Father Robert Elias, OCD: The Lord wept

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jerusalem, 2018)

Luke 19: 41-44. The Lament for Jerusalem.41 As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, 42saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. 44They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

If you notice this chapel in honor of dominus flevit, the Latin for ‘The Lord Wept.’ Who wept – the Lord, referring to the sacred name of God revealed in Sinai – the eternal one who has no origin or end, who is the beginning, the middle and the finality of all things.

This is the Lord who wept. This is Jesus of Nazareth.

This chapel is in the shape of an upside-down tear, like the tear that came down from Christ’s face. All the shapes of the ceiling, the arches, the windows, is reminiscent of tears falling down from Jesus’s Holy face. And above on the pillars on the four corners on the ceiling are vases. I interpret that to mean, the collection of our Lord’s tears, just as the angels, would have spiritually collected every drop of His precious blood that came from his sacred humanity during His Passion, so too must the angels have spiritually collected the tears that came from the Holy Face of the incarnate Word of God.

But also, our guardian angels, each collect the tears that we have shed in our pilgrimage of our spiritual life journey, and we know that is not an easy path. The way of the cross is never easy. To follow our Good Shepherd means that we will inevitably have to follow Him in valleys of darkness in order to find new pastures of renewed life in the Lord.

We too will inevitably have to shed tears, whether it’s like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, tears that come spontaneously from the times in which we lose a loved one, as Jesus so loved Lazarus; or also like the tears that he shed here – where He suffered tears of rejection and His love was misunderstood. The miscommunication of love, where His love was not accepted, was a source of sorrow for Him.

Anything can make some people cry – a good movie, an emotional experience. Some people can cry very easily. But the tears that come from a movement of the Spirit, whether it’s contrition or compunction, a true sense of sorrow for our sins that doesn’t come from a false guilt, which usually happens because of damaged emotions, a malformed conscience – that’s not the kind of contrition I am talking about.

True repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we call metanoia – a conversion of life. To have the gift of tears that comes from a metanoia experience or a catharsis experience, is to have cleansing, saving tears. That is living water – that’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. To have the gift of tears in this respect is an anointing from heaven that shows salvation is happening in the soul. A baptism is happening in the soul of that person that is coming out in tears. That is a grace of God.

I don’t have that gift. Saint Teresa had the gift of tears. Many monks in the Eastern Church talk about the gift of tears as an expression of metanoia. That’s a wonderful gift. I wish I had it, but I don’t. This gift brings about a new birth; it’s the water of a new birth taking place in the soul, a deeper conversion, a deeper communion with God as a result of our hearts being, as it were, crushed in order to be resurrected.

One thing from the first reading from Isaiah to point out – when our Lord prayed here, He says, ‘Would that you knew what would avail you for peace. I came to bring you peace but you have rejected it.’ As a result you will be the ones to suffer. You will be inviting more problems into your life. I came, not to free you from your problems but to be a medicine to give you the strength to overcome them.

The rock where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jerusalem, 2018)

In other words, in Hebrews, Jesus’s presence of salvation doesn’t mean that we will be immune to problems. When Jesus says ‘Follow me,’ He doesn’t say, ‘Follow me and all your problems will go away. You will never experience any suffering.’ That is not His promise. His promise is, ‘I will be with you always; no matter what you go through, it will grow you.’

He will bring all things into subjection into Himself. If He allows it, He can redeem it. He will bring good out of it. He will bring that poison in your life, and turn it into medicine. He will use it for your healing; the very thing that most afflicted you, and that was the greatest cause of your tears, he will use as a cause of your transformation.

This is the promise of salvation. Redemption. Bringing good out of evil. But there’s a time of visitation, he says, a specific time in which He allows the grace to be available to us, and he calls us to not be afraid to enter into that; to not postpone the moment of grace; to not wait until tomorrow; today, to take advantage to receive the grace and His Spirit; today, I ask; today, I allow you to work in my soul.

The prophet Isaiah says, ‘Let my eyes stream with tears over the destruction that overwhelms over the incurable wound of my people.’ He continues, ‘We waited for healing but terror came instead. Why have you struck as a blow that cannot be healed? For your name’s sake spurn us not, remember your covenant with us and break it not. Disgrace not the throne of your glory.’ Isaiah expresses the plea of God’s people in moments that seem insurmountable.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when the problem seemed so big, that it seemed unresolvable? Of course you have; we all have. We think, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get out of this one; there’s no way I‘ll be able overcome this; there’s no way that God can bring good out of this one; it all ends here.’ These tears are seeds of salvation to bring forth a new harvest of grace in our hearts of God’s presence

This is an expression of the sympathy of God in being able to know our tears, and his angels collect them in a vase as sacred jewels. There is a time of our visitation. The remedy doesn’t happen immediately, but it does happen! It doesn’t happen according to our schedule, our time frame, our expectations, our impatience, or our itinerary. But it does come.

