The Best Thing We’ve Read All Day: Pastor in North Dakota Edition

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The meat:

“You’re part of something big,” Mr. Ray, 45, recently recalled the priest having told the couple. “And when you’re part of something big, you’re going to come under spiritual attack. But fear isn’t from God. God doesn’t push. God doesn’t rush. God is just there waiting for you.”

Father Gross has similarly been present since taking the pulpit at the modest church — bricks on the outside, cinder blocks on the inside — in the early summer of 2012. Like the other clergy members in town, most of them Protestant, he represents the stable, ordering force of religion in a region of the country being radically transformed by the bonanza of shale oil and natural gas.

Read it all here. 

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Guest Post: History, Scripture, and Church: Christ in Context

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By Erik Lenhart

Last month, James Carroll wrote a piece for the New York Times, entitled “Jesus and Modern Man.” In the article, Carroll praised Pope Francis for understanding that “the church exists for one reason only — to carry the story of Jesus forward in history, and by doing that to make his presence real.” Carroll correctly asserts that forgetting or neglecting Jesus’ Jewish context creates “grotesque distortions of who Jesus was.” Thankfully, recovery of the Judaism of Jesus has been a fundamental point for New Testament scholarship for the last several decades. In the past few years, Gerhard Lohfink and John P. Meier have produced great books for understanding Jesus in his context. Everything has a context, and context is what makes people and words intelligible and applicable. Without context, things become confused and disconnected from their origins. Context also allows for continuity with the past and present.

This continuity has a broader scope than just history. To make Jesus’ presence real, we at (at least) two additional contexts: the whole corpus of Scripture and the community of faith. We read the Gospels within all of Scripture, which we read together as a church. Thus a recovery of Jesus’ Judaism is necessary, but only one piece for interpreting Scripture and Jesus.

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God Looking Like Us: A Christmas Homily

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Just a few hours before Mass, two friends from college texted me a picture of their first child, born on Christmas Eve. Who does she look like? they asked. How in the world should I know? (I’m a thirty year old priest and don’t have much expertise in these things.)

But, this is an experience we all have: do you have your mother’s ears or your father’s nose?  We always seem to ask or are asked questions like these.  When I was younger and threw a temper tantrum, my parents would ask each other (quite seriously it seemed): where did he learn this?

We can ask ourselves the same question after hearing the Gospel. On this Christmas, who have we looked like over the past year?

Do we look like the Joseph and Mary, nervous about the future, unsure about the next step to take in their lives?

Do we look like the great Caesar Augustus, trumpeting his gains, counting all the successes of our lives?

Do we feel like the shepherd, haggard by life’s circumstances, overwhelmed by the demands of our responsibilities?

Are we like the other travelers streaming into Bethlehem, unsure about our place in the world and in our circumstances?

Or, perhaps, we sing about the last year’s successes like angels.

Maybe we even feel like the inn owner, out of room and resources, wondering how both others and we will make ends meet.

Chances are, if we really stop to think about it, we have looked like a combination of all of these people over the past year.

But Christmas isn’t about who we have been in the last year – we don’t walk in here as if we’re baseball cards, statistics regarding goodness, income, or forgiveness written over us (and thank God for that!)

Rather, we come here not because of our past, but because of what God is doing right in our present!

Christmas is, more than anything else, a celebration that God is in our midst, not dependent on what we’ve done, but rather as a statement of his own goodness!

God’s involvement in our lives as the Word made Flesh, as Christ the Lord, as a real human being means that there is nothing in our lives that God cannot understand from personal experience.

Family troubles? In just a few weeks, we’ll hear the Gospel of Luke  asking Jesus what had happened when he wandered away in Jerusalem.

Grieving? Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.

Frustrated with the state of the world? It was Jesus who cried for the Holy City, Jerusalem.

Feeling burdened by a lack of resources? Christ multiples loaves and fish.

Know an experience of betrayal? Peter and Judas – enough said.

And yes, even in death, Jesus knows. It is no accident that just above the wood of the manger hangs the wood of the Cross!

In all these things, the reality of God become a human being, the Word jumping down from heaven into our world, we are reminded that God has come to dwell in the world, no more to depart from us.

And so on this Christmas, after we’ve become frustrated with our families (and think, well I don’t look like him!), we can recall that Christmas really isn’t about who we look like in any event. Rather, it’s about who God looks like: you and me.

And that, brothers and sisters, is quite a present from the Lord indeed.

