Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Feast of the Holy Family

Sunday within Octave of Christmas
Mass Readings - Cycle A
1st Reading - Eccles 3:2-6;12-14
2nd Reading - Col 3:12-21
Gospel Mt 2:13-15;19-23

"Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you".

Who better than Mary and Joseph, who made a home for the Incarnate Word, can teach us to welcome Jesus into our hearts and homes?
Mary and Joseph belonged heart and mind to those who waited expectantly to welcome the Messiah, belonged to the holy remnant foretold by the prophets.
"I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong, and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem : Fear not, O Sion, be not discouraged! The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty Saviour; He will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.

Mary and Joseph were imbued with this generous spirit, totally open to the work of God on the nothingness of their being totally trusting and surrendered to God's plan.

'Get up and take the Child and his Mother... So Joseph got up'. Twice, we are given these words in the short passage from the Gospel.

Who can doubt that Jesus mirrored the virtues taught at home - He went down to Nazareth and lived under their authority. Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and men.

The reading from Ecclesiaticus also describes the obedient caring and loving son giving of his all to help his parents but notice God is already at work with his loving mercy. "Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins' and again, "kindness to a father shall not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins".

The readings of the Mass are a real antidote to the two seerious problems of our day - the disrespect for life - for each and every living person, the breaking up of family life, and secondly, the sad plight of so, so many refugees all over the world. But let us not lose hope as we ponder like Mary on the Word of God and bring these intentions before the throne of God. Every time we make an effort to reach God, in whatever way, there is an immediate energy on the part of God that rushes our way. (quoted from the 'Gifts of the desert').
"You are God's chosen race, his saints, he loves you. Always be thankful".

Everyone can be born again, the world can be renewed. It is possible to build a future of justice and peace starting today. As long as one is filled with hope that God, through us, is working to shape a new creation. (Christmas letter of the Master of the Dominican Order - Fr Bruno Cadore)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Reflection

A short reflection given by one of our sisters for the First Vespers of Christmas.

We have just sung the antiphon: “The Word of God born of the Father before time began, humbled himself today for us and became man”. Again at 2nd Vespers we will sing: “The Word was God in the beginning and before all time, today he is born for us, the Saviour of the world”.

I would like to focus on the word ‘today’ which occurs so often in our Christmas liturgy. In our celebration of this wonderful feast of Christmas God’s eternal unchanging day breaks into our temporal day and we are caught up in the mystery of God.

The Father eternally begets the Son in an act of total self-emptying love while the Son eternally receives His entire being in an act of total self-surrendering love, totally pouring himself out in response to the total love of the Father. This eternal generation takes place in the bond of loving union who is Himself the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery, which breaks into our world of time in the human birth of the Word of God. The kenosis, the self-emptying that takes place in the Incarnation of the Word, which will eventually lead to Calvary, mirrors the eternal self-emptying love at the heart of the Trinity.

Eckhart reminds us that Christ’s birth in Bethlehem is of no avail if he is not born in us today – so we can say ‘today Christ is born in me as my Saviour’. All He needs is a welcoming, open heart like Mary’s and an empty space which does not need to be perfect – just as the inn in Bethlehem was not the perfect place for the birth of the Son of God. To quote Gregory Nazianzen: “Christ takes each of us – takes me - whole and entire within Himself, with all my misery in order to destroy in Himself all trace of sin, like fire that dissolves in itself the wax,” thus transforming me into himself, bringing me into his own relationship with the Father in the bosom of the Trinity. Just as there is one God in three Persons, so in Christ, we are all members one of another; there is and we are called to become a single Man in a multitude of persons.

All this takes place in silence – as 15th century author puts it:
Thou shalt know Him when He comes -
Not by any din of drums; Nor the vantage of his airs; Nor by anything He wears
Neither by His crown; Nor His gown
For His presence known shall be by the holy harmony that His coming makes in thee

Yes His presence – His birth - within us creates harmony with our God, with ourselves, with our sisters and brothers and with the whole of creation. Is this not the angels’ message when they sang: “Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth to those who enjoy His favour”.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 23rd December

O Emmanuel – You are our King and Judge,
the one whom the peoples await and their Saviour.
Come and save us Lord Jesus, Come.

