Saturday, 30 December 2017

Holy Family

Some may remember this feast as being celebrated during the Octave of the Epiphany. Then in the 60’s, when the liturgical calendar was revised, it was moved to the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas as we have it today.

So, what exactly is a family? By definition:

A family is most commonly understood as a group of people who are related to each other, especially parents and their children.
Sometimes when people talk about a family, they mean children. (They decided to start a family.)
Or sometimes when people talk about their family, they mean their relatives and ancestors.
Then there is that general group meanings, when we say a family of animals or plants is a group of related species and so on.

What then is the significance of the title HOLY FAMILY? Here we have a father, a mother, and a son living together as a family. What makes this family Holy is who they are, and the way they are brought together as a family – it is by God’s divine intervention; it is God who brings Joseph together with Mary as husband and wife. Mary conceives Jesus in her womb, but not by Joseph’s seed. Jesus’ Father is God, Jesus is God’s Son. Joseph will be a father to Jesus, by caring for all his needs, helping him to grow healthy and strong.

These are the mysteries of faith that have been the focus of our meditation in these recent holy days.  Today’s focus on the Holy Family helps to reinforce for us the vital role and importance the family has in God’s creative plan – his plan for the continuation of the whole human race, and his plan for the human race to ultimately be formed into one heavenly family.

Now if God has an enemy – and indeed he does, legions of enemies, then attacking the family must be priority number one for his enemies, as we see beginning with the murderous undertaking of king Herod.

The unifying bond of the family is love; husband and wife, parents and children. The family is the womb of love and the school of love wherein we learn that life itself is dependent on mutual caring, one for another. This priority of mutual caring carries over into the whole of society, making it healthy and strong.

Our generation is experiencing a toxic atmosphere for true family life; a climate of selfish, self interest, “Me first and only as long as I like it”. This mentality is proving to be lethal to the family. That makes today’s feast all the more important for us to commemorate.

Here are three ways we may do this.

1.       To gather as families of faith in worship and prayer, thanking God for the gift of his Spirit who fills our hearts with divine love and teaches us how to love one another.

2.       Filled with that love flowing from the Holy Family, let us be instruments of compassion and healing, in our families and others, where the absence of love has wounded and divided.

3.       To be both sign and advocate in our society for all that strengthens and advances authentic family life as modeled in the Holy Family.


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Christmas Week

Flight into a Far Country - William Kurelek
Christmas Week


When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son. Mt 2:13-18


We come to the end of this special Advent/Christmas series with this image by William Kurelek. It is a special one for me. I was pastor of St. Anthony's parish in Kincardine, Ontario, for six years. On Sundays, after the Masses, I would drive down through Mennonite country to visit my family in Cambridge. I would often see this very image, in reality, as they made their way home from their Sunday Church gathering.

In this dream, William sees the Holy Family leaving his community and disappearing into the blowing Snow. He tries to run after Them to beg them to stay, but his legs sink deeper into the snow and he cannot move. He calls to Them in panic: "Please don't go!" This time he is heard. Their compassionate words float back to him through the blizzard: "We will return one day - when you are ready to receive Us with undivided love".

How appropriate a reflection this is for our generation. A blizzard of secular humanism is obscuring us from recognizing who it is that we have lost sight of. St. Ignatius tells us that God will choose to withdraw his consolation: (the graces to know his comforting presence)  so that our hearts, that have grown indifferent, will again hunger for Him. With hearts now purified, and more mature in understanding, the grace of consolations is returned to us.

When this generation finally comes to understand what it has lost, a new age of renewed faith will come upon us.


O Merciful and loving Father, it is because of your great love for us that you now discipline us for our wayward, divided hearts. It is so, that we will come to see how empty and un-consoling are the gods with which we now surround ourselves. When at last, we come to our senses and cry out: "Come O Lord and save us", New Life will once again flood into our hearts.


"We will return one day - when you are ready 
to receive Us with undivided love".


Sunday, 24 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Christmas

Across the River from the Capital - William Kurelek



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. Lk 2:1-14


In the middle of the Ottawa River, across from Parliament Hill, there is a tiny island named International Island. It is the setting for this Nativity Scene by William Kurelek. In this dream scene Mary is holding the infant Jesus who is reaching out to touch the forehead of a man bundled up in a sleeping bag. Kurelek explains that the man is himself and as the infant touches him he complains, "Buzz off, will you!" Then Kurelek awakens from this dream crying out loudly, "That can't be me. I will never reject him."

At the time of this painting, Kurelek wondered about the people who occupy the seats of authority on that hill above the river. Would they reject the touch of Christ? Sadly yes. We see this rejection growing all around us today. We see it argued by those who outright embrace atheism, who teach it in places of learning; we see it influencing law makers who reject the moral values that once assisted them in their judgments. 

