Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, December 26, 2003
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOSEPH AND MEGAN: In that country, there were Rescue Heroes watching out for bad guys. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, but they weren't afraid because they were Rescue Heroes. The Angel said "Do not fear. I bring you good news. A savior is born." So the Rescue Heroes got into their fire truck and drove to see the baby Jesus and gave him presents, like a Rescue Heroes snowboard...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:25 AM
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Tuesday, December 23, 2003
THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS: My kids are getting to the age (5 and 3) where they are beginning to struggle with the “true meaning of Christmas.” While we try to surround them with the right messages at home and at school, their basic human sense of acquisitiveness is beginning to assert itself. My son wrote his first letter to Santa today, which read: “Dear Santa, I want a ninja turtle bandana mask, a sword, and a motorcycle.” While not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm, I did suggest that Santa generally did not approve of bringing weapons to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

To some extent, I wonder if the struggle over the “true meaning of Christmas” is, in fact, the true meaning of Christmas. I don’t mean our well-intentioned but often heavy-handed efforts to remind people that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I mean our broader struggle to make Christmas a celebration of what is best in us, rather than what is worst.

The lectionary readings for Advent stress the themes of deliverance, rescue, and fulfillment. God’s people dwell in slavery, in exile, and under foreign rule. Every day, we are asked to bow down to idols and to surrender to the basest of our human drives. And when we are freed from slavery, when we return from exile, when we cast out the foreigners, we quickly return to our old ways: turning away the stranger, exploiting the laborer, forgetting the suffering of the widow and orphan. If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize the truth of the judgment rendered by the Lord before the flood: “I regret that I made them.” How can we not despair of ourselves?

Christmas is an answer to that question. God does not despair of us. Rather than rejecting our flesh, God becomes it. He shows us its “true meaning.” He shows us what a human life, if fully opened to the transforming power of God’s grace, can look like. It’s a vision that confounds our expectations, a vision that demands that we change our minds, turn around, and walk in a different way. Rather than a palace, we are given a stable. Rather than a king, we are given a helpless babe. Rather than triumph, we are given the cross. This is the way we must walk if we are to find the answer to the riddle of our lives.

A few minutes ago, my son came out of his room where he is spending some “quiet time.” He was wearing a red Santa hat. He had turned his bed into a sleigh and his stuffed animals into reindeer. He had fashioned reins out of socks, a belt, and some colored pencils. No longer thinking of his own desires, he had become the Giver, traveling around the world to bring joy to others. Like all of us, he, too, struggles to find the true meaning of Christmas.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:19 PM
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O EMMANUEL: Tonight, we hear the last of the O Antiphons at Vespers. Click here for Fr. Jim's reflection from last year. Fr. Jeff doesn't have an audio posted yet, but click here to check for a post later. Thanks to both for accompanying me on the journey this year. It helped keep me sane. Here is the text from the breviary:

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:59 PM
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NO ROOM AT THE INN: Fr. Ron Rolheiser pulls out this quote from Thomas Merton about Christmas:

Into his world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, who are tortured, bombed and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:54 PM
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A CHANCE: The Tidings has a good piece about Covenant House and its efforts to help homeless teens get off the streets.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:51 PM
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WHERE'S DICKENS WHEN WE NEED HIM? Catholic Charities USA is calling for quick federal and state action to prevent over a half-a-million children from losing their health coverage.

In order to eradicate deep budget deficits, state governments are reducing the number of low-income people enrolled in public health insurance programs such as Medicaid, the States Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), or similar state-funded health programs by 1.2 million to 1.6 million, according to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:46 PM
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Monday, December 22, 2003
O REX GENTIUM: O King of Nations. Fr. Jeff Keyes has not posted an audio version yet, but says that it may be coming and there is always Fr. Jim Tucker's meditation from last year to peruse. As for myself, I spent the day taking the kids to a rehersal for the nativity play that will be presented at the 3pm Christmas mass, and then into San Francisco to see Christmas lights, so I have nothing profound to offer. But here is the text from the breviary:

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:58 PM
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Sunday, December 21, 2003
O ORIENS: The antiphon tonight is "O Oriens." Fr. Jeff Keyes returns to the Latin chant tonight. Fr. Jim Tucker reflects on it. "Oriens" can be translated a couple of different ways. The Grail translation renders it as "Radiant Dawn," as follows:

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
Fitting, perhaps, that we should pray these words on the darkest night of the year. We are not so foolish to believe that there is no darkness in the world. But a light shines in that darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. In that light we place our hopes.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:41 PM
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Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Mic 5:1-4a
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Heb 10:5-10
Lk 1:39-45

As soon as the infant John and his mother Elizabeth believed they were in the presence of the Savior, they exclaimed great praise to God. Due to the lack of details provided by Luke, we can suppose that the mother and the baby in the hill country might not have known the specifics of how the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary. They might not have known at all that Mary was coming in haste to be with them. It would have been a normal reaction for Elizabeth to exclaim her joy that Mary was with her, but her joy was exponentially greater than a normal reaction of surprise because through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth exclaimed praise to God for the gift of being in the midst of the Word made flesh.

Catholics believe in the overwhelming presence of Jesus in all things created by God. After all, Jesus is God the Son and the visible sign of the invisible creator of the universe. We believe that the subtle presence of God provides comfort for our souls and wisdom for our consciences. We believe that Jesus has called each of us by name as He called the first disciples because He wants all people to be saved through Him and in Him. We believe that Jesus manifests his presence in obvious, albeit mysterious, means; we call these sacraments. We believe that the Eucharist we are called to receive is just as much Jesus as the offering of Himself he gave during the Last Supper.

We believe that we have been called not only to be mindful of the presence of God in the universe and in our lives, but also to remain in His presence. We are called as a Church to manifest His presence for the sake of uniting people through Him and in Him. That's a basic reason why there are churches in the first place--Christians are called to show their union in Jesus. We are called to proclaim that both Jesus is with us and we are with Him.

John the Baptist might seem to be one of the wildest people presented within the Bible, but he was wild with amazement at the ways Jesus presented both Himself and His power through His earthly life. John did not take for granted at any moment that he was in the presence of God. His leaping in the womb neither was an accident nor was it a normal prenatal occurrence; his leap was the first of many profound recognitions of being in the presence of God the Son. He was excited to be with Jesus throughout his life. We need to imitate John in this way. Each and every Catholic must proclaim the greatness of the Lord in some way. We are not called simply to shout out our praise during our liturgies--our lives should reveal His presence in us, His presence in the world, and our joy for all the ways through which He manifests His presence.

I pray through the intercession of both Saint Elizabeth of the Hill Country and Saint John the Baptist that everyone who comes to this church, whether today or in the future, whether a registered parishioner or a guest, discovers with great joy that God is with us. I hope that everyone who then rejoices in being in the presence of God lives in a manner that constantly reveals the presence of God in our midst.

Fr. Shawn O'Neal is Pastoral Administrator of Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Cherokee, NC.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:34 PM
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