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St. Elizabeth of Ravenna Catholic Church
Lunar eclipse, 2008, as seen from Kentucky.
December 1, 2022 Reflecting on the Dangers of Riches
He who trusts in riches will have his fall, the virtuous
will flourish like the leaves. (Proverbs 11:28)
Trust in wealth is something we have reflected upon often. Why? Because this is a problem both in our nation and our highly consumer-oriented world. Jesus speaks on this subject when he says in all three Synoptic Gospels that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Matt. 19:23-26, Mark 10:23-27, and Luke 18:24-27). Yes, a hard saying with a message that invites us all to change our respective lifestyles.
Jesus' audience and disciples were incredulous. Do not all people trust in riches and find them a God-given blessing? Jesus really does not soften his message, unless one focuses on his final remarks that all things are possible with God. In some ways, this is an argument for purgatory for, while the love of and trust in riches excludes one from the Kingdom, perhaps with God's mercy in time the excluded may be included. Others find Jesus' primary saying so contrary to their religion of prosperity that they seek desperately for softening elements. One says an alleyway and entrance in Jerusalem is called "eye of the needle," and Jesus means this place -- but that is dubious for the disciples showed a sense of shock and disbelief that comes with the harder meaning.
Let's not soften Good News, for initial hardness has a jarring effect that must be understood in finding our trust in the God of mercy and love. The message of Good News is meant for everyone, and this entire world seems to suffer from finding this News disconcerting at times. Only a few are rich, but a great number would like to be. Therefore, they regard the wealthy as blessed. Thus, in an evangelistic spirit we ought to tax the wealthy into a stance nearer the general population, invite so they will have a chance for the Kingdom of God. But this hard message does not sit well with most donors, and so we must stay poor for the sake of the "full Gospel." Do churches really preach the harder message?
It would be impossible to expect miracles and a collective inspiration by the wealthy to become one of us, or the poor to cease from craving wealth. The wealthy excuse is that riches are a temporary stewardship; shouldn’t governmental intervention shorten that time span for the sake of healthy democracy? Sound economics and spiritual life coalesce. Citizenship involves our assisting in liberating the wealthy of ill-gotten gains. We can invite the affluent to confront their mortality before their death bed. Progressive forms of taxation help overcome the impossible and check the ever-expanding material greed. Prophets must help liberate people from the dream of an alluring affluence.
Prayer of Vigilance: Lord, may Advent be our time of watchfulness and may it endure throughout the entire Church year. We need the stamina of being vigilant so as never to fall asleep while guarding the precious gifts you have given us. Let us stand guard in daytime and at night, always willing to do all things in your name and according to your will. Make this be our characteristic until the day we pass into eternity. Let us watch!
A December stroll. Anderson Co., KY.
December 2, 2022 Becoming More Down-to-Earth
One would perhaps be tempted to say that awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus means forsaking the concerns of Earth and thinking only of "things of Heaven." However, this attitude falls short of the mandate to be involved Christians here and now. St. Paul was explicit in his admonition to his Thessalonian congregation, who considered waiting for Christ as mere sitting around until a miracle happens. His words were stark: "If you don't work, you don't eat." Idleness is not active waiting, but an excuse for laziness. In fact, our expected work consists in hastening the Day of the coming of the Lord. We prepare for the New Heaven and New Earth through what we do with God's grace.
Being down-to-earth means simplicity in our manner of acting, a set of proper and appropriate practices that do not harm people or environment. To act properly, we open ourselves to learn from natural processes to conserve resources, respect all other creatures, and live in a gentle fashion. Those, who understand that animal products are resource intensive, will direct their habits to more vegetarian choices. When we realize that commercially-prepared foods are laden with unhealthy levels of fat, sugar, and salt, we look for bulk unprocessed foods and home-prepared meals. Yes, living simply takes effort and invites to grow with confidence in choosing to do meaningful work.
Down-to-earth is everyday activity. The same principles of appropriate means and activities extend to transportation, lodging, choice of fuels, conservation in heating and cooling, water saving devices, home gardening and lawn care, physical exercise and health care, and general community relations (such as silence space). In fact, all aspects of everyday living become a careful and prudent concern about that of individual community welfare. In about 200 places in these Daily Reflections, we have mentioned and described such suitable practices. In doing so, we espouse simplicity of life through down-to-earth spirituality.
Down-to-earth is to defend against hostile and aggressive practices occurring today that are causing damage. "Awaiting" means participating in political and civic activities that ensure the health and safety of our wounded Earth. This goes beyond seeing the good in creation and showing respect through appropriate lifestyle; it includes changing the structures of our currently unjust society so that peace and justice can reign and that the day of the Lord will be hastened. When we see harm befall our troubled world, we cannot stand by idly; we must act as the Spirit directs us. Active awaiting is central to Advent calls for prayer and spiritual growth; this demands discovering and using resources at our disposal. We need the sacramental life offered to us; we need to support the faith of the assembled community to help us grow together. We give humble or down-to-earth service.
Radical Sharing Prayer: Holy Spirit, as we delve into this Advent season, inspire us to look into the degree that we share with our neighbor. This is an ideal time to ask whether we see that all must be shared and nothing held back through egotism or selfishness. Allow us to look at the roots of our activism; may we find what truly motivates us as we launch into the ordinary activities of life. Do we seek to share what we have that is precious with the needy? Is this part of our complete love of you? May we find ourselves in what we do, and find partners in the service we render.
What about Using an Umbrella?
