Archives: January 2016

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011716.cfm 

This Sunday and for the following three Sundays we return to what is known as Ordinary Time in our Church Year.  Ordinary Time is that time between the seasons of Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent.   

Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of the wedding at Cana.   I would like to offer a comment on two specific things in this Gospel.  First, notice that when the wine ran out, Mary did not tell Jesus what he should do.   She merely brought the matter to his attention:  “They have no more wine.”   She left it up to Jesus as to how to respond to this situation.    If you are like me, this is not how I usually pray.  Too often when I bring things to God in prayer, I have a desired outcome in mind.   Mary, though, just presented her concern to Jesus and left it in his hands.  I think this is a good model for our prayer.  The second thing I would note is the abundance of water turned into wine: “six stone water jars………………each holding twenty to thirty gallons.”   This reminds us that where God is involved there is always an abundance.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   The people of Israel have returned from Exile, and the prophet Isaiah reminded them that they still have found favor with God:  “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you, and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”   It is the marriage imagery that ties this reading to this Sunday’s Gospel.   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In it Paul reminds us that “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there re different workings,  but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In your prayer have you ever followed Mary’s example and simple brought something to God without having a hoped for outcome in your mind? 
  2. Where have you experienced God’s abundance in your life? 
  3. What gifts have you been given? 

Day after day we watch the desperate journeys of refugees making their way towards Europe and a better life. At home the flow of undocumented children briefly caught media attention last year, but now there’s not much news about our southern border. We don’t hear about these grim statistics—nearly 3,000 people died in the Sonoran desert attempting “to cross” since 2000, and last year alone the remains of 133 people were identified. Advocates at Derechos Humanos speak of “remains,” because they think many more have died in the desert. They tell of receiving frantic calls from family and friends, who have not heard from loved ones, because they lost their cell phone coverage in the desert. 

In early October Elisa Johnson and I joined the Loretto (Sisters) Border Patrol. We met advocates on both sides of the border. We spent several hours in Tucson at Derechos Humanos learning about Operation Streamline. Started by President Bush and accelerated last year by President Obama, Operation Streamline speeds up the prosecution of border crossers who have attempted it a second time.

We visited the federal court house in Tucson where 86 percent of the court’s cases are marked, “Illegal Entry.” Humiliated detainees are shackled with a chain around their wrists and manacled at their ankles when, in groups of five, they face a judge. Lawyers urge the border crossers to accept a plea deal in return for dropping a felony charge. In Tucson, 70 detainees (the same number of jail cells in the court house) can be sentenced in under two hours every day. The cost to taxpayers is estimated to be $100 million per year. Deportees receive anywhere from 30 days to 6 months in for- profit prisons and leave with a federal criminal record before being deported. 

I was surprised to learn the U.S. pays for a veritable cottage industry of for-profit jails, the largest run by the Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group. Of the 34,000 jail beds slated for detainees, 62 percent of those are in private prisons. According to Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, more than 2,000 Central American immigrant mothers and children are currently being held in remote locations. The children and their mothers are held indefinitely for seeking asylum—a legal right under both international and U.S. law. In an effort to minimize asylum applications, the U.S. is paying the Mexican Government to stop immigrants from leaving Mexico by sending U.S. border agents to train Mexican agents in apprehension and detention. 

Elisa and I crossed the border near Nogales, Mexico. She dragged a large red suitcase filled with toiletries and first aid supplies for the deportees at El Comedor. No one stopped us or asked us for our papers. 

Started by the Jesuits and run by a Mexican sister and many volunteers, El Comedor was literally dug out of a hillside in sight of the border crossing. I spoke to a farm worker, who had been apprehended one night outside of a Walmart in upper Michigan where he had purchased groceries for his family. The sole support of his wife and five children, he was fearful of a desert crossing to reunite with his family. Before his deportation, he said he had been in detention centers for the past six months. He had no criminal record—his only crime was crossing our border. 

That morning at El Comedor, we served soup and tortillas to the men, a few women and one two-year-old boy. Before they ate, the group bowed their heads and prayed, not just a quick blessing but a long prayer for the journey ahead.

