Are you assessing your New Year’s resolutions after a couple weeks of resolve? Did you make a spiritual resolution? Because a spiritual life has goals and practices that engage us in our formation, it is open to a New Year’s resolution. This spiritual resolution doesn’t need to be taxing or arduous. No, our spiritual life is meant to be joyful, because we are being transformed into Jesus Christ, who lives in us. Paul writes in Galatians: “The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God.” Do you have a spiritual goal? Most probably, but if you want to do more, I suggest becoming more mindful of living the life of Christ at work, at home, or wherever you may be. Look over your day in the morning to set yourself a goal and examine your day at night. Then be grateful for the ways Christ has lived in you.
We’re starting Ordinary Time today. After the Christmas Season, these weeks before Lent may seem uneventful, even dull. But let’s take the “ordinary” out of Ordinary Time. These weeks until Ash Wednesday on February 17 are not some leftovers on the Church Year menu. Over half the Church Year is Ordinary Time, its name coming from “ordinal” or “counting.” There will be 33 weeks of Ordinary Time, and each week can be a gourmet’s delight. The Sunday gospel passages tell of Jesus’ call of the apostles, miracles, parables, relationships, and discourses. We see Jesus as a Teacher, Healer., and Reconciler. Stories abound for our imitation and inspiration. The seasons of Lent-Easter, Advent-Christmas are indeed extraordinary in their richness. But we can count on finding the Lord in extraordinary ways every day of the year.
The rite of Baptism has one phrase about original sin being taken away. Yet many people think the removal of original sin is the main purpose of baptism. Actually, there is much more richness in the ceremony. The ritual starts with the questions “What name do you give your child?” and “What do you ask for this child?” Both give the child his or her identity. There’s focus on the parents and godparents to raise the child according to the new life of God within the child. And there’s a whole lot of welcoming into the community of faith. This last element—the responsibility of the community–needs to be elevated in importance to see the purpose of baptism. The child is initiated into the community, becoming part of the People of God. Besides the parents, the whole parish community can say, “You are my beloved son/daughter, in whom we are well pleased.” And then it’s everyone’s duty to help the child grow into the Beloved.
From the moment of creation God ceased to be alone. God became totally involved with his creatures. Down through billions of years to this very minute God remains close at hand. God is always available. God is here in us as our deepest reality—ours and everyone else’s. With God so completely present to us, it is our privilege and responsibility to evolve out of our human limitations into the life of Christ. Surrounded by divinity, living the divine life, we can never have too high an opinion of ourselves. We are more than we can imagine. We are God’s.
Today’s lectionary Gospel shows Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place. Perhaps the past few weeks have been filled with unusual activity: putting up decorations and taking them down, cooking treats and exercising off the calories, shoveling snow and writing thank-you notes, getting back into a routine or wishing for some normalcy. Withdrawing to a deserted place may seem welcome. Can you find a park, a room in your home, a space in your heart to withdraw from activity? If Jesus needed to “get away from it all,” so do we.
Today’s lectionary Gospel reading tells of Jesus who regularly taught in the synagogues. “According to his custom. . .he stood up to read.” He selected a passage from Isaiah that we have come to call Jesus’ mission statement. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim glad tidings to the poor. The years of his ministry fulfilled his promise.
If you were to stand up to read a passage from Scripture that fits your life and its mission, what would it be?
As a Christmas present, I received Bead Attitudes, the polymer clay artwork of Dan Roth in Sandusky, Ohio. The ten prayer beads can be prayed in multiple ways as the accompanying paper suggests. I will share a few of these ways with you. If you don’t have Bead Attitudes, a decade of the rosary or your ten fingers will be fine.
- Pray for ten family members or persons in need
- Repeat your favorite name for God ten times.
- Count ten blessings.
- Feel God’s love and light on each bead.
- Bless ten persons you will probably meet this day.
- Call to mind ten Scriptural names for Jesus: Shepherd, Healer, Savior, Bread of Life….
The first time I received beads at Christmas I was five years old. My four-year-old sister also received her tiny first rosary. As on every other night of the year, we prayed the family rosary on Christmas Eve. My sister and I used our new rosaries. She managed to come out to the right bead. I was only half-way through my rosary. Just one of the many times my younger sister was smarter than I. (Don’t worry. We’ve always had a super-excellent attitude toward one another.)
In this Christmas Season we read the prelude to the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word.” This reminds us of the first line in Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth.” The Incarnation, in effect, began with creation. The whole purpose of creation was to let God share and unite beyond the Godself. Creation was God’s means to have more to love.
And that Word of God from the beginning became incarnate. Billions of years before the Bethlehem census, salvation began–from the very first moment, from the Almighty’s command “Let there be light.” Creation has always groaned from that moment on. Paul states in Romans 8:22, “Yes, we know that all creation groans and is in agony even until now.” The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, was not the only one experiencing pangs of birth in the story of redemption. She was united with the whole universe in its act of creation, which is an act of redemptive groaning. The Christ we are awaiting is part of the creation story, still straining and groaning toward its completion. We are still in Advent waiting for the Universal Christ.
As you pack away the manger scene, consider the wooden feeding trough in which the Infant lay. Joseph softened it with straw, and Mary wrapped the Baby in whatever softness she could. Were these holy parents embarrassed by such a poor crib? There’s a lovely Christmas song by Francis Patrick O’Brien titled “Wood of the Cradle.” Its lyrics compare the wood of the cradle and the wood of the cross, one of joy and the other of loss. Our God who was born in a manger died on a tree. Its final notes are enigmatic in their command: “Kneel at the manger and rise from the grave.”
Christmas and New Year’s were far from typical this year. Canceled parties. Family gatherings only by zoom. Expected presents never arriving in time. Empty chairs at the dining room table. Round the clock shifts in hospitals. Political and social uncertainty in unbelievable proportions. The wooden feeding trough was not a typical baby’s crib, but it held the Bread of Life—our blessed food.
On the day of the winter solstice many of us looked to the western sky to see Saturn and Jupiter in their closest proximity in 800 years. Unfortunately, thick cloud cover made seeing any star impossible. It made me think of a line from an Advent song from the Saint Louis Jesuits: “darkness covers the earth; thick clouds cover the people.” But the song promises Light will come, “for a Child is born.”
Several of us Sisters went caroling to our Sisters of Notre Dame Center in Whitehouse, Ohio. While the sisters were enjoying dinner, we gathered at the windows very safely distanced as we waved and sang. A couple nights later we could see the two planets, but we knew that bringing smiles to forty SND “stars” was another way to see the Bethlehem Star.