Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It is that time when my heartfelt wish for you is that the Christmas/Epiphany Season will be one filled with the choicest of God's graces. Blessings that will lead to an ever deepening understanding of who you are and who you have chosen to be, in the universal plan of God. May the conviction that you are the continuation of the Mystery of the Incarnation, lead you to a life filled with the Advent gifts of Peace, Joy and Love.

Retirement continues and I am learning to enjoy it more and more. It is tough work, but that kind of "tough work" I am very willing to take on. I had another long trip this summer. The highlight was the 28 days I was privileged to spend at Dolly's cabin. Just before vacation began, I had to be part of a very sad and difficult goodbye to Dolly. It was a whole different feeling being at the cabin this year. I have now been able to spend an astounding 75 days in yellowstone over the last three years. These days are awe-full and wonder-full. I have about 1,000 photos to process from my trip. The vast majority are from Yellowstone.

I was hiking on the Howard Easton trail all by my lonesome. The thought came to me this really could be bear territory. With that, from a very close proximity there was the rustle of branches. When I looked in the direction of the noise, I saw a black bear taking off at great speed. I was later told a black bear can hit between 35-40 miles an hour. I am so glad he took off in the opposite direction from whwere I was intending to go. I now have a deeper respect for that animal. It was so exhilarating to be able to witness such speed. T?he next morning I was lucky to see a huge grizzly. He was about a quarter of a mile away. I have him/her in my camera. I have had the priviliege of seeing 10 bears in the wild. Five blacks and five grizzlies. I also had a very challenging episode at 8,000 feet, ;lus with driving rain, hailstones, heavy wind, thunder and lightening. I was able to get two blogs out of that encounter with Mother Nature. You can read about that in the blog. Some of you have read of that adventure, so I will not bore you.

Then it was brought home to me, Joe you are getting old. I began to be in real pain from my arthritis. Also, a spot on my face began to hurt as well. That spot has caused a lot of trouble over these many years. The end result was I had a shorter vacation. I was glad to get back to the warmth of Arizona. Since I ahve returned the arthritic pain has gotten go much better. I recently had surgery on the troublesome spot. It was cancerous, so it was a good move to return early. It took 21 stitches to close the wound. I am looking more and more like a Raiders fan. (They are looking pretty good this year.) Life is continuing and I am still helping out wherever there is a need.

I came across the following on the internet. I have used it on weekends, and I am thinking it would be a great gift for you, as individuals, as couples, as families, as you conintue your journey to your God, and with your God. It is called "the Advent Virus
, and has been penned by that well known author, Anonymous. My prayer for you is that you will be infected and affected by this virus and the effects last with you long after the AdventChristmas/Epiphany season has passed into memory. The following are some of the signs and symptoms of this wonder-full virus to be infected with and infected by.

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
A loss of interest in judging others.
A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
A loss of interest in conflict.
A loss of ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
Frequent, overwhelming episodes of gratitude.
Contented feelings, connectedness with others and nature.
Frequent attacks of smiling.
An increasing tendency to let things happen, rather than make them happen.
A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fear based on past experience.
An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others
as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

There is that wish expressed in song, would that every day be Christmas Day. Well let us all join in a great conspiracy to nourish the above virus. It will be then that the non-believers will be led to the belief. Yes, God did come and true to His promise, He is still with us. yes, He is as He said, Immanuel.

The Blessings of The Christ Child be on your and yours,
Fr. Joe (aka Papa J.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mary and Elizabeth.....Part 2

This week we all woke up to some serious fog. One would think we lived by the ocean, where morning fog is the norm. When one drives in coastal fog one goes in and out of fog banks. When you are in the fog you feel like you will never see sunlight again. Then you enter the sunlight and are under the false impression on will never be in the fog again!!! Wrong. The coastal drive is all about entering the fog, leaving the fog, and entering the fog again, again, and again. That is exactly the way our faith journey is. It is that way for all. It takes honesty to admit it. We admire strong people of faith who were able to meet the challenge of being faithful. That is all that we can have, is the desire to be faithful. What follows is the way we are called to live out our personal faith journey. Each journey is unique, one of a kind. We can never, and I repeat never compare our faith journey with anybody else's. To want another's journey is, the denial of one’s own uniqueness. Yes!! It is hard work to cooperate with God's grace and so come to one’s own unique understanding of the relationship between one self and the power outside of ourselves on which we know we are dependent. That is the essence and the foundation of ALL religion. In Mary and Elizabeth we have two real giants in the realm of faith.

Last week we left off with the arrival of Mary at the home of Elizabeth. Mary must have had to shout a greeting, as she was not expected, "Shalom, Elizabeth are you at home? It is me Mary". Then we have the reaction of Elizabeth. She explodes with joy and happiness. Both she and her unborn son are graced. First, John in the womb, and through him Elizabeth. She, through the power of the Spirit is able to recognize Mary, for who she is, the mother of the coming Savior. The lives of their sons will be interlocked. What John will go through, so will Jesus. Elizabeth's spirit filled greeting loosed within Mary the reality of her truth. Elizabeth was the instrument through which God's grace was channeled to Mary, resulting in her ability to vocalize her reality. From that grace filled encounter we have the awe-full prayer of Mary, also called The Magnificat. It is the prayer of the humble servant, who recognizes her greatness as the result of, the present mercy of her God. She reiterates God's past Goodness to His chosen people and what was the result of His faithfulness. She sings a song warning of God's justice. A theme her Son was to echo when He described what His Ministry was to be about, "I have come to preach good news to the poor proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed." So much of Mary's faith had of necessity be passed on the Jesus. The apple does not fall too far from the tree.

This Season of Advent reveals within us anew Mary and Elizabeth. Who have you identified as your Elizabeth? The one that recognizes you as the present day carrier of the Christ? Who have you been Elizabeth to? Who have you encouraged to be faithful to the call of making the Incarnation a deeper reality in a very hostile world? Where is the suffering in your life, where Christ is hidden in the pain so as to reveal to you a new creation. A reality never planned of expected, but now a reality. We are brought to an ever newer understanding of those words, "With God all things are possible...". Where do you see and reverence the Mary within you, be you man or woman? Women have such a head start in the understanding of this birthing process. We men, have to suffer deeper and longer, before we come to the point of realizing and accepting both Mary and Elizabeth within.
What is your personal Magnificat? What is your song of joy, not happiness, springing from the realization of the constant Presence of a merciful God whose presence has not been recognized but in this Advent has broken through the fog? What are the WOW moments that forces a song of joy and thanksgiving, just like Mary? Are you going stop have an individual song, a couples song, or the song of a family? What a wonder-full Christmas tradition this would be? Now what a great treasure would be in the making, if all the "Magnificat" spoken were written down and passed on from generation to generation. What a store house of Good News would be part and parcel of your family. How are you going to pass on the story of today's Mary and Elizabeth as it is experienced in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones? As Mary and Elizabeth were graced and blessed, so you are graced and blessed by the same Source. There was not one grace for Mary, Elizabeth, John, and Jesus, and a lesser one for you and I! We are somehow all one and that makes us all one, in His love.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Two Strong Women....(part one)

Mary, is very much an Advent person. Within these last few days we have had the celebration of The Immaculate Conception, and the feast of Our lady of Guadalupe. As we reflect on the scriptures, Mary was not alone in her "patient expectation" as she awaited the birth of her Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus, who was to become The Christ of God. She had the companionship of another strong woman, her cousin Elizabeth. When we are confused, and stressed, we always need to have the wisdom of the ages available to us. So it was, with Mary. She had Elizabeth, and the latter recognizes the person who blessed her with her presence. With the presence of Mary came another Presence.

Mary and Elizabeth, so different and yet so many wonder-full similarities. Both strong women, and individuals of deep, deep faith. One, Mary, the teenager, the other, Elizabeth, a woman of many years. She is many years beyond her child bearing years. Yet, miracles of miracles, she finds herself pregnant. What were those many years like when she had to suffer the agony and the shame of being childless? In the culture of her time she lived out her life in disgrace, because God did not grace her with the vocation of motherhood. She had the desire, and nothing, until now. Mary, who was she? A young woman betrothed to, but not as yet living with, her intended. She was preparing to be married, but was not preparing, to be a mother. That would would come, with God's blessing, at some future time, but not right now. For Mary, the future became a reality, right now. Her pregnancy was not the result of her and Joseph’s plans. Her pregnancy was the result of the plans, of the Ultimate Planner, God. Yet, The Planner, The Almighty God, had to wait for Mary's "YES". What conflict Mary must have been in. Here she was still a virgin and is being asked to say, yes, to a child. What was Joseph going to think? How was this going to work out with family and friends? What if Joseph's family wanted their money back? The questions must have been many for that conflicted teen. She was invited to say yes to something that made no sense to her. Yet from the depths of who she really was, the chosen one, the gifted one, the graced one from all of eternity, she was able to muster what is now know as the ,"FIAT of Mary";

“I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to His will.” ~ Mary said not my will but your will be done!

So the long and difficult journey began. A journey that would take her to Bethlehem, on to Egypt, and on to Nazareth. Mary was promised that her Child would have the throne of David, what were her thoughts as she stood by the throne, of the cross? Her son was not crowned with a crown of gold, his crown was a crown of thorns? I like to ask this question, "Was Mary the most deceived woman in the scriptures?” Dispirited, disillusioned/ Not Mary. We see how strong in faith she was as she was in that room, with the other followers of her son, when The Spirit Of that same Son descended, "and the world was turned upside right". She was present when a new birthing of her Son took place. The physical body she gave birth to was now to have a Mystical presence.

