Mary Mother of God

Even though we are still in the season of Christmas within the Church, our secular society has already moved on – to New Year’s, marking an end of the ‘holiday season’.  And one of the longstanding secular traditions in our culture and many others, is to make ‘resolutions’ as we enter into a new year.

We might resolve to lose weight, eat healthier, to take up a new hobby.  Maybe to start or complete a project – to eliminate a bad habit or to adopt a good habit; but as Christians we need to seek and identify the motives for these resolutions.  If a resolution is solely for our own satisfaction or our own possessiveness, then held up in the light of the Gospels, it means nothing.

Whatever we resolve to do – no matter how well-intentioned we may think it is – if it is not somehow for the glory of God, for the love of God, if it is not a reflection of God – then it is value-less – meaningless.  To be closer in union with God; this is what each of us was ultimately born for; to seek out ways to respond to that call to ‘holiness’ – to wholeness in the One who loved us into existence that’s the reason each of us is alive.

We are called to be people who are deeply in love with God – perhaps even using the expression, ‘head over heels’ in love with and for God; if our resolution is to do something with our lives or our hearts that will bring us closer to, or help us become more open to the working and presence of God in our lives, then that is the standard as Christians, that we would judge whether our resolution has true value or whether it should even be pursued.

When we read today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, which begins with the shepherds reporting what they have seen, and then departing the manger in Bethlehem after seeing Christ, they don’t proclaim anything wonderful about themselves having a privileged position in receiving angelic messages – it says they set off glorifying and praising God; they weren’t promoting themselves; they were proclaiming the great and wondrous thing that God had invited themto witness – the entrance of God into our humanity as one of us, in the person of Jesus.

And perhaps the best example of proclaiming the great and wondrous working of God in a human’s life is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In fact, in this passage, the prayer posture of Mary is in the very centre, literally and figuratively.  When she hears what the shepherds tell everyone at the stable, unlike the others (whoever they may have been) she isn’t ‘amazed’.  It says, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

To ponder doesn’t mean to give a fleeting thought to something and then continue on to the next order of business.  To ponder is to go over and over the details of that which is revealed – to think about it yes, but to go even further; to move the details and the events from a mental ‘remembering’, to consideration and meditation in the heart; to seek the deeper meanings and to glory and revel in that which is revealed.

When we are deeply in love, we don’t simply give a fleeting thought to the one who is the object of our devotion; we ponder everything about them; we not only think of each detail of their physical appearance, but we consider and reflect and even meditate on everything about them, their likes and dislikes, their personality, sometimes even becoming overwhelmed and lost in that depth of emotion and affection that we have for the other.

Mary’s life, what little is recorded for us directly in the Gospels, is nothing less than a picture of that absolute devotion; that ‘head over heels’ love for God – completely surrendering her own life, will and desire to what God invited her into;  from the moment of her ‘fiat’  before the angel; ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word,’ to this deep reflection on the witness of the shepherds , to her eventual surrender of her Son to fulfill God’s plan of salvation by his passion, death and resurrection; Mary becomes the model for each of us in a lived ‘love affair’ with God, holding nothing back from Him, always putting the Other ahead of her self.

The Church’s honouring her on this feast day, ‘Mary, Mother of God’, in truth says more about Jesus than it even says about Mary – and again, here we see the one in love putting her Beloved ahead of herself; if we repeat, as some would hold, that we should simply call her Mary, the mother of Jesus, then that presumes that Jesus was simply another created human being. (this was the essence of a heresy which was condemned by the early Church)

In calling Mary, “Mother of God” we emphasize the true nature of Jesus, that He is God – fully human and fully divine.  The fact that the Church Council promoted this title for Mary as doctrine in the 4th century at Ephesus, only speaks to the fact that this belief was held from the very earliest times of the Church.

This is not about worshipping Mary.

No, this feast is about paying Mary the respect and honour due to one who lived such a magnificent example for the rest of us to follow, in her complete and total surrender to God.

If this feast day is about worshipping anybody, it is about worshipping God who does such wondrous things in all of our lives, if only we take the time, like Mary to treasure and ponder these wondrous things in our own hearts.

Mary does not request that we pray to her to have her provide for us, for our intentions and petitions and needs; she requests that we invoke her aid as her children, and that like any loving mother she takes our needs and presents them to God who provides for us, on our behalf.  She takes our prayers to the God with whom she is so much in love, always praying that we too will be as open to being just as in love with God as she is.