But perhaps the most troubling examples of this growing rejection is the sheer apathy toward religion in society today, especially among the younger generations. 

In Matthew's gospel account, Ch. 21:43, Jesus tells the parable of the unfaithful Tenant Farmers who failed to return the produce of the land they were given to cultivate, rejecting the servants sent to them and even killing the Son who was sent to them. 
Jesus asked them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.’ That is why I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit for it.” Vs. 42-43
In the midst of all the Christmas celebrating and the commercialization that tends to dominate it, let us not become disconnected from Him who is with us and who comes today to take us into an even deeper communion with Him in the days to come; days that will be marked by an ever deepening struggle with the secularization that surrounds us.


O Lord, troubling is it to see how your coming anew is rejected by so many. Even more troubling is the awareness of how often I too ignore your invitation to a deeper walk with you. May your Holy Spirit open my heart more deeply; filling me with joy and expectation of the new wonders that await me at your coming this year.


When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Eight

Two Barns - William Kurelek

Wednesday Week Three


In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end." 

But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. Lk 1:26-38


In our previous post we reflected on Joseph's encounter with the revelation of Jesus coming into the world and the special role he was to have in this wondrous mystery. Now we turn to Mary's experience.

"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." ...  "Do not be afraid, Mary" ... " - for you have found favor with God." How might we ever imagine what the experience of a visitation from an angel would be like. For Mary, it was frightening. This is an entirely other world now connecting to this world. This is not a matter of "thinking about" this is "real". 

The angel, who's identity is Gabriel, must first bring a calming peace to Mary, and then reveal to her what she could never have otherwise imagined. "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus." Gabriel goes on to explain further.

What ever Mary's plans for her life may have been, now another is planning for her. Mary accepts now, this new and unimagable plan for her life, and seeks only a little clarification, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?".

In this age, obsessed with the idea that this is my life, "I" decide what "I" will do with it, do you ever think that you also have a God-given vocation - indeed, that as you begin each day, God already has plans for you? 

On that "to do list" posted on the fridge door, should we not, at the bottom, leave a space entitled: "But what ever you have planned for me Lord, let thy will be done."


O Mother Mary, by your prayer of intercession, help me to have a listening heart. Help me to see that the Lord has a plan for my life also; that my personal faith is but the beginning of a wonderful vocation as a servant, a handmaid of the Lord. May my prayer each day echo your words spoken in reply to the angel; "Behold, I am the servant, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."


"Speak Lord, your servant is listening."

Beginning December 17th. the "O" Antiphons are featured in the liturgies of the final week of Advent. They sing with joyful anticipation the wondrous graces that await us. They are a rich resource for our prayer in these final days of Advent. In an earlier post I explored the O Antiphons in greater detail. Here is the link to that post. /// LINK \\\


Saturday, 16 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Seven

In the Mountains - William Kurelek


This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us." When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus. Mt 1:18-25


We begin this Third Week of Advent in Matthew's gospel as he begins to tell the story of "...how the birth of Jesus Christ came about." In those days, the period of engagement of marriage was to last for one year. The marriage covenant had begun, but before the couple lived together, this one year waiting period would prove that the betrothed was indeed a virgin and that any child conceived would be that of the husband. Should a conception occur it prove infidelity and adultery on the part of the woman. The engagement would be broken and the woman publicly disgraced.

Matthew does not give us many details how this unfolded with Joseph and Mary. But that provides us with a wonderful opportunity to explore this in prayer. "... she was found with child." Did Mary explain her pregnancy; how it was the work of God? Did Joseph believe her? 

 "... since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." Does this tell us that Joseph did believe Mary, and did not want to interfere with God's divine plan, so he made it look like he was the one responsible for the breakup?  

"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home." Indeed, Joseph, God has given you an important role to fulfill in this plan - "She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 

Indeed, there is so much in the verses for us to ponder. And we might well ask, "Lord, have you plans for my life going forward?"


O Lord, how slow I am to believe that my life too is in your hands. You have a plan for me too. Each day your provident hand reaches into my life, guiding me by your Holy Spirit. Help me to believe, to see and understand, so that I may cooperate more fully as this mystery that is my life unfolds. 


"... the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream ..."


Beginning December 17th. the "O" Antiphons are featured in the liturgies of the final week of Advent. They sing with joyful anticipation the wondrous graces that await us. They are a rich resource for our prayer in these final days of Advent. In an earlier post I explored the O Antiphons in greater detail. Here is the link to that post. /// LINK \\\


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Six

The Boathouse Man's Excuse - William Kurleke
Thursday Week Two


"Jesus said to the crowds: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." Mt 11:28-30


It is not uncommon to see people burdened and stressed over Christmas. So much remaining to do, so little time. Christmas is really a time for lifting burdens, not adding to them. The wisdom of Christmas is to understand that Jesus comes to accomplish for us and in us that which we cannot do – inner peace and consultation of heart. The more that this uncreated grace fills us, the better we will be able to make for ourselves a to-do list in keeping with the true Spirit of Christmas.


