Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Hope We Await—Third Sunday of Advent(Cycle A)

Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11
            This third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin Introit for today's Mass from Philippians 4: "Rejoice in the Lord always." The light of Jesus' coming is dawning on us, and so we light a rose colored candle and wear rose colored vestments to celebrate and rejoice in the coming dawn. Some ministers will rejoice a bit less if you tease them about wearing pink today, so for the record, I will remind you that we are wearing rose colored garments.
            So my question to you today is for what are we waiting?
            Advent is about anticipation. We are in waiting for the coming of Jesus, not once but twice. First, we await His coming in human history, in the Incarnation. Second, we await His final coming at the final judgment. And for both of these events we rejoice. But I think we see these as two separate events. We have the Incarnation of the Son of God in the world, and few millennia later we have the Son of God coming on the clouds to judge the nations.
            I'd like to suggest we look at these events as not two separate and disconnected events but as a single continuous reality. Not as individual events in history but as two instances connected by a single thread.
            This is not an unusual way to look at events in the Church. The Passover that the Jews celebrated has always been seen as a single event entered into annually by the people of Israel. The Eucharist is our own celebration, an evolution from the Passover and the Todah (thanksgiving) offerings in the temple, but now an eternal offering: one that took place at the Last Supper, but also one that takes place simultaneously here on this altar and in eternity as the wedding feast of the Lamb.
            And in a way, Advent is the same. We have two events separated by time, but the first is the precursor to the last. Christ's incarnation is necessarily joined to His coming again, and His coming into the world instigated a process that will be complete when He comes again.
            So for what are we waiting?
            The second reading perhaps captures this sense of anticipation best. James writes to believers in what he calls the "twelve tribes in the dispersion." This language is usually used to speak of the People of Israel, but James is specifically addressing Christians in the diaspora. And he is telling them to be patient. They are experiencing a time of trial, but the judge is waiting and will soon come to set things right. That's really what the prophets say consistently throughout the Old Testament.
            A few weeks ago on Christ the King Sunday, I mentioned that Christ is the God of reversals. And our readings this week bear this out. Our first reading from Isaiah proclaims,
Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with Divine recompense he comes to save you. Then the eyes of the blind will  be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Isaiah anticipates that the just judge will reverse the injustice and misery of the people. Recall that our first parents in Eden lived in original innocence and suffered from none of the maladies from which the rest of us now do. Their disobedience introduced suffering into the world. But even before they exit the garden, God the Father has already pointed the way forward to a remedy, to His vindication:
Then the LORD God said to the snake: Because you have done this, cursed are you among all the animals, tame or wild; On your belly you shall crawl, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.
Even as God explains the consequences of their actions to Adam and Ishahwoman, which is her original name—she doesn't get the name Eve until after the incident—even as He explains the consequences to them, he announces that there is a plan: the seed of the woman. "They will strike at your head." Mother and son will both strike at the head of the serpent. That is one interpretation, at least. Either way, God has a plan, and the Son is its fulfillment.
            And Isaiah picks up on it. He predicts that the just judge will vindicate and save the people. And then he gives all the signs of that vindication: the blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; and the mute speak.
            Remember, all of these ill effects are consequences of the disobedience of Adam and the Woman. So everything that Isaiah proposes is an undoing of the effects of our first parents' disobedience.
            We get a lot of these kinds of reversals in scripture—the undoing of evil by the redeemer who flips history on its head. It begins with the small reversals, like when Sarah's son Isaac precedes the first-born Ishmael, or when Joseph's slavery becomes the redemption of his family. In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah, the mother of Samuel, sings of the reversals that God brings to the righteous: those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. This song has a parallel in the liturgy of this season, in the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1: " The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty."
            John the Baptist reflects the same hope, the same desire, when he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the one. And Jesus responds by pointing to the reversals taking place in their midst: "The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them." All of the reversals proclaimed by Isaiah and then some. He goes beyond all our hopes.
            All of these signs reiterate James' message to the dispersion: Be patient. Our vindication is coming. They are all signs of the hope of Israel, and signs that point forward to our hope.
            For what are we waiting? For what are we hoping?
Jesus is the God of reversals. He undoes the disobedience of Adam, he unties the knot of original sin that bound us. What more does He need to unbind in our lives?
            All of us have those wounds, those weaknesses, those bad habits and attachments that weigh us down and bind us to this world. What in your life does Jesus need to unbind?
            That is our hope this season, to be released from our own failings, from our anxieties, from our sorrow. Sometimes we can successfully paper over our brokenness, hide it, and forget that it's there. We can fill our lives with noise, wealth, parties, and busyness—but all of that ends. All of that leaves us in a short time, and the emptiness is still there.
            Unless He comes and unbinds us. Unless He comes and removes our brokenness. Until He undoes our failings and refills that emptiness, that God-shaped hole in all of us that was left from our loss of grace.
            Until He comes again to fulfill all that He promised.
            God has no intention of letting us go, of letting us fail, of letting us remain in our brokenness. He continues to carve out paths where we build walls. And with every wall we throw up, He provides a gate. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

            He is the fulfillment of our hope in this season.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The primary posts for this trip are here and here. This one I wanted to address separately.