We often have an itinerary of what we propose, but God is the one who disposes. Man proposes, God disposes. In our itinerary of our pilgrimage of life, ‘I propose, God disposes.’

And what God has planned is always better than what we do. And every penance, and every inconvenience along the way, is only part of the greater construction of the final action, the final communion, the final effect of His grace in giving us what we came to look for – God’s face. We see the brightness of this beautiful face after having experienced some kind of brokenness. Passing through the brokenness we come to a new place in what it means to see God’s face.

Every tear is a seed for a harvest. Blessed be God who transforms our crying into dancing, and our mourning into a new anointing. Alleluia.

Saint Paul & and Karl Rahner: on Love

THIS WEEK’S SUNDAY GOSPEL: 1 Cor 12:31-13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Image credit: Cecile Basnage (Cruz de Ferro, Camino de Santiago, Spain 2018)

Only in love can I find you, my God

by Karl Rahner excerpted from Encounters With Silence

Only in love can I find you, my God.

In love, the gates of my soul spring open,
allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom
and forget about my own petty self.

In love, my whole being streams forth
out of the rigid confines of narrowness
and anxious self-assertion,
which makes me a prisoner of my own
poverty and emptiness.

In love, all the powers of my soul flow
out toward you,
wanting never more to return,
but to lose completely in you,
since by your love you are the
innermost center of my heart,
closer to me than I am to myself.

But when I love you,
when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self and
leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions,
when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar and from the outside
upon your unapproachable brightness, and much more
when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One, have become
through love the inmost center of my life,
then I can bury myself entirely in you,
O mysterious God, and with myself,
all my questions.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Homily at Cana in Galilee

Photo credit: Lorelei Low (Cana in Galilee 2018)

JOHN 2:1-11 – There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.

And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him.

There’s a lot in this scripture to capture the significance of this vocation of marriage. In God’s providence, He chose to manifest His Divine identity in the context of a wedding. In the Old Testament, God refers to His covenant with His chosen people as a spousal relationship. Isaiah refers to our God and our maker, as the Bridegroom.

God has a love for His people as a husband has a love for His wife. And Jesus came to bring about this mystical marriage between our humanity and God.

Byzantine marriage (Wiki Commons)

This Mass is going to be for the couples who are here present, number one. Two, for those of you who are married but your spouse isn’t present, I invite you also to renew your covenant with your spouse who is back at home. And as the couples here renew their vows, hold your hand with your wedding ring and renew your vows with your spouse. Invite the Lord to bring healing into your relationship, if there is need of emotional healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, or of resurrection in your relationship with your spouse.

The third intention is for those who are widowed; pray for the eternal rest of your spouse that they may rest in the peace of God. The fourth intention is for those who are divorced. Love your enemies and your persecutors, whether they’re remarried or not. Some divorces are really traumatic and hard, so pray for healing. In some divorces, you just divorce as friends and you go your separate ways, and you have a friendship for the sake of the children. Pray for your ex-spouse, but pray especially for your children because they experience the effects of the divorce differently than you do.

And fifth, for those who are single and are still open to the possibility of marriage: if that is God’s divine will for you, pray that God will bring the right person in your life, the person that He knows will be the best for His plan for your happiness. For those who are called to the single life, and didn’t want to have a single life, who wanted to be married but never found the right person –pray for the peace of acceptance because God’s vocation of love is ever alive in your life.

Pray for the acceptance in your life, knowing that you are not any less lovable in God’s eyes. You’re not in any way less than those who are called to marriage. Pray for that acceptance in discovering God’s vocation of love for you because God needs you to flourish in the gift of love that you have to offer, whatever it may be.

Pray for the acceptance that ‘Yes, God has chosen me for a vocation of love and it doesn’t mean that I am any less qualified for marriage than anyone else, but that God needs me where I am, and where I’ve been planted.’ Pray for the acceptance to grieve for the fact that ‘I may not have been able to be married and be a parent.’ Grieve this gift of experience that you may be free to live the gift of where you are called to now.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, and as these couples renew their covenant, let us renew our covenant, first and foremost, to God because He is the love of all loves and the only love of our lives that is important.

Those who are married know that to love is a battle. Sometimes, those who are married wish they weren’t married, and those who aren’t married wish that they were. We’re always admiring the ones on the other side. We hear from the scripture that love is a battle. It’s not easy and we need God’s grace.