Even with all the rain in Central Appalachia this year, does it make sense to talk about using umbrellas? This is a first among my four thousand 500-word essays. I looked about in closets and other places and could not find a single umbrella in the house. It’s not my macho style, nor even having one for a stranded visitor during a downpour. I do recall years ago, when reviewing an Englishman’s Basic 720-word English vocabulary, I discovered “umbrella” and found it odd. Why not “rain shade” or some equivalent that has my preferred Parallel Language, with its Germanic background. “Rain shade” have roots in Old High German regan (rain) and scato (shadow). Do you have a rain shade about the house? “Umbrella” certainly may be used to designate a plant and a tree; it has its roots of Latin origin in umbella, a diminutive of umbra.
I favor Germanic-rooted words and would prefer their use even when it takes two to be equivalent. For me, going from residence to church for services can be achieved with a four-wheeler and a raincoat. If someone volunteers to push my wheeler, they need the protective covering, for carrying their umbrella is nearly impossible – unless they try to make me, the seated one, attempt to hold the device in some fashion for their protection. I actually do not rashly judge those who are not practicing my method and often regard them as the wiser-- but that is a passing thought. However, at 90 years it is hard to break ordinary practices and a rain coat suffices for me unless the rain is quite heavy.
Why this subject? The thought came to me that with a crazy leader talking about tactical nuclear weapons, the unthinkable just might happen. Such an option could lead to a conflagration. For heaven’s sake, we need a cover of some sort to protect our planet and its people. Mere fear may not phase the desperate, who do not want to be defeated and who holds more nuclear weapons than any other leader in the world. In the past half century, some form of blackmail seemed sufficient, but is it? We could use a magic “umbrella,” but then we come back from a dream world to reality and realize that an impending defeat could bring out the nuclear resort in this Russian/Ukrainian conflict.
No single instrument can shade us from the raw reality that a rain of nuclear weapons (or even a single one) could be suicidal and lead to mutual destruction. Radioactive contamination would cloud the atmosphere and only a remnant of creatures could survive. Rains have their protective coverings, but do the use of tactical nuclear weapons? By the grace of God we have been spared until now, but our world has its streak of insanity and lack of guaranteed checkmates. Once before, Russian navy personnel were sane enough to stop what would have been a submarine-delivered nuclear missel during the Cuban crisis in 1960s. Would it happen again? We must pray for and work for peace ASAP with or without a rain shade.
Alexander Lee, "Waking Green Dragon" -
December 3, 2022 Challenging a Greener Global Future for China
On this feast of St. Francis Xavier, who died before reaching mainland China, we consider this amazing land of his dreams. China is on a risky journey of industrial growth that could have serious environmental consequences. However, former cases of industrialization involved far less populated nations and far smaller overall impact. China is massive (one-fifth of the world's population) and uses immense amounts of the world's resources as the workshop of the planet (40-45% of aluminum, coal, copper, nickel, and zinc). Emissions from Chinese industrial operations are generating extraordinary amounts of air (far exceeding WHO limits) and water pollution; this bodes poorly for prospects of global climate change control. Today air and water pollution cuts five years from Chinese life averages.
China is responding through the alarm of concerned citizens who may be challenging the structures of their national government. In turn, the government is starting to respond through its environmental protection agencies, which are being given more expressions each year to battling pollution. Even tens of billions of equivalent dollars do not fully address severe problems. China is the world's leading carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emitter at about 30% of the global amount (only 10% in 1990). China has more people affected by ocean-rising levels than any other country (600 million). In fairness, recipients of Chinese exports bear some blame due to pollution contained in manufactured goods that is counted against the producer. However, apportioning blame to a broader world does not reduce the problem, for the spotlight continues on China the master producer.
Chinese agencies and citizens see that air, land, and water clean up is most challenging. As with other industrial nations, China is focusing on energy efficiency to cut into hydrocarbon use per person (current per capita equals Europe) -- and it could make further headway through auto and truck efficiency. China is the world's heaviest investor in green energy and leads in wind and solar applications. However, China lags in fracking technology and its coal mines are somewhat unsafe, while at full production; its offshore wind has massive but untapped potential; its geothermal is hardly touched. China seeks to leave the carbon economy when still plunging deeply into it. Turning from exports to consumer demands for autos, air conditioning, and smart phones comes at an ever-increasing renewable AND non-renewable energy price tag.
Chinese spokespersons say they are faithfully following the West, but for a populated land like China that is not good enough. Chinese energy policy, like that of the U.S., has global implications. The world is watching the major economies, and public relations may have an effect. Concerned Chinese seek and are finding global solidarity on environmental issues. This is something that warms the hearts of those modern Francis Xaviers who want to help arouse and encourage the awakening Chinese giant.
Prayer to St. Francis Xavier: Inspire us St. Francis with the power the Lord gave you to touch the hearts of many. We need to go out from our little world to the entire planet and seek the salvation of all people who have never heard of Christ. May we use the modern tools of rapid communication to reach out to a wandering world. We need your spirit in capturing hearts and yearning for still more. May our prayers and sacrifices be global in scope through Internet, as were yours 480 years ago.
Fresh apple, for the birds.
December 4, 2022 Honoring John the Baptist
As we advance in the Advent season, we consider the one who first welcomed Jesus by a dance in the womb. Such was the start of the unusual mission of John the Baptist, someone extremely hard to imitate, but who possessed so many good qualities that we would like to have a few of them – beyond being dancers.
Simplicity: John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and his food was locusts and honey. At least he was clothed and he did have a rather nutritious though not fully inviting diet; most would not like to repeat such a lifestyle, though all who are called to profess Christ should aspire to simple lifestyle more suitable to the circumstance in which we find ourselves. Much of this lifestyle depends on friends, neighbors and civic expectations.
Openness: John was moved by the Spirit to prepare the way of the Lord through public speaking in the harsh desert and the preparatory rite of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. His language was quite direct and addressed to the various types within his audience. He moved each listener to prepare in his or her own way for the coming of the Lord.
Humility: He was quite aware that Jesus’ presence was an important occasion, of which he was so unworthy to act as a “master of ceremonies.” He did not feel worthy to carry the Lord’s sandals; he later said that his own decrease would lead to the increase of Christ’s mission.
Imitative: John had followers who were close to him. We do not know how much he demanded from them as to strict fasting and manner of lifestyle, but they were loyal to him and followed him in a rather strict approach to life.
Forthrightness: John was willing to publicly tell Herod, the absolutist ruler what was right and wrong at whatever cost – and he ends in prison. It was the situation in which he found himself when the wife’s daughter asked for his head on a platter – and the king obliged.
The Lord thought very much of his cousin and said he was the greatest, and yet those close to Jesus had some special graces that was not available to John, who was at a distance and was puzzled about these differences. In many ways John has a special mission of which none of us share, and so we find his virtues beneficial only when translated into what we can do as Christians in our current circumstances. We learn from John, we admire him, we can pray for his intercession, but we are different and are willing to be so. Our uniqueness is worth celebrating in the Advent season as much as John’s.
Repent and Believe: Holy Spirit, you awaken us in this season of Advent to the need for repentance, a topic John the Baptist clearly proclaimed in the desert. Just as many came to listen and believe him, so give people the grace to listen to the call today and to render our hearts accordingly. We need to be aware that we have made mistakes and that the road to your love is a direct path. May we be persistent in asking forgiveness, and quick to spread the Good News with a renewed spirit of urgency.
Nature's "tinsel" - snow in Kentucky December.
December 5, 2022 Celebrating Tinsel Day
This title is most intriguing for many, especially youngsters, caught up in the hype of the approaching holiday events and the gifts attached. Children see holiday decorations that glitter, sparkle, and shine (the root of the word tinsel); historically, that includes interweaving threads of metal (silver, gold or others) into cloth garments and adornments. The practice is extended to shiny metallic (often tin) objects that are generally inexpensive but used for ornamental purposes. Actually, Hollywood is "Tinsel Town," for its showy character and lack of depth.
Eye catchers in simpler ages used tinsel to allure the unsuspecting. Today, many of these objects and places would be regarded as cheap and gaudy and relics of a pre-computer gameless culture. Twenty-first century "tinsel" is more sophisticated, and inflated expectations include hundred-dollar computer games and thousand-dollar electronic devices, all for the wide-eyed and overly pampered. Tinsel Day is truly challenging for those who want to get alluring gifts to satisfy the material aspects of the holidays for home, work, study, entertainment, and even worship purposes. Tinsel today has a subtle enticement of soothing rapture and music emanating from Internet sources, elevators, stores and even mega-churches. Tinsel thrives in an inflated and sophisticated format.
Our Christian faith has a countercultural message. Christ did not come in tinsel, for Bethlehem's cave was bare, livestock munching hay all around, poor smelly shepherds, and darkness punctuated by heavenly light. A Holy Family saw no tinsel, only the raw reality of a poor setting and a rich spiritual event. Our peace of soul needs to be reinforced by turning from the tinsel of modern life and finding something far deeper and more in keeping with that first Christmas. We must starkly recall that Jesus came and lived among us, suffering and dying so that we might enter into the divine family. What a sacrifice devoid of surface glamour! In fact, maximizing comfort for affluent people in a troubled world is giving in to the allurements of the evil one.
Christ coming has a sense of wholeness that gives us a purpose in life, which goes far deeper than some entertainment during the holiday season. Jesus speaks a message of personal and community peace and security (not the tinsel of consumer goods and military might). Yes, true religion includes a streak of the uncomfortable, for to follow the Lord takes effort and willingness to suffer with him and all in this troubled world. The message is solid but spiritual, comforting but not comfortable, captivating but not materially alluring. The new-born Jesus confronts a troubled world looking for guidance. Our Discipleship has rough edges, but we are invited to experience interior peace and simultaneous exterior restlessness. No tinsel for us, please.
Insulation Prayer: Lord, you teach us to conserve the precious resources at our disposal. One of these lessons deals with preserving the domestic heat that warms us during the winter season. Make us all the more aware that to insulate our homes is an economic saving and an ecological blessing. Let us be prepared to review our current practices so that we save more of these limited resources. May we encourage others to do likewise.
Home-baked apple dumplings, to be shared as Christmas gifts.
December 6, 2022 Choosing Ideal Gifts for Christmas
On this St. Nicholas Day we either give the presents we have stored for months, or we panic with Christmas fast approaching. The samples of gifts below do not conform totally to all the ideal characteristics -- but nothing in this world is perfect, nor will we apologize. Ideal gift characteristics gleaned from previous Daily Reflections include: sensitive to the one receiving or the love of the one giving; resourceful and not too great impact on pocketbook and environment; useful, or at least a keepsake worth remembering; locally conceived or created; and worthy of the spiritual event. Samples illustrating characteristics include:
* Baked goods or food items liked by the recipient, and nutritious and not overly sugary, fatty, or salty;
* Books or reading material in a spectrum of varied interests honed to the current tastes of the recipient; and
* Poems, essays, or song renditions that are able to cheer someone who has experienced recent difficulties.
* A potted herb or flowering plant, because of the need to brighten and freshen the home during drab winter months;
* Exercise equipment that may assist the person who needs to do ongoing physical activity; and
* Illustrated greetings cards or some other artistic artifacts (painting, pottery, textile item, wood carving, etc.) that utilizes personal and neighborhood resources.
