Archive | December, 2011

The Line to See Jesus

22 Dec

At his first coming at Bethlehem, shepherds and kings stood in line to adore him.

In Galilee, the sick and the unworthy stood in line to see Jesus, hoping that he would touch them with some healing or some hope.

At his second coming, all the nations will stand in line before his throne, and every head will bow, and every knee will bend, and every tongue will proclaim, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Where is the line to see Jesus now?

Think of a line in which you have stood or in which you have seen others stand. Allow one “standing in line” to come to mind. (Go ahead. I will wait.)

Is it a line in which you can see Jesus?

Last Sunday there was a line of people standing in the sanctuary of our parish church to take a tag off the “Giving Tree.” A line to see Jesus?

Sometime this week those people will stand in a line of another kind, as they purchase the gifts? A line in which to see Jesus?

Next Sunday they will stand in line again in church, as they bring their wrapped offerings and lay them at the altar. A line to see Jesus?

And after the last Mass, after all the gifts are sorted according to family units, there will be another line at church: people standing in line to receive the gifts and take them home, so that they and their children will celebrate Christmas with a gift. A line in which to see Jesus?

At the end of the homily on Sunday, I asked all present at Mass: What is the next line in which you will stand? All of you, together, standing in line? Before leaving this church building? In about 12 minutes? Right after the priest holds up the consecrated bread and wine? Right after that “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb? Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – right after that invitation and preparation?

“The next line in which we will stand is the communion line. As at Bethlehem, we stand in line to adore him. As in Galilee, we stand in line, humble and in need, hoping and confident that he will touch us with some healing or hope. We stand in line, as one day we will stand in line before his throne. In the communion line our heads will bow, our knees will bend, and our tongues will proclaim, with all the others, that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

The Body of Christ.  Amen.

The Blood of Christ.  Amen.

Eid milad sa’eed “Merry Christmas”

21 Dec

 

Between Beit Jala Latin Patriarchate School and SASEAS School there is a gift called Twinning

By: Waseim Kasabry, Latin Patriarchate Schools, Palestine

The date 20-Dec-2011 will always be an important day for our students of the Latin Patriarchate School of Beit Jala in Palestine and for me. We live near Bethlehem where our Lord Jesus was born. Today was the first meeting of the students of Beit Jala and St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Milford, Ohio using skype.

 

  

As we know, in these days leading to Christmas everyone in the world is preparing for Christmas: decorating their Christmas trees, buying clothes, gifts for children, etc. But here and there, in Beit Jala and in Cincinnati, we are preparing for Christmas in a different way, a special way. Today we were able to connect with each other and to see each other. We were able to look at one another, using skpye. We were able to say to each other, “MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR” – from Palestine to Cincinnati and from Cincinnati to Beit Jala! 

In trying to accomplish this connection between the two schools, we faced some difficulties, the main difficulty being the seven hour time difference between us. But we managed to successfully solve this and we did it! Yes, we did!

I was afraid it would fail. Many times in my mind, I thought that something would go wrong. But, our Lord Jesus wanted this to be successful, and He was with us and is the reason it happened. Jesus was with us as we connected. I could feel our Lord Jesus with us as we were talking to each other. I could feel His strong protection over us.

Our students from Beit Jala were so very happy. This was the first time for them to talk to students in a different country, and it was extra special that it was a Catholic school, just like their school.

Our students enjoyed asking questions and talking about many different subjects. The most special moment was when the students from Beit Jala sang “Jingle Bells” in Arabic to their friends in Milford, and when the Milford students sang “Silent Night” to us. The students from Beit Jala also taught their new friends in America a few words in Arabic, one being “Eid Milad Saed” which is Merry Christmas. 

Today the children of Beit Jala were given the gift of HOPE because people listened to them: “They know our story, they hear us, they love us – and this gives us HOPE to live.”

 

Were we the only school in the U.S. that “skyped” with Bethlehem today?

