Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night God Turned the World Upside Down

As I write here I think about the night that the world was turned upside down by our God.  We seem to have a problem with the Christmas message because it doesn't resonate with how we would have planned the coming of the Savior into the world.  How would we have planned it?

First of all, what place would we choose to have the birth of the Savior?  My guess is that we would want to provide a very comfortable, almost lush, place where Mary could deliver her child - with all of the best medical attention the world could give.  It would be a pleasant place with bright light, soft chairs, and a spacious room where visitors could come.  Maybe not a palace but close.

And what about how we would announce the birth.  In our day we would certainly use Facebook and Twitter and all the other possibilities through the Internet to alert the world to this great event.  And who would we want to be the visitors to the birthplace?  Probably the heads of state of the governments of the world who would come to see the newborn Prince of Peace. 

But this is where the message of Christmas puts another light on the subject.  God chose not a spacious room or palace to see his Son born - he saw the child come into the world in a stable and being placed in a feeding trough for animals.  Is this because we know that this child would eventually give us his own Body and Blood for our nourishment?  The first visitors to the birthplace were not the high and the mighty but the lowliest citizens of the place in the eyes of others - the shepherds: dirty, unkempt and probably smelling of the animals they cared for.  Is this because Jesus was to become the shepherd of us all?

It may be hard for some to comprehend that God could leave behind all the trappings of divinity and come to reside in the vulnerable body of a tiny child.  We have a God of surprises and at the birth of Christ the world was turned upside down by our God.  We may try to control the feast by our songs and our decorations but what we are witnessing is the weakness of God - a weakness of great and unbounded love for his creation and the human race that he created.

A certain man had difficulty understanding this message of Christmas.  He could not comprehend that God would become human to help the likes of us.  Each year his wife would ask him to come with her to the Christmas worship service in their church but he stayed home.  On one particular Christmas night while his wife was away at church, he heard a loud noise in his barnyard.  Investigating, he found a gaggle of geese who seemed to be trying to find a warm place to rest.  He thought if he could open the barn door they would go in and get warm.  But no matter how hard he tried to coax them into the barn they remained outside somewhat fearful of this human being.  He thought: if only I could become a goose for a while I could entice them to enter the barn.  Then it hit him: this is exactly what our God did on that first Christmas night.  Our God became one of us to entice us to enter into a relationship with him and be freed from our sins and bask in the warmth of his love.

We love the story of the baby Jesus because babies are soft and cuddly and seem to bring out the best in us.  But as Jesus grew up, we, too, must grow up in our faith experience.  There is a wonderful picture portrayed by different artists of Jesus as a man knocking at a door.  The door has no outer handle with which to open it.  It is a reminder that Jesus is knocking on the door of our souls but it is up to us to open the door and let him in.  Are we ready to let him into our lives?

Many come to church at Christmas time to seek God but the story of Christmas is that God is seeking us.  He is reaching out to us; he is knocking at our doors.  May this Christmas be the time we answer wholeheartedly to his summons.  As we go forward from this Christmas, maybe we can hear something in the words once written by the writer and theologian Howard Thurman:

When the song of the angels is stilled; when the star in the sky is gone; when the kings and princes are home; when the shepherds are back with their flocks, then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers and sisters, to make music in the heart.

May the peace which Jesus brought at his birth reign in your hearts and homes this Christmas season and may we begin the work of Christmas in our world.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's Been Happening?

It's been a few weeks since I have had the time to come up with a new post for the blog.  Much of the reason lies with the fact that I am now working as a parish administrator in an urban parish while the pastor is on extended medical leave.  Fortunately, he is coming along well after a procedure to deal with his cancer and the parish continues to pray for his full recovery and return to his pastoral duties.  Perhaps you can send up a few prayers for this dedicated priest that he may return to full health.

I have been busy with the parish as well as other duties that I have in the Diocese of Albany, New York.  All of this work is very rewarding.  I have a dedicated staff at the parish and the diocesan work brings me into contact with wonderful people who give of their time and talent to spread the message of Jesus Christ throughout our area of New York State.  In the United States, we recently celebrated our annual Thanksgiving Day and I am continually giving thanks for all the great people I have in my life including a wonderful and supportive family and friends.

I'd like to highlight three events that have taken place in the past several weeks which made an impression on me.  First was a remarkable concert that took place at the mother church of our diocese - the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (the feast we are celebrating today as I write this post).  The cathedral is blessed with a very talented music director (and very good friend of mine), Thomas F. Savoy.  Over several months he, together with a dedicated assistant, worked on restoring music that had been discovered in the cathedral archives some of which dated back to one of the cathedral's former directors who served in the early part of the twentieth century.  The concert featured a number of that composer's works as well as others and was performed by a choral group and orchestra.  It was a wonderful night of music and it is hoped that more such events will take place in the future.  I was also very pleased that my son who is a trained singer was part of the ensemble with a featured solo.

The second event to take place was one in which I had been involved over several months.  On the first Sunday of Advent in the English speaking world, the third edition of the Roman Missal was introduced.  I had been involved in presenting a number of workshops throughout the diocese in the preceding months to help the faithful be prepared for the new translation and the changes in some of the wording of the faithful's responses in the liturgy.  What I have heard from friends around the diocese is that while there is still some hesitation and stumbling over the new translation, it has gone quite well.  I believe the new translation (which is more faithful to the original Latin text) is more elevated and poetic and helps us to pause and realize that we are speaking to our God and should give God the best we can.

The final event took place a week ago.  As I have mentioned in a number of my former posts, my younger daughter is disabled with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (or CMT) which is a neurological disorder that affects the nerves and muscles in the hands, arms and legs.  She has worn braces for a number of years and is limited in a number of her activities.  There is a group of volunteers in the Albany area where we live that have been having art shows exhibiting the work of local artists in order to raise funds for a particular disease or condition.  Last week such a show (called Art de Cure) was held to raise funds for research into CMT in the hopes of finding a cure or finding ways to alleviate the symptoms.  My daugther's undergraduate college degree was in fine arts and she prepared a few paintings to be exhibited (which by the way were sold).  The event featured the art work plus a silent auction where people could bid on various craft items as well as the art.  It was well attended and was a success.  My daughter has since prepared some additional paintings (one of which I show here entitled "Elements") to be on display and has been asked to serve on the ongoing committee to plan future arts shows in the region.

While it has been a busy time for me, it has been rewarding.  I enjoy my work and I was pleased to have been able to help in the introduction of the new Missal for our Catholic faithful.  I am also a proud father who is puffed up with pride for the accomplishments of all my children - my older daughter who is a teacher of the deaf working with young children, my musical son, and my artistic younger daughter.  So the time has been busy but also has been a happy time.  May you all have a prayerful Advent season.