* Performance of a needed chore that the person receiving is unable to do in the normal course of events;
* An offered service when the person will be away on vacation, such as tending the grounds or feeding pets; and
* A gift to a charity either locally or at a distance in the name of the gift receiver.
* Fall produce or canned or preserved material from the year's growing season meant just for this person;
* Heritage seeds that are perfect for a budding gardener; and
* Help in an anticipated celebration for an anniversary.
* Visit to the sick or shut-ins at a convenient time and include a token gift as well;
* Call on or near Christmas Day to see how the person is doing; and
* A day's prayers and sacrifices for an individual with deep concerns such as an impending physical treatment or major surgery.
Prayer for Inspired Giving: Lord, on this Feast of St. Nicholas, give us the inspiration needed to find and prepare gifts that are not too materialistic, but rather communicate a spiritual message. Yes, I know there are limits to what I can discover and prepare and yet this is truly an opportune time to be a giver of spiritual things. Let us consider the receiver and make the gift a blessing. May others become more spiritual in gift-giving.
Beauty in a past-prime leaf.
December 7, 2022 Sharing Can Be Patriotic
On this day 81 years ago, the United States was unexpectedly attacked at Pearl Harbor. The attack stirred the patriotic fervor of an isolated nation, while President Roosevelt was trying desperately to give assistance to democratic allies being overwhelmed by Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan. American isolation was reinforced by two oceans thought too wide for airplanes to easily reach. Then came the surprise that a few of us remember. More can recall the surprise of September 11, 2001 when terrorists struck the New York City Twin Towers and Pentagon. Again, attackers were effective at awakening a complacent nation.
Today, America is still vulnerable, but with security and surveillance so comprehensive that libertarians regard it as infringing on Fourth Amendment citizen rights. The current Federal security systems unintentionally look into citizen communications without proper search warrants -- and Americans don’t like snoopers. However, this freshly minted libertarianism borders on the isolationism of the pre-World War II period. Too much self-interest makes us unaware of the broader global problems.
A fellow Kentuckian, the late Gatewood Galbraith, was nationally known as a promoter of hemp and medicinal cannabis in his witty 2004 book The Last Free Man in American. However, his limited appeal while running unsuccessfully for governor five times could have been through casting in with "nationalistic" militia and other gun-with-him toters (the book's cover has him holding an automatic weapon in an aiming pose). He loved his "Commonwealth" (Kentucky), but never seem to consider the global dimension of patriotism. I now regret after his unexpected passing not to have conversed about casting his message in a broader perspective, for both economic hemp and medicinal marijuana.
Sharing our democratic values in a waiting world is a primary act of extended patriotism, with its paternal or fatherly protecting aspects. America has through the Monroe Doctrine, NATO, UN, and a host of treaties sought to extend its democratic insights; it wants Africa to unite in a federated fashion to become a stronger and more forceful continent. Longer-term sharing could include federalizing financial transitions and money flight from one country to another; tax haven situations must be globally addressed for the benefit of all people. We have lessons worth sharing: America's 18th century problems stemming from trade barriers among states and confounding America's founders; they were overcome thorough cooperative efforts. Climate change demands globalizing efforts as well. We who successfully federalized thirteen states over time know the way to federal success. Our patriotism can be exercised now by advocating global federalization in addressing issues, and to see it as fulfilling our American ideals and values at a global level.
Pray for National Security: Lord, on this day when we remember Pearl Harbor, we ask you to give us insight to keep the security of our land in your hands. So many ways exist that could bring devastation in times of technical progress. The nuclear weaponry is an abomination and all this high military technology makes the world less secure. We must launch a campaign to disarm a world of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Expand our vision to go beyond the national to the global security scene.
The evergreen Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.
December 8, 2022 Dawning of a New Age: The Immaculate Conception
Robert Sears, SJ
A while ago I was teaching about Mary's privileges and her Immaculate Conception. One of the non-Catholic students asked, "Is that Mary's conception of Jesus?" “No,” I said, “December 8 is the Feast of Mary’s Conception, nine months before the Feast of Mary's birth on September 8.” This is the day we celebrate Mary's own conception without Original Sin, a challenging belief not only to Protestants but also to Catholic theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas argued quite correctly that Jesus is the savior of every human being including Mary so how could she be conceived without Original Sin before Jesus was even conceived, before he even existed as human? After all, Jesus had to become human to save us -- to become incarnate -- and that was not possible if Mary was not yet even conceived. It seemed impossible to Thomas, and his cogent argument was accepted by the church until the time of Duns Scotus, the English Franciscan theologian.
Scotus took a God's eye view of humanity and the incarnation of Jesus. He argued that humans could not be divinized (something all orthodox theologians accepted from the earliest writers) except in union with the Son become incarnate. Thus, Jesus would have to become human whether or not humans had sinned. He would not have died the same ignominious death on the cross -- the harvest of our sinful rejection of God -- but we still would have needed the Son of God to become human for humanity to be raised to God's life. That was God's intention for the human race, even before the first human was created. We were all created in view of Jesus who reveals not just what God is like, but also makes possible the raising of humans to the inner life of God. If Jesus was intended from the beginning, his mother must also have been intended from the beginning and given every preparation needed that was appropriate for Jesus. Since sin is an abomination to God, God’s Son’s would certainly be freed from sin if God could do it. Mary would also be redeemed by Christ (Scotus agreed with Thomas and the Church on this essential point, for Scripture had said "there is no other name in which we can be saved.") However, she was redeemed in a preeminent way by being preserved even from original sin in view of Jesus' predestined incarnation. She stands with Jesus at the origin of our redeemed life.
