The Gift of Forgiveness

The First Sunday of Advent readings might strike you as somewhat odd. The don’t seem very…well, in the Christmas spirit. Perhaps it helps to consider where Advent falls on the liturgical calendar for the Church. It is immediately preceded by the Solemnity of Christ the King and followed by the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas). Advent lies between the celebration of the Seconding Coming of Christ at the end of time and the commemoration of the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming at the end of time, while also commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as Savior, and to his second coming as Judge, special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent. Continue reading

Franciscans in China

Ideograms for Rabban Bar SaumaServant of God – John of Montecorvino
Franciscan and first Bishop of Beijing

Today is a day in which we Franciscans remember John of Montecorvino. To which most people – even most Franciscans – will say “who?” Brother John was the first Catholic missionary to China, centuries before the efforts of other Catholic religious orders. It is a compelling story.  If you would like to read an interesting and accessible account of the travel within the context of an art historian comparing 13th century Italian and Chinese art, read Lauren Arnold’s: Princely Gifts & Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China & Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250-1350 – fascinating book.

Beginning with the pontificate of Innocent IV (1243–1254), the popes and Mongol khans began to communicate and exchange gifts in a diplomatic effort to see if there was a basis upon which to effectively bind and subdue their common enemy, the Muslim Empire.  The two most famous envoys were the Franciscans John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck. Their journeys, remarkable and daring, were not specifically missionary but were more as political emissaries. Carpini traveled in the years 1245–1247 while Rubruck’s mission was 1253–1255. Although Rubruck was sent by Louis XI of France to enlist the aid of the khan against Islam, Rubruck also attempted to convert the Mongols (also known as Tartars) by converting the Great Khan.  William’s Itinera is a masterful travel account  that also includes observations about the Saracens and Nestorian Christians found in the Mongol territories. On Pentecost 1255 William met with the Great Khan who received William but nothing more came of the meeting. Continue reading

Practicing Gratitude

When I lived in Kenya, there came a day in the slum when I beheld a Chevy pickup truck heading my way. Now pickup trucks were not uncommon, at least not if they were a Toyota. But a Chevy…well, I had to wave the driver down and inquire about the origins of such an American icon on the unpaved roads of Kibera. Turns out the driver was a pastor of a missionary Baptist church in the Nairobi area – good ol’ boy from Tennessee. Now the pickup truck made perfect sense. Continue reading

Remembering the Roots of Thanksgiving

I am grateful for a day in which we, as a people, pause to give thanks. And who do we have to thank for this holiday? Your answer is likely “The Pilgrims.” You would not be wrong, but then not completely correct, either. Certainly, Thanksgiving and the religious response of giving thanks to God is as old as time. When one considers enduring cultures, one always finds men and women working out their relationship to God. There is almost always a fourfold purpose to our acts of worship: adoration, petition, atonement, thanksgiving. Such worship is part and parcel of life. And yet, there is still a very human need to specially celebrate and offer thanksgiving on key occasions and anniversaries. Since medieval times, we have very detailed records of celebrations marking the end of an epidemic, liberation from sure and certain doom, the signing of a peace treaty, and more. Continue reading

Ecclesial Anatomy

This weekend in prayer, I ran across this small quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head. Through him the whole body grows, and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

This is not the only place where St. Paul discusses Christ as the “Head” and the church/believers as “the body”. For example see Col 1:18 and compare with 1 Cor 12:12–27 and Romans 12:4–5 where Christ is identified with the whole body, including the head. (The full scriptural quotes are provided below for your consideration) Continue reading

Already Present and Coming

This coming Sunday marks our journey into a new liturgical year and a new Season, the first Sunday in Advent in Year A. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

37 For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 39 They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. 44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. (Matthew 24:37-44)

This text is part of the fifth discourse in Matthew (24:1-25:46), which centers on the coming of the Son of Man – and that does not necessarily imply “end times” as in end-of-the-world. The theme for the 1st Sunday in Advent for all three years is preparedness – in the everyday of life as well as for the end of life. What is common to all times is the victory of the reign of God. Continue reading

The King of Hearts

Christ, our eternal Priest-KingWhile we as an American people might be fascinated with things of the royal family, tales of King Arthur and his Round Table, affairs of Lords and Ladies, and all manner of things of the Royal Court – we fought a revolutionary war to throw off the burden of kings in order to live free. As a political people we want no king. But what about as a people of faith? Of course the answer is “yes” on this day we celebrate “Christ the King Sunday!”

If you search the internet for images and graphics of Christ the King you will find lots of images depicting Jesus with a royal crown familiar to us as a vestige of medieval royalty…like the one on this page. Probably OK, right? But…

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua – some of the great names of Israel’s history. And none of them were king. Yet under the leadership of God, they led Israel from slavery to the freedom of the promised land.  Deborah, Gideon, Samson – none of them were kings, yet under the leadership of God, these Judges united Israel to defend itself and identity against the other nations. To be the qahal Yahweh– the people of God. And the last of the judges was Samuel. It was to Samuel that the people came and said “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”  When Samuel prayed about this before the Lord, God said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.” Continue reading

Land of the Rising Sun

Ike Ndolo’s chorus is an unabashed proclamation that he belongs to God and to heaven

“Grace is huge because you haven’t even asked for it but it’s available … Nobody is beyond Grace. God is always near. We are not abandoned, that to me is encouraging and beautiful. Even in the midst of our own brokenness in a broken world, a very broken world, we are not abandoned.” – Ike Ndolo