Easter Sunday 9 April 2023
So, I know what you’re all thinking, I’m so disappointed Lent is over! It may seem like an odd thing to say on Easter Sunday, but I’m going to miss Lent! Let me explain.
If you’ve ever been on any sort of retreat, especially as a teenager, think of how you felt at the end of the retreat. Bonds were formed, insights gained, prayer was intense, conversion often obtained – these are all really good things, and part of us just wants to hold on to them, like St. Peter on the mount of the Transfiguration.
Well, in a manner of speaking, we’re at that point of the retreat, the climax, where we look back at all the blessings God has bestowed upon us during that holy time. To the degree that we put our heart into the retreat that is Lent, you might just have that feeling of missing it, at least a little, even though we may be relieved to no longer have to do our penances! For that reason, I hope you can look back on your Lent and see the ways that your relationship with the Lord grew, that He blessed your life with conversion. So that’s why I hope you can say you will miss it!
While you might say that Lent’s focus is more on our sinfulness while Easter looks to our hope, the two are not mutually exclusive. Just because we now rightly rejoice in the Resurrection doesn’t mean that we should put Lent on a shelf to collect dust until next year. Just as Sunday is always an observance of the resurrection, which is part of the reason we are obliged to attend Mass every Sunday of the year, Friday is always an observance of the crucifixion, which is part of the reason we obliged to perform some sort of penance every Friday of the year.
After all, the Risen Lord still bears the marks of His crucifixion – His hands, feet, and side are still scarred by the nails and spear. We know that the reality of sin does not leave us, we know that our lives are still scarred by our own faults and those of others.
St. Gregory the Great’s reflection on the women who followed the Lord brought spices to His can help us appreciate this dynamic. He says, “now that He was dead, having loved Him while He was yet alive, they followed Him with careful tenderness still.” He says that this points to something we should do. “We also, who believe in Him That was dead, … come to His sepulchre bearing sweet spices, when we seek the Lord with the savour of good living, and the fragrant report of good works.” (Roman Breviary, Easter Sunday, Matins)
When St. Gregory says “good living” of course he does not mean leading an easy life of luxury! Neither is he referring to the proverbial “basically good people” who simply “haven’t killed anyone” and think egalitarian thoughts about others.
The good living he is talking about is hard work. The women who went to the tomb took a certain risk not knowing how the stone would be rolled away, and perhaps wondered what to do about the guard that was posted. In general, there must have been great animus in the city against anyone claiming to follow someone whom the crowd, just days earlier had been feverishly calling to be crucified. Further these are women who went to great lengths to follow the Lord in the first place, among them, at least one formerly notorious sinner.
Good living means doing good works, as St. Gregory says. And that means following the commandments God has given us through His scriptures and His Church. It means acting courageously when God’s law is not popular, when it would be easier to look away, when others will think less of us, when others will “cancel” us.
And if we are going to get there we need a little Lent in our lives throughout the year. Lent helps us fight against the temptation to live according to our base passions. Striving to act with a pure intention instead of selfish motives, which we fall into so easily day after day.
Good living means that Lent is something we should be a little sorry is over, because Lent helps us to follow the Lord both to the Cross and to the empty tomb just like it did for these holy women. If you’re standing at the empty tomb with your good deeds to give the Lord, you know you’re in the right place. Because that means He is risen. He has conquered sin and death. He has conquered your sin and death. He has conquered all the things that are wrong in our lives. And that means that Lent was worth it. That means we have exceedingly good reason to rejoice!
Palm Sunday 2 April 2023
Pilgrimage is an important aspect of the worship of God. Simply put, it is traveling to sacred place. Sacred because of what happened there or an object located there. It is something that other faiths, such as Judaism and Islam, observe. But as far as I understand, these other religions intend for it to be done literally, physically, by actually going to their holy sites. As Catholics, it would certainly be a beautiful thing to travel to the Holy Land and see the places where our Lord walked, the place of His miracles, healings, preaching, but it is not possible for everyone to do so.
The Liturgy, however, makes it possible for all of us to do so in a different way. This happens throughout the year, but in a special way during Holy Week, when our focus is turned to heart of the reason why Christ became man. When we visit a certain place associated with a deceased loved, especially on the anniversary of his or her death, or another significant moment in the person’s life, we frequently have a greater sense of connection to the one we miss, the something similar but more profound happens when we commemorate these days central to the life and mission of our Lord, our most beloved Friend.
Holy week makes it possible to make a spiritual pilgrimage and mystically walk in the footsteps of the Lord, specifically in His suffering, death, and resurrection. When we participate in the sacred rites of the Church, especially, today on Palm Sunday and on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we enter into the most important moments of our Lord’s life, the ones through which He accomplished our redemption. Even if our duties prevent us from participating in the Liturgies themselves, each day of Holy Week is a special time for prayer and penance regardless of what our schedule looks like. But this week our schedule should be different from every other week.
The more effort we put into meditating on the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, the more closely we are united to Him. He is the One who loves us so much that not only did He take on our human condition in all things but sin, but He even allowed Himself to suffer the consequences of our sins all the way through a brutal execution and burial. Christ’s resurrection reminds us, however, that that is not the end of the story.
While it would be especially appropriate to observe this week with more intense penitential practices, especially from the evening of Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday Mass, a reminder that the bare minimum required of us is fasting for those age 18 through 59 on Good Friday as well as abstinence from meat for those 14 and older, along with the penance that must mark every day of Lent. But I challenge you to go beyond the bear minimum.
We like to call Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year,” and that is an understatement when we think about the fact that God became man. Yet if we are going to say that, then Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday must be the most sacred time of the year. Therefore, be sure to put in extra effort to attend as many of the sacred liturgical rites as possible and mark each day with prayerful observances suited to your own particular situation.
We may never have the chance to physically walk in the Lord’s footsteps, but frankly the yearly opportunity that Christ gives us through His Church’s sacred rites is even more important. I invite you to invest in your relationship with the Lord and make the most of this spiritual pilgrimage this week, and then to keep that flame burning throughout the year as you fulfill your obligation to attend Mass on Sunday, where the mystical pilgrimage continues through out the year.
Fourth Sunday of Lent 19 March 2023
St. Augustine explains that when the Lord performs a miracle He is “calling the human mind to an understanding of God through visible things” because “God is not such a being as can be seen with the eye” (Matins, Fourth Sunday of Lent, Roman Breviary). Yet, he goes on to say that we marvel at these miracles, such as with the man born blind or the multiplication of the loaves, because they are rare. Whereas we have a tendency to take as “commonplace” those “wondrous workings, by which the whole world is ruled, all creation ordered … because of their frequency” (Matins, Fourth Sunday of Lent, Roman Breviary): The miracle of life, so to speak, and all the things that we take for granted day-to-day that God has so marvelously orchestrated for our good.
In other words, God’s extraordinary miracles serve an important purpose, but we have to be careful because we can easily miss their point. The miracles aren’t the end in and of themselves, they are an occasion for growing in our connection to God who loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. St. Augustine is saying this is a much more ordinary reality, yet no less miraculous!
It’s also an important reminder for our other relationships. Our relationships frequently begin with very happy moments, such as when we first meet a friend, our future spouse, or our newborn child. But as experience will tell any of us, it’s not long before these relationships become ordinary and we slip into taking them for granted (which is not always a bad thing, but it can be).
Today, we observe this third installment of “Safe Haven Sunday,” which you may recall is an initiative to increase awareness of the dangers that the internet funnels into our homes and families and guard against them. As we do so, it’s a good reminder, especially for parents of children who are still at home, of how important it is to be deliberate about our relationships.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of day-to-day life, even doing the things we need to do out of love for our family, that we sometimes lose the more important connections that make for a truly love-filled relationship. Strong family relationships are that much more urgent when we consider the things competing for our loved ones’ attention. Some of these are good or neutral, such as our careers, hobbies, and sports, that can simply get out of hand. Yet we have to remember that there are all sorts of sins competing as well. Not the least of which is all the impure content available on the internet that has such easy access to our homes. Further, the wounds that were created in our own lives in the past, but not yet healed, can take a toll as well.
In previous years I’ve talked about the importance of taking care to set up boundaries in our homes, such as not allowing devices in the bedroom, as a safeguard against these intrusions. I certainly encourage you to persevere in those. This year, I’d simply like to encourage you to increase your efforts to strengthen your relationships at home. A strong relationship between spouses flows out into strong relationships with your children. Sometimes this even means taking a look at our own individual wounds and making sure they get the attention they need, however old or hidden they may be. We can’t give what we don’t have, so parents, make sure you are properly nourished in your relationship with God and each other. Moreover, things like taking time to eat dinner together throughout the week, coming to Mass together, regular special events as a family, but also simply as a couple or between parents and individual children serve to strengthen these relationships. In others, helping each member of your family to know that he or she is loved and appreciated personally.
Just like extraordinary miracles serve an important purpose in drawing us into relationship with God, so too do those happier moments in our family relationships matter. But the heart of these relationships is nourished in ordinary day-to-day interactions, by a deliberateness to connect, to know, to understand our loved one just a little bit better.
To help make this more concrete, there’s a very short booklet that each family is invited to take home today that offers some basic principles and strategies for building these connections. It reiterates some of the points made in the first two books about the boundaries we should set to protect our families. I hope you will find a little inspiration in it. Once you’ve read that, if you’re still looking for more we have a couple of books in our store that are particularly relevant:
Made this Way addresses the moral problems families are frequently confronted with.
Always Catholic offers important insights for how to live the Faith in an attractive meaningful way.
And finally, our Lenten disciplines can help us overcome this tendency we to get caught up in busy-ness. Let your acts of self-denial make room for quality time with your family, include saying “no” to what you would prefer to “get done” and “yes” to some sort of quality time with you family. Even just putting the phone down for a few minutes can make a big difference.
Our closest relationships are probably the most rewarding of God’s earthly gifts to us, and they are true paths to holiness. But they take deliberate effort. Take this important opportunity to more deliberately connect with each other and thus make your family as safe, strong, and holy as you can, and thus marvel at even the “commonplace” miracles that God is working in our lives.
Third Sunday of Lent 12 March 2023
The story of the Lord’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:5-42), for me, always brings back memories of a homily that the chaplain at Mount St. Mary’s, Father Harris, delivered one year during my time there as a college student. He was making the point that the woman was searching for happiness – seeking to have her thirst filled – in all the wrong ways, going from husband to husband to husband but in effect having no husband at all.
Father Harris then departed from his text to make an analogy to the way some college students too often do the same thing, saying, “And some of you go from bottle to bottle to bottle, to pill to pill to pill, from bed to bed to bed.” I was serving at the Altar that day, and I remember us servers looking at each other with our mouths open, surprised but also impressed by the candor. To this day Father Harris does not remember why he departed from his text, but it seemed to be inspired!
It’s certainly a reminder to me in my own way – and I hope now to you – of how we can look for happiness in all the wrong places… whether or not we’re committing mortal sins in doing so.
I think it’s fair to say that whatever our sins are, this is essentially what we are doing: rejecting God’s will in hopes of finding happiness. Frequently when we sin it’s not so much that we are choosing something that we know for certain to be evil, but we are attracted to some good that is mixed in with it but wind up enjoying it in the wrong way. Too often we try one thing after another when we realize that the first sin didn’t leave us truly happy. Frankly, we may even feel doomed to repeat this cycle.
Yet St. Bede the Venerable shows us where our hope lies when he comments on the gospel passage that originally marked the Third Sunday of Lent (Luke 11:14-28), explaining: “Matthew records that this man possessed by a devil was not only dumb, but blind as well, and that he was cured by our Lord so that he could both speak and see. Simultaneously, then, three miracles are performed in this one man: the blind man sees, the dumb man speaks, the possessed is delivered from the devil. What happened then was a bodily sign; but these three miracles are daily repeated when a sinner turns to the faith: first, the devil is expelled, then he sees by the light of faith, and lastly, he opens his lips to praise God” (Matins, Third Sunday of Lent, Roman Breviary).
St. Bede’s words assure us that we do need not fear that we are doomed to keep repeating the same sins, because this triple miracle is available to each of us through the sacrament of Confession. Yes, we need to put forth our own effort and be prepared to change the behaviors that lead us back to our same faults. But, as I mentioned last Sunday, God not only forgives us in this sacrament He gives us the help we need to heed His command to “go and sin no more.”
At Jacob’s well, we see in the Lord’s thirst a sign that he longs for our conversion so that we can live in friendship with him. The woman at the well finally finds the fulfillment of her thirst in the right place, God’s love for her. I pray that each of us is able to have the same experience this Lent by putting our hearts into our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and experiencing this triple miracle in our own lives when we make a devout confession.
Second Sunday of Lent 5 March 2023
In the Transfiguration, the Lord offers his closest Apostles a glimmer of the glory to come in eternal life as He begins to prepare them for the scandal of the Cross. Since that event, the Church offers us the account of the Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent to remind us of the glory won by Christ’s victory over sin and death in the resurrection as we buckle down in our Lenten disciplines.
Our Lenten disciplines push us on, the glory of the Resurrection draws. To what do our Lenten disciplines push us? To what does the Resurrection draw us? Simply put: Conversion. Uniformity with God’s will, to put it another way and, again, recommend St. Alphonsus’ short work. In other words, between our Lenten disciplines and our desire for heaven, we should fully expect to be getting a more vivid picture of our shortcoming, our sins, at this point in the season. Lent is a remarkable time for getting an up-close look at the ugly state of our souls. That’s part of the reason it’s so important to keep the resurrection in focus, lest we get discouraged.
But how do we deal with the ugly reality of our failures? We can’t go back in time and undo the damage done. Some of that damage will continue to confront us throughout life and even in the next. Yet that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. There is only One who can give another chance, and not only another chance, even the help we need to heal the damage done and do better in the future. The Lord gives us this help through the sacrament of confession.
Here I’d like to review a two of the key components of a good confession, namely firm purpose of amendment and universal sorrow.
First, universal sorrow is a really simple point that I suspect most of us take for granted. The Baltimore Catechism describes it this way: “Our sorrow is universal when we are sorry for every mortal sin which we may have the misfortune to commit.
(a) When mortal sins are forgiven sanctifying grace enters the soul, and it is impossible for sanctifying grace to enter the soul if a single mortal sin remains there. All our mortal sins, therefore, must be forgiven, or none of them is forgiven” (Revised Baltimore Catechism nn. 394).
This is why we must indicate the number of times we commit a specific mortal sin, even if it is saying something like x number of times in a day, a week or a year (Cf. Revised Baltimore Catechism nn. 429).
Further, we should conclude our confessions with a statement like: I am sorry for these and all of my sins. It not only helps the priest know you are finished but it also expresses sorry for any sins you may have forgotten (Cf. Revised Baltimore Catechism nn. 431). The reality is, we commit plenty more sins than we can remember or articulate in confession. Further, we know that if we are sorry for every single one of our sins, even if we do forget a mortal sin, it is forgiven (We do need to mention it in our next confession, but it is already forgiven and we can feel free to receive Holy Communion Cf. Revised Baltimore Catechism nn. 416).
This is in contrast to deliberately concealing a mortal sin, which invalidates our confession – makes it a bad confession – in which no sins are forgiven. This would be an additional mortal sin of sacrilege and we would need to confess this and all the sins mentioned in our next, good confession Cf. Revised Baltimore Catechism nn. 417).
Regarding firm purpose of amendment, we have to keep in mind that being sorry is more than just feeling bad or apologizing, even to God. It is making a sincere effort not to repeat the sin. The Baltimore Catechism explains “It is unreasonable to expect a person to pardon us for any offense unless we are sincerely sorry for the act that has given offense and are firmly determined not to repeat the act in the future” (Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 388 a). If I slapped you every morning but said sorry immediately, you probably won’t believe that I am sorry after the second or third day in a row. The same is true for God (cf. Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 388 b)
The Baltimore Catechism describes firm purpose of amendment as “the sincere resolve not only to avoid sin but to avoid as far as possible the near occasions of sin.
(a) This firm purpose of amendment does not necessarily exclude the fear that a person may repeat his sin in the future. It does mean that, at the time, a person, relying fully upon God’s grace, sincerely intends never to commit this sin again.
(b) The firm purpose of amendment includes the intention to remain away from persons, places, or things that may easily lead him to sin.
(c) The firm purpose of amendment must include not only those mortal sins which the person has committed, but also all mortal sins.
…If a person has only venial sins to confess, he must have the purpose of avoiding at least one of them” (Revised Baltimore Catechism nn. 406, 407).
If we are struggling with the same mortal sin over and over again, we have to be making some special effort to overcome it. When we realize that one remedy doesn’t work, try another. Same thing if we are at the point we’re were only struggling with venial sin. Come up with a simple, achievable plan to counteract at least one of them. It helps if you go to confession knowing what this plan is, but the priest can help you formulate it if need be.
In this light, Confession is the ultimate self-improvement plan. Not only does it help us identify and feel sorrow for our sins, it challenges us to actually be sorry for them and put that sorrow into action. Moreover, we are not just doing this on our own. God actually helps us to overcome our sins by the grace He pours into us as we hear Christ say to us “I absolve you of your sins.”
This Lent, let your disciplines bring your sins to the surface and your desire to be with Christ forever in the glory of heaven (like Peter at the Transfiguration) motivate you to leave them behind. Receive God’s grace that you may truly be converted, sin no more, and be increasingly united to His Holy Will.
Seventh Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Quinquagesima Sunday 19 February 2023
As we complete our preparation for Lent we consider briefly today the last pillar, that of prayer. The past two weeks we looked at fasting and almsgiving, and after the homily I will give you a few minutes of prayerful silence to complete the Annual Appeal commitment cards found at the ends of your pews.
You might recall that we considered fasting under the St. Paul’s exhortation to “run so as to win” and we considered almsgiving under the Lord’s invitation to “test” him in generosity knowing that He will not be outdone in generosity, including with our financial resources. Fasting and almsgiving are essential aspects of our Lenten disciplines, and we need to observe them in a way suited to each of us as individuals, in harmony with the Church’s present requirements and mindful of her traditional practices.
Yet without prayer, these other two pillars can easily crumble. We may engage in them mechanically or lose our motivation to complete them. Prayer is what transforms fasting from simply dieting and almsgiving from simply a finical transaction into spiritual endeavors. It makes them true sacrifices. In prayer we call out to God like the blind man in Luke’s Gospel, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18). In prayer, we find the strength to “go the extra mile” and love even our enemies as the Lord exhorts His disciples in Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Matthew 5:38-48).
Still, here, too, we need to customize our observance to a way suited for each of us individually. It is good to have a book for spiritual reading, a plan for extra time in prayer, daily Mass, and or the Stations of the Cross. An intention for one’s sacrifices and intercessory prayer as well as a vice that we wish to overcome are ways to enhance the quality of our prayer. These will look different for each of us. We should be realistic about the amount of time, the time of the day, and the location in which we pray so as to give ourselves the best chance of success. Don’t set yourself up for failure by putting the bar too high.
One thing, however, that I think most (if not all) of us will experience is dryness and distraction. In other words, at a certain point, we should expect to find it difficult, even unenjoyable, to pray. God allows us to experience sensible consolations in prayer (“warm fuzzy feeling” to use a cliché) when we are first starting to pray in order to help us understand that it prayer is good and important for us. However, he eventually withdraws them so that our sincerity and intentions can be purified and proven. Are we praying just feel good about ourselves? Or are we doing so because we wish to grow in our relationship with God and do His will? (Cf. Liguori, Uniformity with God’s Will).
To that point, I will conclude with a quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Uniformity with God’s Will, which I highly recommend for your spiritual reading this Lent.
Towards the end, this great Doctor of the Church reflects on the topic of dryness in prayer saying,
Palladius, the author of the “Lives of the Fathers of the Desert,” experiencing great disgust in prayer, went seeking advice from the abbot Macarius. The saintly abbot gave him this counsel: “When you are tempted in times of dryness to give up praying because you seem to be wasting your time, say: ‘Since I cannot pray, I will be satisfied just to remain on watch here in my cell for the love of Jesus Christ!’ “Devout soul, you do the same when you are tempted to give up prayer just because you seem to be getting nowhere. Say: “I am going to stay here just to please God.” St. Francis de Sales used to say that if we do nothing else but banish distractions and temptations in our prayers, the prayer is well made. Tauler states that persevering prayer in time of dryness will receive greater grace than prayer made amid great sensible devotion.
Rodriguez cites the case of a person who persevered forty years in prayer despite aridity, and experienced great spiritual strength as a result of it; on occasion, when through aridity he would omit meditation he felt spiritually weak and incapable of good deeds. St. Bonaventure and Gerson both say that persons who do not experience the recollection they would like to have in their meditations, often serve God better than they would do if they did have it; the reason is that lack of recollection keeps them more diligent and humble; otherwise they would become puffed up with spiritual pride and grow tepid, vainly believing they had reached the summit of sanctity (Liguori, Uniformity with God’s Will, 26-27).
So, there you have it, do not give up! No matter how difficult or even fruitless prayer may seem, the fact that you are making a serious effort is, in itself, pleasing to God.
Take a few minutes now to make your alms offering to Him through the Annual Appeal and begin that discipline of prayer, asking Him to make this Lent fruitful no matter what challenges you may experience.
