Each week we post below three names of persons on death row. Would you consider sending a Christmas card to one of them?
John wrote his gospel for the majority Greek Christian audience that characterized the late first century church. When he wrote the Gospel message had spread well beyond its first local Jewish community. You can imagine the difficulty John faced since he could not draw upon the Jewish traditional hope for the messiah. Thus, he had to reflect on the beliefs about Jesus the first Jewish converts had and figure out a way to address his Greek readers. His resolved his difficulty by drawing upon what he found in the Jewish tradition that might speak to Greek believers: the Jewish notion of word, and in particular, the Word of God. For the Jews, God’s word is active and dynamic. As we see in the beginning of Genesis, the Word is the source of creation. For people in the East, once a word is spoken, it has a life of their own. Remember the blind Isaac giving a blessing to Jacob, thinking he was really blessing Esau? Even though the fraud was discovered, once the word of blessing was spoken it had an independent existence and could not be taken back. In later Jewish writing the term "word of God" became synonymous for God. A devout Jew hearing the term "word of God" would think "God." Similarly in Jewish Wisdom literature, Wisdom was also identified with God, and was used in the way God’s Word is – as active, creative and life giving.
When John looked at Greek thought for a parallel to the Jewish sense of Word and Wisdom, he found the notion of "Logos." It is translated in today’s gospel as Word. For the Greeks, Logos meant Word, or Reason, in the same way the Hebrew texts speak of Word and Wisdom. The Greeks had developed a philosophy of the Logos. For them it was the ordering principle of the world, the pattern for all created things. All had life and design through the Logos, which controlled all living things. Thus, John could address a Greek Christian in terms of the Logos, but still be faithful to the Jewish roots that spoke about the Word of God.
Some years ago I had an opportunity to visit the underground War Rooms in London. In these bunkers deep below the central London streets, Winston Churchill and his councillors devised and conducted the war strategy for the embattled British people. It was also in this place that Churchill wrote and broadcast his stirring speeches to the English citizens suffering, along with Churchill and his colleagues, the awful Nazi blitz. During England’s darkest hour these speeches did much to keep British spirits from collapsing under the awful pounding of the bombs. No one hearing these words could doubt the power of words to revive and even create life in the human spirit. We have tended to doubt the promises many politicians make during their campaigns, labeling their speeches as empty words. We have also doubted words we hear daily, like the promises about dishwashing detergents advertized on television. But we still have enough encounters with the effects of words to know how powerful they can be. Just ask the surviving British people who remember Churchill’s words, or those here in our country who found Martin Luther King’s words so life-giving during the struggle for civil rights. In these experiences and others like them, we get some sense of what John is saying when he says, "the Word was God," and "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
Recall how the other evangelists begin their gospels. Matthew first gives Jesus’ genealogy, locating him in a Jewish–Davidic lineage. Mark starts with John the Baptist’s preparation for "the One more powerful than I" (1:7). While Luke begins with the Infancy narrative. John’s beginning is very distinctive; in the Prologue to his Gospel we heard today he takes us back before creation. The two opening verses repeat four times "was" – the Word was in timeless existence; was in relationship to God and was God. John first uses the past tense, "was," to indicate the pre-existence and pre-eminence of the Word. But notice how he shifts to the present tense, (verse 5), "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." All of creation came through the Word, it is the source of life and has come to bring light where sin has caused darkness.
John is not just speaking about the past. After he establishes the power and authority of the Word, he makes it clear that God has not stopped speaking the light-bearing Word, "light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." Don’t we need this Word’s creative power and light in our world? What feels old, tired, violently shaken, discouraging, and "under the shadow of death," is still being addressed by God through the Word. The Word’s entering our world and taking flesh among us did not happen just two thousand years ago. Today we don’t just celebrate a 2000 year old birthday. Rather, the Word continues to take flesh among us today and, despite the devastating effects of darkness in our world – as I write this, the newspapers today speak of the threat of starvation for millions of people in Afghanistan, and the ongoing darkness the pandemic casts throughout the world. Nevertheless, God’s light will not be overcome.
John’s Greek hearers, receiving this message about the divine Logos, would believe that God would never let us be overcome by chaos and the disorder caused by sin. The Jewish Christians hearing this message about God’s Word, would be assured that the very source of creation is still at work to bring light where darkness seems to hold sway. Whether of Greek or Jewish origin the faithful hearer knows that God dwells within us and joins our struggles to overcome forces that have their origin in our human deviation from God’s message and plan for us.
Since we are soon to begin a new year and may be wondering what new year’s resolution to make, John might be suggesting one to us today. In the light of the power of the Word, and the reminder that the Word’s taking flesh is present tense, we might resolve to a more attentive and disciplined listening to the Word of God. There are many places God speaks to us, but our touchstone for the Word is the Bible. What about a new year’s resolution to be more faithful and prayerful in our reading of Scripture? If the parish publishes next Sunday’s readings in the bulletin then a daily ten or fifteen minutes’ reflection on one of those readings each day holds a lifegiving promise for us as we enter the new year.
Click here for a link to this Holy Day’s readings:
"All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God"
I read the following story on social media so I do not know who composed it but the love it expresses is the eternal gift of this Christmas season. Have a blessed Christmas!
I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit Grandma on the day my brother dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," he jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
"My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true. Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted, "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kirby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kirby's.
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.
I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.
"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.
That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on it.
Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers. Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."
I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were -- ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.
I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: #19.95.--anonymous
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
And the Word became
flesh and made his dwelling among us,
Christmas reminds us of the gift God is giving us all year round – Jesus. What shall we do with this precious, invaluable gift we have received? Share it, of course. Give to others the way God has given to us. Give free of charge – mercy, forgiveness, love and compassion – gifts that never stops giving.
So, we ask ourselves:
"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."
—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247, Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
"First Impressions"is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP.
St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736
Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars.
Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation:
1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to Fr. John Boll, OP, at Jboll@opsouth.org.
3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
Click on a link button below to view the reflection indicated.
(The newest items are always listed first.)