Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Christmas Hymn by Richard Wilbur

As a child I had only a rudimentary understanding of the Incarnation. The Christmas crib, the Holy Family, giving rather than getting, and the fact that so many people had so little and we should be grateful—these were part of the Christmas experience. Jesus as redeemer and savior remained on the fringe of my awareness until much later. I must have filtered out the Advent texts of Isaiah.

Richard Wilbur’s text A Christmas Hymn or A Stable Lamp is Lighted has edged out many traditional carols for me. We visit the stable at Bethlehem briefly, then move to Palm Sunday. As the Pharisees tell Jesus to make his disciples stop singing Hosanna, Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would cry out.” Throughout the hymn Wilbur repeats the phrase “and every stone shall cry”. These stones pave the roadway to the coming kingdom, they cry for hearts made hard by sin and for the times God’s love is refused. They cry in praises of the child “by whose descent among us the worlds are reconciled.”

In an interview Richard Wilbur remembered the challenge set to him by composer Richard Winslow. If you write a hymn and you’re serious about it, you have no business filling in with maverick notions of your own. A hymn has to be perfectly orthodox so that a congregation can belt it out with one voice. He commented that Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts had met this challenge many times, and we who sing their texts know this well.

It is a gift to be able to encompass in one hymn Jesus’ coming among us, his life, death and resurrection. After I learned this hymn years ago, I began to notice the text of other Christmas hymns and carols. Some are fixed on the nativity scene, as in a tableau. Others engage us in the wholeness of the mystery.
Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

To listen to A Stable Lamp is Lighted click here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Our Best Christmas Gift

          As this Advent reaches its fulfillment in celebrating the birth of Christ, and looking forward to His next coming, whether it be at our death or at His final coming, I ask myself, “Why did He come in the first place?” Actually, it was a gift from our Father in heaven.
            It seems to me as I scan the Gospels, Jesus’ whole purpose was to reveal God as a loving Father, and to do His Will to the very end.  Jesus calls Him no other name but Father, or “Abba” as in Mark 14:36: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you,” crying out in the most intimate way He could.
            A real father is a loving provider, teacher, and protector; he is the daddy who brings home the groceries, helps to put the children to bed at night, fixes things that are broken, teaches them how to ride a bike, to dive off the board and to swim, or to drive a car, to manage money, make it through education, and who protects them from danger, and even be the Santa who provides gifts at Christmas. 
            No father is perfect – but Jesus revealed to us a Father who is the perfect model. As a boy, He knew it: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
            Later he teaches, “No one knows who the Father is, except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Luke 10:21-22) What else does Jesus tell us? He mentions the Father to the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4;21-24) In chapters 5-6 there is more of his teaching about the Father. He says, “I preach only what the Father has taught me.” (John 8) In His dialog at the Last Supper, it seems Jesus cannot stop; there is so much more to tell us! (John Ch. 13-17)
Like a good dad, the Father provides for all our needs. Jesus says, “Your Father knows that you need those things, (Luke 12:31) and in verse 32, “It has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom.” And, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11: 13) Wow! The Kingdom? The Holy Spirit?  Even after “he gave us His only-begotten Son. . . that the world might be saved through him”  (John 3:16-17) And don’t forget the daily bread and everything else to pray about: “When you pray say, ‘Our Father. . .’ ” (Luke 11:2) Thank you Jesus, for reminding us of all these great helps provided by our Father.
The Father protects his family from harm, Jesus tells us “Do you suppose that I cannot entreat my Father, and he will even now furnish me with more that twelve legions of angels?”  (Matthew 26: 53)
          “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” we say in our creed. I thank you God, my Father, our Father, for the gift of your Son whose birthday we commemorate every year at Christmas
        Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Journeying With Mary in Advent