Sixth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Sexagesima Sunday 12 February 2023
Continuing on with our look at the three pillars of Lent (we considered fasting last week [the text is below]) we come to the one that can be the most awkward to discuss: almsgiving.
Perhaps it was with His foreknowledge of the difficulty of this subject that “God challenges his people [through the prophet Malachi] to give a full tithe and then trust that he will bless them abundantly for their generosity [saying]: ‘Bring the full tithes into the store house … and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing’” [Malachi 3:10] (Sri, The Art of Living, 232).
Almsgiving (caring for the needs of the poor) and tithing (supporting the needs of the Church) are a difficult subject to talk about because it touches on a very personal part of our lives and that can have significant ups and downs. It’s safe to say that most of us are experiencing a significant down right now. But “Saint Thomas Aquinas points out that the continuation of this practice [from the time before Christ] is quite fitting, ‘lest the people of the New Law should give less to the ministers of the New Testament than did the people of the Old Law to the ministers of the Old Testament” (Sri, The Art of Living, 232).
Still, Aquinas goes even further, he “sees tithing as an act of justice. Just as society should provide for the necessities of those who serve them (such as government officials or soldiers) so the people should support the livelihood of those who lead them in worshipping God.” St. Augustine goes so far as to say, “the Christian who neglects his duty to tithe ‘takes what belongs to another’” (Sri, The Art of Living, 232-233).
An important underlying principal that can help make this more comprehensible is the biblical concept of stewardship. Recall that “the Christian is called to be a ‘faithful and wise steward’ in Christ’s Kingdom (Lk 12:42). In Scripture, a steward managed the affairs and finances of a large household on behalf of his master (see Lk 16:1-8).” Think of Joseph in Egypt managing Pharaoh’s kingdom to the good of not just the Egyptians but even his own people. “It’s important to note that the wealth, possessions, and land administered by the steward were not his own. The master or king was the true ruler and owner. The steward managed his household in his stead and for his purposes” (Sri, The Art of Living, 231).
So, the Christian is not only a steward of the mysteries of God, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians or of God’s grace as St. Paul says to the Ephesians or St. Peter in his first letter (Cf. 1 Cor 4:1-2, Eph 3:2, 1 Pet 4:10). “Stewardship also involves the time, possessions, and gifts that God has entrusted to us. This biblical understanding reminds us that all we possess is not our own; it has been entrusted to us by the Lord. We are stewards called to manage the Lord’s gifts faithfully and wisely so that they can be put to good service for his household, the kingdom of God. In this light, charitable giving is not so much about giving up ‘my’ money to help other people. All I have has been given to me by my master, the Lord, and I am called to manage these gifts wisely as his steward. My wealth is not my own to use however I selfishly please. When I give to the Church or to the poor, I am simply being a good steward of the Lord’s blessings, using them as he desires” (Sri, The Art of Living, 231-232).
For the sake of not taking credit for having thought of this on my own, but also to show that what I have just shared is not selfishly motivated, I have quoted extensively from Edward Sri’s The Art of Living, which I have made reference to in the past and the subject of the Lenten women’s book study.
This is what I would like you to prayerfully consider as we prepare for Lent. How is God calling me to trust Him more fully in the generosity of my sacrificial giving?
Two specific and important opportunities to give are our poor box and the Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries.
This Lent the poor box will benefit the St. Vincent de Paul society which assists the people of Hagerstown with things like utility bills, housing, and transportation or medical needs. They work directly with individuals who have specific needs trying to do so both generously as well as prudently. We will also provide little offering boxes for your kids so that they can contribute in a way suited to them.
The Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries helps in a similar way on an Archdiocesan level as well as helps fund important activities of the Archdiocese that benefit us somewhat indirectly, such as youth ministry, vocations to the priesthood, and services that support our staff. The rebate that we receive as a parish will make up the last portion of the funds we need for our new tabernacle. I’ll ask you to make a commitment to the Appeal next week.
Like I said about fasting last week, what each of you decides will need to be customized to your particular circumstances. Each household will look a little different. And if you’re a kid, you’re really just starting to learn about the concept of sacrificial giving. If you’re in college or high school, you may have some money to work with, but probably not a lot. The challenge is, be generous without neglecting your other responsibilities. “Test” God by pushing yourself a little beyond what seems safe and comfortable. Trust that when you do it in the spirit of sacrifice, accompanied by prayer and fasting, God will not leave you wanting. God will not be outdone in generosity.
Fifth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Septuagesima Sunday 5 February 2023
So, Ash Wednesday is fast approaching, and while ultimately that also means that warmer weather isn’t too far away, many of us begin to cringe at the thought of forty days of penance. But I would like to encourage you in the same way that St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:24-25).
Don’t let Ash Wednesday sneak up on you unprepared. Start asking God now for the grace you need to run this race so as to win it. We will take the next three Sundays to prayerfully consider, as a parish family, how we can put forth our best effort when it comes to the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Today, we will briefly consider fasting.
For the past few decades the Church has given her faithful great latitude in determining what penances to observe. While gives you the advantage of selecting something that is suited to your own personal conditions and needs, it has the disadvantage that we can set the bar too low for ourselves. Just like we tell ourselves, “I’ll get to the gym tomorrow” or once we’re there, “this amount of weight is enough,” we can do the same with our acts of self-denial. We may keep putting off the decision or revert to the penances that we observed when we were still in grade school.
Today, I ask you to begin reflecting on what sort of mortification you will observe throughout the Lenten season. Remember that it used to be that Catholics from about the age of 18 (actually 21 according to the old rules, but it seems clearer in writing versus orally) to 60 were all required to fast every day of the week except for Sunday. While the bare minimum today is fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence on those days plus every Friday of Lent, we are also required to do some sort of penance every day of Lent except Sunday.
That is the bare minimum, and we should be doing more. However, if you’re still performing the same penance you did when you were in grade school, fasting six days a week is too much of a jump! But maybe you can cut out a few more things from your diet. Historically, meat, dairy, and eggs were all abstained from throughout Lent. Or maybe giving up alcohol, sugar, and coffee is more realistic for you. Another approach might be to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays with a significant abstinence (like from meat or sweets) every day. If you have already taken to fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, maybe add Monday and/or Saturday to that. If you’re in high school, maybe the thing to give up is social media or video games or youtube. The point is, use the freedom that the Church gives us to set yourself a realistic but challenging standard. That may look different for each of us but set the bar high.
Remember that our acts of self-denial aren’t meant to prove to God (or each other) how tough we are. In fact, we need His grace, His help to accomplish them. And if we cooperate with that grace, these disciplines will help us grow in self-mastery so that we can say no to our illegitimate desires. They can also be offered for a specific intention, such as for the good of the Church, our Nation, our family.
If we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, self-denial is an essential component of preserving salt’s taste and trimming our lamps so that they can burn brightly on the lampstand. Self-denial clears out our tendency to be selfish so that there is more room for God in our lives. And the more He permeates our lives, the brighter our light will “shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).
Finally, take encouragement from the parable of the vineyard, where even those who started at the last hour are given the same reward (Cf. Matthew 20:1-16). Maybe your penitential practices leave a lot to be desired, but wherever you are with them, don’t deliberately put the spiritual life off, run as to win!
Fourth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 29 January 2023
I think sometimes we have a tendency to treat the Beatitudes as the Lord’s preemptive canonization speech for anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian or at least the proverbial “basically good person.” We’re all eager to think of ourselves as actually fulfilling them. In a sense that’s a good thing: We recognize that we should be living up to that standard.
It’s interesting to note that up until the 1960s, the passage at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount containing the beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, was only read on All Saints and three other saints’ feast days. Now, it’s even an option at funeral Masses. This may have something to do with this tendency to think we’re already there.
However, I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, too often, our lives are more like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, tossed about causing us to be frightened and panicked, all the while thinking the Lord is asleep and doesn’t care. Frankly, we don’t trust God as much as we should, and then we may even blame Him for not taking our problems away.
Instead of declaring where we already are, the Beatitudes are a call to what our lives should be like, no matter how many times we may fall. Just the fact that the Lord went up on a mountain to give them is a sign that He is calling us higher, higher than the bear minimum of fulfilling the Ten Commandments, which Moses delivered by descending from the mountain (Cf. Ignatius Study Bible, Matthew 5).
I’d like to share a brief description of the eight Beatitudes (I only covered four in my actual homily, but here include all eight in full quotation, including some additional details). I encourage you to use it as a kind of examination of conscience. Ask yourself, Do I really live up that standard? Inevitably, we will all find ways we fall short, but be practical about how you try and amend your life. Don’t try and do everything at once. Pick the one that stands out to you the most. Come up with one or two simple things you can work at each day.
The following comes from the Ignatius Study Bible commentary on Matthew 5:1-12:
5:3 the poor in spirit: Those who recognize their need for God and his grace. Unattached to this world, they find their security in the Lord and rely on his mercy rather than their merits or material wealth. The spiritually poor can also be economically poor, for these are often rich in faith (Jas 2:5). Full possession of the kingdom will be theirs at the final Judgment (Mt 25:34) (CCC 2544-47).
5:4 those who mourn: Those who lament the present state of this life. This includes weeping for sins as well as the grief that comes when the saints are made to suffer for their faith. In the life to come, they will be comforted by God, who wipes away every tear (Rev 7:17).
5:5 the meek: Those who appear powerless and insignificant in the eyes of the world. Far from being weak, however, the meek possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the midst of adversity. Meekness is exemplified in the life of Moses and especially Jesus (11:29; 21:5). In the end, the meek will inherit the earth (or "the land" as in Ps 37:11). This refers either to heaven itself, envisioned as a new Promised Land (Heb 11:16), or to the new creation that is to come (Rom 8:21; Rev 21:1).
5:6 those who hunger and thirst: Those who yearn to live rightly according to the will of God. Their first priority is to seek the Lord's kingdom and righteousness (6:33) as the most necessary sustenance of life (cf. Jn 4:34). Ultimately, they will be satisfied by God in eternal life (25:46).
5:7 the merciful: Those who imitate the Father's mercy (Lk 6:36) by extending forgiveness to others (Mt 18:21-22, 33). The merciful are patient and understanding in bearing with others' faults, and they are generous in aiding the needy by works of charity and compassion (6:2-4; 25:34-40). When the final Judgment comes, they will receive the mercy that lasts forever (6:14; Jas 2:13) (CCC 2447).
5:8 the pure in heart: Those who act with integrity and serve the Lord unselfishly. In biblical terms, the heart is the hidden center of the person where one's thoughts, words, actions, and emotions are said to originate. A pure heart is undefiled by evil and lustful thoughts (5:27-30; 15:18-20) and finds its true treasure in heaven (6:19-21). In eternity, the pure in heart will see God as the angels do even now (18:10; 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4). Catholic theology calls this unmediated union with God in heaven the Beatific Vision (CCC 2517-19).
5:9 the peacemakers: Those who sow peace in the world (Jas 3:18), Partly, this means striving to live at peace with others (Heb 12:14); ultimately, it means sharing the gospel so that others can be reconciled with God and live in the peace of Christ (Rom 5:1; Phil 4:7). Peacemakers will be called children of God (Mt 5:45), The gift of divine sonship is both a present possession of believers (Rom 8:14-16; 1 Jn 3:1) and a future hope linked with the resurrection of the body (Rom 8:23) and the glory of eternal life (Rev 21:7) (CCC 2305),
5:10 those who are persecuted: Those who are slandered, abused, or oppressed for their public witness to Christianity. They are targets of the world's hatred (In 15:18-19) because of their commitment to the righteousness of the gospel (1 Pet 3:14). Persecuted disciples can expect a great reward in the coming kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:12).
Now, you may be thinking, yeah, I do fall short, but not like there’s just a storm, I feel like my life’s a complete shipwreck. Do not be afraid. Allow me to leave you these words from Dom Prosper Guérange to reassure you about God’s power to calm that storm and bring you to the heights of the Mount of the Beatitudes.
Let us adore the power of our Emmanuel, who is come to calm the tempest, which threatened the human race with death. In the midst of their danger, the successive generations of men had cried out: Lord! save us; we perish. When the fullness of time had come, he awoke from his rest; he had but to command, and the power of our enemies was destroyed. The malice of the devils, the darkness of idolatry, the corruption of paganism—all yielded. Nation after nation was converted to Jesus. They had said, when in their misery and blindness: “Who is this Jesus, whom no power can resist?”—and then they embraced his Law. This power of Jesus to break down every obstacle—and that, too, at the very time when men were disquieted at his apparent slumbering—has often shown itself in the past ages of the Church. How many times has he not chosen that period for saving the world, which seemed the least likely for rescue! The same happens in the life of each one among us. Oftentimes, we are tossed to and fro by violent temptations; and yet our will is firmly anchored to our God! And what is all this, if not Jesus sleeping in the heaving bark—nay, protecting us by this his sleeping? And if our cry for help at length awaken him, it is only to proclaim his own and our victory; for he has already conquered, and we have conquered in Him (Guérange, The Liturgical Year, Christmas Book II, 486).
No matter what storms are present in your life, no matter how recurring or constant they may be, do not doubt God’s power to calm them and bring you to that ideal to which we are all called as Christians.
Second Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Second Sunday after Epiphany 15 January 2023
The Liturgical year, in many ways, takes us through our Lord’s life and the growth of the Church over the course of the twelve months of the calendar. Not only do we mark His birth and death, as we do for our family and friends, we also mark other significant events in His life, which of course we also have a tendency to do with those closest to us.
So, this period after the Epiphany, but before Lent, turns our attention to the beginning of His public ministry. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a bridge between the feasts surrounding the Lord’s birth and hidden life and the beginning of His preaching.
Call or vocation is an important theme in the early days of His earthly mission. The Baptist is calling out to draw our attention to Him, helping the Lord’s first disciples to hear the Lord’s voice and follow Him. John is instrumental of the call of Andrew and Peter. Neither is it an accident that His very first miracle is in the context of a wedding (traditionally connected with His Baptism and the visit of Magi), a young man and a young woman responding to their call to marriage.
Isaiah’s prophecy, “For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:5-6) of course speaks of the Lord, but it also tells us something of those who will follow Him. The Lord’s life is meant to be a model and inspiration for our own.
While the Lord came to earth to be Emmanuel, God with us, He also allowed Himself to be limited by the natural bounds of humanity – He only walked the earth for so many years and it was a very limited portion of the earth at that. Only so many people came in contact with Him directly, but He has no intention of creating an exclusive club.
In calling His first disciples, those who would become His Apostles, the Lord sets the foundation of His Church which will continue His mission throughout the centuries. While it is ultimately the Lord who is this “light to the nations,” His disciples receive this light when they are baptized even to this day, and on these grounds, St. Paul explains to the Romans, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them” (Romans 12:6).
The disciples are the means by which Christ has chosen to spread His light to nations throughout time, and that includes even us, today. Each of us does this in a different way, just as one body has different parts, all important to its proper functioning (cf. Romans 12:4-5). So, I ask you to consider, once again, what is God calling you to do share His light with a world that is so very dark?
We each have duty in virtue of our baptism and confirmation to share the Gospel with others, to tell them about our Lord’s great love for us, that not only was He born for us, but He suffered, died, and rose to conquer our sins and reopen the gates of heaven for us. We each have particular duties within our state in life, and among them is that of helping others hear their call. Parents, you especially have a duty to help your sons and daughters hear God's call. (His will for them is more important than yours, although hopefully the two coincide!) We have a duty to listen for God’s voice, to speak with Him in prayer so that we may know His will and follow it.
The most fundamental way we respond to this call is by means of our vocations, namely marriage, priesthood, or the religious life. Yet many today are afraid of such commitment. The reality is, however, no matter what our vocation is, it is not a guarantee of never having a bad day or being confused or having an argument or feeling lonely. Yet it is the best way we can ensure a reasonable amount of happiness in this life, that is, it is the best way to find fulfillment, a sense of meaning and purpose.
Whatever your calling is, do not be afraid to respond to it. For inspiration, look to those married couples, priests, and religious who work hard at holiness and thus find happiness and joy in their vocations despite their shortcomings and failings. Look especially to the saints who overcame their failings in a heroic way. Consider the short supply we have of couples, priests, and religious who meet that description, and all the ways that world needs their witness now more than ever.
And ask God, by means of the sacraments, to transform you into that person that He calls you to be, to fulfill His mission for you, even if that seems as impossible as turning water into wine. If you would only “Do whatever He tells you,” as the Blessed Mother instructed the waiters at the wedding banquet, He would work miracles in your lives too!
Epiphany and Holy Family 6/8 January 2023
We all know that for some time now, January 6 is a very significant day in our history. It has been observed that something happened on this day that changed the course of history. And of course, I am referring to the fact that it was on January 6 that Christmas – the birth of our Lord – was celebrated in many parts of the world.
Yes, interestingly enough, it wasn’t until the year 376 that the Pope decreed that all the world would observe the birth of our Lord on December 25. Up until this point, it was primarily the Church of Rome that had observed Christ’s actual birth on December 25th, while the rest of the world did so on January 6. Yet, January 6 retained its importance (Cf. Guérange, The Liturgical Year, Volume III, Christmas II, 107).
The Roman name for this feast day, Epiphany, as well as it’s names in other Churches, reflects the fact that God appeared or manifested Himself in human form to all the world. In fact, Tradition holds that January 6 was the actual day of the Lord’s Baptism in Jordan and even, perhaps the wedding feast at Cana (Cf. Guérange, The Liturgical Year, Volume III, Christmas II, 107, 109). These mysteries are marked on this one day along with the visit of the kings to the Christ child even in our own times; however, admittedly, the emphasis on them is more subtle and drawn out on separate days.
While Guérange does not go into all the evidence for the convergence of these three events on the same day, we are right to believe that God, in His Providence, guided the events of history to produce this result. And at the very least, it is fitting that they should be celebrated in one feast because these events certainly do mark the steps that God took to show the world that He was indeed incarnate.
This feast holds great importance in the life of the Church, and she even calls (in the Canon of the Mass) “most sacred” along with other similarly important feasts, namely Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. In fact, Guérange explains that it is one of the “cardinal” feasts, or hinge feasts of the year, when you consider that for centuries the Church has observed not only Sundays after Easter and Sundays after Pentecost, but also Sundays after Epiphany (Cf. Guérange, The Liturgical Year, Volume III, Christmas II, 107-108).
Moreover, there have arisen various cultural observances to mark this day, one in particular that has probably touched each of us, albeit often in connection with Mardi Gras, is that of the King cake. Guérange describes it this way:
“There was another custom, which originated in the Ages of Faith, and which is still observed in many countries. In honor of the Three Kings who came from the East to adore the Babe of Bethlehem, each family chose one of its members to be King. The choice was thus made. The family kept a feast, which was an allusion to the third of the Epiphany Mysteries—the Feast of Cana in Galilee—a Cake was served up, and he who took the piece which had a certain secret mark was proclaimed the King of the day. Two portions of the cake were reserved for the poor, in whom honor was thus paid to the Infant Jesus and his Blessed Mother; for on this Day of the triumph of Him who, though King, was humble and poor, it was fitting that the poor should have a share in the general joy. The happiness of home was here, as in so many other instances, blended with the sacredness of Religion. This custom of King’s Feast brought relations and friends together, and encouraged feelings of kindness and charity. Human weakness would sometimes, perhaps, show itself during these hours of holiday making; but the idea and sentiment and spirit of the whole feast was profoundly Catholic, and that was sufficient guarantee to innocence” (Guérange, The Liturgical Year, Volume III, Christmas II, 114).
Of course, this practice is not as widely observed as once it was, and I suspect that those of us who have observed may not have heard that explanation before. Guérange offers an explanation that puritanical practices have crept up over the past few centuries that suggest that it’s wrong to justify merrymaking on religious pretexts. The accusation was often justified by claiming that these are really pagan practices that only taint true worship of God. There can be an attitude that doing so will simply lead to intemperance and sin. He says, “All this mistaken zeal has produced the sad effect of divorcing the Church from family life and customs, of excluding every religious manifestation from our traditions, and of bringing about what is so pompously called (though the word is expressive enough) the secularization of society” (Guérange, The Liturgical Year, Volume III, Christmas II, 115).
So, what I would like to leave you with today is the importance of regaining, reestablishing, or strengthening the connection between our merrymaking as family and friends and the seasons and feasts of the Liturgical year.
I think most of us would recognize how the practice of Faith is being relegated in our society to something private and even wrong to express in public. I think we can all see the decline that society has taken in so many ways, and it seems to be heightened in recent years. We may feel helpless to do anything about it, but I think there is a simple, practical and fun solution to it. Observing the feast of the Church with some special social observances among family and friends. The reality is we’re already inclined to have a good time, but we know we can’t do so with the same intensity all the time.
If we reclaim and reconnect our favorite festivities with the feasts of the Church to which they ought to be tied. And if we observe the penitential seasons with the discipline and austerity that they demand, we will not only grow in our love for the Lord, but the ties of our family will be strengthened, and dare I say it, our world will be a better place, slowly but surely because our focus will be on the fact that God has indeed made Himself manifest and continues to be present to us, especially by means of the prayer and the liturgical rites, indeed He shows Himself to us every Sunday, even every day when the Baptists words are repeated to us “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.”
