Word to Life: Christ’s coming calls us to hope

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 21, Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B Readings:

1) 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29

2) Romans 16:25-27

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

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"The Lord ... will establish a house for you" (2 Samuel 7:11)

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

For the second time, we’re getting ready to put a house on the market, which usually means going over it with a fine-toothed comb and looking for potential deal breakers. Then comes the inevitable question: Given our budget, what absolutely has to be repaired, remodeled or replaced, and what can we let go?

Watching TV shows on home remodeling and “house-flipping” doesn’t help. They prompt comparisons between our home and the showcases, inspiring more fix-up projects that require even more time and money. For us, it usually comes down to praying for guidance, making tough choices and hoping we get it right in a real estate market we don’t know.

In the first reading of this fourth Sunday of Advent, King David saw a problem and envisioned a building project that sounded good at the time — erecting a dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant — so that the house of the Lord of Israel would measure up to those of his neighbors’ gods.

But neither David nor the prophet Nathan “got it right.” In a play on words, God made it clear that the dwelling was not David’s to build; rather, the Lord would raise up from David’s descendants a royal “house” that would have a significance far greater than anything he could imagine.

Luke’s Gospel picks up that theme and, not accidentally, mentions that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, a member of “the house of David.” But in a startling turn of events, the angel Gabriel makes it clear to Mary that the child whose coming he announces will fulfill the promise made to his ancestor David — not through the intervention of flesh and blood, but by the power of God — and in this way, “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Though the outcome was beyond Mary’s comprehension, she “got it right” by trusting in God’s promise and its incredible implications for future generations.

Every day we find ourselves in situations that cry out for answers and appeal for “quick fixes,” and too often we first look to our own insufficient resources for solutions. Christ’s coming, announced anew every Advent, breaks through our shortsightedness, carries us beyond our inadequacies and calls us to hope beyond our imagining.

QUESTIONS:

In what present situation are you trying to rely on your own inadequate resources to “fix” a problem? How can you more fully rely on God’s power and find hope in God’s promises?

More on Texas hospitals and sterilizations

The controversy over sterilizations at a Catholic hospital system in the Diocese of  Tyler, Texas, continues.

As we reported in November, Bishop Alvaro Corrada of Tyler said an investigation in the diocese — following up on a inquiry started by Our Sunday Visitor newspaper — had found that Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler and Christus St. Michael’s Health System in Texarkana had been guilty of a “serious misinterpretation” of the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services” when they allowed sterilizations to be performed there. Christus St. Michael’s quickly announced that it would stop all direct sterilizations.

But Trinity Mother Frances, in a statement, recently announced that “medically necessary indirect sterilizations” would continue there, under its reading of the Catholic directives.

Bishop Corrada has issued a lengthy statement on “human dignity, conscience and health care” that addresses the matter. Stay tuned. This controversy seems unlikely to go away quietly.

A million ‘Know Your Rights’ cards

As the Minnesota bishops were announcing Immigration Sunday for Jan. 4 in the state, a group of church and immigrant-rights organizations in the Los Angeles area are distributing 1 million “Know Your Rights” cards this week to immigrants who live in fear of workplace raids and separation from their families.

Sized like a business card, the “Know Your Rights” cards come in seven languages — English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese — and describe basic rights and how to act on those rights when needed.

“We want our immigrant brothers and sisters to know that we continue to stand in solidarity with them and will continue to do what we can to help them during these difficult times on the road to true reform of our broken immigration system,” said Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Los Angeles. Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles hosted the press conference announcing the action.

A history of helping find ‘a dignified home’

As the housing crunch continues, the efforts of Catholic charitable agencies to help those affected have been documented in this CNS story and this one. But the church is no Johnny-come-lately to the cause of finding “a dignified home” for everyone, as evidenced by this story in the Denver Catholic Register about the 40th anniversary of Archdiocesan Housing, which now operates 20 affordable-housing properties in the Denver area and in Wyoming.

A friend’s view of Cardinal Dulles

Jesuit Father Jim Martin, who counted Cardinal Avery Dulles as a friend for the last 10 years, has a very personal tribute to the late cardinal in the On Faith blog sponsored by Newsweek and The Washington Post. Writing about a life that was “like something out of a Henry James novel,” Father Martin, associate editor of America magazine, gives examples of the cardinal’s lightheartedness and especially of the humility that made him reluctant to mention by name the Washington airport that honors his father, former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

The cardinal’s multimedia “Christmas Puzzle”

ROME — It could easily be called “The Christmas Puzzle,” but in its only concession to formality, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi’s Christmas letter to children in the Archdiocese of Milan is titled “God So Loved the World.”

godsolovedtheworldThe letter doesn’t look like a letter — it’s a short children’s book filled with drawings by two of Italy’s most accomplished children’s book illustrators.

It doesn’t read like an archbishop’s letter — it’s the tale of an archbishop who receives a mysterious package with torn scraps of paper inside.

And it doesn’t sound like a letter — it comes complete with a CD in which professional narrators read the story and one of Italy’s most famous children’s choirs, the Piccolo Coro Mariele Ventre dell’Antoniano, provides the soundtrack.

The letter is not only being distributed to children in Milan parishes; a partial clip is available on YouTube and bookstores throughout Italy are selling the book and CD for less than $5.

