Advent, December 23 The great captor - loneliness

"No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God - for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God." Oscar Romero

One of the greatest gifts that I receive is found through my encounters with people who find themselves in the middle of suffering. A parent watching a son or daughter struggle through addiction and helpless but to be present to them and attempt to begin one more time to start fresh. Often, one or the other or both will ask for a prayer, to deliver a message of love to someone they love or simply to hold them because so many others have shunned them because of their situations. They tell me they feel completely alone. 

I encounter children in their mid-life years whose parents have become old, sick, forgetful, deaf, mute, blind, lame, resistant and afraid to die. In some encounters, they ask if I believe if God is real, present and question why a merciful God would allow such suffering. They plead for answers and for prayers. Often times they tell me that they feel so alone because other siblings, relatives and friends have failed to step in to assist or simply avoid them and stay away. I hold them in the moment so, for just a little while, they don't feel quite so alone in the world. 

And then there are the encounters in stores, where a kind word or gesture will spark a conversation between the people in long lines who openly share their stories with complete strangers. Wealthy, middle class or poor - there is no distinction of class, race and gender in these encounters. Such is the hunger for community that I find to be the greatest poverty, the biggest captor of all - loneliness.  

On this day before Christmas Eve, will you have an opportunity to do one small act of kindness that may alleviate even one person's poverty? How can you be a symbol of God-with-us as we approach the inconceivable nearness of God made human - Emmanuel? 

O come, O come Emmanuel

and ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear. 

Rejoice, rejoice! 

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. 






December 21, Fourth Sunday of Advent - Winter is much more than a time of year - it's a state of being

www.stuartwilde.comMy dad is 94 years old. Once a very sociable fellow, Dad used to thoroughly enjoy the company of people and loved to interact with whomever he encountered. 

When I was very young, Dad introduced me to the world of opera and classical music. In his younger years, he was a skilled l baritone, a trombonist and French horn player.

Now, as his body continues to flail and fail with the plethora of events advanced aged people eventually encounter, Dad finds one of his greatest tribulations in his inability to hear. He is profoundly deaf. I've never known him as a fully hearing person; he has been partially deaf since his 'twenties and worn a hearing device since I was a child sitting in his lap. A bomb could explode when he sleeps and would not awaken. 

Without a hearing device, Dad cannot communicate, enjoy music, socialize with people or attend a gathering. In the last few months, Dad complained of pain in his one 'good' ear- the one with the hearing device that gives him minimal hearing capacity. Dad cannot tolerate the pain that the device causes when placed in his ear because of another possible malignant carcinoma. In a word, he lives in perpetual silence and may be doomed from this point forward to existing in a completely silent world. And the more that world is removed from him due to his deafness, the more that Dad's personality changes and recedes into the darkness that the days, weeks and months of winter presents. His deafness makes him mute. 

Dad is a permanent deacon and does his best everyday to recite the Hours and make his way to Sacred Heart Chapel, located on the third floor of the residence he now calls 'home.' Between his faith in God and his faith in me, his family, his care providers and his favorite sports teams. Thank God for sports and closed caption. Dad purges on, even though his body is giving out and and his spirit is diminishing, especially since his hearing is completely gone.

Dad's health care providers and other residents love him and see the difference in him. The community that all of the elderly residents have created among themselves is inspiring but even so, Dad tells me that he's finding life harder and harder and admits that 'it's getting tough' to go on. 

I think of today's Gospel, Mary's "Be it done unto me" and Elizabeth's pregnancy past her time of youth and energy. Who do you know that needs you to attend to them, be present to someone in a time of need and help someone say "Yes, Lord, yes. Whatever and whenever you ask, "yes." Saying "yes" can expose us to our own willingness to take risks and become someone never expected or even wanted to be. Yet, the "yes' makes us who we are and who we are capable of becoming, with God's grace. So much to ask, so much to be gained. 

I sit in the silence with Dad, do whatever I can do to make him comfortable in hands on help (you wouldn't believe how adept you can become as a patient navigator and hands on provider) and pray that there is a God of mercy who will call Dad home so that he can hear the music of heaven before too much time passes. Where Dad used to find joy and in daily living, the darkness of winter has descended, stealing his cheer and replacing it with a winter of silent gloom and depression. And it's very difficult to witness; I often leave him with a very heavy heart and praying a litany of saints to anyone that will hear me on Dad's behalf. As supportive as my family and friends have been, the buck stops here. As often as I've acted as a caregiver for elderly relatives and friends, this one has challenged my faith to the maximum degree.

So many people walk in my shoes. Children of elderly parents, parents of behavioral health patients, spouses, children, relatives and friends who know that their loved ones are sinking into the hole of darkness of despair, sickness, reluctance, addiction, neglect, denial --- name it. Winter is much more than a time of year - it's a state of being. Who are we for these people? And and how do we keep our own heads above water when we feel as though the people we attend to throw the net wide to drown us in darkness of their winter instead of turning toward where faith points - to light, to hope, to the 'yes' of faith? Or is living in the silence easier because we just don't want to respond, act and change? Do we turn a deaf ear that makes us mute to say 'yes' to whatever God asks? 

The O Antiphon today sums today's sentiments up so well:   

O Dawn

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:

Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. 

O come, O Dayspring, come with cheer; 

O Sun of justice, now draw near. 

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 

And deaths dark shadow put to flight. 

Rejoice, rejoice, 

Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. 

Come, Lord Jesus. 



Advent, December 20, 2014 Winter Solstice begins

In the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth, today is the longest night and shortest day. From this point forward, the light begins to brighten the sky at dusk, when days will lengthen bit by bit and require our patience. All good things take time.

