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The “O” Antiphons

An ancient and beautiful practice of the Christian church in preparation for Christmas is the singing of the “O” antiphons. Below, Benedictine Joan Chitister invites us to join in the singing:

In anticipation of Christmas, the monastic community begins to review its vision of Jesus by chanting ancient prayers known now as “The O Antiphons.” Each of these chants recalls a different aspect of the Christ-life to which we are called.

December 17
“O Wisdom” the community prays today in its anticipation of new grace in life. It’s important to realize that wisdom and education are not the same thing. Education provides the experiences we need in order to manage our lives. Wisdom, on the other hand, is what we learn as a result of the experiences we have.

December 18
“O Adonai,” the community sings today. “O God of All,” we chant. When we build a vision of life it is necessary to realize that Jesus must be the center of it–not our institutions, good as they may be, not our plans or personal talents, necessary as they are.

December 19
“O Root of Jesse,” the community remembers today. It takes generations to build the Christ-vision in the world, just as it took generations after Jesse to prepare for the coming of the Christ. It is our task to root ideas now that will bring the next generation to wholeness.

December 20
“O Key of David,” we say at Vespers today. We’re all looking for the keys to life– the key to success, the key to happiness, the key to serenity. And we’re always looking for it somewhere else. The problem is that we already have it and don’t recognize it. What key in your present life are you avoiding, resisting, overlooking, rejecting?

December 21
“O Radiant Dawn,” we chant today. We look for light everywhere. But it was night when Benedict saw the vision of his life. That’s what usually happens to us, too. Just when we think that light will never come into our lives again, we begin to see a whole new world around us.

December 22
“O God of All the Earth,” we pray today. We get a chance today to realize that we are not the beginning and the end of the universe. We are part of a vision of humankind, seen in Jesus, but yet to be achieved in us–a vision of global sharing, universal peace and individual security. If we all want it so much, what is delaying its coming? I’m serious. What is it?

December 23
“O Emmanuel,” we sing tonight, not so much in hope as in recognition. After all, Jesus—Emmanuel—has already come. It is not a matter now of Christ’s being where we are; it is a matter of our being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life. And where He is not as well. Where is Christ for you this Christmas? And is there a place in your life that you know down deep is not in the spirit of Christ at all?

Join the Benedictine Sisters of Erie HERE in praying the O Antiphons during the seven days before Christmas. The melodies were composed by the late Erie Benedictine Sister Mary David Callahan.

From The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press).

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Religion_PicThe highly controversial Vatican Visitation of U.S. Catholic women’s orders seems to have roared in like a lion and out like a lamb. What a perfect display of Christian metanoia!

For this transformation, it required heroic acts of highly skilled “participatory patience” on the part of U.S. Catholic sisters and a change of papal regimes.

What started out as a retaliatory act by a few right-wing American bishops who were tired of Catholic sisters messing up their political machinations (read Obamacare), was transformed by U.S. Catholic sisters’ deep faith, perseverance, wisdom, and integrity into what may be a reconciling opportunity to move what Pope Francis calls the “feminine genius” more centrally into the Vatican. (I won’t say into the heart of the church, because the feminine genius has never left the heart of the people or congregations, it’s only been pushed to the periphery by the Vatican and some intransigent bishops’ conferences, such as that in the U.S.)

It’s important to remember that the report released today addresses “quality of life” issues in Catholic women’s communities in the U.S.

There is an ongoing theological investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that still awaits resolution. No doubt Pope Francis wants both of these issues resolved and reconciled before his visit in October 2015. He’s using his own political genius to soothe wounds, calm fears, lift dignity, and also discern who the women are with sound spirits, deep faith, and sharp minds.

The fact that Sr. Sharon Holland, executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, was part of this press conference sent a positive message about LCWR. She gave an excellent, authentic, and realistic response, which you can read here. (She’s a canon lawyer, spiritual director, and action figure. Watch out!)

“The Visitation was met by some religious with “apprehension and suspicion” (n. 11). The expressed purpose, ‘to look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States,’ was troubling. Some congregations reported that their elder sisters felt that their whole lives had been judged and found wanting. Despite the apprehension however, today we are looking at an affirmative and realistic report which, we know, is based on the study of written responses and on countless hours of attentive listening,” said Sr. Holland.

