A Millennial Exodus for Meaning

The following are my remarks made at the opening of our pastorate meeting…

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to dialogue with some Millennials who I have met along the way and was telling them about the changes that are taking place in the Church.  Some faithfully practice and others come and go when they can.  At the same time, I’ve learned through them, that they are often the most misunderstood generation that exists and they get blamed for much of what we, older generations, fail to take responsibility for.  Their way of thinking and way of life can be foreign to so many of us, and yet, in many ways, I relate to them in a very different way.  If I had to sum up my experience not only of those who are friends but also whom I have worked with is that more than any other group they seek meaning and purpose in their lives.  They aren’t going to stay at a job or a church forever if it isn’t feeding the deeper hunger of their lives.  Honestly, we’re better at serving stones than bread.  It’s part of the mass exodus that has taken place over the years.  That’s not just the main Institution but the parishes that have been institutionalized as well.

Quite frankly, it’s probably a miracle or at least the grace of God that I have stayed in this institution over the years just knowing how much we haven’t met the younger generations in that way, often because we think it’s still about us.  Instead, we’ve blamed, resented, and projected our own stuff onto them while failing to see, become aware, and accept where we have gone wrong as Church, where we have failed at feeding the ultimate hunger of meaning in people’s lives.  And I include myself in this, we have fought over who can and can’t receive communion, we’ve fought over music and style of liturgy, we’ve fought over empty meetings that have been more about building ourselves up rather than the encounter with the other, and of course, even times and places for mass and other events.  All this while poverty continues to exist and grow, churches empty out because of our pettiness, attaching ourselves to superficiality while returning home empty, yes, even fighting over spaghetti sauce, war persists, hunger persists, murder within the pastorate rises, drugs run rampant up and down York Road, immigrants looking for direction, a school barely hanging on, people persecuted because of color and sexuality, among other things, and yet here we are, all of us, locked in the upper room out of fear, hiding in the comfort of our own space.  More often than not, clinging to what we have known rather than braving the great unknown.  If you want to know why Millennials often don’t show up, well, we typically don’t have to look too far.

If you haven’t realized, and I know many don’t know me beyond the priest, there’s a lot of stuff I just don’t care about, but what I do care about I care very deeply.  I care about people much more than institutions and parish agendas and identities.  I care about souls and the spiritual well-being of people because I know if we’re not healthy in a spiritual way we just won’t be healthy.  We’ll get hung up on the trivialities and have no perspective and larger picture.  I care about people and relationship and meeting people, having coffee with people, talking about faith and certainly preaching about it.  I’m well aware I have other responsibilities and other things happen in the life of a parish, but more than anything, I am about prayer, silence, and leading others to that same place, to find meaning and purpose in their lives.  It’s not that I don’t care about other things, because I do, but I can never quite stop myself from looking for deeper meaning and trying to lead people to the great unknown now so it won’t be as painful later, because it does always come.  I care about leading others to finding deeper meaning and purpose in their lives, through the muck of consumerism, capitalism, and politics which are often the gods we cling to in life.

When I teach, I always remind the students that, more than anything, we cling to what we know.  We like to be certain.  We like things to be black and white.  Yet, the more I have allowed myself to delve into mystery the less I see that as being real.  We, more often than not, find ourselves somewhere in between.  For me, one of the great stories that I use is that of the Exodus and people Israel.  They were miserable with what they were clinging to and yet, no sooner they are led to the unknown to encounter God in a very different way, being led to conversion, they immediately want to go back to what they know despite being miserable.  Heck, they get ticked off at Moses for leading them out of Egypt because they would have rather died to what they had known and clung to than to begin to experience life differently.  Aren’t we very much the same at times?

As we proceed, like Moses, we never quite know the twists and turns that we will encounter, and we have encountered them and will continue to do so, but our faith and trust must transcend what we know and what we cling to, which is often not real in the first place.  Don’t get me wrong.  We can continue doing what we’ve always done, business as usual, but know there are consequences to that as well.  Demographics continue to change, population is shrinking in most of this pastorate and appears to be in the near future.  In other words, we’ll die with it.  We’ll die with it.  As the poet, W.H. Auden, once wrote, “We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”  If I have learned anything this past year it’s that both locations have just that, illusions of one another, often deeply rooted in fear and the unknown which only entering into relationship can change.

So here we are, at the crossroads of change.  Like the disciples of Jesus in John’s Gospel, some may high tail it out because of change and what will be asked of them, because something is asked of all of us.  Some of this is personal.  I was close to just breaking down in exhaustion earlier this summer and I cannot continue to do that to myself.  If you read my blog you know that Notre Dame was like a “field hospital” for me and vacation more like respite care.  We currently have seven masses on the weekend and I’m seeking to move it to five.  In relation to the seven and nearly 30 in this vicinity, it’s not that much when we see ourselves as stewards of the liturgy rather than possessors.  I am a believer that less is often better because I can be better, and not allow the celebration that stands at our center to be entered into in drudgery and exhaustion. 

Change is hard and it’s messy.  There have been missteps and there will continue to be mistakes.  There always is when you wander through the desert.  Like the Israelites, our eyes have a way of deceiving us.  Change is also good and one of the few consistencies in our life.  As we enter into this discernment process and dialogue, we pray for the grace to move us to a place of encounter with and through one another.  We pray for the grace of the Spirit to come upon us and lead us to the place of poverty within our soul which often holds the key to so many of our struggles.  One of Pope Francis’ first quotes about the Church was that it is poor and for the poor.  It leads me to the image that we hold so dear, that first Christmas in Bethlehem when poverty took on flesh.  Here we are some 2000 years later, still asking for the grace so that we may be the same in the here and now, in this pastorate, as one people in and through Christ.  That, my friends, is what we’re all about and where we will find fulfillment of the deeper hunger for meaning and purpose in our lives.

 

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Gratefully Living Without

Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 16-21

Like most of you, I spent part of this Christmas week with my family, which includes all the chaos with kids and such but also reflecting back on Christmas past. At one point some of us commented on how much Christmas has changed since we were kids. As you may know, I’m one of six. We were by no means rich but also not living in poverty, but we certainly learned to live without. As a kid, that seems like torture. You always want what is new, bigger, better, more advanced, and so on. But now, I can look back, as I’m sure many others can, and to see that that is a great lesson to learn in life, learning to live without and not having this constant need to be stimulated with the latest gadget. It’s hard to be grateful when I’m never quite satisfied and certainly only plays into the hand of the consumer culture. We can never have enough and yet, in the end, we only find gratitude without.

There’s a lot that stands in contradiction with the stories we hear throughout this Christmas season, including the continuation of the Christmas gospel we hear on January 1st each year. The shepherds finally find their way to Mary and Joseph and the new born babe to share what has been seen and heard. But there they stand at the center, Mary and Joseph, overwhelmed by what has taken place and the enormity of what has unfolded. But the story is really just beginning for them. If they had to carry with them what we have come to expect on Christmas morning they would never be able to make this journey. They really become refugees and go with nothing but what they have and of course, what is most important, the Christ, who will lead them on the way. As a matter of fact, they would face demise if they carried what we carry and maybe that’s the real point of the story. If we keep it at historical level we miss the point as to how their journey is our journey. It’s a journey of faith and trust and learning to take nothing with us along the way. It only slows us down in the first place and quite frankly, if we need to clutter our lives externally, we most likely are doing it internally as well leaving no space in the crib for the Christ. It will even become the message that Jesus conveys to the disciples of taking nothing with them for the journey while learning to trust and have faith in something and someone much bigger than themselves, in the unseen deep within them.

It is a day that we pray for peace, and of course, that’s first making peace with our own lives but we we also celebrate the Motherhood of Mary who ponders all this within her heart. She doesn’t stand demanding anything of anyone. She already has the space within to try to absorb the mystery that has and is unfolding and to be grateful for the real gift that has been given, of Love Incarnate. For today is also a day to give thanks and to be grateful as we begin a new year. But we too must make that space within our hearts to be grateful rather than trying to accumulate more and more. We too must learn to live without and to find God within what seems like nothingness. The journey Mary and Joseph embark on, and we too, demands us to go to that place of poverty. As refugees they must now flee the terror of Herod and head to Egypt only to eventually make their return at another time with an even deeper sense of trust and faith. They allow the Christ to lead them to the place of exile, to foreign land where they are without, only to find what has always been there and leading them along the way, the Savior that walks and meets them in that very place.