O Lord, may your Spirit be the inspiration that motivates me during these blessed days of Advent. As my understanding of your love for me grows, so will my love for others unfold in imitation.


“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Mtt. 6:21


Monday, 11 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Five

The Presentation to the Children - William Kurelek 

Tuesday Week Two


Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior." Lk 1:39-47


What do you see, what do you hear? Familiar indeed are the popular images of Christmas – most of all the Nativity Scene. Does this image merely invoke a few seasonal sentiments that linger for a couple of weeks and then are packed away with the Christmas decorations? Or does something deeper happen within you, in your spirit, in your heart? Advent is meant to be a new opportunity to encounter Jesus’ presence in our lives. It brings us a new opportunity to hear his voice, calling, instructing, directing us to an even deeper holiness. Yes, I know well these Christmas stories, but at the moment the sound of their hearing reaches my ears, does my heart within me leap for joy.


O Lord, a year has passed since Advent last. The joy and expectation that began the year has met with more of the challenges we have been warned to expect. But I hear your call anew, and my heart is once again awakened. I sense your nearness and a new joy rises within me. Come Lord Jesus, come.


And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior."

A New Encounter

This Advent I have put together a new series of reflections for prayer. The approach I am using is based on the prayer method 'Lectio Divina'. 

Each week in the series will have three meditation based on the Word found in the Advent liturgies. The grace we are are seeking in these meditations is a "New Encounter With Christ". Whatever may be our present progress in prayer, there is is always the need to go deeper. As each stage in our progress into the mystery of Christ's presence matures, the Lord becomes hidden again, requiring us to let go of the comfort and security we now know, and embark yet again in search of Him for whom our heart desire.

In addition to this approach to prayer, with each post I am including a image from the collections of painting by William Kurelek entitled 'Northern Nativity'. They lend themselves well to the Ignatian approach to contemplation - placing oneself in the scene. What William Kurelek does is place the scene in a contemporary setting.

So we have these two approaches to support us as we embark on anew Advent journey in search of a new Encounter with Christ. 

For more information on 'Lectio Divina'  I encourage you to refer to this earlier post. 
. . . LINK . . .


Saturday, 9 December 2017

Advent Series - New Encounter - Four

The Welcome at the Country Mission - William Kurelek
Sunday Week Two


The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mk. 1:1-8


At the time of Jesus society governed as theocracy – not like a democracy where people make the laws, but by laws laid down by God. The belief was – keep the laws of God and God will keep you. So, when bad things happened to the people, personally or as a nation, it was because they had abandoned the law of God and chose lived their own way.

God sent prophets, his messengers, sent to tell the people why things are going badly, and to change their ways. But the people did not always welcome the prophets – often rejected and even killed them. Here in Jesus time, Israel had lost their sovereignty – oppressed by Romans. The prophet God sent this time, to call the people back to law was John the Baptist.  John understood that God had an even greater solution – a Prophet greater than he would soon come. He knows, this prophet would show the people that it was not just a matter changing just their minds but changing their hearts;  obeying God not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

Take for example our life in our bodies to help understand the struggle of knowing better and not doing better. Our bodies are governed by God’s laws of nature. Treat our bodies the way God intended and they will be healthy and strong.  Abuse our bodies by indulging in unhealthy, unnatural practices, our bodies suffer. Yet, even knowing this, we still break the laws of our natural bodies.

So it is for our life as a society. Even though we live in a democracy and make our own laws, God’s truth, God’s natural law for our humanity still remains the only true way of living. When we for get this, reject this, things start to go wrong. 

Jesus said in Mtt. 5: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He is saying, I have come to put a fire in your hearts that will empower you to overcome your weakness and tendency to sin. John Baptist today telling us he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 3:15 we read, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John could be the Christ. John answered all of them: “I baptize you with water, but One more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

There is a danger for us to simply make Christmas a sentimental time – but it has this much deeper meaning. Jesus is coming to light a fire in our hearts.


Jesus my Lord, I confess to you and to all the world my need for your presence in my life. I am alone and in darkness without you. I am influenced and controlled by the many forces that surround me. Even though I struggle against them, it is sin that so easily dominates my life. Who can save me but you alone, my Lord and my God. Deliver me from the Evil One. Touch my life with that power which flows from your resurrection. Cause your Holy Spirit to be born in me anew. Prince of Peace and Lord of Glory reign now in my heart. Baptize me with your Holy Spirit and Fire. Raise me up to a New Life in you.


"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Lk. 24:32

The introductory Post to this series explains the approach I am using for this series and the method of prayer Lectio Divina. > >LINK< <


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