Friday, January 18, 2019

The Wedding Guest ~
Artist Unknown

In John’s Gospel, we get a glimpse of what our God does best and enjoys the most.  Our God enjoys being with people in the ordinary and extraordinary times of their lives. God desires to be a “guest” in the everyday happenings of our lives. We need only to have an open spirit and listening heart.

John’s Gospel is filled with many levels of meaning and there are always a great many symbols throughout his writings.  But in today’s reading, I would like us to reflect on the fact that Jesus was invited to this wedding celebration at Cana. This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Here he is not the host of the wedding feast, but a guest like everyone else. Jesus’ ministry opens with him as the recipient of a gesture of hospitality. This beginning of his ministry is played out in an intimate, personal, and familial setting. With the sensitivity of his Mother, he is informed that the wine at the wedding feast has run out.  He is moved to respond not only to the lack of wine but to free the young couple and their families from embarrassment and shame.

In his divine wisdom and creative imagination, he notices six stone water jars standing dutifully at the entrance of the home. These jars held 20-30 gallons of water. The water was used by the Jews for purification rituals of washing their feet upon entering the home, and washing their hands after each course of the meal.

It is here, within these water jars, that the power and the presence of God is experienced. Scarcity becomes abundance; shame is released and honor restored; the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, for simple water now becomes choice wine!

Let us pray that as we stand much like the stone jars, that God’s words of blessing may touch the waters of fear, anxiety, doubt, or resistance in us.  May the “waters” be transformed into the rich “wine” of courage, serenity, confidence, faith, and mercy.

Cana Wine
By Irene Zimmerman, SSSF
Woman Un-Bent (p.31)

“The weather’s so hot and no more wine’s to be bought in all of Cana!
It’s just what I feared . . . just why I begged my husband to keep the wedding small.”

“Does he know?” Mary asked.
“Not yet. Oh, the shame!
Look at my son and his beautiful bride!
They’ll never be able to raise their heads again, not in this small town.”

“Then don’t tell him yet.”

Mary greeted the guests as she made her way through crowded reception rooms.
“I must talk to you, Son,” she said unobtrusively.

Moments later he moved toward the back serving rooms. They hadn’t seen each other since the morning he’d left her . . . before the baptism and the desert time.
They could talk tomorrow on the way to Capernaum.

She spoke urgently, her words both request and command to him: “They have no wine.”
But he hadn’t been called yet! He hadn’t felt it yet. Would she send him so soon to the hounds and jackals? For wine?

Was wine so important then?
“Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
Her unflinching eyes reflected to him his twelve-year-old self telling her with no contrition: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

She left him standing there . . . vine from her stock, ready for fruit bearing . . . and went to the servants. “Do whatever he tells you,” she said.

From across the room she watched them fill water jars, watched the chief steward drink from the dripping cup, saw his eyes open in wide surprise.
She watched her grown son toast the young couple, watched the groom’s parents and guests raise their cups.

She saw it all clearly: saw the Best Wine pouring out for them all.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

St. Agnes Feastday ~ January 21 Reflection

Agnes - A woman before her time!

Someone once wrote: “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Today, January 21st, we gather to remember and to celebrate St. Agnes of Rome, under whose patronage the Sisters of St. Agnes were founded. She declared herself Christian in a pagan society and committed herself to remain virgin in a patriarchal culture.  She gave testimony that she had chosen Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior with the public sacrifice of her life.

Much of her life and death are surrounded by legend, but early writings tell us that Agnes was born into a wealthy and powerful Roman Christian family and, according to tradition, she suffered martyrdom at the age of 12 or 13 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on January 21, in the year 305.

The story is told how the Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, for women, at that time, were property of the State and had children to promote the State’s agenda.  But Agnes refused a forced marriage and remained adamant that she had consecrated her virginity to Jesus Christ.  Her refusal was considered an act of treason and punishable by death.  At that time, Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, so Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel.  In one version of the story, it is said, that as she processed through the streets, Agnes prayed, and her hair grew and covered her entire body.

Some also asserted that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind.  She was sentenced to death with many other Christian companions who refused to worship the Roman gods and to pay homage to the emperor as divine.

