WELCOME to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the parishioners of St Barbara Parish in Santa Barbara, Cal.
Can you hear what I hear in the opening lines of Isaiah today? "Rise up in splendor Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." I hear a sigh of relief and even a word to accompany the sigh, "Finally!" As I write this I am sitting in the Dallas airport waiting for my plane to pull up to the gate. It is late! When it comes I too will give a sigh of relief and say to myself, "Finally!" When I sit in a doctor’s office waiting for a doctor who is late and he or she finally arrives, I say to myself, "Finally!"
But the relief Isaiah stirs is much more profound. The people have finally returned from years of exile in Babylon. Now they face the difficult task of rebuilding the economic, political and religious structures they will need to become a unified nation. They cannot accomplish these tasks on their own, the labors ahead of them will be long and arduous. Isaiah is promoting a vision for the people of what Jerusalem will be – not yet, but someday. The vision will help sustain them when their tasks seem impossible to accomplish.
The prophet promises that the city will be a light in an otherwise dark world. That light will draw other people to the city and to their God. "They will gather and come to you." In other words, after their long wait, suffering and confusion, relief will come to the people when the vision they are being given is fulfilled. The they will be able to breathe a sign of relief and say "Finally,"
But all that will not be a result of their own efforts. If they are to shine a light that will draw others to the Holy City it will be God’s doing – the God who will draw them out of slavery and lead them to their homeland. It is difficult to wait when the times are difficult and there are no signs that the present struggle will end well. What will sustain the people as they struggle to build a just and lasting nation? The prophet promises God will be their sustenance.
Indeed, the prophet is telling the people God is already bringing about the promised transformation despite the surrounding darkness. We believe that the prophet’s vision is fulfilled through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The darkness of sin, disruption and alienation among people has been pierced by his light. Through our baptism we are bearers of the light and that light is available to the world through the lives of Christ’s disciples in the community of the Church.
The narrative of Christ’s birth is a lovely story. As families enter the church during the Christmas season children will tug at their parents’ hands anxious to go directly to the Nativity scene at the side of the altar. And so is should be, even children are drawn to the Christ child. The story of the gift-bearing magi from the East, who followed the light of the star to do homage to the child is more than a lovely, heart warming tale to evoke cozy memories of our childhood. The subsequent, fuller infancy narrative is Matthew’s way of showing Christ as the new Moses. For like Moses, the life of the child will be threatened by another tyrant. Herod has no plans to go and do homage to the child. Later Pilate will bring about Jesus’ execution. God protected Moses and God will protect the child. But later the powers of darkness will seem to triumph – but only temporally. Like Moses, who led the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, Jesus, by his death and resurrection will deliver us from the darkness of sin and bring us into the light of new life.
The Magi did not unload their camels, dismiss their porters and settle down in Bethlehem to continue their homage to the Christ child. Matthew makes it sound as if they did homage to the child, quickly got up off their knees and then moved on. Maybe they went home to tell their families and friends about their journey and how the star guided them through the nights – you can’t see stars when there is plenty of light. Maybe we shouldn’t be terrified by the darkness in our world and our lives because, if God is true to form, a light will appear in the dark and keep us on track as we travel together.
We don’t know what changes discovering Jesus made in the Magi’s lives. They would have to reflect on their experience and adjust their lives to what they saw and learned from their journey. And so do we. No one can tell us exactly what shape our Christian discipleship should take. We do know that we did not take it upon ourselves to get up to go to Christ. Paul frequently reminds us – we were in darkness until God shone the light of Jesus into our hearts. We make the faith journey to him and now we travel "by another way."
As we leave church and the crib scene today we have confidence that no darkness we face can put out the light that burns within us. Hear Isaiah’s promise, "Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow." Shall we resolve to continually turn toward the light we have seen, bow down to worship and then carry the light again into the world?
The Magi’s quest reminds us that throughout our lives we are continually searching for God. We can never settle back into a comfortable piety and complacency, even though we feel we have "found God." There is more up ahead – pack up and keep searching.
We need to also respect the journey of sincere others; even when their way differ from ours. The truth is too big for any of us to claim to have it all. God can not be grasped totally in my two hands, no matter how big they are. Let’s kneel and do homage today to the eternal and holy One who comes to us in the form of a child, but then grows into adulthood and invites us to follow the One we call, the Light of the World.Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
"Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace…"
What a sense of peace and serenity must have surrounded our Lord while with us in the flesh. The Greek word epiphaneia means "manifestation" or "appearance." Isaiah proclaims a light shining in a troubled world. The psalmist expounds on the reality of the just and peaceful rule of God’s Anointed One. Where do we find a sense of peace and serenity amidst the challenges presented in the world today? And we, who have received the light of Christ, are we always just and peaceful? Because it is in those places and people that we will find the work of God’s kingdom manifesting and flowering.
The new year has started, a time for setting goals and priorities. Imagine if everyone looked to associate themselves with peaceful people seeking after justice, especially for the disadvantaged and poor. Imagine praying together in small groups to be inspired by God’s Spirit rather than the chaos of the times. Imagine working together to achieve a common good in some aspect of our society. Imagine the joyous laughter of accomplishing a hard feat together. One place that is perfect for the experiences just listed is the parish. Like any family, a parish can have tensions and disagreements, but when a parish finds its focus on discipleship through service, something wonderful happens.
Pope Francis insists, "Our parishes must not close their doors, or their ears, to the cry of the poor. This is the royal road of Christian discipleship. In this way we bear witness to the Lord who came not to be served, but to serve. In this way we show that people count more than things, that who we are is more important than what we possess. For in those whom we serve, Christ daily reveals himself and prepares the welcome which we hope one day to receive in his eternal kingdom" (11/28/15, House of Charity). In practicing justice for the poor and disadvantaged, peace will blossom. I have seen this dynamic happen many times in the outreach ministries here at Cathedral and other parishes. Here is truly "the royal road of Christian discipleship."
What will you do this year as Christ’s disciple? Will you be an agent of justice and peace through service?
Come and join the outreach ministries at: https://www.raleighcathedral.org/human-life-dignity-justice
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?"
Where are we looking for Jesus today? Even if we had no other gospel story than this one, we should know where to look: among the newcomers and displaced; among the newborn poor and their families; among those who have no roots and are searching; among those pushed around by an uncaring system of laws and decrees.
So we ask ourselves:
"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."
—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at Jboll@opsouth.org.3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
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