The scraps of paper in the archbishop’s mystery box turn out to be the torn pieces of a map of the world taken from an atlas.

Trying to figure out the meaning of the puzzle, the archbishop says, “It doesn’t take much to get it: wars, injustices, hunger and poverty, pollution and global warming, family breakups, loneliness and sadness even for children and the elderly.”

Yet the package is labeled “Anima Mundi,” which the archbishop finds odd since it’s a Latin phrase in a child’s writing.

Since the book is available only in Italian, I’m guessing I won’t ruin the reading/listening experience by revealing that a literally fabulous phone call helps the archbishop understand that it is up to him, to the world’s children and to all people of good will to help put the world back together again.

He also realizes that the real “Anima Mundi,” the saving “Spirit of the world,”  is the spirit of Jesus, “who heals the fractures of our world” with the power of his love.

The letter ends with a goodnight prayer and “Merry Christmas, children big and small. Your archbishop, Dionigi.”

Santa on his knees

A Virginia man has been playing Santa for more than 60 years, but 78-year-old John Buckreis’ portrayal at a local garden center is aimed at bringing people back to the real meaning of Christmas. He kneels in prayer before statues of the Holy Family and leads youngsters in singing “Silent Night” and “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful,” as well as more secular Christmas tunes. Gretchen R. Crowe of the Arlington Catholic Herald tells his story here.

Word to Life: We have seen the fruit of his coming

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 14, Third Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B Readings:

1) Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11

Psalm, Luke 1:46-50, 53-54

2) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

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23bc).

"I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord'" (John 1:23bc).

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

Jesuit Father Hubert Schiffer led quite a varied life as a priest. But his survival of the 1945 atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima is what brings him to mind in connection with today’s Advent readings.

Having removed most of the glass embedded in his skin by the explosion, he and other surviving members of his religious order went about gathering up orphans, caring for their needs and bringing them to the train station, so they could travel to safety away from the radioactive debris.

Jesus is coming.

Sister Mary Augustine Matzner, SSMN, had many stories of her service of others. One involved taking care of a number of infants in an isolated cabin in the Dakotas. A blizzard hit unexpectedly, and wood for the heating stove ran out. The only way she and her charges were able to survive the extreme cold was to huddle under blankets, the small children snuggled against her body to draw on her warmth. And survive they did.

Jesus is coming.

Another friend, Mary Schad, had a glow of holiness. Her simple, gentle nature was evident to anyone who met her. Mary would regularly join others to serve food to the homeless in the basement of a Dallas church. One day as she was dishing out cornbread, the line extended much further than the cornbread that remained in the serving tray. But as long as people came through the line, the meager amount of cornbread lasted.

Jesus is coming.

These are the acts of those who reflect the Isaiah Scripture: “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted … to announce a year of favor from the Lord. …” They echo Mary’s proclamation when she says, “He has filled the hungry with good things,” and they reveal the One whom we await in Advent, the One of whom John the Baptist said, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

We know this to be true because we have seen the fruit of his coming in those who serve him.

Jesus is coming.

QUESTIONS:

As we walk through this season of waiting, can you identify people in your own life who have shown you evidence that Jesus has come? What did their revelation of God’s presence teach you?

New Vatican bioethics document available in Origins

Admit it: Sometimes you want a hard-copy text of a major document rather than bookmarking it on your computer (where it can get lost) or printing a dozen or more pages off the Internet that you have to staple together and file.

Well, you’re in luck, because copies of the Vatican’s new bioethics document, “Dignitas Personae,” are rolling off the press in the latest edition of Origins, the CNS documentary service that has been providing full texts of church statements and speeches for 38 years.

The single-copy price of this edition of Origins (Vol. 38, No. 28) is $8. Multiple-copy rates are also available. Call us at (202) 541-3290 to place your order.

(Subscribers to the online version of Origins can click here for that version of “Dignitas Personae.”)

Reading the Vatican’s new bioethics instruction

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s new instruction “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) draws heavily on a handful of previous documents when it addresses biotech issues like cloning, stem cells, embryonic experimentation and genetic therapy.

For those who want to examine several of the sources, here is where to click:

“Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”), the 1987 instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on procreation, which laid the groundwork for the new document issued Friday.

“Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical on the inviolability of human life at every stage of development.

The speech by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2006 on “The Human Embryo in the Pre-Implantation Phase.”

The speech by Pope Benedict XVI to participants of a 2006 symposium on the theme “Stem Cells: What Future for Therapy?” organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The document treats a number of biotech issues that have come up before at the Vatican, and Catholic News Service has covered them:

In January, Pope Benedict XVI offered his take on the main issues of the document when it was under prepration.

Last year, a Vatican official was optimistic about efforts to reprogram cells to act as stem cells, without creating human embryos.

Also in 2007, church officials reacted to a British Parliamentary proposal to legalize laboratory creations of animal-human hybrid embryos.

In March last year, the Pontifical Academy for Life said Catholic health care professionals have an obligation to refuse to participate in any medical intervention or research that foresees the destruction of human life.

In 2006, a Vatican official said female egg donors, doctors and researchers involved in the destruction of embryos for stem-cell studies can face excommunication.

And in 2006, Pope Benedict had positive comments about stem-cell research — as well as warnings against any destruction of human life at its earliest stages.

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