Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reflection for Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
Mass at Dawn
IS 62: 11-12
PS 97: 1, 6, 11-12
TI 3: 4-7
LK 2: 15-20

Thank you for remaining with us through this season of patience, self-examination, and preparation. We hope that the daily writings by members of the SLU community have been helpful and that, like Mary in the gospel, you have reflected on these things in your heart.

What Child Is This?

How could it be
that the Creator of the Universe
would think of me?

How could it be
that the Creator of over
a trillion galaxies
would care for me
as a mother, her baby?

How could it be
that the Creator of over
300 hundred billion stars of our galaxy
would comfort me
as a father, his child?

How could it be
that the Creator of the Universe
would conceive of pomegranates
peaches, plums, and apples
to feed me?

How could it be
that the Creator of the Universe
wishes me to call Him, Father?

How could it be
that the Creator of the Universe
would come to me
as a helpless baby
lying in straw in a manger?

How could it be
that the Lord of the Universe
would come to me as a child,
the Christ Child
telling me he needs a
home in my heart?

J. Janda

Reflection for Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
2 SM 7: 1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16
PS 89: 2-3, 4-5, 27 AND 29
LK 1: 67-79

Here we are at Christmas Eve day. The readings remind us of the promise to David of a heir. They revisit the proclamation of Zachariah.

But, our hearts might be moving in three directions today.

The cultural pull to celebrate Christmas is upon us - no matter what our family or cultural tradition. We might be excited or we might be worried. We might be prepared and ready and will be anticipating a wonderful time with family and friends. We might not yet be fully prepared and the day is hectic. Or, I might be celebrating Christmas alone.

Our religious memory reminds us of why we celebrate Christmas. We could be imagining the holy couple - Joseph and Mary - having made their way to Bethlehem, late and with nowhere to stay. Today, the scene can become very vivid for us, whether we plan to celebrate Midnight Mass tonight or to celebrate tomorrow morning. The crib scene has a story. Our Savior - God with us - did not come into a wonderful palace, like the one David built. Jesus was born into a very lowly place. This is the wonderful sign of God's self-emptying. This is how God chose to come and be among us - as a new born baby, in a manger, a feeding trough. Our Savior comes in this way, and it can become most meaningful today, if we let ourselves chew this good news, in the midst of whatever we are doing. It can mean so much if we let it. It can be a part of what we celebrate tonight and tomorrow. Yes, there might be people and parties, and there might be gifts shared. But, we can be filled with something our world will likely not be celebrating - that our God is a God who desires to meet us in the lowliest places in our lives. God with us, Jesus, comes to "save his people from their sins."

The third movement possible for us today is to remember, to collect, the graces of this Advent journey. For some of us that might have been a great four weeks of feeling that our longing for a closer relationship with our God has indeed come. I might feel forgiven and loved at a deepr level. I might be giving thanks that some darkness within me has experienced light. We might sense that some desert has bloomed with new life, in this new relationship. We might be feeling a greater freedom and a greater fire within our heart to love as we have been loved. We might even feel more prepared to go out to the places where others are feeling darkness and lowliness, and experience the call to bring light and joy there. Or, we might find ourselves not have been able to get around to Advent, right up to this moment. There still is time today. We can prepare for tonight and tomorrow. We can ask "Come, Lord, Jesus," in this moment. We can experience a longing in our hearts to know Jesus' love and mercy, and to feel a small "Rejoice," or even a really big one, flow from deep inside.