Centuries ago, farming stopped when the ground froze after the time of harvest. There was no choice but to wait out the harshness of winter. Communities gathered to celebrate the harvest’s yield that would carry them through another winter until the ground thawed and planting could begin anew. They regarded the year like a wheel that could be slowly turned as days became longer, bringing with every push the promise of another year of survival, of work, of a good harvest and worthy yield.

While they waited for the ground to thaw, they gathered and celebrated “Yuletide” (wheel) with singing, dancing, the sharing of food and generosity toward those people whose crops may not have done so well as their neighbors and heat and clothing for those who great need. Patience was mandatory: farmers and their families and communities waited the winter out for survival. As the days became longer and the ground thawed, they prepared to return to their labor because their lives depended on the work of their hands in cooperation with the seasons of Mother Earth.

To some degree, the simplicity of a way of life still exist in the Northern Hemisphere. People gather on Christmas Eve in one another’s homes, cut down and decorate their trees together, share food and drink together and go to church services as the bells announce the call to worship to celebrate the birth of Christ. However, the mantra I hear repeated over and over again is “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” While I’m very grateful for post modern conveniences, I admit that the part of way of life of past generations of long ago appeals to me on several levels, when communities depended on the earth and one another throughout the long winters to sustain them.

The Yule celebrations that lasted for weeks look particularly tempting, especially when I encounter so many people who consider “Yuletide” as a time of stress, anxiety, depression, despair, addiction and loneliness. Progress in many ways seems to be yanking our chains that imprison us rather than freeing us, enabling deep poverty rather than slathering us with the wealth of not only happiness but deep gratitude and joy at the birth of Jesus, the Christ who liberates us not only from our own prisons but from death itself.

Today’s O Antiphon sings a hymn of liberation that cuts through the darkness and lights the way to God’s reign, here and now.

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven:

Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,

And lead your captive people into freedom.

O Come, Emmanuel.


The lost art of anticipation - losing Advent 

Yesterday, a couple of women stopped into my home to say hello. As she surveyed my home, one woman asked, "Where's your Christmas tree?" 

I showed her the Nativity scene on one of the book tables and told her that our Christmas tree will not stand in our home until the end of this week but remain unlit until December 24, lit after dusk and remain lit for 12 days. 

The woman surveyed the Nativity scene and noticed the absence of someone in the manger. 

"Where's the baby? When will you put him in the Nativity scene" she asked, completely surprised at the counter cultural shock of the absence of a Christmas tree in my home and the missing person in the Nativity scene. The other woman, a European with very little English skills in her vocabulary just smiled. She understood the absence and enough English to say, "On Christmas, at midnight." And she nodded her approval.

I enjoy a party as much as the next person. But in my opinion, we've lost the great art of anticipation in American culture because out culture tells us that the Christian counter-cultural way is ancient. Well, it is. Does that mean that something ancient cannot become something new again, cherished and lived anew? Perhaps the effect of commercialism has lured even the most faithful Christians away from the suspense that comes with waiting, like expectant parents wait for the birth of their child. Even then, because science allows us to know, many couples want to know what gender the baby will be so the nursery can be better prepared and clothes will be appropriate to a girl or boy. Because we can follow the culture of commercial Christmas, should we? 

When I read about the 'Christmas concerts' that seem to be ongoing throughout Advent in parishes, I wonder how in the world we lost Advent, which seems to be missing in most of the posts I've read, even from liturgical companies that have posted pictures of their 'holiday' parties in their offices. How did we let allow season of anticipation, expectation and holy suspense to somehow disappear? Who stole Advent?

So here's a little challenge for anyone who's Christmas trees are already lit, mantles are glowing and the romance of the 'holiday season' enchants you because of its beauty:

For one evening this week, just before Christmas, turn the twinkling lights off and remember what those lights stand for - the One who came into as the Light for a dark world on Christ-mas, not a holiday time but a holy time of prayer and preparation. Turn the music off and let the silence speak. Anticipate. Find a little piece of Advent and celebrate that you may actually recapture something wonderful and seems to be missing for so many people. 

December 19, O Antiphon  O Flower of Jesse 

O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have raised up as a sign for all peoples; the powerful stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.  

Come, Lord Jesus 


December 18 - O Adonai 

"I am who am." Adonai. Lord. 

Once a prince of Egypt and now exiled to a foreign land and tending the flock of his father in law, Moses climbs the mountain of Horeb and encounters God in a burning bush unconsumed by fire. God call Mosed by name. Moses answers, "Here I am." "Remove your sandals," God tells him. "You're standing on holy ground."

Thus begins Moses' commission to lead the oppressed Israelites to freedom, to stand with courage against Pharoah, once beloved by Moses, who demands the release of the Israelite slaves held in captivity in Egypt.  

Jesus, the new Moses leads all peoples to freedom in a new way of life, a liberation from any of the slavery that binds us from encountering God. The work of the Christian is to follow the Gospel, God's Word enfleshed in the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the new Moses. God does not come to us through a burning bush but in the human form God with us - Emmanuel. 

O Antiphon, Day Two:

O Adonai, o sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him your holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your might hand to set us free. 

Pastoral musicians may want to consider the Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel as a song for the Communion Procession as we head toward the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Cantor and/or choir on the verses of all of the O Antiphons and assembly on refrain offers an opportunity for worshipers to dwell on the beautiful poetry of the antiphons while leaving their hands free to eat holy bread and drink sacred cup without holding a hymnal in their hands. 

Verse Two of the hymn for this second day of the O Antiphons sings: 

"O come, O come, great Lord of might, 

who to your tribes on Sinai's height

in ancient times once gave the law

in cloud and majesty and awe. 

Rejoice, rejoice, 

Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel." 


Come, Lord Jesus.