“In a particular way, it is the realism of the text which appealed to me first. For example, in the section on vocation promotion and formation, there is the common concern for the dramatic decline in vocations. However, the Report goes on to recognize that the vocational peak of the 1960’s was unusual, and not a norm to which we can return. Rather, the focus is on providing the formation needed for today’s candidates who often are highly qualified professionally, but lacking in theological formation.”

“The section concerning Financial Stewardship likewise shows our complex current realities. Religious are praised for wise stewardship, socially responsible investing and strategic planning for the needs of members and ministries. Simultaneously, there is a very concrete acknowledgment of many causes contributing to our financial problems: years of undercompensated ministry, a diminished number of earners, volunteer ministries of elder religious, work with the poor and disenfranchised and the fact that sisters serving in ecclesiastical structures receive relatively low salaries and have sometimes lost their positions due to downsizing.

I mention these factors simply to emphasize again how much has been heard and understood.There is an encouraging and realistic tone in this Report. Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame, or of simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.”

And I want to give a shout out to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Rome correspondent Megan Williams for saying to the panel of distinguished presenters, “The Catholic Church, of course, is a male-dominated institution that continues to exclude women’s voices from key decision making. Does this report in any way move women to a greater role within the church?” [For some entertaining theo-political gymnastics, you can watch the responses here at minute 1:05:16, including Cardinal Braz de Aviz jumping in to talk rather bumblingly about equal and complementary roles for women and men.]

For a good refresher on the history of the Vatican investigation of U.S. Catholic women’s communities, see Jesuit priest James Martin’s excellent refresher A High Quality of Life at America.

For a good understanding of the context of this report, see Rocco Palmo’s Up Next: Nuns at Whispers in the Loggia.

For the primary source material, read the Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Catholic Women Religious in the U.S. (12/16/2014).

For transcripts from the press conference this morning in Rome presenting the report: Press Conference for the presentation of the Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the U.S. (12/16/2014)

For some context on Catholic women millennials and future vocations, read Sister Mary Johnson’s article Vatican report gives sisters and whole church reason to hope in America.

And a last note. When the Spanish press asked for a response to a question in Spanish for Spanish-language radio, there appeared to be only one U.S. sister who understood the Spanish: Sr. Sharon Holland. That’s what preparing for the future looks like!

“Where there is Jesus, there is joy.”–Pope Francis

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abu3_small

“We thought the word was gone. We thought we healed it out of our national vocabulary. We thought ‘torture’ belonged to a foreign language, spoken only by dictators, who ruled anywhere but here. We were wrong.”–Introduction to Cut Loose the Body, edited by Rose Marie Berger and Joseph Ross (2007)

The Torture Report

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Third Tuesday in Advent

Francis and the Christ Child

Francis and the Christ Child

“Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is the season of humility, silence, and growth. For nine months Christ grew in his mother’s body. By his own will, she formed him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life.”–Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: ‘Pardon, my lord! As you live my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.’ She left him there.”—1 Samuel 1:26-28

A classic Chasidic story says that when the rabbi of Kotzker was asked, “Where is the place of the Messiah’s glory?” he replied, “Wherever we give Him room, wherever we make space for Him.” Where is the tender place in you where the Messiah will come to birth?

The Christmas crèche is a tangible reminder for us to make room for the Christ Child. The tradition dates back to St. Francis of Assisi. As the story goes, on Christmas Eve in 1293, Francis gathered with friars and townsfolk in the woods on Mt. Subasio. There, under the canopy of flowering ash and downy oak, was laid a trough filled with hay. Oxen and a donkey were tied to a tree. In his delight at the sight of Bethlehem in his own little corner of the Umbrian hills, Francis danced in praise and sang the gospel.

When the impromptu mass was over, Francis went to the crib and stretched out his arms as if to hold the infant Jesus. And for a moment, so the story is told, the Christ Child appeared. The empty manger was filled with a radiant light.

Remember to set an extra place for the unexpected guest at your Christmas meal.

“O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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Third Monday in Advent

Balaam by Ben-Zion (1897-1987) “This Advent, forgive, forgive, and forgive. Draw others close to you. Draw yourself near to other people. In bridging gaps we draw nearer to God who this season draws ever closer to us.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Balaam did not go as before to seek omens but turned toward the wilderness.”Numbers 24:2

The story in Numbers 22 of Balaam and his ass is a favorite for Sunday school. The antics of the donkey who can see the angel of God while Balaam remains blind lends itself to classic comedy. In fact, it is the donkey who is actually the prophet because God speaks through her to correct Balaam.