Agnes grew up in a patriarchal culture, whose religion included many gods – a religion of laws, customs, and prescriptions that no longer had the power to define her.  Agnes chose a new way of life – a life of virginity.  She was resolute in choosing her own power in Christ to define her new identity.

So what is the Good News for us today?
  • Our God continues to invite everyone to live with hope, trust, courage, and faith.  We are all called to be witnesses of the Risen Christ. 
  • As women and men religious, associates, friends, and partners in ministry, it is on such a feast as today, that we are invited to ponder our own witness to our faith and the values of our Christian lives.
  • That like Agnes, when we find ourselves standing “naked” in our vulnerabilities, limitations, powerlessness, doubts, dilemmas, and decisions that affect the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political challenges of life, may we more and more learn to call upon the Spirit for guidance, grit, and grace – for it is in God that we live and move and have our being.
    Tomb of St. Agnes in Rome
    (previously posted)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Jesus Taking the Plunge!

Baptism of Christ by Dave Zelenka 2005
In 2002, Baptist pastor, Rick Warren published his book, The Purpose Driven Life. In the first year of its publication, there were over 11 million copies sold.  Within 4 years there were over 30 million copies sold and it became an international best seller translated into more than 50 languages. Why was this book so popular? Could it be that in today’s pop culture and social networking the messages that come to us are - we don’t have enough, we are not good enough, and we are not enough – which leaves people “wobbly within” and anxious to have someone help them understand God’s purpose and path for their lives?  Or could it just be that we fear to slow down, to become quieted, and still  - attempting to avoid pondering the questions that everyone eventually faces in life, which are: Why am I here?  What is my purpose?

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus has been walking around with the same questions – yet something happened to Jesus when he was baptized. He was changed – charged – transformed! Something spectacular happened – the heavens opened, the Spirit came upon him, and there was cloud-talk with a voice that said, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Nothing like high drama and special effects to get our attention! With these intimate and consoling words, Jesus was changed forever and charged with the energy of the Spirit as he came up from the waters of the Jordan  His purpose was revealed. His mission was announced. No discernment or searching needed. All he need do in his short earthly life is to become it – his mission, his purpose!! As John Dear writes: “God does not mince words or make small talk. God gets right to the heart of the matter.”

As baptized followers of Jesus, we, too, stand in readiness, in vulnerability, in authenticity as we hear in our depths that God says to each one of us, “You are my beloved.”  We, too, are charged by the Spirit to claim, accept, honor, and embrace who we are – for we are beloved!

This being beloved carries personal, spiritual, social, interpersonal, and global implications. If we are willing to take this seriously, it means that we as God’s beloved have to be open to the awesome and wonderful news that every other human being in the world is also a beloved daughter or son of God – it means that we are all one; we are all chosen; we are all called to bring sight to the blind, release to those held captive, light to those who wander in darkness, and justice to those who are oppressed.

As followers of Jesus, we share in his baptism, his ministry, his death and resurrection. It means that just as Jesus heard the cloud-talk-affirmation, “You are my beloved,” God says to each of us, “You are my beloved.” God is loving us, affirming us; God is delighting in us, and calling all of us into our true Self, and to our true purpose.

Something to Ponder: “We stop searching for purpose, we become it.” ( I Will Not Die An  Unlived Life by Dawna Markova)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Barbara E. Quinn, RSCJ Preaches for the Epiphany

An Epiphany God for all peoples . . .

Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that records the story of the Magi. Right from the outset, this story has the makings of a Hallmark special movie.  It has high drama, a plot which features long journeys, astrologers, a guiding star that is possibly a remnant from an explosion from a Super Nova, a dark force of threatening danger, political intrigue, divine dreaming, holy whisperings, and a vulnerable newborn child.

We recently heard in Luke’s Christmas story that shepherds came to the stable. Shepherds were regarded as unclean and could not take part in Temple worship without undergoing purification. Therefore, his emphasis is on Jesus being God’s revelation to the poor and the rejected.  While in Matthew, the emphasis is on the universality of Jesus’ mission.

