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God in Diapers

1 Jan


The one who reads aloud the Gospel of the visit of the shepherds must make the appropriate pause, lest it sound like “they found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger.” All three of them lying in the manger together sounds cozy, but cramped. Yet the failure to pause (and the accompanying chuckle) gives us pause to remember that God chose to be that close to us. God has invited us into that kind of intimacy with him.

What we celebrate on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is quite simple: “God chose to have a mother. God chose Mary to be that mother.” That is amazing. If it were not so true, it would be unbelievable.

God chose to have a mother. I had no choice. I had to have a mother or I would not exist. God, who creates everything, chose to be a creature. God did not choose be like us; God chose to be one of us. God, who creates every mother, chose to have a mother. The woman he chose for his mother, he himself had created. God, who creates all life that lives in the womb, chose to live in the womb. God chose to be born and to wear diapers. God chose to be held, changed and nursed. That is outlandish. If it were not so true, it would be unbelievable.

God chose as his mother someone who was humble and simple, trusting and loving, brave and strong. God chose Mary to be his mother. When Mary felt movement within her, she was feeling God within her. When she felt a kick, she was feeling God’s foot. When she held her baby and smelled him, she smelled something of herself, and she smelled something of divinity and eternity. When she slobbered him with motherly kisses, she was kissing the face of God.

We call him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Prince of Peace. We call her God-bearer, God-birther, Mother of God. If it were not so true, it would be unbelievable.

The painting above is by American painter Morgan Weistling. “Kissing the Face of God” is lovely and tender. Take a generously long look at the painting, savor the emotion, and then maybe ask Mary to kiss the face of God for you.

[Thank you to Caitlin Kennell Kim of Busted Halo  for the inspiration and for many of the words I have used.]

The Paradox of Christmas

24 Dec

Two thousand years ago

in the small town of Bethlehem

one silent night

loudly proclaimed God’s love for the entire world.


For our all-powerful God came to earth

in the form of a helpless child,

and though many people had waited for his coming

few actually noticed this baby’s arrival,

so much so

that there was no room for him that night

in the world which he had made.


But still he came.


He who was divine became human.

He traded in his heavenly seat

for an earthly manger.

He exchanged robes of splendor

for swaddling clothes.

He left the songs of a multitude of angels

for the praises of a few humble shepherds.

That night

though Jesus left his throne

he became our king:

a king who came not to be served but to serve,

a king whose death would bring us life,

a king whose single sacrifice would serve as the ransom for us all.


So, it’s the paradox of Christmas

that calls you to respond.

Though there are presents still waiting for you to receive

this night is truly about the gift that you have already been given.

That he smelled like eternity

22 Dec

What Mary Knew

That he was beautiful,

love’s most holy writ.

That he was the world in small,

and she loved it.


That he had undone death.

That he would be her joy.

That he would grow more beautiful

as he became a boy.


That he was grace in human form

and paradise to hold.

That he smelled like eternity.

That he would not grow old.


That he was heaven’s gift,

dressed in flesh and baby clothes.

That he was wholly beautiful.

What every mother knows.

Angela Alaimo O’Donnell is a professor of English and associate director of the Curran Center for American Studies at Fordham University in New York City. Janet McKenzie, an artist in Vermont, is working on a new project called “African-American Women Celebrated.” © America Magazine  


How can this be?

8 Apr

Beit Jala jen holy land 964 (237)

Our sister parish of the Annunciation, located in Beit Jala (Bethlehem), West Bank, Palestine, celebrates her feast day today: the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Here in Milford at St. Andrew we will pray in our evening Mass that, through the intercession and care of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and woman of Palestine, God will make good on His every promise to His people in Beit Jala and full their every hope in Him.

On Easter Sunday morning one of our teenagers asked me, “Father, which is the more important day for Christians: Christmas or Easter?” How would you have answered her? She picked Christmas.

On this day, I ask myself, “Which is the more important feast: Christmas or the Annunciation?” I pick the Annunciation. Here is my reasoning. When did God become one of us and one with us? Not when He was born. When He was conceived! The English translation of the Nicene Creed used to be: he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. Now we say: he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. The word incarnate replaces born. To be born describes the moment of birth. To be incarnate describes the moment of conception. The Word became incarnate – became flesh – in Mary’s womb. All of us – you and I and Jesus – were born. But God took on human flesh; God became human; God was incarnate. And the “incarnation” took place at the moment of conception in the womb of Mary, at the moment when Mary accepted God’s will and desire to become human. On Christmas we celebrate His birth among us. On Annunciation we celebrate His incarnation.