Let us approach the manger of our salvation tonight and tomorrow with great openness to the graces each of us can yet hope for and receive - for our own inner peace, and that we might bring peace to others in our lives, because of what we ourselves have embraced.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reflection for Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
MAL 3: 1-4, 23-24
PS 25: 4-5AB, 8-9, 10 AND 14
LK 1: 57-66

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?
"But wait, there's more!" "Wait for it......" "Wait, wait don't tell me!" As frequently as we hear these statements one might think that we live in a culture that supports "waiting." By the time Advent is here, it ought not to be too tough to engage in the spiritual practice of "holy waiting." But our waiting is usually measured in seconds; something that has little resemblance to Advent waiting.
For many of us, these past few weeks have been filled with getting, giving, dressing up and trying to think of clever ways to display fruits and vegetables and cheese as Christmas trees, candy canes, and Santas - but little waiting. The only waiting most of us have been doing is in checkout lines, buffet lines, and for those of us who find the series of Christmas parties slightly painful, waiting to go home.  And none of these count unless we consciously let those moments draw us into holy waiting. And the good news is we have two days left in which to experience this sacred practice!
What is "Advent waiting"? We are only willing to wait for something we want, so let's start there. What is it you want? Health and healing for a loved one? Reconciliation with a friend? Love and affection from a family member? The awareness that we are deeply loved by a tender Creator? Freedom from our attachments to busy-ness or being needed, helpful, powerful, esteemed, approved of? Can we quietly hold the depth of our desire - entering into the spaciousness of that present moment, welcoming the longings of our heart? The Advent invitation is to notice those longings with patient trust and awaiting – moment by moment - the grace of God's appearance. This is the crucible where we are refined and purified, “like gold and like silver.” Today's first reading also reminds us that the desires we have for ourselves, God also has for us. Indeed, God's desires for our collective wholeness, well-being and reconciliation far surpass ours.
Today's gospel offers images of waiting. Elizabeth had many months to ponder the name of her unborn baby...which family member would be honored with a namesake? Contrary to customs, she awaited God's choice: "he will be called John."  One wonders how she knew. How long do we wait for God’s guidance in our own decisions? And Zechariah, having just as many months waiting in silence, affirmed Elizabeth's choice. Can we wait in silence, holding our tongue, until we hear God's voice?
How will I recognize God's presence? The birth of Jesus reminds us to look closely and carefully for something that may be small or vulnerable or tender or seemingly insignificant, in an unlikely place and time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reflection for Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

During this chilly December day, we are 5 days away from the one of the greatest religious events to happen in the history of mankind. The time leading up to this day can be clouded with so much preparation and planning for family coming into town, last minute Christmas shopping, packing clothes for a vacation, etc.  Throughout the Christmas season, I often find myself going through the motions in the days leading up to the birthday of Christ. The challenge for me along with others in the days leading up to Christmas is to actively listen to what is going on around me and to those speaking to me. Both the first reading and the Gospel for today call on the House of David and also on Mary to listen to the Lord. Even during this extremely busy time of the year, we are called, just as we are every other day of the year, to take time out of our day for the Lord and listen to what He has to tell us or show us.

Mary, who said yes to God’s call and gave her life to God, was the first disciple to her son and can be the greatest role model for us as we approach Christmas. She followed the word of God, trusting in his plan for her and for the rest of the holy family. Her ears were open to the voice of God and she continually gave Him the time that was necessary for her to fulfill the will that He planned for her. Like Mary, we are challenged to listen to God in such a faithful way so that in our conversation with Him, we are always aware of the will that He has planned for each every one of us.

As we wait with for the birth of Christ and foster the Joy that will continue to build in our hearts as our relationship with our Lord strengthens, let us realize the importance of finding times to listen to what God has to tell us. Through the daily commotion of the Christmas holiday, let us find time to reflect and learn what God has in store for these blessed lives we are given through the birth of His son. It is not to late to quiet our hearts and give room for God’s word for what we can do better this holiday season. May the Lord bless your ears, that you may hear His voice.

Bradley Mueller is a senior studying neuroscience.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reflection for Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The focus of today’s liturgy is the Davidic covenant, the promise of a throne that will last forever. It appears in the First Reading, in the Responsorial Psalm, and in the Gospel, where the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that “the Lord God will give (her son) the throne of David his father.”

Jesus is to transform that covenant, revealing “the mystery hidden for many ages.” The throne in this new kingdom is to be occupied by “the Son of the Most High ... the Son of God.” Indeed, he is “Emmanuel,” God-with-us.

