Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reflection for Sunday, December 17, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent
IS 61:1-2A, 10-11
LK 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 THES 5:16-24
JN 1:6-8, 19-28

On Thursday of this past week, in Matthew's gospel Jesus tells the crowd that John the Baptist is Elijah, "the one who is to come," but in today's reading from John's gospel, John the Baptist says that he is not Elijah but he does reiterate the text from Isaiah that we read last Sunday, but with a twist - Isaiah says, "A voice cries out, 'In the desert make straight the way of the Lord,'" but John modifies it slightly: "A voice cries out in the desert 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" Do you see the difference? In Isaiah, the way of the Lord is being made straight in the desert, whereas in John, the one doing the crying out is in the desert - i.e., John the Baptist.

Similarly, the first reading from Isaiah 61 shows back up in the Alleluia verse - "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed [mashiach, christos] me to bring glad tidings [good news, euangelion, gospel] to the poor." If this verse looks familiar, it is because this is how Jesus introduces his "mission statement," if you will, when he goes to the synagogue in Nazareth after his baptism and testing in the desert. What does it mean to be Son of God, as the tempter asked him for 40 days? To proclaim good news and to heal people of what is tearing their lives down.

What is the point of making these connections? First, that the early Christians understood themselves as inheritors of an incredibly rich tradition in the Old Testament which we as contemporary Christians rarely appreciate. Teaching introductory theology classes, I know I see all too often that Christian students have next to no familiarity with the Biblical tradition, particularly the Old Testament. But beyond simply lamenting the lack of appreciation of the connections that the lectionary makes for us, the readings point out to us that our expectation then as now is for good news - not just fewer negative headlines every day (although, yes please) but THE good news - the hope of a world made new through God in Jesus.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Reflection for Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday of the Second Week of Advent
IS 48:17-19
PS 1:1-2, 3, 4, AND 6
MT 11:16-19

Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
[Isaiah 48:17-18]

                As a mother to two young boys, I often find myself banging my head against a wall (figuratively and sometimes literally) when it comes to the number of times I say no: “Ben, no, don’t grab your brother’s neck like that…. Jason, no, toilets are not toys.” Of course, I try to direct their behavior because they are two and four years old – they do not yet have the capacity to fully understand their actions and both the immediate and long term consequences of them. So for their safety and ultimate happiness, I find myself laying out a list of commands quite frequently when I would much rather be cuddling or playing with them.
                Every once in a while, I stop and reflect – this must be how God is with me sometimes (ok, much of the time). I imagine God, my eternal parent, banging head and hands against the stars or the big pearly gates, saying like Isaiah in today’s first reading, “If she only listened to me, her prosperity would be like a river.” Often I think we forget that God would want nothing more than to envelope us in love, peace, and joy, an eternal cuddle so to speak. God’s commands are for our ultimate safety and happiness, rather than an annoying list of rules for judgement and punishment.

                During this season of Advent, whether or not you have children, I encourage you to take some time to imagine yourself as God’s child and reflect on how God wants nothing more than to love you and give you the best. However, this requires our cooperation and openness to God’s grace in the world and those around us. We may falter and fail, but God’s abundant love is still there in the meekness of a child on Christmas morning. Then end your reflection imagining yourself running to the open arms of God...stay there for a while and savor this unending, overwhelming love, allowing it to inspire you to be the best, most authentic version of yourself.

Erin Schmidt is the Liturgy Coordinator in Campus Ministry.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reflection for Thursday, December 14, 2017

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church
IS 41:13-20
PS 145:1 AND 9, 10-11, 12-13AB

MT 11:11-15

The readings for the day are challenging ones that demand a little context to make sense of them. The first reading has a lot of big, even violent imagery of God reshaping the earth to provide for the needy and to reshape the desert into a habitable place. The picture on the left is a threshing sledge; made of a couple of boards studded with sharp rocks, it was dragged across harvested grain like wheat or barley to separate the grain from the inedible chaff and to cut the stalks so they could be given to animals to eat. The image of God doing that to the mountains is a pretty ferocious one - imagine God promising to bulldoze or steamroll the Rocky Mountains!