Perhaps then, as we enter into a new year, we can begin with this simple resolution; that we can take time to ask Mary to pray for us, that like her we can open our hearts to the stirrings of love for our God, so that whatever we do, and wherever we do it – in word or action in the coming year – that we will do everything for the praise and glory of God.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Feast of the Holy Family

This Sunday we mark the feast of the Holy Family, in the midst of our Christmas celebrations; a time traditionally set aside in our culture for gathering of family – whether it be children away at college or universities returning home for the break, or grown children and grandchildren returning home for visits and meals and celebrations with parents and grandparents. And it is so important to celebrate these gatherings of family; to cherish these moments and raise them up as something very important in the lives of our families – particularly as the institutions of family and marriage have seen such an unprecedented attack over the past decade in our society. It is almost surreal to see how the commercial media celebrate the gathering of ‘family’ over the ‘holidays’, and at the same time downplays the traditional institutions of family as ‘outdated’ or ‘out of touch’ or unimportant.

But as Christians it is so important for us to celebrate the institution of the family. The Church refers to the family as ‘ecclesia in ecclesia’ or the ‘church within the Church’. This statement is not just a nice catch-phrase; it reflects a much deeper truth- that the very foundation of the corporate Body of Christ; the primary unit within the entire body of worship of all believers, is not the individual – but the family; that parents are indeed the first teachers of their children – not just in matters of social behaviour or motor skills – but in matters of faith; in the life of the Church. For parents, it is knowing that their example is the means by which their own children will measure their decisions in life –good or bad – as they continue to grow and develop.

It is important for us to know and celebrate this particular feast, because it reminds us that God chose the family unit as the means by which He would introduce Himself into human society and culture. God has a purpose in all things; had God wanted to, He could have picked any means by which He could have come into the world, and any way He could have participated in human life:
He chose the family.

This Gospel passage from St. Luke recounts one of the few insights we have into the life of Jesus as a child, and one of the few episodes recorded in the life of the Holy Family, the feast we celebrate this weekend.
But even for a brief incident, there is a lot of information that we can take from this; we know that Jesus, Mary and Joseph went each year to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover; they were devout Jews and actively practiced their faith. This tells us that as parents, Joseph and Mary transmitted the practice of their faith to Jesus; that as a family they participated regularly in the customs of their religion.

This passage also tells us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were part of a larger family group, and that with family and friends they would travel to Jerusalem for these religious pilgrimages or observances; they traveled in a caravan….a single small family doesn’t travel by caravan – they would travel alone; a caravan was a much larger group; and because the Gospel tells us that when they left Jerusalem to travel back to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was somewhere else in the caravan: maybe Mary thought Jesus was traveling with the men and Joseph in one group (which would have been traditional in a caravan – after all Jesus was 12 – the time when according to tradition, a boy became a man in the eyes of the Law ) perhaps Joseph thought Jesus was traveling with other children and the women with his mother Mary – perhaps both Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was traveling with another group of young people within the caravan:

Whatever the case, Jesus was not there: He had remained behind at the Temple, praying and speaking with the teachers and elders.

We read how it was one full day’s travel from Jerusalem that Jesus’ parents discover He is not in the caravan. They return to Jerusalem to look for Him. That’s two days.
They spend a day looking for Him and find Him in the Temple, discussing and questioning the elders, “and all that heard him were amazed.”
That’s the third day.
Any parent who has experienced a child missing, even for a few minutes, knows that absolute panic, that terrible icy feeling that goes straight to the heart! And the finding of that same child usually results in a whole rush of assorted emotions and feelings – joy, anger, relief – sometimes tears, laughter, stern words…
It’s easy to imagine what the feelings and response of Mary and Joseph would have been at the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple; the first words recorded in their greeting are, “Child, why have you treated us like this?”

But we don’t have to be parents to understand or appreciate the feeling of Jesus being lost to us. In our own faith lives, we sometimes can experience that loss…we look at the empty pews in our churches at other times of the year and wonder where some of the members of our own parish family are. Statistics state that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and most often we have to ask, in the public forum and in the decreased participation in public worship; ‘where are they?’ We have a culture that wants to deny the involvement of God in every aspect of our public life, and yet when we experience natural disasters or terrorist attacks or see widespread poverty or disease, the first question that this same culture asks is ‘where is God?’ “why didn’t God prevent this?” “why doesn’t God fix that?”

But like the Holy Family traveling from Jerusalem, it wasn’t that Jesus ‘left’ them – the caravan left Jesus behind.