We are very close now to the coming of Christ. What would the world be like if we were to allow Christ to really come as king? What would a world ruled by Jesus Christ be like? Would we have the poverty and homelessness that we have now? Would we have the death penalty? Would there be abortion and child abuse and negligence of the elderly? Would Jesus Christ allow the people of his kingdom to kill each other in wars?

If only we could join in consenting to God’s rule as Mary did: “Let it be done to me as you say.” Who knows what joy the world would know!
The Church ... receives the mission to proclaim and to establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God. She becomes on earth the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While she slowly grows, the Church strains toward the consummation of the kingdom and, with all her strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with her King.
Vatican II, Constitution on the Church (1964) 5

Gerald Darring

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflection for Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday of the Third Week of Advent
JGS 13: 2-7, 24-25A
PS 71: 3-4A, 5-6AB, 16-17
LK 1: 5-25

The two readings today highlight the births of Samson and John the Baptist, and in both cases, their mothers were barren before an angel of the Lord appears and tells them they will have sons who will be great, just as will happen when the angel of the Lord visits Mary, who was not barren, but a virgin. The unusual prohibitions in both stories seem to indicate that Samson and John were nazirites, a Jewish form of consecration to God, marked by avoiding alcohol, ritual uncleanness, and cutting of one's hair - which of course is familiar to us from Samson's story. The word nazir simply means "consecrated" or "set apart" and in modern Hebrew has become the standard word for monks, both Christian and Buddhist.

The Bible abounds in stories of strange births: from the near-miraculous escape of the infant Moses from death at Pharaoh's hands, to births from barren wives (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, Samson, John the Baptist) to, of course, the virginal conception of Jesus and his own near-death at the hands of Herod. Naturally, all of those people end up being important figures - heroes, prophets, patriarchs, and so on. God's favor for these seemingly unfavored people is a continual theme in the Biblical tradition - siding with the little guy, the younger son, the barren wife, the David facing Goliath, Rocky facing Mr. T or the big Russian guy.

I understand the literary power of those stories, as a foreshadowing of the future greatness of these heroes and a symbol of God's favor for the dispossessed; as a middle-class white guy who is not dispossessed, and not likely to do something so radical that it will make me famous, where do I find myself in stories like this? For one thing, I would do well to remember the favor of God for people who come from the "other side of the tracks." That so much of the Biblical narrative is shaped by the outsiders of history should be a reminder to me that newness and change so often come from the edges of the system rather than from those who are enmeshed in a system of power and security.

At the same time, I don't have a flashy birth story; my parents are very nice people, but they don't seem to have had any visitations by angels (or demons?) prior to my birth. My hometown is so small it isn't even on the map, although it seems Jesus was in the same boat there - as Nathaniel says in John 1:46, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" I wonder if being "ordinary" leads me to undervalue my own life, to undervalue the "ordinary." I'm not likely to challenge a king and lose my life like John the Baptist, much less to be superhumanly strong like Samson. In the Ignatian tradition, the "ordinary," the "daily" is precisely where we encounter God, and where we make the reign of God happen. Most of us don't do earth-shattering things, but the reign of God is not just for those big explosive events and revelations, but in the daily circumstances in which we all live most of our lives. That means that "finding God in all things" is not just about warm fuzzies, remembering God while we are doing homework (although that's fine), but seeing each moment, each encounter, as an occasion to learn, to listen, to make a decision that will enhance the well-being of those around us. So like God, we can make a decision for those who stand on the underside of history, those for whom the system does not often work as it should, AND we can recall that the opportunities to make those decisions emerge in so many moments of our daily lives.

Patrick Cousins works in the Department of Campus Ministry.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reflection for Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

One of the greatest disservices we can do to St. Joseph is to picture him as an old man. In our mental images of faith, I feel like crossover happens frequently, and all the male father figures blend together. All men in the Bible visually morph into one grey-haired, robed, wise old man who sits majestically on a throne of some sort. The image below of St. Joseph gets this idea across.