Over several hundred years, Christian imagination, legend, and tradition have embellished Matthew’s story – for in his revelation he does not tells us that  the Magi were wise, or men, or kings, or that there were three, or that they were from the Orient, nor does he speak of their mode of transportation, and he certainly misses the mark by not providing names of the Magi  . . . it is not so much the details that are important; it is the meaning of Matthew’s message.

Among Matthew’s Jewish community, they were finding it difficult to accept that God came for all, and not just a few. They were clinging to the idea that if you want to follow Jesus, to be one of his disciples, you had to first be a Jew.  And if you were male, then you had to be circumcised; then if you were to become Christian, you had to continue to fulfill all the rules of the law.  This is why Matthew writes this story . . .this is the mystery, that God is now revealed to all nations, and God has come to transform all of human history, all peoples of all times.

These Magi were Gentiles- (non-Jews –not part of the Chosen People); they were from the Persian priestly class from the East, which is present day Iraq and Iran.  They were star-gazers who observed the movements of the planets and stars.  They were wisdom figures, interpreters of dreams, skilled in medicine, natural science and astrology.  This was condemned by the Jewish religion.  

In the ancient world, it was believed that the Magi could foretell the future from the stars, and they believed that a person’s destiny was determined by the star under which the person was born.  Scholars do not know which star the Magi saw, but it spoke to them about the entry of a king into the world. 

The Magi represent the whole Gentile world.  According to medieval legends, they were named Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar. Each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian, and Gaspar was Ethiopian, representing the three races known to the old world at that time.

Author John Shea writes that there is a legend that the Magi were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthazar in his middle years, and Melchior a senior citizen. When they approached the cave at Bethlehem, they first went in one at a time. Melchior found an old man like himself with whom he was quickly at home. They spoke together of memory and gratitude. The middle-aged Balthazar encountered a teacher of his own years. They talked passionately of leadership and responsibility. When Gaspar entered, a young prophet met him with words of reform and promise.

The three met outside the cave and marveled at how each had gone in to see a newborn child, but each had met someone of his own years. They gathered their gifts in their arms and entered together a second time. In a manger on a bed of straw was a child twelve days old.

The message is that Christ speaks to every stage of the life process – the young hear the call to identity and intimacy, the middle-aged hear the call to generativity and responsibility and the elders seek to hear the call to integrity and wisdom. We all seek to find the Christ in each stage of our own lives and the gift that is given us is that we find ourselves as well.

After they experience the face of God in this fragile, tender child, there is a newer and deeper awareness that all are welcomed, accepted, and loved into the embrace of this newborn King.  They realize that their encounter with Jesus truly changes them and they will live life differently. 

God whispers to the Magi in their dreams and warns them of the danger they will meet if they return to Herod.  Having been in the presence of God, they discover that they need to let go of old routes of travel, the familiar, the comfortable, and return home – not by the same way they came, but ready to follow new paths, new stars!

They depart with a new inner knowing; they are filled with joy and awe and try to hold the meaning and mystery of this personal encounter with the one who is beyond all galaxies, the Prince of Peace!

Today’s feast tells us that for God there are no foreigners, no strangers, no aliens, and no outsiders.  We all belong to our God no matter what external physical or cultural differences there may be between us; we all belong to God no matter what our religious convictions or lifestyle differences may be.  Our God is inclusive, unpredictable, imaginative, compassionate, forgiving, and creative. This feast means that we are all called to be “epiphany people.”  There is no turning back; just an on-going commitment to “shine forth” with courage, compassion, vision, and hope and to live with a restless Spirit, so as to be intensely engaged with humanity each in our own unique way.

So let us embrace the graces of these readings and this celebration, because it is in this liturgy of joining with one another in the sharing of the Word, and in the breaking of the bread, that we, too, become “epiphany people.”  Here we encounter our God – Holy Mystery– and in this place we are all changed, and we can reflect on the seasons of our own lives when God has shown forth to us and invited us to walk new paths under the guidance of a new star.

Finally let us pray in a poet’s words- Macrina Wiederkehr:
Creator of the Stars; God of Epiphanies
You are the Great Star; You have marked our paths with light
You have filled our sky with stars naming each star
Guiding it until it shines into our hearts
Awakening us to deeper seeing
New revelations