A BIG THANK YOU
Thank you for the contributions you
made to support this ministry of the Word of God. As I mentioned in
our Advent Appeal, this free service is used by many parishioners
and preachers. How many, you ask? Each week we average 9,000 hits on
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The glow of Christmas has mostly
faded, but there are still signs of it in some places, especially
here in church. So what happens if you didn’t feel the "Christmas
spirit" and don’t want to be continually reminded of it? What if the
school Christmas pageants, store decorations, television specials,
carols on the radio and gifts under the tree didn’t cheer you up,
but in fact were "downers." In church the Christmas season doesn’t
end on the 26th, instead we are reminded today that it is
still in full flower. There are people in the congregation who feel
like they are out of step with the cheery carols, nativity scene and
candle lights. It’s not that they are Grinchs; rather they find
themselves in pain and it seems to feel worse at this time of year,
multiplied by the season’s sights, smells and sounds. They feel
alienated and not able to unburden themselves because they don’t
want to be a spoiler of good cheer.
There are more of these people in
the congregation than we realize, or than superficial appearances
reveal. People smile a lot during this time, even when their heart
isn’t in it. What causes them to feel outside the circle? They may
have harsh memories of childhood Christmases due to domestic
violence or drug and alcohol addiction in their home. When they were
young their parents may have been chronically ill, leaving them with
adult responsibilities before they were old enough to deal with
them. They miss the childhood they never had. Others had parents
die, or their home split by a contentious divorce. Poverty, then or
now, deprives parents of the ability to buy presents for their
children. There are also childless couples, gay people, or parents
who have had a child die. For them, this children’s feast is
particularly hard. Sickness knows no "proper season," no
"appropriate time." Some worshipers are struggling with cancer for
themselves or someone they love. Whole congregations can feel
alienated from this holiday season. There are also poor
congregations who are like outsiders looking into a rich person’s
home where a banquet is in progress.
It helps to take the pain, our own,
or our parishioners’, to the scriptures and to this feast, to hear
if there is any good news for those who feel out of it. And if we
feel this is preaching to the minority that’s ok. First of all, in
some places those hurting may be in the majority. Or, if our hearers
are going through good times now, we all can remember a time when
each day hurt. So, as we remember the difficult times, we celebrate
our deliverance with a Eucharist of thanksgiving. We also know from
our life experience that a time will come when hurt will again
predominate. If the preacher addresses the pain some feel this
season, then even those who are not going through a dark period,
will be reassured that there will be good news for them, if and when
the hard times return.
Epiphany celebrates God’s "showing
forth," Jesus’ manifestation to the world. We are celebrating that
God "shows up" in the places where there is need, just when darkness
seems to have an unbreakable grip on our heart and spirit.
Isaiah addresses the darkness. "See
darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the peoples...." He
starts with a rousing command, "Rise up...!" Why, for heaven’s sake?
Because God’s light is coming, like a rising sun. The "darkness"
that Isaiah says covers the earth has a poetic link to the
primordial darkness at the beginning, in Genesis, when God created
light. We are reminded of the power of God that can overcome any
darkness – even the darkness that preceded creation. Isaiah is
suggesting that what God could do once, God can do again. The line
in that passage that conveys this hope begins with the word...
"But." It is a word of interruption, a contradiction to what has
been. After we list the darkness and name the pain, we put faith in
a God who can say, "BUT" – and bring light. In some situations only
the Creator can effect a change, or give us the hope to get us
Isaiah prepares us for today’s
gospel. He says believers will experience God’s "shining" through –
the manifestation of God in themselves. But also, because of the
light in them, others will "walk by your light." He is speaking of
the Gentiles. God is reaching out to non-believers through the light
that shines from believers. The gospel shows God’s star lighting the
way to the Jewish couple and their child where God is manifested
People who feel like outsiders this
season may hear a note of hope in Isaiah. There will be light for
the "nations" – a reference to the Gentiles. And Israel’s children
("sons from afar...daughters in you arms") will gather in the
restored Jerusalem. We must remember that Gentiles and even children
were marginal people in the Jewish community after the exile. They
had no, or at the most, minimal rights. On this Epiphany we may
identify with these marginated and hear a note of promise addressed
to them and us. Hear the promise, "You shall be radiant at what you
see, your heart shall throb and overflow." When we can not see a way
out or relief on the horizon, we need to lean on this promise, "you
shall be radiant...." This is not an empty promise, a pat on the
back and an encouragement to "look on the bright side of life." This
is a promise from God, who created light where there was no light.
People who were "other" now can see in a way they couldn’t on their
own and so they come to believe what could easily be missed in
darkness and struggle – God is doing something that will evoke
praise and thanksgiving.
Enter the magi, the outsiders. (On
this feast I try to read T.S. Eliot’s, "The Journey of the Magi." I
highly recommend it as a way of reflecting on the trip the magi
made.) These are people who have made a journey, leaving behind the
familiar in search of the truth. They do not have the rich Jewish
prophetic tradition that would guide them. Strange, isn’t it, that
King Herod does have those sources? He asks the religious leaders
and they tell him Bethlehem is the place from which the new shepherd
of Israel, the "Christ" – messiah, will come. Those who were
supposed to be religiously attuned, don’t go in search of the one
the prophets had anticipated. Instead, the Gentile magi, who are
open to change, continue their quest.
