Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas Reflections – December 29, 2013 – Where Are the Shepherds by Shannon O’Donnell

Where Are the Shepherds?a guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

On Advent Sundays this year, I pondered the shepherds. At a funeral we sang, “Shepherd Me, O God. A homilist repeated the pope’s admonition that pastors should be shepherds who smell like their sheep. Our inner city parish is far from any sheep’s pasture, but I sit in the pew and I ponder shepherds.

donation-box-foodAs the gifts are prepared, young children converge on the basket before the altar. In their hands are peanut butter, soup, mac and cheese, packages of rice and noodles,. All of it goes into the basket, headed for the food bank.

Todd, a tall lanky dad, carries his not-yet-walking son on his shoulders. Connor tosses in a juice box with glee.

Food Collection basket_2Four-year-old Sean pulls his younger sister along. Together they stand before the basket. He’s holding a multipack of ramen noodles. Lily doesn’t want to let go of the box of crackers. He places the noodles in the basket, then steps back and points. She frowns. Sean pokes her shoulder. Lily leans over and at the very last moment, she lets go of the box. She raises her hands. Victory! They skip back to their parents on the sidelines.

Some approach like old-timers, well-practiced in the art of giving. Others need a guiding hand or verbal urging (“Come ON!”)

Later, lines for Commuion form and move.

sign-of-peace-600-400-300x200Brian shakes hands with every person he sees until his wife runs gentle interference. His Alzheimer’s is more pronounced these days. Jeanne and her mother gather up the grandchildren. Susan gets her mother’s walker in place. Michael’s mom wheels her laughing son forward. One of the L’Arche assistants leads Sherry from a pew, a familiar dance between them.

Where are the shepherds? They are all among us, watching their flocks, smelling like their sheep.

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1474562_10202284427985779_1840724417_nShannon O’Donnell is an author from Tacoma, WA. Her book, Save The Bones, is a deeply moving account about memory, Alzheimer’s disease, and her (now recently deceased) mother Marie Cain. Shannon also blogs about life as a Catholic jail chaplain at Finding Grace Within. It is an honor to welcome Shannon’s work to the blog today.

This post may have you scratching your head and wondering what it has to do with the Christmas season, and even more specifically, with the Holy Family. Shannon is looking back at Advent and wondering where the shepherds are now. When I read it, I thought about the less-than-perfect holy family that we all are when we are church together. And what better reminder is needed today and always?

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This unimaginable being “with-us-ness”

o-come-o-come-emmanuel-snippitWe sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with an almost mindless grace, an unconscious awareness, but not always true comprehension. We may not be purposefully arrogant about it, but may be too distracted to be fully in the mystery.

baby-jesus-bluebirdEmmanuel. God with us. We like to gaze down at the infant, “so tender and mild” in the Creche; we smile, our heart warms. And then, how we love to leave God in that Creche, in the Church, and in our Bibles, as we carry on. God in those places appears to be very manageable, fitting in with our plans and priorities.

fontanini_masterpiece_colle_lgGod was not aiming at sweetness during the Incarnation. This is not meant to be a moment of pious nicety. Jesus was sent to transform us through an unimaginable being “with-us-ness” that transcends our antiseptic images of nativity sets, singing angels, and a well-coiffed Mary, reliable Joseph, and the cute Baby Jesus. These images are not bad images, but if we stop there, what do we miss?

This “with-us-ness” reminds me of Duns Scotus’ concept of haecceity, or “this-ness,” rather than “what-ness.” And it is in that vein that the highly unimaginable being “with-us-ness” of the Incarnation comes to light.

imagesBeautiful and perfect Nativity scenes, may imply a sense of “what-ness.” The Christ child born in the world is different, He is the “this-ness,” the “with-us-ness,” that is barely imaginable, yet real. This is something beyond beautiful, pious, or sweet in any way. The birth of the Christ child transforms our relationship with God! God did not come to be something to be admired, or even feared; God came to be one-with-us in an unimaginable way, never before known.

baby-jesusTonight when you see the Baby Jesus placed in the manager at mass, or if he is already there when you arrive later, or tomorrow, please don’t just smile. Forget the beautiful images that the Creche offers, although those images are important. This is not just a pretty moment to gaze upon, but an invitation from God. God did not just happen to stop by, to be a beautiful baby. God was born, to be with you – yes, you – in a deeply intimate and complete way. God was born for all of us in this way, not some holy few, but for all who will welcome him as such. Can we do that?

This year, if you can, try to shift into that more challenging “with-us-ness” of Christ, not simply the “what-ness” of the Creche. Trust me, I have no clue how to do this, I’m just trying this myself. And with all things that are of Christ, they are never meant to be done alone. Let’s do this and be this “with-us-ness” together, one in the heart of Christ this christmas_painting_holy_family_nativity_scene_original_oil_and_winner__ed44aa76aeba1f73ddb22a1c29a3ea7eChristmas.

