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The Crib and the Cross

One cold January night when the world seemed to lie in darkness, I sat down from a long day and turned to C-Span2, BookTV. One of the books that piqued my interest was James H. Cone’s, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. I’d not heard of it before, and as the book was being discussed, something awakened in me, and I saw how vacuous was the Christmas I had participated in a few weeks before. Even though I was centered on the Christ Child and the Franciscan emphasis on the Incarnation, it was a sentimental Baby Jesus who filled my prayer and my imagination—not the baby who grew and matured and gave us the Sermon on the Mount which he then lived out and because of which he was put to death on the hanging tree of the cross. I was looking at the Baby Jesus of countless crèches and not at the babies who were slain by King Herod because of the Baby Jesus. The implications of the connections between Jesus in the crib and Jesus on the cross like someone hanged from a tree, are overshadowed and seem, at times, almost eradicated by the world that our greed, self-interest, and neglect of the poor and the disenfranchised has created. St. Francis saw the connection between the crib and the cross.

—from the book Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

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Look to the Stars

I love going out in the yard in the winter to look at the stars. The clear, cold air makes them seem brighter. Different stars are visible in the winter than at other times of the year. As the constellations wheel overhead, there’s a sense of vast possibility in the universe, but also a sense of permanence. The sun, the moon, the stars, and our own earth travel through time and space but there’s nothing random about those movements. Each has an orbit, an appointed path to travel. Our lives, too, have an appointed path. We move through the seasons of the year, and the seasons of a lifetime. Sometimes it seems as though the only constant is constant change. But the eternal feasts of the Christmas season remind us that the eternal keeps our feet grounded on the earth and our eyes fixed on God’s star, the plan God has for each of our lives.


—from the book The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections with Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

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At Home or on the Road, God Is with Us

No matter how much we try to extend the holiday with traveling and vacation time and a last party or two, there comes a time when we need to return to our daily activities and responsibilities. School starts up again, work beckons, and we have to bid farewell to Christmas once again. It can be refreshing to reclaim the space that was filled with the Christmas tree and other decorations. We forsake the Christmas cookies and boxes of candy for healthier food choices in the new year. If we’ve traveled to visit family, we return home, put away the suitcases, finish vacation laundry, and settle into our lives. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus traveled a great deal during the first years after the birth—back and forth to Jerusalem, a sojourn in Egypt, a return to their home in Nazareth. In later years, Luke’s Gospel tells us, they traveled on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where Jesus was separated from his parents and found conversing with holy teachers in the temple. Whether we’re traveling or at home, the one thing we know is that God is with us.

—from the book The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections with Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

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Human and Divine

Knowing that God not only knows but experienced what it was to be a human being, composed of blood and flesh and bone, limited by all the things that limit us, should give us patience with our weakness and joy in our strength. In our prayers for help, we can say, “You know what it’s like,” and be confident that he does. But we can also look to the end of the story and know that by being one of us, he was able to raise us up to overcome those limits—and the final limit of death itself. As St. Irenaeus put it so well, “He became human so that we might become divine.”

—from the book The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections with Pope Francis

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Mary, Mother of God

Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart!” (Luke 2:19). In these words, Luke describes the attitude with which Mary took in all that they had experienced in those days. Far from trying to understand or master the situation, Mary is the woman who can treasure, that is to say, protect and guard in her heart, the passage of God in the life of his people. Deep within, she had learned to listen to the heartbeat of her Son, and that in turn taught her, throughout her life, to discover God’s heartbeat in history. She learned how to be a mother, and in that learning process she gave Jesus the beautiful experience of knowing what it is to be a Son. In Mary, the eternal Word not only became flesh, but also learned to recognize the maternal tenderness of God. With Mary, the God-Child learned to listen to the yearnings, the troubles, the joys and the hopes of the people of the promise. With Mary, he discovered himself a Son of God’s faithful people.

—from the book The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections with Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

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Jesus Is Forever

We’re approaching the end of the Christmas season. Soon we will be back to the ordinary routines of our life. But if we have celebrated the feast of the incarnation well, our lives will be changed. We don’t know what the new year will hold for us, for our families, for the world. But we know that God will continue to be with us. As we look back at the significant events of the past year, both the joys and the sorrows, the highs and the lows, we can see how God has shaped us and strengthened us for what lies ahead. Perhaps we’re a bit relieved that Christmas is over for another year. But perhaps we discover that something has changed in us because of an encounter, a gift, a new insight into the meaning of the incarnation. We can keep a little bit of that with us through the coming year and let it bring light and peace to our everyday lives. Our journey with God doesn’t end with the Christmas season. Jesus is forever, not just for Christmas.

—from the book The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections with Pope Francis

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The Freedom to Love

 

St. John the Evangelist tells us that the truth will set us free. But what does that mean? St. Francis found the truth that leads to freedom in the truths of the Gospel, and the freedom he found was the freedom to love. God’s truth imparts to us the freedom not only to grasp the truth that is being imparted but also the freedom from what previously had been preventing us from acting on that truth. The Gospel itself will show us not only how we are to discern the truth, but how the truth leads to the action we call love.

—from the book Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

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God Alone Is All We Need

Advent reminds us that the One who has come into the world and is always coming into our lives in new ways is the source of our salvation. We don’t need novelty and “magic bullet” solutions to our concerns. We simply need to return again and again to the rock-solid foundation of our lives: God and God alone. The mystery of the Incarnation is that by entering into our time and into our world, Jesus can show us the way to the gift that is beyond all time.

—from the book Simple Gifts: Daily Reflections for Advent

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Dark Days and Dark Moods

Dark days can mean dark moods. This natural turn of the seasons helps explain the timing of Christmas. It is the festival of light, the return of the sun and longer periods of daylight. It’s a time of renewal and hope, sentiments we feel as we watch the skies and see faint signs of the sun returning. What happens in December in the northern hemisphere is a natural symbol. You don’t need a dictionary or an encyclopedia to know that the dark sky parallels your darkened heart. You feel it in your body and then in your emotions. The sky mirrors your feelings, and your pulse beats with the special rhythms of night and day. The turn of the sun on the day of solstice may well coincide with a turn in your spirits.

—from the book The Soul of Christmas

 

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