Whatever the diligence of our
previous religious observance, today is another gospel-illumined
day. We can put aside the past, let ourselves be guided by the
gospel narrative and make our journey to the place where our truth
is found. This is a day for people willing to let go of whatever
holds our spirits back, start all over and make the journey in the
direction of the one who gives us new vision. This is a feast of
universality, where all are welcome to God’s saving embrace.
Outsiders have nothing to fear.
We notice the travelers brought
gifts reminiscent of Psalm 72: 10-11. Gold was a gift for royalty;
myrrh for anointing the dead and frankincense was for the altar of
sacrifice. The gifts hearken to Jesus’ present and future. Our life
is a journey home to God. Like the magi’s trip, there will be
detours, questions and risk along the way. We know where we are
going – to eventual union with God. How and when, are unknowns; but
through faith our destination is assured. Unlike the magi, we won’t
need to bring anything with us – just ourselves, our faith in
Our gifts to the Christ child are
the gifts we give in response to others. Which, when he got older,
is what Jesus told us to do. These gifts were when we brought food
to the poor, shelter to the homeless, relief to debtors, medicine to
the sick and, most of all, the gift of our own presence standing
besides the vulnerable and the outsiders. Today we celebrate that
God has first given us a gift; Jesus was God’s own doing, not ours,
for the benefit of all the world. We realize and celebrate this gift
by our enthusiastic celebration of the eucharist today, AND...we can
celebrate our "epiphany faith" by generous gift giving in the places
we encounter the many disguises of Christ in the world.
We will soon be tossing out our
Christmas trees, if we haven’t done so already, cleaning up the
house and getting back to "normal." We will want to be careful that
we don’t forget that at the heart of this Christmas season is God’s
gift to us. We live and believe in the security that God’s gift will
always be there for us, our guiding star on our journey home.
Meanwhile, on the way, we will continue doing the work of getting
Christ more and more into our lives and into the life of the world.
Epiphany is the feast of travelers, a reminder that through us,
Christ will continue to be born in the most unlikely places and will
travel with us into our world.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
...the truth is that silence plays as central a role in
Christian scripture as in Hebrew. In each of the
gospels, the Word comes forth from silence. For John, it
is the silence at the beginning of creation. For Luke,
it is the silence of poor old Zechariah, struck dumb by
the angel Gabriel for doubting that Elizabeth would bear
a child. For Matthew, it is the awkward silence between
Joseph and Mary when she tells him her prenuptial news,
and for Mark it is the voice of one crying in the
wilderness--- the long-forgotten voice of prophecy
puncturing the silence of the desert and of time.
Brown Taylor in, When God is Silent.
(Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1998) page 74.
eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons from
afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.
This week (January 7-13) has been
designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
as "National Migration Week." Intertwined today is God’s
manifestation (epiphany) in the world through the story of the visit
of the journeying Magi. The story teaches that we may fail to
recognize God’s presence in our midst, and may need insight from the
strangers God sends to help us. The USCCB writes the following:
The theme for National Migration
Week 2017, "Many Journeys, One Family," draws attention to the fact
that each of our families have a migration story. . .Regardless of
where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human
family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.
Unfortunately, in our contemporary
culture we often fail to encounter migrants as persons, and instead
look at them as unknown others, if we even notice them at all. We do
not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow
children of God, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious
or fearful of them.
Welcoming immigrants is part of
Catholic Social Teaching and reflects the Biblical tradition to
welcome the stranger. Pope Francis invites us to be part of a
culture of encounter-- welcoming, protecting, integrating, and
promoting immigrants and refugees in our midst. As he states, "We
discover that they do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their
courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of
their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the
nations that receive them." What encounter with God are we missing
by walling ourselves off from encountering migrants and refugees and
in failing to recognize that we are one family of humankind?
With the forced displacement of
people at the highest level since World War II (more than 65 million
people displaced around the world and over 22 million refugees), we
need to do all we can to keep the human story of the effects of
displacement center front and urge our leaders to remember the new
strengths immigrants bring.
During this National Migration Week,
let us all take the opportunity to engage migrants as community
members, neighbors, and friends. To join Justice for Immigrants,
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Isaiah reading:
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the Lord shines,
and over you appears God’s glory.
Isaiah reminds us that believers
will experience God’s "shining" through the darkness. Because of
that light in believers, others will "walk by your light." He is
speaking of the Gentiles. God is reaching out to non-believers
through the light that shines from believers.
So we ask ourselves:
- How and where do I experience
the darkness in the world?
- How can I let the light of God
shine through to others who are in the darkness?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that
condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that
humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each
week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I
invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them
know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard
about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the
Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming
Please write to:
- Jonathan Richardson #1019362
(On death row since4/4/2014)
- Antwan Anthony #1293151
- ----Central Prison, 4285 Mail
Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic
position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
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1. We have compiled Four CDS for
- Individual CDs for each
Liturgical Year, A, B or C
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"Liturgical Years A, B and C."
If you are a preacher, lead a
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Where you will
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and "Homilías Dominicales," as
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Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to
prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars.
If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a
friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
you and blessings on your preaching,
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St. Albert the
Great Priory of Texas
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