Theology Mary Fatherly JosephI looked around for some information about this stunning image, which can be found on the cover of a volume called The Edinburgh Companion to the Bible and the Arts. Originally I saw it on Facebook with this explanation:

Here is an Icon brought to my attention by a colleague of mine.
It is an Icon of 15th century located in France.
Mary is inquiring the Torah and Joseph keeps Jesus in his arms.
It is a nativity that goes beyond many stereotypes. It speaks of tenderness with regard to Joseph and of theological skills concerning Mary.
A Nativity that appeals for an updating in our manger scene!
Therefore, merry Christmas. Beyond stereotypes!

9780748639335However, it is indeed a 15th century image, but not of the Virgin Mary reading the Torah, but rather she is reading the hours. The image is fittingly called the Nativity, the Virgin Reading the Besancon Book of Hours. Despite its initial explanation to me being more exotic, either way, it is a beautiful image to behold and pray with as we enter Christmas.


48420590_10216144873788277_1834312285091266560_nThis is another nativity image that caught my eye, something known as Isa ibn Maryam, meaning Jesus, son of Mary. In Islam, Mary is highly revered. Jesus is seen as a prophet, but not as God himself. A surprisingly small amount of people know or understand how Jesus and Mary are understood by our Muslim brothers and sisters. There are so many links about this that I am hard pressed to find the most accurate one to show you. My best advice is to go find a Muslim friend and talk to them about it, or visit a local mosque. If your church has any interfaith connections, this should not be hard to do. If your church does not have interfaith connections, this would be a great time to explore starting them!

Refugee-NativityAnd then this scene of Jesus born in a tent to refugees, as a reminder of the era in which we live. People traveling, not because they want to, but because they have to, and people not welcomed when they arrive. There are no shortage of reminders to our current environment when we pray with the Nativity.

Christmas is here. Christ, born in the lowliest of circumstances to people at the lowest rungs of what is known as acceptable society. If we do not use this time to reorient and refocus ourselves, we miss yet another moment when God calls out to us to pay attention.

Jesus came so that all might be one. Jesus said to love one another. Jesus entire story from birth to death to resurrection is an instruction in mercy, compassion, outreach, and hope.

When will we ever learn? How about today?

May your Christmas dawn in hope this year, and may you carry hope forth for others in the days to come.

Blessings to one and all! Peace on earth! Goodwill to all people! Jesus asks for it, it is up to us to do it. This year, may it be so.



No room at the inn

DRtl9hNVoAESn_EInto this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.

But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
His place is with the others for whom
there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power, because
they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied status of persons,
who are tortured, bombed and exterminated.

With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.
– Thomas Merton

We can build walls, we can arm soldiers, we can dispatch drones, and we can spread hate – all with alarming ease, almost as simple as asking Siri or Alexa to carry out our will.  That is one thing about voice activated technology that alarms me, we might believe ourselves to be more omnipotent that our inflated egos already do believe. Simply saying “do this” or “change that” to an inanimate object and having it carried out is chilling to me.

We can never truly lock love out, and of that I am Continue reading

Angels and shepherds, please!

51711dtHow we love the images and symbols of Christmas! Santa Claus, trees, angels, snowmen, candy canes, camels, Charlie Brown Christmas, nativity scenes, cows, drummer boys, or baby Jesus himself? We love them all, don’t we? How easy it can be easy to stick with just these images, no matter how much we might want to do otherwise.

Even the most religious among us gets tangled in webs of perfect-looking crèches, each with a delicate with very-western-looking baby Jesus smiling up from a bed of straw that is both unnaturally uniform and clean. Those symbols however are not the issue; stopping and staying with them for good is can become a problem, especially when you consider this Christmas message…

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Gospel According to John 1:1-5

Wait, where is the bright star over the little town of Bethlehem? And where are Continue reading

A gun rack in the manger?

Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
-Matthew 10:1, 5A, 6-8

With no plan to post today, some things came up during my prayers earlier, so I am going to put them out here for you. There are lots of readers, but few commenters. That’s fine, I don’t blog for comments, but I am curious what you think and always grateful to see that someone has written something. You all know what I think, I want to know what you think.

During my prayer, I was very aware of how anxious I am right now. The violence of the world has many of us on edge. How I’d like to present myself as cool, calm, and collected, but honestly, I feel extremely shaky. To be clear about this, it is not the incoming violence that I am afraid of. Really – seriously – not at all. There is no fear in my heart from potential acts of terrorism, not one. Maybe it is because of my life, I feel like I have stared enough evil in the eye for several lifetimes – and I think that gives me a certain perspective. As the old  Sondheim song “I’m Still Here” goes:

“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all
And, my dear, I’m still here
Plush velvet sometimes
Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I’m here”

What then am I afraid of? I am afraid of our responses to all the violence around us. Afraid? No, honestly – I am terrified. What have we become? For those among us who claim to be following Christ, I think that we are doing a completely, and I do not use this word lightly, sh*tty job. And we are getting worse.

So here we are in Advent, and instead of Advent peace and waiting, we have cries all around saying that we should arm ourselves and be ready. This is absurd to me, completely absurd. Let’s take this a step further and look at ourselves as Christians who may see what is commonly called “pro-life” as the Cardinal Bernadin (of blessed memory) model of “the seamless garment.” All life is connected and all life is worth dignity and respect. ALL. LIFE. ALL. Sorry, I do not mean to shout, but I get very frustrated about the parsing of what lives are worthy. That’s another post though, back to today.

respect-life-2015-469x346So if we are followers of Christ, how is it better to take up arms in order to be “ready?” Ready for who? Ready for what? Yesterday I had a conversation with someone and the notion of an armed citizenry walking around with their guns struck as both as patently absurd – and extremely dangerous.

Returning to Advent, back to waiting, back to creating room in our hearts for the coming Christ I can’t help but say – will you prepare your nativity so that it includes a gun rack? Seriously, I cannot for the life of me reconcile the idea that arming ourselves keeps us safer. You want to hunt? Go ahead. Guns for target shooting at a range for sport? Have a great time. But an armed household? I’m lost here, help me. Do not understand.

So what on earth, now that I have ranted, does any of this have to do with today’s Gospel? Let’s take a look again…

Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

Jesus gives his disciples authority to over unclean spirits, to cure every disease and illness. OK, got that. Then Jesus sends them out to find the lost sheep. OK, got that. Cure, raise, cleanse, drive out. Got it.

gun_80So what is the problem? Well – I’m not sure how responding to violence with violence fits in with this message. And no, I’m not talking about the response of first responders at this moment, I am talking about you and me packing heat, “just in case” and making decisions to use said “heat” on our own. I’m having visions of road rage, parking lot power plays, and someone grabbing the last early morning doorbuster sales going sour because of the easily availability of a gun. I’m worried that people will start shooting others because they think that person’s faith is a filthy cult and that they must be a danger. I’m worried for mentally ill people at either end of the firearm. I’m just worried.

As we approach the celebration of enfleshment of God, coming as a helpless infant and becoming a man who dies violently – how do we respond? I am really struggling with the fear within me. And yet I know that the only way forth for me is in the hope of Christ.

IMG_2529We are a people in darkness and we know that we have, we do, and we will see a great light. Can we please lay down our arms and go about the real work that we have been given? I’m so anxious, but I’m trying not to be. How can I be this anxious when I see what I have “given without cost.” Today, may I go and “give without cost” to all whom I encounter. Will you join me in Christ? Because I cannot bear the thought of the gun rack in the manger, and please – I cannot do this alone.

This post is dedicated to the children of Sandy Hook, holy innocents for whom we did so little. I am so sorry that we failed you and continue to do so by more shooting, more guns, more fighting and more death. Forgive us, dear children. Forgive us, Lord.

sandy-hook-child-victim-collage(I am not kidding about what you think. Please respond in the comments. All comments must be approved, so feel free to write one that you do not want approved, but say that up front – I really just want to know. I hope that people speak up. Forgive typos etc, this was really written and posted quickly.)

Bad Religion – An Advent reflection

latest“I think consumerism has become a bad religion itself,” Graffin says. “It breaks my heart to think of families that feel like a failure to their kids because they can’t afford to buy expensive gifts. I think that’s a tragedy. We’ve turned Christmas into a consumerism festival. But on the same token, I don’t think it should go back to being about religious piety.”1

These are the words of Greg Graffin, who if you did not know, and I’m guessing that many of you may not know, is the lead vocalist of LA based punk rock band, Bad Religion. Go to the band’s website at your own risk, as you might have guessed, they are not religion friendly, so some of what you see may offend you.

Bad_Religion_Christmas_Songs_CoverToday I was looking for an unusual version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel on YouTube. When I came across the Bad Religion version, Continue reading



noun: Epiphany; noun: epiphany; plural noun: epiphanies
  1. the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).
    • the festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6.

This Sunday the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord. Guided by a star, the magi – or three kings, made their way to the “newborn king.” Here at the blog, I will wait until Tuesday night to post my reflection.

There is a method to my madness; I will be offering said reflection at Evening Prayer at St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park on Tuesday night, at 7PM. All are welcome! If you are a reader and I do not know you, please make sure you catch me and say hello – I would love to meet you!

The Meaning of Christmas

linus-speechEvery December I watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  There is a nostalgic element to this; just hearing the music propels me back to childhood. I would have been eight years old when it first aired, and I can imagine watching our black and white TV, full of joy at the magic unfolding before me.

Today I love that on that bastion of secular values known as network television, Linus tells Charlie Brown about the meaning of Christmas. And he can quote Luke’s Gospel from memory! As I hear his voice, once again I am transported, only this time it is to an era long before my childhood. Suddenly, I am immersed in the world where Christ was born, and I am reminded once again of how God is found in the most unexpected places.

CrecheMany of us will go to mass on Christmas, where we will see a Nativity scene. We can stand before the Crèche, but we cannot stay there. Christ is always being born anew, and that means more than staring at the infant Jesus. Our Advent watching and waiting should have prepared us for more, but are we ready? Can we see Christ born today, in unexpected places? Can we let go of whatever blinds us to meeting Jesus in the unlikely? Can we find him by simply slowing down and being kind to one another, even if just for one day?

This Christmas may the Light of Christ our Savior illuminate our way, opening our eyes and hearts. May the light of Christ prompt us to bring Him into the world with our lives. May the sight of this tiny, vulnerable child, wrapped in swaddling clothes remind us of God’s unexpected presence– and our need to reach out and serve all in joy of the newborn savior’s name.

Where Are the Shepherds? A guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

Where Are the Shepherds? A guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

On Advent Sundays this year, I pondered the shepherds. At a funeral we sang, “Shepherd Me, O God. A homilist repeated the pope’s admonition that pastors should be shepherds who smell like their sheep. Our inner city parish is far from any sheep’s pasture, but I sit in the pew and I ponder shepherds.

donation-box-foodAs the gifts are prepared, young children converge on the basket before the altar. In their hands are peanut butter, soup, mac and cheese, packages of rice and noodles,. All of it goes into the basket, headed for the food bank.

Todd, a tall lanky dad, carries his not-yet-walking son on his shoulders. Connor tosses in a juice box with glee.

Food Collection basket_2Four-year-old Sean pulls his younger sister along. Together they stand before the basket. He’s holding a multipack of ramen noodles. Lily doesn’t want to let go of the box of crackers. He places the noodles in the basket, then steps back and points. She frowns. Sean pokes her shoulder. Lily leans over and at the very last moment, she lets go of the box. She raises her hands. Victory! They skip back to their parents on the sidelines.

Some approach like old-timers, well-practiced in the art of giving. Others need a guiding hand or verbal urging (“Come ON!”)

Later, lines for Commuion form and move.

sign-of-peace-600-400-300x200Brian shakes hands with every person he sees until his wife runs gentle interference. His Alzheimer’s is more pronounced these days. Jeanne and her mother gather up the grandchildren. Susan gets her mother’s walker in place. Michael’s mom wheels her laughing son forward. One of the L’Arche assistants leads Sherry from a pew, a familiar dance between them.

Where are the shepherds? They are all among us, watching their flocks, smelling like their sheep.


1474562_10202284427985779_1840724417_nShannon O’Donnell is an author from Tacoma, WA. Her book, Save The Bones, is a deeply moving account about memory, Alzheimer’s disease, and her (now recently deceased) mother Marie Cain. Shannon also blogs about life as a Catholic jail chaplain at Finding Grace Within. It is an honor to welcome Shannon’s work to the blog today.

This post may have you scratching your head and wondering what it has to do with the Christmas season, and even more specifically, with the Holy Family. Shannon is looking back at Advent and wondering where the shepherds are now. When I read it, I thought about the less-than-perfect holy family that we all are when we are church together. And what better reminder is needed today and always?

This unimaginable being “with-us-ness”

o-come-o-come-emmanuel-snippitWe sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with an almost mindless grace, an unconscious awareness, but not always true comprehension. We may not be purposefully arrogant about it, but may be too distracted to  be fully in the mystery.

baby-jesus-bluebirdEmmanuel. God with us. We like to gaze down at the infant, “so tender and mild” in the Creche; we smile, our heart warms. And then, how we love to leave God in that Creche, in the Church, and in our Bibles, as we carry on. God in those places appears to be very manageable, fitting in with our plans and priorities.

fontanini_masterpiece_colle_lgGod was not aiming at sweetness during the Incarnation. This is not meant to be a moment of pious nicety. Jesus was sent to transform us through an unimaginable being “with-us-ness” that transcends our antiseptic images of nativity sets, singing angels, and a well-coiffed Mary, reliable Joseph, and the cute Baby Jesus. These images are not bad images, but if we stop there, what do we miss?

This “with-us-ness” reminds me of Duns Scotus’ concept of haecceity, or “this-ness,” rather than “what-ness.” And it is in that vein that the highly unimaginable being “with-us-ness” of the Incarnation comes to light.

imagesBeautiful and perfect Nativity scenes, may imply a sense of “what-ness.” The Christ child born in the world is different, He is the “this-ness,” the “with-us-ness,” that is barely imaginable, yet real. This is something beyond beautiful, pious, or sweet in any way. The birth of the Christ child transforms our relationship with God! God did not come to be something to be admired, or even feared; God came to be one-with-us in an unimaginable way, never before known.

baby-jesusTonight when you see the Baby Jesus placed in the manager at mass, or if he is already there when you arrive later, or tomorrow, please don’t just smile. Forget the beautiful images that the Creche offers, although those images are important. This is not just a pretty moment to gaze upon, but an invitation from God. God did not just happen to stop by, to be a beautiful baby. God was born, to be with you – yes, you – in a deeply intimate and complete way. God was born for all of us in this way, not some holy few, but for all who will welcome him as such. Can we do that?

This year, if you can, try to shift into that more challenging “with-us-ness” of Christ, not simply the “what-ness” of the Creche. Trust me, I have no clue how to do this, I’m just trying this myself. And with all things that are of Christ, they are never meant to be done alone. Let’s do this and be this “with-us-ness” together, one in the heart of Christ this christmas_painting_holy_family_nativity_scene_original_oil_and_winner__ed44aa76aeba1f73ddb22a1c29a3ea7eChristmas.