Today is the Octave of the Nativity,
the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God,
the World Day of Prayer for Peace, and New Year’s Day.
The first reading from today’s liturgy, Numbers 6: 22-27,
is a fitting prayer and blessing for all these occasions:
God said to Moses:
“Speak to Aaron and his children and tell them:
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:
God bless you and keep you!
God’s face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
God look upon you kindly
and give you peace!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them.”
A merry and blessed Christmas to all of New Ways Ministry’s friends, supporters, and blog readers!
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”
I imagine that for many of you it has been a hectic week as you make last minute preparations for Christmas. It has been that for me and for everyone I know.
Regardless of what you still might have left to do today, be sure to take a moment to reflect on the gift of peace which we celebrate on this upcoming silent night.
The gospel reading for this morning’s liturgy contains one of my favorite lines from Scripture. The reading, Luke 1: 67-79, is the Canticle of Zechariah, and ends with these words, which are worth contemplating as we spend our final day waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ:
“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
On the third Sunday of Advent, the gospel focused on John the Baptist. The people around John are confused as to his identity, and ask if he is the Messiah. John responds:
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
While we often think of Advent as a time of waiting, another less emphasized theme that runs throughout this season’s liturgies is the theme of recognition. Yes, we are waiting for the Messiah, preparing the way, but will we recognize the Messiah’s arrival when it happens?
What makes John the Baptist a great model is that he can recognize the Messiah because he knows that he is NOT the Messiah, even when others try to make him such. He knows that he is a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Messiah. John knows what his role is, and he knows that he does not have to do everything. His job is to prepare the way, and also to recognize the Messiah. Remember in the Visitation gospel that John moved in Elizabeth’s womb when the pregnant Mary arrives. He was the first to recognize the Messiah.
In the reading from Isaiah 61, we learn how to recognize the Messiah by hearing how the Messiah’s arrival is proclaimed:
“[God] has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.”
As we work for justice for LGBT people in the church and society, our job is to recognize and celebrate when God’s saving power and justice are made real in the world. While we may sometimes grow wearisome of being voices crying in the wilderness, we should remember that we are not called to save the world, but to prepare the way for the One who does the saving. Our job, like John’s, is simply to testify:
“He [John] came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which, despite popular understanding, celebrates the conception of Mary, not the conception of Jesus. Catholics celebrate that Mary’s conception, achieved through natural means, also had a supernatural dimension because from the moment of conception she was created without Original Sin. The purpose of this supernatural intervention was to create the human being who would birth the Savior.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, reminds us that the Catholic focus on Mary’s uniqueness is not to separate her from the rest of humanity, but to remind us that what God has planned for her is what God plans for ALL people: to be free to do good.
Although this feast day focuses on Mary’s, not Jesus’ conception, the Gospel reading for today’s liturgy is Luke 1: 26-38, the story of the Annunciation. We read the story of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, who announces God’s plan for the Savior’s birth and Mary’s role in it, and we see Mary responding in a way that is a model for us all: she freely decides to do good.
On a “Next Steps” weekend sponsored by New Ways Ministry a few years ago, a gay Marianist Brother offered an insightful reflection on the Annuniciation gospel. In a discussion about LGBT spirituality, this Brother observed that gay spiritual experience can be summed up in the question that Mary asks Gabriel after the news of Jesus’ birth through her, as a virgin, is announced. Her response: “How can this be?”
For this Brother, “How can this be?” is the question that almost all LGBT people of faith ask themselves as they begin to come to awareness of their identity. It is a question that reflects the surprise, wonder, and mystery that people have when they realize that God has created them in a unique and special way–the way Mary was created. It is a question that is often asked over and over through their lives, as they begin to grow and evolve into their identity.
Everyone’s sexual and gender identity is a unique mystery. Despite the scientific world’s best efforts, we still do not know what is the origin of these personality facets in our lives. For many LGBT people of faith, the answer to the question “How can this be?” is that their identity is a gift from God, similar to the way God gifted Mary with her unique calling. It is a gift to be shared with others and used to foster our own salvation, as well as the salvation of the individuals and communities to which we belong.
On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, you are invited to reflect on your own uniqueness–either as an LGBT person or someone who supports LGBT people. Consider your own answer to the question, “How can this be?” In what ways has your sexual or gender identity been a gift? Feel free to share your reflections in the comments section.
The website for WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station, has a poignant essay on the pull of Catholicism for one lesbian woman, even in the face of discrimination. You can read the entire essay here.
Catherine Smyka reminisces about the many personal and family occasions that took place in her parish church. While she laments that her wedding to her lesbian partner will not be able to take place there, she still has fond memories and a close connection and attraction:
“I know now I won’t be able to get married at St. Celestine’s. There will be many more exchanges of vows under that vaulted ceiling, but not mine—but I do have history there.
“No matter who I see on those steps or what happens in the future. No matter where I get married, or to whom…my story still started right there.”
Many people ask New Ways Ministry, “Why do LGBT people remain Catholic?” It’s a hard question to answer because the reasons are so diverse. Each person answers that question in a unique and personal way, as Catherine Smyka did in her essay.
What’s your reason? Whether you are LGBT or someone who supports them, why do you remain connected to Catholicism?
The second reading on the second Sunday of Advent was from the second letter of Peter. The reading began:
“Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)
There is great comfort in realizing this cosmic perspective. As Advent teaches us how to wait, it’s good to know that part of why waiting seems so difficult is because God’s perspective of time is very different from our own.
How is that comforting? Three ways. First, it reminds me that what I might think of as needing to be accomplished urgently and immediately may not be on the same schedule that God has. In an earlier post, I mentioned that folks involved in LGBT ministry and advocacy can instinctively resonate with the Psalmist’s cry, “How long, O God?” The line from Peter makes me remember that God’s time is different from my own.
Knowing that God has a different perspective on time is comforting in another way. When I reflect on how long it takes me to work through correcting imperfections in my life, when I think of how long it some times takes me to forgive someone, when I think of how long it can take to muster up the courage to do the right thing–at all these times, and, sadly, at many more times, too, I am glad that God’s view of time is somewhat longer than my own.
Finally, to know that “one day is like a thousand years” helps me to remember that everything that I or anyone else might do, no matter how small, is important. If in God’s eyes a day is thousand years long, that tells me that even the small acts that I do can have an effect far into the future, most likely in ways that I can’t imagine.
Does this line from Scripture resonate with you? How does your understanding of time help or hinder your ministry or your life?