Octave Day of Christmas 1 January 2023
It often surprises people that, as a rule, the Church permits a priest to say only one Mass each day. On one hand it highlights Christ’s one sacrifice on the Cross but on the other it guards against the priest becoming complacent or even thinking of the Mass as a burden. That being said, for the past few decades the Church has allowed priests to celebrate two Masses Monday through Saturday if there is a need and three Masses on Sunday or Holy Days of Obligation to help his parishioners fulfill their obligation. This is more of a practical exception to the rule.
There are, hwoever, two occasions each year on which the Church allows a priest to say three Masses even if there weren’t a practical need for them. One is All Souls Day to provide more Masses for the faithful departed. The other is Christmas Day.
Whereas usually on Sundays and days of obligation the priest simply repeats the same Mass two or three times, on Christmas, there are three different Masses. This practice originated even before Pope Gregory the Great and is intimately connected with the Pope’s practice of saying three Masses in Rome on Christmas Day. The first was in the early hours of December 25 at the Altar above the relics of Christ’s crib in Rome to commemorate the actual moment of His birth. On his way home, the Pope would stop at a church to celebrate Mass at dawn, marking the visit of the shepherds to the newborn King. After a few hours of sleep, he would then return to the relics of the crib for a Mass during the day. The Mass texts, including the readings, all suited to that particular time of day and the events commemorated. It’s a practice that we are still able to participate in to this day, spiritually visiting each location by means of the different Masses.
It used to be that, eight days later, that is, on January 1st, the Church did something similar by providing two Masses to be said. In one Mass, the Church commemorates the Lord’s Circumcision and the formal giving of His name, Jesus. In another, she commemorates the fact that the Blessed Mother is not just mother of a human being, but mother of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and therefor rightly called “Mother of God.”
At one time there were two distinct Masses, but for the past several centuries there is only one, the Mass in the more ancient rite being that of the Circumcision and the Mass in the newer rite that of the Mother of God. Yet both realities are observed in the one Mass, ancient and new.
The most important aspects of the Christian Faith cannot be contained in one day, much less a single Mass, and so the Church has always observed her most important feast days over a prolonged period of time, commonly called octaves, going from Sunday to Sunday, for instance.
Today, the Church has us reflect more deeply on Christ’s birth and His acceptance of our human condition. Initiating His full solidarity with God’s people, Christ is circumcised just as was commanded to Abraham and Moses in the Old Covenant (Gen 17:12, Lev 12:3, cf. The Ignatius Study Bible Luke 2:21). On this eighth day, stipulated by God Himself, it also became custom for the parents to formally give their child his name. In doing so, the Christ child formally accepted His mission of redeeming us and in fact sheds His blood for us for the first time.
As we commemorate this event, we also acknowledge that Our Lady is instrumental in this plan. “A Mother of God!” Dom Prosper Guérange exclaims, “—It is the mystery whose fulfilment the world, without knowing it, was awaiting for four thousand years. It is the work which, in God’s eyes, was incomparably greater than that of the creation of a million new worlds, for such a creation would cost him nothing; he has but to speak, and all whatsoever he wills is made. But that a creature should become Mother of God, he has had not only to suspend the laws of nature by making a Virgin Mother, but also to put himself in a state of dependence upon the happy creature he chose for his Mother. He had to give her rights over himself, and contract the obligation of certain duties towards her. He had to make Her his Mother, and Himself her Son” (Guérange, The Liutrical Year, Volume II, Christmas, 373-374).
Our Lord was willing to subject Himself to His own laws and even to His own creatures, especially in the person of His Beloved Mother. Today, as we begin a new year of His Grace, let us renew our resolve to be Mary’s obedient children with her Divine Son. Let us gaze in wonder that God should so humble Himself as to be like us in all things (but sin) and even in being obedient to His human parents. In doing so, let us turn over to Him and to Our Mother, everything on our mind: Our hopes, our fears, our talents, our possessions, and trust that we will not be led astray when we subject ourselves to Our Lady as Our Lord did 2000 years ago. She continues to do so whenever she brings to Him our petitions.
With our hearts subject to Mary and obedient to God’s Law as even Christ chose to be, we can be confident of a truly happy new year whatever may come our way. Just as the Lord had His Blessed Mother to stand by His side during His bitter passion and glorious resurrection, so will she stand by our side in all of our trials.
The Nativity of the Lord 25 December 2022
We all know what to expect in your typical Nativity scene or crèche. Obviously, the bare minimum is Mary and Joseph next to the infant Christ Child lying in a manger. There should be shepherds along with some of their sheep and one of the angles who announced to the shepherds this great news. The three kings – three because of the three gifts they brought – along with a camel or two because it’s reasonable to think they rode camels. All of these details are explicitly mentioned in St. Luke and St. Matthew’s accounts of Christ’s birth, or, like I said, they are reasonable assumptions based on those details.
But I didn’t mention another two prominent figures that we almost always find in nativity scenes, and those are the ox and the donkey. Now we might suppose that the ox and donkey are featured because Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem or because they were in a stable. Again, these are reasonable assumptions. Strictly speaking, however, neither St. Luke nor St. Matthew mention these details.
Even still, the ox and the donkey have a profound significance. To appreciate them, we must turn to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the very first verses in fact:
“Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the LORD speaks: Sons have I raised and reared, but they have rebelled against me! An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood” (Isaiah 1:2-3).
The ox and the donkey are present in Nativity scenes because of this prophecy from Isaiah.
It is one that not only subtly foretells the birth of the Christ child, but even tells us something about ourselves. On one hand, we can see this allusion to Christ’s birth by the reference to the manger, on the other, Isaiah is making a rather damning point about humanity. One commentor explains, “Isaiah uses animals proverbialy for their stupidity and stubbornness to underline Israel’s failure to respond to God” (Accordance Bible Software, commentary for Isaiah). In other words, even animals recognize God, but we humans miss Him even when He is right in front of us!
All of nature bears witness to God’s existence as St. Paul tells the Romans, and even points to His Incarnation. Think, in particular, of the star. In the Nativity scene, the ox and donkey, often situated with their heads right above the Christ child, offer testimony that He is in fact God-made-man. Yet, I should ask myself, “If I was present that first Christmas, would I have had as much sense as those animals?”
Even today, we frequently ask questions like, where is God? This is understandable while we are grappling with tragedies, like senseless killings or the sudden loss of a loved one. It is understandable to ask the question, to try to understand, as opposed to doubt.
In other situations, we blind ourselves to His presence. We are not able to see Him because we are so attached to our sins, whether a mortal sin that we keep coming back to or various forms of pride that keep us thinking that we know better or can do it all on our own. We miss His call to repent or His promise that He will take care of all of our needs. We miss Him because we are so stuck on our own will, instead of His. I know this can be particularly tempting this time of year, myself included.
The ox and the donkey tell us it doesn’t have to be this way. There they are adoring their Lord, the Lord, present in the form of man, who is preaching to us even by what He chose as His first bed, by His swaddling clothes, the star, His virgin birth.
This Christmas, as we meditate upon our Nativity scenes, whether here in church or at home or wherever it might be, let the ox and donkey challenge us to recognize that God is with us. Let us humble ourselves to kneel down, as they did, before this helpless Infant who, nonetheless, is the Almighty God. We may judge our material gifts to be of no comparison to the Wisemen’s gold, frankincense, or myrrh. We may feel too depressed or sad. We may think that all we have to offer Him is inadequacy and sin.
Let us lay all that before Him anyway, all our shortcomings and faults, all our failures and even our sins, and trust that the One whom the heavens cannot contain yet deigned to be bound by swaddling clothes can take those inadequate gifts and transform them into something truly valuable. For it is not costly gifts that the Lord desires but your very selves. He wishes simply to be recognized by His most prized creation: you.
So, as you go about the festivities of the day, be sure to thank God for every present under the tree and every cookie on your plate. As you struggle with the loneliness that comes from a loved one’s absence, be sure to thank God for the time you did have with him or her. As you glance at the ugly reality of your sinfulness, be sure to thank God that He loves you so much that not only did He create you but that He chose to become like you in all things but sin in order to redeem you and raise you up certainly higher than the ox and the donkey or even the angels.
God came to be with us 2000 years ago and continually gives Himself to us, especially in the Eucharist. Will you give Him the one gift He asks: you? Not just on Christmas Day, but every day, and especially at Sunday Mass, the day on which He conquered our sinfulness, the day for which He was born for us.
Fourth Sunday of Advent 18 December 2022
It’s not too late! No matter how much shopping or wrapping or cooking you have left to do, it’s not too late! It’s not too late make sure all your preparations are complete, the most important ones that is… the prayer and sacrifices that should mark this season much like they mark Lent. The other things are fine – and especially important if you have kids! But they are not the things that will make for a truly merry Christmas.
These last few days of Advent are particularly expressive. Let them help you prepare. There is some vivid imagery in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, such as the desert flourishing like a lily, feeble hands being strengthened, blind eyes being opened, and water gushing forth in the desert (Cf. Isaiah 35). Mass today began with the plea, “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior” (Introit, Fourth Sunday of Advent [Isaiah 45:8]). And of course, there is the contradiction of the Virgin conceiving and bearing a Son (Cf. Isaiah 7:14). In fact, there’s a reason why our Nativity scenes feature an ox and a donkey, but more on that on Christmas Day. All of this comes to us by way of the Prophet Isaiah, and the Church presents it to us today and throughout this week to help us be ready for the day of our Savior’s birth.
Dom Prosper Guarange reflects these last days before Christmas:
“Oh, the joy of Thy coming, dear Jesus! How great it must needs be, when the prophecy says it shall be like an everlasting crown upon our heads. And could it be otherwise? The very desert is to flourish as a lily, and living waters are to gush forth out of the parched land, because their God is coming. Come, O Jesus, come quickly, and give us of that water, which flows from Thy sacred Heart, and which the Samaritan woman, the type of us sinners, asked of Thee with such earnest entreaty. This water is Thy grace; let it rain upon our parched souls, and they too will flourish; let it quench our thirst, and we will run in the way of Thy precepts and examples. Thou, O Jesus, art our way, our path, to God; and Thou art Thyself God; Thou art, therefore, both our way and the term to which our way leads us. We had lost our way; we had gone astray as lost sheep: how great Thy love to come thus in search of us! To teach us the way to heaven, Thou hast deigned to come down from heaven, and then tread with us the road which leads to it. No! there shall be no more weak hands, nor feeble knees, nor faint hearts; for we know that it is in love that Thou art coming to us. There is but one thing which makes us sad: our preparation is not complete. We have some ties still to break; help us to do it, O Saviour of mankind! We desire to obey the voice of Thy Precursor, and make plain those rugged paths, which would prevent Thy coming into our heart, O divine Infant! Give us to be baptized in the Baptism of the waters of penance; Thou wilt soon follow, baptizing us in the Holy Ghost and love” (Gueranger, The Liutrical Year, Volume I, Advent, 233-234).
Carve out at least a little time to pray in the quiet of the church or some quiet room in your home. No matter what this looks like for you, do not be afraid to take time in this way to finish preparing for Christmas the right way. Use the texts from the Mass or simply read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke and Matthew’s Gospels. You need not fear that you will accomplish all your tasks because God will ensure that you accomplish the most necessary ones when you put Him first.
With this sort of preparation accomplished, however you can manage, when morning dawns on Christmas Day, you will be able to hear St. Elizabeth say, in a way suited to you, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). No, it is not too late to finish your preparations, to make Christ the true center of your life, to make Christmas Day the day from which His light grows brighter and brighter in your life.
Third Sunday of Advent 11 December 2022
G.K. Chesterton’s fictional character, Father Brown, is a detective priest who is famous in his town for solving mysterious crimes. An important premise for Father Brown’s ability to solve difficult cases is his ability to understand how human beings operate. His understanding of human nature on account, not just of hearings thousands of confession throughout his life, but from his general interactions with his parishioners and any variety of people, helps him look at problems from a variety of perspectives.
A priest winds up witnessing a lot more of humanity (even just on a daily basis) than the average person, and while this includes plenty of good, it also includes plenty of ugly. Father Brown doesn’t become cynical in the face of the sins and crimes he is confronted with, and neither does he excuse them, but he is able to hold out hope for the perpetrator that he might repent and reform.
While, like I said, Father Brown is a fictional character, he is not completely fabricated. Chesterton is doing homage to the good and dedicated priests out there who strive to help their flocks get to heaven by trying to understand how people think and why they act the way they do. He, and hopefully plenty of real priests you actually know, is an inspiration for us to see through the ugly side of fallen humanity, to be understanding of people’s faults (without making excuses for them), and ultimately see through to the side that is created in God’s image and made for more because of His triumph over sin and death.
This ability to see through the ugliness of sin come from the virtue of hope, the conviction that God will give us what we need to do His will in the face of all the trials, obstacles, challenges, that is crosses, that we can experience. We have this hope because of Christ’s victory of sin and death by means of His Cross and resurrection, and this, of course, is what motivated Him to be born for us at Christmas.
It is thanks to the virtue of hope that we are able to obey St. Paul’s command to rejoice, with which Mass began (Introit, Third Sunday of Advent). We can be tempted to think of joy (like love) as a feeling, and this would make the command almost non-sensical because we can’t be told how to feel. But it is more than that.
What’s interesting is that it’s not easy to find a quick but thorough explanation of this fruit of the Holy Spirit… so here are a couple of highlights…
From the Catechism of the Council of Trent:
“From this reception of the sacrament [of confession] and this reconciliation with God there often flows into the penitent’s soul a feeling of profound peace and tranquility of conscience, together with a feeling of exultant joy. There is no sin, however grievous or frequently repeated which Penance does not remit” (264).
Quoting St. Augustine, it also says, “’Prayer is the key of heaven… prayer ascends, and mercy descends; high as are the heavens, and low as is the earth, God hears the voice of man’ … Therefore prayer results in an accumulation of spiritual joy: ‘Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full’ (John 16:24)” (468).
And speaking of the prayers of the saints, “We have innumerable prayers of the saints which … begin with reverential fear and end with consolation and joyous hope… Let him, therefore, who turns to holy prayer, who approaches God his Father fortified by faith and full of hope, never despair of obtaining from the divine mercy all the blessings which he needs” (574-575).
Speaking of the various moods of the Advent season, Dom Proper Gueranger writes:
“These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that though she unites with the ancient people of God in praying for the coming of the Messias, she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, … This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for that coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow” (Gueranger, The Liutrical Year, Volume I, Advent, 34).
In other words, the joy we speak of is not somehow a denial of the sadness we experience in this life, especially the sadness of the loss of a loved one. It is not a denial of the reality of sin and how it scars our lives, whether it is our own sin or the sins of others affecting us. The joy we experience in this time of waiting for Christ’s coming is one mixed with sadness, but confident that He is indeed already present to strengthen us and longs to unite us fully to Himself.
It is like the joy that priest witnesses in absolving sins, the joy of the penitent, who, although scarred by his or her sins is nonetheless freed from them by God’s great mercy. The mercy that caused Him to be born for and die for us and ultimately to rise for us.
Our Lady of the Rosary Observed (opening of the Rosary Congress) 2 October 2022
It often surprises people to learn that diocesan priests don’t take a vow of poverty. In fact, technically, diocesan priests don’t make vows at all.
It is religious, priests, nuns, sisters and brothers, who make vows – the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They sometimes have a fourth vow that has to do with their particular charism.
Diocesan priests, however, make promises. To put the difference simply, promises are made to the bishop and vows are made directly to God, to put it simply. Now, in effect, they should be pretty much the same, each taking his or her commitment seriously. Just the same, no matter if they are promises or vows, diocesan priests are not strictly bound to poverty. There are some practical reasons for this, and still, it does not mean that they should live luxurious lifestyles.
All that being said, while we may not make any formal acceptance of poverty, there is no escaping it, at least in terms of poverty of spirit. I won’t try to exhaust everything what poverty of spirit means, but any of us can live poverty of spirit whenever we are in a situation where we think that we should be able to provide for our needs or that of our family or our parish and yet can’t seem to do so of our own ability.
This manifests itself in material poverty very clearly where someone might not be able to put food on the table, a roof over his family’s heads or clothes on her kids backs. Yet at other times it might be difficulty giving counsel to a loved one, offering time to a friend, or providing a solution at work. It can even manifest, for a priest, itself in knowing what to teach or preach from the pulpit when trying to provide for parishioners’ spiritual needs, their salvation, the most important need we have! We all experience poverty in some way or another, even though many of us are not afflicted with material poverty.
In these situations, we can easily give in to fear and anxiety when we experience this inability to provide for our own needs, but we are living true poverty of spirit when this helplessness leads to greater trust in God’s Providence.
Saint Dominic experienced this even when he was already on the right track. The order he founded, the Order of Preachers (known commonly as the Dominicans), is a medicant order: they beg for everything they need. So St. Dominic is already living poverty of spirit pretty well!
He was preparing a sermon for many scholars from the University of Paris at the Cathedral of Notre Dame when the Blessed Mother appeared to him and said, “Dominic, even though what you have planned to say may be very good, I am bringing you a much better sermon” (The Secret of the Rosary, 20).
Our Lord followed up saying, “Dominic, I rejoice to see that you are not relying upon your own wisdom and that, rather than seek the empty praise of men, you are working with great humility for the salvation of souls.
“But many priests want to preach thunderously against the worst kinds of sin at the very outset, failing to realize that before a sick person is given bitter medicine he needs to be prepared by being put in the right frame of mind to really benefit by it.
“This is why, before doing anything else, priests should try to kindle a love of prayer in people’s hearts and especially a love of my Angelic Psalter. If only they would start saying it and would really persevere, God, in His mercy could hardly refuse to give them His grace: So I want you to preach my Rosary’” (The Secret of the Rosary, 22).
St. Dominic not only trusted God’s Providence in providing him with a sermon, but he was also taught to preach a method of daily turning over all of our needs – and our inability or limits to provide for them ourselves, our poverty – by preaching the Holy Rosary.
The Holy Rosary has been the instrument of victory in numerous one-sided battles – literal and spiritual – where the enemy outnumbered and overwhelmed faithful Christians.
The battles of Lepanto in 1571 (from which we get the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary), Vienna in 1683 are some of the most famous. And of course, there is our Lady’s promise in 1917 to the children of Fatima, pray the rosary for world peace. A year later, the First World War ended.
And why should we not turn to our Blessed Mother? After all, Mary is the one who believed the word of the angel, “‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, … ‘with God nothing will be impossible.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:34-38).
This coming week is our opportunity as a parish community to learn or be renewed in this knowledge that the Blessed Mother’s intercession, sought after eagerly in the Rosary, is the best way of turning over our biggest needs to our heavenly Father. While I may sound like a broken record frequently speaking about praying the Rosary daily, I take consolation in the fact that St. Dominic was instructed to do so by our Lord and Blessed Mother directly!
Yet, one of the difficulties both for those who are reluctant to start as well as for those who pray it every day is, how do I do it well? We might even feel like we’re too poor (spiritually) to pray! St. Louis de Monfort explains that it is a combination of both mental and vocal prayer and he provides some simple strategies to pray it well in his famous book The Secret of the Rosary. I encourage you to read my bulletin column to discover one very practical one to help us keep focused on each mystery by means of the silent addition of a few words.
Then, make a point of coming to Mass as much as possible each evening this week to learn more of his insights. And take advantage of the opportunity to adore the Lord in the Monstrance as we begin this busy person’s retreat known as the Rosary Congress.
There is no problem too big (or to small) that you can’t bring to our Lady in the Rosary. So, in whatever way you are feeling poor or inadequate, bring those problems to your Blessed Mother this week and see how quickly she fixes them.
Twenty-fifth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
18 September 2022
The image of the widow of Naim weeping at her only son’s coffin is a powerful one. (Luke 7:11-16) The drama of a woman who has lost her husband now mourning the death of her only son is heightened by its social implications, for in those days, a son-less widow was among the poorest of the poor. So, when the Lord raises her son from dead, in many ways, she received her life back, too.
St. Augustine reflects on this weeping widow whose mourning is turned into joy when her son is raised from the dead. He likens her to the Church mourning for her wayward children, dead in virtue of their sinfulness, yet she rejoices “When day after day persons are raised to life supernaturally” (Roman Breviary, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matins). The prayers the Church offers for her children give them the hope of being raised to new life by the Lord, who alone knows their condition and goes searching for them. He raises them to life through the sacraments, especially confession.
This image also helps to drive home the power of the Blessed Mother’s intercession for us. If any widow’s weeping is heard by the Lord, and if this widow is an image of the Church, then the prayers of our Blessed Mother are that much more powerful.
Later in Luke’s Gospel, the Lord helps us understand just how much we are to go out of our way for this heavenly assistance. He exhorts us to be shrewd in our efforts to receive this new life that He offers with the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13). He contrasts the dishonest steward’s resourcefulness in taking care of his worldly needs with a lack of resourcefulness among “the children of the light” in their efforts to serve God and enter into eternal life. Far from condioning dishonest behavior, the Lord is telling us we must work equally hard at living virtuously as those who are worldly work at living viciously (that is, according to vice).
This parable should be part of our inspiration to stay faithful to our daily prayer. The small sacrifices we need to make to be true to daily prayer are part of this “shrewdness.” It also means that there are times we need to pray more intensely, because it’s not realistic to pray at full intensity all the time. I’ve shared with you, primarily in the bulletin, the importance of a priest making a retreat each year, so much so, that the Church obliges him to do so. While priests may be obliged to make a retreat, and it’s not quite as easy for lay people do so, especially when you factor in taking care of children, it’s still important for you to do something.
Yet the Church builds in the opportunity to do this by means of the yearly cycle of feasts in the Church’s calendar. Coupled with particular devotions, we are given a ready help to “retreating” into prayer throughout the year, and thus in learning to work hard at entering into eternal life. I’ve likened Holy Week to such a retreat for the Church throughout the world, and for some of us, life is able to slow down significantly the closer we get to Easter.
Yet it’s also important to have more local experiences, customized, so to speak, for a particular community’s characteristics and needs. I think the upcoming Rosary Congress is such an opportunity for us. A time to take a step back and enter into more intense and deliberate prayer specifically as a parish community, that we might take our efforts at being good, holy, faithful Christians more seriously. At the same time, it combines that effort with the importance and power of the Blessed Mother’s intercession. The Rosary Congress affords us the opportunity, as a parish family, to pray with the intensity of the Widow of Nain and with the shrewdness of the dishonest steward, all under the guidance of the Blessed Mother.
Is there a trial you and your family are experiencing? Bring it to the Rosary Congress.
A problem at work or school?
An illness or the loss of a loved one?
A major test or a decision to be made?
For that matter, a special blessing that requires special thanksgiving?
Bring all these things to the Rosary Congress and benefit not just from this opportunity to retreat from the noise and anxiety of the world but also to have the assistance of the Blessed Mother in your efforts.
There is a real importance to praying not just on our own, as isolated individuals (because we’re not), but in some way in common. Yes, Sunday Mass is important but it’s the bare essential. Going beyond that, in a common purpose, allows us to put forth a special effort that forges special bonds both with God and the Blessed Mother as well as with each other. And because we are social creatures, it’s fitting to have a party at the end of it!
I realize that a lot of things bid your attention and your time. I realize some are reluctant to make a commitment. But I challenge you to see the Rosary Congress and even the Oktoberfest as an opportunity to act shrewdly for the sake of your salvation and that of your fellow parishioners. I challenge you to make a commitment to these events with a view to the benefit that they will have in your own life, the life of our parish, and especially with a view to eternal life.
What blessings does the Lord have in store for you?
How will the Blessed Mother shower you with her favors?
Come and see!
Twenty-fourth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
11 September 2022
The prodigal son is a good example of this problem that we’ve been considering the past few Sundays of how seeking our own worldly satisfaction ultimately leaves us feeling empty and wanting, and in the process we even reject God to some degree or antoher (Luke 15:1-32).
The prodigal son does this deliberately when he says to his father, “give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” He is essentially saying to his father, I wish you were dead so I can have your money. In spending it all on a life of dissipation, he is constantly seeking after pleasure, thinking that the next high will be the one that satisfies him. Of course, he runs out of money before that happens. No matter how much money he had, the reality is he could never buy his way to that sense of satisfaction. Until finally, there’s a great famine, and he wishes he could feast on the animals’ lousy food. He has hit rock bottom.
Yet, for as much as this parable is a warning not to try find one’s happiness in material things, it is also a message of hope, because instead of despairing and remaining in this miserable condition, he gets up and returns to his father. While he would have been content to be treated as one of his father’s servants, his father eagerly restores him to status as son. The feast that follows shows us that we will only be truly satisfied by pursuing our heavenly Father’s will for us. Again, true satisfaction comes from giving God the glory, not trying to obtain it for ourselves.
The Lord puts it this way in Matthew’s Gospel, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will sustain the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24-33). Mammon being all these worldly pleasures.
In other words, it is clear that pursuing worldly pleasures in themselves will lead us away from God. But when we seek God’s glory, when we do everything with the purpose of honoring and adoring Him, less and less do we want to give into our base passions. It gets easier to do what is good and right, and in this sense “mammon” is more and more excluded. The more we move twards one, the further away we move from the other.
Still, all too often, we are afraid to let go of our sinful habits because we can’t imagine how we will be happy without them. We become habituated to them – it is a vice in the truest sense of the word, a bad habit – and we can’t remember what it was like not to commit this sin. So, the Lord assures by contrasting the Father’s love for us with His love for the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. These want for nothing, and the Father loves us even more than them.
If you are struggling with habitual sin, whether it’s a grave sin or even something more subtle like constantly worrying about your own welfare or that of your family, take confidence from the Lord’s assurance that the Father loves you immensely and just do something to stop. Do something that breaks the pattern.
Be like the prodigal son who just gets up and goes back. It may take you some time to break the vice all together, but each deliberate choice against the sin is a small victory. Before long, with God’s help, you will have regained all the lost ground and be advancing towards true holiness.
Seeking first the Kingdom of God may seem like a lofty goal. Giving yourself to God here at Mass can seem like too much of an ideal and not enough of a reality. All the more so the more we are mired in sin. But this victory belongs to anyone who is willing to believe the Lord that our Father is one not only who provides abundantly for our needs but even goes running out to meet us in order to do so. So take a step away from your vices towards Him, who is already running out to meet you!
Twenty-third Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 4 September 2022
Last Sunday we considered how important it is to come to Mass to give ourselves to God. By giving ourselves to God in the Mass, we learn to seek His glory over our own. In doing this, we find true fulfillment.
To help us understand why, think about the tenth leper in Luke’s Gospel, the one who, after being cleansed returned to the Lord glorifying God, (Luke 17:11-19). This man who was just miraculously cleansed recognized immediately the gift that God had given Him. Not only did he experience physical healing, being cleansed of leprosy also meant that he was restored to his relationship with others. The fear of contagion, which in retrospect was exaggerated, led to social isolation. This also meant that someone suffering from leprosy could not worship God in public. This man came back to the Lord, loudly glorifying Him, because he realized that God had just given him the gift of a restored to relationship with others and even with God, himself!
The reality is, of course, that every moment of each of our lives is gift from God (even our sufferings as I have mentioned in the past, for as difficult as it is to understand that). Therefore, we owe God our worship, we owe Him our honor, our time, our praise. So much so that the Lord tells us, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).
Now, this doesn’t mean we are supposed to be a jerk to our family. Not at all. Simply put, for as much as we owe our existence to our parents, and so many of the blessing we enjoy in life to our family members, we owe them first to God. So, if there were a conflict between the two, we have to prefer God over our family, but we certainly should try to preserve both.
This debt that we owe God for all the good things we enjoy in life is fulfilled by the virtue of religion. Today we tend to think of the word religion as meaning a belief system, or something like that. However, its classical meaning – going back to not just the Jews but Greeks and Romans as well – is the inclination inherent in all of us to “give God the worship he deserves for who he is as God” (Sri, The Art of Living, 206).
Yet, I’m sure you’ve noticed the tendency in society to relegate God and religion to something that is private and personal. This is not just a recent phenomenon, but has been going on for decades, probably all the way back to the so-called Enlightenment.
The reality is that “We are made to worship God, and giving God worship prepares us on our journey toward our ultimate happiness, … beholding God himself forever in heaven” (Sri, The Art of Living, 206). “Saint Thomas Aquinas points out that the word ‘religion’ comes in part from the Latin word religare, which means ‘to bind back.’ In this sense, the virtue of religion binds us to worshipping and serving God.” It is therefore the “highest of all the natural virtues, because it is directed to honor the highest good, namely God himself” (Sri, The Art of Living, 207-208).
So, not only is this tendency to push God out of society contrary to the Christian life, it’s contrary to who we are as human beings. Ultimately, we are denying not only that God has created us, we are even denying that He exists!
That is the dangerous path that society is taking, but individually we must consider its practical implications for us. We are not immune to the influences of society. “When we are not faithful to consistent, daily prayer, it doesn’t just hurt our spiritual life; it is a serious injustice. We are basically saying to God, ‘I don’t need you. I don’t need to acknowledge you, thank you, or bless you.’ And when on Sundays and holy days of obligation we choose not to participate in the greatest prayer of all—the Mass—we commit a grave sin of injustice that separates us from God and must be brought to confession” (Sri, The Art of Living, 210).
I’m not suggesting that if you are neglecting prayer or Mass that that is what you are trying to do, but that is what it ultimately comes down to. Allow that to be the incentive you need to stay true to your daily prayer routine and weekly Sunday Mass – your desire to give God His due for all that He has given you.
Which leads me to my last point for today. We can’t adequately repay God for His goodness to us because we are finite human beings whereas God is infinite, and infinitely good. When we factor in that that we are all sinners and frequently do even little things to offend Him, our ability to replay Him properly is even more diminished. But by participating in the Mass we are uniting ourselves to Christ’s offering on the Cross, and therefore, we give ourselves to God in the most perfect way possible – even though it’s only with His help.
Our true fulfillment comes not from seeking our own personal satisfaction, but by giving ourselves to God in prayer and at Mass, which in turn leads to giving ourselves to Him in acts of love towards our neighbor. We do this because He has given us everything that is good in our lives and even pulls good out of our sufferings. Our fulfillment comes from giving ourselves to God because that is how He made us, to be happy with Him, not just in this life, but forever in the life to come.
Twenty-second Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 28 August 2022
“Our sufficiency is from God” St. Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor 3:4-9).
Too often we seek our worth in the wrong things: social status, financial success, athletic ability, the number of likes we get on social media, our number of friends. The social media culture has exacerbated a flaw in American society (and of course fallen human nature in general), where we seek our worth in earthly things, in comparisons. We are frequently tempted to think that with just a little more we will be happy – like that quote from Rockefeller that Deacon Dan shared with us a few weeks ago.
We want the best seat, we want to be assured that we have done enough.
But in Luke’s Gospel, the Lord teaches us that inevitably there will always come a long someone who out does us. When He addresses the parable about the place of honor at a wedding feast to the Pharisees, He does appeal to our desire to be thought well of, first saying to take the lowest place so that you might be called up to the highest. Yet He goes on to say that when you host a banquet, you should invite those who cannot return the favor (Luke 14: 1,7-14).
Because He knows our frailty, He moves us from automatically seeking the highest place, first to seeking the lowest in hopes of being moved to the highest, finally to seeking the lowest in and of itself.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel He explains to the lawyer, who wishing to justify himself, asks “Who is my neighbor”? The Lord has already outdone his trick question, “What must I do to possess eternal life?” Seeing himself outsmarted, the lawyer asks a follow up question as if trying to say that he has done enough, that he has lived up to the demands of God’s law adequately. He is met with the parable of the Good Samaritan, who cuts across cultural expectations to show mercy in a heroic way when, in a certain sense, who would have been justified in not doing so (Luke 10-23-27).
The Lord shows us over and over again that we are missing the mark if we seek our own glory, if we dare to suggest that we have done enough. Rather than patting ourselves on the back for our successes, we are actually giving in to the vices of vainglory (seeking our own glory) and mediocrity (doing things half-heartedly).
Yet He does not expect us to go without reward all together. How can we have a sense of accomplishment, of true success? We must realize that “Our sufficiency is from God” as St. Paul says.
When we invite guests who cannot repay us – when we are good to those who cannot return the favor, when the Good Smartian assists the robbers’ victim – it is God who sees our good deeds, and it is He who will repay us. If we seek our success by the world’s standards, we will always be left wanting. We will constantly be out done by someone else, if not in one area, then another. We will always be faced with tasks to which we do not feel equal.
It is God alone who can fill that longing. To fill that longing, we must seek His glory, not our own. We must be generous even when we feel like we don’t have any more to give, and yes, that is very difficult.
We learn how to do so here at Mass. We come to Mass not to be entertained or enthralled by an amazing homily (you know better than that! Haha!) We come to Mass to give ourselves to God, by uniting ourselves to that one perfect offering of self that Christ made on the Cross.
Yest we need not fear that we will be left wanting. God first gives us what we need to succeed by nourishing us with His Body and Blood here in the Mass. The mere morsel of what looks like bread is food enough to sustain us for the most heroic acts of generosity and of humility.
Come to Mass with the desire first to glorify God and He will fill you in a far greater measure than you could do on your own. The reward we seek, the reward that will truly satisfy us will come at “the resurrection of the righteous” if we realize in this life that our sufficiency is from God alone and not our own worldly measures of success.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (observed) 21 August 2022
I realize that most of you don’t open carry, but I hope you at least conceal carry. Of course, I am speaking of nothing other than the Holy Rosary!
It’s usually only Religious Sisters and Priests who wear the Rosary on their clothing, but every Catholic should carry the Rosary in his pocket or in her purse.
The Rosary made the news this week with a defamatory article accusing Catholics of somehow using the Rosary literallyas a physical weapon. It claimed “The ‘battle beads’ culture of spiritual warfare permits radical-traditional Catholics literally to demonize their political opponents and regard the use of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary isn’t just a spiritual weapon but one that comes with physical ammunition.”
I have to admit, I’m not sure if perhaps the author found some obscure website where a handful of Catholics actually think that, but from what I could tell, the author seemed to interpret the traditional language of spiritual warfare, and the Rosary’s preeminence in that battle, as actually calling for physical violence.
He could not be more mistaken. While proportional self-defense is certainly permitted and even necessary in the Christian life, nowhere in the New Testament can we find the Lord or His Apostles advocating for actual violent aggression. In fact, some of His disciples were disappointed that He was not going to topple the oppressive Roman government, and further the Lord warns His Apostles, when He is being taken prisoner, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”
Perhaps the author read too much into the of spiritual warfare.
The Catholic Faith is the true religion of peace. We would not have all the martyrs we do – not just in the first centuries of the Church where the Faith was clearly illegal, but to this day in nations that continue to violently persecute the Church – we would not have all these martyrs if the Church actually taught her members to be violently aggressive.
In fact, the martyrs renounced their right to self-defense, just as our Lord did, specifically in order to imitate Him and so gain entrance into heaven. As they freely gave up their lives, onlookers questioned what could cause someone to sacrifice everything in this life. They discovered that only Christ – who is the way, the truth, and the life – was motivation for such a radical peace. And they quickly decided to make the same sacrifice out of love for Him. In many cases, the executioner himself professed faith in Christ and was put to death along with the original victim. In what other way could poor fishermen and peasants convert the entire world?
Chief among them, the one who was their bulwark after the Ascension, is the one who first gave herself so completely to God. She did not suffer the red martyrdom of torture and execution. She was even spared the pangs of childbirth. Rather, her martyrdom was accomplished by being so closely united to her Son throughout His life and especially at the moment of His great agony on the Cross.
She is the Queen of Peace, the one to whom Christians have prayed throughout the centuries to end war and violence. Her message at Fatima during the First World War echoed her favors in proceeding centuries: Pray the Rosary for world peace. Her intercession put an end to human sacrifice on this continent and stemmed the tide of invasion and captivity across the Atlantic in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries to say the least.
Today, as a parish community, we honor the one human being who followed her Lord so perfectly as to merit being taken up to heaven body and soul immediately, so pure is she that her body must not undergo any sort of corruption where she is now crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The Blessed Mother the ever-Virgin Mary, tells us to pray the Rosary not as an excuse to fight a physical battle, although she will strengthen us should that become necessary in self-defense. No. In the same spirit that the Apostles Peter and Paul warn us about the battle that we undergo daily with the demons who prowl the earth seeking the ruin of souls, the Blessed Mother tells us to pray the Rosary so that her enemies (that is anyone who opposes God’s holy and peaceful will) will leave their sinful ways behind and be converted to follow the Lord in peace. She shows us over and over again that no matter how impossible the intention, if it be in accord with God’s holy and peaceful will, she will obtain it for us.
It is unfortunate that the Rosary should be thought of as an actual tool for violence, but perhaps that is just how afraid Satan is of its power, that he will plant any seed he can to get us to stop praying it.
If you haven’t started praying the Rosary daily yet, here is another invitation. Whatever spiritual battle you are fighting, it is in fact your most powerful weapon, and it will not hurt anyone, physically or spiritually.
Like I said, most of us don’t wear our rosary on our clothes, but at the very least we should carry it in our pockets. In this way, may we learn to turn to our Blessed Mother ever more quickly in times of trouble. In doing so, may that peace that she promises, the peace that can come from her Son alone, prevail first in our hearts, in our local community, and more and more across our divide Nation.
Sixth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Septuagesima Sunday 13 February 2022
You may recall from previous years that I have explained that the three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday mark a preparatory period for Lent, that in the 1962 Liturgical calendar is called “Septuagesima” – literally meaning: “seventieth day.” In other words, just as Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, “Quadragesima,” or forty days before Easter, today marks roughly seventy days before Easter.
This Liturgical period of time is still marked by cultural observances in which certain foods are enjoyed for one last time before Lent begins. In Italy, one can see kids dressed up (almost like at Halloween) for the activities of Carinvale(literally “farewell to meat”). The Mardi Gras observances in New Orleans would be based on this as well. And even our own “fastnachts” at Krumpe’s are tied to this Liturgical season that is, in too many ways, forgotten.
Even if you are hearing about them for the first time, they help us appreciate this preparatory period for Lent when certain foods would be used up and end enjoyed for the last time before the great Lenten fast. It doesn’t really make sense to have a “fat Tuesday” if our eating habits go back to normal right after Ash Wedensday.
Therefore, this is a good opportunity to consider the precept of the Church that requires us to fast and abstain on the days prescribed. Again, we’re going to start with the bear minimum.
All the Church requires of us today is
o for those between the ages of 18 and 60
o This means one full meal and two smaller snacks to sustain strength if necessary.
o except Sundays and Solemnities (St. Joseph’s Day and the Annunciation).
This is all that the Church currently requires or recommends. Yet, the reality is that this is not a lot, at least compared to what the Church required just 50 years ago. Then, fasting was required every day of Lent expect Sunday, and partial abstinence (meaning meat only at the mean meal was allowed) except for Wednesday and Friday when it was full abstinence. Even that was a relaxation of far stricter requirements. Dom Prosper Gueranger, writing in the 19th century, laments the relaxation of penitential disciplines at that time! Moreover, there are additional days of fasting and abstinence such as the Ember days and Vigils of certain feasts like Christmas. It is worth talking about these practices more, but for now, let’s focus on our Lenten practices.
A couple of years ago, I invited you to join me in fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout Lent. I’d like to encourage you to to join together as a parish community and do that again or for the first time, and if you’ve done it already, consider adding a day. Or you, might consider abstaining from meat each day of Lent and even abstaining from dairy and eggs. Perhaps all of this abstinence sounds less intimidating than out right fasting.
In preparing for your penitential practices, please remember the purpose of this bare minimum and the advantages to going beyond it.
Lent has two purposes that are certainly connected. It is a time of imitating Christ, specifically His 40 Day fast. The more we engage in penance and experience suffering on that account, the closer we imitate Christ and the more fruitful our Lent will be. It’s also a time of preparation for Easter. The Church has always had the practice of preparing for important feasts with a period of fasting and penance. For some smaller feasts, it was just a day. But certainly the most important feasts of Christmas and Easter are marked by longer observances – Advent and Lent
Further, the preparation that penance provides has to do especially with the fruits that come from fasting. Three stand out. First, fasting helps us to pray. Consider that it’s easier to exercise without a full stomach. Or that we often recover from illnesses by eating very little. So, fasting helps us to raise our minds to heavenly things rather than have them weighed down.
Second, fasting also atones for sins, whether they are our own or someone else’s. And for that matter it helps us resist giving in to sin. Here, again, we are not held down, rather literally, by the weight of our dinner. Think especially of those times that we have overeaten. It’s so easy just to give in to whatever crosses our minds or not do the things we were planning on.
Third, fasting helps us to give alms to those in need. The food we don’t eat or the money we don’t spend on food can be given to a worthy cause.
Still, it’s important to clarify here that fasting is not a “toughing it out” endeavor or a punishment for our body. Eating one meal a day has always been part of the Church’s tradition when it comes to fasting. That meal should be balanced and maybe even a little bigger than what we would eat at dinner when we’re not fasting. The two small collations should definitely be smaller than what we are used to eating at breakfast and lunch and maybe we can go without one or maybe both of them. But if we need them, we should have them.
It may take us some time to get used to eating this way. A good sign that we have to adjust is if we are becoming rude and irritable on account of just how little we have eaten – this is counterproductive! There is an important balance here of having just enough but not more than that. We’re not denying the fact that we need food! We’re just keeping it to the bare minimum and allowing ourselves to feel some discomfort or suffering on that account.
So, let me sum up this way. We have to do the bare minimum, but I’m asking you to go beyond the bare minimum, not just as individuals but as a parish community because it will help us grow in holiness and will be very rewarding. This offers the benefit of knowing that there are other people out there doing the exact same thing, both today but also throughout history.
This even helps to grow in the virtue of obedience because we are doing what the Church asks of us in a way we know that the Church has constantly recommended. Instead of just trying to choose our own unique thing, and maybe giving in to cutting corners because no one else is “looking,” we know we are part of a bigger picture.
Just like with exercise, sports, or learning a musical instrument or another talent, the more you do it, the more attainable it gets (even if not easy). For kids, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with health concerns, it might not be the right time to fast. Just abstinence may be the better way to go.