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January 8, 2013 – A Reflection by Doreen Salse

128828982.275.275For my extended family, 2011 was the year we were caught in a storm of sadness. For one cousin alone, the year brought the death of a husband from a long illness, her daughter was taken from her in a motorcycle accident and both my cousin and her son were diagnosed with kidney cancer. Breast cancer and ALS struck my own sisters and by December I was only too happy to see the end of the year approach.

Was my faith shaken? Not only shaken but stirred. Grief, and the anticipation of loss are at the same time universal and devastatingly personal. I knew in my heart that these events happen to the beloved of other people, but this time it was people I knew like I know myself.

I spent Christmas in the Keys that year. I guess, like Jonah, I wanted to get as far away as possible from what God was asking of us. No luck. At Mass at St. Peter’s church on Big Pine Key I spent a long time looking at the depiction behind the altar of a storm tossed boat and some very distressed disciples waking Jesus from his nap.

Every now and then, I marvel at the simple brilliance of the Gospel stories and how they show how the faith of the first followers is both overwhelming and fragile. One of my favorites is from Luke:

One day he got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, “Let us cross to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail, and while they were sailing he fell asleep.

They must have felt peaceful and tranquil and full of trust as they sailed in that little boat, secure that Jesus was with them. Just like me, I thought. My faith is pretty strong when the waters are calm.

And then as soon as the squall came and the boat rocked and started to take in water, the disciples went looking for Jesus in their terror. As though he wasn’t with them the entire time.

How different am I? In my sadness I look around to see if perhaps Jesus isn’t busy with something else or asleep or doing something that made him take his eyes off me for a second. I want to wake him up too.

Although Mark’s Gospel today is not the same story and Jesus is not asleep, he seems nonetheless to be taking a little break from his followers, leaving them to live what he has been trying to teach them. But he is never too far away to step in and remind them of his presence.

2011 is over and so is 2012. My sisters still struggle with the aftermath of their respective diagnoses. I pray and read from the Scripture with one of them over the phone several times a week – she listens because her disease has robbed her of her speech. Before we read from Luke we pray:

Dear Lord, as we meditate on these passages from Scripture, please help us to trust you with our whole being. We cannot know what you have in store for us, but allow us to live each day trusting that you will be there to hold out your hand to help us through the storm.

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ἐπιφάνεια – The Epiphany

ἐπιφάνεια

I keep trying to find something to say about this video and song, about the Epiphany we celebrate today, but no words come. The music speaks for itself. May your Epiphany be obvious, yet not obvious, likely, yet unlikely, clear, yet filled with mystery, fully human and fully divine, filled with spirit and yet incarnate, full of flesh. Special thanks to Fr. Pat, who shared this video with me.

 

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Christmas Reflections – Mary, Mother of God January 1

Mary, Mother of God – January 1, 2013
(This homily was written for and first published in the book, Hungry and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C.)

Many years ago, I befriended a woman with whom I had nothing in common. In fact, we were far apart in many ways. She was one of the “cool people” that a self-professed nerd like me might never get to know. However, academic circumstances brought us together, and we became good friends. What struck me the most about her, when we first became more closely acquainted, was how “human” she turned out to be. From my original point of view, this woman seemed to have it all; she appeared completely self-confident and self-possessed, she was remarkably beautiful, and she maintained an aura of perfection that seemed unattainable to us mere mortals.

Over time we got to know one another, and a real friendship began to develop. This woman began to reveal just how challenging things were for her. First of all, she was not perfect, although I found that hard to believe. At that age, I believed that we were all socially divided into some “have/have not scheme” when it came to perfection. To that end, I was Continue reading

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Christmas Eve Reflection 2012

730541-NO-ROOM-AT-THE-INN-CARD
Typically these posts are done ahead of time and I have them on a scheduler that uses a timer. But today I woke up really early, after going to bed pretty early, and while I was praying I read something that got me thinking. Now I can’t shake the thought – how often have I communicated that there is “no room at the inn?”

You may know that I work at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville. As you can imagine, things have been busy in the parish office. Regrettably, sometimes I let it get the better of me. Someone called on Friday afternoon when I was trying to finish up and get home. Add to that, three phones were ringing at once, and I let them get the better of me too. The third call was from a familiar parishioner; I was harried and probably very rude to her.

Today I am reminded, as we all are, that all guests should be welcomed as Christ. (See Chapter 35 in the Rule of St. Benedict for a direct quotation.) I take that pretty seriously in the parish office – and in life, I hope. Sometimes I fall short and Friday was one of those days.

2000 years ago, give or take, an innkeeper, very harried on a busy and overcrowded night, told some prospective guests that there was no room for them at his inn. We see how that worked out! Now his busy brush-off may not have been intentional. And goodness knows when things are full, they are full…. right?

All of this is a reminder that we must stop, look, and listen. (The link takes you to a beautiful post by my friend Michelle Francl-Donnay, on paying attention to radiant dawn and other things.) We must be attentive and we must be responsive in the context of our attentiveness. For me, that might mean letting one phone ring and go to voicemail, knowing that God is taking of everything, and pay attention to the person I am speaking with. For me, that is very hard to do – and in my good intention of trying to take care of everyone at once, I take care of no one.