Is the Night Really Silent?

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

And the night was silent – the whole world was at peace. Or was it?

In taverns around Bethlehem, the Roman garrison members drank their fill and cast weary eyes at those streaming in because of the census. They made sure their weapons were nearby, because one never of what those who didn’t call Caesar “Lord” could be capable.

Travelers scrambled for rooms, attempting to find space for children and beasts of burden, scraping together their few coins for lodgings. And, did those rooms (and roommates) really look safe anyway?

Innkeepers sought to pack their buildings with travelers, anxious for a profit. Perhaps one with a minor case of the scruples wondered if that older gentleman and his pregnant wife had found a place to stay: they seemed rather odd, didn’t they?

Meanwhile, shepherds milled about on a cold desert night, eyes drooping with sleep – the noise of sheep and wind blotting out the dangerous howls of wolves seeking a weak member of the flock. One, two … fifteen … seventy-five. Had one of the hundred gone missing again?

And yet, we always find ourselves singing silent night, holy night. It’s almost as if we are trying to convince ourselves.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the world, in a quiet out of the way corner of the universe, a scared mom and dad flank a manger, as their first-born makes his way into the world.

Yet, in the silence of that lonely manger, a sound is heard: the sound of love.

Angels sing, shepherds come to adore, and even the animals kneel in tribute. Here in what we think is silence, we find the call of God’s love – the quiet whispering of God calling humanity back to the wholeness that can only be found in a relationship with the child born in that manger on this (allegedly) silent night.

As our world continues to spin, getting noisier and noisier, we are once again called to listen closely to the silence – on this silent night (on all silent nights) – and invited by the Lord to once again listen to the sound of love. It is the sound of love which sounds like the cry of a single child who will cry in the manger, who will cry blessed are the poor in spirit, who will cry forgive them father, who will cry peace be with you, who will cry behold I am with you until the end of the ages.

Hear the silence. Hear the cries. Hear God’s love.

The Paradox of Christmas: How do we Embrace the Joyfulness of the Season in Such a Broken World?

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By Claire McGrath

With Christmas only a few days away, in my family, it’s crunch time (and I’m guessing we aren’t the only ones). It’s time to buy last minute gifts (or, if you’re like me, start your Christmas shopping), finish sending out Christmas cards, put the last of the decorations up, and make sure that everything is prepared for the big day. Christmas is a time of celebration, peace, togetherness, and joy. However, it can be hard to feel the happiness and light-heartedness of the season when as we sit in our cozy living rooms, Christmas tree glowing and a fire warming us, we turn on the news to be bombarded with images of continuing riots in Ferguson, innocent schoolchildren being murdered in the Middle East, and cops in New York being brutally assassinated. How can we celebrate peace when we live in a world so divided by racism, violence, and hatred? How can we feel joyful when there is suffering within our own families, or in our own hearts?

It’s difficult to reconcile the celebration of Christmas with all of the horrific tragedies that create such intense heartache for so many. We may feel guilty about participating in festivities while so many are hurting, or we may feel too much heaviness in our own hearts to join in the carefree attitude we refer to as “Christmas spirit.” We may be torn between acknowledging the suffering going on around us, whether that be in the Middle East, the US, or in our own home, or simply putting our recognition of these tragedies on hold, and temporarily blocking it out until the Christmas season is over.

Continue reading The Paradox of Christmas: How do we Embrace the Joyfulness of the Season in Such a Broken World?

Guest Post: Know Love, No Fear

An Essay Regarding

Compassion and Truth
in the Face of Tragedy in America

By Joseph P. Murray

The other day, I posted something on Facebook expressing my disgust at the comments madeby former Mayor Giuliani regarding the recent deaths of Eric Garner and New York City Police Officers Lu and Ramos. I was disgusted because his commentary, though carrying with it some truth, was, in my opinion, rife with bias and a lack of empathy for the information and people surrounding these tragic events. In that angered state of mind, I wrote some pretty scathing things about the former Mayor, which, in the moment, seemed appropriate in detailing how upset I was. I should probably preface this by letting you know that, as an independent musician and native New Yorker, speaking my mind and being brutally honest with my opinion is something that comes pretty second-nature to me. And so, in this moment of contention and plain old pettiness, I clicked the ‘post’ button, allowing for my social network to revel in – or be reviled by – what I had to say.

