First Sunday of Advent

KEEP AWAKE

By Lucinda M. Vardey

Advent with its short, dark days, is a period for preparation. While Christmas tunes are piped through the malls, and gifts are being bought and wrapped, it takes discipline to focus on what we are really preparing for.   Baking seasonal cookies with a friend, we could be one of those two women in today’s gospel, “grinding meal together.”   It is a busy time, but as American monk, Thomas Merton, noted busyness can be a disguise for laziness.

St. Paul reminds us not to turn our attention to personal gratification and desires, but to be cognizant of what it takes for each of us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Jesus instructs us to be spiritually alert, aware of what distracts us from focusing on what matters most.  Just as he asked the sleeping apostles in the Garden at Gethsemane, he asks the same of us:  “Keep awake and pray.” (Mark 14: 38)

Prayer helps us keep awake to God’s presence and to grow in God’s love. The Lord can then “teach us his ways .. that we may walk in his paths….”(Isaiah 2:3)

By being vigilant towards what matters most, we are more able to recognize how God is directing us, shaping us and providing for us.  Being awake to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we keep open the doors of our hearts, prepared for the surprise that Jesus’ coming will bring.

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Solemnity of Christ the King

KINGSHIP OF MERCY

by John Dalla Costa

Many of us bemoan the state of leadership. Financial crisis, political gridlock, and scandals in senates, and at city halls, have generated tsunamis of cynicism. With political divisions festering, we find ourselves more divided at the very moment when shared purpose and resolve are desperately needed.

Israel at the time of Samuel was embroiled in its own social crises. Treachery and scandal had soiled the elites. The people were in shock from defeat in battle that included the capture of Ark of the Covenant by enemies. When the elders anointed David as King of Israel, they thrust on him the people’s messianic hopes; not only to re-forge political order and unity, but to also re-consecrate the covenant with God.

Even though conventional kingship began to fail during David’s reign, his was the template for messiah that continued to shape expectations. This is why the leaders present at Golgotha “scoffed” at Jesus, and why the soldiers “mocked” him. But as we read in today’s gospel, not everyone missed the transformational qualities of the Jesus’ kingship. Usually we are instructed by the compassion Jesus shows to others. However, in this instance, when Jesus is most vulnerable, it is the thief crucified with him who speaks from the heart, defends Jesus, exposes injustice, and initiates reconciliation by asking for Jesus to remember him.

This kingship of mercy is authentic leadership because it leverages authority from love, not power. And it works because it generates unity from compassion rather than conquest.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

END OF A SEASON

By Maria Di Paolo

The cold weather reminds us of the coming of winter: the leaves have fallen, plants have died down, birds have flown south to warmer climates and other creatures have gone into hibernation until the spring.  The last weeks have seen a flurry of activity as God’s creatures prepared for the long nights, short days, and freezing weather that bring another cycle of life to a close.  We city dwellers are somewhat immune to the change in season, but it is not so long ago that our ancestors would have had to adjust their lives to the dead days of winter while they looked forward to the next spring and the renewal of life.

Our liturgical year is also patterned after the same natural cycle of new life, growth and death: from Advent and Christmas, through the Easter season, and the birth of the Church, to the latter part of the year when the readings become more introspective and focus on the “end times” and death.  November is often referred to as the “month of the dead” starting with Feast of All Souls on November 1, and All Saints on November 2.  During November we keep a Book of the Dead in the church in which we write the names of dead family members and friends and we pray specially for those who have died and gone before us.

The Gospel readings in November come from the latter part of Luke, after Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem before his Passion.  The stories presage destruction and death, but there is also hope of new life through the Resurrection and the coming of the Son of Man.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

TRANSFORMATIVE COMMUNITY

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

Our readings this week remind us that who we are now, is not who we will be.  The present age is as difficult for us as it was for our ancestors.  And though persecution is not what it used to be (some could argue it is worse), the resurrection – the idea that we are transformed – is eternal.

Over the past few weeks, many people have commented that they feel a new energy at St. Basil’s.  Of course, I am happy to hear this, but the temptation is to associate the change with my arrival.  While I appreciate the credit, it is really a group effort.

One of the books I frequently recommend (especially to those in leadership positions) is Community by David Block.  Among other things, David writes about “transforming communities.”  In order for a community to be such, he argues, people (1) should focus on the structure of how we gather and the context in which our gatherings take place; (2) work hard at getting the questions right; (3) choose depth over speed and relatedness over scale.

Traditionally, Block continues, the dominant belief is that better and more leadership, programs, funding, expertise, studies, training and master plans are the way to build community.  They are a path to improvement, but not transformation.

So what does a path to transformation look like?  In a word:   curiosity.

Think for a moment about your own reaction to things and people that make you curious.  Now think about your understanding of the Church. . . about your faith. . . about this parish. . . what are we curious about?

Is this the right question?  Does it give us permission to doubt in a safe context?  Does it give us permission to learn?   To ask a question?

On my Twitter account, I quote the line from David Block, “Questions themselves are an art form worthy of a lifetime of study.”  He elaborates, “Questions that trigger argument, analysis, explanation, and defense have little power.  They may be interesting, but that is different from being powerful.  Rather, A great question has three qualities:  it is ambiguous, personal, and evokes anxiety.

May we have the courage to ask such questions . . . questions that evoke a deeper curiosity and lead to transformation.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

FROM WHAT DO WE NEED SAVING?

By Emily VanBerkum (Student at the Faculty of Theology)

This week’s gospel reading is about Jesus’ gift of salvation. During Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, he stops briefly in Jericho and encounters Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, sitting in a sycamore tree. Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the tree and boldly invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home. Jesus’ mercy and generosity understandably upset the crowd since they branded Zacchaeus a sinner because of his greed for money and earthly possession. Of course, this is not the first instance in the Gospels in which Jesus’ actions confuse his followers. Yet in this instance, Zacchaeus repents. He blurs the boundaries between the stereotypes of a tax collector and a man who genuinely desires to heed Jesus’ invitation to discipleship.

Jesus accepts this repentance by declaring that, “Today salvation has come to his house.” This answers why Jesus chose Zacchaeus as an unlikely host. In other words, this seemingly impossible act of welcome is a prime example of the Son of Man’s mission to seek out the lost and save them through the awesome gift of salvation. But from what exactly did Zacchaeus need saving? Zacchaeus straddles the two worlds that many of us struggle to define in our lives. Zacchaeus is a wealthy man who gained a reputation for sinfulness because of his attachment to worldly possessions. Zacchaeus needed to find the confidence to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and he did so in practical terms by giving half of his goods to the poor. By welcoming Jesus into his home, Zacchaeus knew that Jesus had also entered his heart.

Like Zacchaeus, we discover that clinging to worldly possessions and wealth comes at great expense. Our hearts must be open to God if we are to receive his gifts of redemption and grace freely. What Zacchaeus was willing to “give up” could not compare to his truly life changing decision to be saved by Jesus. What worldly possessions distract you from fully appreciating Jesus’ gift of salvation?