20 Dec

The 4th graders from our St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Seton school visited with the 3rd graders from the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala (Bethlehem), Palestine. Speaking with children in Bethlehem right before Christmas – how cool is that! 

These Palestinian children live in Bethlehem. They are Christians – just like us – in a Catholic school – just like ours. 

There is Miss Eman, their teacher. When she was in the classroom with our students at our school in November, her face just lit up. She makes her students smile.  

This is Mr. Waseim, their computer teacher. He is very clever – and very computer savvy. He has been to our school, too.  

 They sang “Jingle Bells” in Arabic. We clapped for them. 

We sang “Silent Night” in English. They clapped for us.  

It was a wonderful Christmas gift for me to be able to see and hear my two worlds, my two loves – Milford and Beit Jala – come together at Christmas.  

Mrs. Schweickart is our teacher. Last summer she went to the Beit Jala school, where she met Miss Eman and Mr. Waseim. In November she welcomed them to our school.  

We hope to visit again, by skype and in person. Ensha’allah. God willing. 

Sirens of Hope

12 Dec

In a 911 emergency call there is that assuring, “Help is on the way.” It is followed almost all the time by, “Hurry! Please hurry!” – and another reassuring, “Help is on the way.”

It is actually just a matter of minutes, but for the one waiting for the help and the one on the way to help, it seems like forever. The one coming sounds the siren, to clear the way, to straighten the path. For the one waiting, the siren is the sound of hope. The louder it gets, the better.

In the corners of the sanctuary, and from the ambo and on the altar in between, we find hope and help.

Out in Brown County, there is a mission called, “Hope Emergency,” run by two of the Ursulines of Brown County, who live in our parish and worship with on Sundays. On the days before Thanksgiving, their Hope Emergency fed 503 families, that is, over a thousand people. The Sisters and the volunteers heard over and over again, “We don’t know what we would do without Hope.” Is that an Advent theme, or not? With the wrapped gifts that you brought to church with you today, you provide something for over 700 people. The gifts go out in many directions. Some of those gifts go to Hope Emergency. On the days before Christmas, the Sisters will hear, “Without you there would be no food on our table. Without you, we would not have Christmas.

In the Scriptures, Isaiah and John the Baptist are the sirens. Isaiah sirens: Hope is coming (in the Messiah). In John the Baptist the siren gets louder and louder: Hope has arrived (in Christ). Isaiah and John are the sirens, the sounds of hope, the voices crying out in the desert, clearing the way for help and hope. Christ is Hope. In Christ, hope has come, hope comes now, and hope will come again. 

With the prophet and the Baptist in the Scriptures, with the pink candle and the rose vestment of Gaudete Sunday, with the wrapped gifts piled in the sanctuary, and most especially and most lastingly and most lavishly, with the divine gifts consecrated on the altar, we keep hope.  Help is on the way. Hope is here.

We make this three-fold proclamation of God’s mercy:

Lord Jesus Christ, without you we would not have Christmas.

Lord Jesus Christ, without you we have no sacrifice on the altar; we have no food on the table.

Lord Jesus Christ, without you we are without hope.

But with you …..

Women of Nazareth, Women of Hope: Basma, Hala and Mary

9 Dec

On yesterday’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception we heard Luke’s proclamation: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth …”

Hearing Gabriel’s greeting to Mary of Nazareth, I cannot help but send a greeting to two other women of Nazareth: Basma and Hala. These two extraordinary Christian women are counsellors in Catholic schools in Nazareth. Hala and Basma visited Cincinnati with other teachers from Latin Patriarchate schools from the West Bank and from Jordan, as part of a project called HOPE: Holy Land Outreach to Palestinian Educators. They are pictured below receiving gifts at the Farewell Dinner, in a photo taken by Mark Bowen.

Mary of Nazareth, responding to God’s desire and invitation to enter our world as one like us, brought Hope into the world, translate, brought Jesus, who is our hope, our only hope, into the world.

Basma and Hala, women of Nazareth, responding to God’s desire and invitation to bring reconciliation and justice into our world, bring hope to their students and build opportunities and dignity into their lives.