For me, the Annunciation feels like Christmas. It takes me back to Beit jala, and seeing that painting over the altar in their Catholic parish church, dedicated to the Annunciation. It takes me back to meeting Deacon Sleiman (Solomon) Hassan in that very church. It will be his ordination to the priesthood in June that will take me back to my next visit to Beit Jala.

Beit Jala ohio_2012%20(30)

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.

Andrew, the Bride and the Centurion: Holy Communion

20 Nov

It is an invitation to communion.

We are Andrew. “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.”

We are the bride. “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

We are the centurion. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

As we approach the altar for communion, we are Andrew. We are the bride. We are the centurion. It is an invitation to communion – holy communion!

Click here for today’s homily, Andrew, the Bride and the Centurion.”

Incarnate and Consubstantial: First Try

8 Nov

Many of the changes in the words that you will pray in two weeks will be chanted, that is, sung in simple tones of a couple notes that will keep repeating themselves. This will make the transition to the new words easier than if the words were just spoken. There is one place in the Mass that we – you and the priest together – will speak the Creed, the Profession of Faith. There are two words in particular that might sound real new to the ears, unless your ears are as old as mine, in which case the new words will sound familiar, as if they were stored in our memory and have come back to mind and have reached the lips: incarnate and consubstantial. Let’s take a first try at those two words. I say “first” try, because I am going to write something without going to any books, articles or dictionaries. After I write what I write and have it published here, I may need to clarify something or may want to try to say it differently.


I was born. God was incarnate. God was not born like I was born. My parents were Roy and Isabelle. I was born on June 29, 1949. Before I was conceived in my mother’s womb, I did not exist. I came into existence when I was conceived in my mother’s womb. God always existed. God became man. God became flesh. Incarnate means “became flesh.” God did not just appear to be human. He was human. He did not just get inside a human body. He became a human being. Note, too, that God was “born” inBethlehem. God became “incarnate” inNazareth. The Incarnation took place inNazareth, when the angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would conceive of the Holy Spirit, and, of course, when Mary agreed to accept God’s will.


This word is harder. My only comfort is that it took the Catholic Church a couple hundred years after the incarnation (see above) and the resurrection to come up with this word and to agree that this word was the best word that they could come up with to declare who Jesus Christ was and to explain the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. We can be humble enough to think that it might take us a couple tries to come up with the right words. For forty years we have said, “… one in being with the Father.” Now we will say, “… consubstantial with the Father.” It means that Jesus Christ is God, equal to God, the same as God.

consubstantial and incarnate

Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is truly human and truly divine. He is God and man. He is human and divine. He is not either/or. He is both/and. These two words – consubstantial and incarnate – are the words that the Church has used over the centuries, and which we will use again anew on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27. Those words put us in touch with a long line of believers, and give us the assurance that we stand in line with what the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.

As I go now to the stack of books and articles in which the experts give commentary on the new English translation of the Roman Missal, I simply say to you, “As your parish priest I love praying with you, as we pray the prayer and the prayers that the Roman Catholic Church gives us to pray at Mass.”

Speaking and Bowing: Oops!

30 Oct

This morning, as the kind young woman next to me in the pew – refer to the previous post – was helping me through Mass, at one point there was an “awkward” moment.

It has taken some time for us to get used to making that bow during the Profession of Faith, hasn’t it? Well, in the new English translation of the Creed, there are some words that are different at the time of that bow.

In the “new” Creed – it is actually the same Creed, just a different English translation of the same Latin version – I did okay getting past “consubstantial with the Father,” but I hit a snag when we got to the “incarnate” phrase.  

This is how the new text reads … this is how you will see it: 

“… consubstantial with the Father.

For us men and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

At the words that follow up to and including and became man, all bow.

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,

and became man.”

The phrase, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” by itself would have been enough of an adjustment. But my problem was not so much with the new words, but with having to bow, while at the same time speaking the new words. It was made especially awkward because the girl next to me was holding the card with the words on it. Try it.

For awhile, it will be awkward.