As a parish practice, fulfilling this precept of the Church and going beyond that to fast together on Wednesdays and Fridays or observing greater forms of abstinence will help us grow individually and collectively in our relationship with the Lord. And in our effort to imitate Him, we will also grow in solidarity among each other.
Third Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Third Sunday after the Epiphany 23 January 2022
Last Sunday, as we considered the precept of being married according to the laws of the Church, I asked you to take confidence in God’s Providence that He is constantly going in search of us, whether we have strayed from His path or maybe just feel a bit confused or lukewarm. And to take His presence at the Wedding Feast of Cana, and the miracle of turning water into wine, as an assurance that He wants us to be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him in the next.
When the Lord reads from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, He shows that He has indeed come to look for us: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). He is the fulfillment of this prophecy (Luke 4:21).
While the Lord goes looking for us, we have our own responsibility here, too. We must go looking for Him. “As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion answered him, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed’” (Matthew 8:5-8). This is a great example of the way we need to looking for Him in faith. One of the fundamental ways that we do this is by looking for the Lord at Mass, when we even make the centurions words our own.
St. Peter Julian Eymard tells us, “Know, O Christian, that the Mass is the holiest act of religion. You cannot do anything to glorify God more, nor profit your soul more, than by devoutly assisting at it, and assisting as often as possible.” Yet, today, this precept of the Church is often overlooked. There are too many empty seats at Mass! We seem to forget that even before this was a precept of the Church it was the Third Commandment, and before it was written on those stone tablets given to Moses, it was written in our hearts.
In other words, our obligation to worship God goes back to Creation and is something we should be able to recognize just from the use of our own reason. Yet the reality is that too many people don’t realize or don’t acknowledge that we need to do something to worship God each week.
You may recall from my homily on Easter Sunday this past year that originally the day of worship is the Sabbath, Saturday, on account of God resting from the work of creation on the seventh day of the week, and the Jews still observe this today. Yet Sunday has become the Lord’s Day because on this day He rose from the dead and sent the holy Spirit on the Apostles and Mary. It was the Apostles, acting on the authority entrusted them by the Lord, who made this change, stipulating that it is the Mass, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, that is the ordinary means of fulfilling this obligation because the Lord Himself commanded us “Do this in memory of me.” Although strictly speaking we are not obliged to receive Holy Communion – more on this when we speak of that precept – we do have to assist at the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood at Mass on Sundays and Holy days of oblgication.
So, on one hand, it seems clear why we must go to Mass on Sunday (or Saturday evening) every week and that it is a grave or serious responsibility. If we deliberately choose not to fulfill it, we commit a mortal sin. On the other hand, it may not be clear what constitutes a legitimate reason to miss Mass and what we are to do if that is the case.
The most common legitimate reasons for missing Mass are bad weather and bad health. Note that vacation and sporting events do not excuse us from Mass!
Regarding bad weather:
These are also helpful guidelines for when we are sick or need to protect ourselves or others against getting sick.
Finally, even if we cannot make it to Mass, we still owe God our worship, hence, we should not consider ourselves entirely off the hook as we usually do on a snow day from school. Rather, we must take some time to pray. Perhaps use the readings for Mass or an extra Rosary. If we are sick, it may be more difficult to pray depending on what type of illness we have, but we should try to pray as best we can. If the whole family is stuck at home, pray together!
We still need to discuss the aspect of rest that is required of us, but that’s enough for today. I’ll conclude by saying that, again, this is the bare minimum. We should really go to Mass because we want to, both because we want to thank the Lord for His awesomeness and many blessings, but also because He is generous and feeds us with His Body and Blood as well as His sacred Word.
Padre Pio famously said, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” Do we live like we believe that? The Lord will not be outdone in generosity. The more of an effort we make to fulfill our duty towards Him, the more richly He will bless us and help us do His will.
Second Sunday of Time Throughout the Year/Second Sunday after the Epiphany 16 January 2022
The Lord’s presence at the Wedding Feast at Cana is significant not just because it was His first miracle. Of course, this is significant. In fact, it’s deliberately tied to his manifestation to the Wisemen and his manifestation in the Jordan. These three events are mysteriously tied together, as is seen in the Divine Office for the feast of the Epiphany, showing a gradual and deliberate revealing of who the Christ is and what He has come to do. It’s also significant as for the intercessory role of the Blessed Mother, whose assistance we continue to turn to today.
Yet another significant aspect of this event is it bestows on the institution of marriage. Marriage is the one sacrament that strictly speaking existed before it was a sacrament. Even today, it exists apart from its sacramental form for those who are not baptized. The Baltimore Catechism explains that “God instituted marriage when He made Eve as a helpmate for Adam in the garden of Eden” and that “We know from the constant tradition of the Church that marriage was made a sacrament by Our Lord sometime during His life on earth” (Revised Baltimore Catechism, n. 457 (b, c)). While it’s being cautious not to speculate exactly when the Lord did this, the fact that Christ performed His first public miracle at a wedding feast is no accident and confers on the institution of marriage a great dignity.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as “A covenant or partnership of life between a man and a woman, which is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children. When validly contracted between two baptized people, marriage is also a sacrament” (Glossary, page 887). We see here a distinction between “valid” or “true” marriages and “sacramental” marriages. At the very least, we need a “valid” marriage. The Baltimore Catechism says, “Matrimony is the sacrament by which a baptized man and a baptized woman bind themselves for life in a lawful marriage and receive the grace to discharge their duties” (Revised Baltimore Catechism, n. 457).
Anyone who is married or knows someone who is married should find it no surprise that the Lord wished to bestow on married couples “grace to discharge their duties.” We see this need being discussed by the Lord in Matthew’s Gospel. When the Pharisees asked the Lord about divorce, and the Lord responded, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery. The disciples said to him, If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. [indicating that they find this teaching very challenging] But [the Lord assured] them, Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:8-11).
Clearly the Lord knows that it is not easy to be married: to remain faithful and raise one’s children well. There are so many things that try marriages today. Among them, the demands of work, health crisis, and all the vile things that can be found all too easily on the internet. There are so many strains on married couples. God’s blessing and the grace He bestows on sacramental marriages give couples the strength they need to be true to each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.”
Today however, it is increasingly common that couples don’t even benefit from knowing that this grace is available! How many couples do we know who put off marriage or maybe don’t even consider it because it has become socially acceptable to live with a man or woman that one is not married to? Some don’t even realize that it’s necessary for Catholics to be married according to the laws of the Church.
So, in terms of our focus on the six basic precepts of the Church, today we must consider the bare minimum that the Church expects of those called to the vocation of marriage. The Baltimore Catechism explains, “The ordinary law of the Church to be observed at the wedding of a Catholic is this: A Catholic can contract a true marriage only in the presence of an authorized priest and two witnesses” (Revised Baltimore Catechism, n. 298).
In other words, in very broad terms, if a Catholic man wishes to live with a woman (even if she is not Catholic) or conversely, if a Catholic woman wishes to live with a man (even if he is not Catholic), the two must first work with a Catholic priest or deacon to be married in a ceremony sanctioned by the Church and in the presence of at least two witnesses. Only then does a valid marriage exist.
It’s true, this the bare minimum, and the bare minimum isn’t all that exciting to talk about. But here’s the thing: if the couple wishes to benefit from God’s blessing and even more, His grace, this step is essential. To live together otherwise is to live at least in the near occasion of mortal sin, and very likely, in the actual state of mortal sin., which of course is completely counterproductive.
St. Thomas Aquinas puts it rather humorously, saying, “One man and one woman alone [who are not married] are not saying Hail Mary’s.” This may seem restrictive, but it’s actually just realistic. In other words, the Church acknowledges that God made man and woman to be attracted to each other, but our fallen human condition causes us to abuse that attraction and enjoy intimacy in ways indented only for married couples… even when not married.
For many of you, these words will simply help you be more informed and share this information with children and loved ones. For others, it may feel like it’s hitting awfully close to home and you may have all sorts of questions running through your heads. I obviously can’t address all particular circumstances here, so if you have questions or need help setting things right, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me so we can talk about your personal situation. I want to help you make things right before God! That’s a priest’s job, and I’m happy to do it!
Whatever your case may be, take confidence in God’s Providence that He is constantly going in search of us, whether we have strayed from His path or maybe just feel a bit confused or lukewarm. Take His presence at the Wedding Feast of Cana, and the miracle of turning water into wine, as an assurance that He wants us to be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him in the next.
The Baptism of the Lord/Holy Family 9/13 January 2022
Last Sunday I shared with you that we will look at the six precepts of the Church over the next several weeks, and I explained that Christ was born and appeared to all the nations for the purpose of saving our souls (and bodies!). We considered briefly the “mysterious connection which unites the great Solemnities of the year one with another” and the central importance of Easter – His victory over sin and death which won us entrance into heaven (Gueranger 124). We considered that not only did the Lord give the Church, through St. Peter and the Apostles, the right to make laws, but that the purpose of making these laws is the same as why the Lord came into the world: to help get us to heaven.
Now the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry with His Baptism in the Jordan, and the revelation by the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” helps us to consider why we have to obey these precepts.
First, consider that not only did Jesus want to identify with us. He wanted us to be able to identify with Him in these words spoken to Him by the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He wants each of you to hear, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus makes this possible through by the sacrament of Baptism. The Original Baltimore Catechism explains, “Baptism is a Sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and heirs of heaven” (Original Baltimore Catechism, 152). And that means that from the moment of our baptism, the Father looks upon each of us just as He looks upon His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
This should be a great consolation! To think that God loves us just as His only begotten Son – in spite of or even because of our sinfulness, no matter what we might have done – is a blessing beyond compare!
However, that does not mean that all we do is sit around and bask in the glow of God’s love. Think about what the Lord says to Mary and Joseph when they find Him in the Temple: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” or another, perhaps better translation puts it, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” The Lord warns us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Put another way, He also makes a great promise, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matt. 12:50).” There are responsibilities that go with being God’s children.
Putting it very succinctly, the Revised Baltimore Catechism says that, “effects of the character imprinted on the soul by Baptism are that we become members of the Church, subject to its laws, and capable of receiving the other sacraments” (Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 317). Being a child of God and an heir to heaven means that we must do God’s will as expressed not just in the Lord’s own words in the Bible but also by our Holy Mother, the Church.
This is the foundation and rationale for why we obey the six precepts of the Church, but the Church guides parents even before that: Catholic parents have a duty to ensure that their children are baptized “in the first few weeks” after the birth of their child (Code of Canon Law 867). They also have the duty to raise their children in the practice of the faith (Code of Canon Law 868). In other words, baptism has to be more than just a nice ceremony that goes along with the joy of a new life entering this world.
Baptism makes innocent babies truly innocent freeing them from original sin and ready to enter heaven should, unfortunately, some tragedy befall them. Admittedly, infant mortality is not a huge risk in the United States, nonetheless, this is where the expectation that the baptism take place “within weeks” of birth arises. It’s a desire that children should go straight to heaven were some deadly tragedy to strike before they reach the age of reason.
But this doesn’t mean that we should just automatically baptize anyone we can! Sometimes priests hear stories of grandparents baptizing their grandchildren in the bathtub – bad idea! While this is valid, it is not acceptable to baptism children against the wishes of their parents. The only exception to this is if the child is in true danger of death (Code of Canon Law 868).
Baptism is a life changing event. Not only does it change our lives here on earth, including obliging us to follow the precepts of the Church, it has a lasting effect, an effect for all of eternity. When we die, as we all must, we will receive our eternal reward as someone who is baptized (or not). (The same is true for Confirmation and priestly Ordination. These sacraments, too, leave an indelible mark on our souls.)
Hence, a priest must have a “founded hope” that the child will be raised in the Faith, before agreeing to do the baptism (Code of Canon Law 868). The priest must be confident that the child’s parents or some other responsible party will teach and model the Faith for him or her so that that child has the best possible chances of living the Faith as an adult, of “being about my Father’s business” and not just saying “Lord, Lord.”
These duties are so serious that to deliberately put off a child’s baptism would be a serious sin on the part of the parents. And were a priest to not have a founded hope that the child will be raised in the Faith, he should delay the baptism until the parents establish that founded hope (Code of Canon Law 868). The parents’ faithfulness to Sunday Mass is usually a sufficient indication of their efforts to raise their child in the Faith.
Again, I realize that it is not very exciting or fun to talk about what we have to do. It can sound very legalistic. But remember that no one gets angry at the guardrails on a bridge, especially when they, perhaps, lose control of their car. The Church is our bridge to heaven. Even more to the point, the Lord tells us very plainly, “If you love me, keep my commands” and He sets us the example of being about His Father’s business right from His earliest years.
The Lord gives us His laws, through the Church, to show us what we must do to cooperate with His grace and receive our heavenly inheritance, to be, not just in word but in deed, the Father’s beloved children in whom He is well pleased.
The Epiphany of the Lord 2/6 January 2022
The feast of the Epiphany is the traditional day on which the Church would publish the dates of what are called “movable” feasts. The chief of them is Easter Sunday, which is based on the old Jewish calendar. The date is determined by the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (or the first day of Spring). Consider that in the days before it was so easy to print calendars, this is how these dates were shared with people.
Dom Prosper Guaranger, a monk from France in the 19th century, explains it this way: “This custom, which dates from the earliest ages of the Church, shows both the mysterious connection which unites the great Solemnities of the year one with another, and the importance the Faithful ought to attach to the celebration of that which is the greatest of all, and the centre of Religion. After having honored the King of the universe on the Epiphany, we shall have to celebrate him on the day which is now announced to us, as the conqueror of death” (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume 3, Christmas Book 2, 124).
While it is fairly brief, a lot is packed into this proclamation. If you were to hear it sung, you might notice the similarity between it and the Exultet from the Easter Vigil. It addresses the central mysteries of salvation and the feasts that celebrate those mysteries. Similarly, it comminates to us some of our obligations – both in terms of Mass and of penitential practices.
For this reason, it seems like a good point of departure to talk about some of the things expected of us Catholics by our Holy Mother the Church. I’ve talked with enough of you – and can say this myself – to know that in so many cases Catholics feel like they were not taught a lot of really important aspects of the Faith. I get the sense that if you grew up here at St. Mary’s you found a consistently good education in the Faith, but to be fair, no one parish is perfect.
To evaluate the importance of talking about this, just think of whether or not you’ve heard of the six precepts or commandments of the Church? If you have, that’s great! Hopefully you can still name them. If not, join the club – I’m not sure when I actually learned what they are. So, over the next few weeks, I will take the opportunity to explain each of these precepts in some depth, but for now consider what the Baltimore Catechism has to say about what they are and why the Church gives them to us.
First it explains, “The Catholic Church has the right to make laws from Jesus Christ, who said to the apostles, the first bishops of His Church: ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven’” (Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 279). It elaborates on this: “The power of the Church to bind and to loose is known as “the power of the keys” and includes everything necessary for the government of the Church and for the direction of the faithful in order that they may attain their eternal destiny. The primary purpose of the Church laws is the eternal salvation of men” (Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 279 (a)). And quotes Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21.
It goes on, “This right to make laws is exercised by the bishops, the successors of the apostles, and especially by the Pope, who as the successor of the chief of the apostles, Saint Peter, has the right to make laws for the universal Church” (Revised Baltimore Catechism 280).
“The chief commandments, or laws, of the Church are these six:
To conclude, I’ll reiterate a particular line: “The primary purpose of the Church laws is the eternal salvation of men” (Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 279). Christ was born into the world and revealed to both the Jews and the Gentiles in order to save them. Christ was born into the world to suffer and die on the Cross – the three languages on the inscription representing the major languages of the known world, Jews and Gentiles alike. Christ was born into this world to rise from the dead and ascend into heaven so that we could follow after Him.
He has given us the Church to continue His saving work throughout the centuries, and the Church teaches us as a wise mother through her precepts. Let us honor our Newborn King by recommitting ourselves to faithfully following the teachings of His Bride so that we can indeed receive that gift He came to give us: the salvation of our souls.
The Nativity of the Lord 25 December 2021
In one of my previous assignments, there was a story about a veteran priest who came into church one day, maybe it was for a Confirmation Mass or something like that. He faced the tabernacle and started yelling… “Jesus, Jesus!” There was a great din of conversation, so much so that it felt more like a social hall, and no one would have heard him had he not yelled. Well, after loudly calling the Lord’s name a few times, things started to quiet down, and so he added, “I know you’re in there, but I don’t think they do!” I was really tempted to start my homily by actually doing that…. But it just didn’t feel quite right to yell in church. Yet this priest made a really good point.
St. John Vianney made the same point, but probably more gracefully. He called out to his parishioners, while pointing to the tabernacle, “He is there, He is there” (CF. Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 246). His parishioners began to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus even before that phrase was used.
As we celebrate Christmas Day, I think we all know that the name “Jesus” means “Emanual” or “God is with us.” We are accustomed to singing songs like “O Come, O Come Emanual.” And we look forward to the nice warm feelings that come with this season. We can look at the nativity scene and think, yes, God came to be with us. … But if we’re not careful, we accidently add to that thought, “in the past.”
The Nativity scene is a beautiful way of remembering this reality and imagining what it was like on that first Christmas, and we have St. Francis of Assisi to thank for making it so popular. Yet do we realize that it didn’t end there?
Paul VI wrote, “there is yet another manner in which Christ is present in His Church, a manner which surpasses all the others; it is His presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. …It contains Christ Himself. … Not only while the Sacrifice is offered and the sacrament received, but as long as the Eucharist is kept in our churches, Christ is truly Emmanuel, that is ‘God with us.’ Day and night He is in our midst; He dwells with us, full of grace and truth” (quoted in Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 238).
Explaining the significance of this reality, another author comments, “The apostle St. John, when he speaks of the Last Supper, searches for a word in which he can express all the love which Jesus unveiled at His Last Supper with the disciples, and he says, ‘In finem dilexit’: ‘He loved them unto the end.’ (John 13:1) He loved us to the extreme limits of love” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 238).
He continues, “Why did Jesus remain with us in the Eucharist? To be our food: He knew how our feeble souls would need this Bread of Heaven, which is Himself. He remained in order not to leave us alone. When a person loves, he desires the presence of the beloved” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 239). How well have we learned that lesson over the past nearly two years, When a person loves, he desires the presence of the beloved? In other words, that saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is really true. When we’re separated from someone we love, we realize better just how much we love him or her.
This Christmas, my invitation – my challenge – to you is to realize just how much God loves you that He remains a “prisoner” in the tabernacle just for you. He already had this in mind when He was born in Bethlehem, which means house of bread, and was laid in a manger – a trough for animals to feed from. These are no coincidences. He spoke to us even through the events of His birth
He is here today in the tabernacle to speak to you, to console you, to strengthen you. Don’t miss this opportunity to speak with Him, to console Him, to receive His Grace!
You are already on the right path – you are here! Maybe you went to considerable effort to be here at that! It was great to have so many people come to confession over the past few weeks. In addition to the 5 or 6 hours of confession that we have here each week I estimate there was roughly another 10 hours. I could hear the sounds of kids and canes outside my door – how encouraging that we had people of all ages coming to prepare their hearts for the Lord. I’ve had other priests say to me how nice it is to be in a church where people are praying – I enjoy so much seeing so many of you come to Mass early or staying late on Sunday or during the week or spending time here in church or in the Adoration Chapel. All of this says to me that you are trying really hard to remember that God is Emmanuel not just on Christmas but every day of the year!
On the other hand if you’re listing to me describe all this and thinking, “that’s not me,” do not worry, it’s never too late! Christmas even more than New Year’s is a great time for a resolution.
Here are some that we should all consider:
Whether we already do these things or not, there’s always room for improvement.
They will help us express that longing we have to be with our beloved. We won’t need any one to yell at the tabernacle to get our attention, but we might hear St. John Vianney calling out to us, “He is there, He is there!”
Fourth Sunday of Advent 19 December 2021
For the past few weeks, the Church has been praying in different parts of her Liturgy that the Lord “Come and not delay” (Divine Office) or that “God rouse up His power and come” (1962 Roman Missal, Collects, First, Second, Fourth Sundays of Advent; commonly used as prayers for lighting the Advent Wreath at home). Today Mass started with a petition that the heavens “rain down the just one” (Roman Missal 2002 & 1962, Introit, Fourth Sunday of Advent). Rather strong and urgent language, especially for talking with God. It’s like we’re telling Him what to do.
These last days before Christmas do have an urgency about them. But it’s different from the urgency that many of us are experiencing on account of last-minute shopping and meal or travel preparations. This urgency is a little more like that of children waiting for their presents under the Christmas tree. Yet not quite as self-focused and more sober.
The Lord is so close, yet it is so easy for us to miss Him. The Church is praying that the Lord “rouse up His power and come” but also, and really, more to the point, it is us who must rouse ourselves to receive Him. The Baltimore Catechism frequently speaks of using sacramentals and prayer to “excite” in our selves “greater fervor of soul” (Revised Baltimore Catechism, n. 484 c [as one example]), especially in preparation to receive the sacraments.
We can understand the need for this when we think of how a few weeks ago the Lord warned us of becoming drowsy from both immoral behavior as well as the anxieties of daily life (cf. 21:34). When we’re drowsy, we need to do something to excite or rouse ourselves and wake up. Think of those times we are fighting off sleep while driving. We can even do some silly things to stay awake, that’s how important it is.
