O Antiphons – Flower of Jesse – Dec 19

The kids at our parish school love to make Jesse trees.  Who can blame them?  Arts and crafts are always a fun way to learn, and for kids, a way to get away from books.  They think they’re NOT learning, although they really are.  It’s a win-win – teachers happy, kids happy, parents happy with artwork brought home.

Jesse trees are fun, because it’s a good exercise for us to contemplate the genealogy of Jesus.  To be precise, the genealogy of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

Tonight’s antiphon makes reference to the flower of Jesse’s stump:

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.

jesse-tree3Jesse is the father of King David, from whose line the messiah would spring forth.  Many Jews did not recognize Jesus as the messiah because they were awaiting a conquering military hero, as was David.  But we must remember David was the youngest, simplest of Jesse’s sons – certainly the most unlikely to become king.  He was happy to care for the flock, as a faithful shepherd.

But God calls whomever He wishes, and in ways we do not often understand.  Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and many of the Prophets, were all from simple, unassuming backgrounds.  I think God likes it that way – the simple hearted, humble person does not get in God’s way – they become an instrument for the Holy Spirit to work through and with.

Obviously Joseph was this sort of man, and his Davidic lineage fulfilled the prophesy written in Isaiah 11:1 – “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

And, of course, no one was more docile and obedient to the Holy Spirit than Mary.  The cooperation of a young, simple, holy Jewish teenager changed the world forever.  I pray that we might learn humility from all the docile souls in the Davidic line.  We too can change the world by becoming instruments of the Holy Spirit, letting our God animate our actions.

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O Antiphons – Sacred Lord – Dec 18

Tonight’s antiphon recalls the magnificence and mystery of YHWH.  Our God is a jealous God, one who allows no pretenders, no distractions to His people.burningbush

O 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.

For whatever reason, the Lord chooses to reveal himself to Moses and the people with a male personality.  This is unique to Judaism – all other religions of the near Middle East had either a chief goddess or at least a pantheon of gods and goddesses.  This God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is different He is singular — no other gods or goddesses needed or allowed.

He chooses a ragamuffin clan in the desert to be his own.  He cares for them and protects them, even though they forsake Him time and time again.  He teaches them in simple ways, ways that they can understand.  And they repeat a cycle over and over:

  • The children of Israel cling to their God – things go well
  • The children of Israel are on the top of the world – they drift from their God
  • The children of Israel don’t need God – everything goes to pot
  • The children of Israel repent – God liberates them and the cycle begins again

Let us pray today that our own country realizes the continuous mistakes we make.  We cling to possessions and stuff, and not to the One who called us and apportioned us and adopted us as His precious sons and daughters.  You see, false gods aren’t just people; they’re things, too. May the Lord God of Israel liberate us from our greed and from the distractions that obscure our adoration of Him.

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O Antiphons – Wisdom – Dec 17

Tonight at Vespers the O Antiphons begin.  Tonight, the first night, features holy Wisdom.  Here is the text of the Antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours:

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.

Wisdom is an oft-misunderstood notion, particularly in our modern age.  The ancient Greeks considered wisdom among the greatest virtues to strive for.  In fact, the word philosophy in Greek means “lover of wisdom.”  But what is wisdom, and why should we seek it?

Wisdom is the combination of intelligence and discretion.  It’s one thing to know facts and concepts and methods, that’s intelligence.  But it’s equally important to know when to use those bits of information, and in what circumstances they are useful.

Wisdom is learned through experience, and typically, a trait associated with life experience.  In Sacred Scripture we see the Holy Spirit associated with Wisdom, and a section of the Old Testament is called the Wisdom literature.

All the O Antiphons make reference to revealed truths of the Messiah, traits, characteristics, prefigurement, and titles of our Lord.  All those who seek the King born in the city of bread should begin with wisdom.

The Psalmist teaches us “the fear of the Lord is the first stage of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10)  May we all advance in wisdom through adoration of the one true God.

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Do Not Adjust Your Set

This week we celebrate Gaudete Sunday – the 3rd Sunday of Advent.  There is a Lenten counterpart to Guaudete Sunday, called Laetare Sunday, which occurs on the 4th Sunday of Lent.

pepto-bismolIn days of old, when the fasting and preparation seasons of Advent and Lent were stricter, the faithful recognized these particular Sundays as marking the we’re more than halfway there points of the penitential seasons.

But today, most people recognize Gaudete or Laetere Sunday by the rose vestments worn during the liturgy.  I typically make a light-hearted comment at the beginning of Mass, as our vestments are really, really rose.  Most people would identify the color as pink, but I don’t want to think of myself as a dude that wears pink.

Anyway, you need not adjust your TV, those vestments are the proper color for the day.

We are not celebrating the feast of Pepto-Bismol or anything like that — but we should be celebrating regardless.

