Advent: Giving Birth to A New You

Glenn and I have recently become hooked on the PBS series, “Call the Midwife.”  The series features midwives working in a poor but tight-knit London community in the 1960’s.  Every episode dramatizes at least one birth.

In this season of Advent, Jesus wants to help give birth to a new ME and a new YOU.  That means growing in: love, charity, (giving benefit of doubt), forgiveness, patience, honesty, generosity, etc.  I often decide how I should grow (influenced by our American ideals)….when in reality, I need to listen more to the Holy Spirit and our Blessed Mother.  And go to Confession.  There is so much healing in the sacraments!

In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the pharisee Nicodemus surreptitiously visits Jesus at night. *  He probably heard about Jesus and wanted to see for himself.  He acknowledges that Jesus must be with God because of the miracles he performs.  Jesus tells him that “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (Jn. 3:3)  He also says, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn. 3:6)   Before original sin, we were perfectly united with God.  But after the fall, we need redemption and to be born anew.

Advent (and Lent) are times set out to do this; we can grow in virtue and become ready to meet Jesus.  We remember Jesus coming as an infant and prepare for His second coming as the Just Judge.  The purple candles and vestments of the priest signify repentance.  Although on the third Sunday of Lent (Gaudete in Latin or ‘Rejoice’ Sunday), we light a pink candle on the Advent wreath and the priest wears pink vestments, signifying  JOY  that Christmas is drawing near.

In these four weeks, we’ve heard and will hear messages from the Prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist and Jesus to stay awake.  At Mass this past Sunday, Jesus said, “…stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”  (Mt. 24:42)  Listen to the beautiful poetry of Isaiah and the courage of John the Baptist.

Bishop Barron

Many of you have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s “Letter to a Suffering Church.”  Bishop Barron is writing to a Catholic Church that has been rocked by the sexual abuse scandals of some of its priests.  The morale of many Catholics (and non-Catholics) is very low.  As a life-long Catholic, Barron calls the scandal, “lacerating.”

He lays out how the framework for how it could have occurred.  He calls it a “diabolical masterpiece.”  He writes of “a ‘moral relativism,’ especially in regard to matters sexual, that came to be taken for granted in the years following the Second Vatican Council.”  He says this attitude was adopted by too many within the priesthood.  He notes that some priests and bishops looked the other way, while others lacked the courage to make corrections.

He expresses the greatest sympathy to the victim-survivors.  In his capacity as Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, he’s had people share “bitter words and tears.”  He senses both a “deep love for the Catholic Church and a practically bottomless disillusionment with it.”

I find myself praying more for the victims and their healing.  The people whom they should have been able to trust the deepest hurt them the most.  May they receive healing and peace.  At the very least, their experience is being heard and validated.

Barron notes the changes that the Church has been instituting since 2002 to prevent abuse, such as background checks, helping people to recognize the signs of sexual abuse and the reporting of offenses to the police.  He notes that there have been very few new offenses reported.

Lastly, Barron encourages people not to leave the Church.  He writes about “the treasure, which is the life of Christ available in and through the Church.”  He says that the Church speaks of God and quotes St. Augustine: “our hearts are wired for God and therefore will remain restless until they rest in God.”  Despite its many failings, he says, “The Church speaks of God, of the transcendent Mystery, of that which corresponds to the most ardent desire of the heart, of the Ultimate Reality – and this word, especially today, is like water in the desert.”

 

May you have a blessed Advent & Christmas season – all the way through the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord on Jan. 15!

* For a beautiful rendition of this, watch the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

For an Advent song that’s speaks to Glenn and me, ” Alleluia, Hurry the Lord is Near” click on this green link.

Romans 8 – The Heart of God

If you’re Roman Catholic and went to Mass today – October 30 –  you heard this incredible statement;

“All things work together for good for those who are called by God according to his purposes.”   – Romans  8:28

Acting the part of St. Paul, I have proclaimed this verse in my performance, “A Visit With St. Paul,” for over ten years.  It’s a great joy to dramatize the earthquake at Philippi, and the divine rescue of Paul and Silas from prison(Acts of the Apostles 16:16-34) .  Using dramatic license, I connect the above verse from Romans to the powerful escape that St. Luke presents in “Acts.”

Paul and Silas in prison
Paul and Silas in prison

 

I emphasize in my performance that it’s “not many things,  not most things, but all things work together for good for those who are called by God.”  Despite a severe beating and ensuing incarceration, the Holy Spirit literally set the apostles free and orchestrated the baptism of their jailer and his entire family(Acts 16:33-34).  This is not just an interesting Bible story.  To us believers in Jesus, this remarkable promise of freedom is our birthright!

If you go to Mass tomorrow, you’ll hear this proclaimed from the pulpit;

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him?”    -Romans 8:31

"...He did not spare his own Son..." -Romans 8:31
“…He did not spare his own Son…” -Romans 8:31

 

This moving passage continues until verse 8:39, and is well worth reading.  In fact, I urge you to take the time to read the entire eighth chapter of Romans, because it’s easily the heart of Paul’s great Letter to the Romans.  I’d venture to say that Chapter 8 is not only the heart of Romans, but it just may be the heart of the whole New Testament!

Throughout Romans, St. Paul teaches, exhorts, encourages, warns, reprimands, but ultimately consoles Christians with words that are the fruit of his thirty years of serving as an apostle of the Lord Jesus.  At the very beginning of the epistle, Paul describes himself as;

“… an apostle set apart for the gospel of God… the gospel about his Son… established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”   -Romans 1:3-4

Have you been set apart for the gospel of God?

If you can answer “yes,” how blessed you are!  If you aren’t sure, or simply answer “no,” then I urge you to ask the Father for the grace to ‘unwrap’ the gift of the Holy Spirit given in Baptism.  Then, you can assume an identity similar to that of the Great Apostle and receive the same promise that he received;

“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in  you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

 -Romans 8:11

"If the Spirit of thethe one who raised Christ from the dead dwells in you..."  -Rom 8:11
“If the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead dwells in you…” -Rom 8:11

 

Of course, there is more involved in walking in the footsteps of Christ.  Paul knew this better than anybody.  There is a critical need for authentic humility and ongoing repentance, for inner healing from the wounds that life inflicts, and for the grace of perseverance to “carry the cross.”  Some of this pain is a direct result of living as a Christian in a world that has become increasingly hostile to faith in Jesus. (For what Paul has to say about suffering, go to Romans 8:18).

Here is some great news;  if you take the time to read and re-read Romans 8, to ponder and to pray with this Word of God, to let its wisdom and strength seep into you (if not knock you over the head), then you’ll receive the precious gift of the Holy Spirit.  In turn, you’ll obtain the spiritual gifts that are necessary to living a life of vibrant faith and authentic love.  It is grace alone (a huge theme of Romans) that fully equips a life that is “set apart for the gospel of God.”

Let me put it another way and with less words;

If you open your heart and mind to what God wants to say to you as a beloved child of His, which is what you are, then in turn you will discover in His Word, with all its promises, nothing less than…

…the heart of God!

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