Today: Immaculate Conception

Image: Michael McGrath

This "family portrait" shows us Anna and Joachim, parents of Mary (at the top of the image); and pictured in their embrace is Joseph with Mary and her son, Jesus; a dove nearby reminds us that Mary conceived Jesus of the Holy Spirit. Mary is venerated as the Immaculate Conception, she who was conceived immaculately, preserved from original sin, in the womb of her mother, Anna. 

For today's feast, you'll find below an instrumental performance of the Schubert Ave Maria by Emmanuel Rossfelder, stunning in its artistry and interpretation.

The preface prayer from the former Sacramentary offers us a short lesson in the theology of this day:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
   we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
You allowed no stain of Adam’s sin
   to touch the Virgin Mary.
Full of grace,
   she was to be a worthy mother of your Son,
   your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning,
   and the promise of its perfection
   as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty.
Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth your Son,
   the innocent lamb who takes away our sins.
You chose her from all women
   to be our advocate with you
   and our pattern of holiness.
In our joy we sing to your glory
   with all the choirs of angels:
      Holy, holy, holy ...
Ave Maria by Schubert, 
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Pause for Prayer: FRIDAY 12/8

Are you old enough to remember this line from the old Ivory Soap ads?  99 44/100% pure!
Today's Pause for Prayer
for the feast of the Immaculate Conception which celebrates the purity of the Virgin Mary.

The dictionary defines pure as

O Lord!
Would that these words described me and my purity
but I fail in so many ways
in living out what these words describe...

I will never be as pure as your Mother, Lord,
but I can pray to be more pure than I have been,
more pure than I am... 
Help me be more pure, Lord, 
    in my thoughts,
    in my speech,
    in my deeds,
    in my motives,
    in my intentions,
    in my relationships,
    in my imagination,
    in my desires,
    in my dreams, 
    in my hopes,
    in my ambition,
    in my choices,
    in my  will,
    in my heart,
    in my vision,
    in my love of you, O God,
    in my love of my neighbor
    and in my love of my self...

That’s a lot of purity to pray for, Lord!
When I start to think it's too much,
when I think I can't do it, 
help me remember the angel's word to Mary:
Nothing is impossible with God!






NIGHT PRAYER: Thursday 12/7

The celebration of Hanukkah begins at sundown today.


Hanukkah -- the eight-day festival of light that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.When they sought to light the Temple's menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Hanukkah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Hanukkah, when all eight lights are kindled. On Hanukkah we also recite Hallel and the Al HaNissim prayer to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few... the wicked into the hands of the righteous."

Hanukkah customs include eating foods fried in oil -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there"); and the giving of Hanukkah gelt, gifts of money, to children.

          For more information go to Chabad.org.

Our Jewish friends and neighbors (indeed, all peoples) pray with hearts burdened by the tragic news that comes daily from Israel.  In the prayer below, my friend, Alden Solovy, casts Hanukkah as a season of dedication - a holy and hope filled image for prayer in these sad times...  

This is the season of dedication: 
Of dedicating our moments and our lives,
Of dedicating our hope and our strength,
To live by G-d’s Word.

This is the season of cleansing:
Of cleansing our hearts and our sanctuaries,
Of cleansing our deeds and our ways,
Creating sacred time and space.

This is the season of service:
Of service to our neighbors and community,
Of service to K’lal Yisrael,*
In the name of justice and peace.

This is the season of dedication:
Of dedication to strength and honor,
Righteousness and duty.
This is the season that calls forth miracles,
That summons the light of holiness,
The season the reminds us to rebuild and restore
Our commitment to mitzvot and avodah**
In G-d’s holy name.

© Alden Solovy

 *K’lal Yisrael means the whole of the Jewish people

**Mitzvot refers to the 613 commandments in the Hebrew scriptures;
 Avodah refers to the command to worship and serve God.

 Night Prayer

Change our hearts, Lord!
Rededicate our hands to the work of justice,
   and a harvest of peace...
Fill us with your Spirit
    and give us the wisdom we need
        to put an end to war and bloodshed...

Give us a season to learn again,
    to rededicate ourselves to your word, your law,
        your service and your worship...

Protect us, Lord, while we're awake
   and watch over us while we sleep
that awake, we might keep watch with you
   and asleep, rest in your peace...


Lighting and Blessing the Menorah  by Suze Weinberg

(The transliterated Hebrew and English lyrics follow the video)

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Ba-ruch ata, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, me-lech ha-o-lam, 
a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mits-vo tov, 
ve-tsi-va-nu le-had-lik neir shel Han-nu-kah.

Blessed is Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, 
by whose mitzvot we are sanctified   
and who commands us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah

Ba-ruch ata, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, me-lech ha-o-lam,
she-a-sa ni-sim las-a-vo-tei-nu 

ba-ya-mim ha-heim ba-ze-man ha-zah.