So what can we do to welcome the Child who is about to be born? The Child who is born in us, over and over again? Perhaps those three things that Michelle reminded me of in her post, those words from my childhood, to “stop, look and listen.

If I stop, I might be more centered and more attentive, more aware, and more welcoming. If I look, I may see who is before me at all times, no matter how I feel – and then be more welcoming. And if I listen, I will hear the call, the call that should bring me to attention and not to frustration – and then be more welcoming.

Perhaps today we are all the innkeeper, in our various ways. What innkeeper will we be – the welcoming one or the the one who shuts the door?

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Who Is At The Table?

The following is the text of an essay that I wrote in The Evangelist this week. In a rare moment of non-self promotion, I had not put it on the blog on Thursday when it was published. I decided to put it up today in light of today’s Gospel from Mark.

In the two days since this was published, I have gotten a fair amount of feedback about the essay. That feedback has been largely complimentary. Yet more than one person asked me if I thought it was OK for people to receive communion after a long absence from church and likely no visit to confession.

This is a fair enough question and I am very clear about what the rules are. I do have a Catechism and a Canon Law book steps away from my desk.

Truth be told, when I returned to church in 1990, I did go to confession before I went to communion. That is another story for another day. That said, I know many people who have not gone to confession first – that is their conscience, their matter with God and their confessor, should they ultimately go – who have ended up returning to the Church.

As a child, I recall going to Church, not every single Saturday, but on many Saturdays, and facing the crowd. It was 1966, but we were in a small mission parish with only one priest, so the lines were long! You just sat down next to Mom, got out that rosary and waited your turn. And when you pushed the velvet curtain aside, you headed straight up to the altar rail to say those 5 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys – no rushing that! You had plenty of company to your right and left.

Not so these days, so who goes to confession where and when is again, another matter.

I grow long winded and perhaps pedantic, so let me move on.

Today’s Gospel is a story about Jesus eating with all the wrong kinds of people and how he was judged for that action.

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

How can Jesus eat with the sinners (all of us, by the way, but you knew that) if they don’t come to the table? I am not suggesting – even remotely – that we scoff at the rules and make our own. I am saying that when you cast out the net to fish for men and women, you don’t stand on the deck of the boat shooing the less desirable fish away. You pull the whole thing up and you see what happens.

Here is the essay. What do you think? (Not about the essay, about the matter?)

NOTE: Yes, anyone who reads The Evangelist probably goes to church. My point in having the essay published was so that maybe someone would pass it along to others or to just consider the point of view of a Christmas only mass visitor. Please feel free to re-post, share on Facebook, Twitter or wherever. You just never know!


Re-gifting A Return To Church

It happens every year: Christmas comes and you find yourself in church. Being Catholic, it all comes back to you, although you found some verbal surprises this year. However, the songs are the same and the church is packed and the feeling is actually pretty good, once you give yourself over to it.

It seems nice, but not something that you’d actually want to do every week. The reasons vary from person to person and range from the mundane – you “just don’t have time” – to the more high-minded, finding “the whole thing filled with hypocrisy.” (Of course, no other part of your life feels like that, right?)

If you are as old as me, you were taught that missing Mass was a mortal sin. I lived in fear of this as a kid – but then again, we never missed Mass, so it was not a problem. It’s hard to understand eternal damnation for missing Mass against the backdrop of things like the sexual abuse scandal and various Church positions on topics important to you.

I would say that if one attends Mass simply out of fear of hell, that is a pity. I would hope that people would actually want to be there – but, hey, that’s just me.

Anyway, you were at Mass and it was time for communion. You hesitated, but everyone else seemed to be in line. Perhaps you felt nervous or strangely hopeful, like something good was about to happen. Did your mind rush back to when you made your First Communion as you extended your hands?

What did it feel like when you placed the Body of Christ in your mouth? Did you just make sure, like in so many other intimate moments, that you did not let yourself think or feel anything?

No matter what, you received a gift. Christ the Lord, whose birth we were celebrating, came to be in that ordinary manger found in your heart. You may not have been expecting Him; that’s OK. He just wanted to let you know He is here for you.

This is a gift. You can’t return it.

I was away, too – for 20 years. When I came back, I did not want to. It was completely unintentional on my part and I was extremely conflicted about the whole thing.

The first time I went back to communion, I was overwhelmed. I knew Jesus; I even loved Jesus; but I was noncommittal.

Jesus knew better. With a nervous stomach and a guilty conscience, I stayed – and soon found out that I had so little to worry about.

No one yelled at me. I was not scolded. All of my concerns were met with compassion and understanding.

I did not accept everything at first; it took a long time. But I kept coming back. I still struggle with some things and likely always will.

I hope that you had a nice Christmas this year and that of all the gifts you got, you realize that this one cries out to be re-gifted. That’s what I’m doing and it is my hope and desire that you come back and one day re-gift this to others.

If you felt anything when you were in church this Christmas, I hope you will see that as a gift and consider coming back. The gifts here are always in stock – and the only return we look forward to is you.

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