It’s what Paul also speaks of in today’s second reading to the Galatians. He speaks of the fullness of time taking on flesh under the law. Now it’s not just law as we understand it, but rather into the suffering of our lives, that place within us that keeps us bound and weighed down by what we carry. Maybe it’s not the Christmas gifts we may or may not have wanted, or the expectations we had of the holiday that weren’t met, but it could be the grief and pain that we continue to carry with us that makes the journey nearly impossible. Again, Mary and Joseph stand as the iconic figures of the season of making this journey while going without and finding the gift in the midst of it all. We so want to find the Christ in the joy and wonderment of the season, and that’s true, but the Christ is more than that. The Christ meets us where we have allowed our hearts to become exiled. This Christmas invites us to that place of poverty and to give thanks for the gift of living without.

As we continue this Christmas season and begin the new year, we pray for the grace to accept the invitation and walk with Mary and Joseph to our own hearts. Maybe we have to drop things and let things go as move along, but they promise us that what we find, that has always been, will satisfy every longing, where we will no longer be nagged by what seems to be never enough in our lives. Ironically, in the gift of going without, in our own nothingness, we learn the greatest gift, the gift of being grateful not just for what we have but for who and whose we are. Happy New Year!

A Weary World Rejoices

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Isaiah 9: 1-6, Luke 2: 1-14

A weary world rejoices…it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth

They are the words of the classic Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, which we celebrate this evening and there’s no denying that a weary world it so often seems…

The two great stories that identify us as Christians, tonight, of course, the incarnation of our God, God breaking in and taking on human flesh, and then the death and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter have many similarities to their surroundings as they unfold. If you reflect upon both there is great upheaval and chaos that is going on all around these events. Yet, all those who are so greatly connected to them don’t seem bothered by the fact. There of course is corruption by the political and religious authorities of the time, who all along plot the death of Jesus. There’s fear beyond belief. There’s yet another boot tramped in battle and another cloak rolled in blood as Isaiah tells us this evening. It is a weary world that Jesus encounters from the very beginning. All of it sets the scene for these two great events that define us.

But they also happen in darkness. It’s almost as if God can only seem to do something with people in darkness, when they are most vulnerable. And if that’s true, and it is true, then imaging the great things God is trying to do at this very moment in a world that continues to stand weary, and yet, on this night, manages to rejoice the birth of a Savior. But it doesn’t seem to destroy the darkness. It’s still there. The most vulnerable still are impacted the most by ongoing war and violence of a world plagued by fear. Who can get out of their minds, and maybe we’re not supposed to, the images of the children running for their lives out of Aleppo. Or as we lie down at night, others continue to remain very vulnerable on these very streets of this city, murder and death, night after night. It is a weary world and a weary world that welcomes the birth of the Savior and begins to make space for a God breaking through the weariness of the world.

But it’s us as well who experience such weariness in our own lives. It’s not just beyond us in outlying areas. It’s us when we are most vulnerable as well, as we lie down in the darkness of the night and we can no longer outrun our weariness and weighs upon our hearts and souls. As the day silences it only seems as if the mind begins to race, thinking of what hurts and worries us at this moment, a dying parent, a sick child, an unemployed spouse, a lost soul, all of this arises in the darkness of the night, when we too are most vulnerable for something, for someone, a God breaks through and begins to bring light to a weary load, no longer needing to figure it out on our own but a God who comes to ease and to point us in a new direction in life. It is the night, a night that lies weary.

It is the story of people Israel whom Isaiah speaks to today. They too know weariness and are searching for something and someone. Long before Jesus even enters the scene, Isaiah knows in his very being this Christ. It’s the only explanation for such words of hope to a people who have wandered in darkness and experience boot tramped in battle and cloak rolled in blood. They know ongoing war and violence. They know famine and poverty. And yet, when a new king ascends the throne, this great hymn is sung as if the past is the past and we begin anew. We no longer need to walk in the darkness and become victims of our own vulnerability, for a child is given us and a new leader will rule the earth. Once again, God desperately tries to break into the weariness of the lives of Israel, who so often try to go it alone. And over and over again, leads to further war and violence, famine and poverty. And once again, it is the most vulnerable that are forgotten, the faces of Aleppo that are now ingrained in our minds and hearts. That’s the irony of the story, it is in the most vulnerable places that God breaks in and it’s the place we will try to outrun and avoid. It is so often the place we fear the most.