Blessed is Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe,  

who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors 
in days of old, at this season. 

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam
he-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu  
ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh. 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe.
who has granted us life, sustained us,
and enabled us to reach this occasion.




On My Bathroom Mirror

Some years ago a friend sent me the Shine card you see here and I posted it on my bathroom mirror.  At  Christmas that year, another friend sent me the Be The Gift card and for the holiday season, it replaced Shine on my mirror.  Yesterday it was time for the "changing of the cards!" Of course, both cards could stay on my mirror together, all year long - but my mirror is only so big - and it's a blessing to anticipate and celebrate the change!




Pause for Prayer: THURSDAY 12/7

Image source

Prayer comes when I put on the brakes, Lord,
   when I pull off life's highway, step aside from my schedule,
      make a place to be still, clear some space in my mind
          and, in my heart's chapel, wait:
             I wait for you, Lord...

And the waiting can be the hard part.
I know you're there, by my side - you're not hiding.
But I wait to see you,
   not with my eyes but with my heart...
I wait to hear you,
   not with my ears but in your word...
I wait for your touch,
   not on my skin but on my soul...

I wait for your presence beside me, around me,
   and especially within me;
I wait in the stillness, in the quiet
   where I trust I will find you...

Your presence is a fine mist,
      translucent, spun of the Spirit's breath,
a soft but steady light burning
   in dark corners and the tunnel's end:
only in the stillness, in the quiet will I find you,  Lord,
    you whose presence is so real...

And though I wait to find you, Lord,
   I know that first  - you wait for me...

You wait all day for me to call upon your name...
You wait for me to slow my step and find you by my side...
You wait for me to nod my thoughts in your direction,
   to tip my grateful heart towards you,
      to open my soul's windows to your grace...

You wait for me 
    with help for this day's problems...
You wait for me 
    with mercy for my failings...
You wait for me 
    with healing for my bruises...
You wait for me 
    with peace to ease my sorrow...
You wait for me 
    with light to fill my darkness...
You wait for me 
    with grace to bless my nights...
You wait for me 
    to make some time and find a place
      where I might rest 
         and wait for you...
Truth be told, Lord, 
    I often come to prayer, not to wait for you
but to wait for you to fix me, mend and heal me,
   to wait for you to answer all my questions 
      solve my problems,
         and give me what I want and pray for...
I know you understand when I pray like this
   but I also know your first desire 
      is simply for me to know you,
         and to know your love for me...
Your first desire is to reveal yourself
   as the One who's waited for me
      since before all time;
   as the One who waits for me 
      when I'm faithful and when I'm not;
   as the One who waits for me 
      to wait for you...
You have loved me since before all time;
   you love me when I'm faithful - and when I'm not;       
   you love me when I pray - and when I don't;
   you love me when I love you - and when I ignore you;
   you love me when I wait for you
      and you love me when take off on my own...
You love me, Lord,
    and you desire, you wait for me, to love you in return...
You love me while I wait for you
    who wait for me
        with loving, open arms...






NIGHT PRAYER: Wednesday 12/6

Every year at this time I look for ways to reach out to those who need this season's comfort and joy but who find the holidays to be a difficult time... Perhaps you're one of those folks or perhaps you know some others who are...  Let's  pray together...












    the jolly jingle's all around -
    but not in every heart...

    Red and green are everywhere -
    but some folks
    just feel blue...

    The rushing 'round to buy and wrap
    lonely souls...
    Plans for Christmas eve
    the ones who'll be alone...

    This merry month can be,
    for some,
    the saddest time of year...            
    So, help me, Lord,
    to share, not miss,
    the comfort I might share...
    Help me see
    when clouds of blue surround
    and shade my neighbor's heart...
    Help me hear and tend
    whose tears may fall
    as Christmas bells chime out... 
    Help me wrap my love,
    a gift to share
    with those who'll be alone...

    You came, O Lord,
    as one like us,
    to heal our wounds and grief...

    You know our loss,
    you share our pain,
    you feel our empty ache...

    Then drop a blessing
    from your hand
    on brokenhearted souls:
        your gentle touch
        as soft as snow
        - your peace on Christmas day...
Protect us, Lord, while we're awake,
    watch over us while we sleep
that awake, we keep the watch with you
    and sleep, rest in your peace...

Your Hands by JJ Heller

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I have unanswered prayersI have trouble I wish wasn't thereAnd I have asked a thousand waysThat you would take my pain awayYou would take my pain away
I am trying to understandHow to walk this weary landMake straight the paths that crooked lieOh Lord, before these feet of mineOh Lord, before these feet of mine
When my world is shaking    Heaven standsWhen my heart is breaking    I never leave your hands
When you walked upon the earthYou healed the broken, lost, and hurtI know you hate to see me cryOne day you will set all things rightYeah, one day you will set all things right
Your hands, your hands that shape the worldAre holding me, they hold me stillYour hands that shape the worldAre holding me, they hold me still




It's Saint Nicholas Day!