In these last days before Christmas, let us lay at the feet of the Lord all those things that are incomplete or out of our hands. All those things that are sloppy and not the way we would like them to be. All those things that are wrong or make us sad about this Christmas season – or life in general. Even those things that we fear. And let us say, with the Virgin, “be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) Or with St. Elizabeth, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).
Let us combat the temptation to anxiety to which worldly urgencies draws us by rousing up in ourselves a heavenly urgency. The urgency of Christ coming to us. However the past three weeks of Advent have gone for you, even if we feel like we have spiritually slept through them, let the fourth week be one marked by more deliberate prayer and reflection. Let it be a time of turning more deliberately to God and His mercy, because it was to have mercy on us that He became a little child (cf. my Homily from Second Sunday of Advent 2021). Let it be a time of embracing our crosses, knowing that true joy is found by embracing our sufferings (cf. my Homily from Third Sunday of Advent 2021).
And let us be confident that the same God to whom we have addressed such powerful and urgent prayers will also answer our prayers with great power and urgency, even if His timing is not our own.
Third Sunday of Advent 12 December 2021
If we look at the lives of the martyrs, it doesn’t take long to notice a common theme among them.
Joy in their suffering.
St. Maximilian Kolbe could be heard leading his fellow prisoners in prayerful song while he starved in his concentration camp before being killed by lethal injection. St. Lawrence is reputed to have told his executioners, “Turn me over, I am done on this side” while be grilled alive. St. Andrew cried out, while being led to his execution, “O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of the Lord; long have I desired you, unceasingly have I sought you out; and now you are ready for my eager soul.” He then hung on the cross for two days preaching to the bystanders the beauty of the faith. And there is no shortage of accounts of executioners and bystanders professing faith in Christ after witnessing the joy of those being executed. That fact along tells us that the martyrs received their brutal torture and death with a peace and joy unlike the average human being.
Gaudete Sunday poses this conundrum to us in a particular way. It’s one of the few Sundays that most Catholics are still able to refer to by the first word of the texts of the Mass. What we prayed at the beginning of Mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always…” (Introit, Third Sunday of Advent, Roman Missal). We just heard in the passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians continue that thought, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
St. Paul’s words might make us ask: How can he command me to be joyful? There’s so much to be miserable about in life. How can I possibly be joyful? Yet we see in the martyrs that this is possible even in most horrendous deaths.
Let me first say that I think this is one of the most difficult tenants of the Faith to get our minds around. It’s on par with loving our enemies. It is counter intuitive. But the Lord tells us numerous times that those who wish to be His disciples must take up their crosses and follow Him. And He also tells us His yoke is easy and His burden light. I certainly believe the Lord. But I frequently have to ask Him to increase my faith on this point.
A few insights from that same author I was quoting last Sunday, that have recently helped me to appreciate this reality better: It is not natural for us to want to suffer. That’s probably not surprising.
He says, “Do not be angry with yourself because of this first instinctive movement of nature. If it did not rear up, that would mean that it entailed no suffering. Our nature’s first reflexes are to avoid whatever threatens harm” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 204). It is a supernatural desire that we have to cultivate. A prayer like this will help: “I do not fear any cross because I know that when a cross comes, You always come, too [Lord]” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 204). I think making that distinction and this prayer is really important so that we can be patient with ourselves and understand our aversion to suffering.
The Author explains, “Another reason to love the Cross is that it was the lot of your Savior, and therefore you choose it as your own lot. Must we not find good what He chose for Himself and for His Mother? … He does not want us to consider as an evil the means by which He saved us. Do two people love one another if one regards with horror what the other regards with love? When people love one another, they have the same tastes – and Jesus wants us to share with Him His taste for the Cross” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 197).
Further he asks, “How can we be Christians… yet run away from the Cross? … the Cross is a marvelous invention of divine mercy which gives us the occasion to prove to Jesus that we love Him. … What merit is there in choosing Jesus if we only have to follow Him on a path of roses?... He wants to be loved for Himself, not for His gifts” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 196). He continues, “When He gives us something to suffer, said little Therese, it is because He wants a gift from us. What gift? A smile on the Cross” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 197).
“It is impossible to fulfill our Christian mission on earth without suffering. It seems that the greater the missions are, the more the crosses are, too, and the heavier they are: the crosses of parents, the crosses of apostles, the crosses of priests, the crosses of bishops, the crosses of the Pope. The Lord has given us a field to work, and we must irrigate it with tears falling form the winepresses of sorrow, in order that it may be fruitful” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 204).
But he warns, “Never look at the Cross without Jesus. If I must bear the Cross all alone, I renounce it in advance. … I am too weak, too cowardly, too sensitive. It is too hard to suffer. I deserve a hundred times to suffer without You, Jesus, but it is with you that I want to suffer. With You, I accept all the crosses, all of them – if You will bear them with me. You can hide Yourself; You can make it look as though You are not there, as if I am bearing it all alone; I accept that on one condition: that You hide Yourself in my heart (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 196).
We’re taking a hard look at suffering, but we have to remember, that most of the time for most of us life isn’t the worst it could possibly be. The Lord gives us the opportunity to prepare for the most difficult sufferings by those daily and little Crosses we encounter. Our response to those will prepare us for the bigger trials.
Between now and Christmas, start by offering up those trials that come with this time of year. The absence of a loved one, the stress of family visiting, or completing all your tasks. By accepting these crosses we will discover the joy of the martyrs, the joy that St. Paul commands us to have. Just don’t forget to make that simple prayer your own: “I do not fear any cross because I know that when a cross comes, You always come, too [Lord].”
Second Sunday of Advent 5 December 2021
St. Therese of Lisieux makes a really great analogy about how we are able to get to heaven. It’s even a little amusing considering all that has developed in the past century and a half since her death, she says, “But I wish to find the way to go to Heaven by a very straight, short, completely new little way. We are in a century of inventions: now one does not even have to take the trouble to climb the steps of a stairway; in the homes of the rich an elevator replaces them nicely. I, too, would like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, for I am too little to climb the rough stairway of perfection. … the elevator which must raise me to the heavens is Your arms, O Jesus!” (quoted in Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 27)
As the Advent Liturgy turns our thoughts to John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord – by calling for repentance… Which brings us, again, to thinking of our particular and final judgements…
While it’s really important to do this periodically, one of the dangers in doing so – if we don’t do it well – is that we fear that we will never be worthy of heaven. We may go so far as to think, “My sins are too great. I don’t do enough good.” There is a healthy fear of death and hell that we should all have. But, to say it again, if this sort of fear turns into anxiety, it betrays a lack of trust, of confidence in God. It really is a form of pride. We think that everything depends on us, on our own doing. And no doubt, we can control a lot of variables in our lives… but we will never be fully in control. We may even find ourselves fighting with God’s will. We can’t get to heaven on our own.
As an antidote, we hear a call, a call with which Mass began today, “O people of Sion, behold, the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart” (Introit, Second Sunday of Advent).
God has descended from heaven to earth in the Incarnation in order that we might have the hope of ascending there when it comes time for us to leave the earth. This Advent season is a call: that the Lord will come, that we need to repent of our sins, especially mortal sin, and while this will not be easy, He “make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart.” He has come to be, as Little Therese puts it, not the stairway to heaven but the elevator to heaven. St. Therese considered that “The Good God would not inspire unattainable desires; I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to sanctity. For me to become greater is impossible; I must put up with myself just as I am with all my imperfections” (quoted in Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 26-27).
This should be encouraging. If St. Therese can say that about herself, so can we say it about ourselves. In other words, we are tempted to think, “I am too wretched, my sins are too great.” If get caught up in how imperfect we are, or simply feel like it’s too much effort. Instead, as one spiritual writer comments, “we think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and after the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, into the consuming and transforming furnace of His Heat, which is open to us through a single humble act of confidence.” He continues, “I am not telling, ‘You believe too much in your own wretchedness.’ We are much more wretched than we ever realize. But I am telling you, “You do not believe enough in merciful love. We must have confidence, not in spite of our miseries, but because of them, since it is misery which attracts mercy” (Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 29)
He explains, like St. Augustine, that the word mercy, misericordia in Latin derives from three words, mieris cor dare – to give one’s heart to the miserable or wretched (Cf. Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 29). St. Thomas Aquinas explains that God’s omnipotence, His almightiness, shows itself most in his nature of having mercy on us (Cf. Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love, 29).
We have to take a hard look at our own wretchedness – even realize that we are probably too generous to ourselves, that God knows we are far worse. And we have to repent of our sins. But we can’t stop there. We have to realize that this is exactly why God became man – and announced it even as soon as Adam and Eve fell. He came to have mercy on us, to lift us up to heaven not despite our miserable condition but because of it. He came to be this “elevator” that St. Therese was looking for.
The best preparation we can make for Christmas, is not just to acknowledge our faults and ask forgiveness, but also to let God cover us with His mercy, His Precious Blood, in the Sacrament of Confession.
First Sunday of Advent 28 November 2021
Having spent the past month reflecting on the Last Things, we may be very ready for Advent to turn our minds to the more pleasant thoughts of Christmas. So, this Gospel passage from Luke may come as a little bit of a surprise. Here on the first Sunday of the Liturgical Year we have a reprise of the same sort of passages from the end of the Liturgical Year. The Church can’t quite seem to leave behind this theme of the end of the world. This is one of the more fascinating aspects of the Liturgical Year, and it really drives home its cyclical nature. It begins where it leaves off.
It also makes an important point for our prayer lives.Not only does the end of the Liturgical year help us reflect on being prepared for Christ’s Second Coming, so too does the beginning of the Liturgical year with its focus on Christ’s First Coming at Christmas. As we frequently hear, we know not the day nor the hour that the Lord will come again or demand our lives, and so we must always be prepared. St. Cyril of Jerusalem comments, “His first coming was to fulfill his plan of love, to teach men by gentle persuasion. [When He comes again], whether men like it or not, they will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity” (Liturgy of the Hours, First Sunday of Advent, Office of Readings).
By reflecting on Christ’s coming in history, the first Christmas, we are better prepared for His Second Coming at the end of time. And a helpful way of summarizing this preparedness is to consider a third coming of Christ, His daily coming into our hearts. St. Bernard offers this image as a practical way to always be vigilant. “Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation” (Liturgy of the Hours, Wednesday after the First Sunday of Advent, Office of Readings).
It is difficult to reflect always on our judgment. It is difficult even to live each day to the fullest as so many like to say. Sometimes we unwittingly let the challenges of life get the better of us, and we can give in to feelings of tiredness or discouragement. Yet, if we keep in mind that the Lord came into this world to give us hope, to shoulder our burden, to suffer and die not only for us but with us, the weight of contemplating our Particular and Final Judgments will be made much more bearable.
And the best of way of staying focused, of carrying our cross daily and not becoming overwhelmed, is to welcome Christ into our hearts in this third coming by means of prayer. The Lord warns us not to let our hearts become drowsy, not just from carousing and drunkenness but even from “the anxieties of daily life” (Cf. Luke 21:34).
Let’s face it, for as many fun things are associated with this time of year, they can very easily become burdensome or at least distract us from the true meaning of the Advent season. For many, this is heightened by the ongoing anxieties surrounding the coronavirus crisis.
So, I will renew my challenge to you from years past: make sure that your Advent looks at least a little bit like your Lent, beyond the color violet.
We don’t seem have trouble making the time for shopping and parties, but Christmas will be so much more fulfilling, it will be the beginning of that road to being prepared for the Second Coming, if these next four weeks are marked by the practices of the third coming, of welcoming the Lord into our hearts daily and deliberately.
Christ the King Sunday/Twenty-fourth and Last Sunday after Pentecost
21 November 2021
So, here we are, we’re going to talk more directly about everyone’s favorite topic “judgment”! And, frankly, just the word “judgment” can make us feel uncomfortable. We probably associate it with people being judgmental or condescending towards us. That is certainly an abuse of the practice. Yet, the reality is that the Father has given the Son “authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man” we hear in John’s Gospel (John 5:27). Even we share a legitimate role in passing judgment on others in this life. Not their motives, their hearts – this judgment is reserved to Christ alone. But their actions, just so long as it is done in charity, with a view to helping the other person reform, and only after we have judged ourselves rightly and have reformed our own sins (Cf. “It's Okay for Catholics to Judge,” Jim Blackburn, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/judge-not-2).
The feast of Christ the King and the close of the Liturgical Year bring us face-to-face with the reality that we will be judged by the King of the Universe when we leave this life. And like I’ve been saying, it’s unpleasant to know that we’ve done something wrong. That sense of guilt makes us feel bad. That being said, to use an analogy, if we’ve ever touched the hot stove, our hand feels very badly, but the pain we experience tells us to take our hand off the stove and thus avoid further damage. So too with our consciences. The worst thing we can do is cover up that sense of guilt or shame. To use another analogy, the car might keep running for a while when the check engine light comes on, but if we don’t address the problem in a timely manner, it can mean an early demise for our method of transportation. Let’s keep this in mind as look at what our particular and the general judgments will be like.
The Roman Catechism explains that there are “two distinct periods at which everyone must appear in the presence of God, to render an account of all his thoughts, words, and actions, and to receive sentence accordingly from the mouth of his judge” (Roman Catechism, Article 7, no. 3, pg. 82). “The first takes place at the time when each one [of us] departs this life. At this moment each person is instantly placed before the judgment seat of God, where all ever done, spoken, or thought during life shall be subjected to the most rigid scrutiny. This is called the particular judgment” (Roman Catechism, Article 7, no. 3, pg. 82).
This is the moment in which our eternal reward or our eternal punishment is pronounced. It is determined by our choices in this life. If we die in the state of mortal sin, not only will that moment be painful, but we will experience the pain of loss of God immediately and forever. Further, when our bodies rise, we will experience pain in our bodies for all eternity. It’s well worth imagining what this will be like as a great incentive to resist sin and strive for virtue.
If we die in the state of grace, we know we have eternal happiness to look forward to. Yet, dying in the state of grace does not necessarily mean that we are perfect. As I explained last week, the damage that our sins have done needs to be atoned for. If we do not do this while we live on earth by means of penances and indulgences, we will have to do so in purgatory. While purgatory is ultimately a good thing, it is painful. In artwork, one might easily confuse it with an image of hell because it is frequently represented by fire on account of certain passages in scripture (Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7).
Reflecting on the reality of purgatory should add to our desire to live virtuously – even in our thoughts! How often do we do good deeds but with the wrong intentions? Maybe we do them reluctantly, maybe for our own good (instead of the other’s), maybe even with a downright bad intention. While a good intention will never justify evil actions, an evil intention undermines the merit of our good actions. And God always sees all of this.
As a remedy, we should examine our consciences not only before going to confession, but at the need of each day. And when we do this, we must pay attention to what our thoughts and intentions were and make a simple but particle resolution on how we will improve. This is a great way of developing the good habits – the virtues – we need to be worthy of heaven.
Now if all of this is addressed at the Particular Judgment, we may be wondering what need is there for the Final or General Judgment? The Roman Catechism summarizes by saying that it “takes place on the last day when all men shall stand together in the same place before the tribunal of their judge. In the presence and hearing of a world gathered together, each will know his final judgment. This announcement will constitute no small part of the pain and punishment of the wicked, and of the remuneration and rewards of the just. The quality and character of each person’s earthly life will appear publicly as it actually was” (Roman Catechism, Article 7, no. 3, pg. 82-83).
There are four purposes that the Roman Catechism elaborates upon that we can already see in that statement. I’ll conclude by summarizing them very briefly.
A specific and interesting comment that the Roman catechism makes is “there must be atonement for the complaining murmurings, to which, on seeing the wicked abound in wealth and flourish in honors, even the Saints themselves in their humanness have sometimes given expression” (Roman Catechism, Article 7, no. 4, pg. 84).
Again, it is very sobering to think of all that God will judge us on. Yet the purpose of reflecting on this is not so that we should become anxious and despair, but that we may see just how thorough our pursuit of virtue must be. Not just our outward actions, but even our inward thoughts must be pleasing in God’s sight.
God will give us the help – the grace – we need to lead a life worthy of heaven. It’s hard work that we have to apply ourselves to daily, but He will help us! And for those times that we fall short, the Lord provides us so many ways of being forgiven and atoning – Confession and Indulgences chief among them.
Thirty-third Sunday of Time throughout the Year/Sixth Resumed Sunday after Epiphany
14 November 2021
The Catechism of the Council of Trent instructs pastors that “The truth which this Seventh Article [“from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead”] proclaims, when seen with the eyes of faith, is most efficacious in bridling the perverse tendencies of the heart and in withdrawing souls from sin. Hence we read in Sirach: ‘In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin’ (Si 7:36)” (Roman Catechism Article 7, no. 11, pg 87). That’s the spirit in which we want to reflect on the “Last Things” – specifically what it will be like to be judged by God individually at our particular judgment and also at the general judgment.
But taking a que from our Lord in the way He prepared His Apostles for the Crucifixion by means of the glory of the Transfiguration, today I would like to lay some groundwork from the perspective of indulgences. Explaining what an indulgence is (and what it is not) will help us to understand better understand what will happen at both our particular and the final judgment.
The Baltimore Catechism offers this definition of an Indulgence: “An indulgence is the remission granted by the Church of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven” (n. 435). It goes on to clarify: “An indulgence does not take away sin. Neither does it take away the eternal punishment due to mortal sins. An indulgence can produce its effect in the soul only after sins are forgiven and, in the case of mortal sins, only after their eternal punishment is taken away” (n. 435 (a)). So, an important key to our understanding of what happens at our Particular Judgment has to do with this idea of punishment, both temporal and eternal.
Eternal punishment is pretty straightforward. It is a punishment that lasts forever, and that is nothing other than hell. It is both the pain of separation from God and the pain inflicted on our bodies, once they rise from the dead (Roman Catechism, Article 7, no. 9, 10, pp. 86-87). And the way we earn such a punishment is by dying in the state of unrepented mortal sin. The good news is, if we have the misfortune to commit a mortal sin, it can be forgiven in Confession. This takes away the eternal punishment due to the sin.
However, confession only removes the temporal punishment to the degree that we are well disposed for the sacrament. This goes for confessing venial sins as well. The Baltimore Catechism explains that “God requires temporal punishment for sin to satisfy His justice, to teach us the great evil of sin, and to warn us not to sin again” (n. 423). A partial analogy would be to think of what happens if someone were to punch you in the jaw. Hopefully, being a good Christian, you would forgive the offender, but your jaw wouldn’t be magically fixed. Our sins do damage, and both the offender and the offended have to live with the consequences – that someone (God, another person, or simply oneself) was harmed by the sin.
“We pay the debt of our temporal punishment either in this life or in purgatory.
(a) We should do as much penance as we can in this life or our sins. Our works of satisfaction in this life help us to merit greater glory in heaven.
(b) The debt of temporal punishment is paid in this life according to the penance imposed and the devotion with which it is performed. The priest is obliged to impose greater or less penance in proportion to the gravity and number of the sins confessed.
“besides the penance imposed after confession, the chief means of satisfying the debt of our temporal punishments are: prayer, attending Mass, fasting, almsgiving, the works of mercy, the patient endurance of sufferings, and indulgences” (424, 425).
In other words, our sins rack up all this temporal punishment even when the eternal punishment is forgiven. We are accountable for this in the next life if we haven’t adequately paid it off in this life. This is why we will spend time in purgatory if we die free from mortal sin. God sees every single little thing we do, the good and the bad alike. Because sin offends Him so much, we should find it unpleasant to think about appearing before His Almighty throne without having atoned for our sins.
So this is a good reason to put our heart into doing our penances from confession and during Lent, to go beyond them as much as we can, and to start to try earning indulgences. We will still be accountable to God for every single thought, word, and deed we have ever made. But if we appear before God having made satisfaction for our sins in this life, our reward in the next will reflect it.
Thirty-second Sunday of Time throughout the Year/Fifth Resumed Sunday after Epiphany
7 November 2021
At the close of the Liturgical Year, the Church presents to us images of what things will be like at the close of the age, that is, the end of the world. From the Lord’s parables describing the Last Judgment to the realities contemplated by the Feasts of Christ the King and All Saints along with the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, the Church is very deliberately telling us that we must contemplate what things will be like when, not only the world as a whole will come to meet its Maker, but we as individuals will come to meet our Maker.
Have you ever done that? Thought about what it will be like to go before God at your Particular Judgment immediately after you die? Don’t assume it is going to be pleasant! Think of how we feel when we do one thing wrong. Now think about having all of these past deeds presented to us at once in God’s presence!
Many of the traditional prayers for All Souls Day help us reflect on this sober reality even as they offer us the hope of eternal life. They are a reminder to those who still live on earth that if we wish to follow in that hope (and be united with God forever and reunited with our loves ones who are in heaven), we must live our lives mindful of the consequences of sin and the rewards of truly meritorious good deeds. Will God really be convinced if we say to Him at our Particular Judgment, “I was a good person, I didn’t kill anyone”? Our calling is much higher than that. So, over the next few weeks, I would like to offer some reflections on these “Last things” (as they are traditionally called) that we must all face.