The time of waiting is coming to an end. Soon the mystery of the Incarnation will be re-enacted once more in our liturgical celebrations and especially in our hearts. What have we to offer the Christ Child this year? Maybe not much, and yet the whole raison d’ĂȘtre for his coming hinges round the question – why is the Father about to send his own Beloved Son to take on our humanness, our earthiness, our poverty?
God sends his Son for one reason only: because he loves us – in fact he is madly in love with us.

Will we ever fathom this reality? He comes in silence, in lowliness, in poverty to knock at our door and asks us to give him a lodging for the night – for every night.
All he asks of us is an empty space where he can rest and find us waiting and watching for him.
Wouldn’t you think that we should come to God laden with the gold of good deeds? No – definitely no – the gift I must give my God is my brokenness. The thing God is waiting for me to offer him is the point where I am characteristically weak. This is the place, the stable where Jesus knocks with his baby hands and pleads with me -- may I come in? Give me lodgings in your inn.

For the past few weeks the cry Maranatha - Come Lord Jesus has been our spoken and unspoken prayer. But there is another side to this longing desire. While looking for a quotation in my bible I chanced to open Chapter 2 in the Song of Songs, where the Bridegroom speaks to his Bride: “Come my lovely one, come.”
It came home to me very forcibly - not only am I pleading with Jesus to come but far more earnestly is he saying to me:
“Come then my love, my lovely one come,
Show me your face,
Let me hear your voice”

Two hearts were meeting and held momentarily in stillness.

How well Blessed Teresa understood the need Jesus has for our love, when she wrote:
“We need to know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for us.”

And so, when he comes may he find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise as we look at Mary who bore Jesus in her womb with a love beyond all telling.

My God, what a mystery,
Maranatha - Come Lord Jesus come
Delay no longer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 22nd December

Today we have the sixth 'O' Antiphon bringing us nearer to our wonderful celebration.
O King whom all the peoples desire,
you are the cornerstone which makes all one.
O come and save man whom you made from clay.

Jesus is our King, our hearts are waiting for the joy and peace that he brings to each one of us so to pitch his royal tent within us. Are we ready to be part of the building of which Christ is the corner stone? Are we ready to be made one and alive, for Christ is the living stone on which we build our lives. St Paul writes to the Ephesians: In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

We pray "O come" and indeed our King comes to save us who he made from clay. Such is the clay that we have to become in God's hands, clay that is made firm by faith and moulded by God's holy Word. It is only through the events of life that we can progress through the firing kiln of God's creative love and it is only through his Spirit that we become the refined vessels of his living joyful love to be given, poured out and filled again, to be, as St Paul told the Corinthians, as clay pots holding God's spiritual treasure.

It is at this holy time that we come to realize more deeply the wonder of how God the Son took to himself our human clay, and as he lay as a little child in his mother's arms, he showed us just how beautiful our human clay can become.

O come our King, who is all we desire, fill us with yourself, so that we may become your royal, clay vessels to be used for your praise and glory.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 21st December

“ O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

In this “O” Antiphon the three metaphors- the rising Sun, splendour of the eternal light and sun of justice – all symbolise Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah whose birth as our Saviour we will celebrate in four days time.

Jesus calls Himself the ‘Light of the World’ in St. John’s Gospel( 9:5) and St. John, in the Prologue says that He is the “ true light who enlightens all men” and “ a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower”.(1:5)

This assurance gives us courage to turn to Christ in our own various darknesses which may be a darkness of : prejudice; lack of compassion; judging and condemning others; resentment; anger; envy; selfishness or the darkness which blinds us to the awareness of our own sins, shortcomings and failures. We acknowledge that we are in great need of light and healing from Christ, the source of light and the singing of this antiphon in a few minutes time will give us the opportunity to turn to Him in earnest prayer asking Him to shed His light on us and on all humanity so that the darkness of sin may be dispelled from our hearts and we may be healed and renewed by His love.

We can call upon the Saints and Blesseds to intercede for us for they mirrored this light of Christ in their own lives, radiated it and reflected it to others. I am thinking especially of Mother Teresa of Calcutta – now Blessed Teresa – whom Jesus asked to be His light to the poorest of the poor.
“Come, be My light”, he said to her. She did become His light and radiated His light and love to others, especially to the poor. Paradoxically while she radiated Christ’s light and love to others she herself experienced a painful spiritual darkness in her inmost being. St. John of the Cross, in explaining this dark night of the soul using the metaphor of the sun, says –“the more one looks at the brilliant sun the more the sun darkens the faculty of sight, deprives it and overwhelms it in its weakness” Similarly, Mother Teresa’s interior darkness was not due to the absence of God but rather to the intense proximate presence of God in her soul, God, whose brightest light is total darkness to us in this life.

