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Hanukkah and Advent: Christians & Jews share a common hope for lasting justice & peace in the world

Menorah

This evening at sundown, Jews begin their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah at sundown. In a few days, many Christians celebrate their Christmas. During the eight-day period of Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights and continue to long for the Messiah’s coming.

For many Christians and Jews celebrating these two seasons and feasts in the northern hempisphere, we do so during the season of winter. Both faith communities draw on the symbols of candles and lights that shatter the winter darkness.

Both holiday seasons invite Christians and Jews to ask the deeper questions: How do we continue to long for the salvation that the Messiah will bring? What can we do to spread God’s light around us and dispel the darkness of fear, sin and despair? The Messianic kingdom for all of us still lies ahead.

While I was a student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University years ago, I heard a story about a certain Rabbi Menahem. When the old sage lived in Israel, a wild man climbed a high mountain, unnoticed, and from the top of the mountain began to blow a trumpet over the city below.

There was a great deal of excitement among the people and a rumour quickly spread: The trumpet is announcing our liberation!

When the rumour came to the ears of Rabbi Menahem, he looked at the world outside his window and said gruffly, ‘What I see is no renewal.’

At the first Christmas, there was just as little to see through the window of the world. Outside the later Gospels, only a couple of secular Roman historians of the time mention in passing the name of Jesus.

Even today, the questions arise: If Jesus is the Messiah ‘the bringer of peace’ and if he really was born in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, why is there still so much sin and suffering and turmoil in the world? Why so much terror, hatred violence and war, much of it in the name of God?

Why is there no renewal? Was the Messiah’s project a failure?

The kingdom that Jesus preached was the daring vision of Israel’s God of compassion, mercy, justice and righteousness, a kingdom that involved reforming lives, adhering to the law of love, alleviating the pain and suffering of others, building community, worshiping God in Spirit and truth. There is still much work to be done to realize God’s daring vision, made known to us through his only son.

Where do we begin? We start by working together as Christians and Jews to protect the most important human values, which are threatened by a world in continual transformation. Christians and Jews have a special affinity for life and must do everything in our power to uphold the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death. We must promote the dignity of the human person.

At the core of Christian and Jewish life is the sacredness and centrality of the family. Christians and Jews must be known for our efforts in the areas of social justice, peace, and freedom for all human beings.

As Christians and Jews, we continue to pray together to God. The Jewish ‘Kaddish’ and the Christian ‘Our Father’ express a common hope: ‘Thy kingdom come!’

We must utter this prayer more loudly and clearly in these days of darkness for so many in the world, especially for the people of Syria, the Holy Lands of the Middle East that are still struggling for God‚s justice and peace, and for all those suffering in war, poverty, famine, injustice.

Miracle of Hannukkah engraving

Our common longing for the fruits of the Messianic kingdom invites us, Christians and Jews, to a knowledge of our communion and friendship with one another and a recognition of the terrible brokenness of the world.

As St. John Paul II taught us so powerfully through his friendship with the Jewish people, nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that deep communion and friendship.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI allowed that friendship to deepen and mature in a remarkable way with his meetings with Jewish leaders during his pontificate, and his historic visits to Synagogues in Rome, Germany and New York City.

Pope Francis has written beautifully about our relationship with the Jewish people in his monumental Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium:’

“As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God. With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.”

“Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus‚ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”

The ‘tikkun haolam,’ the healing of the world, its repair, restoration and redemption, including the redemption of Israel, depends upon us, together.

To our many Jewish friends who view our network and know us through our many media platforms, Hag Sameach! Happy and blessed feast of lights! Let us go forward in peace! We have much good work to do together to heal a broken world and wounded humanity.

Video: Hanukkah 2012; Argentine Catholics & Jews celebrate Hanukkah & Christmas together
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s last Hannukkah in Buenos Aires

Joseph: The Faithful and Wise Servant, a reflection by Fr. Thomas Rosica

Joseph4

St. Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely.  He is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waited for God to speak to him and then responded with obedience. Luke and Matthew both mark Joseph’s descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge about him: he was “a righteous man” a “just man” (Matthew 1:18).

Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been engaged, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary quietly according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. Joseph was also a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome.  When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all of his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23).

We are told that Joseph was a carpenter, (more likely a builder), a man who worked to provide for his family. Joseph wasn’t a wealthy man, for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb.

