30 December 2019

Reconciliation in the Year 2020

Every year about this time I choose a theme for a New Year's resolution that I can label with one word and concentrate on that one thing for a whole year until it becomes an ingrained habit. I am pleased to report that this system has worked for me very well. Here is a partial list from years past:

2011 "Ideate" ("to form an idea of", "think of", "imagine", "conceive of","envision", "visualize")

2012 "Update" ("improve", "correct", "renew", "revise", "upgrade", "amend", "overhaul", "modernize", "contemporize")

2013 "Motivate" ("prompt", "drive", "move", "inspire", "stimulate", "influence", "activate", "impel", "push", "propel"

2014 "Ataraxia" ("Tranquility", a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety)

2015 "Contemplate" (Know Thyself, "examine", "inspect", "observe", "survey", "study", "scrutinize")

2016 "Intentionality" ( The is connection between our conscious mind and the object we are thinking about. It is the quality of our thoughts and beliefs that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs. In other words a clear and conscious focus.)

2017 "Altruism"  (The practice of selfless concern for the well being of others. It is the charitable and humble giving of oneself to other people in many different ways.)

2018 "Meditate" (To focus and quiet the mind to reach a higher level of awareness and inner calm.)

2019 "Validate" (To check that something is true and that there is objective evidence from a valid source to prove or confirm that it is true or correct.)

My theme for 2020 is "Reconciliate" ("To reconcile" or find a way in which two or more situations or beliefs that are opposed to each other can agree and exist together. In other words: to win over, to restore harmony, to bring together, to conciliate, to resolve, to reunite, and to rectify. In short, "to bury the hatchet".)

I took note of the fact that a number of luminaries, including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, and Queen Elizabeth, in their annual year end messages, utilized the general theme of reconciliation and friendship to combat the growing divisiveness, and I  agree. After all, the love of one's neighbor is a commandment according to Our Lord Jesus Christ: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (See Matthew 22:36-40).

In my opinion, the love of God is the easier of the two commandments because He created us and gave us life, and by doing so He showed His love for us as did Jesus Christ by dying on the cross. It is easier to love another being who first loves you than otherwise. However, the love of one's neighbor without exception is not always so straight forward, to say the least. It is hard to wrap one's head around this concept. The Greek word in the original manuscript of the Gospel and later translated into English as "love" is "agapēseis" which means to wish well, to take pleasure in, to long for, to esteem by way of reason. There is a famous quote by Mexico's beloved former president Benito Juárez that is known to every Mexican schoolboy or girl: "Entre los Individuos, como entre Las Naciones, El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz." In English it is "Among individuals, as among nations, peace is respect for the rights of others."

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 in the King James version, the Douay-Rheims version, and several others; "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." By "charity" these versions mean the same as the Greek word "agapē" where other versions translate the word agapē as "love" instead of charity. In Christian thought, charity is the highest form of love, signifying the reciprocal love between God and man that is made manifest in the unselfish love of one's fellow men. The key that unlocks the heart of charity is self-sacrifice, doing something for the sake of someone else no matter what the cost to one's ego or well being. That is the whole point of Christ's death on the cross. He sacrificed Himself for the rest of us. This is the "greater love" that St. John the evangelist tells us about in John 15:13 (KJV): "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

So, do we have to lay down our lives for each other to show our love for mankind? No, because not many of us are that able, courageous, or righteous. We can, however, take a great leap forward by respect for each other in search of peace. If we make the effort we will reap the reward of God's blessings and an eternal life of happiness and fulfillment.

Have a Charitable, Peaceful, and Hopeful New year in 2020!


18 December 2019

Christmas – The Rest of the Story!

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
“Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite.”

(“Do You Hear What I Hear,” is a song written in October 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker.)

For me, the little lamb in the song is the Lamb of God and the star with a long tail formed a cross in the midnight sky. This is a romantic image and we humans are very fond of romantic images. On one particular Christmas Eve when our children were very small, my daughter Angela asked me to read the Christmas story from the Bible. I said, “Sure, why not sweetheart?”, and I began flipping through the Bible looking for the Christmas story. I found part of it in Luke, Chapter 4, verses 4 through 20, and part of it in Matthew Chapter 2, verses 1 through 12. The Gospels of Mark and John don’t say anything about the Nativity and it didn’t take me long to zip through what I did find and then I had to use my imagination a bit to fill in the blanks for the kids as best I could. After all, they were expecting a traditional Christmas story, but there was nothing about a stable or an ox or even a star on that first Christmas night. Basically it just says that when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem she was about to give birth but there was no place for them in the inn and that she gave birth to the child and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Some shepherds were notified of the event by some angels and they came around to see what was happening. That’s about it. The Three Kings and the star weren’t involved until sometime later because Matthew mentions that when they came they entered the “house” so apparently by this time the little family was all settled in. So then, what is missing from the Christmas story? In reality nothing, it’s all there, but it is a bigger picture than the few lines in Matthew and Luke. It began with Adam and Eve and ended at the death and resurrection of Jesus. The symbol of Christmas is not a stable or a star. It is a little lamb, and that little lamb begins the story of the Gospel on that first Christmas Night and ends it as the Paschal Lamb of God sacrificed at Calvary, and then the Resurrection.

The complete scope of the Christmas story begins in the book of Genesis shortly after the expulsion of the first parents from Paradise. We are told in Genesis Chapter 4 that Adam and Eve had two sons. The firstborn was Cain and he was a farmer who worked the soil. His younger brother was Abel who was a shepherd. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some root crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift, the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift but he did not accept Cain and his gift. It has been suggested that Cain’s offer was not accepted because there was no sacrifice involved, not because they were mere root crops but because they were not his best crops. This made Cain very angry, and he felt humiliated. One day Cain said to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the fields, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. The murder of Abel was not the original sin but it was the first social sin and it is both prophetic and ironic that the cause of Cain’s anger with his brother Abel involved the sacrifice of a lamb.

From Cain and Abel we turn to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis Chapter 22. Abraham feared God and kept His commandments and God rewarded Abraham with a son named Isaac whom Abraham loved very much. God wanted to test Abraham and so God told Abraham to take his son Isaac to a place where he was to build an altar and offer his son Isaac to God as a sacrifice. Abraham loved God and he knew that he could trust God so he took Isaac, who carried the wood for the fire on his back, and they went to the appointed place. Isaac asked his father from where they would get the lamb for the sacrifice and Abraham told him that God would provide it. When they arrived, Abraham and Isaac built an altar and then Abraham bound Isaac hand-and-foot and laid him on the altar and was ready to plunge a knife into his son to sacrifice him when an angel of the Lord stopped him because he had passed the test of obedience. The Lord provided instead a young ram that was caught in a thicket and thus the “lamb” was sacrificed instead of Isaac.  Note that in the Old Testament a “lamb” was considered to be the offspring of either a goat or a sheep. Exodus 12:5: “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.” In areas where it was mostly desert the shepherds would raise goats instead of sheep which they still do today.

We turn now to the book of Exodus. In Chapter 12, we learn about the sacrifice that the Israelites offered at the command of God during the night before their exodus from Egypt, which they ate with special ceremonies according to God’s instructions to Moses. The sacrificial animal was a lamb and it had to be a male, one year old, and without blemish. The blood of this sacrifice was sprinkled on the doorposts of the houses as a sign to the angel of death that he should “pass over” (skip) the houses of the Israelites when passing through the land to slay the first-born of the Egyptians that night. One interesting note is that in Exodus 12:46 during God’s instructions about eating the sacrificed Passover lamb it says “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones.”  The Evangelist John tells us in John 19:31-34 that when the soldiers came to Jesus to break his legs to hasten his death, they found that he was already dead, so they pierced his side with a spear but did not break his legs. As John testifies, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (John 19:36).  This is another link between the Savior and the image of the lamb. The sacrificial lambs would also have all of their blood removed, thrown against the temple altar and drained away into the earth and the soldier’s spear thus gave witness that the blood of our Savior was drained out upon the ground to the last drop.

