Tag Archives: Mary

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Holy Family?

I prepared myself for the worst last Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family. I prophesied a dismal homily on the too-radiant-to-be-believed triad: you know, ‘be holy as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are holy’, piercing neither the surface of family nor holiness.

Wrong on all counts. My pastor pointed out the disparity between our generosity to family members and to strangers. We write big checks to orphans then all but get restraining orders on family members who ‘trigger’ us. Overly sensitive to those we love so much we hate, many of us are anything but holy in how emotionally stingy we are toward family members.

It’s our nature to defend ourselves when loved ones frustrate us. Or take some disturbing turn that frightens us. Jesus stressed Mary out by ditching the clan for some temple time. It was the first sign of Him distancing Himself from her for reasons not yet clear. To be sure, the analogy breaks down with our families: confusing members are messianic only in their own darkened minds. Yet it can help to remember everyone has a subtext that only God ‘gets’ as well as a noble destiny we may have forgotten.

This holy week I had the privilege of responding to an emergency call from colleagues in marital crisis. That holy family nearly blew up as they walked onto a landmine of familiar suspicions and judgments. But they surrendered together to the Father who calmed the storm; holy peace helped them to hear each other so they could glimpse his or her goodness once more. Another couple met with us to seek wisdom on how to best love a son in the throes of an identity crisis. (It’s hard to love a 36-year-old acting 16.) But these parents are digging deep into the Father’s love for their child and his best. However painful, the only way is down– on one’s knees–where love and wisdom are distilled. Generous, tempered care for the other’s good can result from such prayer.

Mary shows us the way here. After her anxiety over Jesus’ disappearance, she does something we all can do—she ‘treasured these things in her heart’ (LK 2:51). That word for ‘treasure’ means to reflect, to conceive something new out of the brooding. It provides sacred space for entrusting the beloved to the Father who sees all (LK 2:51); it may also grant one inspired sight. You could say that Mary’s prayer transformed her fear into marvel. May such prayer make our families holy this year too; may we love our members wisely, generously, in 2019.

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Almost Home

‘No-one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. Only 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.’ St. Oscar Romero

Christmas is for people in need. All of us. No matter how seasoned the saint, each of us possess an ache only Jesus can fill. In other words, knowing the One who is our home doesn’t mean we have arrived home; we are still on the way. Christmas can be a good time to recall resistance en route, and receive afresh from Jesus and His members.

No two people demonstrate this better than Mary and Elizabeth. Their ‘visitation’ highlights what we can be for each other as we seek to bring Jesus into the world (LK 1:39-45). If you recall, pregnant Mary, compelled by the Spirit, rushes to see her cousin Elizabeth, nearly bursting with John the Baptist. I’ve been dismayed by homilies that portray Mary as composed and selfless, matron on a mission to care for Elizabeth. Not evident in the text—just one of many ways we drain the blood from the saints then bleach them unnaturally white.

I prefer to think of immaculate Mary as a stressed-out teenager who needs God’s Word spoken to her; the burden is huge, and she needs solidarity with someone who ‘gets’ her load—not platitudes from a priest or husband but another woman swelling at the seams who may well share her temptation to doubt the marvels at hand.

And wow. Elizabeth delivers with the most astute prophetic greeting one can imagine: Hail, Mother of my Lord! I am not worthy of this visit! Bless you for believing that what God says will be done! The words of her friend loose Mary’s tongue and she scats one of the most beautiful songs ever (LK 1: 46-55).

Maybe your efforts to bring forth Christ this year have been frustrated by doubts or loneliness or failure or misunderstanding. Celebrating His coming reminds you; it hurts. You are right where Jesus wants you to be. He comes for the empty, not the self-possessed. Open to the One who is coming and who comes now through His Spirit. Welcome Him in quiet. Then hurry to a friend. May the Spirit of Elizabeth prophesy through us to each other: Blessed are you who believe!

‘It may well be, as Jesus says, more blessed to give than to receive. But it is more difficult to receive…In Jesus, God wanted to do something for us so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination or projection that He had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky. We didn’t think of it, understand it, or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it.’ William Willimon

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Ponder, Proclaim

‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ (LK 2:19)

Many of us experience a tension between prayer and action. We may know well the value of pondering the mystery of God-with-us, this baby Jesus who wants to ‘tabernacle’ with us. Prayer is the main way we become that home where God dwells with us through His Spirit.

Yet we are surrounded by many homeless ones who are clueless that God became flesh and now wants to dwell with them. If you are like me, something ignites during prayer and flares up to break the silence: ‘God came; He’s here! He wants to be with you! You don’t have to work out your hard life alone!’