And ultimately it’s God’s love that is the only love that does not disappoint. As human beings, we are so flawed and broken that we make mistakes. Inevitably, we will let down those who rely upon us. There is no perfect person and we have to learn to be comfortable with the imperfect, to accept the weakness and to find grace in the midst of it.

It is with faith that we celebrate love, especially the love of God who is the center of all of our lives.

Photo Credit: Lorelei Low (Cana 2018)

 

 

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Epiphany and the Mystery of Faith

Edward Burne Jones (1904) Wiki Commons

The Mystery of Faith is said after the consecration, after the words of Christ during the Last Supper: ‘For this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal Covenant: the Mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.’

The Mysterium Fidei is said during the Eucharist because the mystery of who God is — is most communicated in Jesus Christ as the sacrament of God. He is made flesh  through the Eucharist, which most perfectly provides, and makes available His gifts for us. Every epiphany is an epiphany of a manifestation of God.

According to Saint Paul the mystery has been revealed to us in God’s divine nature, and He has shared this mystery with us through faith.

We cannot fully grasp the significance of ‘God made man.’ It takes an epiphany to recognize that God was like me – human and suffering. He assumed poverty in order to elevate me. As cradle Catholics we need an epiphany to discover the greatness of that truth.

On this Feast of the Epiphany, this is my challenge for you – that you be awakened by the Holy Spirit to know the story of your soul. Recall the wonders of God’s presence in your life.

What were the stars that brought you here? Where did you encounter God? Nature, a crisis, family relationships, trauma, unemployment – all of these and every circumstance could have been instruments in your life to reveal the Star of Bethlehem. Jesus came to show us how to find His light amidst the darkness and irreparable brokenness.

Some wounds are beyond remedy because a person is not open to God’s healing; faith is stuck in a box, and God’s healing can only do so much in these situations.

The recognition of God’s revelation is a supernatural gift. It is not usually seen with our eyes, but something we experience in our heart of hearts. And to see this light, we need to be obedient.

We know very little about the Three Kings who visited Jesus. At some point, they recognized a stirring from God to seek something greater than themselves. This desire sparked a new seeking, which led to a new finding of a treasure of wisdom better than they had ever known.

The lives of the Wise Men is the message. They had no idea what they would find for God’s presence is amidst the unexpected. Yet they were obedient to each inspiration – the small tasks. When the Magi found the King of Kings, they found Him in total poverty. God’s wisdom is manifest to us in the most unexpected people, places, and circumstances – far from ideal – but God is waiting for you there.

God stirs us in our souls. We experience the clarity of God’s call by faith, and not by certainty – even when we don’t feel His presence, and only have an assurance. Only after having gone through our experiences of darkness are we able to look back and understand. And this epiphany and understanding usually comes through an encounter.

If you don’t know why you’re doing something, but you know that you are being obedient to that small inspiration, you will find His presence, despite the discomfort or awkwardness you may experience – through an unexpected event or person.

This epiphany brings about conversion, a new birth of understanding of who I am and who He is.

Whatever your work or home situation, no matter how far from perfect it is, that is the very context that God uses to bring light and holiness. Your life is the best context to sanctify you, though it may seem imperfect to you. The people who are most difficult for you are the very people He has chosen to challenge your self-love to purify and refine you.

That is wisdom – to allow our perception to be changed and to keep our eyes on the star.

What gives us strength in faith? – Scripture and the Eucharist.Throughout the story of your soul, God has used scripture passages to speak to you in different stages of your life. And in the Blessed Sacrament, we find an anchor of refuge, hope, and assurance of God’s will for ourselves. We renew our attitude and determination. God has also placed certain saints in your lives to walk with you — an image or picture of that saint can inspire a deep and holy longing in you.

At the end of their pilgrimage to Beauty, the Three Wise men prostrated themselves and offered the Christ Child gold for His kingship, frankincense for His deity, and myrrh for His death.During this Epiphany, we are called to offer all our gifts and treasures so that we may discover who we are before God, that we may be enlightened in our understanding of His work in us.

The treasure of your crosses, the people in your life – give all that you are to Him so that He can give Himself to you in exchange. And He will always give more in return, for the more a person must suffer, the more that person will receive.

Know the story of your soul and seek your Star of Bethlehem.

NOTE: I have added as a permanent side link, The Daily Examen, adapted by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, to help you daily seek your Star of Bethlehem. – TL

Upcoming important dates and links

Walk for Life 2019, San Francisco with the Carmelite Friars of Mount Saint Josephs Monastery, San Jose.

