Footprints in the Snow. December 30, 2016

During this week of Christmas, we hear of two elderly prophets, Simeon and Anna, waiting patiently in the Temple, praying for the coming Messiah. As Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple for His Presentation, these two wisdom figures erupt in prayer and praise. We only know of these two prophets through a few verses in the gospel of Luke, and yet their witness and memory are like “footprints in the snow.”

While walking on a lonely road after a snowfall, the wind was howling up a storm. I noticed how the footprints imprinted in the snow gradually disappeared as the wind swept new snow across the road…slowly erasing any signs of a human walking. But did they truly disappear?

Simeon and Anna are like those footprints that are covered over by the winds of time. But under the surface of life, the footprints of these two prophets continue to “trod” a hidden path to the messiah. Their consistent prayer and patient waiting were grounded in an act of love deeply rooted in faith and the Promise of God. 

We are all making our own “footprints” creating a path as we slowly pilgrim our way through life. This “path” of footprints exists under the surface and can be seen with eyes of faith. Sometimes the wind of the Spirit clears away that which fills them, so they can be plainly  seen. Every act of kindness, mercy, justice, reconciliation creates an imprint that can be followed. The Saints have given us multitudes of foot printed paths through their witness. Faith has a way of clearing these paths so that we can see them and create a unique path with our own “footprint.”

What path am I creating has become a piercing question,  as the year comes to an end. I have been blessed with the example of so many women and men who have carved out a beautiful path of gospel witness: walking into the streets with food for the poor, visiting the sick and lonely, supporting the immigrant and refugee, teaching children, caring for the home, tending the garden, creatively investing  the economy to helo our needy, serving behind the counter, collecting our waste…the list endless and the paths marked by individual human beings our spiritual GPS. Where do our footprints lead? Around a tight-knit circle of life…or OUTWARD into humanity? 

Peace. Fr. Frank

Christmas Martyrs. December 26, 2016

The day after celebrating the birth of Christ we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. On December 28 we commemorate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod…these little baby boys threatened his power,  since a “king” was prophesied to be born. Herod felt he had to make certain that this newborn king, whoever he was, would not usurp his Throne. Just to be safe, he ordered ALL newborn boys to be killed. And on December 29, we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Becket,  who was killed in his cathedral at the orders of King Henry II in 1170. The King didn’t like the fact that Thomas kept challenging his authority in matters pertains to the Church. 

Christmas week, the Octave of Christmas extending the Feast eight days, reminds us that the birth, life and teachings of Christ will always encounter opposition, some violent, given the commemorations celebrated. Pope Francisco just sent a message to the Church on this Feast of St. Stephen that Christians all over the world are being killed for their faith at alarming numbers. The Pope is calling us who can worship and believe freely to pray for these martys of our own time. The freedoms we have can make us immune to the millions of Christians being persecuted and killed because they believe in Christ. As the Pope clearly states, the teachings of Jesus and His gospel will always shed light on the dark abuses of power. These darknesses exist in our own country, particularly in how we want to secure our dominance on the world stage. 

The Birth of Christ heralded “Peace on Earth,” a beautiful phrase sung in so many carols and songs. But this  “peace”will always come at a cost, sometimes a dire cost, because Christ’s Peace is rooted in the dignity of EVERY human being, from conception until death. There can be no peace without justice: for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the prisoner, the exploited, the unborn. For religion to be a means of bringing peace to the world, it can NEVER force or compel people to believe. NEVER. Christ extended His arms on the Cross, embracing the world in every age with mercy and non violence. Christ forgave those who killed Him; Stephen forgave those who stoned him. Forgiveness and Mercy bring a peace that is the balm the world so desperately needs. In our own lives, when we let go of vengeance and the need to control, when we forgive and show mercy, we not only bring peace to the world….we give birth to Christ in our own individual humanity. What a powerful Truth Christmas celebrates. 

Peace. Fr. Frank

A Charlie Brown Christmas. December 22, 2016

I just watching this beloved classic remembering watching it with family when it first aired in 1965. Charlie wonders in exasperation just what is the meaning of Christmas. Linus takes center stage and  asks for a spotlight to shine down on the stage as he beautifully tells the story of the first Christmas according to Luke’s Gospel. After telling the story of Christ’s birth, Linus tells Charlie Brown in so many words, “Now that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Wow!!! It really is so simple that the true meaning of Christmas can easily get lost in the trappings of the season. A cartoon over 50 years old is timeless in its message, which is barely 25 minutes in length. Take the time to reflect on what Christmas is all about. Let the wonder and beauty of the Nativity of our Lord, the Word Made Flesh, take center stage in your heart. The Christmas story is alive in your  own life, as you give birth to Christ every time you love, forgive, reach out, accompany, gently speak the truth, feed the poor, welcome the stranger…”Glory to God in the highest and Peace to His people on  earth.”

Christkindlmarket. December 20, 2016

I walked through this joyous festive outdoor market in Daley Plaza, thinking about the horrible tragedy that took place in a similar market in Berlin. Each entrance was flanked by two large chicago police trucks, with several  police officers keeping watch. The first Christmas was filled with harsh realities and rejection, including the slaughter of the Innocents. The world in which we live has many darknesses, including attacks of terror in places where people gather to create community. The first Christmas had its share of darkness. 

Mary and Joseph have to leave their home to participate in the census; Bethlehem, the least of villages, did not open its door in welcome; the Child had to be born in a damp cave around animals; he was placed in a feeding trough for comfort; the Holy Family had to flee the wrath of Herod; the first born were slaughtered because Herod was threatened by this newborn King. There was little that was sentimental and quaint about the first Christmas. 

I write this on the shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice when the rays of the sun point away from the earth on an angle. The irony of the two solstices: the sun is actually closer to the earth at the winter solstice than at the summer solstice. At summer, the rays are very direct and pointed,  creating heat. After December 21st, the sun gets stronger and daylight gets longer. Warmth is slowly returning. 

Christ is the “Son” whose Light and strength grow at any time of the year when we reflect His Light through our actions. It is no coincidence that Christmas comes at a time of the year when the “sun” is getting stronger. Yes, like the sun, Christ, the Son, is returning. 

May our ” Light” shine in the darkness of illness, loneliness, violence, addiction and hatred. We pray for a world in which all of Gods’s people are safe wherever they may be and all the Christkindlmarkets be freely open without any barricades. 

Peace. Fr. Frank