But if Mary was free from original sin, would that not separate her from us and make her unapproachable? To have such a mother would hardly be "good news," since we could not identify with her; we would seem all the more sinful in light of her sinlessness. I have heard this concern from Protestants and some Catholic women. Looked at more closely, we see that it is sin that separated Adam and Eve from God and caused them to distrust and blame each other, to hide from self and God, be at enmity with creation, and bring suffering and death. Freedom from sin means to trust God and creation and actually brings us closer to it. As a result, freedom from sin would also make us more open to suffering. It is sin that makes us hide and build up defenses against suffering (ourselves and that of others). Freedom from sin opens us to the truth of all experience -- our own and that of others -- and makes us compassionate! We see that clearly in Jesus, who is "tempted in all in all things like us, but without sinning" (Heb 4:15). He suffered more than any other human for he totally trusted God, and so was open and undefended. That is why he was so compassionate with the poor and sinners. He felt their pain. He feels our pain, and he felt the deep pain of our sin in his cry from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me." He and Mary are one with us because they have no sin, in a way they never could be if they had sinned. Sin closes us up to others and enslaves us. Because of sin the disciples ran and hid during Jesus' crucifixion. Mary stood beneath the cross -- experiencing in the depth of her heart the agony of her Son and human alienation from God. Her freedom from sin opened her to that destiny. We can approach her precisely because her freedom from sin makes her humble and more concerned about us than herself. It allows her to be one with us in our suffering and joys.
Further, we are not shamed by her gift, but ourselves gifted. Every grace of God is meant for the whole Body of Christ -- ourselves included. That is why we need to be "born again" (to be re-conceived free of sin) of water and the Spirit. (Jn 3:3) Like Mary, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him.” (Eph 1:4) Those that are born of God "cannot sin" (1 Jn 3:9), for God's nature (Spirit) abides in them. In other words, insofar as we live our lives in God's Spirit we become more and more like Mary -- free from sin. We are not fully there. We still sin and can choose to live by the sinful ways of our surrounding world, but the power to live without sin is in us, and constantly draws us back to God.
That is "very good news," not just for Mary but for all of us. Mary’s freedom from original sin restores God’s dream for humanity, to walk familiarly with humans in the Garden. What we celebrate on December 8 is the beginning of God's redemption in Jesus' mother, God's excitement in preparing the long-awaited vessel for His Son, anticipating the restoration of God's original dream in paradise -- the New Eve prepared for the New Adam. The heavens rejoice. With the poet Wordsworth all people can exclaim: "Our tainted nature's solitary boast." We all can rejoice because the gift given Mary is intended for us all, and is the beginning of our own coming home to God's deep forgiveness, healing and freeing.
Fr. Bob Sears, S.J.
Association of Christian Therapists
Immaculate Conception Prayer: O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, prepared a worthy dwelling for your son, grant we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so, through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence. Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.
Consider the Shut-ins
Like most mobile folks I used to have pity on those who could not get about easily. This changed when I became a shut-in. Run from self-pity when you no long run the vehicle; it doesn’t help. We strive to acquire patience and a cheerful manner, even when it is quite difficult to maintain. No self-pity is possible when you stop driving, please. It is perhaps harder for us, who jogged hundreds of miles and traveled by car or bike or other suitable conveyances to fulfill a busy schedule, to curb such activity today – and even feel comfortable doing so. Yes, we acquire new skills. Be patient, for it takes longer to do something ordinary. Be slow and braced when looking up or reaching down. Don’t multi-task, for you can lose your focus and balance.
Erosion of independence occurs. Shut-ins may still pride themselves on cooking, cleaning, planning and organizing their day, but we do need help in purchasing, recycling, cleaning the house and personal caring for self. Many of us hate to see independence moving to semi- and on the way to total dependence in the uncertain future. Those who wanted to live to be one hundred sooner or later have some second thoughts when they perceive the growing need for caregivers. Leave it for someone else as we continue our eternal journey.
Activity takes a different route. We know that our offering of good will and gratitude for being alive have a certain merit involved. We learn to love, but in a modified manner in which God becomes ever more present. Then it emerges that when done in cheerful spirits, this form of living minus direct marketplace activity still has a value and can even be a loving act that surpasses the whiner and ones who think they deserve more mobility and material goods. While handicapped without admitting it, still one can discover that attention to moving about with a walking cane or wheeler takes forethought, but we learn to do so with a forthright and humble quality of life.
Shut-ins, like persons blind or deaf, have their place in reminding others of the gift of mobility and sight and hearing. When a special gift is lacking the challenge for the “victim” is to remember all the multitude of other gifts operative right now. We are blessed and that includes seeing beyond what has restricted our social activities of yesteryear, and to discover emerging ways deserving of a sincere “thank you” to our Lord. Most shut-ins would prefer vacation trips and visits to loved one; okay, encourage them. And if a temporary or permanent shut-in, thank God and see present conditions as a blessing.
December 9, 2022 Developing Earthhealing Talents
Well, now is the favorable time: this is the
day of salvation. (II Corinthians 6:2)
Each of us has a special calling and we seek precisely what that entails in a new church year. Earthhealing is a joint enterprise and part of our service within the church is to encourage others to use their talents well, for the good of the poor. We focus on Jesus, who is all inclusive in his personality as expressed in Scriptures, and seek to imitate him according to our unique calling.
The favorable time is now, for our service involves identifying those in most need, the poor (human and non-human), and joining with others in working to heal the wounded. We discover that all have talents worth sharing and it is part of our task to encourage all workers in perfecting and using their gifts well. We also discover that their individual gifts can be part of the grandeur of Christ with us.
Each area of general personality contains desirable characteristics for assisting within the community of healers:
1. Serenity in the face of creative mystery.
Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road... (Luke 24:32).
2. Assertiveness of those in need of clean water.
Zeal for your house will devour me (John 2:17).