God-with-us

It was January 6, 1972 - Epiphany. The day had been mostly quiet but as the sun started to set our excitement began to build. Finally, the doorbell rang. “It must be the three kings” one of my brothers exclaimed. We all went into the foyer and through the opaque glass windows of our front door we spotted the silhouettes of three kids. My father stepped forward and opened the door. Wearing some old, torn sheets for royal robes and with a paper crown on their heads there they stood: the first set of numerous “kings” expected to parade by the house all evening. As was the tradition, one of the kings carried a cardboard star which was affixed to a broom stick borrowed for the occasion.  They sang a carol. Then the kid with the star stuck out his hand. My father reached into his pockets and gave him some money. We wished one another a merry Christmas and off they went to our neighbor’s home. 

Throughout the Christmas season, but especially on Epiphany children in Belgium and in many European countries honor this centuries old custom of Star Singing. The star singers take their name from the star they carry, a reference to the star which led the Magi to the Christ Child. The origin is a 15th C. medieval mystery play that tells the story of the three Magi, albeit a bit enhanced. Essential to the play was the procession from home to home with the request that the star be allowed in. If permitted then the young actors entered the home and performed the play. After receiving refreshments and monetary gifts they moved on to the next home. These days the play is no longer performed but the procession of the kings is retained.

Beyond the nostalgia evoked by this memory, I find this simple custom to be profoundly symbolic. On the one hand, these kids testify to the birth of Jesus which happened some 2000 years ago. As such they are an example to all of us as we are called to proclaim to the world that in Jesus we have recognized Emanuel, God-with-us. On the other hand, this simple procession also symbolizes the search we all undertake to find God-with-us, Emanuel here and now. For as God was born in Jesus, so he is present among us today.

Yet, where can we find God-with-us in a world which seems to bring despair to so many people? Where is God in all of the misery we have created? The answer is simple, God is right here in the thick of it all. Emanuel can be found among the refugees who are fleeing their war torn countries. Emanuel can be found among those who live under the bridge and have nothing to eat. Emanuel can be found among the elderly who are dying a forgotten death. Emanuel can be found among the victims of wars waged in God’s name. Emanuel can be found among the children, women and men who are exploited and enslaved. God can be found in many places, but above all among those people who are most in need. That is where we can find Emanuel, God-with-us. That is where we are to honor God with our gifts of incense symbolizing respect, myrrh symbolizing dignity and gold symbolizing support.

One of the best cues to finding God-with-us has been given to us by Saint Athanasius (ca 298–373) who famously wrote: “God became human so that humans might become like God.” If only we were able and willing to recognize God in others we might find God-with-us. Sadly, like many of today’s kings or star singers, we go from door to door in an endless quest for God, blinded to the very presence of God all around us. So, let’s take up the star, put on some old sheets and a paper crown and let’s open our heart, mind and soul to God’s presence in one another, most especially in those we fear the most. Only then will we truly find God-with-us and will our world have a chance at peace.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011016.cfm 

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.   Now, to some it might seem strange that we celebrate this Feast so soon after we have celebrated Christ’s birth, especially since the scriptures tell us that Christ was baptized as an adult at the beginning of his public ministry.   The reality is, though, that other than the infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, we really have no information about Christ’s early life.   When you stop and think about it, this is as it should be.  What is important about Christ is not any stories about his early life, but rather the stories about his preaching, teaching, miracles and ministry.  

This weekend we read the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Luke.  The first section of this Gospel is a summary of the mission of John the Baptist:  “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”   The second section of this Gospel records Jesus’ baptism.  We are told simply that after he had been baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’”   Interestingly, in Mark and Luke the voice from heaven is addressed to Jesus personally, whereas in Matthew the voice is addressed to the surrounding crowds.   (John records Jesus baptism indirectly, though the words of John the Baptist.)

There are two choices for our first reading this weekend.  At the Basilica we will be using Isaiah 42: 1-4; 6-7.   The section we read this Sunday is part of what is know as the Songs of the Suffering Servant.   It is God’s promise to send a “servant” who will be filled with God’s Spirit.   We would see this as prefiguring Christ.   

We also have a choice for our second reading today.   At the Basilica we will read from the Acts of the Apostles.  In this reading Peter boldly proclaims:  “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. Have you attended a baptism recently?   What do you remember about it? 
  2. How would you explain baptism to a non-Christian? 
  3. If God, shows “no partiality” why is baptism important?  

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