Meeting Place:
Millbrae BART Station
200 North Rollins Road
Millbrae, CA 94030

When: Saturday, January 26, 2019

Meeting Time:
11:00 AM sharp – Mt. St. Joseph Monastery
12:21 Train (12:55 AM arrival at Civic Center)

The walk officially starts at 1:30 PM. WFL San Francisco route Civic Center Plaza along Market Street (2miles) toward Justin Herman Plaza/Ferry Bld.

Please make sure to give yourself enough time to park and buy tickets at the BART Station. We will be dining at In/Out Burger in Milbrae following the Walk.

Questions? Please contact missmaryann7@yahoo.com

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

have put together a beautiful Daily Examen here.

 

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Christmas 2018 Homily

Click on this Facebook link  (belonging to Lorelei Low, ocds) to have a glimpse of the Jerusalem Pilgrimage 2018 with Father Robert Elias

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.What came to be 4through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it.6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony,to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.f 8He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10He was in the world,and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. 12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,and we saw his glory,the glory as of the Father’s only Son,full of grace and truth. 15 John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said,l ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” 16From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace,* 17because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.m 18No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God,who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

Deir Rafat, Shrine of Our Lady of Palestine 2018

Merry Christmas everybody!

Jesus wants to provide something new for us, an unprecedented experience of Christmas through the present of His presence. That is what Christmas is all about.

And in Christ, we can be open to experience the beauty of life.  We are meant to discover each of our lives as gift. In  fact, the most important gift that you can give, more than anything you can buy –is yourself.

When we give the gift of our life, we begin to experience a new birth of love, which is what God desires for us to dawn within ourselves, the rebirth of knowing your worth to the beauty of God’s love for you. This is the glory of Christmas.

To discover all of life, beginning with your own life story is a gift. The good times and the bad – all have purpose and value. The Author of life knows the story of your soul better than you do, and He more than anyone else is able to speak to that secret part of our hearts that you may not be able to communicate, even to the people you love most. God alone can reach into the area, of who we really are and He wants to reveal to you how much you are worth to Him.

He was born for you.

God  is the light, the love, and the logic that is at the heart of all life, the artist who designed all that exists; he  is poet who spoke into being all beauty and meaning and He was born for me, for you.

We have to personalize Christmas, not just as something of the past, but as something personal and of the present. Jesus was born for me, as if I were the only person he wanted to be born for because he wants to be born in my life. He wants my heart to come to a new birth.

This rebirth is  a matter of knowing our own worth, but our true value and self-worth cannot be found from the outside world. What we do for a living, what we own, or what we look like – these are not the basis and foundation of the worth of our lives.  Our importance can be found in more than what we buy from the department store, how much money we make, or the expensiveness of our gifts. Our true value and self worth must not be found in our accomplishment, our social status, or how we dress.

Our worth is found from the inside.

Each of us possesses in the secret recesses of our hearts a greatness beyond which there can be nothing greater; we all have that inside of us. And faith is the vital link that connects us to the supreme good that is inside of us – God.

God does not want to be elusive or distant from our human experience. In Christmas, God wants us to know the wondrous newness of His presence in our midst, mysteriously at work in each of us.  God with usImmanuel. He loves us above and beyond our shortcomings and failures, and beyond our own sins and brokenness.

When God’s Word comes to birth in us, our world is no longer the same. When the Holy Spirit brings us to new birth and awakes us to the fact that Christ was born for me; when that truth comes to birth in our heart; when knowing Jesus comes from the head to the inside of who I am, then we can be awakened to a sense of wonder to what Christmas is about.

We will awaken to the radical awareness of God’s grace and the new horizons of beauty in what our hearts are made for. This Christmas, we are called to be open to God’s gift to us, the present of His Presence, which He wants us to receive and personally experience.

In His Son, God is a free gift of love – second to none. He wants us to receive what Jesus possesses in Himself – love’s pure light, beyond which nothing can be greater. God alone can help us savor this love’s pure light, which already lives in us and He desires to grow in us.

Jesus’s birth as our savior reminds us that He came to free us from slavery, the slavery of our tendency to glorify ourselves more than the Almighty. He came to set me free from anything that tries to suppress my true self. The Creator became incarnate to set me free from living a life other than the one I was created for and set into the world for; to set me free from anything that is unworthy of my dignity as a human being created in His beauty – from negativity and everything unworthy of my destiny to share in God’s eternity.

The harmony, the goodness and glory that is the source, the summit and the center of the universe today is sent into the world to reveal in our lives God’s Word, who seeks to be made flesh again, to come alive in our lives in a way that is fresh and relevant to each of us.