Somehow, that fear takes hold. There is Herod, as well, who fears that another king has been born. In his own insecurities, someone is going to try to steal his power away from him, which, of course, isn’t power or peace at all, it’s fear that rules the land and Herod’s heart. But what Herod didn’t know because he was so encapsulated by himself, is that this king was different. This king wasn’t looking to ascend to his throne or somehow knock him off. This King wasn’t about ascending at all. This King was one who was descending into the depths of the earth, into the depths of our very being, to the most vulnerable place, our own poverty, our own weariness in order to give us life. Herod had nothing to fear and yet did and there was a price, a heavy price, that would be paid by the most vulnerable of his time.

And so chaos ensued. Darkness covered the earth and never seemed to lift. Yet, in the midst of it all in this couple, Mary and Joseph. Mary gives birth to the Savior as we see in this manger scene and now will have to confront the fear of Herod and their own fear. But they have nothing to fear. Mary doesn’t only give birth to the Savior into the world. Mary allows the incarnation to birth within her. Joseph allows this incarnation to be birthed within him. The shepherds, the most despised of their day, traitors, thieves, robbers, as they were, hear the message of the angels and their souls felt their worth. They too allowed the incarnation to be birthed in them and their lives are forever changed. In the midst of the chaos and darkness, a weary world rejoices for it is in those very moments that God desires to break into our lives, to meet us in our very humanity. Sure we like an Almighty God who ascends to the throne, but first, and most importantly, descends into the weariness of our lives. This is a vulnerable God, a scandalous God, that desires to love the places where we find ourselves most weary and to birth new life, to break into and through our own weariness. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth and a weary world rejoices.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the nostalgia and sentimentality of the season, and maybe that’s easy for some of us to do. It’s an opportunity to block out the weariness and emptiness of our own lives, the poverty of the soul that desires worth. Yet, it’s not the peace this night provides or desire of us. Because as we gather, chaos still happens. Darkness is still the reality for many. War and violence haven’t stopped simply for Christmas. No, the world remains weary and will be weary, just as our lives very much can be even at a night when we rejoice. The message tonight is of hope, of a God who desires to love so much that is willing to do the unthinkable, a God who’s willing to descend from on high and meet us where we are, to birth us once again, so that we may be the bearers of light to the darkness, to the war-driven streets of Aleppo and Baltimore, and even to our most vulnerable places, where we feel most weary this day, for today we rejoice that our Savior has been born, breaking into our world and lives, and points us to a still more perfect, fulfilling way of life. Merry Christmas!

The Call Home

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks writes that his purpose for the book is that he needed to find his soul. As a political pundit, he believed he had gone so far from who he really is that the writing of the book was going to become the roadmap back to his truest identity. He began to realize that he was living a lie and contributing to the larger problems in politics, some of the time didn’t even believe what he was saying but just saying it because it was his job. He believes, and is often evident in our country, that there is no longer a moral code by which we live, that politics has taken the place and we see where that gets us. It’s divisive and a shallow identity, leading us down the same path that Brooks found in his own life, a loss of identity, a loss of soul.

This feast we celebrate today, the Baptism of the Lord, reveals through Jesus our own truest identity. If we can just believe with our heads and our hearts who we really are, beloved sons and daughters, not only of ourselves, but of everyone, the world can be a much different place. Yet, as much as we are baptized into it as Christians, somehow we forget. We begin to think and believe that we are something other than beloved. We begin to think we’re the color of our skin, our sexuality, the amount of money we have or don’t have, our ideology and politics, and we begin to live our lives that way. It’s a search for identity that takes place in this city and I believe it’s the struggle going on in this country. As time passes, like people Israel, we find ourselves so far away from our center that we have forgotten who we really are and we must go and search.

The struggle for identity is the lifelong struggle and part of salvation history. Israel, whom Isaiah writes of in today’s first reading, struggled themselves as a people. It’s easy, even in our time, to begin to think we are something else. How easy it is to think I’m something else. How could Israel not when their experience has been exodus and exile, their experience is war and violence. When that becomes our reality, we begin to think it’s who we are. We wander. We stray. We find ourselves on the periphery and the fringe, exiled from our truest self. But make note, as we hear in this reading and we heard during Advent, the voice continues to cry out. Even in the midst of the dryness, the desert, the voice continues to call us back to our home, back to the place of humility, this crib that we have come to throughout this season. The voice that cries out in the desert is the voice that proclaims the identity of Jesus, the beloved in which I am well pleased.