3. Loyalty by those wed to land in some fashion.
This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12).
4. Joviality in order to stay connected.
Fill the jugs with water, and they filled them to the brim... (John 2:7).
5. Solicitude for those who need care.
No, anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:26).
6. Discipline to master knowledge and weaknesses.
I have come not to abolish but to complete them (the Law or the Prophets) (Matthew 5:17).
7. Sensitivity to needs of individuals.
As he drew near and came in sight of the city, he shed tears over it (Luke 19:41).
8. Ambition without selfish possessiveness. Repent, and believe the Good News (Mark 1:15).
9. Wisdom to become reclaimers.
His teaching made a great impression on the people because he taught them with authority... (Matthew 7:28-29).
Prayer for Our Country: Immaculate Mary, intercede for our noble land as patroness. We need the help of God and so must discover that no action can be done apart from Divine Grace. You have a special privilege to ask in our behalf. Yes, we are a divided nation, but many people of good will hope the day is soon coming when all will share a common love of democracy, a common purpose and the Common Good.
Prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) for year-round enjoyment.
December 10, 2022 Licensing Automobiles AND Guns
We are aware that the proper order of our world demands that those with individual vehicles have some responsibility when using the public highways and roads. If improperly operated, our vehicles could hurt drivers, passengers, or others using the public thoroughfares. The argument is a no-brainer that auto operators ought to be licensed so that they are accountable for conduct on public roads. Society now expects licensing both operator/owners and likewise the vehicles used for public travel.
Gun licensing is good common sense. Some nations, states, and municipal governments accept similar vehicular operating reasoning and apply it to guns, both grading the owners and the instruments themselves. These conscientious citizens realize that stray bullets can threaten life and limb of operator or people who are within gun range. Thus, requiring a gun license makes it easier to identify those who bought, sold, traded, stole, or lost the weapon. Owners ought to be accountable for what happens with that gun, and understand their responsibility when possessing such mighty instruments of potential destruction.
The gun itself ought to be licensed. Methods of accountability exist today so that autos can be traced quite easily, even if an effort is made to hide them from the public. For autos there is less challenge because of size, but concealing smaller weapons is a concern because misuse is possible by individuals feeling a sense of power when wielding a weapon. A license addresses the public's right to know where a gun is located and whether it is under proper human supervision. Modern automatic guns are for military or police purposes and should never be in the hands of individual gun-owners. America with 46% of the world civilian guns (393 million or more than one per person) is replete with examples of gun misuse.
The gun-owner ought to be licensed. It is not enough that people can hold on to a gun; they must also prove that they will do no potential harm to society. Some people (in fact a majority -- young, old, ill, mentally retarded, criminals, and untrained) ought to be denied either auto or gun operation/possession for a variety of obvious reasons. The remaining minority ought to prove proficiency through a routine of local governmental issued examinations as occurs in auto licensing.
To own a gun means to keep it in a safe place away from those who can misuse it. Licensing is good citizenship; it is a commitment to handle and store weapons properly. Even gun collectors, who do not wish to fire their articles, ought to have some form of licensing of the objects and keeping them in an inoperable condition. Both autos and guns ought to be physically verified for the sake of peace within a community.
Prayer for Our Country: Immaculate Mary, intercede for our noble land as patroness. We need the help of God and so must discover that no action can be done apart from Divine Grace. You have a special privilege to ask in our behalf. Yes, we are a divided nation, but many people of good will hope the day is soon coming when all will share a common love of democracy, a common purpose and the Common Good.
Prayers Near Cedar Trees: Lord, we are captivated by the scent of the humble cedar, the evergreen that can be a Christmas tree. You make all simple things such that they bring us close to the coming of the Christ child. You give us the cedar to enliven our landscape, to furnish wood that is enduring, and to accept that this "weed tree" has its own nobility. Give us a sense of simplicity in all that we do.
The Ohio River, Meade Co., KY.
December 11, 2022 Spreading Joy Amid Today's Hard Times
I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. (Phil. 4:4)
On this Gaudete Sunday in mid-December Advent, we may find joy harder to elicit from everyone. Some acquaintances have to cope with illness, lack of essentials, or grave uncertainties. For them, we extend compassion and if possible, a helping hand. Troubles are faced by all of us in some ways -- and that means making the best of bad situations. Think of Jesus and his cousin John the Baptist, imprisoned and uncertain about Jesus’ mission. "Are you the one who is to come or are we to look for another?"
Some in a spirit of depression may ask the same question today. These are those on drugs or alcohol, who have lost family members, or have broken homes. Neighbors seek help and do not know where to turn. Our assistance can be offered in order to spread joy in finding faith in the Resurrected Lord, hope in the promise of eternal bliss, and love in our shared sacramental life.
Happiness is founded in Faith. Joy and gladness are precious and fragile commodities. We need to remain in a happy state even amid uncertainty; we do not know days or hours of our lives, or even the date on our tombstone, if we get one. Our future is an open book, but we can rest content in the security that only God can give. Our certitude in Faith counter-balances the uncertainties of human life. This gives us a core security that no one can take from us, and this is the ground from which our happiness swells forth. We express our confidence by inviting others to join and share together our understanding of each individual's dignity.
Happiness is rooted in Hope. Our faith opens our eyes to the invitation, founded in a spiritual anticipation of being a member of the Divine Family, in which we belong through Baptism. The hope rests that the fullness of that family life awaits us in the eternal future, and this can fill our hearts with a joy that cannot be taken away. The promises of the Lord are already fulfilled among the communion of saints. Their actions in our lives make us aware of great things to come, which give a perspective to troubles afflicting us and our neighbors and friends. We can share hope with the afflicted while still humming Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
Happiness is expressed in loving deeds. How else can love be expressed with meaning except in loving God through charitable deeds to our neighbors at Christmas? It's truly more fulfilling to give than to receive, and so we look about to see how we can extend the happiness that is within our hearts to others who have troubled lives at this time. In addition, we can encourage others to share and give from their bounty for those in need. Opportunities abound in ways to extend helping hands through charity when we look about.