To give you some more context, I should also tell you that, while I am a fiercely proud son of a
2nd Generation Irish-American family, I myself am, by ethnic definition, a mixed race Colombian (West African, Native American, and European, to be exact; thank you Ancestry.com), adopted at the tender age of 3 months and transported via a 747 to the neighborhood of Breezy Point. So I’m sure you can see how the events of recent weeks and months have presented, if nothing else, a dichotomous and emotionally complicated terrain for me to cross in my day-to-day life.

After I hid and deleted the post (oh, come on, you knew that was coming), I called my cousin Kevin. Kevin is a proud husband and father of two kids, an Irish Roman Catholic man whose life experiences include time in the New York City Fire Department (his brother is still a member), and, like me, whose extended family consists of many firemen and cops. Upon seeing my post, he proceeded to comment, and, as they say, “read me” for all I was worth. At first, I was extremely upset; how dare a family member, knowing who I am and how I choose to voice my opinion, say that I was “spewing hate” or misappropriating the facts? Didn’t he know that I was a fighter for a noble cause?

Didn’t he understand that there needs to be someone like me to keep the conversation going? At the very least, couldn’t he have used less scatalogical language in his reply? Jeez!
And then I took a moment, and reread what I had written. My God, I thought to myself, this was bad. This was really, really bad. I hid the post, and proceeded with the phone call.

My cousin and I have always had a good relationship. He supports my work as a musician, I provide the comic relief at the family gatherings and holiday get-togethers; it’s a win-win. But in all seriousness, he has been a commendable example of a smart, grounded man from good stock that did right by his parents and built a fine life for himself. On the phone, we spoke of many things, first assuring me that what I had said had not led to a vote of having me excommunicated from my father’s side of the family, and then delving into the premise behind my post. Namely, how to react and assess the tragic deaths of these three men over the past several months, and the virulent social backlash that has flowed from the subsequent news coverage. Tough topics like race-relations, police brutality, the plight of People of Color in America, and how it’s viewed by its civil servants were all discussed; nothing was off the table, and when I hung up an hour or so later, I felt…better? If not better, at least less angry.While there were things we discussed that never saw us seeing eye to eye, one thing that Kevin mentioned that helped throw things back into perspective was his kind, but stern admonishment of my social media presence (and my commentary on current events in general): “be responsible,” he said. “Just try and be more responsible with what you say.”

And he was right. I knew better, being from a family of outstanding civil servants – my father, a retired FDNY captain, my mother and sister, Paraprofessional NYC teachers – that the things the men and women who serve our great city see on a regular basis paint a much larger and comprehensive picture of what really goes on here than most. I know that sometimes that picture isn’t pretty, and so opinions form based on the ugliness that one comes across doing these kinds of jobs. And I know that, just like mine, those opinions are to be respected, because they are based in life experiences that I will most likely never have. I consider myself blessed and very fortunate to live in a city where we have great individuals who take a stand against the things and people of the world who would see it burn before they would sit down and have a conversation.

But I also know that across this country, there are individuals who have never been given the chance to experience those blessings. The reasons behind that are intensely complex, stemming from how the public views the gender/ethnicity/orientation/religion of those people, to how those who take on the job of making or enforcing our laws keep order in the midst of the misunderstandings that arise between individuals. In truth, much of the recent social strife we have seen in our neighborhoods and across the country harbors the residue of a very real enigma that the concepts and verbiage set down in exemplary documents like the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, while touting the noble ideals of freedom and equality, started as an exclusive and selective display of what America was to represent and how she would progress as a nascent nation. This exclusionist policy, which saw the dismissal, subjugation, and/or persecution of groups like the African, the American woman, the
Catholic, the Irish, the Indigenous, the poor…this has been the fulcrum from which some of the most radical progressive change has emerged over the centuries of American history, with these groups, alongside other Americans, tasking those who create and enforce policy to foster inclusion, and to live by the great words set down by this country’s forefathers, as opposed to their own goals or intentions. However, the long-term negative effects of these primary decisions are still present in our society today. It is, in essence, a truth that many find hard to bear, regardless of their stance on the state of American society. We have seen how the pain and anger of those long-term effects has been the premise behind the multiple accounts of loss of life that have been highly publicized by the media, how basic misunderstandings and prejudices have taken away fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, police officers, friends. And we have seen how the public has used these events – as well as the objectionable job being done by the corporate-owned news media in following their stories – to further their bias, their bigotry, and their fear.

For some, it is a fear of authority in the form of law enforcement and our justice system. For others, it is the fear of People of Color in this country, that they are somehow at the root of its violence and the source of its problems. For others still, it is the fear that if we face some of these hard truths, we will somehow be compromising our own sense of order, or worse yet, discredit the honorable words laid down in the Constitution and thereby render forfeit our sense of peace and security. Whatever it is, it is all based in fear, and not in fact, but the fact remains that if we continue on this path of being afraid to change our minds, our outlook, or our understanding, there can be no hope for a peaceful future.So what is the answer to these deep, protruding quandries of the world? How do we fight the bleakness of our own fear? How do we rise above so much hatred, mistrust, violence, and death? The answer is so blessedly simple, but I believe it’s the simplicity of it that makes it so hard to grasp.

Love.

I know that by giving that answer, some of you have probably written off everything else I’ve typed, but it is the truth that I’ve come to know. I am certain that I will not be able to pick up a gun and go after the evils of the world; I don’t think I could ever be one of our brave men and women serving our city, or serving in our armed forces, living day to day with the possibility that, because of the career they’ve chosen, they may not come home to their families. But what I also know is that, for many of them, Love is what propels them to take on these arduous and dangerous tasks. Love for their city, their country, their families, and their futures.

The Love that I know, in addition to the unbelievable Love that God has shown me by blessing me with an incredible set of family and friends, is the inconceivable gift of being able to make music. I know I didn’t deserve it, but it was given to me to make better this world that is so full of pain & anger.

It took me a long time to realize that, and so I carry that responsibility with pride and sense of dignity that cannot be compromised by the hatred or misunderstanding of who I am. I use my music to project Love, and the Love I’ve received in return has been unbelievable.

But however you choose to Love, be sure to choose Love. Choose it over hatred, or prejudices, or xenophobia. Choose to Love knowledge, instead of feeding your head with misinformation fed to us by the media; seek out the Truth, do research, get the whole story before making a judgment call, especially with tragic events such as these. Choose to Love peace, instead of being consigned to the idea ingrained in our history that the only way we can achieve it is through violence and death. But choose to show Love and respect to all our exceptional officers and soldiers who do their job in a manner that upholds our Constitution without compromising the rights of the people. Choose to Love progress that fosters positive change and the spread of justice for all people. The best part about choosing Love is that it allows you to show support for the best of these things, as opposed to having to take one side of an issue. As someone who has been purposely riding the fence of topics like social justice and system reform, I encourage others to do the same. You can support good cops and denounce police brutality. You can be against political corruption and still appreciate the American political process. You can protest economic disenfranchisement and still be an active consumer of ethically sound products. You can mourn the loss of victims of violent crime, even if they themselves were viewed as criminals. We have to do away utterly with this narrative of, “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.” It has proven to foster nothing except further civil unrest. We have to err on the side of compassion, instead of being cautionary with it in these days and times. The more we can celebrate our differences as well as our similarities, the closer we get towards the still-out-of reach goal of World Peace.

I hope this serves as a reminder of the work we have to do as children of God to find ways to come together. I still believe it can be done; I have to believe that. If I didn’t believe such a goal was attainable, I never would’ve taken down that post, or spoken with my cousin. But I did, and we talked, and it really reminded me that with some responsibility and a whole lot

“Where there is Love, there is no fear.”
–Dr. Barbara Ann Teer


Joseph P. Murray is an aspiring musician and social commentator. Check out his website: pmurraymusic.com and follow him on Twitter: @pmurraymusic.

O Radiant Dawn!

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By Matt Keppel

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

I remember when I was a kid, my friends, my sisters, and I used to play in my parents’ basement. Everything would be fine until someone turned off the light. It would be this point that someone would run and get hurt or freak out. Okay, I would freak out. Have you ever seen The Amityville Horror? Not the shoddy remake, but the horrific original. The one with the blood flowing down the stairs and the evil well underneath the basement stairs? I saw it once… when I was 6. It has haunted me ever since. When those lights went off and I was stuck in the basement, those scenes came flashing back. The darkness has that tendency: to dredge up our deepest, darkest fears. It is no wonder really. What was once well defined through illumination is now overshadowed by infinite possibility. With no point of reference, our imaginations run wild with fear in the driver seat. Yet, the mystery of darkness is more than a place of immobilizing fear, rather a place fluid with possibility. While we wait for the light to break the darkness, we often panic doing whatever we can to protect ourselves. Some people run, trying to escape, others tremble in fear doing what they can to hide from something that penetrates our deepest self.  Yet as much as it is a place of fear and unknowing, it is even more a place of opportunity. Despite what our eyes tell us, much can happen in the shadows.