Balak, the Moab king, is surrounded by Israelites who are prepared to attack. Balak has decided to fight fire with fire. He calls for Balaam, a Yahwist priest, to curse the Yahwist army. Balak thinks he’s got Balaam in his pocket because Balak can’t imagine anyone refusing money. But Balaam’s curse on the Israelites cannot be bought. Instead, God stuffs Balaam’s mouth with poems blessing Israel, which he then spews over the gathered army.

In this instance, the Moab king recognizes defeat and withdraws. The battle is won with poetry and without a single death.

The Christ-figure in this story is the donkey. She obeys God. She does everything in her power to keep Balaam on the path of righteousness. She submits to unjustified violence when Balaam beats her. And she speaks the words of God honestly. Filipino priest and activist Karl Gaspar would say this story exemplifies the “weapons of the weak.” The slave animal acts with honor and the war is won with weapons of beauty.

Pay attention today to the most overlooked living creature or person in your path. What example might they teach?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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Third Sunday in Advent

“Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat. Christ used his own body to utter his love on earth…In this the Christian life is a sacramental life. This Advent God invites you to touch, and taste, and smell. Listen to your body this Advent. Stretch your senses and taste and see that the Lord is good.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’”Matthew 11:2-6

This is Guadete Sunday. We light the third Advent candle as a sign of joy. It is to remind us that when we dream like God dreams—wild visions flowing over with grace, and justice, and mercy—then our road will be lit by this third candle.

Sometimes it is hard for us to feel the scriptures in our bones until we see them acted out. In Venezuela I met a nun who for twelve years had worked in a poor neighborhood located on a steep hillside high over Caracas. Her name was Sr. Begoña. She had been a religious Sister of the Sacred Heart for many years in Spain before moving to Venezuela.

Sr. Begoña talked about the change that she had seen in the self-image of the poor since the government began prioritizing social programs for “the least of these.” Initially, she was very skeptical of the Venezuelan president. He had a military background and she’d grown up in Spain under General Franco. She had no use totalitarian leadership. She was also skeptical of how successful government programs could be in helping the poor. Would they create dependence? What happens when a new administration comes into office? “But,” said Sr. Begoña, “I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and the poor were for the government programs and for the president. I decided that I would take my chances with the poor, with the people. They were first to understand the new national project.” She said that if the government programs were a mistake she would still rather err with the people than against them.

Not long after making this decision, the neighborhood people invited her to a big march in support of the national agenda to give preferential option to the poor. The day arrived and hundreds from her neighborhood walked the two hours down the hillside into the Caracas city center. Along the way they were joined by thousands of other very poor people from the slums that ring Caracas. There was singing and chanting and laughing—a palpable energy of joy, hope, and possibility. “I always wondered what it meant in the Gospel that the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked,” said Sr. Begoña, “but on that day I was walking with poor people who were blind and deaf and lame. Suddenly, I began to understand—because they were seeing and hearing and walking.”

Where do you see the gospel brought to life?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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Second Saturday in Advent

Fire Dance by Elena Kotliarker

“Till like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. Their staff of bread he shattered, in his zeal he reduced them to straits; by God’s word he shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire.”—Sirach 48: 1-3

The book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is a collection of folk wisdom interspersed with songs of admiration for great figures in the Hebrew tradition. The scientific era has taught us to devalue folk wisdom, but the bible demonstrates that the common wisdom of poor people should be valued alongside the learned wisdom of the priests and prophets. The book of Sirach is a storehouse of shared stories. Stories are the bones of a culture. Without stories, things fall apart. Life no longer makes sense.

Sirach 48 is a praise poem honoring the prophet Elijah who used what might be called natural magic or earth-based science to defeat the priests of Baal. Elijah’s dedication to Yahweh opened him to receive Yahweh’s wisdom on how to win this particular battle. To win the hearts and minds of the people who worshiped a rain god it was necessary to defeat the rain god at his own game. So Yahweh demonstrated superiority by controlling water. When the priests of Baal lit a fire to sacrifice a bull, Elijah called down rain to put it out. And when the priests of Baal called for a downpour of rain, Elijah “shut up the heavens” causing a drought in the land.