Messiah Comes: Jesus, you are the promised one foretold and expected for centuries in Old Covenant times. You are the Messiah who comes to save the people. John the Baptist preached repentance in anticipation of your coming -- but he was isolated in prison and asked through his disciples, "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" Your reply involves acts of healing that can be seen by all: the blind see, the lame walk, and lepers are cleansed. May we anticipate your coming to us again at Christmas and reaffirm our faith with deeds of charity.
Decorated rain barrel.
(*photo by Heidi Othan, Creative Commons)
December 12, 2022 Having Rain Barrels
Rain barrels as water storage devices have many of the same advantages of cisterns. Being smaller, they have far less capacity, but still can come in handy when small garden plots need water replenishment. We have several barrels on our Church property and our blue ones add a sense of wellbeing to the two gardens and herb plot. In fact, my house also has a cistern that we discovered has crystal clear water and perhaps had not been tapped in a half century. We have inserted an inlet cutoff pipe for rainwater from a porch roof and are using this cistern water to refill our meditation pool and in the garden. What is so great about both cistern and rain barrel are sources of non-chlorinated water that adds to thriving plants and marine creatures.
While having both cisterns and rain barrels available are advantageous, we focus here on more accessible barrels, for many small property holders can obtain, install, maintain, and use them with ease. However, rain barrels empty fast, if one does not use extreme conservation measures when watering. Directing the rain water to needed plants means enacting a watering "triage" of care: first, young greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, and leafy herbs; second, other young plants; and last and omitted root crops, brassicas, and certain perennial herbs that can endure dry weather better.
Rain barrels are placed so that runoff from a relatively small area will fill it. Screened inlets will keep out the bugs and mosquitoes. Since a rain barrel is a "good neighborhood" teaching device, some effort must be made to decorate it as a noticeable artifact for landscape enhancement. Often volunteers find this a vehicle for displaying their decorative artistic talents. ASPI and other non-profit groups have rain barrels for sale at reasonable prices, and colorfully decorated by volunteers.
Besides being a vehicle for teaching conservation, rain barrel advantages are similar to those of cisterns:
* a low-cost per unit thus eliminating the need for municipal (chlorinated) water use;
* a source of pure rainwater lacking groundwater contamination from excess salt, iron, or other materials;
* a local resource that requires no piping of water from a distant place;
* control by home dwellers and gardeners who are more watchful when plants need additional moisture;
* absence of a need for chlorination treatment (if not used as potable water), for treated water is harder on plants;
* quite inexpensive to maintain. In very cold climates metal barrels ought to be drained (for frozen water expands), or fitted with interior Styrofoam blocks to reduce pressure if undrained; and
* reduced water bills by collecting rain and shower runoff, for immediate use during the growing season.
Prayer for Consumers: Lord, so many of us in this season of giving turn our minds to material presents. We are overwhelmed by the advertisements and the incentives. SAVE really means SPEND. Direct us away from our greedy instincts, even when the excuse is to buy for others. Help us to plan what we need, to direct our efforts at spiritual goals, and to refuse to be seduced by enticements that are deliberately placed in our path.
Goldenrod supporting a coating of snow.
December 13, 2022 Assisting Others in Giving and Giving Up
I must confess that I do not have patience with those who have much and yet are tight-fisted; this is especially true in this age of people lacking essentials, both domestically and especially in poorer lands. Note that on numerous occasions we have addressed charity. So does the current small book by Ben Scott, Giving: Why & How Much Money Should I Be Giving to the Church, to the Poor Using Three Pillars of Scripture. He puts out editions with slightly different titles.
What I find so revealing is Scott's plain language in which he paraphrased the Lord in audiences by saying "25,000 of my children were dying every day of starvation and you left all your money to your children?" In some way, Scott addresses those Christians with surplus and speaks about their own salvation and how it is related to money matters. I have another approach, but use the same basic Scriptural foundations -- and yet we both have our way of speaking, and I acknowledge his ability to address the ordinary middle-class Christians who are out there. I emailed my congratulations on his books and his willingness to distribute them at low cost, a noble ministry of giving to and for others along with his strong record of assisting with housing in Haiti and elsewhere.
Scott is an activist who attempts to address the pandemic of omission on the part of those who can afford to give and don't, or, as he says, the 90% that do not tithe. He is correct in seeing this as a minimum rather than some ordinary monetary goal. By using Scripture to back up charity he invites others to address whole-hearted practice of giving and giving. Pillars are: 1. The great commandments of loving God with all we have and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12: 28-31); 2. The passage of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46); and 3. The danger of riches, If you seek perfection, go sell your possessions and give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Afterward, come back and follow me. (Matthew 19:16-22).
As a fellow activist, I use similar points, but expand focus to moving forward to call for redistributing vast sums held by the superrich; we need to see what we must do to activate this process. Scott takes on a more practical aspect of Middle America (of which I agree in part); he offers those with surplus the opportunity to give without the use of external force, namely present them with a chance to freely do what he and his friends are doing in charity. Their apostolic fervor must not be belittled, but does it go far enough? For me, pure volunteerism won't do it, because too few participate. The majority hesitate in letting go of a system that is unchristian, outmoded, and perpetrating climate change and an environmental crisis facing our world. Giving is important; giving up surplus acquired through an economic system that perpetuates poverty is another issue. Is it harder to give from your surplus or give up acquiring the surplus in the first place? Think about it! We need fair taxes.