Beneath the Basilica of the Annunciation, in their beloved hometown of Nazareth, Basma and Hala visit often the grotto of the Annunciation, the very place of the conversation between God’s angel and God’s mother.In this place, as Mary did, so Hala and Basma respond with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Greetings, Basma and Hala. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. May the angel never depart from you.

a bit of Spiritual Genius or a God-Incidence

8 Dec

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1)

The stained glass window in the sanctuary of our church depicts Mary with head bowed and tilted downward, and with arms folded at her heart. Was it a stroke of spiritual genius or a God-incidence that this window is the one nearest the tabernacle? It is as if she is looking down lovingly at her son in the tabernacle and on the altar. It is as if she is caressing him at her heart, as she held him, body and blood, soul and divinity, when he born to her at Bethlehem, and when he was taken down from the cross and placed in her arms.

After Mass on today’s solemnity of the Immaculate Conception I got on a ladder, and took a photo from Mary’s eyes toward her Son … 

 And then a photo from the tabernacle up toward the window …On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we place ourselves in her arms for her to hold us. We feel her embrace and her protection. We feel her eyes on us, in her everlastingly motherly way.

Congratulations, Mark

8 Dec

When I was 16 years old, I failed the test for my driver’s license. It was parallel parking that got me, or rather, that I didn’t get. When the police officer told me that I would have to come back to take the parking test over, I could hardly believe it, “Did I hit the curb?” He was matter of fact with his response, “Son, you went over the curb.”

I was embarrassed. Mom drove me home. For two weeks I fretted. Mom drove me back. I passed.

As I typed the previous five, short sentences, it surprised me when I saw that between “embarrassed” and “fretted” was “mom.” And between “fretted” and “passed” was “mom.” My mother was right in the middle of my embarrassment, my fretting and my passing.

Later, when mom got much older, and she gave up her driver’s license, I was driving her everywhere. One night, yes, I know we should not have been out, we left the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home, where mom lived in Clifton. It was a rainy evening, with freezing temperatures. Going down Riddle Road toward McMicken Avenue, past the “s” turn, there is a significant hill. That night it was ice! Instinctively I said, “Mom, I’ll drive. You pray.” We got to the bottom of the hill just fine. My driving skills? My mother’s prayers?

Whenever we’d be out and about, mom was always praying for parking places. Maybe she was thinking that, if there were a good and easy place to park, there would be less chance that I would hurt her, while I was trying to park. Her prayer sure found good parking places. Amazing how often, when curb parking was necessary, mom found two open places right together, so I could just pull in and not have to do that back up thing. At a shopping mall she’d find a place that I could pull all the way through, so that I would not have to back out later. We older people love that kind.

Oh, who is “Mark” in the title of this post? He comes to Mass here at St. Andrew. He passed his driver’s test yesterday. (Shhh! It was his second try for part of it.) . His mom had put aside everything else in her day, and would not allow anything to get in the way of going with her son for that test. Nobody else was going to go with him but her. Congratulations, Mark, on having the mother you have, and on having the driver’s license you now have, too.

In the “Hail Mary,” we ask our Blessed Mother to pray for us “now” and “at the hour of our death.” Being our heavenly mother, just like my earthly mother and your earthly mother, she wants us to have and be happy with whatever God knows is best for us to have – and she especially wants us to pass the final test that comes to us at our passing. Amen.

On Mary Immaculate: Arduous Duties and Sublime Virtues

8 Dec

 La Purisima Inmaculada Concepcion by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1678, now in Museo del Prado, Spain 

“We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church.

By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example.”

— Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the United States Sixth Provincial Council Baltimore 5 May 1846 —

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.

Joseph and the First Advent

6 Dec

When I read the following December 1 post on the “Busted Halo” website, I was immediately intrigued by it. Is it irreverent? Is it theologically accurate? How would it be received if it were delivered from the ambo of my parish church? In the end, I am still intrigued by this description of Joseph’s first Advent. It intrigued me enough to post it here and ask what you think. Did I say that it is intriguing?