The setting of these power struggles and the weapons used are foreign to us—but the basic dynamics are not. Some people interpret these Old Testament battles as the One True Religion against the Other. Jesus, however, drew the line differently. There are those who use power and institutions to oppress the poor and those who do not.

In Matthew’s account of the transfiguration, Jesus’ students ask him, “Why do the scribes say Elijah has to come first?” In typical Jesus fashion, he ignores the narrow-mindedness of their question and goes to the heart of it. It is not important what the scribes have said in the past. Elijah has already returned and the Messiah is now among them. This is what they must realize. This is what they must open their hearts and minds to understand.

What power struggles are present in your own life? What wisdom do you need to face them?

Ad … vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Our Lady of Louisiana" by Rick Delanty

“Our Lady of Louisiana” by Rick Delanty

“Christ has lived each one of our lives. He has faced all our fears, suffered all our griefs, overcome all our temptations, labored in all our labors, loved in all our loves, and died in all our deaths. Through Jesus, God knows our hidden selves, and still God delights to be one with us.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water.”Isaiah 41: 17-18

It was a cool, dry day with a breeze when I walked through the market that surrounds the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Everything related to Guadalupana was for sale. T-shirts, bumper stickers, ash trays, rosaries, plastic roses, 3-D posters with eyes that followed you as you passed by. I passed under an allee of riotous red, pink, and orange bougainvillea into the Cathedral plaza and finally into the church itself. Downstairs is the painting of the Virgin that appeared to Cuatitloatzin (Juan Diego), a Nahuat Indian in 1531.

To view the painting you must stand on a moving walkway that takes you past the painting. That day several viejitas were riding the walkway on their knees, then returning to the front and riding it again. My friend told me that I had to prepare my heart before passing before the painting. She translated the message engraved on the marble wall. Among other things, it said that one must not approach the Virgin of Guadalupe with a list of demands. On the contrary, one must approach her with an open heart and a clear mind so that one can hear and fully receive the message of the Holy Spirit.

“That light, does it rise from the earth or fall from the sky?” writes Eduardo Galeano in his reflections on Cuatitloatzin and the Virgin of Guadalupe. “Is it a lightning bug or a bright star. It doesn’t want to leave the slopes of Tepeyac and in the dead of night persists, shining on the stones and entangling itself in the branches. Hallucinating, inspired, the naked Indian Juan Diego sees it: The light of lights opens up for him, breaks into golden and ruby pieces, and in its glowing heart appears that most luminous of Mexican women, she who says to him in Nahuatl language: ‘I am the mother of God.’”

What healing of the feminine do you need in your life?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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broken-bike-jpg“… If intent equals goal, as Yoo said it does, then
I am never your torturer.

My intent is to get to work, not to run you down
on your bicycle.

My intent is to pay the rent, not
participate in your magic tricks.

You who had the misfortune to stand between me
& my intent, you are

an escarpment to me, not a destination.

Though I may drive many miles
hearing this screaming
under the belly of my car–
just the muffler, a piece of sheet metal–

some wire will fix it,
bound tight against the chassis, this chest. …”

–Michael Broek (an excerpt from The Logic of Yoo)

Read 7 Key Points from the C.I.A. Torture Report

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Second Thursday in Advent

St. John of the Cross (Hacienda Los Olivos, Spain)

St. John of the Cross (Hacienda Los Olivos, Spain)

I believe with all my belief … in the coming of the messiah. … And even if there is a delay, … I believe.—Hebrew song

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD.Zephaniah 3:12

One dark night
Fired with love’s urgent longings
—Ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled;
In darkness, and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
—Ah, the sheer grace!—
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now all stilled;
On that glad night,
In secret, for no one saw me,
Nor did I look at anything,
With no other light or guide
Than the one that burned in my heart;
This guided me more surely than the light of noon
To where He waited for me
—Him I knew so well—
In a place where no one else appeared.
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved in her Lover.
Upon my flowering breast
Which I kept wholly for Him alone,
There He lay sleeping,
And I caressing Him
There in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

—Saint John of the Cross, from “Noche Oscura”

Can you make a tryst with the Lord and steal away to meet him?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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