Perhaps this call to ponder and proclaim are two parts of the same message. Our faithfulness to both is how we create a whole message for the world to hear.

LK 2:15-20 gives us clues to this wholeness. A lot goes on here—a host of angels had just dazzled these shepherds with the proclamation that God the Savior was alive and well and living in a nearby stable. The shepherds found Jesus; we can assume they were more awestruck by God in His littleness than the power-and-light-show of the heavenly host. Jesus must have radiated glory from the manger.

The shepherds were the first non-family members to witness God-in-the-flesh. They were at the lower end of the world’s system; poor rovers, they often were suspect of petty crimes and artful dodging. Fitting that they would become the first new members of the holy family! St. Paul said that we were all slaves to the world’s system until God came; Jesus transforms us from worldly slaves to sons and daughters of the Father. In Him, the homeless secure a home (Gal. 4:3-7).

Mary treasured this encounter between shepherds and the Child-King. She pondered it (v. 19). For the first time, she witnessed the impact of her newborn upon others. It must have taken her breath away. Wow, she thought, this baby is the real deal. He will ditch the rich and lift up the lowly. Everything the angel said is coming to pass.

In Greek, ‘ponder’ means to bring together a few ideas and brood over them in order to create a richer deeper thought. The Latin word for ponder is ‘to conceive’; through her pondering, Mary is once again conceiving new life as she considers the life of her Son. She lights the way for our prayerful renewal as well.

Think of your growing awareness of the truth of Jesus. He probably did not overtake you right away. Rather, His gentle, hidden movement in your life became apparent in prayerful moments and you knew: He IS the Light of my world, just when the darkness seemed to have the upper hand.

That’s good news! Pondering the light of Jesus in our real conflicts is the substance of solid proclamation. Let’s go back to the shepherds. They find glorious Jesus and upon seeing God-in-flesh, they race out to tell others that in truth He is the Savior of all, much to the hearers’ amazement (v. 17, 18). This Jesus has power to make poor ones rich, homeless ones secure, sons, slaves!

As you ponder the impact of Jesus in your life, consider how He is helping you forsake worldly enslavements for your true status as a child of God. The deeper you ponder your transformation the truer will be your proclamation. People will hear the Gospel through the contours of your broken, glorious life!

And you will receive more authority in your own life as you courageously step through fears like ‘People don’t want to hear it; I don’t want to be a hypocrite’, etc. You overcome fear and other enslavements through your proclamation (Rev. 12:11), and make a way for others to overcome too.

Early on in my walk with Jesus, I tried to dull my identity conflict (between ‘gay’ or Christian) by moving back into the ‘gay ghetto’ with an atheistic French family. God would not let go peacefully. Sick from my vacillations, I pondered and prayed and at last decided to follow Jesus simply because He was real. Peace flooded my soul that night; I nearly bounced into a party given by my French family.

A woman there eyed me suspiciously, and asked about the cross around my neck: ‘What does this Jesus do for you?’ I calmly responded that He was setting me free from my ‘gay self’ and same-sex addictions. She started crying and asked if I would speak to her son who was ‘gay’ and suicidal. I did just that. She now knows God is both merciful and powerful. He makes slaves sons.

‘His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’ (Jer. 20:9)

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Mother Yes | Andrew Comiskey

Mother’s ‘Yes’

For the last five years, I’ve wondered why the Church begins each year on January 1st by honoring Mary as Christ-bearer, the one who surrendered all to bring forth the Savior of us all. It’s beginning to make sense: our salvation hinges upon that ‘yes’, just as the life of every person depends on a mother’s consent.

That ‘yes’ took on new meaning for me as I started this year celebrating my amazing mother’s 90th birthday in Long Beach CA. Mom has lived to give to her four children and countless others; her only ‘gift’ request was to be surrounded by her four kids in the family home (same one we all grew up in–who can say that?!). Over two days, we prayed and reminisced together, taking our cues from the extraordinary Phyllis Comiskey who leaves Betty White in the dust.

Mom’s determination to choose life started early, with her birth mother (I’ll call her Sue). Social workers removed Sue as a child from an unsafe home; as a young teen, she found work as a maid in a wealthy home where the son of the house impregnated her. Shamed and cast out, she gave birth to Phyllis in a poor boarding house where she lived alone.

According to an intrepid social worker who researched Phyllis’ origins, 16-year-old Sue was a devout Catholic whose only prayer was for her child to be raised in the Church. Too young and poor to raise Phyllis, Sue placed her in an orphanage. After one long year, a Protestant family adopted Mom, not quite up to her mother’s specifications, but permitted because of their devout faith.