God has always been and is always present: it is not God who leaves us or our culture behind: we are the ones who sometimes leave Him behind; in our lifestyles, our interactions with others, in the way we treat our own family members; even in our own prayer lives; and when we wish to find Him, to return to Him, to re-connect with that sense of His presence, where do we go?

For three days the parents of Jesus searched, and the last place they looked was the Temple. (no doubt if we were missing a teenager today, the last place we might look is in a church). The Temple – the heart of their traditional worship of God; the last place they look is the place where He is; all of their efforts in searching have been in vain; He’s been at the Temple – the heart of their faith – the whole time. Mary and Joseph, after three days, found Him in the Temple – in the house of His Father – in the house of God.

In those times when we have grown cold or confused or lost in our journey with Christ, where do we look for Him? Is the Church the first or last place we go? Do we return to the Temple of our faith, the Temple of our hearts? Do we have some idea where we might encounter Him or do we want Him to be where we want/expect/demand He meet us?

It is helpful for us in our own faith lives to realize that as a family unit, Jesus, Mary and Joseph experienced that whole range of emotions and challenges within their own culture and society that we experience in ours. They lived the ‘family experience’.

That’s why we can gather in confidence and ask for the intercession of the Holy Family for our own families; that through their prayers, God will watch over our own families, and grant them the graces necessary to draw them closer to Himself, and keep them in His love.
We pray too,that the members of our ‘extended’ family of faith, all the baptized, who have lost their sense of contact with Christ, will look for Him where He has been all along – in His Father’s house.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Christmas

One of the things that is very common for many of us at this time of year is to recall past Christmas memories – gatherings, celebrations, maybe even specific gifts or a specific encounter with someone in particular. Sometimes these are funny, happy memories – sometimes serious – sometimes even a little sad. But it is in these memories that we can see how we have developed in our outlook, our attitude; maybe even in our understanding of Christmas or human behaviour.

At this time of year I often have a memory – a mental picture – of a Christmas from my early childhood; while we weren’t particularly well off; we certainly never thought of ourselves as ‘poor’; but there wasn’t a lot for extravagant gifts. But I clearly recall, as a little boy of four years old, seeing a package underneath a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, wrapped in bright red foil with ribbons and reflecting the lights on the tree.

And the package had my name on it.

I had no idea what was inside that package, but I knew (as you can imagine a four year old would) that it was something wonderful.

We gather to celebrate in Word and Sacrament, especially tonight, the Incarnation- of God coming among us as one of us – of the Almighty entering into our frail existence – of Jesus being born into our humanity as one of us.
We celebrate the unfolding of salvation history in a most wonderful way; of the birth of our Saviour in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, fulfilling a promise made from the beginning of human history by God; that even then, as humans separated themselves from God through our own actions, God had put into motion a divine plan to bring us back into relationship with Himself for eternity.

The problem with the unfolding of the plan, though, was not a flaw in the plan itself or its author; the problem was in human understanding and seeing the plan as it unfolded.

Throughout the history of the children of Israel, from the first covenant with Abraham, God used His prophets and His people to bring an understanding of Him to others.
Yet even His own chosen people often failed to grasp what it was God was saying to them, even as we do today.
The prophet Isaiah, some 500 years before the birth of Jesus, wrote of the coming Messiah, God’s anointed one; one who would lead not only Israel, but all people, for all time, and bring them back to friendship, to relationship with God; as we heard in our first reading ‘a people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’. That great light, the light of wisdom and understanding that what God wanted was not empires and tribute and sacrifices – he wanted freely returned love from His children; a relationship with His children; a return to what was intended from the beginning when He created us.

And yet, over human history, as God spoke through His prophets, somehow people came to believe that this chosen one, this Messiah was somehow supposed to be a great political ruler, or a military leader – one who would bring Israel from being a nation invaded by foreign powers to a free country, supreme over others. They put their own expectation on what God had promised. In a sense, they took the ultimate gift from God and not only put it in a ‘box’ of their own design; in so doing, they really put God in the ‘box’, and determined how God should behave and react and provide for them…and isn’t this something that we all occasionally do? Do we not all sometimes expect God to respond to our prayers in a certain way, or provide for us according to our own designs?
But as we learn over time, if we try to confine God, if we try to limit God or define how God should respond or provide for us, we are always presented with something unexpected.

And it was no different 2000 years ago. In fact, the birth of a child in Bethlehem in poverty was most certainly not the picture that the people had painted for themselves of the coming of the Messiah. They had already put God in a box; and truly what a surprise they received.