I remember driving through southern Arizona and California a few years back and seeing big water barrels set along the highway at regular intervals - they were there for people to keep their cars from overheating in the desert, because if your car died out there, you very well might die too. Imagine that, but minus the car. For people leaving exile in Babylon imagining the arduous journey of crossing the desert to go to Israel, a land most of them had never seen (the exile lasted 50-something years), smoothing out mountains into flat land and setting up water stations along the way in the desert must have sounded like a pretty great idea.

The reference to John the Baptist as Elijah is strange to us - do they think John was a reincarnation of Elijah or something like that? Well, sort of. The final book of the Bible, the book of the prophet Malachi, ends with this line:

"Now I am sending to you
Elijah the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day." (Mal 3:23)

To reference Elijah when speaking about John is to say that the day of the Lord is coming - a day of judgment and setting right the accounts with all God's friends and enemies. A violent image in most accounts - punishing the bad guys and rewarding the good guys. This brings us to this strange and highly disputed verse at MT 11:12 - "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force."

What does that even mean? An incredible amount of ink has been spilled trying to explain it into something that makes some sense - "Be forceful in opposing the devil!" "Strip yourself of anything that keeps you from doing right!" "Violent outside forces like the Pharisees and the Sadducees are coming to get us!" "Sinners and tax collectors are taking possession of the kingdom of heaven from under the Pharisees' noses!"

Up until now, including with John the Baptist, the coming of the day of the Lord has been a violent image - killing the bad guys - as has been the image of Messiah. Jesus occasionally uses judgment imagery (like in MT 25), but in plenty of other places he seems to dismantle the ongoing power games of the strong overpowering the weak - a game which is simply continued by making God into the strongest of the strong, imposing the divine will on others in the same way that the powerful on earth do over the weak. But while John preaches impending doom - the axe is at the root of the tree - clearly Jesus is not planning to kill a bunch of Romans. As much as Jesus imagines an end to the current state of affairs in his time, he also presents a version of Messiah which is not simply the biggest, baddest guy in the room. He is, in fact, one who transforms not through doing violence but through receiving, absorbing, and transforming it. Not only does the cross undo all those power fantasies, but so does the manger - the coming of the kingdom of heaven is not in bravado and majesty but in simplicity and poverty.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reflection for Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr
IS 40:25-31
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8 AND 10
MT 11:28-30

He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound. (IS 40:29)

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. (MT 11:28)

I would love to believe that it is more than just serendipity that these readings fell on the first day of final exams. I have talked to a lot of people this week who could use some extra strength and even more people who are short on rest. Beyond just having a little extra push to make it through finals, these readings feel counterintuitive to me -- trying to challenge a culture that is so mired in violence and devaluation of human life invites getting a few bruises along the way.

Last week SLU lost a giant of our campus and our city. Dr. Norm White, a professor of criminal justice, passed away suddenly last Wednesday night. Not only was Norm much beloved by his colleagues and students, he was both deeply engaged in racial justice work in the city and internationally known as an expert on interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Norm worked with a number of students to found the Overground Railroad to Literacy, which challenged SLU students to get out of the campus bubble and engage with students in public schools across the north half of the city. What began as tutoring for younger students has become both a real-world education for our students and an avenue for elbow-to-elbow work for justice with people whose circumstances have been saturated by poverty and racism. Norm was tireless in promoting better practices in classrooms for students who have grown up in deeply traumatic circumstances, hoping to reduce the school suspensions that leave students even more disadvantaged. Norm loved working at SLU because of the kind of students who are attracted to our Mission: students who are passionate about social problems and self-aware enough to know that one-off service days don't cut it. He loved that working at SLU gave him the resources and flexibility to be the kind of deeply engaged scholar that he felt called to be.