Today (December 6) is the feast of St. Nicholas,
    friend of the poor and giver of gifts...

Saint Nicholas (the fourth century bishop of Myra, a province of Asia Minor) is the subject of many legends, including being the man behind "Santa's" beard.  The red-vested cleric also enjoys the lead in Benjamin Britten's cantata, Saint Nicholas, the lyrics of which tell the life and legends of Nicholas, all of which you can read about and listen to here.

Hagiographical research reveals that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of:

Apothecaries, Bakers, Barrel Makers, Boatmen, Boot Blacks, Boys, Brewers, Brides, Captives, Children, Coopers, Dock Workers, Druggists, Fishermen, Greece, the Greek Catholic Church in America, Grooms, Judges, Lawsuits lost unjustly, Longshoremen, Maidens, Mariners, Merchants, Murderers, Newlyweds, Parish Clerks, Paupers, Pawnbrokers, Perfumers, Pharmacists, Pilgrims, Poor people, Portsmouth - England, Prisoners, Russia, Sailors, Scholars, Schoolchildren, Shoe Shiners, Sicily, Students, Thieves, Travelers, and Unmarried girls!
In some countries December 6 is the day for gift-giving, not December 25. So you might want to surprise a family member, a friend - or someone in need - with a gift today.

Lord, while shopping for gifts for family and friends,
while putting up decorations and going to parties,
keep me mindful of your humble birth
and the claim of the poor on the bounty that's mine...




Pause for Prayer: WEDNESDAY 12/6






NIGHT PRAYER: Tuesday 12/5

On of my favorite pieces of music is the simple Advent hymn: O Come, Emmanuel.  Peter Hollens' arrangement of this classic lays bare its urgent, plaintive cry... As you listen to the music, reflect on how these words might be your own cry, your own prayer, in Advent 2023...  It might be helpful to listen to the song before the prayer - and then again after the prayer...

O Come, Emmanuel by Peter Hollens

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O come, O come, EmmanuelAnd ransom captive Israel
O come, O come, EmmanuelAnd ransom captive IsraelThat mourns in lonely exile hereUntil the Son of God appear
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheerOur spirits by Thine advent hereDisperse the gloomy clouds of nightAnd death's dark shadow put to flight
O come, O come, Thou Lord of mightWho to Thy tribes, on Sinai's heightIn ancient times did give the lawIn cloud, and majesty, and awe

Rejoice! Rejoice!Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O IsraelShall come to thee, O Israel

Help me see what holds me captive, Lord,
    and come with grace to set me free...

My lonely heart's in exile, Lord,
    come rescue me and bring me home...

Come, touch and heal my grief, O Lord:
    anoint me with your Spirit and with joy...

See the burdens that weigh heavy on my heart:
    help me carry them with dignity and grace...
Scatter far what clouds my vision, trust and hope:
   pierce my shadows in my darkness with your light...

In my weakness, Lord, I stumble, trip and fall:
   with your strong and gentle arm, come lift me up...

Help me trust you are Emmanuel, God-with-me
    come with mercy and with peace...
Protect me, Lord, while I'm awake
    and watch over me while I sleep
that awake, I might keep watch for you
    and asleep, rest in your peace...

O Come, Emmanuel by Peter Hollens





Pause for Prayer: TUESDAY 12/5

Every year, early in December, my ordination classmates get together for dinner.  Last night there were seven of us at the table.  We first met at Cardinal O'Connell Seminary in Jamaica Plain in September  of 1965, right out of high school.  We studied together for 8 years, were ordained in 1973 and have served as priests of the archdiocese of Boston for five decades.  We've known each other for 58 years... Here's what I prayed when I got home last night...

We've all changed so much, Lord
    - and we haven't changed at all...
We're smarter and wiser than once we were
    - but we've still got so much more to learn...
Our prayer is more genuine, honest and real
    - when we make and find time to pray...

We're grown to be much more patient, Lord
    - though still not as patient as you are with us...
Our take on life is more inclusive, expansive
    - except for where it's still narrow and cramped...
We're grateful for all the gifts we've received
    - blessed far beyond what  our deeds deserve...
Keenly aware of the ways we've failed you
    - we deepen our trust in your mercy and love...
Help us to learn to laugh at ourselves
    - and to find the peace of your grace in our tears...

We are the clay, Lord and you are the potter,
    we're all the work of your hands:
continue to form and shape in our lives
    what waits to be changed by your love...