In one of her letters to Father van der Peet, she wrote:
“God is in love with us and keeps giving Himself to the world – through you – through me..
May you continue to be the sunshine of His love to your people and thus make your life
something truly beautiful for God.”

This prayer can be directed to each one of us too.

May Mother Teresa, intercede for us now as we call upon the Lord to enlighten us, for she said and promised “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of ‘darkness’. I will continually be absent from Heaven, to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”

O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 20th December

O Key of David and sceptre of Israel
what you open no one can close again;
what you close no one can open.
O come to lead the captive from prison;
free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Todays "O Antiphon" is almost directly taken from various parts of scripture (cf Rev 3:7ff; Lk 1:79a). In this "O Antiphon" we have reference again to King David. Our Lord is addressed as "Key of David and sceptre of Israel", which are symbols of royal power and authority. We read in St Matthews Gospel Mt 16:13ff, in that well known passage at Caesarea Philippi, where in answer to Jesus' question "who do you say I am?" Simon Peter spoke up, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". Jesus replied, "Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: you are Peter and on this rock i will build my Church and the gates of the underworld will never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven."

So Jesus has conferred his power and authority to his Church in the person of Peter and his successors. The Church is all about forgiving sin - salvation. It is through the Church at our Baptism that we gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven. At our Baptism we are freed from Original Sin and all personal sins. We become members of Christ's Body and through his Holy Spirit dwelling in us we can address God as our Father. What a wonderful gift Baptism is!

We receive the theological virtues of faith, hope and love; as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit - but our faith, hope and love need to be nurtured by prayer and the Sacraments. "By her relationship with Christ", to quote from 'The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church' of Vatican II, "the Church is a kind of sacrament or sing of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind". What a gift the Church is and how we should love her! Henri de Lubac, speaking on his death bed about the two great loves of his life, Christ and the Church, said "For what would I ever know of him without her". Recently the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, speaking at the 6th los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast, said "the largest Christian demomination in our country today are former Catholics. We are living in an era whare people want to have Christ without his Church". Perhaps the same could be said of Europe?

In "The Prayer for the Church in Ireland" Pope Benedict opened with the words "God of our fathers, renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation". Our own St Catherine of Siena constantly prayed for and spoke of "the light of holy faith". So in today's "O Antiphon" we beseech Our Lord - the Key of David - to open our hearts and minds to the light of holy faith; to lead the captive from prison - the prison of unbelief, of sin, of shame; and to quote the Intercession at Evening Prayer "You are Life and the enemy of death - rescue us and all the faithful departed from eternal darkness. AMEN"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 19th December

O Radix Jesse

O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations;
kings fall silent before you whom the people acclaim.
O come to deliver us, and do not delay.

Today we address our awaited Saviour with the title ‘stock of Jesse’ – as Isaias foretold:
“A root shall grow from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall spring from his roots
and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him”.

Jesse was the father of King David from whose royal line the future Messiah would be born. When we read the genealogy of Jesus most of the characters mentioned were not very praise worthy according to human standards. Yet God’s infinite, all powerful wisdom, compassion and merciful love were at work throughout salvation history not allowing human failure, sin, malice nor indifference to interfere or thwart His divine plan. The promised Messiah will indeed come from David’s line – but in a manner which will leave us in no doubt that it is wholly God’s work. Joseph, the just man, comes from David’s line but he remains the silent spectator of God’s marvellous power. Mary’s role too is passive – receiving, cherishing, pondering the Word which is made flesh in her womb, through the power of the Holy Spirit, without any human intervention.

The Child, the fruit of her womb, will be a sign to the nations – a ‘sign of contradiction’ as Simeon prophesied. Kings fall silent before Him – they remain powerless. At his Passion, the intention of his enemies was to “destroy the tree in its strength” (Jer 11:19). What they, in fact, accomplished was to raise aloft the ‘Tree of Life’ whose leaves will have power to heal the nations (cf Rev 22:1) – the unique sign of God’s power at work in human weakness and fulfilling Jesus own prediction:

“when I am lifted up from the earth
I will draw all things to myself”

God’s power is always at work in human weakness. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, let us take heart and remain steadfast in our faith and trust in the power of God who today is at work in the apparent catastrophes and contradictions of human life, bringing to fulfilment His divine, all-wise plan.