All of that looks to me like more work on our part, not less - but the readings don't suggest an end to the work, just the chance for rest. As we prepare to leave campus for the winter break, may we enjoy the rest that can enable us to continue doing the work of building the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reflection for Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
LK 1:39-47

I don’t know about you but as someone who has heard today’s reading many times, it is easy for me to just read through and miss all the miracles that occurred.  Mary, a virgin, conceived through the Holy Spirit our Emmanuel, the One whom God would send to save us.  And Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, well along in years and barren we are told, now also, is pregnant with John who would later baptize Jesus.  There is so much going on in today’s reading.  This is a story that God was already writing when he was laying the foundations of the earth.  This is a story of one “whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).  And yet, in my familiarity with the story, or maybe the busyness of the season, or the distractions that pull me away from really taking this story in new again, too many times I am apathetic instead of joyous.
It reminds me of another Christmas story my mom likes to tell.  It was the late 1970s and my brother and I had only had one gift on our Christmas list – the Atari 2600.  This was going to bring the video arcade into our house and we couldn’t wait!  On Christmas Day our console arrived and we immediately put Space Invaders in and battled all day long.  In fact, we were so excited we didn’t even want to stop for the huge Christmas dinner my mom had worked tirelessly to prepare.  After slamming dinner in less than 10 minutes we were back at the television playing our Atari.  Of course, my mom’s version of this story isn’t a very happy one but for my brother and me, this was one of the happiest Christmases ever! 
Wouldn’t it be great if we could experience this same joy each year at the miracle birth of God’s Son?  And in that joy we could affirm like Mary:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior."

I pray that each of us finds that moment of empathy with Mary this Advent season, where our spirit can truly rejoice in our Savior who has come.

Eric Anderson is the Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reflection for Sunday, December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent
IS 40:1-5, 9-11
PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
2 PT 3:8-14
MK 1:1-8

The first reading begins a section of the Book of Isaiah that is usually referred to as "Deutero" Isaiah or "Second" Isaiah. Written during the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC, it offers hope for exiles to return home when they could easily imagine that God had either lost in combat with the Babylonian gods or had written them off and found another people. So after all the indictments of some of the prophets leading up to the Exile, including "First" Isaiah, now the prophet can say it is at last time to comfort the people who have lost so much. When the prophet says:

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

as much as anything the way is for the exiles to come home - God does not need a highway to travel on, right? To "prepare the way" this Advent by repenting is great, but do we repent just about religiously-oriented things like, "I promise to pray more or go to church more" (of course, please do those things) or do we repent for things that keep people in exile in one form or another? This Advent, can we repent of racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. - and repent in a way that is not just beating our breast but confronting our participation in violent systems and look to change not just attitudes but policies and customs and social norms?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Reflection for Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday of the First Week of Advent
IS 30:19-21, 23-26
PS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
MT 9:35-10:1, 5A 6-8

The words in today’s first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, restores faith in the reader that God will bring redemption in the face of the suffering that life in this imperfect world inevitably brings.  Isaiah says,

“Thus says the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.”

This is an incredibly hopeful and comforting passage, especially for those who have suffered intense pain, whether from loneliness, heartbreak, systematic oppression including racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia, grief from loss, illness, or any other struggle.  In the midst of this suffering, it can seem as if God has abandoned us.  However, if we look at God’s love through a lens of liberation, we can see that although we suffer now, in this life, we will find redemption later on, when the Lord comes, and He “will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst.  This is especially relevant in this beautiful season of Advent, in which we as Christians exist in a constant state of waiting for the coming of Christ.  We pray and we struggle for justice as our way of waiting for Jesus, who hears our cries, to come and redeem those who suffer.

Julia Murphy is a junior English major.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Reflection for Friday, December 8, 2017

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
GN 3:9-15, 20
PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
EPH 1:3-6, 11-12
LK 1:26-38

Today’s solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is about the redemption of human history and recovering our sense of who we truly are in the eyes of God. The first reading recalling the Fall of Adam and Eve points to the immediate distortion of how they viewed each other and how they viewed God as a result of their sin and disobedience. Once that relationship was broken by their disobedience, they came to see God who was the source of everything good in their lives as an enemy and a threat and they also blame each other for the sin they fell into. The second reading recalls a deeper history though, remembering that since before the foundation of the world, God called each one of us as his beloved children into his own adoption. We who are lost are sought out and adopted by God who desires to call us (through the life, death and resurrection of His Son) his beloved children.

Today is a day then, for us to be reminded of who we truly are, not according to what I see in myself, but according to what God sees. Because all of us have, to varying degrees, distorted visions of ourselves, we cannot totally trust those judgments we come up with on our own. We do well to let God have the first word and tell us who we are and what his plan of life is for us.

Fr. Chris Collins, SJ is Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity.