Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holy Mary, Mother of God - 1 January

On January 1st, the Church celebrates Mary under the title "Mother of God." This title is the English translation of the Greek term Θεοτόκος [Theotokos]. 

copy of Mary with Child, 
Frondenberg Altar, c. 1400
gift from our Sister Parish in Germany
Click image for details
Here is an article by Laura Bertone from the 21 December 2012 edition of Catholic San Francisco explaining this ancient solemnity of Mary:
January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, one of the oldest feasts in the liturgical calendar and is a holy day of obligation for Catholics ...
Catholics are required to attend Mass on Jan. 1 and the liturgy will celebrate Mary’s role as the mother of God. The day is also World Day for Peace in the Catholic Church.
A celebration commemorating Mary as the mother of God has been on the Catholic Church calendar for more than 1,500 years and is the oldest feast for Mary – celebrated long before feasts such as the Immaculate Conception or Assumption became part of the liturgical year. The feast began to be celebrated following the debates concerning Christ’s divinity. Once the church decreed that Christ was fully God and fully human, and these natures were united in Jesus Christ, Mary’s role as the “theotokos” (God-bearer) as well as the human mother of God, was confirmed and celebrated.

Day devoted to Mary and peace  Around the 16th century, the feast of Mary on Jan. 1 was replaced in the Roman Church with the feast of the circumcision of Christ. Like all Jews, eight days after his birth Jesus underwent circumcision, marking him as a member of the people of God and part of the covenant between God and Abraham. On that day he also would have been named. However, in 1974 after the Second Vatican Council and the reformation of the liturgical calendar, Jan. 1 once again became the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and was declared World Day of Peace by Pope Paul VI. 
“The purpose of the celebration is to honor the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation and at the same time to sing the praises of the unique dignity thus coming to “the Holy Mother...through whom we have been given the gift of the Author of life,” said Pope Paul VI (“Marialis Cultus,” Feb. 2, 1974, No. 5). “This same solemnity also offers an excellent opportunity to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace, as we once again hear the good tidings of great joy and pray to God, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, for the priceless gift of peace.”
The solemnity falls on New Year’s Day because it is the octave of Christmas and the church celebrates the maternity of Mary eight days after celebrating the birth of Jesus.
In this country, as decided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jan. 1 is a holy day of obligation. When Jan. 1 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday, the solemnity is celebrated on the Sunday. ...
Bertone is interim director of worship for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
From December 21, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.
On icons, it is customary to label those who appear. Mary is almost always labelled as Maria Theotokos. This Russian icon below (modern style Kazanskaya Bogomater) is a typical example. 
Here you see MP on the left side top, and Θς on the right side top. Maria Theotokos - Mary, Mother of God.

No one captures the uniqueness of Mary, the Mother of God, more eloquently than Blessed John Henry Newman when he wrote to an Anglican friend. After a brief pertinent quote from the Council of Ephesus, allow me to quote Bl. Newman at some length:

If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, “The Word was made flesh”] let him be anathema.
                                                                                     -The Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431

It is then an integral portion of the Faith fixed by Ecumenical Council, a portion of it which you hold as well as I, that the Blessed Virgin is Theotocos, Deipara, or Mother of God; and this word, when thus used, carries with it no admixture of rhetoric, no taint of extravagant affection,—it has nothing else but a well-weighed, grave, dogmatic sense, which corresponds and is adequate to its sound. It intends to express that God is her Son, as truly as any one of us is the son of his own mother.

If this be so, what can be said of any creature whatever, which may not be said of her? what can be said too much, so that it does not compromise the attributes of the Creator? He indeed might have created a being more perfect, more admirable, than she is; He might have endued that being, so created, with a richer grant of grace, of power, of blessedness: but in one respect she surpasses all even possible creations, viz., that she is Mother of her Creator. It is this awful title, which both illustrates and connects together the two prerogatives of Mary, on which I have been lately enlarging, her sanctity and her greatness. It is the issue of her sanctity; it is the origin of her greatness.

What dignity can be too great to attribute to her who is as closely bound up, as intimately one, with the Eternal Word, as a mother is with a son? What outfit of sanctity, what fulness and redundance of grace, what exuberance of merits must have been hers, when once we admit the supposition, which the Fathers justify, that her Maker really did regard those merits, and take them into account, when He condescended "not to abhor the Virgin's womb"?

Is it surprising then that on the one hand she should be immaculate in her Conception? or on the other that she should be honoured with an Assumption, and exalted as a queen with a crown of twelve stars, with the rulers of day and night to do her service? Men sometimes wonder that we call her Mother of life, of mercy, of salvation; what are all these titles compared to that one name, Mother of God?
-Bl. John Henry Newman

Here are some recommended Marian practices for the new year; details can easily be found on-line:

1. Read and meditate on the Biblical passages mentioning Mary. Look for the Bible on the US Catholic Bishops' website ( then search for "Mary" in Matthew, Mark and Luke and for "woman" in John's Gospel.

2. Get in the habit of praying the Angelus. It is prayed when the church bells ring; the Regina Coeli is used in Easter time.  Pope Paul VI reminded the Church to return to this Incarnational prayer.

3. Sing or recite the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos. The Akathist Hymn is a long, Byzantine collection of praises to Mary.  It is often prayed during Lent by Byzantine Rite Catholics and by our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Faith. The Akathist Hymn might be a good thing to do on Saturdays, since this day is dedicated to Mary in Roman Catholic tradition.

4. Display an icon or statue of Mary in your home and workplace. Say a short prayer when you pass by.

5. Check out a book about Mary from the parish library.

6. Pray the Rosary with particular attention to the Mysteries. Once in a while, offer the Rosary for a big issue like an end to war, an end to abortion, or for peace between Christians and Muslims. (interestingly, Mary is mentioned in the Qur'an more often than in the Bible, and many Muslims honor her too. nb: Christians do not accept all that is written in the Qur'an about her.)  Expand your view of Mary's intercessory role so that it is not always just a personal favor from Mary, but one that recognizes her immense role in Salvation History.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parish Playground - help needed

Have you been to our playground lately?

A group of parents from the parish and school have been studying what we can do about our current playground. The mulch has turned to mud. Weeds are growing. The fence is broken. Several pieces of equipment have been vandalized.

The recommendation after several meetings is that the playground and the surface need to be replaced. The committee has contacted 5 designers for ideas.Their proposals are due back to the committee by January 2, 2012.

A letter has been send to foundations and nonprofit organizations asking for ideas for funding. The committee needs your help:

Do you know of any sources of funding for playgrounds? The committee is looking at grants from Pepsi, Lowes, Coca Cola and other companies as well as foundations.

Do you know of any companies that might donate their services or equipment to build the playground?

Can you help? We would like the creation of this fitness & play area to be a total parish and community effort.

Would you like to be part of the committee?
Email the committee at

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

March for Life 2012

March for Life Pilgrimage - January 22-23, 2012



update - Dear Marchers, If you made your reservation at the Washington Plaza Hotel and are traveling on the bus with us please make sure that you submit your bus reservation. Let us (the Diocesan Office) know if you are traveling by bus, plane, or driving.  Buses are filling up, make sure that you have submitted your reservation. Have a nice weekend and God bless, Miriam

St. Benedict's Parishioners - if you made arrangements to attend on your own, please let us know. Some reimbursements are available through our Respect Life Ministry. Save your proof of payment. or call 716.834-1041.

The March for Life Pilgrimage
Monday, January 23, 2012
Buses depart on Sunday, January 22, 2012
Guest Speaker:  Christina King   BROCHURE

Now accepting reservations! 

Join the Office of Pro-Life Activities from the Buffalo Diocese and hundreds of Catholics, as well as all people of good will, who will gather together to pray and publicly intercede on behalf of the unborn, their parents, families, our communities, our nation and its leaders. We hope that this prayerful presence may open hearts, minds, souls to the fullness of the Gospel of Life in our lives and laws, healing the wounds of abortion.  Seminarians, religious, and youth all seek sponsorships to attend this event and need your support. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thank you Tom and Maureen!

St. Benedict's Parish is extremely grateful for all the hard work Tom and Maureen Kerr have been doing to get our new website up and running. It was truly an amazing feat to have it ready for the rush of Christmas website searches! Many parishioners may not realize that our new website received well over 150,000 hits in just the first three weeks of December alone. 

Tom engaging our Faith Formation students,
encouraging their participation
in our technological endeavors.
The website looks fantastic - clearly organized, easy to use, and cleanly arranged. The homepage is continually updated with new information.  This is now an ongoing project that demands countless hours of behind-the-scenes work. The new content management system (CMS) allows the parish to rapidly update our website and to extend this ministry to ever-larger groups. Tom is great about increasing participation at every step of the way. You will notice, for example, that our 11th graders in the Faith Formation program have already added their contribution to the homepage and we have been up only a couple of weeks!  There will be much more of this collaborative input coming soon. Video and audio in-house productions, live recordings of Masses and/or homilies, faith testimonies and much more will be appearing in the course of the year.

In addition, Tom wrote the $15,000 grant that the parish recently received from The Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. He shepherded us through the exhaustive grant process. This grant award will be used to "foster spiritual growth with adults, families, children, youth, young adults, and the entire community. We hope to revitalize and mobilize our parish by connecting, welcoming and engaging spiritual seekers... By more effectively utilizing digital technologies we will enhance our parish's outreach and engagement efforts." Maureen handles the substantial grant documentation as we proceed.

We will be seeing much more of Tom and Maureen's work in the weeks and months ahead. Please check the parish website often

There is no doubt that their forward thinking and technological abilities will bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God. In fact, they already have!  Tom and Maureen have already made St. Benedict's a leader in integrated technology in the service of evangelization.

Thank you both!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


       This is the rare year in which an entire week falls between the last Sunday of Advent and Christmas. With this gift of time, we can celebrate the seven verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  These verses are in fact the antiphons of the Magnificat which are sung by religious communities at evensong on each of the seven nights before Christmas Eve. Each one uses an image from the prophecies of Isaiah or Micah. They pose a mandala for meditation: how is God with us?  David wanted to build a house for God, whose presence is limitless and yet who came to house in Mary’s body. Such is the unfolding mystery expounded by Paul to the Romans, and expanded in the songs “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Breath of Heaven.” The Renaissance hymn “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” refers to another image from Isaiah (35: 1).
       I first heard the hymn “Gabriel’s Message” in a multi-track recording by Sting in the first A Very Special Christmas album (with the gold-stamped figure by Keith Haring). He sang the Basque melody (from southeast Spain) in a classic arrangement by Sir David Willcocks which is often sung during the service of Lessons and Carols during Advent. Today’s responsorial Psalm 89, with its references to David and the Messiah, is also appointed to be sung on Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Masses 2011

Christmas Masses
St. Benedict's Church
Main Street & Eggert Road
Amherst NY

Christmas Eve Vigil Mass (services)*
4:00 p.m. Mass (preceded by a children's pageant at 3:45 p.m.)
8:00 pm Mass
12:00 Midnight Mass

Christmas Day Mass  (services)*
10:00 a.m. Mass
11:30 a.m. Mass

*FYI - the most important form of Catholic worship is called the Mass.  This is a celebration of the Word becoming flesh for us. It is a single act of worship comprised of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Other Christians will sometimes use the word "service" or "services."  For Catholics, however, "service" is a general term for religious activity other than Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, or the sacraments.

Directions and more information available on our website -

O Emmanuel - Vespers Antiphon 23 December

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the long awaited hope of the nations, Savior of all people; O come, our Lord and God, set free the people whom you love.

Isaiah 7:14

Thursday, December 22, 2011

O King - Vespers Antiphon 22 December

O King of all nations, the desired One of their hearts, the cornerstone that joins in one the peoples sin had kept apart. O come, and save man whom you formed from earth and dust.

Isaiah 9:6
Isaiah 2:4
Isaiah 28:16

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Daystar - Vespers Antiphon 21 December

note - this antiphon is sung
on the "darkest" day of the year
in the Northern Hemisphere.
O Daystar, (O Oriens) splendor of eternal light and Sun of Justice, O come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah 9:2
Isaiah 60:1-2
Malachi 4:2
Micah 3:20

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Key of David - Vespers Antiphon 20 December

O Key of David and Power of the house of Israel, what you unlock, no man can close, for you alone can bind fast. Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah 22:22
Isaiah 9:7
Isaiah 42:7

Monday, December 19, 2011

Parish Nativity Scene

Our new Outdoor Nativity Scene is now up!  It is located on Main Street between the church and the school. It looks beautiful!

A special thanks to all our donors for their generosity.  Our gratitude also to those who built the stable so quickly and so well!

Stop by and say a prayer to the Holy Family.  The Nativity Scene will remain up throughout the Christmas Season (January 9th is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the end of the Christmas Season). For more details on the basics of Christmas, see

Infant Jesus

The Blessed Virgin Mary

St. Joseph

The Magi

A couple of lambs.

O Root of Jesse - Vespers Antiphon 19 December

O Root of Jesse, sign of peace, before whom all nations stand in awe: kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. O come, and set us free; delay no longer in your love.

Isaiah 11:1
Isaiah 11:10
Micah 5:2
Isaiah 45:14
Isaiah 52:15

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Consecrated Church - crosses & candles

Ever wonder what the twelve candles on the interior walls of our church are all about?  Well, they are on our mind too because we decorated them today and will light them at Midnight Mass on Christmas.

The twelve candles are really there to shed light on the crosses behind them. 

Those crosses signify that St. Benedict's is a consecrated church. Consecration differs from mere blessing in this, that it imprints an indelible mark on the building by reason of which it may never be transferred to common or profane uses.  St. Benedict's church was consecrated on November 11, 1970 by Bishop James A. McNulty.

The ordinary minister of consecration is the diocesan bishop. ... To consecrate a church licitly it is necessary to consecrate a fixed altar in the same church, which altar ordinarily ought to be the main one (Cong. Sac. Rit., 19 Sept., 1665). ... The essence of the consecration of a church consists in the anointing of the twelve crosses on the inner walls with the form: "Sancificetur et consecretur hoc templum", etc. ... On the walls inside the church twelve crosses must be painted, or (if they are made of stone or metal) attached to the walls. These crosses are not to be of wood or of any fragile material. They must never be removed (Cong. Sac. Rit., 18 February, 1696), and documents failing, they serve to prove that the church has been consecrated. Under each cross a bracket holding a candle is affixed.

O Lord - - Vespers Antiphon 18 December

O Lord and Giver of the Law on Sinai, the Leader of your chosen people Israel, appearing in the burning bush, revealed to Moses face to face, O come, stretch out your mighty arms to set us free.

Isaiah 11:45
Isaiah 33:32
Exodus 3:2
Exodus 24:12

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Wisdom - Vespers Antiphon 17 December

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God's mouth, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come, and teach us all the ways that lead to life.

Isaiah 11:2-3
Isaiah 28:29
Sirach 24:3
Wisdom 8:1

Friday, December 16, 2011

The O Antiphons - an introduction

Today we begin our Advent reflections on the "O Antiphons" or "Great Antiphons."  These are the beautiful, biblically-based acclamations that cry out for the coming of the Messiah in late Advent. 

Catholics sing one of the "O Antiphons" at Evening Prayer (Vespers) from the 17th of December through the 23rd. Keeping this tradition in the digital age, we will post the O Antiphon for each of these days to help you pray for the coming of Christ and join us in this ancient Catholic tradition.  The Antiphon in English, its main Biblical sources, and a video of the Latin chant comprise each blog post.

Today we simply provide the historical background on the Antiphons.

The exact origin of the "O Antiphons" is not known. Boethius (480–524/5) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time.

At the Benedictine Saint Benedict Abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community.

By the eighth century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the "O Antiphons" was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the "O Antiphons" have been part of Western liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one—Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come". Therefore Jesus, whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and whom they have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to them: "Tomorrow, I will come." So the "O Antiphons" not only bring intensity to their Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.
 - Wikipedia, Saunders, William, What are the "O Antiphons"?,, retrieved 30 November 2009.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Catholics "Recovering Faith" - interview

Lorene Hanley Duquin, wife of our parish Business Manager Dick Duquin, is a well-known author on Catholic topics, particularly evangelization. She writes for OSV - Our Sunday Visitor.

Here she is interviewed on FOX News about her recent book "Recovering Faith: Stories of Catholics Who Came Home."  OSV, 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Wafers - Oplatki

This weekend many of our parishioners received their OPLATKI in the back of our church. One wafer is called OPLATEK; more than one wafer, OPLATKI.  [The "L" is pronounced like a "W."]  We invite all parishioners and visitors to partake of this ancient Christmas tradition even if your family is not of Slavic heritage.

Here is a brief explanation of the Oplatki tradition...

For centuries on Christmas Eve, families in Poland, Lithuania, the Czech and [Slovak] Republics have practiced a beautiful tradition. It is the breaking and sharing of the Oplatek - Christmas Wafer.

Oplatek, taken from the Latin word oblatum, meaning Sacred Bread, has been the symbol of Christianity and Jesus Christ our bread of life since the Last Supper.

On [Christmas Eve] a festive 12 course meatless dinner is prepared for the gathered family and friends. An extra setting is placed for a beggar (our Lord) who may come to the door, or a poor family (the Holy Family) looking for a place to stay. The host or hostess leads in a special prayer and distributes an oplatek to the participants. Each person breaks off a piece of the other’s oplatek and continues until they have exchanged good wishes and blessings with everyone.

Traditionally at midnight the head of the household takes the pink oplatek and shares it with the animals on his farm or at his home. This custom brings us back to that Holy Night when even animals were able to speak, and to remind us that we are all God’s creatures.

[source - Church Supply Warehouse, ]

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas basics

Here is a list of some of the basic words, images, facts, and practices of Advent and Christmas.

*the word "Christmas" is a combination of two words "Christ" and "Mass."

*the word "Nativity" is often used at this time of year.  It means "birth" and refers to the Birth of Jesus.

*the word "incarnation" is used to describe the fundamental Christian belief that the Son of God (the second Person of the Trinity) became a man. John's Gospel begins with a beautiful prologue that tells us that "the Word became flesh."

*Advent is the preparation period before Christmas.  We prepare for the coming of Jesus 1) in time, 2) at the end of time, and 3) into our hearts here and now.

*the four Sundays of Advent are marked by an Advent Wreath.  It is common in the United States to have three purple candles and one pink candle.  The pink candle is lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. The 3rd Sunday of Advent is sometimes called Gaudete Sunday which means "rejoice" Sunday.

*Jesus (a form of the name Joshua) means "savior."

*Messiah is a Hebrew title meaning "anointed one."  The Greek title for "anointed one" is CHRIST.  It is NOT Jesus' last name.

*a commonly used title for Jesus during Advent is "emmanuel."  This means God-with-us in Hebrew.

*the stories about the birth of Jesus are found in two Gospels - Matthew and Luke. These are sometimes called the "infancy narratives." We encourage you to read the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two chapters of Luke.

*in ancient Nativity icons, like the one above, Mary is often shown with three stars on her clothing (her two shoulders and her head). These stars symbolize her perpetual virginity. She was, by God's grace, a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus.

*the Eucharist figures in the stories of Jesus' birth.  He was born in Bethlehem which means "house of bread;" He was placed in a manger which is the feeding place for cattle.  He is our Bread of Life.

*a 14 point silver star now marks the spot where Jesus was believed to have been born.  It is in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The number 14 is "David's number."  That is why 14 is mentioned so often in the beginning of Matthew's Gospel.

*the swaddling clothes of Jesus at the beginning of His earthly life are meant to prefigure His burial garments at the end of His earthly life.

*the Bible never says how many Magi visited Jesus and Mary. Traditionally, since three gifts are mentioned in Matthew's Gospel, three Magi are shown in art. They were later given the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Catholics will sometimes mark their doorways on the Feast of the Epiphany (when the visit of the Magi is celebrated) with the year and the Magi initials.  Here's an example:  20+C+M+B+15.

*Although the Feast of the Epiphany is now celebrated on a Sunday in the Christmas Season, formerly it was fixed on 6 January.  From Christmas to Epiphany was called the "Twelve Days of Christmas."

*the Gospels do not call the Magi "kings."  The notion of calling them "kings" comes from Psalm 72:10.

*gold symbolizes the kingship of Jesus, frankincense symbolizes the divinity of Jesus, and myrrh symbolizes the death of Jesus.

*to show that the Magi represent all people coming to Christ, artists and creche figurines often show the Magi as men of different races. Another way of showing this "universality" is to show one magus with a long beard (old), one with a short beard (middle aged) and one without a beard (young).

Children's Pageant at St. Benedict's
Christmas Eve, 2014
*since the time of St. Francis of Assisi, we often combine the two Gospel stories (Matthew and Luke) into a creche scene.  Sometimes these creche scenes are live ("Living Nativity Scenes"), with children playing the roles of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, etc.  Note, for example, that only Luke's Gospel mentions shepherds and only Matthew's Gospel mentions the Magi.

*often, many types of animals are included in creche scenes; however, two animals are symbolically important and should never be absent from a creche scene - the ox and the donkey.  They are included because of a prophetic verse in the Book of Isaiah (1:3): The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

*the Christmas Season ends at the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Every year, the challenge of the third Sunday of Advent is to rejoice. Such is the exhortation of today’s entrance antiphon, which we sing as a traditional round, and of the letter to the Thessalonians. As in last week’s scripture, joy springs from a commitment to justice: lifting up the poor, healing the depressed, liberating hostages, ministering to the imprisoned, assuring all that God has not abandoned them. We might even sum it all up as “making spirits bright,” but for the fact that that phrase has been co-opted for commercial ends. All of this arises from a hearty sense of joy in God, rejoicing that runs deep in the soul. Today’s psalm, the Magnificat, applies as much to the mission of John the Baptist as to Mary, and the same is true of the passage from Isaiah. His picture of one “clothed in a robe of salvation, wrapped in a mantle of justice, adorned . . . , bedecked . . .,” evokes the image of Mary as she appeared at Guadalupe, and we celebrate that feast on Monday. We will sing the blue-sheet “Song to Our lady of Guadalupe” as we did for the holy day last week. Also repeated will be “Canticle of the Turning,” based on the Magnificat, and at 10:00 “Days of Elijah,” with its references to today’s gospel. And again, we go out of church to the Baptist’s cry, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”
       The deep joy described by Paul and Isaiah stand in counterpoint to the frenetic partying and compulsive shopping that sneak up on us in the run-up to Christmas. Real joy requires us to slow down ands take the time to be in touch with what see and hear: the sight of a cardinal or a bluejay in the backyard. Besides prayer and thanksgiving, Paul advises us to have a keen ear for prophecy, to test everything, to discern the good from the bad. We must take care not to stifle the spirit, and that implies giving worship the time it needs, especially with our revised liturgy, not rushing through the prayers or songs, paying attention, listening closely. In contrast to the instant gratification of the commercial Christmas, Advent demands waiting, patience and time. We are given “time-outs” during this busy season, like the holy day last week, and Monday’s feast of Guadalupe. These are heaven-sent opportunities to “smell the roses” — or to “wake up and smell the coffee,” as the case may be!
       We need to appreciate what a precious gift time is. Someone attributed to Thomas Merton the saying: “Life and time are our only real possessions.” Death is no respecter of seasons. My father’s cousin was a Trappist monk at Our Lady of the Genesee Abbey. Br. Henry died on December 1, “a good day to die,” said the abbot in his eulogy. He baked Monk’s Bread, kept the bees that provided the honey, and, true to his roots, if not to Trappist spirituality, collected stuff. As Christmas approaches, some of our families will lose a loved one. The antidote to our loss, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of our joy is the bottomless generosity of our parishioners, who manage to provide the requests from two Giving Trees and bags and bags of groceries for local food pantries.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