Maybe even sometimes, we see him daintily holding a small hammer or some strange measuring tool, since we know he was a carpenter.

I don’t mean to disrespect or deny the value of any religious art, but I think these examples, and our mental image, portray Joseph in a slightly inaccurate light.

Imagine for a moment, this Joseph:

Carpenters in the first century not only worked with wood, but with stone as well. Joseph probably had to work with and maneuver huge pieces of these materials. This was not the work of some old geezer. He would have been muscular and strong. He would also probably be a filthy individual who sweated in the hot Galilean sun, and was covered in sawdust and grime by the day’s end. Surely he would have calloused hands, and plenty of scars, for he had been practicing this trade all his life. If tradition/historical reference tells us that Mary could have been as young as 14 or 15 at the time of the Nativity, is it possible that Joseph was maybe 18, 19, or 20? The age of a college freshman or sophomore? 

This same young man would have known his Torah and his Jewish town, and would have known the total shame and social rejection that he could expect if he decided to accept an unexpectedly pregnant Mary into his home.  

This same man would have had to protect and care for Mary on their long trips to Bethlehem and Egypt, insuring the safety and survival of both his wife and their newborn on the dangerous open road. 

All the while, we hear not a word from him. All throughout Scripture, we hear not one recorded word from the man who is now known as the patron of the Universal Church. Personally, I find it hard to connect with the ambiguous old grey man we so commonly see. I connect with this real Joseph. I want to talk to this vibrant, strong, dedicated Joseph, and learn from him. I want him to teach me the amazing virtue and dedication he demonstrates in this reading. I want to know what he was thinking during the craziness of this reading, and what amazing things he learned from his own son in the aftermath of it.  

I offer all these ideas/images merely because Joseph’s story, like the other main players in the Nativity story, is so rich and powerful, but so easily forgotten amidst the repetition and frequency with which we hear it. The Nativity Story asks for more.  We’re called to latch onto this amazing story that is written in our hearts, and dive into the deeper message waiting for us in it. Joseph is only one part of it. There are many others within the Nativity Story with their own tale, waiting for us to enter in and discover them.  Then, hopefully, as Jesus arrives in heart and mind, we see him with clearer eyes, and love Him all the more for the beauty that His story weaves into our own.

Mike Lally is a member of the class of 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reflection for Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
GN 49: 2, 8-10
PS 72: 1-2, 3-4AB, 7-8, 17
MT 1: 1-17

I come from a large family. As anyone with siblings may understand, I sometimes feel as though I bicker with them more than I stop to appreciate them. Yet something that I am reminded of every Advent season is how beautiful the concept of a “family” is. There exists a group of people that will accept all of your faults and mistakes and love you for them. And even greater, that group isn’t limited to those within your gene pool. Friends fulfill that familial role for those whose families may not. Advent always brings me back to the realization that family is something special to be cherished. Celebrating Mary’s decision and anticipating the beginning of the Holy Family has that effect.

The best part about true families is that they are with you for all time. As we see in the Gospel today, Jesus had fourteen generations of history that remain with him forever. Not only is he the son of God, but he is the descendent of Abraham and David. That, and the twelve other generations, influence his life, whether he realizes or not. I am so happy to be able to appreciate the simple fact that I have a support system that helps to pick me up when the world beats me down and will keep me grounded in times of success.

Advent calls each and every one of us to take a look at those in our lives who make life better. I don’t know if I would suggest making a fourteen generation genealogy like Matthew did for Jesus. But I do call everyone reading this to stop their busy lives and focus on the best thing of Christmas season: the relationships. There are so many distractions: finals week that just finished, traveling, work, commercialization, etc. But take time to stop and tell someone in your life that you love them, because there’s one thing this world cannot have enough of: love (Christmas cookies took a close second). Thank you all for reading and enjoy your Christmas breaks.