Joseph revealed in his humanity the unique role of fathers to proclaim God’s truth by word and deed. His paradoxical situation of “foster father to Jesus” draws attention to the truth about fatherhood, which is much more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children.  Joseph was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.

The Gospel, as we know, has not kept any word from Joseph, who carries out his activity in silence. It is the style that characterizes his whole existence, both before finding himself before the mystery of God’s action in his spouse, as well as  when — conscious of this mystery — he is with Mary in the Nativity. On that holy night, in Bethlehem, with Mary and the Child, is Joseph, to whom the Heavenly Father entrusted the daily care of his Son on earth, a care carried out with humility and in silence.

Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken when he named his son “Jesus” and called him “Emmanuel.” When the child stayed behind in the Temple we are told Joseph (along with Mary) searched frantically with great anxiety for three days for him (Luke 2:48).

As Pope Benedict has taught us:

What is important is not to be a useless servant, but rather a “faithful and wise servant”. The pairing of the two adjectives is not by chance. It suggests that understanding without fidelity, and fidelity without wisdom, are insufficient. One quality alone, without the other, would not enable us to assume fully the responsibility which God entrusts to us.

What great words for St. Joseph, because in Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. Paradoxically, it was by acting, by carrying out his responsibilities, that he stepped aside and left God free to act, placing no obstacles in his way. Joseph is a “just man” (Mt 1:19) because his existence is “adjusted” to the word of God.

Joseph, the “foster-father” of the Lord reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children.  Real fathers and real men are those who communicate paternal strength and compassion.  They are men of reason in the midst of conflicting passions; men of conviction who always remain open to genuine dialogue about differences; men who ask nothing of others that they wouldn’t risk or suffer themselves.  Joseph is a chaste, faithful, hardworking, simple and just man.  He reminds us that a family, a home, a community, and a parish are not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.

How could I speak of St. Joseph here in the Crèche Museum of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal without saying something about the dreamer and architect of this magnificent place, Brother André Bessette, the Canadian Church’s newest Saint.

Brother_Andre2Brother André wanted Saint Joseph honoured on this mountain. In 1890, he took a young student with him on one of his regular Thursday meditation walks. Taking the student up to the mountainside across the street from the College Notre Dame, he told him, “I have hidden a medal of Saint Joseph here. We will pray that he will arrange the purchase of this land for us.” For six years he persevered in prayer for that intention, and in 1896, his prayers were rewarded. The Holy Cross Congregation purchased the land and Brother André put a statue of Saint Joseph in a little cave on his chosen site. Placing a bowl in front of the statue, he planned on collecting alms from Saint Joseph’s petitioners, alms which would be used to build a chapel.

What started out as a fifteen-by eighteen foot chapel in 1904 became a minor basilica in 1955, and was completed — interior and all — in 1966. In his lifetime, the shrine became big enough to warrant having a full-time guardian, a job to which Brother André was appointed in 1909.

The piety that St. André had toward the Patron of the Universal Church was simple and childlike too:

When you invoke Saint Joseph, you don’t have to speak much. You know your Father in heaven knows what you need; well, so does His friend Saint Joseph. … Tell him, ‘If you were in my place, Saint Joseph, what would you do? Well, pray for this in my behalf.’

To the people who came to him with their troubles — and thousands did — the friend of Saint Joseph recommended the use of sacramentals, like Saint Joseph’s oil or a Saint Joseph medal. Most of all, he recommended persevering and confident prayer, usually prescribing a novena to his powerful benefactor.  Because he learned how to pray with fervour, persistence and joy as a child and young religious, Brother André was able to urge people to pray with confidence and perseverance, while remaining open to God’s will.

He admonished people to begin their path to healing through commitments to faith and humility, through confession and a return to the Sacraments. He encouraged the sick to seek a doctor’s care. He saw value in suffering that is joined to the sufferings of Christ. He allowed himself to be fully present to the sadness of others but always retained a joyful nature and good humour. At times, he wept along with his visitors as they recounted their sorrows. As he became known as a miracle worker, Brother André insisted, “I am nothing … only a tool in the hands of Providence, a lowly instrument at the service of St. Joseph.”

God our Father,
You gave Brother André of Montreal,
your humble servant, a great devotion to St. Joseph
and a special commitment to the sick and the needy.
May the example of his life and ministry inspire us to ever-greater works of charity, in generous service to our brothers and sisters in need.
Give us the strength to surrender ourselves to Your will,
and to be instruments of your loving mercy.
Help us to follow Brother André’s example of prayer and love,
so that we too may come into your glory.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Television Network

(CNS photo/archives of St. Joseph’s Oratory)

The “O” Antiphons: O Stock of Jesse…

o_stock_of_jesus

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 19, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 11:1, 10, Isaiah 52:15 and Romans 15:12.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O stock of Jesse, set up as the rallying sign for the nations! In Your presence rulers are silent and the peoples make supplication: Come deliver us; do not delay.

From Evening prayer
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come,
let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 4:
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Stock of Jesse
In His human nature, Christ is the descendant of Jesse, Father of David, the great king of God’s people.

Our Lord is the King of kings. His power extends to all peoples and to their rulers. In the desperate perils of our age, we pray Him to come quickly and deliver us, to establish in all hearts His kingdom of truth and of life, of justice, love and peace.

-
(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

Joseph: The Faithful and Wise Servant, a reflection by Bishop William McGrattan

Joseph3

The seasons of Advent and Christmas seem to come so quickly and to be filled with many activities to say the least.

In the everyday planning and preparations for family and community celebrations there are inevitably certain individuals who for whatever reason go unnoticed or unrecognized. They make important contributions. They are invaluable in their presence and support but are quiet and simply unassuming in their role. If you wish to recognize them and thank them they are often reluctant to accept such praise and notoriety among the many others who are present.

It has often struck me that in the Advent and Christmas season this could quite easily describe the role of St. Joseph, if it were not for certain Gospel passages and the celebration of Feast dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph which falls on the Sunday immediately following Christmas.

There is also a reference to Joseph at the beginning of the octave period, the eight days leading up to Christmas which the Church highlights through the praying of the O antiphons. It is in Matthew’s Gospel where he sets out the origin or genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother’s husband, Joseph.

As Saint Leo the Great states:

To speak of our Lord, the son of the blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man is of no value to us if we do not believe that he descended from the line of the ancestors set out in the Gospel.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent this same Gospel (Matthew), it recounts how Joseph received the news of the impending birth of Jesus, of the circumstances of Mary’s virginal conception through the power of Holy Spirit. And then despite his initial resolve not to take part in this event we hear of the night in which the angel appeared to him in a dream where he receives the assurance, guidance and courage to take Mary as his wife into his home. Unlike Mary he is asleep and does not question the meaning of this dream or the message of the angel.

Tradition has described this as the “faithful obedience” of Joseph. It is the silent, dutiful action of accepting and taking on the responsibility of caring for others. He was called to a unique role, to self-giving, sacrifice, to the promotion of human life, and to the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

This same testimony is also very much reflected in the life of Brother Andre of Montreal who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Brother_Andre

He is popularly known as the Apostle of St. Joseph, for his life and witness to Christ and his faith in the intercession of St. Joseph to bring healing to many who sought him out. In fact it may be providential to reflect on the life and spirituality of the saintly door-keeper from the College Notre-Dame as a living example of the life and model of St. Joseph that we encounter especially in this Advent Season.

Sanctification in the lives of the saints is a gift from God. However that is only one side of the story. The other part involves their own active detachment of all that would come between them and the love of God and others. It is often this active sanctification in a saint’s life and work which results in a deeper union with God and others through grace. This sanctification might be described as the “faithful obedience” which developed in the life of St. Joseph and Brother Andre despite the circumstances of their lives.

As we have come to know Brother Andre faced many challenges in his younger years; poor health, the death of both parents at an early age, being raised in a foster family, a lack of education and thus a limited ability to read or write, and physical limitations which prevented him from having steady employment.

What is most interesting is that these experiences did not result in his turning inward on himself with pity or of being angry and bitter, but instead through grace these experiences led him to prayer and to seek consolation in God. As one autobiographer stated “it led him to silent contemplation”. These trials brought him closer to God, to prayer, to a deeper faith and trust in God and to the conviction of his devotion to St. Joseph. You might say that this was the beginning of his active sanctification.

In the second part of his life this sanctification came through the experience of his role in the Community of the Holy Cross as door-keeper at the College Notre-Dame. This ministry opened him up to the needs of others and developed within him an approach to people which was characterized as one of acceptance and compassion. He quietly went about his duties, accepting whatever responsibilities he was given in the community. He took care of the needs of the young students, his brothers in the community and all the people who came to the door seeking his prayers. As his notoriety grew and the number of people seeking assistance increased he remained humble. He always attributed the miracles of healing to St. Joseph and often described his role by saying “I am nothing but Saint Joseph’s little dog”.

His devotion to St. Joseph also inspired him in practical ways to model Joseph’s role in promoting the human relationships that come from family, in imitation of the Holy Family. The closeness of God is revealed in the mystery of the Holy Family. In fact family relationships can reveal the Triune God and can become the incarnate meeting place of God and human persons. The relationships of the Holy Family are transformative of our humanity. And so Brother Andre who in his life lacked this human presence of family nevertheless developed a spirituality of life which promoted human relationships by reaching out to the needs of others which was transformative and healing. The spiritual reality and indwelling of the Holy Family today finds its meeting place not necessarily in Nazareth but in St. Joseph’s Oratory which was inspired by Brother Andre.

Each year the Advent season provides us with a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the mystery of St. Joseph in the plan of salvation. It is also a specific grace for us in Canada to enter into such a reflection in light of the recent events of the canonization of Saint Brother Andre. It would be very important for us to acknowledge the presence of such unique individuals in our lives of faith this Christmas. To take note of those family and friends who witness to us of St. Joseph and Brother Andre through lives of faithful obedience, in humbling accepting the responsibilities of their vocation, in reaching out to the needs of others and in promoting human relationships which are transformative and which allow us all to experience the closeness of God.

Most Rev. William McGrattan
Bishop of Peterborough

(CNS photo/Bob Mullen)

The “O” Antiphons: O Adonai…

o_adonai

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 18, the antiphon is based on Exodus 3:2, Isaiah 33:22; 63:11-12, Micah 6:4 and Acts 7:30-31.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai and Leader of the House of Israel! You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave the Law on Mount Sinai: Come, and redeem us with outstretched arm.

From Evening prayer
O Adonai,
Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come,
stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 3:
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Adonai

Adonai means Lord (thus the translation, “Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel). It was one of the titles used when speaking of or to God in the Old Testament. It was Adonai who led the Chosen People out of captivity in Egypt “by the mighty arm of his power” and gave them His law on Mount Sinai.

Similarly Christ, the Lord led us out of our captivity to Satan by dying “with outstretched arms” on the Cross of Calvary; and He has given us His law of love. We beg Him to come at Christmas and redeem us completely from slavery to sin; and to vie us the power to live more fully in obedience to His law.

(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

Remembering Mary

Maria

The Season of Advent helps us to prepare for Christmas where we recall in faith Christ’s coming among us. It is also a time in which we look at our present lives and reflect on the second coming of Christ in our own lives and at the end of the ages.

It is definitely a season of joyous expectation in light of the Feast of Christmas. However it is also a time of preparation in which we are invited to renew our Christian faith. We can become more attentive to the gift of our faith and to explore the implications of what it means to believe in the person of Christ and above all to become more grateful for the presence of God’s love which is fully manifest in the person of Christ.

On the very First Sunday of Advent these very themes we addressed in the Opening Prayer at Mass:

Father in Heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcome the Light of his Truth.

Notice that in this prayer we acknowledge Advent as a time in which our hearts are to become more aware of the warmth of God’s love.

It is also a time for our minds to receive in new ways the Word of God through the Scriptures and thus to welcome the light of his Truth.

Finally it is a time to grow in the strength of Christ’s love, so that as we prepare to celebrate the dawn of his coming at Christmas he may find us rejoicing in His presence more fully each day.

In the Office of Readings St. Charles Borromeo also echoes the importance of this Advent season:

Each year the Church recalls this mystery and she urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown us.

He also goes on to state:

This holy season of Advent teaches us that Christ’s coming was not only for the benefit of his contemporaries (in history) but that the power of his coming has to be communicated to us all ( most especially in our present day) …

As Christians we are called to share in this power of His coming through faith.

The Church proclaims this faith in Christ’s coming through the prayers we express, the Scriptures we read, the songs and hymns we sing, in the very rituals and Sacraments we celebrate during this time of preparation.

One important gift of faith which we can receive in Advent and Christmas is a profound sense of gratitude for his presence and thus the need to prepare our hearts for the power of such an event in our lives today. This Christian attitude and disposition to gratitude is most vividly reflected in the role of Mary- the Mother of our Lord.

