I minister among people who have been silenced by generational poverty. Their voices have been stripped of dignity. A man asks softly for clothing and to use the restroom. Another person asks for hygiene products as he signs up for our morning hospitality center. People arrive from the cold and dark nights of the streets into our warm building looking for dignity more than clothing, for purpose more than food, for companionship more than another cup of coffee.
The voices I hear in the Christmas season are shy and hesitant. A woman speaks softly with her eyes cast to the floor because she blames herself for her childhood abuse. A man who just cheated on his wife whispers his sin to me beyond a screen in the confessional. A woman who misses her children and grandchildren murmurs her loneliness to me on Christmas Eve. A young man who recently graduated from college repeats to me the voices he now hears because of his mental illness. The voices tell him to leave his job and to hurt himself. The voices in our urban chapel celebrating the birth of Christ are powerful and yet reluctant.
Plan the Christmas liturgies remembering the voices that cry out in the silent night of Christ’s birth. Remember the people in your parish, neighborhood and city that need to hear from your ministry, “Do not be afraid.” Be a voice of peace and an angel of consolation in presiding, preaching and sharing hymns of familiarity and love. Be the voice of hope for people who will hear only fear and hatred in their marriages or in their workplaces. Remember that the sound of your music will rest in the ears and hearts of people who long for the healing balm of Christmas Mass. People long to ease the wounds that December raises in so many people. Allow God to be born among the voiceless with a herald of joy and earthly peace.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, December 30, 2012
Our parish serves many people who are lost to neglect, chemical dependency and past abuse. We have only a few traditional families who worship in our urban chapel. Most people in our community are alone. People live in single-room occupancy hotels or under cardboard. Single adults travel from the distant suburbs. Families who want their children to know that Christ is in all people attend our Mass. Single men come to our daily hospitality center, Veterans, former prisoners and recovering heroin addicts. No one
is looking for the people in our parish, except the occasional parole officer or the local police.
Mary and Joseph are looking for Jesus. They discover him in the Temple. Mary holds the mystery of suffering and love in her heart. The families in our community are non-traditional. They are families of friendly bonds trying to look out for one another’s needs. There used to be an entire row of people at Mass who were recovering from heroin. They have all disappeared; some are using drugs again and are back on the streets, one is married, another has moved on. We still search for them. We look out for families lost in the issues of life, suffering from violence and neglect and we hold them all in our hearts.
As you plan the liturgy celebrating the Holy Family, remember the people on the margins of your parish family, those you search for in faith. Remember the widow who does not attend Mass anymore, and see that no one has noticed her disappearance. Remember the father who is lost now in Alzheimer’s. Remember the young woman whose child was stillborn. Remember the gay couple in the corner of the last pew. Remember the families that will never be reconciled. Remember the children who resist the commitment to attend Mass. The Holy Family becomes the place where Christ is born in all relationships, among all who care for one another in poverty as well as in prosperity.
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, January 1, 2013
There is a deep desire in our human condition to begin again. We make resolutions of personal change that falter as the year progresses. We proclaim a day of peace amid the wars that rise up among us. We claim Mary’s role in our salvation after a night of parties and belief that new will be different than the old. In our parish community the first day of the year may not be different from what has come before. People still do not have sufficient health care or a place to sleep. Their plans and dreams remain as cold as the winter days. We cling to the message that the poor shabby shepherds first heralded among the people, the proclamation that Jesus was born of Mary.
Mary encourages us to see that life can be different. The ponderings in her heart teach us that life is more than our weariness, more than our daily suffering. In our parish community we all hold the suffering of our people in our hearts during prayer. Poverty strips people of dignity and washes hope away. Today, we all begin with the unkempt shepherds to proclaim Christ is the way to new life and healing. We carry in our hearts the desires of new housing, new sobriety, new companionship and new healing.
Prepare this liturgy with a desire that all things might be possible. Remember in music and preaching the deepest human longing to be new again. Mary is our model as she cradles her Son and cherishes within her heart the hope for all humanity.
The Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2013
I witness people following the darkness in our neighborhood. Some people claim they will find their way through drugs and alcohol. Another man holds on to his reluctance to take his prescribed medication for his mental illness. He claims he will find his way on his own. A young woman thinks that selling her body will be her way into a new life. I see the darkness claim young addicts and old veterans. Our parish community struggles to reveal a light of hospitality, healing and hope. Searching in only the darkness for new life seldom brings reward.
The magi searched for the child following a star and a hunch. They were drawn to the light that seemed unbelievable and otherworldly. They searched diligently and carried with them earthly gems and valuables. The discovery of the child put into perspective the entire journey. Once we discover the living Christ within our journey everything else is put into perspective. Christ is the only light. This Light is generative, loving and engaging.
As liturgists, musicians and preachers, follow the living Christ within your own life. Reflect on how people in your parish need the Light of Christ. Pray about the hidden suffering among your people when they follow the lure of darkness. Plan the Eucharist realizing that the Light of Christ is among your people, open their eyes with sacred preaching and their ears with sacred music. Allow everyone to acknowledge their gifts to serve others. Step away from darkness and offer Christ the gifts of love and renewed hearts.
The Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2013
People share the deepest desire to belong. Our relationships form our identity. I witness on our urban sidewalks people being stripped of their identity when their wallets and identification are stolen in the night. I see how our society strips people of their identities by labeling people as “those poor people” or ‘the homeless” or “those faggots” or “those whores”. We are all searching within the deserts of our lives for a new identity, a new purpose in life and to be known for our gifts, talents and real identities.
The baptism of Jesus unites us with the Trinity. We witness our real identity when we follow John into the Jordan and see for ourselves the living Christ. This identity as a follower of Christ sustains us in journeys when we become lost on our own paths. We are the baptized longing for Christ to be the source of our identity. The waters of baptism break open our hearts into the mission of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
Prepare this liturgy of the Baptism of the Lord reflecting on the many identities people carry with them: parents, friends, lovers, spouses, workers, parishioners, artists and musicians. We die to our selves and rise with Christ in baptism. Our old identities are washed away in the Jordan and we rise with new eyes for mission and new hearts for love. Our baptism claims us in Christ, and God is well pleased.