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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reflection for Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent

The end of first semester. This time of year can be both wonderful and stressful. It is a time filled with not only excitement for the holidays and the end of classes, but also final grades and decisions about what to do next. It’s easy to get caught up in this time and only focus on studying, preparing for the holidays, or whatever other task is on the to-do list. But this is also a time of year when it’s especially important to slow down. Now is the perfect chance to take the opportunity to reflect on all that we’ve accomplished this year and all the good that we have been able to do. Even with Thanksgiving being just a few short weeks ago, it is easy to lose focus and forget to keep gratitude as a consistent part of our lives. In the passage from 1 Thessalonians, we are reminded of this. “Brothers and Sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks”. This passage is a reminder that that no matter what is going on in our lives or how busy and stressed we may be, there is always something to thank God for. This point is supported in today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah. “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” The readings for this third week of Advent tell us that God has a plan and purpose for every one of us and in this passage we are reminded that He has given us all of the tools we need to fulfill what we are being called to do. 

The word “advent” is defined as “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event". During this Advent season, as we practice slowing down and being grateful, let us use this season not only to celebrate the coming of Christ, but also make this a time of our own advent or our own coming; a time where we begin the arrival in ourselves of the person we are being called to be, using all of God’s gifts to their fullest potential, to serve and work with others as we await the coming of Jesus.

Cassie Zehenny is a senior in the School of Nursing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reflection for Saturday, December 13, 2014

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr
SIR 48: 1-4, 9-11
PS 80: 2AC AND 3B, 15-16, 18-19
MT 17: 9A, 10-13

Today, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr. St. Lucy died a martyr- a victim of persecution in the Early Church. Her bravery, courage, and faith gave witness to God. She so loved God that she refused to deny His very existence and suffered execution and even the gouging of her eyes.

Upon reflecting on the great witness and sacrifice of St. Lucy, I can’t help but notice the connection with today’s readings. As Christians, we are called “to prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Luke 3:4). I must admit: this is no easy feat. It’s the type of the stuff that makes saints! We hear so much about them: Mother Theresa, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Lucy, and even the Prophet Elijah. We are called to be saints, to be like St. Lucy and give witness to the glory and love of God- that is to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. However, I often feel so weak. I feel as if I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders- especially during final exam season. Like so many, I have numerous responsibilities, difficult decisions to make, pains and struggles, and even regrets. It really is not easy to be a Christian; much sacrifice is required. 

Even so, there must be a way for us- common folk and sinner- to prepare the way of the Lord. First and foremost, it begins with a conversion- an internal transformation and reordering of self to God. We must realize that we need God! We cannot do solve the world’s problems or do everything alone. The weight of our burdens are only lifted in Christ alone! Second, we must acknowledge that we need each other. This makes me think of the South African proverb, “I am because you are.” Our humanity is tied to one another. We must work together, love and serve one another, and humbly- hand-in-hand- before God. Next, we must work to end all injustice, inequality, and evil- to make straight the paths of the Lord. The first reading tells us that the prophet Elijah was “destined … to put an end to wrath before the day of the Lord, to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and re-establish the tribes of Jacob” (Sirach 48:10). As baptized priests, prophets, and kings, we share in this commission of Elijah. We must work for justice, peace, and righteousness. We must stand up for what we believe even if it means persecution, bitter hated, and dissent, much like the example of St. Lucy and even the prophet Elijah. We are not all called to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi, but we can certainly change the world for the better through small, more practical steps. 
Today, let us turn to Christ to ask for his healing in our lives, families, and our world; to help us life the weight of crosses and burdens. As we long for and await the coming of Christ, let us pray for strength, hope, faith, and love much like St. Lucy.


Richard Joubert is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences majoring in Theological Studies and minoring in both Political Science and Catholic Studies. Outside of the classroom, Richard serves as a Billiken Peer Educator, CMM 193 peer instructor, member of Greek Life, and passionate Billikens fan.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reflection for Friday, December 12, 2014

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the story of which is close to the heart of all Catholics, especially those of Mexican descent. In 1531, Juan Diego, a poor Aztec Indian who had converted to Catholicism, encountered the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. She spoke to him with a request to have a church built in her honor.  “I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace."

A series of miracles ensued, highlighted by the presence of full bloom Castilian roses at that location, that finally convinced the bishop that Juan Diego had indeed been visited by the Blessed Mother herself.  The church was built in her honor, and that Basilica in Mexico City has become the most important shrine to our Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe in all the American continents.

Numerous prayers, novenas, and special customs to venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe have been part of the ongoing story of these miracles. One such prayer is shown below.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mystical Rose, make intercession for the Holy Church, protect the Sovereign Pontiff, help all those who invoke thee in their necessities, and since thou art the ever Virgin Mary, and Mother of the True God, obtain for us from thy most holy Son the grace of keeping our faith, of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life, of burning charity, and the precious gift of final perseverance. Amen.

For me, the power of this story is the trust and obedience that both Juan Diego and Mary herself demonstrated when they were asked to be a conduit of God’s love by saying yes to a heavenly request. In today’s Gospel (the same one from the feast of the Immaculate Conception), the angel Gabriel invites Mary to become the God-bearer for all the world, for all time—a most awesome and overwhelming message to a young girl! But Mary (and Juan Diego fifteen centuries later) have faith and trust in God’s promises. As the prayer above notes, we ask Mary today for God’s grace to “keep our faith”, to continue to have hope in these days of anxiety, and to continue to live a life of active and intentional charity for the world around us. This prayer has never had more currency than in our world today.

Larry Bommarito is Program Manager for the Institute for Biosecurity in the College for Public Health and Social Justice.