But let’s begin with me renewing the point I made a few weeks ago: leading a life of true trust in God requires constant and deliberate practice. Daily prayer, especially the Rosary, along with regular truly sacrificial giving and generous giving of our time in service are all important because everything that we have comes from God. And even more to the point, what He truly wants from us is not our stuff – He wants us, ourselves. He wants us to love Him just as much as He loves us. Not that we can actually do that, but we can love Him with our whole being.
Isn’t this what the example of the poor widow placing two small coins in the treasury tells us (Mark 12:38-44)? Or the widow from whom the Prophet Elijah demands a small cake before she feeds her son and herself (1 Kings 17:10-16)? Keep in mind widows in those days were particularly vulnerable and poor. Yet, both of these women trust that if they are generous to God, He will not leave them wanting.
Now, we don’t need to worry about how perfectly we do these things. The reality is that we won’t. On account of our fallen human nature, the scar of concupiscence – this tendency we inherited from Adam and Eve to want to do the wrong thing – we are going to fall short.
As the Lord shows us in the parable of the weeds and the wheat, evil will grow up along with good. But the Lord allows this in order not to uproot the good (Matthew 13: 24-30). He respects our freedom, even when it leads to bad, sinful choices. It is our responsibility, however, to be on guard for these weeds in our own lives, and in appropriate ways in the lives of our neighbors, and to get rid of them as we identify them. However, we must not stress, give into anxiety, that they are there. We are to strive for perfection, but we cannot accomplish it on our own. We need God’s sanctifying grace, given to us especially though the sacraments.
Moreover, the daily practice of trusting God in small things will help prepare us to trust Him when we are presented with some challenge. Perhaps it will be a tragedy in our family or maybe it will be coming to terms with a teaching of the Church we didn’t know about or didn’t think applied to us. If we have learned in small ways that we can trust God, we will be better prepared to trust Him at these more difficult moments, and we will be better prepared to meet when we depart from this world.
So, in the coming week I ask you to reflect on how deliberately and generously you give yourself to God each day and throughout the day. And similarly, begin to consider what God’s assessment of this will be when you go to meet Him at your final judgment. Don’t assume it’s going to be a pleasant experience, like the pearly gates we hear in so many of those jokes.
If you think that you will be found wanting, what is that you need to do differently?
Twenty-ninth Sunday of Time throughout the Year\Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
17 October 2021
So, here’s the much anticipated third part of this "exciting" homily series!
But a quick recap first:
Recall that important insight that St. Bede offers when he explains that, “prayer, in a wider sense, must consist of more than mere words beseeching God’s mercy; it embraces everything we do with a dedicated spirit of faith in the service of our Creator” (Matins, Ember Wednesday in September). Our prayer life needs to touch every aspect of our lives, including things that don’t seem obviously connected. … like the the third thing I would like you to consider.
This third topic is perhaps the most difficult, even though it’s probably not as awkward a topic as sacrificial giving. Today I would like to ask you to consider how you can give your time to God via our parish.
I think this is a difficult topic because time is perhaps everyone’s most precious commodity. We either have too little of it or too much of it, even though we all have the same number of hours in a day. On top of that, while we have plenty of needs here at St. Mary’s, they may not match your availability or your skill set. Still, I’d like to ask you to give it some serious consideration.
Why? Here are three reasons:
The Lord and His Blessed Mother show us time and again the importance of offering ourselves in service to our neighbor. Keep in mind however, that while we are rightly accustomed to thinking of service as helping the materially poor, we should not imagine that that is the only form of service that the Lord is calling us to. There are opportunities for service all around us, starting with our families.
St. Ambrose continues, “… Mary’s presence for so long a time … meant that the Prophet was being anointed and trained [by Christ’s presence] like a good athlete in his mother’s womb; for his strength was being built up for an uncompromising struggle” (Third Nocturn, Lesson IX, Matins, The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Just the Lord’s presence was a service to John the Baptist. In our own way, we can offer the service of presence. Simply put, service, done in genuine love of God and neighbor, helps build each other up at the same time that we are imitating our Lord and Blessed Mother.
To make this invitation more concrete, in the bulletin you will find a list of “opportunities to serve” – please take it home with you and prayerfully consider what God might be calling you to do at this time. It’s okay if right now you feel stretched too thin to take something else on, maybe that will change in the future. For that matter, don’t hesitate to ask questions before making a decision, and don’t hesitate to share an idea for something else (the list is not exhaustive). There’s a contact provided for each option.
Please remember that I’m proposing these practices as a way of developing this habit of trusting God more in our lives and giving Him the space to do accomplish great things through us. I think we are poised as a parish family for just that, but it won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen without ongoing effort.
In talking about all of this, I’ve tried to present Mary as our guide in these exercises. They are aimed at helping us to “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you” (CCC 2834). That we need to develop a deeper sense of the way we depend on God – the way we need to “hold fast” to Him yet “let [ourselves] go” into His hands.
Twenty-eighth Sunday of Time throughout the Year/Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
10 October 2021
Last Sunday I presented this contrast of “holding fast” and “letting go” in our prayer lives, I and asked you to make a commitment to praying the Rosary as an important way of developing this habit in our lives – because it won’t happen overnight.
I hope you were able to pray the Rosary each day this past week, and it was great to see so many people in church for Adoration and the Rosary. Don’t forget my challenge to pray the Rosary each day this month, and prayerfully consider making the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary (there’s more information available in the bulletin and after Mass).
Reflecting on the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel (16-28), St. Bede the Venerable comments on the Lord’s words, “This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting.” The Lord says this to His disciples, after a failed attempt to expel a demon. St. Bede explains that “fasting, in a wide sense, means more than restrictions on food. It means keeping the allurements of the flesh at a distance; indeed, keeping oneself from every sinful passion. Likewise, prayer, in a wider sense, must consist of more than mere words beseeching God’s mercy;it embraces everything we do with a dedicated spirit of faith in the service of our Creator” (Matins, Ember Wednesday in September).
I think that this illuminates the contrast of “holding fast” and “letting go,” and of, “Pray[ing] as if everything depended on God and work[ing] as if everything depended on you” (CCC 2834).
St. Bede helps us realize that our spiritual practices must permeate every aspect of our lives. Our Blessed Mother is our best example of this way of life. She is that perfect disciple “who hear[s] the word of God and keep[s] it!” (Luke 11:28).
With this second part of this homily series, what I’d like to ask you to consider may seem forced or contrived. It might possibly seem overly personal. But if it seems that way, then it’s all the better an example of the depths to which we must live the Faith. If this topic is not first and foremost a spiritual one, it becomes shallow, empty, and even downright worldly, and I certainly shouldn’t be talking about it.
The topic is sacrificial giving, and it is a surprising way of both “holding fast” to God and “letting go” into His hands. We probably don’t think about Mary and Joseph being concerned about finances, but carpentry was not a hobby for Joseph. He had to earn a living, and we can imagine that as he fled with the child Jesus into Egypt, he and Mary had to abandon not only their lives but their financial situation as well into God’s hands.
I’ve shared with you quotes about almsgiving in the past, such as from the Book of Tobit, “Give in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give alms even of that little… for almsgiving saves from death and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life” (Tob. 4:8, 12:9).
So, the idea of sacrificial giving is not a contrived aspect of our spiritual life. The commandment of the Church, articulated in the Baltimore Catechism, that we must “contribute to the support of the Church” is not a scheme by the Church to fill her coffers (Revised Baltimore Catechism n. 297).
Of course, I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are some members of the Church, including clergy, who abuse this.
However, I would like to recall that over the past year we have made a very deliberate effort to increase our financial responsibility and transparency both by tightening our belt and publishing quarterly financial reports so you see where your money is going. The covid crisis caused us to take a hard look at our financial situation, and with the help of the Finance Committee and the staff, Dan Taylor crafted and implemented a strategic deficit reduction plan. In this Sunday’s bulletin, you will find our yearly financial report, and you will see that these efforts yielded results much faster than anticipated.
I believe that these positive results are the direct result of trusting in God’s Providence (letting go)while working hard day to day to make prudent use of your generous donations (holding fast). Similarly, I believe that you have continued to be so generous even during these difficult times because you realize that making a contribution to the offertory is truly a spiritual exercise. I am most grateful.
What I would like to ask you to consider today is, is God calling you to stretch yourself, to give of yourself just a little bit more?
Tomorrow afternoon, an email will go out as a follow up, it will include a chart that will help you consider how you might make a modest increase in your regular offering.
But simply put, please prayerfully consider a 2 to 5 percent increase to your regular gift.
Or if you don’t currently give, consider if you can make an offering of 2% of your income each week.
There are two reasons for this.
I have to stand before you as a beggar because this is the way I must “work as if everything depends on me” or “hold fast.” But I firmly believe that God will provide for the needs of our parish. In this sense, I am “praying as if everything depends on Him” and “letting go” into His hands.
I humbly ask you to join me in discerning how God is calling you to make a sacrificial offering in thanksgiving for all His many blessing upon you. How He is calling us to let ourselves go into His hands as Mary and Joseph did during their flight into Egypt and throughout their lives.
Our Lady of the Rosary (External Solemnity) 3 October 2021
As we began the Rosary Congress last year, I offered the image of “holding fast” to the ship while in a raging storm. I hope you can say the same, but that image has stuck with me throughout the year. The idea of clinging to the ship for dear life lest I be swept away into the abyss of the sea never to be seen again, to swim until exhausted, just to suffocate in the water. This was pretty good motivation to pray the Rosary each day… at least for me.
This year, I am going to ask you to let go. Be swept away. Of course, I don’t mean stop praying the Rosary.
But I think the image of letting go and being swept away gives some sense of abandoning ourselves into Mary’s hands and God’s Divine Providence. Our Blessed Lady, because she is the perfect disciple of her Son and has been entrusted to us as our very own Mother, will always watch over us, will always see us through the worst of storms. She will always assure us of and ask for God’s providential, all powerful love for us. Even if we feel like we’re drowning – as St. Peter did after he began to walk to the Lord on the water in faith – the Lord, through the intercession of His Blessed Mother, is there to rescue us.
Now this contrast of “holding fast” and “letting go,” apart from hopefully getting your attention, is meant to illustrate the saying attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, referenced by Father Louis during last week’s mission, and quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you” (CCC 2834).
This is a way of life. One Sunday homily will not cause us to start living this way. So, I am going to ask you to consider three ways that will help train us to live this way, or live it more deeply, over the next three Sundays. Now the first, as you would probably expect at the beginning of the Rosary Congress, is specifically on prayer. And here, my invitation is three-fold as well.
First, I would like to ask you to commit to praying the Rosary this week and push yourself just a little beyond what you normally do. If you don’t already pray it daily, do so this week. If you already pray the Rosary daily, make a serious effort to come here to church for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, beginning with the Rosary at the top of the hour. Perhaps you would even sign up for one of the hours that we still need covered – you can do so after Mass or there’s a link in the bulletin and on our website.
Second, make a commitment to praying the Rosary each day during the entire month of October. Pope Leo XIII consecrated October to the Rosary in the late 19th century, and I think we all have some sense that October is a special time for honoring the Blessed Mother. But specifically, it is a special time for honoring her through recitation of the Holy Rosary.
If committing to praying the Rosary every day for the rest of your life seems daunting, start with this month of October.
Third, speaking of St. Louis de Montfort, he is perhaps most famous for promoting “true devotion” to the Blessed Mother through “total consecration.” I would like to invite you to make this total consecration on December 8.
St. Louis says, “If we would go up to God, and be united with Him, we must use the same means He used to come down to us to be made Man and to impart His graces to us. This means is a true devotion to our Blessed Lady. … [it] is an easy, short, perfect and secure way of attaining union with our Lord, in which union the perfection of a Christian consists” (True Devotion, nos. 23, 152).
But if you’re anything like me, this might still sound intimidating at first.
So, more specifically, I would like to invite you to take this month of October to prayerfully consider making this total consecration to Jesus through Mary. Strictly speaking, the Consecration will begin on November 5. But to help you prepare and/or decide, we will offer a sign up and materials (through a generous donor) next Sunday.
Between then and November 5, you will have the option of using the little book about true Devotion to Mary called "The Secret of Mary," which experience has shown that this method is very effective in heling people decide to understand the idea of total consecration to Jesus through Mary.
A fellow parishioner who is experienced with the consecration will help with this preparatory exercise and will be available to answer your questions. Or, simply make your daily recitation of the Rosary this month the way you prayerful consider this invitation. If you have already made your consecration, please remember that we are supposed to renew it yearly, so you can join this effort, too.
Finally, as an added incentive, those who successfully consecrate on December 8 will be enrolled in a few special prayer associations, and so receive the benefit of their prayers, including the association of the Miraculous Medal and receive a special certificate.
The Rosary along with total consecration to Jesus through Mary, are simple but important ways of letting ourselves go into Mary’s hands so that she can lift us up to greater union with her son. If you find any of these invitations challenging or even just uninteresting, I invite you to open your heart just a little to them – let go – and find in our Blessed Mother that perfect guide to a deeper relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary 15 August 2021
If one were to consider just the fact that it wasn’t until 1950 that Pope Pius XII solemnly declared the teaching that, at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, one might be tempted to think that today’s feast day is only a recent one.
And yet, it has been celebrated here at St. Mary’s ever since our founding. In fact, some have speculated that the feast goes back to the Apostles themselves, but what is more likely is that it originated in the fifth century (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume 13, 359).
Still, we can picture the events of that day rather vividly. As one author describes, “When the time came for the Blessed [Mother] to leave this earth, the apostles were gathered from all lands; and having learnt that the hour was at hand, they watched with her. Now the Lord Jesus came with His angels and received her soul… And again the Lord came, and the holy body was taken up in a cloud” (Greg. Turon. De gloria Martyr., iv. quoted in Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume 13, 364).
St. Peter Damian testifies that “the whole people [of Rome] spent the glorious night in prayer, singing and visiting the different churches; and according to several privileged person enlightened from above, still greater at that blessed hour, was the number of souls delivered from Purgatory by the Queen of the universe, and all visiting likewise the sanctuaries consecrated to her name” (Petr. Dam. Opusc. xxxiv. Disputat. De variis apparat. et miraculis, Cap. 3. quoted in Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume 13, 365).
“Peter the Venerable and other reliable witnesses mention the prodigy, annually renewed, of the torches burning throughout the whole night, and being found on the morrow to be of the same weight as on the eve” (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume 13, 367, quoting Petr. Venerab. De miraculis, II. Xxx. And Marangoni, Istoria dell’ Oratorio di Sancta Sanctorum, p. 127).
So not only is this a very ancient feast in the life of the Church, but it has always been held in great importance. Staying awake all night in prayer and holy festivity, souls being released from Purgatory, torches bringing all night long with the fuel undiminished, and other various observances throughout the world and throughout history, in honor of this unique feast day, all point to this importance. And that importance is relevant just as much today, if not, perhaps more so, than ever because we live in a society today that seems to fall into one of two extremes.
On one hand treats the body as little more than a toy to eventually be thrown out. Whether it be endlessly seeking after pleasure in luxorious vacations, adventures, alcohol, drugs, or sex; engaging in gratuitous violence either directly or as entertainment; or the neglect or very destruction of life of those who are most vulnerable or looked down upon, especially innocent life in the womb.
Or on the other hand, the opposite end of the spectrum, making the body an idol which must be kept in scrupulously perfect health, with exaggeratedly rigorous diets or exercise routines; or training the body for sporting activities to the detriment of other duties; or preserved at all costs from any sort of ill health; or going into a kind of despair at losing one’s health or mobility.
Today, it is so easy to care all too much or all too little for one’s body, even to the point of little regard for proper funeral and burial rites when one’s life has finally passed.
The feast of the Blessed Mother’s Assumption into heaven presents an urgent reminder that our body is, indeed, a gift from God, part of the whole human person that includes the soul. And not only is it a gift from God, He has even made it His very dwelling place. For us Christians, He has washed it clean in Baptism by the very Blood he shed on the Cross. He consecrates it by the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. And He nourishes and dwells in it by means of His very Body and Blood in His Most Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Mother was Assumed into heaven today because “she could not be held by the bonds of death, who of her own flesh brought forth our Lord … incarnate” (Ancient Roman Prayer, quoted in Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume 13, 370). This feast honors the logical conclusion of the reality that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the very tabernacle of the Most High. And while she enjoyed this privilege in a way that no one else ever will, we must acknowledge the reality that being washed, and consecrated, and especially fed by the Lord through His Sacraments means that we share in that privilege and dignity in a remarkably important way in our own right.
All the more care should we pay to this reality because this is the title that our church home bears. This is the place where so many of us have received the sacraments over the decades and day in and day out, the place from which our loved ones have begun their Christian life and likewise from which they been buried. The fact that our Lady of the Assumption is our patroness should cause us to honor her holy body and soul, assumed into heaven, with even greater devotion and inspire us to live in such a way that we too will follow where she has been taken first.
So, my challenge to you today is to make one simple resolution about how you are going to live your life with a greater sense of holy balance. Ask yourself question like these: Do I need to reign in my seeking after pleasure? Am I scrupulous about my health? (In other words, am I constantly anxious about not getting sick). Is the orientation of my life such that coming to Mass, my prayer life, or support of my fellow Christians and parishioners in the pursuit of holiness is an afterthought?
These are broad questions, but I think if we are honest with ourselves before God we will be able to identify some concrete way – whether it be big or small – that we can grow in greater virtue and a healthier regard for the dignity of our bodies.
Let us ask the Blessed Mother – today and every day – that we may pursue true holiness to our last breath and join her in that heavenly reward, won for us by her Son’s Cross and Resurrection.
Eighteenth Sunday of Time throughout the Year & Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 1 August 2021
Last Sunday I asked you to consider how:
This Sunday I would like to ask you to consider the humility that we need in order to do this well. The crowd that the Lord is teaching in St. John’s Gospel, chapter 6, ask Him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” which leads to Him assuring them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Humility is required to approach the Lord. The Lord is leading this crowd to go further than filling their bellies, further than seeing the signs, but to truly believe in Him. Those in the crowd who truly responded to His call had to have the humility to acknowledge that they were hungry beyond mere bodily desire, that they were thirsty beyond what even water could quench. They had to have the humility to acknowledge that God is not only in their midst, but that it is only He who is capable of fulling this deepest of desires.
Similar to that tendency we have as Americans, that I mentioned a couple of Sundays ago, that I think we have, to work too hard, we also tend to think or act like we have it all together. We very easily forget our dependence on God.
To make this more concrete, let’s look at the Pharisee and Publican whom the Lord tells us about in chapter 18 of St. Luke’s Gospel. They both go up to the temple to pray. In a certain sense, they each, in their own way, have it together. We learn from the Pharisee’s prayer that he is just and chaste; he doesn’t steel; he fasts twice a week and even tithes (gives a full tenth) of everything he owns. The Publican, we can surmise because he is a tax collector, is a very wealthy individual, extorting extra money from the people from whom he collects taxes. We might even say he has climbed the ladder of success to some degree. In a worldly way, he seems to have it together. But notice that the Lord observes a very important difference between the two. Whereas the Publican stands far off, casts his eyes downward, and beats his breast, the Pharisee stands upright, comes close, yet he prays not to God but to himself.
The Lord makes it clear that the humble posture and prayer of the Publican is the prayer that is acceptable to God. Despite staying far off, or rather because of it, he truly approaches the Lord. On the other hand, the Fathers of the Church point out that one of the Pharisee’s biggest faults is that he compares himself to others. He makes his so-called prayer at the expense of others, even the man who is praying just a short distance away from him.
One of the greatest pitfalls that we can experience in the way we approach the Lord in our prayer, at Mass, and especially in Holy Communion, is if we should compare ourselves to others. There are two extremes here. The more obvious trap is to think that we are better than others. Perhaps this is because we think there’s nothing wrong with us, or maybe it’s that we don’t need God and that we have accomplished all of our good on our own. Or perhaps we realize that these gifts come from God but think that we have earned them. Or maybe we think that no one is so deserving as we are (cf. St. Gregory the Great, Catena Aurea: St. Luke).
Moreover, a genuine prayer of thanksgiving can fall apart into a litany of reproach, like the Publican’s, listing all the ways that we are not so bad or so much better than everyone else. St. John Chrysostom explains that this is bad enough if we speak quietly, in our hearts, but should it turn into a conversation with others, it becomes that much worse. This is because it can lead sinners to rejoice that there is another as bad as them
or the righteous to think more highly of themselves. Instead of truly glorifying the name of God, it rather becomes an occasion for His name to be blasphemed and the reputation of Christians as a whole to be tarnished (cf. St. John Chrysostom, Catena Aurea: St. Luke).
Now the Publican could have taken this occasion of public derision (the Fathers seem to be indicating that the Pharisee was speaking aloud) as opportunity to get angry or harden his heart in his sins. But Chrysostom explains how the Publican used this derision to his own good. It helped him examine himself and turn to God in repentance. In fact, the Publican gives all of us sinners a great encouragement, because he reminds us that we should never make excuses like, “I don’t deserve forgiveness,” “my sins are too bad to be forgiven,” or “I am ashamed.” Chrysostom says that, “The devils have that kind of fear,” and by stirring it up in us, they try to get us to close the door to ourselves on God’s mercy and even blame God at the same time. This is the other extreme.
In other words, the humility that the Publican demonstrates to us when contrasted with the Pharisee is simply that we must not compare ourselves to others, neither for the purpose of saying, look, I’m so much better and neither to say look, I’m so much worse.