When my friend Teri mentioned that Dachau was close to Munich, I was hesitant to commit to visiting. I had one day in Stuttgart and one day in Munich for sight seeing, and I didn't know if I wanted to give up a good part of that time.

But you simply have to go to places like Gettysburg, or Yad Vashem, or Dachau. Our shared humanity obligates us to do so.

So after attending Mass and eating brunch, I hopped on the S-Bahn toward Dachau. The ride was pleasant enough. I sat across from another U.S. citizen, whom I later saw at the site. I walked the distance from the Dachau train station to the camp. What struck me was just how ordinary the town is. It's not that easy to find information about the town prior to the 1930s. Almost everything I can access starts with the concentration camp, but it was a town hard hit by the concessions of World War I. Dachau was led primarily by the Bavarian People's Party (Bayerische Volkspartei or BVP).

All of this backstory I got while at Dachau. Now, trying to find anything on the city from a simple search is rather difficult. The Jewish Virtual Library does give some idea of how Dachau went from a blue-collar town with a WWI munitions factory to a concentration camp.

Dachau is a charming town. The normalcy of the here and now is part of what challenges me.

Anyway, I walked about 2 kilometers through a German suburb, and came here.

It doesn't exactly look like the gates of hell. Even the gate itself doesn't look like its equals at Auschwitz and elsewhere. It was a work camp. A model.

Arbeit macht Frei. Work brings freedom. For the people who passed through this gate, work brought death, and in death, they had freedom. So in a sense, it was true. Like so many of Satan's lies, there is a kernel of truth... wrapped up in a tremendous lie.

This is a view from the parade grounds, just after the entrance.

There's a monument as you enter, which is easy enough to read when you're there, but difficult to capture by photograph.

It says, "May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 - 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unify the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man."

Never forget.

This is the maintenance building, and the reception area for incoming detainees. They would record their information on note cards, using ink for permanent information and pencil for anything that might change. That little detail struck me.

The maintenance building had details about the how the various political parties, the BVD included, were suppressed. Eventually the National Socialists took control. The concentration camp is their work.

I had limited time, so I skimmed a lot of the exhibits. I wanted to hear the docent's explanation of the badges. Apparently, Jehovah's Witnesses were commonly held and persecuted, and they took pride in it and resisted. They wore a purple triangle. This exhibit below displays the clothing of a polish priest. It bore a red triangle. You can read more about it in this memoir.

This is the entrance of the baths. Prisoners were shaved here.

This monument is outside the maintenance building and displays the various badges.

I took this image with my phone, but it doesn't really do justice to the artwork.

Here's a better shot.

Never again.

A shot of the barracks.

This is the Catholic memorial on this site.

It looks as though they celebrate Mass here.

Next door is the Jewish memorial.

This is the entrance to a Carmelite convent that has been at this location since 1963.

This is one of the crematoriums at Dachau.

Crematorium ovens at Dachau.

This is a gas chamber at Dachau. Thank God, it was never used, but it's mere existence is foreboding.

This final image is the Eastern Orthodox memorial at Dachau.

Dachau was a work camp, and the mass slaughter of the Shoah wasn't part of this camp's history. But it was the model camp, the example of the others. It was the beginning of the horrors that followed, and it certainly had its own horrible legacy.

And now we face our own demons in the U.S. While some would like to think that the election of Trump is the new thing, the new and surprising fascist movement in our political marketplace, this movement has been long in the coming, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out in Liberal Fascism,

This is not a Democrat thing or a Republican thing. Both parties are party to it because both have lost the notion of service and have embraced the lure of power. So long as we allow ourselves to be seduced by power, we will be prey to the forces that inflict these monstrosities on us.

Unless we say... unless we demand.. never again.

Never again.


Week 1 of my European tour is recounted here. Week 2 would include the CMS/DITA Europe conference, where I gave a presentation with a colleague and exhibited for my employer(s), Vasont Systems and Transperfect.

After spending my only free day traipsing around Stuttgart, I hopped on an ICE Train and headed to Munich. (ICE stands for intercity express.)

The ride was interesting. I wound up in a compartment by myself, which isn't really as great as it sounds since no one joins you, and you can't really leave your luggage and go to the lounge car. On the plus side, it's sort of like riding the Hogwarts Express.

Okay, not so much.

I did get to see some really beautiful landscapes, and I was reminded that Europeans apparently do not have the same fears of nuclear energy as we do in the U.S. 

I arrived at the hotel (Hilton Munich City) around dusk, so I had time to forage for supplies and go to dinner—no real sight seeing. But I planned to get up early and head to Marienplatz for Mass and a little exploration. 

I struggled a bit with my plans for the morning since Dachau is 20 minutes by U from where I was staying. I had one day only and didn't know if I wanted to spend it there. The better angels of my nature convinced me that I had an obligation to go. I'll write about that in a separate post.