It was an identity struggle in today’s gospel today as well. In all the early communities, there was much debate as to who John the Baptist was. Now Luke resolves it by writing him out of the scene all together. Before we hear of Jesus’ baptism John is already taken into custody by Herod, and instead, Jesus is lumped in with the other people who have been baptized. It’s not that Jesus was somehow better than others, but rather, at the deepest core of all of us we remain the same, our truest identity in Christ, beloved sons and daughters. What the magi sought for last week and is revealed in Bethlehem is revealed to the people, to the nations, as the Christ. It’s who we really are as people, and if we believe it with our hearts, our lives our changed, the world is changed.

As we come to the end of this Christmas season, our search for the new born King will continue in ways we may never know. We’ll find ourselves like many of the characters we have met, wandering around the periphery wondering who we really are, realizing we have lost our way, trying to follow the voice of one crying out from the desert of our lives. Christmas doesn’t end here, but continues daily in our faith journey as we continue to seek out our truest identity, to give up living the lie and that which no longer works, to seek the voice that calls from the place of humility, this crib, which reminds us of who we really are, sons and daughters of God. When we believe it with all our being, life is changed forever, just as it did for the world on that first Christmas. We are the sons and daughters of God, beloved and with whom is well pleased.

Navigating Home From Within

Is 60: 1-6; Eph 2: 3-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

There’s not much we can be certain of in life. There is so much unpredictability and unknown that we encounter that it often seems to set us off kilter when things do arise in life. But I believe there is one thing that I’m pretty certain of in life, despite all that is uncertain, and that’s the fact that we all seek and searching for something. We spend a great deal of our lives doing just that, as if we are programmed to go out and try to find something. Heck, the whole commercial industry is based on that one fact. They know, because they are the same, that we are searching and seeking something, they often prey on that and convince us that what they got is going to be our quick-fix and do-it-all. Yet, what I am most certain of is that we seek and search for we already have within us. Now that doesn’t mean that we won’t stop looking and seeking in ways that takes us on many different paths in life, even leading us astray at times, but once we find what it is we are seeking and looking for, we no longer need to participate in that game.

I believe the same is true for this feast that we celebrate today, the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God’s love. Now this happens long before Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The Israelites were constantly finding themselves in situations where they are seeking the Lord. It takes them everywhere, including exile, leads them into the desert, takes them even into battle, they long and seek and search, and yet, can’t seem to find because they look everywhere other than where it is and has been all along, within. Today, in the reading from Isaiah, they are on return from exile. Jerusalem has always existed, and yet today, they see it in a new way. They see it as a manifestation of God’s faithfulness and love. They come home by a different route and by different eyes and now with a new navigation system as well, being led from within.

The Gospel we once again encounter one of the regular Christmas characters, Herod. We’ve heard his name the past couple weeks, but now in contrast with the Magi who are the archetypal seekers of Scripture. One represents the clamoring of power and seeking it from out, leading to great fear and insecurity for Herod and his people. The people know what he is capable of and live with great fear that he will follow through. Even the announcement of the birth of the Christ child causes great concern. He is classic politician. He goes where the wind blows and has no interior grounding and navigation system. Herod remains lost in his own darkness, insecurity, and fear. A good indicator is the mention of him calling for them in secret; he still lives out of fear rather than the grace of the moment.

These Magi, on the other hand, can’t and don’t settle for that. They should offer us some solace on our own faith journey as that this journey takes them all over, for a great period of time, under not the most conducive conditions, and won’t stop until they find the Christ child, the newborn King. When they do, their navigation begins to shift from the guidance of a star to their own interior navigation; they found the Christ child not only here in the crib, but here, in their heart, the eternal crib of the child. On the fourth Sunday of Advent I spoke of the empty crib. On Christmas I spoke of the fullness of the crib and view life through that lens. Today it isn’t now something that we go visit here at the foot of the altar, but in our very hearts and souls, navigating us through life. The manifestation of God’s love. How do we know they had this encounter, by the very fact that they return home by a different route. They can no longer go back to what was for them because of this encounter. They not only experience the newness of life and being led from their own exile, but they experience death at the same time, letting go of what was and what can no longer be; a life of fear is no more. They now know the lie of seeking “out there” and have found what they have searched for. They are now navigated by a different way and their lives will now become a manifestation of Christmas to the world.