St. Luke’s Gospel tells us how the first to receive the wondrous news of this arrival of the Christ, of the Messiah, of the Son of God were shepherds. In Palestine, shepherds were not powerful people – in fact they were outcasts even among outcasts. They lived outside the cities and towns with their flocks, which meant they hardly had time to fulfill their obligations in the synagogues and temples; they were often ritually impure, and would have tended flocks alongside their pagan neighbours – and would have been looked down on by ‘righteous’ religious people as being no better than the pagans themselves. If one were expecting an event of great significance to be announced to the nation, shepherds would certainly have been the last ones that this news would have been given to first.

And yet, these are the ones that God sends His angels to announce the birth of Jesus; and the Gospel says they went ‘with haste’ to Bethlehem to see this wondrous thing that God had made known to them.

The truth is that God makes Himself known to us all the time. He is always near and is always sending His love and His messages and His care to us; the difficulty for us, as it was for the children of Israel; is that often we are not open to seeing Him where He truly is; in the difficult co-worker; in the demanding child; in the grieving and the lonely; the impoverished or the imprisoned; in the broken and the lost.

He is there – He is always there.

We need only to be open to Him – to receiving Him and to accepting Him in whatever ‘packaging’ He has presented Himself to us.

And whenever we are open to receiving Him as He is, and where He is, He will make Himself known to us;

And just like that little boy looking at that shiny present under the tree so many Christmases ago, there is a package with each of our names on it: we may not know exactly what is in that package before it is opened.
But we do know that when it is opened, it will be something wonderful.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

4th Sunday of Advent

It’s easy, if we are watching and listening to any of the mass media – internet, radio, television – to get drawn into this sense that Christmas has been occurring for the last three weeks!  It’s as if we get caught up in the lights and parties and gift exchanges as the definition of Christmas itself, and skip completely over Advent, over this time of preparation and waiting for the Lord to make Himself known.  But children, they sense and know that we aren’t quite there yet.  There are packages to open – things that are hidden – that in some way signal that the time has arrived.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that the opening of gifts on Christmas Day is the principle point of the celebration; but the image of the concealed or hidden gift is helpful in considering today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel.

Reflecting on the infancy narrative in St. Luke, it becomes apparent how often it is through the ‘unseen’ that the influence of the Holy Spirit is most often felt, and how often it is through the little and hidden that the message of God’s great love is communicated.

When Mary has her encounter with the angel Gabriel, it does not say anywhere that she ‘saw’ the angel – only that she heard his message.  Imagine being in Mary’s situation; very young yet faithful, being presented with this news of her imminent pregnancy, and how it will fit in with God’s plan of salvation for all people – and only hearing a voice!  And yet, she is ‘full of grace’ and responds without hesitation, ‘be it done to me according to your word’! What great trust!

Later, when Mary visits Elizabeth, as we heard today, it is the unseen, unborn St. John the Baptist who leaps for joy in the presence of the unseen, unborn Jesus! This ‘leap’ signals the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Elizabeth who announces Mary as the ‘Mother of my Lord’!  Such bold courage to proclaim such a thing, with no visible evidence!

As Christians, we are to be present to that same Jesus who is also unseen – hidden in the eyes of the world; yet visible to those who look with eyes of faith, charity and compassion. (Some of you know of my connection to the Lay Missionaries of Charity in Canada as their National Spiritual Director – they are part of the family of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta)  Blessed Teresa had an expression she used often, referring to Jesus as being present in the ‘distressing disguise of the poor’ ;  she meant that Jesus was truly present in all of the poor – materially, socially, spiritually – the poorest of the poor, wherever they may be. But it was a disguise – a ‘being hidden’ unless we looked with eyes of love and trust to truly recognize His presence among us.

It is that same trust and bold courage instilled by the Holy Spirit, and illustrated by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth in the gospel, that moves each of us to find Christ in that ‘distressing disguise’.  Most importantly though, it is through the grace of that same good God, that we are given the strength to trust and boldly proclaim Him in our actions and our words.  That is the real gift – the gift of Jesus – that is the true gift this time of year.

The commercial message of this season, while sometimes entertaining, is quite clear; the happiness of the one receiving a gift is dependent on that particular gift.  We have to be careful here; careful that we don’t slip into believing this message in our own hearts, that somehow happiness – ours or another’s depends on something or someone; on temporary circumstances, opportunities, privileges or even power.  We ‘buy into’ the big yet subtle lie, that happiness comes from temporary things; but even our rational minds tell us temporary things can only bring temporary happiness, and then we need to endlessly search for more, and better and bigger things to bring us more temporary happiness.