In the early Church we know that there was a progressive discovery through faith to see the fullness of Mary’s role in God’s plan of salvation history.

Scripture records her role in God’s plan of salvation from the outset as the Mother of our Lord.

In the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel he records the infancy of Christ but what is most interesting is that Mary is only named and speaks no words. The birth of our Lord is recorded almost exclusively from the viewpoint and experience of Joseph.

Maria2

In contrast, Luke’s gospel portrays Mary in a much more prominent role.

And thus it is through this inspired narrative that we see the outline of her vocation from God, the Annunciation – the greeting and the message from the angel Gabriel. The stirrings of Mary’s heart and her initial response in faith is that of a question “How can this be?” … then “Let it be done unto me according to your Word.”

The progress of her belief in God’s promises and her confidence to say “ Let it be done according to your Word” is truly inspiring for each Christian who has struggled to answer their vocation call.

Then through prayer and the reflection upon God’s grace at work in her life we see the ultimate response of gratitude: “Mary treasured all of these things and pondered them in her heart.”

In a homily given by John Paul II on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God he made the following statement: “Mary was the memory of the Church.”

From the beginning she was fixed on the mystery of this newborn child, that she was attentive to this experience as the mystery of God’s salvation, and that her “fiat,” her yes, progressively unfolded in her life and that thus her memory played an important role in the faith of the Church.

In the Advent season the Church’s memory becomes reflected through the memory of Mary.

To identify with Mary in faith during this season of Advent is to be open to receive what she received.

The first gift was that of a profound sense of gratitude for the warmth of God’s love given to her in Christ. His birth, his coming into this world was to reveal the fullness of God’s love and Mary was the first to believe in this love and to experience it in her life.

In my years of experience as a priest I have always been inspired and humbled by the stories that people have shared with me concerning their lives of faith, which I have encountered countless time through ministry. This sense of profound gratitude for how they have come to experience Christ has been a gift to me. Each story is unique but it is inspiring to see how they have come to the faith through family, parents and grandparents, through teachers at school, in the pastoral care of a parish community, the meeting with a priest or the impact and witness of individuals who live their life with joy because of faith. This gratitude is very evident in those men and women who are moved to inquire about the faith and enter the process of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) through our parishes. If you have ever been involved in this process of inquiry and catechesis in the faith you will see this expression of gratitude. The RCIA program is a process of birth in the Church; it is a symbol and sign of the Incarnation; it is a “Christ event,” a birth of faith.

The second gift that Mary received was the grace of being ready and attentive, of being open to God and the power of this event in her life. This coming of Christ would disrupt her plans, it would challenge her life, the relationships of family and friends, yet through her yes she would begin to see how God had chosen to reveal the Incarnate vision of His Son through her life. This is the grace that each of us receives to respond in truth and freedom to our vocation and calling in life. We are called to model our response of Mary in accepting and choosing our life’s vocation.

I witnessed this vocational gift in my ministry of seminary formation, in the accompaniment of those discerning their call to the priesthood. In a spiritual and communal way it was very evident when the men came together to pray the Rosary at night in the chapel. It was an expression of their devotion to our Blessed Mother but it was a daily time in which they entered into the mystery and the memory of Mary. I could not help but think in my prayer with them that Mary’s model and disposition of accepting her own vocation was being received as grace in such moments.

As Advent unfolds it is my hope that the gifts Mary received may be part of our own preparation and reflection of the coming of Christ in our lives: a gratitude for our faith and an openness to live our vocations in Christ with greater fidelity.

Most Rev. William McGrattan
Bishop of Peterborough

(CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)
(CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The “O” Antiphons: O Wisdom

 

o_wisdom

I vaguely remember my mother telling us, during the Season of Advent, while growing up, about the “O” antiphons. I never really understood what these were. Even as an adult, she would occasionally send me various reflections on the “O” antiphons. I must say, with regret that while I thought it to be an important part of our Advent Tradition, I didn’t really see them as part of my tradition.

Until I began praying the Office of the Church.

As a Deacon, I have made a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours: Morning prayer (laudes) and Evening prayer (vespers). This prayer of the Church allows us to pray with (and through) the Psalms. They have been part of the prayers of the Church since very early in our history. As we pray the psalms, each one is introduced by an antiphon (not unlike the refrain we pray at Mass during the Responsorial Psalm). Added to the Psalms, which are different every day, there are two canticles from the Gospel of Luke that are prayed every day: The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) in the morning for laudes; and the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55) in the evening for vespers.

On the last seven days before the Vigil of Christmas, December 17-23, our Church sings antiphons that are slightly different than the rest of the year. For evening prayer, before the Magnificat, each of these antiphons begins with the word, “Oh” (or in Latin “O”), thus the short-handed name, the “O” antiphons.

Each of these seven prayers-songs consists of
a) an invocation addressed to Christ, using one of his prophetic titles (O Wisdom; O Key of David etc.);
b) a development of that title reflecting passages in the Old and New Testaments;
c) an ardent request expressed by the word “Come”;
d) the reason why we want Christ to come.

Not only are these antiphons prayed during vespers, but they have also been placed in the daily Liturgy as the verse of the Gospel Acclamation. With the new translation of the Roman Missal, these are sometimes summarized or even repeated, but, in their essence, they are the same. If you go to daily Mass between December 17 – 23, you’ll hear them.

I recently discovered that, not only are these found in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the daily Mass, but they are actually, also the verses to a song that all of us know very well, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

All of us can make use of these anthems in our family and personal prayers for they sum up everything that we want our Lord to be toward us and our world, to do for us and our world in His Christmas coming.
For the next seven days, I’d like to share with you these antiphons that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 17, the antiphon is based on Wisdom 8:1; Isaiah 11:2-3; 28:29, Proverbs 8:1-36 and John 1:1-5.

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner: come to teach us the way of truth. (Isaiah 11:2-3; Isaiah 28:29)

From Evening prayer
O Wisdom,
O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come
and show your people the way to salvation.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 2:
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Wisdom
In the ancient civilizations of the Near East, “wisdom” was first understood as the science and art of managing men. It meant the principles involved in “getting along” successfully oneself and in making the whole state function smoothly. In Israel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the search for human wisdom became more and more oriented toward the supreme Wisdom of God by which He creates and governs all things, His hidden design for mankind and its mysterious ordering of everything to achieve His plan.

Christ our Lord is this eternal Wisdom incarnate. He clarified and carried out God’s plan to re-establish everything in Himself as head. May He come more fully to each of is and to the whole world this Christmas, to show us how we may take our part in carrying out that plan for our own happiness and for the happiness of all people.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

How Do We Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Annunciation cropped

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B – December 21, 2014

“The Sound of Music” stage play and I are the same age — both from that vintage year of 1959 — and the film version was the first “motion picture” I saw as child in the mid 1960’s with my family. God alone knows how many times I have seen it since on stage, at the theater and on television!

The famed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music” has been delighting audiences around the world for decades, making theatres across the globe “alive” with the sound of music. This magnificent production first opened in England under the direction of Andrew Lloyd Weber, and arguably contains the best-loved songs of all time.

Solving the problem of Maria von Trapp

One of the memorable songs of the play is “Maria,” sometimes known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” It is sung brilliantly by Sister Berthe, Sister Sophia, Sister Margaretta and the Mother Abbess at the Benedictine Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, Austria. The nuns are exasperated with Maria for being too frivolous, flighty and frolicsome for the decorous and austere life at the abbey. It is said that when Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics for this song, he was taken by the detail of her wearing curlers in her hair under her wimple!

When older Austrians in Salzburg speak of Maria, it is the “Gottesmutter,” the Mother of the Lord! When the foreigners, especially North Americans, arrive in Salzburg and speak about Maria, it is usually the other one: Maria Augusta Kutschera, later Maria Augusta von Trapp, who was a teacher in the abbey school after World War I and whose life was the basis for the film “The Sound of Music.”

Because of this Maria, the abbey acquired international fame, to the consternation of some of the sisters! Having visited Nonnberg Abbey on several occasions while I was studying German in nearby Bavaria, I spoke with a few of the elderly sisters about the impact of “The Sound of Music” on their life. The prioress told me that they have no plaques up about Maria von Trapp and her escapades at the abbey nor in Salzburg! One elderly sister said to me, with a smile, “Das ist nur Hollywood!” (That is only Hollywood!)