As we journey through this Christmas season and through our faith, we may still be the seekers, looking for something to fill that crib within, and that’s ok; God can work with anything and anyone, and so often we must meet that vulnerable place of ourselves before the journey turns towards Bethlehem. We do that as individuals and even as a community. Nonetheless, we seek and we find and we are changed, converted in the process, letting go of what was in order to make room for what is and is to come. An encounter with the Christ is life-changing. If you’ve had it, you know what I mean; and once the Christ, the Shining Star, is found, you know you are different and can’t go back home the same way. And you know how? Like the Magi, your life takes a different course and me and you become that manifestation, that epiphany, of God’s love to the world.

A Seismic Gift of Love

Isaiah 9: 1-6; Luke 2: 1-14

We all remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. It’s a day when life changed, forever. I dare say, it was a day when a seismic shift took place in this country that rattled us in our very soul and something we still grapple with to this day, coming to some sense of understanding of who we really are. It was a day when our innocence was lost. It was a day when the illusion we held about ourselves and others thought of us were shattered. It was a day in which we recognized our vulnerability and were no longer invincible. It was day when we saw first had our own mortality as people and a nation. It was a tremendous seismic shift in our lives when the ideal separates from the brokenness of our humanity. As much as we want to and will always try to go back to what it was like before that day, we never can. It simply becomes an invitation to enter into our brokenness and pray for redemption and that the true God will lead us to the fullness of life we desire.

As people, it’s the same shift that takes place in our own lives. As children, when we too lose our innocence and become vulnerable to the pain of the world and our own families we begin to separate. Just think about how life was for us when we were children. Everything and everyone seems so big, filled with adventure, endless opportunity, a gigantic world. And then we are hurt, some to the extreme, and our world begins to shrink and become smaller. As I preached on Sunday, we begin to view the world through the lens of our emptiness, that empty crib that sat here on Sunday. We view life through the lens of our hurt and loneliness and see the world that way, only longing for the fullness of days past. But on this day God invites humanity into that seismic shift in our own lives, from death to life. We try to live our lives over and over where our Bethlehem becomes separated from our Jerusalem, our full crib separated from our empty crib. God wants to bring about a seismic shift in our lives from gazing at the emptiness of our crib to viewing life from the crib, in all it’s fullness.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, but they know the darkness as well, but not separate from the light. This reading we hear from Isaiah today, in all its beauty, was often read at the coronation of a new king. It was a message of hope to a people who have often felt lost in their darkness, their own emptiness and sin, a people who somehow forget to view life through the lens of the faithful God who brought them out of exile and through the deserts of the exodus. Of course, like we are when a new president or leaders are elected, we have traditions like this reading that we convince ourselves that somehow all will be different and life will be better, but Isaiah looks beyond the earthly king and speaks of a child to be born, one who brings wonder, peace, faithfulness, in the flesh, the birth of the Christ child, the only who who shows and leads the way from the emptiness of the cross to the fullness of the crib.

Mary and Joseph become the icons of that journey in their own sense of having to leave their home and journey to the unknown of Egypt with the newborn king. They too are called right away to abandon all that they know and the life they knew because of the terror of King Herod. Herod, threatened by the news of the Christ and certainly not viewing the world from the crib, seeks and kills all the newborns, a feast we call Holy Innocents, celebrated during this season of Christmas. Herod held onto the illusion of power and his kingly role, trapped in the worldly desires, trying to fill his own emptiness and longing, all to be seen through that lens of illusion as a threat, rather than the invitation for change and a seismic shift in his own world. His illusion becomes the threat to the promise that Mary and Joseph bear. Just think about it, in a world that we live today and the issues we face, it is often the children that are threatened the most, their innocence and vulnerability, stripped from them, because of our own hurt and our own illusions.

On this Christmas, God now invites us into the seismic shift. Where and how are we viewing life? Do we continue to view it only through the empty crib, our own emptiness and longing, our own illusions of life? Can we pray for the grace to not only know our emptiness, and we all know it and we all know suffering and will always be a part of who we are in our brokenness, but also to see it from the crib? That doesn’t make us naive or wearing our rose-colored glasses. Rather, it brings about wisdom because our Jerusalem, our empty crib, is no longer separated from our Bethlehem, the fullness of the crib. As people and as a nation and world, we must pray and find silence to welcome the seismic shift and not run back to what was; when such a seismic shift happens our natural inclination is to blame because we only see what we see and feel what we feel and know what we know. Christmas welcomes seismic shifts so we can see through the lens of the unseen, to feel through the unfelt, and to know through the unknown, to reignite a spirit of wonder and innocence in a world that hurts and suffers. We are a people and a world that knows all too well the realities of the empty crib. Today God invites us into the crib to view the world and our own hurts through the lens of the largess of the Christ’s love for us and the world. Merry Christmas!

Mirror of My Soul

2Sam 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Luke 1: 26-38

The obvious connection with the first reading and Gospel today on this Fourth Sunday of Advent is the lineage of Jesus with David and the fulfillment of that line in Jesus through Mary. However, like most of Scripture there is often a deeper meaning and connection with them. You see, there’s something happening in both the life of David and Mary at this very moment. There’s a stirring deep within their hearts and souls of a God leading them to greater fulfillment in their lives and ultimately in the world. A God who can accomplish the impossible is hard at work and on the scene in both of their lives, both in very different places and circumstances of life, but both being stirred by this God who brings life.

For David, it’s probably similar to many of us, albeit it to the extreme. The reading even begins by mentioning that David had just gotten settled. It’s in that moment when he’s getting used to his role as King and the great palace that he now lives and the many walls and such that protect him, and yet, none of it is offering fulfillment in his life. He knows in his head that God is always with him; Nathan makes that point to him in the reading today in the reading today. Yet, as a visual, he then sees how the Ark of God dwells in comparison to himself, an earthly king. Here’s the ark in a tent, exposed to the elements, vulnerable, out there, in the line of fire, per say, and then here’s David in his protected walls and palace with everything at his fingertips. He can do anything he wants or desires and then there’s the Ark of God. In that very moment, things begin to stir within his heart and soul. It’s almost as if you were to hold up a mirror to David’s heart and soul, looking back would be what we hear in the gospel today, the unfolding of the annunciation and the beginnings of the incarnation of our God. Here’s David, long before Jesus ever enters the scene or is dreamed of, being moved in a way, deep within his own vulnerability and emptiness, his own empty crib as we see before us, a God who begins to stir within David to bring about the God in the flesh into the world and do great things, pondering all these things in his heart. Of course, he doesn’t always do it right. He abuses his power, takes advantage of the role he has has king, and yet, in a moment of vulnerability and emptiness, despite have everything he could possibly want or imagine, God begins to stir.

Mary experiences that same stirring and vulnerability within herself as she enters the scene. If you were here on the Immaculate Conception I had said Mary, of all the characters we encounter in Scripture, is probably one of the most misunderstood. We have done a greater job at creating her into who we want her to be or think we need her to be than to encounter her for who she is in this passage. Mary enters in poverty. Mary enters as peasant. Mary enters in a male-dominated world. Mary enters with absolutely no clout, like David, and is totally exposed and vulnerable as a young teenager. If there’s anything against anyone, it’s Mary, yet, she can’t ignore the stirring within her. She could try to ignore and pay no attention to it, but God has other plans and in the deepest part of Mary, pondering all these things in her heart and her empty crib, Mary responds with a yes despite the expectations of a world in which she grows up and lives. Mary goes against the tide and says yes to the incarnate, despite knowing the implications on her life, Joseph’s life, and the life of Jesus. When God stirs in our own vulnerability and empty crib, we come with great humility as Mary does knowing it was designed and built for one, our Lord.

There will be great demands brought upon all of us this week. We will do everything we can to fulfill expectations of others or even of ourselves. We will spend time with loved ones and even some we may not be fond of, but all along, God knows we’ve spent a great deal of this time trying to fill that longing and empty crib with many other things and so I go back to what I said on the First Sunday of Advent, how important it is to find silence in this time. We may not experience the empty crib right now. Some may experience it on Christmas but for many of us, we begin to experience it following Christmas when we begin to realize that so much of it hasn’t brought fulfillment. We didn’t get the right gift. They didn’t like what we had gotten them despite the hours walking in the mall. All of these things begin to grow within and like David and Mary and Elizabeth, that’s when God steps in and begins to stir us. If God were to place that mirror up to your heart and soul, what does God see? What have we tried to fill that crib with other than God? God invites us to sit with it long enough to allow the stirring to bring life and healing, for when we do, the impossible becomes the reality in our lives and world.