Paul Otto is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, an avid reader, self professed nerd, aspiring biologist, and dedicated couch theologian.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflection for Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
ZEP 3: 1-2, 9-13
PS 34: 2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19 AND 23
MT 21: 28-32

"Tyrannical city!"  How could I not think of current events while praying today's readings?  But then again, isn't that the miracle of Scripture?
And so, we have been warned - again (and again and again).  Choose well whether you be the "remnant" or the "proud braggarts."  Right now it seems USofAmericans are split along this issue - and most.
And for those who believe that God works through reality, we are charged with bringing more and more people to the discussion table where actions need to be hammered out.  We are not charged with bringing people to their knees through violence.  Our forgiving and loving God offers us a chance at reconciliation: "You need not be ashamed of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me." But we do need to decide if we will choose to remain with God and God's people or not.
In today's responsorial psalm I was nudged to remember a mission trip in 2010 with Pax Christi to Guatemala.  While visiting a mission area around Lake Atitlan we came to the church where Fr. Stan Rother was martyred back in the 80s.  Upon entering the church I heard a muffled sound which drew me in... I didn't see any people in the main church and so kept walking toward the altar. The sound grew louder, but I couldn't tell if it was singing or praying or what. And then I turned the corner and saw about a hundred women kneeling in the small chapel before our Lord... crying out, and I said to myself, "So this is what the Lord hears when it is said, 'The Lord hears the cry of the poor!'"  And now our Lord hears those cries on our city's streets, but not just ours... Cries from the streets of Hong Kong filled with protesters being cleared... the streets flooded by Climate Change in the Philippines... the streets of Gaza filled with rubble...
These are all God's children, and we are all sisters and brothers, crying out today's Alleluia verse: "Come, O Lord, do not delay; forgive the sins of your people!"  And now today's gospel which concludes with these words: "Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe in him [John the Baptist]."  My prayer is that we pray for and seek to develop the compassionate and wise eyes and ears of God with which to see and hear our sisters and brothers, our Selves - and those who are on the other side of any and all issues, those not in the choir, for we need us all to "call upon the name of the Lord, to serve God with one accord!"

Richard DeBona is Director of Parish Social Ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reflection for Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

By what authority do I act?

In the gospel reading for today we see that Jesus is questioned “By what authority are you doing these things?”.   When I read this I wondered, by what authority do I act?  Do I take authority over a task or situation in order to seek the best, most positive outcome or do I allow things to progress without taking control which can lead to negative job performance and relationships?

Daily I face tasks and interactions that can be challenging and I am given authority within my job to respond in certain ways based on policies and procedures that are establish by my employer.  Although these policies and procedures are based on many factors such as fairness, fiscal responsibility, and an attempt to keep order, I need to consider that if I assume the authority given to me by God rather than the authority given by man, it can influence the product or outcome to be more considerate of the effect that it has on students, colleagues, or guests.

If I seek His counsel and ask for wisdom, He will guide me to the most appropriate approach when I have to execute or enforce policies and procedures.  He gives me the “authority” or ability to control whether an interaction with a student, guest, or colleague is kind and productive or not.  He gives me the “authority” to accomplish the tasks associated with my position with more than a “just do the minimal that is necessary” attitude. 
With God’s authority to control my attitude and comes an approach that includes love, kindness, team work, gentleness, and a willingness to listen.  Sometimes it takes more time to accomplish the tasks of the day with this approach but there are more rewards in the end.  My work environment is not filled with chaos even when things are challenging and stressful.  I feel supported by colleagues and students.  I can give a guest the best possible impression of Saint Louis University.

By seeking to be close to God and desiring to do His will, I believe that He gives me guidance and authority over any situation, whether it is a long term situation or just a one minute interaction.  This has led to improvements in my work environment and better relationships with colleagues and co-workers.

So ultimately, I chose to accept the authority that God has given me to improve not only myself but my work environment as well.  Do you?

Cindy Bush is Coordinator of Busch Student Center. She has worked in Higher Education for 31 years, including working in Reinert Hall when it was first purchased by SLU.