan, who was a columnist for the Hartford Courant, and a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle. I called Denis and got his permission to use that article as my homily. May it remind us what is important in this Advent season, and so I quote:
“Deep down below the archly vaulted ceiling, far beneath the pale, beatific, stained glass stares of Sts. Bartholomew and Andrew, tucked under the hard, hard pew with its kangaroo racks of prayer books and exhortations of the scribbler Paul, just a bit back into the shadows cast by the kneeler upon which the hinges of the thousands of faithful have rested, there, on the floor, you might notice a Cheerio.
An elf’s doughnut.
Since it is not widely the custom for the communicants at St. Thomas the Apostle Church to take their breakfast at Mass, you know exactly where that little lifesaver came from. There is mystery aplenty in that solemn place of faith and love, but the lonely Cheerio is not one of them.
A child left it there, an errant snack brought in a plastic bag, part of the nearly universal ransom package cautious parents pay in advance in the hopes of moments of quiet — Grant Us Peace — as the services unfold.
Sometimes it even works.
Occasionally tiny children will be content to count their toes and to wonder at how they change the lightbulbs 10 miles up in the ceiling and to gnaw on the hymnal and to wriggle contentedly in their mothers’ arms. Yes, it will happen that a little tot will spend the entire moment examining his sandflake fingernails and teasing her father’s hair and generally being at languid, cherubic ease. And eating their Cheerios.
Mostly, though, such unnatural calm is more likely to show up on the stained glass windows than under them. Kids are born to squirm. They are designed to crawl and express themselves and explore and yip and yodel. Their internal devices compel them to be moving every 11 seconds, to be elastic and curious. They are drawn loose and have the important assignment of checking out the neighboring pews, fore and aft, for interesting sights, for diverting people with whom to engage in wondrous eye contact. That’s their job. And eating their Cheerios from the plastic bag is the reward.
The reward for the rest of us is that they are there in the first place.
Even acting as children are fully expected to act, always more of an alarm to their parents than to most of those around them, the little sprites carried to church have a way of brightening up the place and adding a special poignancy to a ceremony of reflection and rededication. It is in their lively presence that the richest measures of unencumbered love are registered. It is in their uncluttered spirit that most perfectly one finds responsibility embraced, less- than-perfections ignored, hope and more hope uncovered.
In their innocence they create a strength, 100-times-100-times more than existed before their beaming smiles illuminated the environment, of the heart brighter than a million suns; in their simplicity, they inspire a complexity of promise, opportunity, generosity, caring, justice and tenderness that is enough to churn the great engine which makes one welcome day, follow another.
Little they care about that, though, bursting to experience the bundled up world around them, comfortable in the truth that they have a place in church as much as anywhere. Maybe even more. Past the Introit to the Kyrie through the processions and professions, everywhere around the Agnus Dei and Sign of Peace, their cheerier interests are in seeing what there is to see under all that music and praying.
To this end they will pop up like a periscope to study the folks in the row behind, a gift to them — to us — of Alleluia proportions. Some will burrow like prairie dogs or coal miners beneath the pews, others will crawl like Humvees over the mere adults in attendance, finding a grip in ancient hair here, on a handy nose there. One in a million will be oddly quiet over the entire span, while the rest will trumpet with bleeps and yowls each discovery or accomplishment and defy any frustration.
Bribed with cereal delicacies, they decline to stay bribed; instead, their energy and life and beauty is contributed in such great abundance, undiminished by any tawdry limits or restraint. Good for them.
Maybe there is some respectful urge towards tidiness to pick up that Cheerio under the pew. Maybe, too, it’s a better thing to leave it there, a souvenir of the presence of a spirit entirely perfect to the spirit of love being honored and renewed in a million million services where such happy distractions are welcomed.” End of article.
So, thank you, Denis Horgan. And thank you, Evan William Campana, for reminding me about Cheerios, for reminding me that Advent is a time of hope, a time of anticipation, because the very first words that Jesus Christ spoke to those of us on Earth where those of a child.
First Sunday of Advent C Cycle 11/29/15
I think most of us have seen Vincent Van Gogh’s picture “Starry Night”. A popular song, “Vincent” was based on it. It began, “Starry, starry night…” Anyway, the picture vividly portrays some of the heavenly bodies in such a way that they seem to be shaking. Van Gogh was religious in a morbid sort of way, and he may well have been thinking of Our Lord’s imagery about strange things happening in the sky when he comes again.
Every day we pray “Thy Kingdom Come”. The early Christians thought Christ would come back any minute and end this world as we know it. But as time went on, they began to get more and more comfortable in this world. When the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, they got very comfortable. And we are told that at the prayer of the faithful, people would introduce petitions like: May your kingdom not come too soon!”
I think we can understand why. All this talk about the powers of heaven shaking, the sun and moon falling from their places is pretty scary. It’s like the ultimate disaster movie. But if we were honest, we might agree that the real chaos is here, now, in us. Instead of being afraid of the end of the world, maybe we ought to be afraid of ourselves, of the way we’re living our lives right now, of the darkness in our souls.
All of us have something in our lives that only makes sense if we were going to live in this world forever. It could be accumulating more wealth and possessions than we and our families need without a thought for the millions of people who do not have enough. It could be nursing grudges, being ruled by anger and hatred. It could be letting addictions dominate our lives. It could be living as if there were no God. The psalmist laments, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God”. (psalm 14)’ The psalmist wasn’t talking about philosophical atheism. There was no such thing in those days. He was talking about practical atheism—finding no room for God in our lives.
The death of a loved one or a reversal in life like the loss of a job, a terrorist attack can seem like the stars falling. At times like these we realize what a shaky foothold we have on this earth. Advent is a wake-up call. It tells us to be smart, to start taking the long-range view, to begin living for eternity by putting God and others before ourselves.
That song “Vincent” ends with words that hopefully apply to us:
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
It concludes with words that seem to come from Christ whose warnings have too often gone unheeded, but who still hopes in us:
They did not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now.