Celebrating the Conclusion of Christmas with Celine

Lest we degenerate into paganism, we should remember that it’s still the Christmas season!

To aide in celebrating the conclusion of this marvelous time, I invite all of us to do something our generation rarely does. The soundtrack of our times, for good or bad, would definitely not be hymns, chants, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Elvis, The Beatles or U2. Instead, it would be mindless, throbbing background music. Have we ever just sat on a chair, a couch, or a bed and just listened to music without doing anything else? Maybe we would hear something more than just sound and reverberation.

You want to try that, you say?! Splendid! Here is an opportunity to witness “angels ascending and descending”.

Sit down and listen (and if possible, for the love of God and the gift of music He has given us – not on dinny laptop speakers) to Celine Dion sing “O Holy Night” live. Whenever I pay attention to the words she is singing and behold this daughter of God pouring out her voice and soul to her Father in praise and glory, the dome of the everyday work-world existence is pierced and I glimpse a breath of what beholds us at the end. May it be the same for you.

Merry Christmas. May the Spirit of the Child Jesus fill you in the next 5 minutes and 19 seconds and always.

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A Thrill of Hope

Gandalf_Pippin_RotK_2

“‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘is there any hope? For Frodo I mean, or at least mostly for Frodo.’”

So spoke Pippin to Gandalf on the eve of the siege of Gondor, a time when the Shadow was creeping and seemingly insurmountable darkness was bearing down on every land. What was Gandalf’s response? He hesitated in his speech and in his heart, but, peering through the distance, he saw on whose shoulders hope rested. There were great and grand structures and forces all around; might, power, strength and heft were about to be pitted against one another. Yet hope did not find its anchor there. Neither side lacked great minds, marvelous ambitions, battle-tested valor or daunting machinery. But, in the end, hope did not spring forth from those wells.

Gandalf could see that hope alone rested in the smallest, most vulnerable of characters, the hobbit who bore a great burden and bore it straight into the midst of the darkness.

Advent, Christmas, and the New Year are periods for refreshing hope – regardless of our circumstances. Because it is so often repeated, the word “hope” can sometimes sound empty. It can fall into our minds like a raindrop in a downpour, triggering no reaction from us at all. But, may this season, more than others, shock us from behind this veil of familiarity to realize that hope is not just a word or a sentiment, but a real gift from God without which life has no meaning.

We cannot live without hope – or at least not in any way really resembling sincere human life. Without hope we are imprisoned, chained and bolted to the ground saying, “There is no chance of me getting home; there is no chance of perfect, unending happiness; there is no end to evil. The problems I have are permanent. Evil will never be defeated. This is the way it is and always will be until the Sun destroys the Earth and humans are no more.”

Can we live that way? No, absolutely not. But unless our hope is perfect, we, at times, either believe these lies or (as our mainstream culture often does) we hop on the kitsch Merry-Go-Round of “Life is Fun! La-La-La” just to distract ourselves from facing these questions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that – I want reality.

And the reality of our situation as human being is our status viatoris: the condition or state of “being on the way”. We are pilgrims. We are on a journey. There is a persistent existential “not yet” inherent in our nature as finite beings. We are making progress toward eternal happiness, towards fullness of being, but we are “not yet” there. We are creatures: created entities who can turn toward nothingness (sin), but who were made to turn towards and eventually obtain fullness of being – for “He created all things that they might be” (Wis 1:14). We are no longer what we once were, but we are “not yet” what we desire to be – what we ought to be.

That’s great, but how are we to have hope in this state? It is the same question to ask, “How are we to be more?”  How are we to obtain a greater fullness of being? We have a lack – how is it to be filled? By our own merits and efforts? The predominant voices around us think and say so, but that “solution” amounts to nothing. It is like trying to operate on your right elbow with your right hand – the right arm is the very thing that is broken!

No, we can be made whole only by He who is Wholeness itself. He who came (imaged by Frodo) as the smallest and most vulnerable of characters (a baby) and bore our greatest of burdens straight into the midst of darkness – and broke it. This is where our hope lies – in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him – and Him alone – do we now gain access to everything for which our hearts burn with desire. So that now…

Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him. (De fide, spe et caritate; Paschasius Radbertus)

This is why hope is a gift. We can have it only through grace; only through Christ “holding us”. If we accept this gift of hope, we will find “a sure and firm anchor of the soul, reaching even behind the veil, where our forerunner Jesus has entered for us” (Heb 6:19). Thus are we free to hope for the Return of the King: the time when He will come again to unite us to Himself once and for all – a thought to which these ruminations must fall silent.

So yes, Pippin, there is hope – a “thrill of hope”, as is sung in O Holy Night. Because of what characterizes this season, our journey is not pointless. Because of what God did for us 2,000 years ago, because of what He is doing for us today and because of what He will do in ages to come, we can be – we must be! – a people of hope.

Periodic Scripture Reflection: John 14:30

saint-john-the-apostle“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.  He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

This passage from the Gospel of John comes from a long exhortation from Jesus. It fits nicely around famous verses like “I am the vine and you are the branches…” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” and therefore could be easily overlooked. These are two simple sentences that reveal much about Jesus’ posture and relationship with the Father. The first line serves as a warning to Christ’s disciples that the Passion is quickly approaching. Even though they have spent countless hours with Jesus, they still don’t fully realize what is to come. The coming days will be filled with confusion, fear, and sadness as Jesus is taken from them and He wants to give them reassurance. He warns that the “ruler of this world” (Satan) is coming but the power of darkness does not control Him. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Guys, our time together is coming to a close, and it’s going to look bad, but don’t worry, I’m doing what the Father wants me to do.” The final phrase reveals so much about the heart of Jesus towards His Father: “…but I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus goes to the cross to save us, rescue us, bridge the gap between God and man, to become the sacrificial lamb, to redeem mankind, to open the gates of Heaven, and to show the world how much He loves His Father. Jesus endured the worst suffering, embraced humiliation, and accepted total rejection to demonstrate His love for us and for His Abba.

This is the ultimate example of how Christ wants us to act towards the Father. We need to embrace the Father’s plan, not out of fear or obligation, but to show the world that we love the Father. When someone asks you why you go to Mass on Sunday or why you don’t use contraception, I bet they won’t expect you to say, “I do as my Father has commanded me, because I love Him.”

Intentional Disciple: St. Jean de Brebeuf

In this post I would like to feature St. Jean de Brebeuf, a lesser-known saint whose courage and unwavering allegiance to Christ as a disciple is worth noting and emulating.

Although most of our missions won’t be to foreign countries – each and every one of us is called to a mission. May we all be as radically devoted to it as this man. This excellent video from Chris Stefanek can do all the talking.

You can find more videos and articles by Chris Stefanek here.

Peace? Yes, we want it!!

Pope Francis celebrates his final mass on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro

On September 7th, Pope Francis invited to the world to join him in a vigil for peace.  This time of prayer served as a response to the growing conflict in Syria.  Pope Francis’ brief homily focused on the necessity and the beauty of peace while he boldly proclaimed that we need to recognize that war and violence are not the methods of peace, but rather we must look to the example of Christ on the cross.  He issued the challenge: is peace possible and do we want it?

 “I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.”

I highly recommend that you take five minutes and read the entire homily.  Our Holy Father continues to inspire us with his wisdom and courage in leading the Church. For the full text of the homily click here.

Short Meditation on Holiness – Blessed John Paul II

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The following is an excerpt from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritas Splendor.

The new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived.  In particular, the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the people of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations.
For this reason, the church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the saints, and above all in the virgin mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy,” the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the beatitudes of the gospel.