The message of our Faith is equally clear though; the only way we can receive permanent, lasting happiness, is with the One who is permanent and lasting – and the only One who is permanent and lasting, is God.  The same God who created everything from nothing, and whose great love we celebrate with the approaching feast of Christmas – this great love that has the Lord of all things setting aside all of this greatness and splendor to enter into our existence in the most humble and helpless way – as a baby born in poverty in a small insignificant village; ‘hidden’ like a special, longed-for gift.

An unopened or hidden gift can cause excitement, even in the anticipation of opening it; hopefully as we await the celebration of the ‘hidden gift’ that is God-among-us, Emmanuel, we will all be open to that same Gift-Jesus- being revealed to us each day in the needs of those around us; and that understanding this ‘hidden gift’ is in our midst, we will be filled with just as much excitement and anticipation as we approach Him in our daily lives.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

…O, O, O this is exciting…

I can still remember the excitement as a small child, counting the days until Christmas. As that wondrous day drew closer, the excitement increased exponentially, building up to an almost constant state of ‘butterflies’ in my stomach. That anticipation grew from a mental thought and expanded to become a physical response; the ‘waiting’ became something that involved my whole being!

That waiting and excitement was something that abated somewhat over the years, until I was introduced to praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The collection of psalms and readings, petitions, antiphons and prayers was something that eventually would become integral to my daily routine and spiritual journey (and of course would become an obligation – though a happy one – through ordination).

Praying through the Liturgy of the Hours tracks a rhythm and flow throughout the liturgical year; it provides a whole new dimension to one’s daily routine and is a reminder that at some point, somewhere in the world, someone is constantly praying for all of us. But what has that got to do with excited anticipation?

Because as of December 17th, when praying the Evening Prayer of the hours, we enter into seasonal antiphons to introduce the prayer, The Magnificat, with what are referred to as the ‘O’ Antiphons. For an explanation of these ‘O’ Antiphons, Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, does an excellent job here

When I enter into those’O’ Antiphons, I am filled now with that same wonder, excitement, and yes, I have to admit, ‘butterflies’ reaction as these signal the approaching feast of Christmas. But they mean much more than the countdown to a date on a calendar. They are a reminder to me of the many aspects of the graces, gifts, and the wonder of the One who loved us all into existence – the One who emptied Himself completely to enter into our own human condition; to restore that image and likeness with which we were created.

We celebrate the feast and commemorate His coming among us as one of us at a definite point in our human history; we anticipate His coming among us each and every day in those we encounter in our daily lives; we rejoice in His presence to us in His Sacraments and His Church; we excitedly look forward to His return, to the time that we will each gaze upon Him and see Him ‘face to face’.

That’s what the ‘O’ Antiphons do for me – and I hope, if you are able to begin celebrating in prayer the Liturgy of the Hours, that they will do the same for you, with the grace of God.

And I hope they give you ‘butterflies’ too!

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Third Sunday of Advent

When is enough, enough?  How much do we need to have before we have accumulated all we desire? 
This Sunday’s Gospel passage from St. Luke continues with the ministry of St. John the Baptist as he prepares the people for the coming of the Messiah.  His discourse recorded for us contains a list of instructions to different people from different walks of life; exhortations to them to help them be ready for the coming of the Lord!

To those who have, he says, give – ‘whoever has two coats must share with those who have none…’ and to share food with those likewise who don’t have enough to eat.  This instruction is more a ‘positive’ act of charity -giving from one’s abundance to those who lack.

On the other hand, we have the ‘negative’ actions – not taking from those who have simply because we can. To soldiers, he says, be satisfied with your pay – don’t try to take from others through threats or accusations things that don’t belong to you. To tax collectors, he says, don’t take more than what is owed. In both of these examples, people who are in positions of power are told not to abuse that authority for personal gain; they are to accept the wages of their station and respect the rights and property of those under their authority. 

This is a clear lesson for all of us who seek the Messiah – who are preparing particularly this time of the year – to meet Jesus in our midst.   An attitude of satisfaction with what we have is crucial.  To constantly want more, and to take it by any means open to us, including threats or by force, is never ‘okay’.  It is most certainly not the mark of one who sincerely seeks a relationship with Christ.