Solving the problem of Maria von Nazareth

The Gospel story of the Annunciation presents another Maria, the great heroine of the Christmas stories — Mary of Nazareth — the willing link between humanity and God. She is the disciple par excellence who introduces us to the goodness and humanity of God. She received and welcomed God’s word in the fullest sense, not knowing how the story would finally end. She did not always understand that word throughout Jesus’ life but she trusted and constantly recaptured the initial response she had given the angel and literally “kept it alive,” “tossed it around,” “pondered it” in her heart (Luke 2:19). At Calvary she experienced the full responsibility of her “yes.” We have discovered in the few Scripture passages relating to her that she was a woman of deep faith, compassion, and she was very attentive to the needs of others.

Maria von Trapp followed the captain and his little musical family through the Alpine mountain passes of Austria, fleeing a neo-pagan, evil regime that tried to deny the existence of God and God’s chosen people. Some would say that they lived happily ever after in Vermont in the United States, and that their musical reputation lives on through the stage production enchanting Toronto audiences at present. The hills are still alive with their music!

The “problem” of Maria of Nazareth began when she entertained a strange, heavenly visitor named Gabriel. The young woman of Nazareth was greatly troubled as she discovered that she would bear a son who would be Savior and Son of the Most High.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” The angel left her and then the music began: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” It would become a refrain filling the world with the sound of its powerful music down through the ages.

The message Mary received catapulted her on a trajectory far beyond tiny, sleepy Nazareth and that little strip of land called Israel and Palestine in the Middle East. Mary’s “yes” would impact the entire world, and change human history.

Problem solved

Mary of Nazareth accepted her “problem” and resolved it through her obedience, fidelity, trust, hope and quiet joy. At that first moment in Nazareth, she could not foresee the brutal ending of the story of this child within her. Only on a hillside in Calvary, years later, would she experience the full responsibility of her “yes” that forever changed the history of humanity.

If there are no plaques commemorating Maria von Trapp’s encounter with destiny at Nonnberg Abbey, there is one small plaque commemorating Mary of Nazareth’s life-changing meeting in her hometown. Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room that commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The Latin inscription reads “Verbum caro hic factum est” (Here the word became flesh).

I can still remember the sensation I had when I knelt before that altar for the first time in 1988. That inscription in the grotto of the Annunciation is profound, otherworldly, earth shaking, life changing, dizzying and awesome. The words “Verbum caro hic factum est” are not found on an ex-voto plaque in the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, nor engraved on the outer walls of the Temple ruins or on governmental tourist offices in Jerusalem. They are affixed to an altar deep within the imposing structure of Nazareth’s centerpiece of the Annunciation. “This is where the word became flesh.” This is where history was changed because Mary said “yes.”

Could such words be applied to our own lives, to our families, communities, and churches — “Here the word becomes flesh”? Do we know how to listen to God’s Word, meditate upon it and live it each day? Do we put that word into action in our daily lives? Are we faithful, hopeful, loving, and inviting in our discourse and living? What powerful words to be said about Christians — that their words become flesh!

However beautiful and catchy are the tunes of Maria of Salzburg, the music of the other Maria, the one from Nazareth, surpasses anything I have ever heard.

[The readings for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38]

The Christmas Mass

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This year Salt + Light will televise a special Christmas Mass brought to you by The Sunday Mass. From its very first broadcast on Christmas Day forty-four years ago, The Sunday Mass’ television ministry has been joyfully received by the homebound and infirm. Today, their ministry encompasses Christians of all ages as The Sunday Mass continues to celebrate the Eucharist and invite people to listen to the Word of God. Join hundreds of thousands of worshippers around the world this Christmas for our special broadcast of The Sunday Mass.

The Christmas Mass airs Thursday, December 25, 2014 at 11:00 am ET / 8:00 am PT.

SLHour Christmas Special

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The Salt and Light Radio Hour comes to the TV screen!

Join us for a special made-for-TV Christmas edition of the popular Salt + Light weekly radio program, the SLHour, with all contributors, giving their segments a little Christmas twist: Andrew has a Christmas saint; Gillian learns a Christmas lesson from her kids; Danny looks back at the work done this year; Hollywood teaches Mark something about Christmas and Sr. Marie-Paul finds the Windows to the Soul to five films about saying yes.

The SLHour Christmas Special airs Saturday, December 20,2014 at 14:00pm ET / 11:00am PT.

Listen to all SLHour episodes at www.saltandlighttv.org/radio.