So we have two strong women, chosen and blessed. One seeks out the other, and they meet. What an explosion resulted from that encounter. An encounter happens when those involved in the event look beyond the obvious, and come to see, and own the deeper reality. From that spiritual explosion was released blessings that have filtered down to you and I, these many centuries later. Gifts that must not be taken for granted. When taken for granted, leaves us empty, disheartened, and disillusioned with life. Gifts when reflected on, under the guidance of The Holy Spirit in prayer, adds vim, vigor, and vitality, to our lives. Our liturgical celebrations then take on a new meaning, leading to the deeper living of a life of peace, joy, and love. We then have Advent time, all the time.

Next week we will take a look, and a listen to the words and actions of Mary and Elizabeth. In the mean time take some time to reflect on these questions;

* Mary is present within me, each and every day.*
~ Where do I encounter her?
~ Who is Elizabeth for me right now?
~ Who do I choose to be Elizabeth to?

Reflect on the following, as individuals, as couples and as families.
“I, (we) will sing a new song. As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth in my life. My mind, and my spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God. How wiIl love, the old familiarity of the wearied melody, shrink from the harsh discords of new untried harmonies. Teach me, my Father, that I might learn the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, the fresh new accent, the untried melody, to meet the need of the untried tomorrow.” ( Howard Thurman, "Meditations of the Heart" )

Where will you allow that to take you to? Mary, and Elizabeth gave voice, what words do they speak to and through you, right now?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A virus to desire......or avoid?

As I enjoyed my cereal this morning, I read the following in the daily paper; “The well of Providence is deep. It's the buckets we bring to it that are small.” So wrote a Scottish religious leader, at the turn of the last century. I would like to suggest, it is not about just the size of the bucket, it also depends on the condition of the bucket. If I want the bucket of my soul to be filled up, I must make sure there is no garbage taking up the space, we are inviting our Gracious God to fill up. Our spiritual garbage has been described in the following manner;
G..greed, and
Being spiritual beings on a human journey, we are very much aware of the garbage we encounter in the daily living of our lives. We must not allow that garbage to detract from the wonder, and the mystery of who we are and the dignity that is ours, as the result of our God's plan for us. We must continue to allow God to fine tune the lens of our faith so we become more and more enlightened. We must actively invite our God to awaken in us the real depth His love for us, and to the life He has called us to live. Advent is a time we are given to re-orientate ourselves so we will become more available. Advent is an opportunity to stop, yes!! STOP, and reevaluate what is the real in depth meaning of this precious time, and season. One person has written, "Christmas renews our youth by stirring our wonder. The capacity for wonder has been called our most pregnant human faculty, for in it are born our art, science, and religion."

We pray then, for a greater sense of wonder so we can ,again and again, be lost in the awe-full mystery of our God, a God who left His lofty Heavenly Home, and throne, to come and make His dwelling place, our dwelling place. Yes, our God left His power and majesty behind. He deliberately emptied Him. He came in emptiness, so the bucket of His soul could be filled up with the powerlessness of our humanity. He who has all power, came to us in the vulnerability of a little newborn baby. We wonder and wonder and never exhaust the mystery. Each and every Christmas we are led into the wonder-fullness of the Bethlehem event that took place so many years ago, yet happens again and again, ever new, in the Bethlehem of our souls.

So the can this season of Advent be seen as a time of emptying out, rather than of gathering up? How do we empty ourselves, so as to be ready to receive the fullness of Him who came to model in His life, what we are in the hope to imitate in ours. His life, is our life today, so that where we are, He is. His Incarnation continues on in the life you and I live, today. What an awe-full dignity and responsibility has been bestowed on you and I. We are not in this alone. Anything our God asks of us, that which is necessary to accomplish the task, is already within us. We, in fits and spurts, do some of the things necessary for others to believe that the Incarnation has happened. During this time and season, we are more actively being who we have been called to be. This results in what has been described as “The Advent Virus”. Here are the signs that will indicate to you whether you too have been infected by this virus, or may have encountered this wonder-full 'contamination'. That is in the eyes of those who will not see.

Some signs and symptoms of....

The Advent Virus

A loss of interest in judging other people.
An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fear based on past experiences
A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others. A loss of interest in conflict.
A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation. Frequent attacks of smiling.
Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

This virus is the exact recipe we need to empty our buckets, as we draw near to our God, so as to receive His blessings. For those who may want to go further, how about that great prayer of St Francis. "Lord make me an instrument of your peace........”.
That well know author, Anonymous, has penned the following, “It is easy to think Christmas, and easy to believe Christmas, but it is hard to act Christmas”.