Likewise, the giving of alms is not just a good idea – it is a requirement of those who hope to approach the Lord at His coming. To support our brothers and sisters in need simply because they are in need is a hallmark of a true disciple of Jesus.  It is no credit to us if we support those we ‘like’ or have similar political or social inclinations towards.  We need to support each other in any way that we can, in keeping with the Gospel.

Sometimes that support is material – at other times, it is not quite so concrete. I’m talking about prayer.  It may not seem to be a tremendous undertaking, but it is no less important. Authentic and sincere prayer is critical for those who claim to be following in the footsteps of the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord in our world.

I can’t conclude without considering the horrendous events that unfolded on Friday in Connecticut at the Sandy Hook elementary school, with the violent and tragic deaths of so many children, and their teachers. 

While we have so many questions and emotions to express, I would like you to consider, at least for the next few moments, supporting our brothers and sisters in the midst of this tragedy in the only way that we can at the present time; in prayer.  This is a time of mourning, and a time of grief.  There will be plenty of time for commentary and analysis later – for now, we hold up the souls of these little ones, their families, emergency service responders, and the people of that entire school community in prayer.  We can only watch, wait with them, and pray.

It may not seem like much in a material world – but consider that at the Cross, there was another mother who witnessed the terrible suffering of her Son at the hands of violent men. Mary was powerless to stop them, and so she did what she could; she watched and waited and prayed. 

And that was enough.

She continues to pray for all of her children, and so we join her in praying for our suffering brothers and sisters in Connecticut.  In imitation of Mary we move towards imitation of her Son.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

…children, sing for your fathers…

I was tremendously blessed to be born into a family where two mainstays of life were the Catholic faith and music.  For my father, nothing seemed to bring a greater sense of pride and pleasure, than to listen to his children sing. Whenever company came to the house, Dad would insist that before the guests left, they would be treated to a rendition of ‘Queen of the May’ or ‘On This Day O Beautiful Mother’ sung in three or four part harmony by my sisters. (I was not as vocally gifted as my elder sisters who had received extra musical tutoring from the nuns at the school in their younger years)  Mom ,of course, also loved to hear the girls sing, but it just seemed to be such a tremendous point to my father, that you could practically see him straining to hold himself back from bursting with pride whenever one of these opportunities presented itself. 

There is a certain vulnerability in singing though; the words and melodies blend and mix, rise and fall; sometimes sweetly – but at other times there could be a sour or flat note, a missed lyric.  At those times, it’s too late to stop, but you almost don’t dare continue.

My clearest recollection involving my own musical abilities would come years later, and my father’s feelings would be just as apparent, though different from the ‘swelling with pride’.  I was in my early 20’s, playing guitar and singing in a small pub for St. Patrick’s Day, when my father brought my mother by for lunch ‘and a pint’ (to call this unusual would be a gross understatement -my father rarely frequented pubs and even less frequently would have brought my mother to one) to show some support for his only son’s performance.

It was crowded, smokey and noisey, but the crowd was appreciative and would sing along if they knew the tunes I was singing and playing on my guitar.  But it was when we turned to what we called the ‘rebel’ songs, that I noticed my father.  He was sitting in a corner seat at a small table, and as one song in particular drew to a close, I looked right at him, and noticed he was wiping a tear away from the corner of his eye.  He was smiling too; not a great broad grin, but a small wistful smile – and that was the closest my father ever came to tellling me that something I had done touched his heart deeply.  But I knew it then, and I know it now – and I deeply appreciate the gift of that knowledge. Dad passed away several years later, but I am so thankful to have been given that opportunity and that awareness while he was with us.

Children, sing for your fathers (whether they are still living or not).

Fathers, listen to your children sing.

As a father myself, I can attest to that sense of pride, pleasure and deep love that the sound of your own children singing can stir up in your heart.  There’s a preciousness to it – a certain sweet, innocent, honest vulnerability to it that makes the ‘giftedness’ of it all the more valuable and appreciated. 

That insight gives way, for me, to an even deeper one.  I love my children very much, and truly delight in such things as hearing them sing.  At the same time I recognize that I am limited in my capacity to love simply because I am limited by my humanity.

But then there’s God.

How much more does God delight in the singing of His children;  when His children without pretense, without consideration for reward or favour, approach Him and in complete vulnerability voice their thoughts, their longings, their hopes and fears – whether their notes are sweet or sour, the lyrics clear or muddled.  He hears and cherishes those songs and the efforts to express them.  If God has an eye, I can picture Him wiping a tear of joy from the corner of it each time he hears one of His children sing from their heart.

So children, sing for your Father.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!