So I had intended to go to mass at St. Peter's in Marienplatz. I had my choice of locations since there are three churches within walking distance of the Rathaus, one of which is the cardinal archbishop's cathedral. It looked like I would be able to make Mass at St. Peter's, and so I headed the direction I thought it was, saw this place, and headed in. Never mind that it had ad majorem dei gloriam prominently emblazoned on the facade.

The priest was in the middle of the anamnesis when I arrived, so I was too late. However, the music was stunning, and the chanting of the mass was also beautiful. I was still mystified why they would be in the middle of Mass at 9:30 if one was to start at 10:00. (Hint, hint. Wrong church.)

So I figured I should shuffle off to Frauenkirche, the cathedral of the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, for their primary Sunday celebration. This was once the see of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Papa Ratzinger. 

I wasn't sure what to expect of Mass (fears of clown masses or other oddities that apparently happen in parts of Europe), but I have to tell you that it was beautiful, even though I could understand very little of the homily. The whole liturgy was chanted, and the Mass was J. G. Rheinberger' Mass in A op. 126. Smells, bells, and a crotalus? I've never encountered one of these, but I'm guessing that since the cathedral bells were being rung during the consecration, they chose to use the crotalus inside so that both could be heard.

Two deacons, by the way, and the gospel was chanted as well.

Anyway, after mass I poked around a bit. This statue of the Blessed Mother was right across from the image of Pope Benedict. It's not really a style I like, but in a way those twelve stars means something a little different in Europe. With prayer and maybe the consecration of Europe to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, something new will happen there.

Some of the side altars were closed, but this one honoring Blessed Mary, Mother of Sorrows was open.

The door to the sacristy had this painting depicting the Assumption overhead. Apparently this painting was over the high altar at one point in the cathedral's history.

One of the cool things about these churches is that they have all sorts of small items with no explanation whatsoever. I would have been good to have a docent to explain. Even the website only covers a small number of the items. This reliquary had no visible explanation. 

Here's another example of something with no explanation. It just so happens to be next to another part of the cathedral's history...

... the automaton clock. So guess what gets all the attention?

I have to admit that the clock grabbed my attention, too, but I loved some of the details of the piece to the left. Another side altar had this statue of St. Sebastian.

And of course, lots of stained glass.

I have no explanation for this altar, but I liked it.

Along the exterior of the choir were the coats of arms for all of the archbishops, including the current cardinal archbishop, Reinhard Marx (don't get me started). I really should have looked closer for Papa Ratzinger's.

Finally, here is the main altar. For some reason, I couldn't get a straight shot for the life of me.

And, of course, the organ and choir loft for my friend Dr. Ray.

In the back of the cathedral is the cenotaph of Emperor Ludwig the Bavaria.

Unfortunately, the front of the cathedral was completely covered with scaffolding, so I wasn't able to get a good picture of the exterior. This should give you a sense of its immensity.

And being the cathedral parish, they also had a door of mercy. After I returned from my trip to Dachau, I met up with a colleague, and we went to have dinner at Andechser am Dom, which is right behind the cathedral and is a very Catholic restaurant (crucifix over the kitchen entrance, pictures of cardinals and popes on the wall).

As we were eating, the late mass ended, and the cardinal archbishop officially closed the year of mercy. The procession walked around the back of the cathedral, and I was able to point it out to my colleague.

I did manage to get some shots of the neues Rathaus (new city hall) and the famous glockenspiel there, although I wasn't able to see it run. However, I did eat at the Glockenspiel restaurant. That might be something like staying at the Holiday Inn Express.

So after brunch, I thought I'd try to find the other church I'd missed. Thinking it was Heilige Geiste (Holy Spirit, the Jesuit church), I tromped off down the street, and found that I had actually mistaken Heilige Geiste for St. Peter's. Frankly, the latter was beautiful, so I wasn't sorry that I had gone there, but I wasn't prepared for St. Peter's.

I wasn't even sure I was in a different church at first, as the design was so similar, but then I turned to look at this high altar...

... and I was overwhelmed. My photos don't begin to do it justice. Notice the statues on the colonnades, mostly of the Apostles. The image of St. Bartholomew was my favorite (holding a knife in one hand and his own skin in the other).

Another choir loft and organ for Dr. Ray. My dad would have loved this as well.

This was another of the side altars. Every altar in this church was set up for ad orientum celebration.

Here's a close shot of the high altar. The cordon around the approach to the rail made it difficult to get a good shot.

The ambo was stunning as well. I would love to hear someone preach from one of these.

Along the exteriors of many of these churches are memorials to parishioners.

Having realized my error, I headed back to Heilige Geiste to take some photos. The artwork there was exquisite.

And it had some beautiful altars as well. 

Here's one of the ceilings.

But not the only one of note...

I went to mass twice, and I noticed that even with three enormous, beautiful churches within a short distance of each other, there were plenty of people engaging their faith. Whatever is lacking in the rest of Europe, Munich seems to have a thriving Catholic faith. I was blessed to have the time there and hope I can go back soon.