Continue reading O Radiant Dawn!

O Antiphons: O Dawn! O Oriens!

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By Tom Palanza, Jr.

The recent release of the third “Hobbit” movie put me into a Tolkien mood and the recent close of the academic year gives me more time to think about my love of Tolkien again.  So, of course, I could not help but use a favorite scene of mine from the Two Towers in my reflection on the antiphon of the day.  Towards the end of the battle of Helm’s Deep, after a long, cold, rainy night of fighting for their lives, defending themselves and their families from a massive, swarming army of human sized goblins (Uruk-hai) hell-bent on slaughtering them all, Aragorn, the long awaited king of men, pauses from the battle.

At last, Aragorn stood above the great gates, heedless of the darts of the enemy.  As he looked forth he saw the eastern sky grow pale.  Then he raised his empty hand, palm outward in token of parley.

“What are you doing here?” they answered.  “Why do you look out?  Do you wish to see the greatness of our army?  We are the fighting Uruk-hai.”

“I looked out to see the dawn,” said Aragorn.

“What of the dawn?” they peered.  “We are the Uruk-hai: we do not stop the fight for night or day, for fair weather or for storm.  We come to kill, by sun or moon.  What of the dawn?”

“None knows what the new day shall bring him,” said Aragorn.  “Get you gone, ere it turn to your evil.”

Continue reading O Antiphons: O Dawn! O Oriens!

O Key of David – Open the Door! Let Me In!

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By Ellen Romer

I have a lot of keys. My apartment requires four, between front and back doors, mailbox and deadbolt. Keys to my office, the larger office I am in, the building I work in. Keys can be quite helpful. I locked myself out of my apartment by leaving my keys at my friend’s house. That was annoying. I needed them so that I could get in.

Losing keys sometimes isn’t just annoying, but it can make you feel unsafe. Keys keep others out. They give permission for some to enter and for others to be locked out. Whoever holds the keys decides who is let in. And in letting others in, we make ourselves vulnerable. Being vulnerable and open is scary. So often we just keep our doors locked so that we can be safe and untouched.

So Jesus, the Key of David, How much does God want to let us in? God wanted to let us in so much that God decided to be just like us. God wanted to be so vulnerable that coming as a baby was the way to go. A tiny little baby that needs someone else and has to let others in because that’s the only way to survive. Jesus, our God-with-us, shows us that when we have the power to keep every one out, the best thing to do is open ourselves and let everyone in to see us in our weakest, neediest, most vulnerable state.

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O Antiphons Day 3: O Radix Jesse (A Day Late)

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By Claire Bordelon

When meeting someone for the first time, it’s fairly common practice for Louisianians to ask, “who’s your mama?” In fact, there’s a pretty successful line of cookbooks centered on that very theme, for those of you who are interested. What then proceeds is usually a litany of last names, hometowns, and a catalogue of marriages and births that have taken place, to which someone inevitably responds that yes, they see the family resemblance: “you have your mama’s eyes,” or “that’s the [insert family name] nose, right there.”

I mention this particular quirk of Louisiana because it stands so clearly aligned with today’s O Antiphon, O Radix Jesse, which focuses on this same notion of familial relation, Christ’s lineage, and our own inheritance as a community of faithful:

O Root of Jesse, who standest as the ensign of the people, before whom kings shall not open their lips; to whom the Gentiles shall pray: come and deliver us, tarry now no more.

The reference to Isaiah’s prophecy that “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (11:1) draws our minds back to our own rootedness in Christ. But what family resemblance can we, the often wayward adopted sons and daughters, hope to share with Christ and his lineage? As unlikely as it may seem, that is precisely what constitutes much of our spiritual journeys toward or away from God. This is an especially important meditation to make at this moment in the Liturgical Year; as we await Christ, we are called to reflect upon the ways that our spiritual countenances resemble (or fail to resemble) Christ’s. Faith, hope, and charity are the components of our family tree, those traces of an ancestral face made present again through our devotion to Christ.

The good news is that just as having your mama’s eyes is likely to get you invited over for dinner, our spiritual resemblance to Christ initiates us into an even more perfect and joyful Heavenly Banquet. I just hope there’s gumbo.