        Isaiah evokes a God of comfort against the rugged landscape of mountains, valleys and deserts. He concludes with the comforting image of a shepherd.  John the Baptist, on the other hand, brings not tidings of comfort and joy, but of reform.  Matthew and Luke recount his stern upbraiding of those who came to seek baptism from him. Comfort and conversion are the two sides of the religion coin. In his epistle, Peter preaches a fire-and-brimstone sermon with the world turned upside down, presaging a “new heavens and new earth . . . where the justice of God will reside.” Such is the theme of “Canticle of the Turning,” our offertory hymn, which is patterned after the Magnificat, next week’s psalm response.  Justice is very much the Advent theme this year, personified in John the Baptist and in Mary.
       We enter and leave worship with John’s mantra, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” in James Moore’s setting, with verses from today’s Isaiah passage. The same thought is echoed in “Days of Elijah,” our 10:00 offertory, which cites some of the prophets we will hear about on our way to Christmas. Psalm 85 recalls Pope Paul VI’s dictum: “If you want peace, work for justice.” Our communion song “Like A Shepherd,” is also drawn from Isaiah.


       The feast of Christ the King is the climax of the church year, but also a bridge to Advent. The image of the shepherd-king will appear in next week’s Psalm 80, which we also sang on October 2, invoked by a people in exile whose vineyard has been destroyed. (Recall that today’s 23rd Psalm was also our response on October 9.)  We all long for leaders who will shepherd us, leading by example and healing what is not whole. The key, as we have heard for the last three weeks, is to be alert for the return of the King, for he lives and moves among us even now. The sheep have recognized the person of Christ in those dispossessed; the goats have not. As we have seen these last weeks, walls must fall to bring about the kingdom. St. Paul lays out the scenario: Christ is raised first, then those who are faithful to him; and then every earthly concept of nationality and government will crumble. Finally, when death is destroyed, God will be all in all.
      The promise of the resurrection is well-conveyed in the hymn “We Will Rise Again,” with verses drawn from Isaiah.  Resurrection is also the theme of “Soon and Very Soon.” Our communion processional again this week will be “When We Eat This Bread”, this time with verses from “Shepherd Me, O God.” The African hymn “Jesu, Jesu,” which we also sing on Holy Thursday, reminds us where we find Christ. “You Are My All In All” expands on the concluding thought of our epistle. The closing hymn at the organ Masses, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” is set to the early American hymn tune Morning Song and is a meditation on the King of kings whom we worship both in the fullness of time and in Bethlehem. At 10:00 we go out to a medley of spirituals, “Ride On, King Jesus” and “In That Great Gettin’-Up Morning.”