Christmas is about the gift of life continuously being given, and experiencing a new birth of what it means to love. This birth of our self-worth that Christmas represents by the birth of Jesus expresses our common cry to arise from being a mess to becoming a masterpiece; from agony to glory, from depression to passion, from pain to purpose; for it is better the pain than to remain the same.

And the context of this metamorphosis is the raw realities of our human existence, the physical, psychological, social, moral and emotional dimensions of life. Life in all its beauty and brokenness abiding as one. Our hearts, scars, and resilience, fragility, and fervor are our unifying experiences.

The compassion of Christ has the power to transform poison into medicine and wounds into wellsprings of healing; for in love’s army, only the wounded can heal. In the words of Gandhi, our struggles develop our strengths. When we go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is the strength of love, and where there is love, there is life and light.

St. Francis of Assissi said that all the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle so I can do more good if I ignite a candle than curse the darkness and scandal. That candle  can give pleasure to a single person by a single act of love, one step, one smile, one day at a time.

We are to shine right here and now, where we are, in the sphere of influence we have been strategically placed, suited and destined to sow and to reap, to plant the seeds of peace, and to enjoy the fruits of freedom.

What is more important is not so much our work, but the love that it is done.  What matters is not what we have, but who we become and who we are for others. Our greatness lies not in remaking the world, as in remaking ourselves. And the fact is we can’t remake ourselves by ourselves. We need someone greater than ourselves. That is why Jesus came to the world as a child – that we may no longer be the same.

May we be remade with Him, in Him, and through Him in what it means to love like Him. As we celebrate Christmas, may we be open to God’s presence working in us, speaking to us, breathing with us, and above all, loving in us.

Merry Christmas. May you be the reason someone experiences love this season. God bless you.

Teresa Linda, ocds: the holy innocents

Matthew 2:13-18
13 After they had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’
14 So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt,
15 where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I called my son out of Egypt.
16 Herod was furious on realising that he had been fooled by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or less, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men.
17 Then were fulfilled the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.

by Duccio di Buoninsegna (Wiki Commons)

During a recent retreat, I met a woman who was a parishioner in the church that welcomed and walked my whole family back to the Catholic Church. It was a non-silent retreat, so over lunch, I shared my experiences of the Holy Land, and she spoke to me about a trip she and her husband had taken to the Middle East.

Before the Syrian War had started in 2012, she asked a reluctant cabbie to drive them from Lebanon through the desert, to a monument in Syria along the Euphrates River, which marked the Armenian genocide by Turkish forces. The monument, as with many other Syrian institutions, has since been destroyed by ISIS and military conflict.

And as she recounted how the Armenian mothers, rather than have their daughters succumb to the enemy, would throw their daughters into the Euphrates, more than one-hundred years ago, we looked into each other’s eyes knowingly.

Such agonizing separations were more than likely still happening today due to the sectarian conflicts in the region. It is easy to look at the darkness of such atrocities with despair, but the birth of Jesus has already won the victory over death, for “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).

The gospel accounts focus on the Holy Family’s narrow escape from Herod. After having received a vision from an angel in the middle of the night, Joseph immediately gathers the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, to begin a journey of over 400 miles from Bethlehem to Egypt, mostly on foot.

There is only a brief mention of the suffering of the families in the surrounding districts of Jerusalem when all the male children two years and under were put to death, and only through the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, written around 600 BC, before the 586 BC Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem: “A voice is heard in Ramah [Ramallah today, near Bethlehem] lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”

Zechariah, written around 500 BC, after both the Babylonian captivity and the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem through the Great King Cyrus  of Greece (538 BC), foretells this same event.

Zechariah 12: 8-14. On that day the LORD will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like David on that day; and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD before them.

9 On that day I will seek the destruction of all nations that come against Jerusalem 10 I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have thrust through, they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for him as one grieves over a firstborn.

11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 And the land shall mourn, each family apart: the family of the house of David, and their women; the family of the house of Nathan, and their women; 13 the family of the house of Levi, and their women; the family of Shimei, and their women; 14 and all the rest of the families, each family apart, and the women apart.

The prophet Zechariah vividly captures the intense pain that the families must suffer alone, particularly the mothers of the children who have been massacred, for the mourning in Jerusalem happens ‘each family apart, and the women apart.’ I could not help but think about the countless mothers today, who must grieve in the silence of their hearts, the children they have lost through violence.

Yet hope comes in the most unlikely form.

Through Zechariah’s prophesy, the Lord promises that ‘the weakest among them will be like David.’ How could it be, that the most feeble could be as powerful as one of the greatest Kings of Judah? History bears out that the drops of blood shed by the most helpless, the innocent infants of Jerusalem, would be the seeds to the flourishing kingdom of Christ.

Zechariah also points to the connection between Jesus as among the children in the ‘House of David…who will be like God’ and Jesus, ‘the firstborn’ and ‘only child’ whom Jerusalem will recognize as ‘him whom they have thrust through.’ The great I am, the Word made flesh is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins – and all forms of captivity  – of the world.

This recognition of faith and love does not happen automatically. It requires the human willingness of heart, a prayer of desire and ‘supplication,’ on our part to recognize who we are without God’s grace – coupled with the ‘mercy’ of God, who is always God with us – which results in genuine repentance and the healing of all wounds: war, death, scandal, evil, addictions, pain.

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: An Advent Prayer

The Virgin of Lebanon (Chapel of St. Charbel, Lebanon 2018)

Stir up your power, we pray oh Lord and come to set us free by the fire of Your Spirit. Come by the fire of the spirit You sent deep within us, Lord Jesus. You came,You were born in the world to set us free from every form of enslavement, by the grace of your compassion from on high that we may possess true freedom.

Lord, Advent is a special time that you’ve given us to prepare for Christmas. The very name, the very word – Advent – means ‘come,’ – inviting You to come into our hearts; inviting You to be born again into the world in the Bethlehem of our inmost being.

And when You were born in Bethlehem, You chose not the perfect palace but You chose unexpected poverty. You wanted to be born in the most unexpected conditions – dire poverty. What to Mary and to Joseph must have seemed like a total inconvenience, what must have seemed like an entire setback, as if God the Father had sent them on this course and left them hanging – that setback was actually a set-up for a new way in which You wanted them to be blessed.

It was a set-up for those shepherds, for the poor people to come from the pastures; to come after hearing the message of the Angels; to give glory to God on high.

It was a set-up for those three wise men who came from far distant countries, having been kings of their own respective lands. They possessed everything the world ccould offer but they recognized that there was still something essentially missing. It was empty and they were inspired to seek a star that would lead them to the King of the cosmos, the sovereign Lord who would become an innocent infant.

You who are the infinite God became a vulnerable infant, Lord. As St. Therese says, you became a child, you became so small, so tiny, so helpless in order for us to not be afraid to approach you. Because there is nothing that can most attract our affection,that can most inspire tenderness than the beauty of a newborn infant.

You became that infant, Lord, that we may not be afraid to approach You as the eternal God; that we may not be afraid to take you into our arms, into our hands, into our lives and hearts. And You were born in the world Lord, in order to give Your life for us. You were born and placed in the wood of the crib in order to give Your life for us on of the wood of the cross.

You who are the sovereign Lord became a little baby, a little lamb and you voluntarily allowed yourself to be slaughtered, that every evil thing in our life may be slain and that we may have victory over anything and everything that could possibly try to steal our purpose for happiness.

You came to heal our wounds, to heal the brokenhearted. Your heart was moved with pity as You saw your people troubled and abandoned, and You gave your own followers, Your disciples power and authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.

We present ourselves to Your love, Your heart, in the Blessed Sacrament in which is invisibly present, the grace of Your cross, Your life-giving cross; in which is present the radiance of your resurrection. Your divine mercy Jesus is present to us as the heart of who You are, the core of the gospel, the essence of Your message and mission, the power of God’s transforming love that is stronger than anything that can possibly ever harm us.

In the Eucharist, You are with us, as You promised You would be to the end. In the Eucharist, we can cling – as to an anchor- to Your victory over every evil. Your victory helps us to have the courage and strength to become the best version of ourselves; to not be afraid of conversion; to not be afraid to allow You to crush in us what whatever wall is getting in your way; to crush in us whatever hardheartedness is keeping You out; to crush in us whatever mountains of pride we’ve set up for ourselves in our false securities; and to raise up and exalt our valleys.

Lord Jesus, Your mercy is a medicine of immortality, an oasis of grace that heals our hearts’ deepest needs, a source of peace that overcomes the chaos, and a wellspring of serenity that gives birth to new life. We submit to your righteousness Jesus, to Your mission, to the riches of your grace and love.

Teresa Linda, ocds: my mother from Palestine

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jordan 2018)

When I got home from our Holy Land pilgrimage, one of the first things I did was call Asima, a seventy-something year old Arab who was once one of my best friends.  I meant to call her before the pilgrimage to let her know that I would be visiting her homeland, but for some reason, I didn’t. I was hoping that calling her soon after the trip would suffice.

“So what is the news?” she asked, since I had rarely spoken to her since she moved out of the neighborhood five years ago.