Mom combined faith with a spirit of adventure and industry. She wanted more for her life than the regional confines of the upper Midwest; she worked hard and scored a scholarship at the top woman’s college in St. Paul. She then rejected the offer of a local marriage in order to move to post-war Los Angeles.

There she met my Dad who did not share her faith but the same intellectual curiosity and high regard for the dignity of all people. Discontent with my Dad’s choice of a Unitarian church where his fellow educators socialized, my Mom moved us kids to a traditional Episcopalian Church. She wanted us to know the gift of God in Christ, a witness made easier by her own extraordinary self-giving.

All of us kids remarked on the myriad ways she simply gave to us: verbally, materially, constantly and equally. She secured us in love.

Still, all of her love could not spare us kids from getting caught up in the sexy, druggy idolatry of a CA beach town in the sixties. Dead in sin, all her children needed to get saved. My brothers preceded me in living faith and my mom, seeing the ravages of ‘gay’ life on her son, urged me to reach for more as my brothers had, to say ‘yes’ the One who could guide me onto solid ground.

I followed her lead; her ‘yes’ to God, daily and often under duress, paved the way for all my sibs to say ‘yes’ to God. Even my Dad surrendered to the Source of her faithful witness three days before his death 7-years-ago.

Mom asked us kids what we desire for ourselves if we achieve 90-years. Big if. Nevertheless, I want to follow her example of saying ‘yes’ daily to God. She fulfilled the prayers of her poor birth mother whose only hope for her child was Jesus and His Church. I want my ‘yes’ at 90-years to answer my mother’s prayer for me and to emulate her ‘Marion’ example—surrender to God and generous self-giving that makes a way for others to know Jesus’ unfailing love.

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Long Way Home Andrew Comiskey

Long Way Home

Enslaved to many masters, a friend of mine wound up in jail. He sobered up when he realized that his ‘holding tank’ was a facility that his incarcerated father had helped build. Courageously facing that he ‘was imprisoned in his father’s house’ was a step for him in surrendering to Jesus who helped him find a new self and a new home in the Father’s house.

Sunday’s Gospel reading is about a different kind of family, a ‘holy one’ with whom we are now very familiar—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (LK 2:41-52). The family roots of my friend in need of radical conversion are strikingly different from Jesus’ remarkable parents. And yet the Gospel account of Jesus having to leave the confines of his home in Nazareth in order to take the next step to fulfilling His destiny are the same. It’s hard to leave home and become who we are!

Like my friend, Jesus defied expectations (and scared the life out of his parents) by choosing to engage with His Heavenly Father in His house. That is the basis for Jesus’, and our own, confirmation as adults. And it behooves every parent to release its child to this long journey of discovery.

I love the parental witness of Mary and Joseph in Scripture. Ever iconic, they beckon constantly to parents like us who seek to be clear masculine and feminine witnesses of the Father’s love. To be sure, we always run the risk of deifying the holy pair. Then they become two-dimensional figures whose ‘immaculate’ goodness fails to engage our struggle to become holy. Every parent faces some shame and regret. By allowing God’s icons to be fully human, we find help in becoming holy in the fruit and fault of our parenting.

No-one can fault Mary’s devotion to Jesus. He was nearer to her heart than anyone, as is the case with many mothers and kids. And yet the Gospels reveal an ever-widening gap between who and where Jesus needed to be and Mary’s normal expectations. The Father demanded an allegiance of the Son that pierced His mother’s heart. Faith alone enabled her to transform the wounds of His progressive distancing from her to the wonders she could see in retrospect.

And Joseph. His witness is mostly silent and yet his actions on behalf of Mary and Jesus are among the finest displays of protective masculinity in Scripture. Perhaps his steadfast presence was the ‘backbone’ that quietly strengthened Mary as she faced the pain of Jesus’ distancing Himself from her.

No amount of ‘holy parenting’ can prevent this distancing. Jesus had to leave His parents to engage with His Father. As a rule, sons and daughters have to say ‘no’ to parental expectations in order to clarify their ‘yes’ to what will define them as adults. Jesus and our children are not exceptions.

That is terrifying. Competing with the Father’s house are temples to Dionysus and Diana, to materialism and false power. Whose house will define our children?

What we can know is that each kid must be given the dignity to act in undignified ways en route to the Father’s house. Flawed, faithful parents like us can take heart that our kids’ long journey home is overseen by One whom we don’t see. Mary and Joseph help us here. They help us to trust Him, certain that He will transform our kids’ wounds (and ours) into wonders of His unfailing love.

Please Read The Desert Stream/Living Waters 2015 Year End Newsletter

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