Thursday, December 25, 2014

From Depression and Sadness to Joy and Hope

Recently a Facebook friend (I‘ll call her “Lucy”) posted an essay on her timeline telling us that she is depressed this Christmas and why.  While it is a fairly lengthy essay, not once did she give any hint of the fact that Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus.  Additionally, not a single response to Lucy (except mine) mentioned that Christmas is a celebration of the birthday of Our Lord, the Savior of the human race.  I fear that this is a symptom of the fact that mankind has lost its focus, not just on “the reason for the season,” but on the purpose of life in general.  So My Thursday Thoughts today turn from Lucy’s depression and sadness to the joy and hope that can overtake her simply by her reading the Scriptures, specifically the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2.  In fact, I suggested that she read this chapter in its entirety, slowly, out loud to herself.  If you are feeling down this Christmas, I make the same suggestion to you.  Just the sound of the words describing what happened is good for the soul.  Luke 2:1-20 reads as follows.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.  This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.  And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.  The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them; ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:  ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ 

“When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’  So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.  All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.  And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”

To all the Lucys in the world:  May you hear these words in a new light and glorify and praise God, just as the shepherds did that Christmas many years ago.  Amen.

The photo is of a shepherd and his flock and was taken at the holiday exhibit at the Cristo Rey Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Conducting Ourselves in Holiness and Devotion

December 18, 2014

The second reading at Mass on Sunday, December 7, struck a chord with me.  It is from the second letter of St. Peter, Chapter 3, verses 8-14.  Commentaries I have read say that there were some in the new faith community who were growing impatient waiting for the return of Christ and were expressing a sort of “anxious disappointment.”  They were even beginning to doubt that He would return at all!  That, despite Christ’s own words to the contrary, saying that it is impossible to know when.  (How shocked would they be today, knowing that it is nearly 2000 years later and we are still waiting!)  Peter was attempting to dispel their concerns, telling them that “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years.”  He goes on to say that the Lord does not delay his promise, as these early Christians consider “delay.”  He says that the Lord simply wants all to come to repentance and was only giving the early Christians the time to do that.  So, the Lord will come in His own time. I say “thank you” to St. Peter for nipping this disappointment in the bud!

What really got me going, though, was what St. Peter taught a few verses later.  He said that since the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and that the earth will be dissolved by fire, we should be conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion” while we wait.  In due time, there will be “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  So we must “await these things (with patience), and be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”  Now we could have a glorious faith/science debate over this.  What exactly will happen?  Will there be an asteroid on a collision course with the earth?  Will there be simultaneous earthquakes occurring worldwide, causing the Earth to simply explode in a fiery catastrophe?  Or maybe global warming will prevail in a fiery end to everything.  No one knows.  But what we do know is that it is important for us to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion until that day comes, whenever and whatever it will be.  My prayer for today is this:  Lord, please give us the grace to conduct ourselves as you expect, with holiness and devotion, so that we will be found at peace before you, and without spot or blemish.  Amen

For the full text of Chapter 3 of St. Peter's second letter, click here:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On the Extraordinary Diversity of Life

Have you ever stopped to consider the incredible diversity of bird and animal life on our planet?  While on various road trips spanning my lifetime, I’ve seen some extraordinary things.  There was the beautiful majestic bald eagle, with a its six-foot wing span, swooping down across the road in front of me somewhere in northern Kansas.  There was the single file of snorting elk galloping across the road in Yellowstone National Park as if to be demanding “Stop the car, we’re crossing here.”  There was the singular elegance of a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs exploring the wilderness off to the right as I drove down the mountain road in Glacier National Park.  There was the huge flock of American coots as they first float peacefully by in a pond in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, but then suddenly, like an airplane on a runway, take off running across the surface of the water as they prepare to take flight.  Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a zoo in Chicago and was overwhelmed with what I saw there.  As I strolled around with my camera, I saw everything from this very large rhinoceros, with its tough gray/brown leathery skin and massive horn popping up between the eyes, to this sleepy giraffe so tall that the zookeepers had to hoist a bag of hay high up in a tree in order to allow him to comfortably feed himself, and then to this flock of brightly colored flamingos with their long, lanky legs and weird bills. 

The diversity of life also includes us human beings, of course.  We are beings with the ability to think, to reason, to use our brains, our hands, and our feet to accomplish things that no other being can.  We are beings with a moral compass giving us the ability to distinguish right from wrong.  We are beings with the ability to choose to act based not just on instinct, but on laws that we are able to formulate in order to live in harmony with each other and with our surroundings.  Scientists say that our world has evolved over many millions of years in order to get to our present state.  They say that the biological makeup, or DNA, has taken different pathways over this span of time that ultimately resulted in the extraordinary diversity.  I’m running out of adjectives.  Suffice it to say that God can be described by all of the adjectives I’ve used here, but I have reserved one for Him:  Awesome!  Let us stop, smell the roses, and give him high praise, glory, and worship for being who He is and let us give Him our thanks for doing all that He has done for us.  Amen.

The photo is of a flamingo at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Baptism and the Newness of Life

It’s the Advent season once again, and this always conjures up thoughts of baptism and new life in the Church.  It’s the beginning of a new Church year.  The stories of John the Baptist, his calls for repentance, and his rite of baptism in the Jordan River are heard in the Gospel readings at Mass.  There are many references to Baptism in Sacred Scripture.  The one reference that is mentioned most often in discussions about baptism is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3.  This is the dialogue Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Jewish leader who secretly met with Jesus at night.  The discussion is about being “born again.”  Jesus says that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from above, born “of water and Spirit.”  The Church understands this as a reference to the use of water in the rite of baptism, but it also means being born of the Holy Spirit and into new life in the Church.  Baptism takes away original sin and gives us a fresh slate to work with as we begin our new life in this Valley of Tears here on earth.  I like to think that our rite of baptism is similar to Jesus’ own Baptism in which water (from the Jordan River) and the Holy Spirit were involved.  The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended from heaven and a voice from heaven spoke:  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Some Christians believe that the use of water is merely a figurative reference to spiritual cleansing and is therefore not necessary.  They say that the Jesus’ reference to being “born again” refers to a moment in our life when we accept Him as our personal Lord and Savior.  But this phraseology does not appear in Scripture and directly contradicts Jesus’ own words that we must be born “of water and the Spirit.”  In addition, Scripture tells us that immediately after the dialogue with Nicodemus, His disciples spent time baptizing and John also, in Judea “where there was an abundance of water.”  So the Catholic teaching is that the use of water is required and that being “born again” does not refer to us, as adults “accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior” but rather to the rite (and sacrament) of baptism, ie., being born again “of water and the Spirit.”

Some Christians also object to so-called “infant baptism,” the conferring of the sacrament of Baptism on an infant.  The scriptural basis for infant baptism includes passages in which it is stated that “entire households” were baptized in the early life of the Church (Acts 15:16 and Acts 16:33).  So the Catholic Church, encourages baptism being performed as soon as possible after birth.  Then, later in life, after the person passes the “age of reason,” a second sacrament, confirmation, is conferred to freely allow the individual to profess his/her Christian faith at that point.

The photograph was chosen to depict one’s view of the “Valley of Tears” after receiving the newness of life in the sacrament of baptism.