Both guadete and laetere are Latin words that mean rejoice.  Although the Entrance Antiphons are rarely used today (normally replaced by an entrance hymn), if you were to hear them you would recognize where the terms come from:

  • 3rd Sunday of Advent = Gaudete in Domino sempe — Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice!  (Philippians 4:4-5)
  • 4th Sunday of Lent = Laetare, Jerusalem — Rejoice, Jerusalem rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow  (Isaiah 66:10-11)

Rejoice for your King will soon enter our world anew.  The miracle of God-made-man shall dawn upon us and refresh our tired selves.

No doubt you’ve heard homilies recently about why we should rejoice, even in these troubled times.  Of how things could be worse, and are, in fact, worse for many people.  All that is true, and all of it is legitimate.

But this season calls us at a more foundational level – a level not steeped in economic conditions and anxiety of what’s to come.  At our very core we are creatures of our God – the work of His hands.  And the unbelievable generosity and love He has for us is shown in the gift of His coming to earth as one of our own.  God-with-us, Emmanuel.  Heaven touches earth in a small cave in Bethlehem.

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The blood of the martyrs . . .

In his work Apologeticum written in 197 Tertullian included this famous line, “the blood of the matyrs is the seed of the Church.” (Chapter 50)

 Nothing could be more true, and the truth of his famous line is shown in both today’s feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, as well as Friday on the feast of the [Jesuit] North American Martyrs.

 Last night during RCIA I shared with the class the vast size of the Catholic Church, and how it all began with the immediate followers of Jesus, the Apostles.  Many of the early Christians were martyrs, and at given times of Roman persecution, MOST of the Christians were martyred.

The incredibly high number of those willing to give their lives for their belief in Jesus Christ is awe-inspiring.  It’s also historical proof of the validity of the Gospel.  One or two fanatics might follow a false messiah, but thousands and thousands of them attest to the truth.  The truth of the Son of God, and what He did for all the world.

The witness we honor today (martyr is the Greek word for witness) was killed in 107.  He was sent a message to come back to Rome and face accusations.  He knew he would be killed, but he went anyway.  He took his deacons with him, and wrote letters to various churches on the journey.  He faced his death with bravery and an unwavering dedication to his Savior.

The North American Martyrs were eight Jesuit missionaries slaughtered for their belief in Christ by Huron and Iroquois Indians in the middle of the 17th century.  The very same fortitude that brought Ignatius to the Coliseum animated these Jesuit missionaries as they preached the Gospel in the New World.  Even though separated by over 1,500 years, the intensity of belief, and the willingness to give up everything for their Lord, links these witnesses together forever.

Pray for us, holy witnesses to the Truth – your example inspires awe in us on this very day!

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San Benedetto

Today is the feast of our holy father among the saints Benedict. St. Benedict is the father of western monasticism. His Rule, written about 1,500 years ago is still used by Benedictine men and women today in their monasteries.

St. Benedict is particularly meaningful to me, as the seminary I attended was run by the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad, in southern Indiana. Learn more about St. Meinrad Archabbey here.

(photo shows the Basilica of St. Benedict in Nurcia, Italy – note the statue of San Benedetto in the foreground)

The Rule of St. Benedict outlines the manner of life in a monastery, including details about how to pray, eat, keep silence, work, welcome guests, admonish wayward members and embodies the Benedictine motto ora et labora which translates “pray and work.”

The job of a monk is to pray. Pray for the world. Pray to God. Pray for all the needs of the Church. Pray for those in need. To take literally St. Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing.” That is the job of the monk.

It is my belief that the world continues to function simply from the prayer of holy monks and nuns. Without their prayers, our world would be drastically different than it is now. The gift of one’s life spent in prayer for the world is the highest gift a person can give. By dying to self (control over their lives) these holy brothers and sisters can then devote their very lives to the service of God, in each and every thing they do throughout the day.

Working in the kitchen of the monastery, cultivating grapes, praying the Divine Office, creating vestments, writing icons or tending to animals. Whatever activities occur during the day, they are done for the sake of the kingdom, everything is done for God.

Thanks to you, holy brothers and sisters of St. Benedict – your very being glorifies God and your humble work edifies the world. Blessed are your hands that do the work of our Lord Jesus Christ in your everyday tasks.

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Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Today the Church celebrates the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ by the Precursor, John. Liturgically, this is the final day of the Christmas season. In the East the feast is known as Theophany. This awesome and mysterious event in the life of Christ shows forth the divine manifestation of the sacred Trinity.

As recorded by the Evangelist Mark:

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:9-11)

God chose to provide this clear and convincing showing to those who witnessed it. There likely would have been a crowd gathered for the baptisms John was performing. What a privilege it was to witness the manifestation of the Trinity and the declaration of Jesus as the Son of God! Here is the Messiah, the Son of God, here is the Father’s voice – the only occasion in the New Testament when we hear Him speak. Here is the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

Why is it that this is the solitary occasion for the people to hear the Father? I believe it further underscores the authority of the Son. That is, the Father spoke today to declare the Son’s authority and oneness with Him and the Holy Spirit. For the remainder of the time the Son would spend on earth He alone, would speak for the Father. His words would be the Father’s words.

Thank you, life-giving Trinity – for deeming us worthy to see your resplendent glory this day; the very manifestation of your mystery and your divinity, and your unity!

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