In Genesis 35:21, we read, “Israel (Jacob) moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder (Tower of the Flock).”  The tower of the flock was a watch-tower where shepherds guarded their flocks by night. It was on the outskirts of Bethlehem, a place where there were excellent pastures. The Hebrew prophet Micah also refers to the Tower of the Flock: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). Based on that prophecy, Jewish scholars of the Midrash, an ancient commentary on scriptures, knew that it would be the Migdal Eder watchtower where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first (and no doubt so did the three Magi from the East). It wasn’t just a coincidence that the angels appeared that night to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem and it was not just a declaration of the Good News (Gospel) to simple shepherds. It was a powerful prophetic sign to all of Israel.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:8-18)

When we read in Luke 2:7, that “there was no place for them in the inn,” it is generally assumed that Mary and Joseph had been rejected but this was not possible because Jewish people then and even now are very hospitable. It probably means that the place was very crowded and there was no suitable secluded place for a young mother to give birth. The manger in which Jesus was placed was with little doubt at the nearby caves of the Tower Migdal Eder. Saint Justin Martyr in the second century A.D. stated that Jesus’ birth took place in a cave close to the village. It is over this traditional manger site that the emperor Constantine and his mother, Helena, constructed the first Church of the Nativity in A.D. 330 C.E.

We know that Migdal Eder was the watchtower that guarded the Temple flocks that were being raised to serve as sacrificial animals in the Temple. These were not just any flock and herd. The shepherds who kept them were men who were specifically trained for this special task. They were educated in what an animal that was to be sacrificed had to be, and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished.  Every firstborn male lamb from the area around Bethlehem was considered to be holy and the most perfect were set aside for the Passover sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. Generations of shepherds by heredity tended the sacred flocks. They were simple people, who spent many cold, lonely nights in the fields risking their own lives against thieves and wolves to guard their sheep from harm and from going astray. Remember that the angel had told them, “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” These lambs were wiped down with "simple cloths" to dry them off at birth.  These same cloths were also used to “swaddle” (to wrap) the baby Jesus against the cold. Swaddling is an age-old practice of wrapping infants in cloths to protect them and is still done around the world. Already from the moment Jesus entered the world the ultimate reason for his arrival had been alluded to. These were the shepherds who took care of the sheep and it was they who were confronted with the announcement that the ultimate sacrifice, which would carry away not only the sins of Israel but of the whole world, was born in Bethlehem. Just thirty three years later, no further sacrifice was to be needed, as all those who believe in Him have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

 “Migdal Eder,” (the tower of the flock) at Bethlehem was the perfect place for Christ to be born. He was born at the very same place where thousands upon countless thousands of lambs had been born to prefigure Him. It all fits together, for that’s the place where sacrificial lambs were born! Jesus was not born behind an inn, in a smelly stable where the donkeys of travelers and other animals were kept. He was born near Bethlehem, at the birthing place of the sacrificial lambs that were offered in the Temple at Jerusalem. Lambing time back then in Israel was in the springtime close to the time of Passover when the lambs born the previous year were ready to be sacrificed. Jesus, the “Lamb of God” was born at the same time of year as the other sacrificial lambs which would have been sometime in early April when the shepherds would choose only the most perfect and unblemished lambs to send to Jerusalem to shed their blood and lose their lives for atonement of sins in the same spot where Abraham had offered his son Isaac to God. Only the firstborn unblemished male lambs were eligible and Jesus was the firstborn unblemished Lamb of God. That is why when Saint John the Baptist saw Jesus walking towards him, he said to his followers, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Where else would the Lamb of God be born if not at Bethlehem among the sacred flocks? The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross in Jerusalem was part of a cycle that ended with the ultimate sacrifice on Calvary.  It was not by chance that Jesus identified His death with the yearly observance of the Passover.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old they attended the feast as usual. In the time of Jesus the people would go to the temple in Jerusalem in the Jewish month of Nisan and sacrifice a lamb on the fourteenth of Nisan according to the law (Exodus 12:6). Saint Joseph must have gone with the men of the family to the temple to kill the pascal lamb and since Jesus was of legal age, he may very well have gone with them and watched the sacrificed lamb’s blood pour forth from the killing wound, to be scattered at the base of altar in the four directions of the earth.