Saint Lucy: God of infinite light, give us special attention to St. Lucy, who is associated with burning candles by playful youngsters. The wearing of lighted crowns is dangerous, as are so many ways we generate and use fire and light. This day may be our reminder that young and old should pray for guidance and safety, and that you will help us utilize the light that is so plentiful to lead us forward.
A dusting of snow on cedar branches
December 14, 2022 Scenting the Holiday Season with Cedar
The sense of smell brings back memories, often vivid ones from older periods. Some are the odors that were unpleasant; others are the pleasing aromas that remind us of good times long past. Often the scents of this season are food-related, for they remind us of holidays through the years -- that only special cooks could generate. Others may recall rare perfumes of certain holiday residents or visitors. Maybe it is altar incense or the smell of candle wax. For others, the scents are the flowers used for decorations.
My favorite seasonal scent is the distinct whiff of cedar (the Eastern Red Cedar or Juniperus virginiana) and the cherished hunt for the perfect but humble tree that is narrated in Appalachian Sensations: A Journey through the Seasons for December. Note that the biblical quote refers to a majestic cedar tree of Lebanon, but arbor nobility somehow extends to the broader evergreen family.
December -- The Humble Christmas Cedar Tree
I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel.
It will sprout branches and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Every kind of bird will live beneath it,
every winged creature rest in the shade of its branches.
And every tree of the field will learn
that I, YHWH am the one
who stunts tall trees and makes the low ones grow,
who withers green trees and makes the withered green.
I, YHWH, have spoken, and I will do it.
No tree scent tops that of the humble cedar. It was our Christmas evergreen of choice in post‑depression times. Cedars are prolific in limestone soils and so our annual Christmas tree search took us as a family to select a native grown tree on our farm. Yes, some regard cedars as pests, but for most Appalachians they are friends. The cedar is bushy and makes a good hedge, is green the year round, and is tolerant of air pollutants. Its wood stays intact and proves itself to be an excellent preservative when fashioned into containers (the cedar chest). And cedars make wonderfully fragrant decorative boughs. Our junipers bear the biblical name "cedar" that pointed to the tallest of their noble trees, the cedars of Lebanon.
God's coming in flesh is to a simple hill people, into a mere stable, amid farm animals, and with no safe immediate home. This simple Christmas message can be told using our humblest of Appalachian trees, the cedar.
Prayer for Using Appropriate technology: Oh God, teach us to understand the big picture, to see the need to engage in well‑paced activity that demonstrates the worth of sound tools and social intent; free us from stress that hinders our daily duties. May this Advent be a time to recognize unsafe practices and resolve to promote technologies that are more appropriate for the work to be done. Open our ears to the call for caution. May we work together to make the world a safer place to live and work so that prosperity might come and endure.
The love of a puppy.
December 15, 2022 Admiring the Beautiful Ohio River Valley
The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted. Thomas Jefferson
God's beauty is all around us; we but look out and see the grandeur. Merely listing the wonders of portions of our Earth during warmer months season does not do full justice. The challenge is to see God's beauty in December even without a snow cover -- and to discover that it gives us a sense of rejuvenation. Thus, what we need to reaffirm in dreary late fall, after summer foliage turns to brilliant autumn shades and then fades, is that landscape itself augmented by water, a wonderful sight to behold. Such is the raw beauty that unfolds in the Ohio River Valley in December.
Hope-filled citizens seek to reclaim our natural areas and do so by taking time to move through and reflect on that God-given resource. A decade ago, long-time friend, Bob McDonald, took a five-day boat cruise on the Ohio from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and was fascinated by its beauty, topographical features, history, and captivating charm. He mentioned that 60% of the water of the Lower Mississippi is furnished by the Ohio River Basin. That drainage basin is far smaller than the dryer Missouri Basin, even adding in the Upper Mississippi basin as well.
The Ohio River's beauty is natural and has been recognized by Native Americans, explorers such as Pere Marquette, and many others. That beauty is enhanced by people's effort both in human construction and in care for the water quality of the river. Some compare the Ohio with the Rhine River Valley, though it lacks the picturesque castles and vineyards of Germany and France. Immigrants like my grandfather came to grow grapes on the slopes of the Ohio, though plans were squelched by an untimely grape vine blight. Still, the Ohio River attracted multitudes who built settlements along the banks together with architectural gems such as bridges and dams that pool the river. With time, efforts at keeping out untreated waste water and sewage have resuscitated the river and allowed large numbers of native fish species to return.
The Ohio River is called a "silver ribbon in a golden land," but it is not exclusively beautiful. Much of the planet has its own natural beauty. Just as my friend Bob gained renewed respect for its beauty through a scenic trip over a period of time, let us consider spending more time in the coming year sightseeing closer to home and finding the natural beauty with its human artifacts. With care and regulations, the beautiful Ohio has returned to a more natural state -- and fewer coal-fueled power plants in the near future will assist as well. We all need to notice nature's beauty, resist harmful practices, and praise efforts by those who enhance that beauty through creative and remedial programs.
Heartfelt Appreciation: Incarnate One, you blessed us by coming from both above and below. You came as Mary's babe from the House of David; you came as God's son from above -- an earthly/celestial intertwining, never to be loosed. May our Earth be honored by such a magnificent event, for Heaven touches Earth in a humble stable. Allow us to behold this grand moment and place, and never forget that we are called to be guardians of all that is sacred, including our wounded Earth. You give us transformed bread and wine and encourage us to repair and glorify Earth herself, whether a field, plot, yard or flowerpot. May we affirm your presence in our midst.