“Asima, I visited Jordan!” I replied with excitement.

But rather than responding with joy, she asked with hurt in her voice, “Why didn’t you tell me?! Hmm?…I lived in Jordan. My daughter lives in Jordan. Hmm…Did you forget? Did you forget?!”

Asima was born in Jaffa Tel Aviv when it was called Palestine, but in 1948, when Israel was established as a state, she and her family, along with countless Palestinians, were forced to leave their homes and lands behind, and they moved to Jordan. She eventually came to the United States with her two unmarried sons due to the persecution of Christians.

We had a hidden friendship, one that was shared and experienced by just the two of us, and it began when she started taking care of my three-year old daughter. I belonged to an inter-denominational Women’s Bible Study that met weekly with the goal of going through all the books of the Old Testament in seven years.

About four years into our study, I could feel the exhaustion of motherhood and being away from my extended family weighing on me, and I turned to Asima for help. She led the Evening Women’s Bible Study for a small group of Arab women, but during the day, she took care of her grandson and helped with childcare at the church.  Providentially, she also lived in an apartment just two blocks from our house and the grandson she was taking care of was the same age as my daughter.

I would try to simply drop off my daughter, but true to Arabian hospitality, Asima would not let me leave unless I sat down with her and had tea and anise cookies, or pita and hummus sprinkled with olive oil.

(“We are a people of the desert,” our tour guide from Jordan once said. “You cannot enter a home without being offered everything that we are able to give you. That is our way.”)

And we could not sit down at the kitchen table without Asima talking about the way of Jesus and the Prophets, as they moved through her homeland, a terrain that was so unimaginable to me, but one that Asima knew through the many generations of blood and family before her who lived there.

Soon, she was also giving me extemporaneous Bible Study lessons when she passed by my house and found that I was home.

I would come along on her leisurely walk around the block and together we would talk about scripture, rescue lemons fallen from bushes, and pick apricots from the tree on the side of my yard. In early spring, she would come with scissors to cut the young grape leaves off our terrace.

In exchange for the harvest from our yard, Asima would return a few days later with dolmas made of grape leaves, tabouli sprinkled generously with lemon juice, or a small jar of apricot jam.

“Asima, I didn’t forget you. I thought about you the whole time I was in the Holy Land,” I tried to explain to her. Every bite of hummus, the scent of anise and sesame seeds, and parsley and lemon that pervaded the places we ate in –constantly reminded me of her.

And everywhere we went, I heard her voice, telling different stories from both the Old and New Testament.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Petra Jordan 2018)

When we walked through Petra, the majestic city built in the red stone cliffs of Jordan by the Edomites, I heard Asima speaking. “Did you read the book of Obadiah? It’s only one chapter from the Old Testament. Obadiah spoke about Petra. The people who live in Petra, they were very proud because they are living inside the high mountains, and when the enemy comes, they must walk the narrow way. When the people of Petra see men coming to fight, what do they do?  They attack from the top of the mountains.

‘And who lived there before? Esau’s children. His brother is Jacob. Jacob used to live on the Palestine side, and Esau lived in the Jordan side. When the enemy comes to fight Jacob’s children, they asked Esau’s children if they can come around to their side, but they refused. They started to laugh. For this reason, Esau’s children do not get blessed by God.’

“Go to Obadiah verses two and eighteen. Read it.” I would then leaf through the Bible and find the scripture passage as fast as I could, while Asima would almost immediately open to the page. While I read, she ran her finger from right to left on her bible’s Arabic script.

Now I make you least among the nations; you are utterly contemptible. The pride of your heart has deceived you – you who dwell in mountain crevices, in your lofty home…The house of Jacob will be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau a stubble…none will survive of the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken,” I would read.

“You see,” she would exclaim. “To this day, Petra is empty except for tourists.”

Photo credit: The Speakroom (2018)

She would then share modern-day stories, those shared by word of mouth from one friend to another about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; the stories sounded too barbaric and unreal to me then, but they have today, become an accepted part of the news.

“But God is perfect and knows all. Jesus was born at exactly the right time. Go to Galatians, chapter 4, starting at verse three. What does Paul say?”

I would read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!”

“Why does Paul say ‘the fullness of time?’ After the Greek empire, the Romans came. And after the Romans came, they couldn’t change the language. The Greek language  spread. And what did the Romans do? They fixed the roads. ‘All roads go to Rome!’

‘Now look how God prepared the way. One language, and Paul knows the language. He speaks Greek, and he’s educated. He has a Roman passport, and the roads are open. Yanni, it helps Paul to go every place to talk about Jesus. For this reason, it says ‘the fullness of time.’”