         Pope Francis stated in a talk on November 29,2016 : "God reveals his mysteries not to the wise and the learned but to those who are humble and childlike. Advent is a time to journey to meet the Lord."
         On December 12,the Feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe; our chaplain,  Fr. John Cahill, commented on the Gospel of Mary journeying to visit her cousin, Elizabeth also with child. Then he went on the discuss the journey of Mary at Guadalupe  in Mexico and in Spain. Which was unknown to most of us. Fascinated with this information. I gleaned from the internet much of the following. 
         Frequently Advent is equated with 'waiting'. However this waiting is not only sitting in silence but actively reaching out to others also on this journey of joyful expectation of the coming of our Lord. Mary of above all others was acutely aware of this.
         Most of us know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico declared Patroness of all the American continent. In the 16th century a poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name of Juan Diego. At age 57, a humble man, he was journeying to a nearby barrio to attend mass in honor of Our Lady when he heard a beautiful music as of many birds warbling. Then a radiant cloud appeared and within it stood a young native maiden dressed as an Aztec princess. She spoke to him in his own language asking him to go to the Bishop and ask him to build a chapel on this site.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
          The bishop was s Franciscan named Juan de Zummarraga. He asked Juan Diego to have the Lady send him a sign to let him know she was not just a figment of imagination supposedly.  At the same time an uncle of Juan Diego became seriously ill. In caring for his uncle and unsure of how he as a poor man could ask the of The Lady he tried to avoid her.
         However the Lady did find him and journeyed there. She let him know that his uncle would recover and provided him with unseasonable roses which filled his cape [tilma].  When he presented these to the bishop an image of Mary appeared exactly as she had appeared on the hillside on December 9th,1531. Then the bishop asked the name of the Lady, he heard in the native language Coatlaxopeuh [that translates to 'she who crushes the serpent' and pronounced Quatlasupe. The Spanish bishop assumed it was Guadalupe as he knew of the shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe there.
Nuesta Senora of Quadalupe
         Now for the rest of the story of Mary's journey in Spain. In Extremadura,Spain there is a royal Monastery of Guadalupe in which is kept a famed statue of Nuestra Senora of Quadalupe. Local legend has it that a statue  of a Black Madonna supposedly carved by St Luke and later given to St Leander,archbishop of Seville. Many cures and miracles were attributed to intercession of this Black Madonna.
          In 712 as the Moors were overtaking the local territory, a group of priests fled with the statue and buried it in the hills near the Guadalupe River. In the 14th Century as a poor, humble cowboy named Gil Cordero was searching for a lost animal, a beautiful Lady appeared to him and asked him to get the local priests to dig at this site. Here was found the Statue of the Beautiful Black Madonna in perfect Condition. 
         A shrine was built and Alfonso XI the King endowed a Hieronymite monastery. In the 16th century, Mary became the patron of all Spain's New World territories. Columbus was particularly devoted to her and, after a terrible tempest on his first voyage, made a pilgrimage of thanks to the shrine. For four centuries royalty was closely aligned with the monastery. It became one of the wealthiest ecclesiastical establishments in the country.
          Today the monastery is cared for by nine Franciscan monks and remains one of Spain's most important pilgrimage sites. In 1955 Pope Pius XII declared it to be a minor Papal Basilica.  Pope John Paul II also visited there in his journeying.
         May our advent journeying continue with Our Lady  at our side.

         Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

        This year I extended my ministry of hospitality to being a greeter at our Diocesan Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, in Covington, KY.  It is truly a jewel of the Greater Cincinnati area.  I look forward to my 3 hours there twice a month, welcoming visitors from all over the world to view, pray and experience this most holy temple of the Lord.  I learn something new every time:  from the visitors, from the history, from the docents, from the art work.  The position of the greeter’s desk is directly under the stained glass presentation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed as an article of our faith in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. 
The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
in the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption,
Covington, Kentucky, Scanned from the book
Stories in Glass.
        In the bottom half of this window we see the priests, religious and cardinals witnessing this event:  On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX issued an apostolic constitution called  Ineffabilis Deus (The Ineffable God).  In it he said: “We declare, pronounce, and define thus: the teaching that holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first moments of her conception, had been, by the singular privilege and grace of almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from every stain of the original fault, has been revealed by God and is therefore to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”
        In the 4 panels above we see four different aspects of the Church’s teaching. In the far left panel an angel holds aloft an open book which proclaims in Latin: (The original sin is not in you.) In the next stands Mary, resplendent in the glory given her by God. Next, Sts. Peter and Paul kneel in acknowledgement of this truth, testifying to its ancient roots  And in the far right panel St. Michael the archangel holds a sword, ready to strike at the devil. The devil himself lies prostrate and helpless, holding an open book: (Gen. 3:15: She will crush your head…) Even evil itself testifies to God’s power and majesty.
        Above these panels are two scenes.  On the left are Adam and Eve in the very act of disobedience. On the right stands Isaiah the prophet, proclaiming “Behold, a virgin will conceive…).  These two scenes suggest that God’s providence had already taken human hardness of heart into account, and promises new life.
        At the very top of the window the Blesses Mother holds her infant Son, surrounded by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She wears a crown on her head:  her eyes look down, a sign of her humility, while He look at us, arms open, inviting us to embrace this mystery.  Years later, this child will stretch out His arms on another tree of life, the cross. 
        May you have the opportunity to view the story told in this window and appreciate more the mystery of God’s saving work in human history.  Each of the other 35 Stories in Glass are worth meditating on as well.

(My source for understanding the images was the book, Stories in Glass, by Msgr.  William F. Cleves, former rector of the Cathedral Parish, where he describes the stories told in 36 of the 82 stained glass window in the Cathedral.)

Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB