Metanoia, Jubilee, Beauty

The First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 1999

The Beginning of the Year of Grace 2000

We dedicate this first week of Advent to Dorothy Day of New York, Catholic Worker. May her example of faithfulness, beauty, and love inspire many people to practice the works of justice and peace!

Isaiah 63, 15b - 17, 19b, 64, 2b-7 + 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 + Mark 13, 33-37

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All have wandered away, Isaiah tells us, turned their backs on the God of their fathers and mothers. We are the prodigal children, disobedient to the call to holiness and justice. Paul salutes the Church in Corinth, giving thanks to God for the grace bestowed on them, whereby they were "enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge." Mark reminds us to be watchful, awake, for we know not when the day of the Lord will come upon us.

These words are read this Sunday from every Catholic pulpit, in a hundred different lands and a myriad of languages and voices -- Peking to Washington, D.C., Rome, London, Berlin, Paris, and onto New Delhi, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro and the islands of the sea. They fall upon a world filled with trouble and intrigue, fraught with portents of danger and chaos -- and also of hope and joy, peace and charity.

The past ten years have been very cruel to the poor of this planet. The full force of globalization has fallen upon them, rice is daily stolen from their food bowls to enrich the wealthy. Everywhere, the poor are demonized as problems and exploited. Hundreds of millions of people are hungry because they have no land on which to grow food or money to spend in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the wealthy obsess on the latest grooviest toy for the Christmas shopping season and America the Merciless continues to bring death to children in poor countries all around the world. Sure, Congress voted $100 million for debt relief, an amount that is a small fraction of the cost of one Trident submarine. One of the most bizarre sights recently has been the spectacle of President Clinton wandering about the world declaiming on behalf of the poor. Huh? His hands are stained with the blood of hundreds of millions of poor children, and at this late date in his administration he is noticing the plight of the poor?

The Babylonians are truly at the gates. Systems which are unsustainable, which cannot go on forever, do wake up one morning and crash by the afternoon. A garbled radio transmission opens a Berlin border crossing, and a mighty empire dies. What will be the straw that is laid on the camel's back of the American Empire? Nobody knows, nor do we know how long the camel can groan under his burden, but the harbingers of collapse are there for those who will look, listen, think, and feel the "signs of these times."

Visible also are the harbingers of hope such as the Messianic promise that brings heals our despair. This is the in-breaking into temporality of the Divine as a little baby in a manger in a poverty-stricken village in a conquered land, born -- not to the wealthy and powerful, but to the humble, poor, and marginalized peasants of the hill country around the Sea of Galilee.

I bought a brand new flannel shirt today for somebody who doesn't get many new shirts. I got it at Wal-Mart, and its label said it was made in Bangladesh. I had to wonder, "How much of the ten dollar price of this shirt went to the worker who made it?" A quarter, perhaps, leaving $9.75 to be divvied up in the rest of the economic food chain. Once again I thought of the stockholders of Wal-Mart, and wondered if they were proud to be making dividends on the backs of the poor who have no other choices but to work for them at low wages. These products are not made in factories where the workers have the right to freely express the opinions and organize labor unions to protect their rights and secure a bigger piece of the economic pie. They are made in countries where such basic human rights are denied -- so that transnational corporations such as Wal-Mart can exploit the labor and desperation of the poor. And also so that I Robert Waldrop in Oklahoma City can buy a shirt for somebody who needed one.

"Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: -- by participating directly and voluntarily in them; -- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; -- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; -- by protecting evil-doers. Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. 'Structures of sin' are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a 'social sin.'" (Catechism 1868-1869)

Thus we journey into the Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

Here are some of the prayers of hope that I have for this upcoming Year of Grace.

+ When I need to buy a shirt for myself, or for someone else who needs one, I hope that instead of rewarding the exploitation of the poor, I can go to a local cooperative of tailors who will sell me a shirt made right here in Oklahoma City at an honest price. I hope that the tailors' cooperative will be part of a local network of successful Mondragon-style cooperatives, rooted in the social justice principles of solidarity, honest labor, and the common good.

+ When the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker household sits down for the holiday meals next year, I hope that the food that we eat comes from the labor of our own hands, or is bought from local farmers of this region.

+ As we go about our daily duties, I hope we learn more about responsible stewardship of our material resources, in particular, that we stop producing trash. (This property used to produce 3 city garbage containers of trash per week, we are now down to one and have a 10' x 3' x 4' compost heap in the south-side yard. Also, last year's heating bills for this house ran in the neighborhood of $150/month, this year's gas bill is staying at $25-30/month; if the natural gas went away, we could still have hot water, warm house, and hot food.)

+ When I sit down to write my Advent letter next year, I hope that I am able to speak of America the Merciless in the past tense.

I have these hopes even though I think that evil is growing stronger in the world and we are approaching a time of turbulence and instability. But this is not a counsel of despair, rather, a reminder that as Paul writes to us today, God is faithful and enriches us in all discourse and all knowledge. God is faithful, and able to keep us firm -- strong -- watchful! -- until the very end. God is faithful, and he has called us to fellowship within the Trinity. And with the God who is faithful, enriching, strengthening, all things are possible.

God said to Joshua: "I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1, 9)

Now is the time to call forth new structures of justice, peace, wisdom, and love, and to strengthen other such structures which are already among us. If instability is coming, let us remember that this can be an opportunity for the Good and the Beautiful. We tend to think of turbulence and instability as bringing evil, and certainly, this is always a possibility. But angels and saints are among us, and miracles happen a thousand times everyday. For every secret work of darkness, there are many secret works of beauty and goodness. For every one such saint that we know of, there are a thousand more secret heroes whose works are known only to God, but whose fruit is a blessing to many in great need of such help.

We are called to awaken within ourselves all the spiritual sensitivities and strengths and graces that are available to us. Now is not a time to be stupid, but rather prudent, wise, vigilant. People speak of random chances and sudden opportunities, but as Catholics we know of signal graces, openings (or closings) sent to us by the Lord to help guide us on our journeys of justice and peace.

Reality is that which cannot be ignored, it thrusts itself upon our consciousness and will not go away. When we say this we tend to think of the temporal reality, but it is equally true of the supernatural reality. God is that which cannot be ignored, He thrusts himself upon our consciousness and will not let us go. It is in this life within the Godhead that we can find our ways through the times which come upon us. How many people will die in the 21st century due to war and economic chaos? How many will live because of beauty and goodness? You will cast your votes in this poll by your actions today and tomorrow and the day after. Everybody votes, whether they want to or not. Even an attempt to not vote is a vote. So participation is not optional, and given the stakes, it's not prudent nor is it wise to abdicate your vote to chance.

The Jubilee Holy Year is a time to stand up and be counted for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the culture and civilization of life and love, to live in solidarity with the poor, to simplify our lives and be liberated from the structures of sin which bind us and oppress. We are called to stop making excuses for our injustices and oppressions (or for the injustices and oppressions of others) to cease our praising and rewarding of those who would profit from the exploitation of the poor. Would we accept "everybody is doing it" as a moral argument from our teenage son or daughter when it came to e.g. experimenting with heroin or pre-marital sex?

The point is this: If the year of Jubilee is to be a time of redemption and freedom, reconciliation and reparation, then shouldn't this begin at home, with an examination of conscience of the ways that we participate in and profit from the exploitation of the poor? And as we come to understand how our voluntary choices are affecting others in a negative way, is it not possible for us to invest some of our ingenuity, cleverness, capital, and old-fashioned American know-how in avoiding such oppression? In fact, couldn't we take our lives in the other direction and become empowers and liberators? The signs of these times call us to cultivate the culture of life which blesses the poor, and withdraw our lifeline support for the culture of death which gravely harms the poor.

Next year in Jerusalem! May the first Sunday of Advent dawn in the coming century on a world purged by metanoia, where great structures of sin have toppled onto the ash heap of history, the world renewed by grace with structures of goodness, beauty, wisdom, and love.

I suppose we better get busy.

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Dorothy Day Icon, by Robert Lentz, courtesy of Bridge Building Images, used with permission.

The future belongs to the poor, not to the rich.

December 2, 1999

The Martyrdom of Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan

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November 29, 1999 Isaiah 2, 1-5 + Matthew 8, 5-11

November 30, 1999 Romans 10, 9-18 + Matthew 4, 18 - 22, Feast of St. Andrew

December 1, 1999 Isaiah 25, 6-10 + Matthew 15, 29-37

December 2, 1999 Isaiah 26, 1-6 + Matthew 7, 21, 24-27

On December 2, 1980, Sisters Maura Clarke and Its Ford (Maryknoll), Dorothy Kazel (Ursuline), and Jean Donovan (lay missioner), left the airport in El Salvador. They were stopped by the

El Salvadoran military, kidnaped, and several hours later murdered, two of them were raped. Afterwards, the US government attacked the victims as "political activists." There were murdered nine months after Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Before his murder, he had said, "One who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor. And in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, to be tortured, to be captive, and to be found dead."

The readings for these days, with the brief exception of Tuesday for the feast of St. Andrew, give us glimpses of the Messianic reign. Today's first reading, on the day we remember the martyrs of El Salvador, is particularly poignant and deserves quoting in full:

On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah.

A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.

Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith.

A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you.

Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.

He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down;

He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust.

It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.

Where is this nation today? It is certainly not the United States of America. We as a nation do not keep faith with anything but the Almighty Dollar and our firm purposes are Arrogance, Violence, Exploitation, and Oppression. We have abandoned even the pretense of solidarity. We do not keep peace, we make war -- on strangers and on our own citizens. What is our fate? We are the strong, the proud, the rich, we will be trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor, they will walk over us and humble all who are in high places. The lofty city will crash, and "great will be the fall of it." Alas, Babylon.

In the Gospels, we read of great healings -- all were amazed because the lame, the blind, the deformed, and the mute were healed. Thousands of people were fed. We hear of the faith of a Gentile, and that it is greater than found elsewhere in Israel.

And on December 2nd, as we remember the martyrs of El Salvador, we are reminded: "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Because of their love and devotion to the poor, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan paid the ultimate price. And what a terrible experience it must have been -- to be kidnaped, tortured, raped, and then murdered. And the United States government shares in the responsibility for this deed. It's the kind of thing the rich and powerful do to the poor every day. One of the messages of today's readings is that the future belongs to the poor, not to the rich.

Two days ago I noticed a tent in an vacant lot in one of the poor neighborhoods I regularly visit. Today I found out that there were 3 women and 2 kids living in the tent. They were from Massachusetts, and were moving down here to find something better. On their way, their van broke down, and with the repair bill, they arrive in Oklahoma City broke. One of them has already found work. So I called Catholic Charities, and they put the group up in a motel through Monday, please pray that we will be able to find some permanent housing for them by Monday.

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The poor will find joy in the Lord.

December 3, 1999 Isaiah 29, 17-24 + Matthew 9, 27-31

December 4, 1999 Isaiah 30, 19-21, 23-25 + Matthew 9, 35 - 10, 1, 6-8

2nd Sunday of Advent December 5, 1999 Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + 2 Peter 3, 8-14 + Mark 1, 1-8

December 6, 1999 Isaiah 35, 1-10 + Luke 5, 17-25 St. Nicholas, Bishop

December 7, 1999 Isaiah 40, 1-11 + Matthew 18, 12-14, St. Ambrose, Bishop

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The candle of the second week of Advent we dedicate to Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He did not start out as a defender of the poor, but as his eyes, heart, mind, and spirit were opened to the situation in his country, he became a mighty defender of the poor. He was so dangerous that the authorities murdered him, while he was saying Mass. But he lives today, one of the Holy Helpers of the Poor. And his spirit lives on in the people of El Salvador.

What powerful words of freedom and liberation are given here in the readings for these days of waiting, preparation, reconciliation, and anticipation that we dedicate in this way.

"The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, for the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone, all who are alert to do evil will be cut off, who ensnare the defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim." (Isaiah 29)

Isaiah gives us strong words about tyrants -- and seemingly absurd promises about the poor rejoicing. He condemn injustice. In ancient Israel, the place of justice was at the gates of the city. To ensnare "the defender" is to keep a just man from demonstrating his innocence. Such denials of justice have ever been the practice of the wicked.

The next day we hear a promise of an end to weeping, as well as bread for the hungry, the revelation of a Teacher who is God, and abundant harvests and streams of water in the desert.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we look forward to the coming of John the Baptist, reading texts of promise (these verses were set to tremendous music by George Frederick Handel in the Messiah) -- "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together." He speaks of power to the powerless, hope to the hopeless, guidance to those who stray.

On the feast of St. Nicholas, patron of children, pilgrims, and those who are unjustly condemned, we hear. . . "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened, Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you." The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the crippled will walk -- and those who cannot speak will find their voices. "Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water. . . those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee."

It just takes my breath away to contemplate it. Justice, Beauty, Wisdom, and Love incarnate and reigning.

We see this in the gospels for these days. Jesus is healing many people -- 2 blind men, a paralyzed man on a stretcher, he calls 12 apostles and gives them power over diseases and demons and sends them forth to preach that the reign of God was at hand. He forgives sin -- which scandalizes his enemies. He also gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and the shepherd who goes in search of those who have strayed.

We may be on diverse journeys, but the path of being indicated in these readings is clear. The reign of God that we are called to live involves all of these themes -- heal the sick, welcome the unwanted, rejoice in the bounty of the earth and the goodness of Creation, strengthen those who are weak, protect those who are unjustly condemned, give voice to those who cannot speak. The way of the wicked leads to destruction -- "all who are alert to do evil" will be cut off. (This phrase is one of the most apt observations in Holy Scripture, and the English translation captures succinctly the existential situation of living in the midst of a culture of death where there are very many people who like the culture of death just fine and they are making money on the deal.) The reign of God is not a place of tyranny, and to make the world more like the reign of God -- to fulfill the Maranatha! cry -- we work to redeem the structures of tyranny as structures of beauty and goodness.

Oscar Romero of El Salvador, defend the poor, strengthen the weak, rebuke the arrogant, comfort the afflicted.

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With God, nothing is impossible!

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1999 -- Genesis 3, 9-15, 20 + Ephesians 1, 3-6, 11-12 + Luke 1, 26-38

Blessed Juan Diego, December 9, 1999-- Isaiah 41, 13-20 + Matthew 11, 11-15

December 10, 1999 Isaiah 48, 17-19 + Matthew 11, 16-19

December 11, 1999 Sirach 48, 1-4, 9-11 + Matthew 17, 10-13

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Right at the beginning, the pattern is set. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Which just goes to show, the more things change, the more they remain the same. When these words were first committed to print, the dominant mode of transportation was walking, the rich rode horses or camels. Subsistence farming was the rule, and starvation was never far from the land. Technology was very rudimentary -- wheels, carts, levers, olive presses. No radio, no TV, no printing press, very few literate people. Today we can crash our satellites into Mars, fly to Europe in a few hours, turn on a switch and use electricity that may have been generated across the continent, and etc. Yet today as then, we aren't very interested in accepting responsibility for our actions.

We have very good reasons why we aren't responsible. It's not our fault, it's those bad evil corporations (where do those corporations get their money?). It's not our fault, it's the government (who elected the government?). It's not our fault, people are poor because they are lazy (who contributes to the structures of sin that oppress the poor?).

On this solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, we also learn something about our nature as human beings -- predestined to be sons and daughters of God. The Governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, who also happens to be a Roman Catholic, hopefully listened carefully to the second reading when he went to mass Wednesday, as lately he has taken to calling some poor people "white trash" and "black trash", a very sad situation (let us keep him in our prayers).

We are given on this feast day the gospel of the Annunciation. We read of an angel sent to Mary, a poor peasant woman in a land on which the Roman yoke of oppression lay heavy. Unmarried, she is told that she would bear a child, the Messiah, whose rule would cover the earth. She is also told that her cousin Elizabeth, previously without children, had also conceived and this memorable phrase -- "with God, nothing is impossible."

How hard it is to have trust in that phrase -- but how crucial is such trust to our faith and praxis as Christians in this world, for we are God's hands and feet, the Body of Christ. So it is not impossible that justice will come upon the earth -- it is not impossible that the rich will stop their oppressions of the poor -- it is not impossible to think that the United States government might abandon its wicked ways and turn towards Beauty, Justice, Wisdom, and Love. It is also not impossible that the United States will collapse onto the ash heap of history, even though we so sure of our grandeur and our military might.

Isaiah writes to us of the Liberator of Israel, the Messiah, who says "Fear not, I am with you." (There's that phrase again.) Don't be dismayed, the Lord is our God -- he will strengthen us and help us and uphold us with justice. Strength, help, justice -- surely with this God, nothing is impossible.

What happens to those who fight against the Lord and his people -- who oppress the poor and levy injustice? They will perish, Isaiah says, they will come to nothing. The desert will bloom, the poor and afflicted will be comforted -- and when we see this happening, we will know that the hand of the Lord is among us, the Holy One of Israel has done this.

Sirach gives us poetry, a song of joy about the great prophet Elijah, who ministered in Israel before it was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians. He compares Elijah's ministry to a cleansing of fire.

The gospels for the days following the Immaculate Conception speak of John the Baptist, and compare his ministry to that of Elijah, and interpret the ancient scriptures that foretell the "second coming" of Elijah to refer to John the Baptist. In the anticipation of Christmas, it is easy to forget the strong social justice component of John's preaching, but to do so is to do violence to Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Church. His call to repentance was directed to all people -- and this did not exclude the ruling classes. His language directed at the rulers was pointed, scathing, and his ascetical lifestyle was a judgment upon the lives of indolent luxury financed by offerings extorted from the poor and injustices committed against them.

On Thursday we remember the Blessed Juan Diego, an Aztec of Mexico, to whom our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as an Aztec maiden. As we tell this story, we often focus on the effect this apparition had on the evangelization of the Aztecs, but there is another aspect to this. At that time -- and since then -- the indigenous peoples of Mexico were looked upon with scorn by their Spanish rulers. The conquistadores were fond of committing ruthless atrocities against the Aztecs, and even though at least one pope of the era issued a bull forbidding the enslavement of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, they were nevertheless a conquered people whose lands were stolen and their civilization destroyed. Thus, our Lady's decision to appear as an Aztec maiden is also a condemnation of the ruthless racism that was characteristic of the Conquest of the Americas by the Europeans. She appeared at that time in history -- not as a Spanish lady, but as a woman of a despised and persecuted race, and she appeared not to the Bishop, but to a poor man.

Thus our Lady ever takes her place in solidarity with those who are persecuted and rejected. Do we have the courage to follow her example?

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Let justice descend like dew from the heavens!

Gaudete! December 12, 1999, 3rd Sunday of Advent -- Isaiah 61, 1-2a, 10-11 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 16-24 + John 1, 6-8, 19-28, Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 13, 1999, St. Lucy, Numbers 24, 2-7, 15-17a + Matthew 21, 23-27

December 14, 1999, St. John of the Cross, Zephaniah 3, 1-2, 9-13 + Matthew 21, 28-32

December 15, 1999, Isaiah 45, 6b-8, 18, 21b-25 + Luke 7, 19-23

December 16, 1999, Isaiah 54, 1-10 + Luke 7, 24-30, first day of the Advent Novena

December 17, 1999, Genesis 49, 2, 5-10 + Matthew 1, 1-17, O Wisdom, Holy Word of God!

December 18, 1999 Jeremiah 23, 5-8 + Matthew 1, 18-24, O Adonai, sacred LORD of ancient Israel!

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The candle of this Third Sunday of Advent we dedicate to Franz Jagerstatter, martyr, who was beheaded by the Nazi government for his refusal to serve in the German military. You can read some of his words at http://www.justpeace.org/advent98-3.htm. May his unswerving to justice and to the Gospel of peace be a sign for us in our own day. St. Franz Jaegerstatter, pray for us, that we will be true to the Word of God!

The third Sunday of Advent this year falls on December 12th, which is also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. We ask for her intercession on behalf of this troulbled hemisphere. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, pray for us in this hour of our great need!

The first readings of this week take us through a thousand years of Hebrew prophecies relating to the coming of Christ in history and at the end of this age. On Gaudete Sunday, we began with the words from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth. His announcement that he was the fulfillment of those words was received as "all eyes looked intently upon Him."

What is this Messianic mission? Announcing glad tidings -- good news! -- to the lowly and the brokenhearted. Liberty is proclaimed to captives and prisoners are released. This is a year of favor and vindication from the Lord. The mantle of justice that is laid upon the people is like a garment bedecked with jewels. Justice will spring up even as the earth gives forth a bounteous harvest.

On Monday, we read of the oracles of Balaam, who was kind of a free-lance prophet (the book of Joshua refers to him as a "soothsayer"). During the time that the Hebrew tribes came from the desert into the lands around Palestine, a local king sent for Balaam to put a curse upon the tribes so they would leave. ("There goes the neighborhood" has a long and ancient lineage.) Balaam refused, but eventually goes, has several adventures along the way (including a bout with an angel and a talking donkey), but the relevant point here is that he prophesies that a "star will come out of Jacob," one of the traditional Advent promises.

Our lectionary's "Way Back Machine" next hurtles us forward a thousand years in the future, to the period 640 - 609 BC and the reign of King Josiah, the readers notes of the Oxford study bible describe it as a "time of religious degradation, when the old idolatries reappeared and men worshiped sun, moon, and stars." Zephaniah prophesies woe to the rebellious and tyrannical city, filled with pride, which does not listen to the LORD. Israel will pass through this time of rebellion, and come to a place where its deeds are no longer embarrassing. The people will humble themselves before the Lord, who will be their refuge. No lies, no deceitful tongues. The "proud braggarts" will be removed.

Isaiah gives us beautiful poetry -- "Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth, let justice also spring up! I, the Lord, have created this." Justice -- the Just One -- descends from the heaven, justice springs forth -- like buds on plants -- from the earth. In the Lord are just deeds and power.

On the fifth day of this third Advent week, Isaiah reaches out to the marginalized, using metaphors describing Jerusalem as a woman who has been deserted, but who suddenly finds herself with a complete family. The LORD has called back the people. . . "with enduring love I take pity on you. . . My love shall never leave you."

The sixth day we go back to the patriarchal era, and read from Jacob's last testament and blessing where Judah is promised an everlasting throne, which continues through the line of David to the Messiah. And on the seventh, Jeremiah tells us of a king who will do "what is just and right in the land." This will be when a "righteous shoot" will come out of Jacob. The name the people will give him is "The LORD our Justice!" The name of the LORD is synonymous with justice.

This is a point that should be remembered. Perhaps like ancient Israel, we should take these words and write them over our doors during this soon-approaching Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

Seven prophecies, and a constant and consistent connection between the coming of the Messiah and justice.

Hmmm. . . can this be a clue?

The gospel readings this week speak to us of John the Baptist, who came before Christ, preparing the way with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Who listened to John? Not the rich and powerful, the respected and the learned, but rather the marginalized and rejected, the poor and unpretentious. We read blunt words, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you who are rich and powerful and think you are clever.

Jesus shows us that he can turn the "questioning tables" on those who sought to persecute them. He asks them about John the Baptist, but they cannot answer. They refused his baptism, but they were also afraid of "the crowds" so they would not denounce him.

John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus, and they ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" Jesus tells them to go and report to John what they have seen -- the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with diseases are healed, lepers are cleansed -- the poor have the good news preached to the -- "those who were far off have been brought near by the Blood of Christ" -- living in and among them, in the "very-now real time mode."

On the sixth and seventh days of this week, we hear the genealogy of Jesus and Matthew's account of Jesus' birth. Mary, betrothed to Joseph, is found to be pregnant before the wedding. Joseph decides to leave her "quietly", but an angel appears to him in a dream and announces that the child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. "She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Emmanuel -- God with us -- the LORD our Justice..

The second reading for Sunday gives us the traditional title for this observance -- Gaudete -- Latin for "rejoice", the first word of the reading from 1st Thessalonians, written about 51 AD by Paul, the first of his series of letters we preserve in the New Testament. Rejoice always! He says, pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks (even when you are washing dishes, cleaning the toilet, baking bread, going to work), refrain from every kind of evil. This is part of a traditional and formal farewell, the listing of ideal virtues as models for Christian behavior. The reading concludes with Paul's blessing, his prayer that the Thessalonians would be preserved blameless and holy for the coming of Jesus. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will also accomplish it." The LORD our Justice!

So we approach the Great Jubilee Holy Year 2000, reminding ourselves of ancient prophecies of justice, mercy, hope, and reconciliation, even as the velocity of world events seems to be ramping up every day. Suddenly, from every corner, persons of wealth, position, power, and authority are assuring us, "All is well, all is well. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself! People doing irrational things are the greatest threat!" Well duh to that last thought, but somehow I am more worried about people with power and authority doing irrational things than I am ordinary Joe Six Pack and Jane Soccer Mom.

People are arrested for plotting to blow up a huge propane tank farm, another is arrested crossing the border from Canada with bomb parts and chemicals; hundreds of pounds of ammonium nitrate, dynamite, and blasting cord are stolen from a quarry in Arizona. The State Department issues stern warnings about terrorist attacks on Americans, claiming their information is based on "credible threats, not hearsay."

Our embassy in Ecuador is closed down. In Seattle, there continues to be political fallout from the recent riots, and the spinmeisters are working overtime to gloss over the event, marginalizing the protestors as "loony leftists and environmentalists," and ignoring the facts of the matter which is that the WTO protestors spanned the ideological spectrum from left to right and most points between. (Those who study revolutions know that this is a sign of the times to be watched for -- alliances that unite marginalized groups across ideological divisions, another sign of this is Patrick Buchanan inviting radical African American leftist Lenora Fulani to chair his campaign for the presidency under the Reform party banner, usually those people wouldn't even talk to each other, much less sit down apparently amicably at the political plotting table.)

The Pope calls -- again! -- for an end to capital punishment and clemency for those to be executed during the Year 2000. Here in Oklahoma City, the editorial page of the Daily Oklahoman gleefully reports that executions in Oklahoma prisons will be at an all-time high in the Jubilee Holy Year 2000. Our Catholic governor says the Pope is wrong on capital punishment!

Gang members are over-heard referring to Y2k as "T2L", for Time to Lott. (Note, this last is not internet hearsay, I heard this myself, a year ago, in Kansas City, Missouri.) Meanwhile back in the old USSR, the Russian federal army is pounding away at Grozny, threatening to detonate huge conventional bombs over the city, and deploying new nuclear missiles, apparently in violation of an understanding that there would be a freeze . There are reports that their entire missile system has been placed on alert status. This happens, just two weeks before the Century Date Change introduces new complexities and problems into the realm of computerized systems, such as are used by ballistic missiles and the systems and radars which detect such launches.

Two years ago, the Justpeace website made its appearance on the internet on December 22, 1997, the "world wide web", with five or six pages. Now there are more than 500 pages, and the last report I ran (about 2 weeks ago) showed 803 average daily user sessions, viewing over 2000 pages a day. During this time of learning about this new media, I have gradually built an "internet news collection system" which is currently receiving between 300-400 emails a day, routed automatically by the "inbox assistant" into one of 122 different directories. I don't read them all every day of course, some of them I haven't look at even once. Some I check every day, others once a week, or a month, or whenever. It's interesting to compare this news feed with what I read in the Daily Oklahoman and watch on a daily news broadcast. Are these media on the same planet? Sometimes I wonder.

At the same time that this torrent of information has come rushing into my high tech computer, we have also been exploring relationships with the poor, particular the residents of a forgotten and neglected corner of Oklahoma City known as Walnut Grove. Time is very slow there, the people we are coming to know there have no computers, some don't have running water, or natural gas service. Today was the 81st birthday of Mrs. Audrey Jones, born in 1908 in Boley, Oklahoma, one of the towns of this state founded in the last century by African American refugees from pogroms further South, whom I have taken to calling Mother Jones. (I told her the story of Mother Jones today, and she liked it a lot.) We took a birthday cake and card and her neighbors gathered at her gate to sing her happy birthday. I had brought presents of food for her and for her dogs (she has several). She spoke to us of the wisdom of her 81 years of poverty. She said, "You know times are always going to be hard, bad things are always going to be happening to you, so you might as well just trust in the good Lord and have a positive attitude about everything."

Tonight, in re-reading the texts for last Sunday, I remembered her words when I read Paul's advice to the Thessalonians -- "Rejoice always!" And then she smiled her big happy smile, and said, "Now, isn't that right?" This is a woman who has no running water and no natural gas service, and no prospects of getting either and what is her advice to me? Rejoice always! (We've explored getting her gas lines fixed, but it's not happening, and I just found out today that she doesn't have running water. There was a leak in the water pipe, so benevolent Oklahoma City cut off her water when she didn't have $700 to pay for the extra water that had leaked. Now I am reminded of the words of Zephaniah -- "Woe to the tyrannical city, rebellious and polluted.".)

This week the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux were in Oklahoma City, and about 1 in the morning last Tuesday I went to Little Flower Church for part of the all-night vigil. This church and monastery was established by Discalced Carmelite monks fleeing persecutions in Mexico during the 1920s, and it is the heart and soul of the Latino community in Oklahoma City. Its neighborhood, Riverside, is being threatened by the State, as the Dept. of Transportation wants to drive a 10 lane quarter of a billion dollar freeway right through it, the monastery would be about 100 feet from the edge of the road.

As I knelt beside the reliquary and placed my hand upon it, and as I sat in the pews before and after praying and contemplating, I held in my intentions and thoughts the Catholic Worker movement, both in the world at large and here in Oklahoma City, as well as the intentions of our benefactors and all who are at risk of injustice and oppression. I was there about an hour, but it was a busy hour, a time to drink deep from the well. I thought about Dorothy Day's devotion to this great saint, who showed us that holiness is found in the most mundane of our daily tasks. We so want in this age to separate religion from the 'rest of our life.' We say there is no place for religion in the public square, that business is business and faith has nothing to contribute. St Therese of Lisieux reminds us that all of life is holy, from the moment we rise, through all the actions of our days, we are called to "practice the presence of God," as the medieval monk Brother Lawrence said. Yes, even when we buy and sell stocks and properties and vote for political candidates. (I learned a great quote attributed to Dorothy Day this week: "If God had meant for us to vote, he would have given us candidates.")

So the world seems filled with trouble, we approach the Year 2000 with joy and hope -- and yet there is also concern and worry. We are a proud and arrogant race whose way of life is made possible by a web of inter-connected computers that may not work correctly after the upcoming "Century Date Change." From the beginning of my awareness of this issue, it has seemed obvious to me that the problem is not only that "the code is broken," but also that our "communities are broken." Y2k came to Mother Audrey Jones of the Walnut Grove neighborhood when her water was cut off by what can only be described as a cruel and indifferent city. I wonder, what did the city employee who came to her house that day think as he was cutting off her supply of running water? Since then, has he or she ever wondered what happened with that old woman in a dilapidated house?

We hear prophecies of a time when justice will reign. We live in a temporal reality where justice is too often denied, where oppression reigns supreme, and when troubled times approach. The signs of the times come before us as an on-rushing torrent -- and also as a placid flowing brook, meandering through the meadows. Whatever the details may be, however, the meta-story is as old as the texts we read today, and echo all of the themes we have often visited in this series of reflections and meditations. There are structures of arrogance, violence, oppression, and injustice that afflict all of human culture and even as we are in the midst of them, we are called to cultivate new redeeming and reconciling structures of beauty, wisdom, justice, mercy, peace, and love.

In Advent we look forward to the Nativity for many reasons -- culture, family, custom, religion, spirituality. We know that these events happened historically many years ago, but the annual recurrence of this festival is a reminder that Christ must be regularly reborn in our lives, as we incarnate his love and presence by our actions in the world and our relationships with all other human beings and the natural world. The baby who was born in a manger in Bethlehem is the baby who is born in our hearts tonight, as we reach out in love to one another.

We also look forward to the coming of Christ's reign on earth, and we know that this waiting involves our active participation in building that Reign in our own hearts and in our families and communities. We got into the situation we are in one sin at a time, and we will get out of it one blessing and one good deed at a time, as we respond in love to the grace-love that is so freely given to us from that overflowing abundant Cup which is never empty. We have been called to be watchful and prudent.

May the upcoming Jubilee holy year 2000 be a time when justice indeed shall come down like the dew from the heavens, and spring forth like the plants of the ground. Even as we in the northern hemisphere watch earth and nature go to sleep and dormancy during the winter, we anticipate the coming days of spring with its warmth and bounteous growth. This will happen because we who are called will answer, "Here am I, Lord, send me." Then the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lepers will be cleansed, and those who are far off -- rejected and marginalized -- will be brought close by the Blood of Jesus Christ. The LORD our Justice!

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 19, 1999 -- 2 Samuel 7, 1-5, 11b-12, 14a, 16 + Romans 16, 25-27 + Luke 1, 26-38, O Flower of Jesse's stem!

December 20, 1999, Isaiah 7, 10-14 + Luke 1, 26-38, O Key of David, Royal Power of Israel!

December 21, 1999, Song of Solomon 2, 8-14 , Luke 1, 39-45, O Radiant Dawn, Sun of Justice!

December 22, 1999, 1 Samuel 1, 24-28 + Luke 1, 46-56, O King of all Nations, Keystone of the Mighty Arch of Humankind!

December 23, 1999, Malachi 3, 1-4, 23-24 + Luke 1, 57-66, O Emmanuel, Desire of the Nations, Savior of all People!

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We dedicate this candle of our Advent Wreath to St. Therese of Lisieux. May her life and heroic witness remind us of the importance of holiness in every aspect of our lives.

Last week we journeyed with John the Baptist, this fourth week of Advent might be entitled, "Mary and the Economy of Salvation" (if, of course, one were writing a scholarly paper).

On Sunday, we read of David and the Ark of the Covenant and of the visit of the Angel Gabriel to a young unmarried woman in a poor rural village of Galilee. From early in our history as a Church, the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, has been seen as relating to the role of Mary in the Incarnation. As did the Ark of the Covenant, she carried within her the Word of God.

As the week passes, we read Isaiah's great prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son, we hear a song sung by a bride who is expecting the soon arrival of the bridegroom, we watch Hannah dedicate her son Samuel to the service of the Lord, and on the day before Christmas Eve, we hear prophecies of both John the Baptist and the Messiah -- and we are reminded that this Messiah comes with a purifying refining fire.

In the Gospel readings, we walk with Mary through the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Magnificat, and then the Birth of John the Baptist. The center of action is not someone who is rich and cultured, but rather poor and humble. The place is not the busy streets of Jerusalem or the halls of governance and authority in Rome, but rather the isolated rural areas of a conquered province. The priest Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, can't speak, because he doubted the word of the Angel Gabriel. The unmarried maiden, Mary, who believed, sang a song of victory. God walks His way into Humanity in the company of people that, well, aren't on the A List. It is a story of redemption for all people who believe and respond with obedience to the call of the Lord.

Of course, all this did happen very long ago, yet even as we read these historical accounts, there remains anticipation within because the Promise remains "in fulfillment," even as we go about our daily journeys. The Sun of Justice has come into the world, there remain clouds which obscure the radiance and leave us in darkness. Yet, in Mary's Magnificat, we find the hope that "this too, shall pass." The arrogant of "mind and heart" will be dispersed, rulers will be throne down, the lowly will be lifted up, the hungry will be filled and those who oppress them will be sent away to learn virtue and righteousness.

Is this "pie in the sky, bye and bye" to encourage people to put up with oppression in the here and now? Or is it inspiration to fulfill this Promise here and now? God is not the author of evil, so these Scriptures must be given to us to help fulfill the Promise of the advent of the Sun of Justice. Sometimes this may call us to comfort the afflicted -- to visit the poor and assist them with both their immediate needs (and emergencies) and their long-term situation. Sometimes this may call us to afflict the comfortable -- to visit the powerful, to call them to repentance for their exploitation of the poor, to assist them in changing their ways and manners of living. If they do not to hear, it may also be a call to bring the light of day to bear upon the situation, to end our cooperation with their structures of sin, to refuse to profit from the misery of others, to actively assist the poor in avoiding or escaping from those who would oppress them.

So we wait in anticipation, knowing how the journey goes, but remembering that part of the Story of Christmas is that new and wondrous things do happen, joy and justice can come into the World not just 2,000 years ago, but right here, right now, in my heart and your heart and the hearts of billions of other human beings. We are all called by God into loving community with each other, we might as well start practicing, otherwise we'll never get good at it.

May the Advent spirit of anticipation and preparation cultivate within us open and loving hearts of justice, and may our daily actions reflect that inner peace!

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Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord

A justice and peace meditation on the Four Masses of Christmas

December 24 - 25, 1999, commencing the Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

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THE VIGIL OF CHRISTMAS

Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory. (Entrance Antiphon)

Isaiah 62, 1-5 + Psalm 89 + Acts 13, 16-17, 22-25 + Matthew 1, 1-25

Using the most intimate of metaphors, Isaiah sings a song of a bridegroom who rejoices in his bride, a hymn of reconciliation, the jubilation of those who although once rejected, forsaken, and desolate, have become the delight of the Lord. Who can be silent in the face of such news? When has this ever happened before?

In response to this word, the assembly sings "Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord," and we hear the words of an ancient hymn of praise. . . "At your name they rejoice all the day, and through your justice they are exalted." There's that word -- justice, and it's not just anybody's justice, it is the Justice of the LORD. We will hear more about this as these liturgical celebrations progress.

Paul, preaching in Pisidian Antioch, connects the Incarnation with the saving acts of God in the history of his own people, citing their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, their rescue from a mad king, and the establishment of the Davidic dynasty of kings, within whose house was to come the Messiah, the Savior.

Matthew, in the tradition of his people, gives the genealogy of Jesus, generation to generation from Abraham to Joseph, within whose family Jesus was born, and the One who would come to save people from their sins.

The masses of the preceding week have focused on Mary and John the Baptist, today's gospel is centered on Joseph. What a man he must have been! His fiancé turns up pregnant, says God is the kid's father and an angel explained all this to her. Joseph, being a "meridian of time" devout Jew in an impoverished rural village, mindful of the traditions of his people yet merciful in his application, is thinking, "Well, a quiet divorce and this will be over." Then he has a dream, an angel speaks to him, and "When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the LORD had commanded him. . . " This is a clue.

The family has always been at the center of human society, it is the structure where human beings, children of God, come into this world and grow, learn, and develop. God could come into humanity in any way He chose; the One who creates the world is hardly bound by human customs and biological necessities. Yet, he does not appear at this time in history in glorious triumphant radiance. Rather, he comes into this world -- emptying his being into flesh, sharing our mortality -- in the midst of a loving human family. His country is not the ruling empire, but a conquered province. His status is not that of the priestly or the civil authorities, nor does he belong to the economic elite. As they would say in these parts, Jesus was born poor, raised poor, lived poor, and died poor.

This is not saying that those who are not poor are rejected by God. The ministry of Christ was supported by people who had resources, as was the growth of the Church. It is to remind us that the poor are blessed by God, the One who could come to any human family chose humility and that justice is the response God calls from us. It is a sign of contradiction to our human cultural tendency to reject the poor, to exploit them, to manipulate them, to create and maintain structures of sin that keep poor people poor, and to foolishly and unjustly arrange for the inequitable distribution of the gifts of Creation. It is a teaching moment illuminating the truth that clothes do not actually make the man or the woman, we are not the sum of our possessions, the purpose of life is not accumulating consumer goods.

This is a clue.



THE MASS IN THE NIGHT OF CHRISTMAS

The LORD said to me: You are my Son; this day have I begotten you. (Entrance antiphon)

Isaiah 9, 1-6 + Psalm 96 + Titus 2, 11-14 + Luke 2, 1-14

Again we hear a song from Isaiah, rejoicing and jubilation in response to the liberating and saving power of God. Yokes of slavery and whips of punishment are destroyed. . . "Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames."

The United States has 12 aircraft carriers. Each one has 4.5 acres of surface area, carries more than 100 aircraft, plus missiles, guns, 3,000 or so sailors, and sails with a flotilla of destroyers, missile launchers, cruisers, submarines and etc., projecting United States Power to the four corners of the earth. . . Every boot that tramped in battle. . .

Thousands of nuclear bombs in the United States, Russia, China, France, England, Israel, India, Pakistan. . . Every cloak rolled in blood. . .

It takes your breath away to contemplate it.

How does all this come to be? This must be the work of a mighty conqueror -- but no, it's not a high falutin' emperor, just a little baby, a child. Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero. The nature of His reign is justice and peace.

Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord, we sing in response to these mighty words of power and liberation. Sing to the LORD a new song, all you lands, bless his name. Let the heavens be glad, let the trees in the forest rejoice. Why? Because the LORD comes to rule the earth -- with justice and with faithfulness.

Now we know for sure the United States government is not the Reign of God. There is precious little justice or faithfulness in the here and now. The reality of this world's rulers is cruelty and hate, oppression and exploitation, violence and terror. Even as these words are written, Russian federal armies are destroying the city of Grozny. Did all the civilians get out? Nobody seems quite able to say, there is some concern that a lot of the people left in the town were too old, feeble, and/or ill to walk their way to safety. As President Clinton would say, they are collateral damage, expendables, they have no one to speak for them, they have no atomic bombs of their own. Not that we Americans have much moral room anymore to be lecturing the Russians. "Without justice, the state is merely organized crime." Confucius said that. He was talking about ancient China, but it still rings true today, especially here and now at the beginning of this Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

Titus, in the second reading for the Midnight Mass of Christmas, sheds some light on why this is relevant. He reminds us that the essence of Christmas -- the Incarnation -- was grace, which is the free and unmerited gift of God to us. How do we respond to this? Titus says that it calls us to change our behavior, to reject the godless ways and worldly desires, to live temperately, JUSTLY, and devoutly. He reminds us that Jesus gave himself freely to deliver us -- to liberate us -- to save us -- from lawlessness, so that we will be a people "eager to do what is good."

Somehow, I think we've missed that part of the Christmas message.

Talk about living temperately, justly, and devoutly during the Christmas season? Shut your mouth, fool, the gross domestic product is at stake! Forget temperance, justness, and piety -- spend! consume! gratify all appetites! cost is no object!

It wasn't so different back then.

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. This was the first census, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be counted, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child."

"While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

What does it take to get a man to put his young wife on a donkey, late in her pregnancy, and walk yourselves all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a journey of many miles? The authority of an oppressive government, taught to a conquered people by miles of people crucified by the roadside, villages and cities burned, children slaughtered. When the Romans said jump, you generally asked "how high?" on your way up, and you didn't come back down until they said it was OK. They were not a nice peaceful people, they were ruthless warriors and pitiless administrators who saw empire as a way to enrich themselves. Their economy was based on the enslavement and exploitation of human beings, the aristocracy lived in comfort and ease on the backs of masses of people held in subjugation by abject terror and military violence. Their economic and political arrangements were such that the production of the many was centralized under the control of the few.

Like I said, it wasn't so different back then than it is now.

Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because they had no choice but to obey the Roman emperor or suffer the consequences. When they arrived, there was no room at the inn, so they made a place in a stable, mostly likely actually a cave, there were probably goats, cattle, and chickens. Not exactly the birthing suite at Mercy Hospital. And so it came to pass that this woman Mary, chosen by God, gave birth to a child, a human child, a God child, Incarnation -- "O what a wondrous Child", part of a living, breathing, and loving human family.

"Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields, and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'"

Did the angel run fast and quick to the Roman authorities and say, "Hey guys, come and see, there's a baby who's gonna be a king and he's gonna give you Romans a real run for your money?"

Did the angel hop quick fast into the Temple in Jerusalem, blow his trumpet and say, "the Messiah is come! Hasten quickly to worship him!"

No, the angel went to the Shepherds, keeping watch at night in the fields with their flocks. Shepherds, it says. The social status of shepherds in those days was not especially high, especially among the Gentile readers of Luke's Gospel. Shepherds? Did it actually say shepherds? Why shepherds? Why not Roman aristocrats?

It's another one of those clues.

God did send a message to the rich, this isn't a story chasing anybody away who comes in humility to kneel before the Manger -- He them sent a star, a heavenly phenomenon of some sort, seen by the Magi of the East, wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they were not poor. Tonight however we are being reminded that the poor are part of the Story too, and this is important news, because generally, then as now, the poor are not considered to be part of our Story. They are somebody else, they are "Other", "Not Us", and we certainly don't want them in our backyards or our neighborhoods. We wouldn't send any angels to invite them over for a visit, instead, we would cut their welfare checks and food stamp allotments in an attempt to make life as miserable as possible for them so that hopefully they will leave this state and go be somebody else's problem.

This is another clue, and illuminates one of the reasons why we so desperately need Christmas.

The Three Blessings of Christmas at Midnight:

When he came to us as man, the Son of God scattered the darkness of this world, and filled this holy night with his glory. May the God of infinite goodness scatter the darkness of sin and brighten your hearts with holiness!

God sent his angels to shepherds to herald the great joy of our Savior's birth. May he fill you with joy and make you heralds of his gospel!

When the Word became man, earth was joined to heaven. May he give you his peace and good will and fellowship with all the heavenly host!

THE MASS AT THE DAWN OF CHRISTMAS

A light will shine on us this day, the LORD is born for us: he shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come, and his kingship will never end. (Entrance antiphon)

Isaiah 62, 11-12 + Psalm 97 + Titus 3, 4-7 + Luke 2, 15-20

Isaiah's song continues in this third mass of the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord. Again he rejoices in the welcome given to those who were rejected and marginalized. A savior has come! We do not have to live in the Egypt of Oppression, there is One who is come to us who will lead us into freedom.

"A light will shine on us this day: the LORD is born for us!" we sing in response. There is a new king on the block -- and look, the heavens themselves proclaim his JUSTICE! All people can see his GLORY. A light will shine on us this day, the LORD is born for us! Light has dawned for the JUST. Which is perhaps to say, within the Light of Christ, we can see who is the just and who is the unjust. And wouldn't you know it? Seems to me like while we were stumbling around in the darkness, we got it wrong again. There are many among us today who posture as the just, but who in fact are the unjust. They take advantage of the darkness to hide their true natures. After all, they are beautiful, powerful, all people say nice things about them -- see how people wait upon them and beg their favor! Yet, when the light of Christ shines upon them, somehow their beauty is not so clear. And over there, in the corner, are those that we thought we ugly, yet in the light of Christ, they shine with radiant glory.

It's always darkest just before the dawn, whenever and wherever that Dawn may be..

Titus comes to us again at this mass, speaking of kindness and generous love, reminding us that our Savior appeared not because of any great things we had done, but rather by mercy, rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, the richly-poured-out-upon-us savior, Jesus Christ, through whom we are heirs of eternal life. When it's over -- it's not over, it's just beginning. How hard it is for us to learn that lesson and really believe that it is true! Included in the message of Christmas is the knowledge that the supernatural reality is as "real" as the natural world we experience every moment of every day with our physical senses. We are not alone! God is poured out upon us!

"When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the LORD has made known to us.' So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds."

The shepherds may have been poor, but they weren't fools. They heard the menage of the angels -- and then they themselves responded. They went in search of the baby Jesus. As they discovered that they had not had a collective hallucination, they turned around and went out into the village and the fields and told everybody they met about the wondrous news.

People were amazed by this, perplexed. "Angels," you say, "Messiah? Anointed One? A baby in a manger with the cattle and the goats?"

"And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them"

Once again, Mary shows us how to respond to God's saving activity in our lives. Keep these things in our hearts -- and reflect on them, which is to say, meditation and contemplation, these are not disciplines that fit well into our busy lifestyles, but oh how important they are to understand these great mysteries and how we should fittingly respond to this wondrous gift.

THE MASS DURING THE DAY OF CHRISTMAS

A child is born for us, a son is given to us, dominion is laid on his shoulder, and he shall be called Wonderful-Counselor. (Entrance Antiphon)

Isaiah 52, 7-10 + Psalm 98 + Hebrews 1, 1-6 + John 1, 1-18

A fourth time Isaiah comes to his in poetry and song, rejoicing in the good news, announcing salvation, glad tidings, restoration, comfort, redemption. All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God who is King over all the earth, whose reign is Just.

Our fourth response to the Word of this festival is, "All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God. And again, a fourth time, we sing of justice, kindness, faithfulness. . . "in the sight of the nations he has revealed his JUSTICE." Are you counting these clues? Justice is important to God. It is intimately bound up with the Incarnation. We are called right now to live in justice, temperance, faithfulness, love, and piety.

As we have journeyed through these four masses, we have been in caves and mangers, and walked with shepherds and the poor. Now in Hebrews, we find a reminder of who it is that is coming to us this day: Jesus, the "refulgence of God's glory," the "very imprint of his being," the one who "sustains all things by his mighty word."

This is that baby? Over there in the manger? Beside that goat? "You are my son, this day I have begotten you!"

"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. . .

That's the Baby in the Manger.

"He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him."

That's that homeless guy over there. And look, there's a crack addicted prostitute with AIDS.

"But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.

See that young kid, he's 9 years old, works 13 hours a day, six days a week, making Disney merchandise, he earns 13 cents an hour.

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.

Ah yes, a mother on welfare with six kids.

"No one has ever seen God, the only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him."

There goes another one! Let's burn him at the stake! And a woman with child, bruised and battered. Illegal aliens! Foreigners! Strangers!

Distressing disguises, that Baby has. But His life is a revelation of God to those of us who have never seen God. He went about doing good, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming those who were rejected, reconciling enemies. He went to the diseased lepers and to the comfortable rich. He comforted the afflicted and he afflicted the comfortable -- and he continues to do this today. He is a king in disguise, whose kingdom is real but not recognized, his Reign is characterized by justice and peace.

What a wondrous and beautiful time of the year, even in the midst of the tumultuous events of this season. As we go about preparing to celebrate the Nativity, reality intrudes itself upon us. We find women with babies living in empty lots in tents, another family abandoned and without support, elderly people without natural gas or running water, kids who are hungry, men who are lost in drug addiction and alcoholism, drowning the pain and emptiness of their lives with counterfeits. In the newspapers we read of wars and massacres and great natural calamities, perhaps as many as 50,000 people dead in Venezuela. Our government issues warnings against terrorism, people are caught smuggling bomb parts, others are arrested for plotting acts of mass terrorism. Throughout the world, a great mobilization is beginning that focuses on the night of December 31, 1999/January 1, 2000, due to concerns about the safety and stability of the basic infrastructure that sustains our ways and manners of living.

We've already noted that it is darkest just before the Dawn, and surely, the labor pains attendant with birth are excruciating (so much so they can hardly be understood by those of us who have not experienced them). Comes now the Roman pontiff, he who was born Karol Wojtyla, who now reigns as His Holiness Pope John Paul II, and he proclaims this year as the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, consecrating this period of time to justice, charity, renewal, reconciliation and redemption. In the name of this Baby who sleeps quietly in a humble stable, we are called to live in the Reign of Christ, to respect life, to cease from our oppressions and exploitations, to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit those who are sick and imprisoned. Peace and goodwill is proclaimed to all.

And we are also to ask -- why are these people poor? Why are these people rejected? Why are they hungry? As we reflect on these things, we have been reminded in each of these holy celebrations of Christmas that we are to respond to God's gift of grace by concrete actions of love, peace, beauty, wisdom, mercy and justice. It's not enough to piously sigh as we look at the beauty of a nicely decorated church filled with glorious music. That's not why Jesus came into the world.

This is a time that is pregnant with possibility and wonder. Maybe this year we will figure things out a bit, come to an understanding of some of these clues God is sending our way. We don't have to get up on December 26, 1999 and go out and instantly become Mother Theresa. We start small or we don't start at all. Each act of goodness, beauty, mercy, justice, and peace is a step in the right direction, whether they be randomly scattered or intentionally focused. Sure, the evil that is in this world is strong, powerful, and riotous -- but it is not stronger than the Baby Jesus who sleeps so quietly and peacefully in the stable.

Our love response to God -- and to each other, and especially to the Jesus who comes among us in distressing disguises -- is the ultimate Christmas gift, better than anything that we could buy at a store.

The angel said: "I proclaim to you good news of great joy, today a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord."

What a wondrous story this is! In the midst of what Christmas has become for and to us, we must authentically remember that all these things did not happen so that a rich and arrogant people inhabiting the northern half of the western hemisphere of planet Earth could spend and consume themselves into oblivion, rooting their prosperity in the ruthless gratification and exploitation of the seven deadly sins of pride, lust, avarice, envy, spiritual laziness, gluttony, and wrath.. Rather, it was and is a free gift of grace offered to us to save us from our sins so that a people "eager to do what is good" could grow into community together -- a process of "en-family-ment" with all that idea implies in terms of love, solidarity, and faithfulness.

May the power of this holy Night bring peace to all the nations! May the dawn of this Christmas morning bring justice to the poor! May the example of our Lord, poured out as a Baby in a stable, be for us a sign of humility and contradiction to the arrogance and materialism of our cultures and communities! During this Jubilee Holy Year 2000, may the doors of every heart and every home be open to the wonder of Christ!

HAVE A MERRY AND HOLY CHRISTMAS

From the Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City

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The Victory of Justice

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, AD 2000

Readings Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Mark 1, 7-11

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"Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth JUSTICE to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.

"A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering candle he shall not quench, until he establishes JUSTICE on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

"I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of JUSTICE, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness." (First Reading)

Three times in this passage of Holy Scripture, the connection is made between justice and the work of the Messiah. We can infer that politics during Isaiah's time was rather noisy and raucous (cf the references to "crying out" and "shouting" in the street). This Justice comes to us, not through such boisterous street politics, but by the will of the Lord. Yet, even though neither its origin nor its end is politics, it appears to have political implications -- dungeons are opened, prisoners are released, and the eyes of the blind are opened.

Some people hope that this doesn't come to pass. If the eyes of the blind are opened, they might see that the emperor to whom we have committed our temporal hopes is naked, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Yet, this is the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, an entire year set aside to consider justice, beauty, wisdom, love, renewal, reconciliation. It's not as though these principles aren't important every year, but perhaps the Holy Father sensed the urgency of our times, the great structures that are at play with and in the world, and his call to sanctify this period of time is clear and without ambiguity.

The second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, reminds us that God is not the Lord of Marginalization. He shows no partiality, not by birth, not by ethnic origin, not by social class. "In every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him."

God is looking for both an interior disposition -- and the active result of this disposition as witnessed by our acts, large and small, known and unknown, of both omission and commission. We hear that Jesus, who was anointed by God as Lord over All, "went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."

Today's Gospel announces the beginning of the fulfillment of these ancient prophecies. Jesus, obedient to the Father, goes to John for baptism and thus occurs one of the "epiphanies" -- "unveilings" of the Reality behind our reality. "This is my beloved Son," he will bring forth justice to the nations, he is the one who has been called for the "victory of justice." He will open the eyes of the blind and release the prisoners.