Asima was one of the first people to visit me when my youngest child was born. She would smile at the baby in her arms, and fondly say, “Habibi!” Then she would sing to him, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”

Our times together dwindled when I had to return to work to support my husband through graduate school and my children through several private schools. The endless weekends of grading papers and prepping, and all the demands of being a mother of four children while working full-time, made times with Asima less possible, and it began to seem that the friendship was really not so important.

But everything about Asima and the intimacy of our friendship came rushing back at me when we visited the Holy Lands.  It wasn’t just the smells, the landscape, and the sound of her voice telling a story behind every holy site – our tour guide in Israel even ended up being part of her extended family!

(“Oh, I know Asima,” he nonchalantly told me. Then he pulled up a photo of a relative Asima introduced me to fifteen years ago, and his baby).

The Holy Spirit was constantly prompting me to remember because He didn’t want me to forget who Asima was to me — for Asima reminded me of who I was before the Lord.

“You are like my other daughter,” she would often tell me with gleam in her eyes. “And you are also God’s daughter.  For this reason, always, you are beautiful. He loves you so much  — He knows the number of the hairs on your head.”

I didn’t so much forget Asima, as much as I had forgotten who I was.

ADVENT PRAYER

O Mary, my Mother, be my model during this holy season. Christ was alive within thee during the first Advent. We want Him to be more alive within us than ever during this Advent. May we not merely possess our precious Catholic Faith-rather, may It take complete possession of us, so that wherever we go, whatever we do or say, it will be the Christ Child that inspires us.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Moses and Abba, our Father

ADVENT PRAYER (from Catholic Online Prayers)

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen.

EXODUS 3:1-14 Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. 3S Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” 5God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.b 6I am the God of your father,* he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.c Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

  9Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13“But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you

Homily at Memorial Church of Moses, Mount Nebo  (Madaba, Jordan) – loose transcription below

Moses was chosen by Adonai, our Holy God to be the mediator of the communion between his holiness and his people. He was a beloved of God and was chosen for a mission of liberation.

In the first reading, we heard about this emancipation from slavery to freedom and new life when God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.

This was a process that took a long time. When we ask for God’s intervention, we expect results immediately, but his plan for his people’s happiness took a long, long time. And what prolonged the blessings to be received? – the disposition and attitude of his people, their wayward thinking; their deceiving and their negative speaking put up roadblocks and prolonged their arrival to the Promised Land.

Moses represents the holiness of God amidst of his people. He is a prophet of God’s presence, who hears the cries of the poor, knows their afflictions, and desires our liberation. God wants us to be happy just as any parent desires for their children.

Mount Sinai is is a place of Moses’ extraordinary experience of God and Mount Nebo is where he saw the fulfillment of the promise of Sinai from a distance:

Deuteronomy 34:1-6 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,a the peak of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land—Gilead, and as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, the plain (the valley of Jericho, the City of Palms), and as far as Zoar. 4The LORD then said to him, This is the land about which I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over. 5So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the LORD, died as the LORD had said.

Moses was a prophet of liberation and freedom. His encounter with God gave him the strength and endurance to journey for forty years. It is from Mount Sinai, where God manifested himself as a bush and revealed himself as ‘I am who am,’ a mystical expression of his identity. It was so holy that his name couldn’t even be pronounced or expressed in a single name.

There are countless names that reveal God’s majesty, but the greatest name that Jesus revealed to us is Abba – Father. God doesn’t want us to be afraid to come near him and know his majesty and merciful love, which is expressed through a filial love, so that we know his majesty with a heart-felt affection.

The same access of love that Jesus has for the father is our birthright. We have rights to God’s heart as our father. We have to know our real father. And Jesus wants to set us free from that which causes fear and intimidation. He is the new Moses who brings about the ultimate revolution of new life – and the cost was Himself.

 

And as Moses lifted up the serpent so that anyone who looked at it would be healed, we too have to face our fears. The Israelites were bit by the snake of their own complaining, which created a bitterness that was killing them from the inside out. In order to be freed from the sickness of their heart, they had to face their fears by looking at what they feared the most.

John Paul II said that the first thing we should do to discover our own exodus is to be not afraid; open wide the gates of your heart to Christ. The truth is that he will not hold back anything; there is no price he will not pay for our reconciliation.

The cross saves. This sacrifice saves us, but to enter into that sacrifice, we must embrace the cross of our own lives. Only by doing so can you be healed from it. In that cross is the wisdom and power. But you must face the enemy to experience the emancipation and liberation of the crossing of the Red Sea.

God wants us to have our own salvation history. And Jesus is the new Moses who brings about this new-found liberty.