O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations;
kings fall silent before you whom the people acclaim.
O come to deliver us, and do not delay.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 18th December

‘O Adonai, Ruler of the house of Israel, who gave the Law to Moses on Sinai,
come to save us with out-stretched arm, Alleluia’

This is a prayer made from a truly humble and trusting heart, that knows its need of our heavenly Father to save us.

The theme of God’s outstretched arm to help his people is found frequently in Scripture and must surely touch us deeply. For example Psalm 97 – ‘His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation’.

There is something comforting in arms outstretched towards us, we feel needed and loved and this gives us an inner security.
In daily life, we often see a loving mother or father stretch out their arms to save their child from some danger or simply to swoop the child up to give a hug.

When we return from a journey after a long absence, what a joy it is to be welcomed home by a loved one running to meet us with outstretched arms. It cannot be less so with our heavenly Father, he is always, and everywhere stretching out his arms to welcome us and to save us. We have only to reflect on the parable of the Prodigal son in St. Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 15). Who could fail to be deeply touched as in our mind’s eye we watch that loving father run with outstretched arms to welcome and embrace his wayward son. The Gospels are full of occasions where Jesus stretches out his arms, his hands, to bring life, healing and salvation by his divine touch.

During this Advent Season, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, we are surely filled anew with wonder at the depths of love that led our heavenly father with those same outstretched arms to send his only begotten Son as our Redeemer – that Son who some 30 years later, stretched out his arms on the Cross in an immense act of love and died for our salvation.

Such unconditional love means God is summoning us forth with the loudest of calls, stirring up our hidden being, pleading with us to return love for love – ‘I have loved you’ he tells us ‘with an everlasting love, therefore I have drawn you to myself’. How right it is then that each evening before we sleep, the Church invites us, in her night prayer of Compline, to place ourselves trustfully in the outstretched arms and hands of our Father as we pray: ‘Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit’.

O Ruler of the house of Israel, come and save us with outstretched arm.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The 'O' Antiphons: 17th December

“O Sapientia” – 17th December

Advent, as we all know, is a time of longing, expecting – waiting and hoping that Jesus will come anew to each of us.

Yesterday we began our 9-day Novena for the great feast of Christmas, and today and for the next six days we accentuate that longing and find its expression most beautifully in the great Vesper antiphons for the Magnificat, called the “O” antiphons, because they all begin with ‘O’. These antiphons will be used each evening before and after the Magnificat, and as the Gospel Acclamation at Mass, daily, for the next 7 days.

The initials of each antiphon in Latin, in reverse order are:

E = Emmanuel

R = Rex (King)
O = Oriens (Rising Sun)
C = Clavis (Key of David)
R = Radix (Root of Jesse)
A = Adonai (Leader of Israel)
S = Sapientia (Wisdom)
They create the acrostic : EROCRAS – the translation of which is : ‘Tomorrow I shall be there’ – and this is seen as the answer of Christ to the intensity of the longing prayer, and the yearning of the one praying the antiphons during the seven days.

The ‘O’ antiphons are thought to have been composed in the 8th Century by some anonymous cantor, and they achieved great popularity in the Middle Ages. Great solemnity attended their intonation in the monasteries. They were sung in the solemn tone of the great feasts, the great bell of the abbey was tolled and beginning with the abbot, they were intoned by the chief holders of the monastery.

The antiphons are mosaics of Scripture texts, expressing a longing for salvation and liberation; they express the theology of Advent and are the season’s brightest jewels. It is said our recently beatified Cardinal John Newman prayed one of these antiphons on his visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

In a few moments we will sing the first ‘O’ antiphon in Latin – O Sapientia so I will give one English translation of it:

O Wisdom
You come forth form the mouth of the Most High.
You fill the universe and hold all things together
in a strong yet gentle manner.
O come
to teach us the way of truth.

It’s an antiphon full of Biblical references. The Wisdom books of the Old Testament contain many passages in praise of wisdom. We read of Wisdom as proceeding from God, as being begotten by Him, as the breath of His power. Wisdom is the beloved daughter who at the beginning of creation stood before God assisting in the creation of the visible universe. From the concept of wisdom there later developed the doctrine of the Logos - the Word in St John’s Gospel:

All things were made by Him
And without Him was made nothing that was made.