Joseph, Hope, and Joy: The First-Ever Advent

by Jose Martinez

“As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” I’ll never forget the cadence and inflection of those words, mostly because I heard them week in and week out for the vast majority of my life. If I’m being honest, those were probably the only words of that entire prayer that I heard during my less mature years, since at the period of my life I spent the rest of the Our Father focused on squeezing my brother’s hand as hard as humanly possible. Don’t act like you didn’t do the same thing.

I think that phrase is a good summary of what  Advent is supposed to be about: a joyful waiting period for the birth of Jesus. But hope is the key, because that’s why we’re joyful in the first place. We know that with Jesus and with his message, something better than what we have is coming. What that something is depends on your situation — if you’re me at this very moment, it’s figuring out what to buy my girlfriend for Christmas because I have no ideas. Then again, I’m supposed to be living in the now and not get caught up in Christmas. Does that reasoning work when I explain to people why I didn’t buy them anything?

For a shining example of hope, look no further than Jesus’ step-dad, Joseph, who I will also point out is my namesake. Let’s do something not nearly enough people do and review Joseph’s life: He’s betrothed to a young woman named Mary. Then, one day he finds out Mary is pregnant. He asks Mary why and how, presumably panicked, and Mary tells him the truth: God is the proverbial “other man” and she’s now carrying a divine child. Also she’s still a virgin. At this point, we’re forced to assume that Joseph was backing away slowly. Even despite the apparent lameness of Mary’s excuses, Joseph is generous in his decision to quietly divorce her, sparing Mary the wrath of a harsh penal system that frowned upon adulterers. And by “frowned upon” I mean “stoned.”

But that doesn’t happen — because and angel appears to Joseph in a dream and confirms that Mary wasn’t lying. (I like to think that Joseph interrupted the angel when he learned this, saying “Wait — does this mean that I’m the one who’s going to be apologizing for this?”) Of course, Joseph sticks with Mary, Jesus is born and raised by his parents to become, ultimately, the Savior of the world. Considering what the Palestinian economy was like at the time, that’s huge.

Joseph’s story is striking to me because, after putting myself in his place, I’m not sure I would have believed the whole thing — even after one of God’s angels came to me and told me to put away the divorce papers. What reason did he have to believe that he wasn’t being played like a lute? And what kind of courage does it take to force yourself to believe that, deep down, you can do an adequate job of raising God’s only son?

All of that can be explained by Joseph choosing hope. In today’s Daily Jolt, Christopher Reeve puts it nicely: “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” Even overcoming Kryptonite. Joseph chose to hope that Mary was telling the truth, chose to hope he wasn’t crazy when an angel appeared to him, and chose to hope that he’d have whatever it took to be the father in the ultimate First Family. There was no logical, rational reason to — he just did.

Which brings me to the hardest part of joyful hope: trust. Even though we’re told something better is coming, we’re not told what. If you ask his apostles, you’ll find that Jesus could be maddeningly vague, which I’m convinced is a genetic trait he got from God. And I’m sure that even though Joseph was told everything would be alright, there was still an inkling of doubt somewhere, making him question the wisdom of trying to be a stand-in for Yahweh. But whether it was his love for Mary or faith in God — or some combination of both — that made him do it, Joseph, along with Mary, lived the first-ever Advent when he said, “Sure, I’ll stick around.” If we’re to be guided by an example of faith, love, trust and joy this Advent, let it be him.

Longing for Hope, Many Despair

5 Dec

At the closing prayer of our farewell dinner, with the lights in the room dimmed and candles burning, the Light of Christ shone brightly among us and within us, as we sang with Hala from Nazareth, Rogeece from Beit Sahour, Suhail from Zebabdeh, Waseim from Beit Jala, and Ruya from Nablus. They are teachers. They are Palestinians. They are Christians. They are our friends. They are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.

 

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice. 

Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
shared until all are fed.Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.

Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come. 

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.