At the beginning of this Jubilee Year, we celebrated the Incarnation. With great pomp, ceremony, and glorious music we reminded ourselves of the basic truth of our Faith, which begins in a humble manger among the rural peasants of an occupied and oppressed nation.

Immediately thereafter, we are called to count the cost of the Cross as we remember the first Christian martyrs -- St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, and a great martyr who witnessed against the tyranny of the State, St. Thomas Becket. As we savor the presents and parties of Christmas, these remembrances can be uncomfortable reminders of the reality of discipleship. We celebrate the Holy Family, recalling that the Incarnation took place within the original human cultural institution, the family, and we rejoice with Mary as Theotokos, the Mother of God! Then comes Epiphany, where rich and poor, peasants and kings, come to kneel at the manger. Liturgically, the Christmas season ends today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a day when we all remember our own baptisms; whether as children or as adults, this is the time God marks us as His own, we are called into a covenanted relationship with His Body, the Church.

Which is an involved and indirect way to get to the point, reminding myself, and any who will listen that God isn't kidding about this Justice stuff. Christ is the Victory of Justice, and we are His Body on earth, and now is the "accepted time of salvation," the day when by our interior disposition and by our exterior actions we build structures of beauty, wisdom, goodness, love, justice, and mercy. Or, by omission or commission, we will support structures of arrogance, violence, exploitation, hatred, injustice, and despair. It's our call.

These times are very turbulent and violent, there are many wars and conflicts raging, and the number are increasing. Most of them we hear nothing about, but every day, every hour, somebody somewhere is killed in battle, their earthly life ended by a bullet, a bomb, a rocket, or a land mine.

In these times, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, and the data is there for anyone to see. Three billion people worldwide live in grinding poverty, with not a lot of hope for something better, and even here in the wealthiest country on the globe, you don't have to go far in most areas to find third world poverty (it's just up the street from me, and a few blocks from downtown Oklahoma City, and maybe even close to your own neighborhood).

This centralization of wealth is contrary to the will of God, the goods of the earth were created for all, not to be devoured by a few while others starve. Moreover, this economic tendency is not an accident. There's a popular superstition these days which suggests that, "Well, this is the way its always been and always will be, and besides, everybody else will get richer too." A rising tide lifts all boats they say, but what does a tsunami do? The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer because that is the what our system is designed to do. It is working perfectly according to plan. Yet these processes are unnatural, disordered, contrary to the will of God, structures of sin, "Satan's plan." But when you base your economic system on the glorification of the seven deadly sins, this is what you get. (As in, "You get what you pay for.")

In 1999, there was a lot of concern about the "year 2000 computer bug," and I was quite pessimistic about what would happen, especially in regard to problems with the big technological systems that are so important to daily life in our complex communities. As it turned out, we passed through the first stages of that challenge without any major collapse, and I am very glad about that. But we do well to remember that it wasn't just a technological problem that muddied the waters and caused concern, far more critical issues were the broken "social systems" characteristic of modern society.

From the beginning, the temptation was to see the situation as solely a technology problem, so we spent hundreds of billions of dollars, averted the catastrophic collapse of our technological infrastructure -- and closed our eyes to the far more critical social and economic problems. We are like a guy who has lung cancer, who goes in for an examination to find out how long he has left to live. But miraculously, the cancer is gone, he has been healed! He's really happy, rushes outside to tell friends and family -- and immediately lights up a cigarette. Thus he shows the universe how much he learned from his concern about the "end of his world." I am also reminded of the lepers that Christ healed, who immediately ran away -- only one turned back to say thanks to the man who had wrought this miracle.

The structures of sin in this world reacted strongly against the idea that there was something wrong with them. They are like the addiction to nicotine -- the instant and short term gratification of smoking is preferable to the long-term risk of death by lung cancer. The "social equation" I talked about in writing about Y2k remains operative: the more marginalized and excluded people in a society, the greater the risk of social disorder. Ignoring the lessons of history is certainly our prerogative, but if we think we can play some kind of "escape the consequences of our actions " card when times get rough, we lower ourselves to the level of "fools with tools."

The final chapter on what is happening in this world today has yet to be written. We have not by a long stretch reached the "end of history." Capitalism and high technology and the American Empire seem to be riding high and mighty, but as our parents and grandparents used to tell us, "pride goes before a fall." It's not over until it's over, whatever the newspapers may say.

This is not a counsel of despair or even pessimism, but a reminder that we are the ones who share in the Victory of Justice which comes through Jesus Christ. It's not for nothing that we call him "Savior of the World." Because of our adoption as sons and daughters of God, it is our responsibility to share also in the work of justice, for we are the "hands and feet" of the body of Christ, here on Earth, and it is our concrete actions of wisdom, beauty, and justice that realize the reconciling promise of Scripture, bringing those who once were "far away" near by the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all iniquities.

On the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is inscribed a passage of Holy Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy -- "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the people thereof," which is from the ancient proclamation of the Jubilee year. During this time, property that had been sold during the previous five decades was returned to its original owners, slaves were freed, debts were canceled, the land was to lie fallow, people were to rest from their labors. 3,500 years ago, people knew the dangers of centralizing wealth and oppressing the poor, and the Jubilee Year was a gift from God to help them avoid these structures of sin in human societies which are directly traceable to the Fall and to the subsequent real and active influence of Evil upon the natural world.

During this Jubilee Holy Year 2000, we at the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House will continue the work we have begun this past year on the ground here in Oklahoma City, and our evangelical work in cyberspace that is now in its third year. We hope to try many things -- some new, some perhaps very old -- as we continue our prudent discernment of how to journey on pilgrimage given the signs of these times. We are very grateful for all of the support we have received, and for the people who come to our webpages (more than 800 people, reading over 1900 pages every day). Some of you have sent money, and because of this kind of help, we have been able to feed more hungry people, shelter more homeless people, and welcome more people who have been rejected and marginalized. Some have sent (or brought) other things -- food, clothing, an icon of Oscar Romero, books, empty 2 liter pop bottles, blankets, socks, cooking equipment. Those we have helped have often asked us to say "thanks" to those who make this possible, so in their name, we say "thank you." Your intentions are often in our prayers.

I tell you frankly, sometimes it seems like bailing an ocean with a slotted spoon. Every week there are phone calls and referrals, each one of them a door opening upon more problems than an army of social workers with unlimited budgets and magical powers could successfully resolve. But whenever I think about this, I also try to remember that solving all problems isn't our job nor is it our responsibility. We can only do what we can, with what we have, where we are. And we have faith that however much this is for us -- and for you, in your own situation, wherever you are -- it will be sufficient, because as we are promised, "My grace is sufficient for you."

Seedtime and harvest: It's always is a miracle. Plant one seed, get back a handful. And, you reap what you sow. If the calls we receive are doors opening onto problems, each one of them is also a Jubilee Holy Door whose threshold is named "Hope".

We thank you for your prayers. We invite you to continue to journey with us. Send us wisdom, laughter, and counsel. Let us together follow the advice of Moses, and by our interior disposition and our actions in the world, proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.

Robert Waldrop

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, AD 2000

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City

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THE WORKS OF JUSTICE AND PEACE

+Live simply and justly in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and be a good neighbor. Make no war on them, rather, be one with them in spirit, truth, and love.

+Hear the truth when it is spoken to you. Discern the signs of the times and speak truth -- to power, to the people, and to the Church.

+Make injustice visible -- witness, remember, teach, proclaim, tell. Light candles, do not curse the darkness.

+Protect the poor and powerless-- listen, learn, educate, organize, empower participation, and respect life from the moment of conception to the time

of natural death.

+Work for reconciliation with truth, evangelism, catechesis, orthopraxis.

+Celebrate life, goodness, beauty, virtue, responsibility, and joy. Practice peace, non-violence, servant leadership, harmony, community, voluntary cooperation, and the proper stewardship of God's creation.

Pray without ceasing.

+ Ensure fair distribution, subsidiarity, economic opportunity, justice, and food security for everyone everywhere.

The Works of Justice and Peace are a statement of the mission and purpose of the Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House

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