As St Paul says, ‘Christ is the wisdom of God’ – He is our wisdom.

So the first ‘O’ antiphon cries out to Jesus, God’s Wisdom incarnate and the Eternal Word of God, who upholds and governs all creation and orders all things powerfully yet gently (sweetly) to

come and teach us Truth
(or prudence as the Latin has).

Yes, Christ is always faithful – ‘ERO CRAS’ – ‘Tomorrow I shall be there’.Will I be there to meet Him?

Will you take the time to meet Him?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Salve Regina Procession

It is the custom in the Dominican Order (as in many other religious orders) to sing the "Salve Regina" (the "Hail Holy Queen") every day after Compline (Night Prayer). Here is a short video of our Salve Regina Procession.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew Chapter 11: v 2-11 begins with the words: ‘John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing… John in his prison … the word ‘his’ strikes me very forcefully – John the Baptist who for his great courage in telling no less a person than the King of his sin, was imprisoned and eventually beheaded.

Through the centuries thousands of people, men, women and children have suffered and continue to suffer in our day, the most horrendous imprisonment, torture and often, death, for their faithfulness to God’s law.

But there are many kinds of imprisonment, and indeed we can all at one time or another in our lives, be in some kind of prison. The prison of fear, insecurity, selfishness, depression, pride or prejudice, illness of mind, spirit or body, unbelief – the list is endless.

John had heard in his prison all that Christ was doing, the Gospel tells us.

In my life, in all our lives, we have read and heard through the Scriptures, what Christ did on earth concerning every form of suffering of his people – it is important to remember that this is not only in the past, two thousand years ago, but in the present, and this will be so until the end of time.

If we take time to reflect on and to listen to the gentle inner voice of Jesus, we will hear and perceive all he has done and is doing in our own lives, and in the lives of those who touch our lives. His Word is ‘alive and active’ and always will be. How often do we hear those blessed words: ‘O that today you would listen to his voice…’(Ps.94). ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and you will find rest for your souls (Mt.11: 28-30).

Advent is a time of quiet prayer, a time for awaiting Christ’s coming, a time for drawing closer to God- when we do this, love grows in our hearts, we will then feel the need to share this love with others, especially those near and dear to us whom we perceive to be in some kind of inner imprisonment. To love someone is to bid him or her to grow, to meet them at the level where they withdrew into themselves because they thought they were alone and no one cared, people have to feel they are loved very deeply before they can begin to emerge from their inner prison, let us gently bring them to Jesus, the greatest Lover - all He wants in order to free us from whatever imprisons us is that we do not loose our faith and confidence in Him.
Then truly, we can pray in the words of St. Paul to the Phil.4: 4-5, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always again I say rejoice, the Lord is close at hand.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent

Mass Readings Year A
1st Reading: Isaias 11:1-10
2nd Reading: Romans 15: 4-9
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12

In our Gospel today St John the Baptist calls on us to:
“prepare a way for the Lord –
make his paths straight!”

In our second Reading St Paul encourages us not to lose hope but to keep on trying – reminding us that “people in the past who did not give up hope were helped by God”. And Paul prays: “may He who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Paul seems to imply that in our efforts to be tolerant with each other we can expect to fail often but we must not lose hope – trusting that “God will help us if we refuse to give up”. This seems to be a good Advent programme for a monastic community like ours. During this season we pay very careful attention to preparing the liturgy and indeed the Advent chants are beautiful but to ensure that our daily celebration of the liturgy truly gives glory to God we also need to be attentive to our relationships with our sisters in community. Paul continues “it can only be to God’s glory for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you”.

Pope Paul VI described fraternal charity as “an active hope for what others can become through my co-operation” – a very high ideal it is true but the One whom we await during the Advent season will “baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire”. It is the same Spirit whom Isaias prophesied would rest on the future Messiah (as described in our first reading)
“The spirit of wisdom and insight
a spirit of counsel and power
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord”

So that:
“He does not judge by appearances
gives no verdict on hearsay
but judges the wretched with integrity.”

In his days peace will reign on earth – Isaias describes the tolerance of the animals as diverse as a cow, an ox, lamb, panther, wolf, lion, viper and little child all at play!
“They do no hurt or harm
on all my holy mountain
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord”

And so we pray in the words of the hymn we used at Office of Readings today:
“Make straight our way O Lamb of God
that we in joy may live on earth
reflecting your incarnate love.”