The young Jesus would have seen the lamb being prepared for roasting. At that time in Jerusalem it was the custom to drive thin staves of wood through the shoulders of the lamb to hang it up and remove the entrails and the skin. Then they would thrust another stave of wood from its mouth to the tail end and the stretched out legs and thus the body took the form of being spread on a cross. In this way it would be carried back on the shoulders of one of the men in the family to be roasted over a fire and eaten during the Passover meal. As Jesus was dying on the cross, the first of the Passover lambs were being sacrificed not far away in the temple.

In Exodus we are told that the Passover lamb should be selected on the tenth of Nisan and held close by until the fourteenth when it was time for the sacrifice (Exodus 12:3). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was accompanied on the road by people bringing their newly purchased lambs home to keep there until the sacrifice. Jesus was part of the same sacrificial flock to be sacrificed four days later.

In reality, what we call the “Last Supper” was not the Passover meal. It was a meal of camaraderie and a chance for Jesus to prepare the Apostles for what was about to happen. The Last Supper was held in the evening before the fourteenth began and the feast of the Passover would begin on the evening of the next day, after the Crucifixion. Jesus did not eat of the Passover lamb because He is the Passover Lamb of God. That’s why in John 6:53-64 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  He explains this in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” In other words we are to accept the teaching of Jesus not just as words and actions of the flesh but totally and completely in a deep spiritual sense. We are to become one with Him. He says in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you.”  The priest intones during the elevating of the Host at the Catholic mass just before the Lord’s Prayer, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”

The story doesn’t quite end with the Crucifixion. There is one more interesting detail reflected in the Resurrection. The morning of the Resurrection fell on the Jewish feast of the First Fruits. The Feast of First Fruits came on the day following the Sabbath that came after Passover. It was the first day of the week and the beginning of the barley harvest. As the first sheaves of barley were brought up from the fields early in the morning by the reapers, they were taken to the temple where a priest would wave them before God. The reapers were collecting the sheaves at the same time that Jesus rose from the dead and left the tomb. Jesus is not only the Lamb of God. He is the First Fruit of the New Covenant between God and Man.

So then, what is missing from the Christmas story? It’s all there but as you can see it is a much bigger picture than the few lines in Matthew and Luke. It began with Adam and Eve and ended at the Resurrection and the emergence of our Savior as the First Fruit of the New Covenant. The symbol of Christmas is not a tree, a stable, or a star. It is a little lamb. A little lamb begins the story and ends it as the Paschal Lamb of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Eternal life. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

by Bob Mrotek, December, 2018

10 December 2019

Life is about "Being"

A sinner by nature and a pilgrim by faith,
I was born by the grace of God to do His will.
There’s a moral compass in my humble heart
And the needle points directly toward Heaven.
By the wonderful grace of God, I am what I am,
And His infinite love is not in vain.
When I lay down to sleep at night,
Drifting off and halfway dreaming,
The Holy Spirit speaks to my soul
To guide the trajectory of my prayers
And put me on the path towards the Light.
Prayer is the entry door to faith and
Soothing medicine for mind and heart.
Life isn't about "having." It is about "being."
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blessed,
And in my heart take up your rest;
Come with your grace and heavenly aid
To fill the heart that you have made...
To fill the heart that you have made!


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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.