We will only have the humility that is necessary to approach the Lord here in Mass and to receive Him worthily when we acknowledge that we are but sinners, yet that God still loves and gave himself up on the Cross for our sake. St. Augustine’s observes, “The Publican stood afar off, yet drew near to God. … Conscience weighed him down, hope raised him up, he smote his own breast, he exacted judgment upon himself. Therefore did the Lord spare the penitent” (cf. St. Augustine, Catena Aurea: St. Luke).
If we are going to receive fruitfully the grace that Christ bestows upon us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, if we are going to receive life from the Bread of Life, we must approach humbly, mindful of our sinfulness, - not comparing ourselves to others - yet full of hope that God lifts up the lowly to even greater heights than they can raise themselves.
Father Cibelli’s Homily for the Closing of the Rosary Congress/Twenty-eighth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year 11 October 2020
Click here for related reading, including links to some of the sources cited.
I mentioned last week how much I like the movie Master and Commander, but I guess I enjoy a lot of historical fiction movies and books. Movies like Gettysburg and Gods and Generals got me interested in the books behind them, along with similar books for many of the major military conflicts the United States has seen. On one hand I feel like I’m doing something not just recreational but educational, on the other hand, reading about the bravery and courageous leadership of the characters inspires me.
But inevitably, the more I look at some of these historic figures, I can rarely walk away thinking that they are perfect models to follow. Inevitably, the bigger the personality, the more likely we are to find some fault that makes them less-than-worthy of total admiration. We might say that they haven’t changed into their wedding garment, that is, they haven’t fully responded to the Lord’s invitation.
Or more to the point, they are not saints. And it’s only the canonized saints that we should look to with such unreserved admiration. That’s not to say we can’t admire many aspects of their lives. The people I am thinking of have made really important contributions to our nation. But in a world that is so confused about what is right and wrong, we need examples of virtue that will help us avoid the pitfalls of less-than-perfect ways of thinking and acting. It’s the same sort of thing I talked about last week with the old sailor in the movie: “hold fast” is a helpful motto but only if it’s a spiritual motto, a principled motto.
Elections present us with the same sort of problem. We want to be able to vote for candidates that we thoroughly admire, who are just and principled both in public and in private. We want to be able to choose between candidates like St. Louis, King of France, St. Stephen, King of Hungary, St. Wenceslaus, Duke of Poland, The Holy Roman Emperor St. Henry and his wife, St. Cunegunda, St Edward, King of England, St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Gertrude of Poland, St. Bridget of Sweden.
However, I don’t think anyone would disagree that we haven’t had candidates like that in quite a while. Sadly, we need to consider the dictum articulated by St. John Eudes, and echoed by the US Bishops a few years ago, that “we get the leaders we deserve” (Cf. Ripperger, Magisterial Authority, 57; NCCB, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, 34). That means that if we’re not really satisfied with our options it says something about society as a whole. So, if we’re frustrated by the choices we have before us, some self-reflection is warranted, not as if I am individually to blame, but I should consider the urgency of praying and doing penance for our political leaders and not merely complain about their short comings (Cf. Ripperger, Magisterial Authority, 56).
Yet that doesn’t change the immediate dilemma at hand. What do I do on election day? To cast our vote, or even to not cast our vote, in particular political contests is a moral choice. In other words, it’s either good or evil, and it’s sinful to make evil choices. Moreover, the duty to vote is a grave one when we are confronted with choices to uphold the common good and protect it from further erosion. In other words, the more serious the issues we are dealing with on the ballot, the more we are dealing with the risk of mortal sin. So, we can’t just ignore this dilemma. We can’t hide in our rooms and wait until it’s all over.
Then what criteria do we use? There’s obviously no Catholic party that aligns perfectly with the teachings of Christ and His Church. Therefore, candidates for every election have to be weighed not just on what they say or how they say it but by their promises, their past actions, and what they are likely to do in office. What is this particular candidate going to do to advance the common good? (Cf. Donovan, “Guide to Moral Duties Concerning Voting”, 3) What does the evidence indicate about their position on the most important aspects of the common good?
That leads to the question, what is the common good? It’s not the same thing as popular opinion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the “common good” as this: (1906) “‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’ The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements: … respect for the person…(1907) … the social well-being and development of the group itself… (1908) [and] peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order… (1909).
Still, that might sound a little abstract. Pope Benedict XVI, in addressing European parliamentarians in 2006 elaborates on this point:
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:
The short of it is: our decision in each contest on the ballot needs to be informed by these “non-negotiables.”
Now for as many important issues that this covers, the most fundamental one is abortion, because not only is abortion the taking of an innocent human life, it is the taking of the most defenseless innocent human life. In fact, the bishops of the United States have called it the “pre-eminent” issue of our time (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 22, quoting Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5).
In saying this, we are not condemning the women who find themselves faced with a crisis pregnancy or who have made the tragic decision for abortion. We’re not saying that there are no other important issues at stake. We’re simply saying that it is the most fundamental issue because it is the one right that make all other rights possible.
Further, the laws of a given nation teach the citizens of that nation something about the value of life. Mother Theresa has famously said: “if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another” and “Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants” (Address at National Prayer Breakfast, February 3, 1994).
Neither we can’t wait to fix the problems that lead to the temptation to commit abortion. How many years have passed since abortion was legalized in our great country? How many children have died in that time? More than 60 million by means of surgical or medical abortions. The number is shockingly higher – ten times – if abortifacient contraceptives are factored in (Cf. https://www.all.org/learn/abortion/abortion-statistics/).
In fact, it’s safe to say that outlawing abortion again will dramatically reduce the number of abortions that take place, because our laws teach something, and people follow suit. More people are smoking marijuana in states where it is legal to do so. That doesn’t make it right. If stealing where all of a sudden legalized, it wouldn’t make it right, but you can be sure that more people would steal.
These are some of the most important reasons why the issue of abortion must be the “pre-eminent” criteria with which we evaluate which candidate to vote for. And that’s why it’s such a grave (dealing with mortal sin) responsibility to vote in such a way as to advance its abolition.
Perhaps it seems extreme to base one’s vote primarily on one issue, but who of us would say that it was extreme to base his vote in the mid-1800s only to advance the abolition of slavery? Indeed, we hold in high regard those who worked so singularly to abolish slavery. Some issues are so fundamental that we have to address them before we can reasonably address other important issues.
I’m not suggesting that the way we cast our votes will fix this problem (or other problems) either entirely or immediately or that it endorses every aspect of that candidate. To be good citizens, we must not only vote but also invest ourselves in the fabric of our society to advance those reforms that need to happen regardless of who is in fact elected. Committing ourselves to letter writing campaigns and protests that are in harmony with Church teaching, as well as concrete charitable actions that benefit mothers struggling to provide for their children (like the Baby Bottle Campaign) or others who are have concrete needs. These are some of the many simple things we can and must do to be faithful citizens.
Neither am I suggesting that this is easy, so I will close by appealing to what I said last week: “Prayer, especially the Rosary [and I’ll include fasting], has the power to change hearts and, therefore, the outcome of apparently hopeless situations.” Praying the Rosary will help raise up the saints that we need so desperately in these desperate times. Maybe one of these saints will run for public office.
So, hold fast to the Faith, hold fast to the Rosary, and the Blessed Mother will guide not only our vote but all of our actions to make our nation a more just society.
Father Cibelli’s Homily for the Opening of the 2020 Rosary Congress
Our Lady of the Rosary (External Solemnity), 4 October 2020
One of my favorite movies is Master and Commander, the 2003 film based on Patrick O’Brian’s series of historical fiction novels about life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. To give you an idea of just how much I like it, when my mother was sick with cancer, I was able to spend a lot of time with her (so it was a rather unique circumstance), and we wound up watching in this move two days in a row! It captured my attention when it first came out – I was just finishing college – for the heroism and fraternity and friendship that it portrays among the officers and the seamen. Since then, I’ve had a chance to read the novels and realize how faithful it is of the books, but also that it leaves out the less-than-admirable-side of life at sea!
More to the point, one of my favorite images from the movie is this old, crusty sailor who has the words “HOLD FAST” tattooed in between his knuckles, easily legible when his fists were clenched. You heard this expression yelled out in the midst of a violent storm when everyone had to “hold fast” to whatever they could, just not to be washed overboard. There were moments in the movie when it looked like the ship would be lost or at least how easily it would have been for someone to be swept away. All you really could do was “hold fast” to some sturdy piece of the ship’s rigging and hope that the captain would know all the right decisions to make to weather the storm.
In the storm caused by the coronavirus these past six months, this phrase has come to find often. For me, not so much a fear of being swept overboard by the virus, but the great commotion and confusion that would ensure with each new development of restrictions is what caused me to think of this phrase. I think it’s safe to say that each of us felt our lives battered by this storm for one reason or another, not the least of which was being shut out of church early on. Add to that, as time went on, the civil unrest that many parts of our nation have experienced on account of racial tensions. And now, there’s certainly a lot of commotion, to say the least, as we get closer to Election day.
The image of this old sailor’s clenched fists and the words “HOLD FAST” keep coming to my mind. But, while that advice is very practical in the midst of an actual tempest at sea, it has to mean something more in the storm that we’re experiencing. In other words, worldly inspiration isn’t enough. We can’t just hide in our rooms and wait things out.
What I find encouraging is that this phrase actually occurs in all sorts of places in the English (RSV) translation of the Bible. St. Paul, in particular, uses it a lot
The Rosary Congress also makes me think of it. Last year, as we began the Rosary Congress, Father Antoninus shared with us his own story of life at sea, returning from a mission trip, when it looked like the boat they were sailing in would sink. What did Father Antoninus have the wisdom to do? He pulled out his Rosary and began to pray. Sure enough, the boat made it to port safely.
Of course, Father Antoninus told his own story much better than I just did, but it seems to me that he did the spiritual equivalent of what that crusty old sailor recommended. He turned to our Blessed Mother, the Star of the Sea, and “held fast” to her. Physically, he held the Rosary in his hand. Spiritually, he put all his hope in God and the Blessed mother’s intercession. He put his hope in God, who gave Mary the grace she needed to do His will from the Annunciation all the way to the Cross, from the Resurrection to her Assumption and Crowning in heaven. God did not let down the Blessed Mother, He didn’t let down Father Antoninus, He hasn’t let down countless generations of His faithful who have turned to the Rosary. And He won’t let you or me down.
So this week I want to encourage you to do the same. Whatever storm you’re experiencing in life: maybe it’s the virus, maybe it’s the hierarchy’s response to the virus, maybe it’s the election, or maybe it’s something particular to your own situation. Maybe it’s in-your-face or maybe you’re trying to ignore it. Whatever it is, use this week to learn to “hold fast” a little bit tighter to the Blessed Mother who will see you safely through the storm.
Make a special effort to come to church from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm. The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed on the altar in the monstrance surrounded by flickering candles. We’ll recite the Rosary at the top of every hour. For those who still don’t feel safe leaving the house, you can still pray the Rosary there. Maybe do so at the same time we’re praying it here in church. I’d also like to ask you that in addition to whatever personal intention you have, to pray for our Nation in a special way as we prepare for Election day.
Don’t forget the power of intercessory prayer that Father Langan highlighted a few weeks ago when we heard in Matthew’s Gospel: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” (Matt. 18:19). Prayer, especially the Rosary, has the power to change hearts and, therefore, the outcome of apparently hopeless situations.
At the very least, whether you come to church or not, I want to challenge each of you – old and young alike – to pray the Rosary each day this week, or at the very least pray a few decades throughout each day.
If you are looking for peace in the chaotic storms of this life, “hold fast” to Mary’s hand, pray the Rosary, and she will lead you safely to port, to our heavenly homeland.
Father Langan's Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday of Time Throughout the Year 30 August 2020
We have all experienced, directly or indirectly, the damage that can be caused by a lie. Lies - the deliberate communicating of a falsehood with the intention to deceive - cause ruptures in trust, and the bigger the lie, the greater the damage done to the relationship. Lies are, unfortunately, extremely common. Truth is sometimes inconvenient because it often challenges and convicts, correcting a viewpoint that gives a sense of comfort or control to the one telling the lie. Even in the case of small lies - which are still venial sins - there is some comfort or ease that the lie brings to one’s reality. But, when lies are large in that they treat very serious aspects of reality regarding our own health, physical or spiritual, they can do tremendous harm.
St. Paul gives us an indirect kind of a warning about lies in the spiritual life. “Do not be conformed to this age,” the Apostle writes to the Romans, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is good and pleasing and perfect.” St. Paul’s exhortation reveals that there is an ever present danger to our souls in the lies that we tell ourselves, or are told to us by the World and especially the Devil, that ever active Lord of this world and this present darkness. These lies in which this enemy trades, and we so often believe, are lies that convince us of many untrue things about ourselves, about the world, about happiness, and above all, about God. They lead us, by degrees, to lose sight of our eternal destiny, dulling our minds and our senses through repeated reinforcement of the distorted sense of reality they give. We give in to those lies by sinning, and so we ingrain the patterns of behavior that, in their turn, further reinforce them. And so they lead to habitual sin or compromises to worldly ways of thinking, such as materialism, individualism, or even relativism. Obscuring the true nature of our reality, they keep us from not only enjoying the freedom that God wishes us to experience, but, possibly, even from attaining the everlasting life of heaven. Their danger is also in that they are subtle and difficult to spot, masquerading as they do not as lies but as obvious truths. Therefore, they can be very difficult to uproot.
What things can these lies tell us? This list is not exhaustive, but they tell us things like, after falling once, there is not point in resisting again; that God can’t or won’t save me, my sins are too great; or, that the Catholic faith is too hard, too demanding; or even that sainthood isn’t for me, it is enough for me to do the bare minimums - recite my prayers, go to Sunday Mass, and confession every Lent, and that I will surely be saved. They tell us that we are too old, too young, or too busy to embark on the road of discipleship and real spiritual progress. They tell us that holiness is a matter of certain devotions and thinking the right things, not of being transformed in Charity. They tell us that God is a cruel and unyielding judge; or, they tell us there will always be time to repent - what could it cost to hold on to this sin a little while longer?
We witness St. Peter fall pray to a lie in the Gospel, and we see in the surprisingly stern rebuke from our Blessed Lord just how dangerous they are. Peter falls prey to a common lie that expects the Messiah to offer a worldly, political salvation, a worldly Kingdom. But, Christ is revealing that He must obey His Father and bear the curse of Sin in His own blood in order to deliver us from the slavery to the Kingdom of the Father of Lies and to the life and freedom of the Children of God. Jesus tells St. Peter this, and urges him - and us - to take captive the human thoughts that war within him, and create obstacles to his discipleship and sanctification. The thoughts that the disciple must have are the thoughts of God, thoughts that lead him not to fear the loss of this life, but to store up the heavenly treasure that lasts forever and that truly fulfills his every longing.
But, of course, our greatest obstacle to building up this treasure is precisely those lies that we have come to believe, and that create for us the single greatest obstacle to conversion and advancement in the spiritual life. What can we do to identify them and uproot them? There are many remedies at our disposal: monthly confession, daily meditation/mental prayer, weekly study of the faith, with particular focus on the spiritual life and the virtues. All of these things must be habits in the life of a serious Christian who is making real progress toward his heavenly homeland. But a most necessary tool that isn’t mentioned enough is that of the daily Examen. I do not mean the examination of conscience, such as one utilizes when going to confession. What I mean is the daily consciousness examen popularized by St. Ignatius of Loyola, in which the Christian, for about 10 minutes at least once daily in the afternoon and/or evening, reviews his or her day with the Lord, exploring not simply the areas where he/she sinned, but also the times and situations where they detected God’s grace and power encouraging them, moving them, inspiring them, warning them, challenging them. This broader way of examining one’s conscience and the state of one’s soul helps the Christian to identify not simply the facts of his successes and failures, but the lies about the world, himself and God that have not only led him to sin, but keep him repeating the same patterns. With practice, this prayer can not only help you identify the pattern of lies, but can even help you notice them in the midst of temptation or desolation, or even before. It gives you the space and opportunity to stop in the moment and bring these falsehoods that bind you into the light of the Holy Spirit where, slowly but surely, they will begin to lose their hold over you, and you begin to enter into greater freedom and progress in the Spiritual life.
If you want to read more about how to do this, sources are abundant online, but a great book has been written on the subject by Fr. Timothy Gallagher called the Examen Prayer. I urge you to look at this or other resources you can find and really learn this method of prayer, because the Father of Lies has holds on us that we may not even be aware of. So let us resolve to truly open our hearts and our minds and shine the Light of the Holy Spirit in the deep corners of our soul, that we may come to know the freedom of minds transformed and renewed in Christ’s Truth and Love.
Father Cibelli's Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday of Time Throughout the Year 30 August 2020
The Lord commands us to take up our cross and follow Him if we wish to be His disciple. But even Peter had a hard time accepting this – not just for himself, but for the Lord! Peter’s reluctance, of course, is not surprising. Who of us has any natural inclination to suffering? But add to that the image of the cross. We take it for granted today. In many ways it has become a quaint expression. But for those who lived in the Roman Empire, they all knew it was a horrendous death. So brutal, that Cicero says it was not acceptable to speak of it in public (Cf. Mitch and Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, 212).
So if we are going to follow the Lord in this challenging way, if we are going to embrace our crosses, if we are going to be saints, there are three fundamental things we need: faith, hope, and charity.
“Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (Revised Baltimore Catechism, n. 124). To overcome our natural aversion to suffering, we certainly need the virtue of charity. There are all sorts of difficult things that we will do for our family and friends – that we wouldn’t even consider doing for a stranger – because of the love we have for them. So, if we’re going to actually accept the call to pick up our crosses, it has to be done out of charity. This gets more and more challenging the more difficult or painful the cross is.
Now, it’s one thing to get over our initial aversion to doing something difficult or painful for God Himself or a loved one. But when we consider that loving our neighbors also includes our enemies, or those we just don’t like, our eagerness to suffer is probably going to be greatly diminished.
The virtue of hope comes into play here. “Hope is the virtue by which we firmly trust that God, who is all-powerful and faithful to His promises, will in His mercy give us eternal happiness and the means to obtain it.” We might think of it in St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
In other words, God will not ask us to do something that he does not also give us the strength to accomplish. In telling us that we must take up our cross, no matter how difficult, to follow Him, He will also provide the grace we need to do so.
Still, we are talking about suffering here. Nobody has a natural attraction to suffering. We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want our loved ones to suffer. Peter didn’t want the Lord to suffer. But the Lord tells us to pick up our cross daily, an instrument of torture and death, and follow him. The pursuit of holiness doesn’t stop with merely avoiding sin, it “aspires to nothing less than the willingness to suffer out of live for Christ” (Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, 430). “The essence of this ideal of sanctity consists in preferring what is difficult. This is done simply out of love for Christ,
in order to be more like him in poverty, humiliation, and the cross” (Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, 430-431). But it is not easy to see why this is reasonable. It only makes sense in the light of the virtue of faith (cf. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, 431).
“Faith is the virtue by which we firmly believe all the truths God has revealed, on the word of God revealing them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived” (Revised Baltimore Catechism, n. 122). We take the word of human beings all the time, like when we get our car repaired or have electrical work done or when the doctor tells us what our sickness is. When we consider that God will not deceive us because He is Love Itself, we should not find it difficult to believe Him.
So, on one hand, the virtue of faith helps us to take God’s word that suffering is the path to holiness because God will not lie to us. On the other hand, this is not easy for our minds to grasp and so the virtues of hope and charity are needed all at the same time.
“If I am looking for a reason so prefer poverty to riches and contempt to honor, I have it my love for Christ… [love] desires to be like the one loved. … [Further] it was the will of the heavenly Father that the world should be redeemed not only by the Incarnation but in the … atmosphere of suffering and pain. In obedience to the Father, Christ chose to save the human race by enduring poverty, rejection, opposition, and finally the disgrace of crucifixion” even though technically He could have done it without pain (Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, 431).
This shows us just how much Christ loves us and how much we mean to Him. And it invites us to do the same for Him (cf. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, 431). It also helps us to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). We can offer up our sufferings for the healing of our Church, our Nation, and of course our families.
It is an understatement to say that the call to take up our cross and follow the Lord is not easy. It’s easy for me to say all of these things, but I need to hear them and act on them just as much as any of you! Yet cultivating the virtues of faith, hope, and charity – poured into us in baptism – will help us make bold strides on this sure path to true holiness and our heavenly homeland.
Father Cibelli's Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday of Time Throughout the Year 23 August 2020
Click her for audio version
Scriptural Quotes from Matthew 16:13-20, unless otherwise noted.
While the city of Caesarea Philippi lies in ruins today, one thing is still unmistakable: it was a city built upon rock. No matter where you turn, the ground offered it a solid rock foundation. Should we wonder, then, that the Lord chose this city to pose this strange question to His Apostles?
The Lord certainly was not having an identity crisis when He asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Rather He was providing an opportunity for contrast. By asking this question, the Lord allowed the Apostles to share with us the various opinions, the human opinions, of who He is. This sets us up to fully appreciate Peter’s answer, for the Lord quickly adds to Peter’s response, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” That is to say, when Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he is not sharing another human opinion, but something communicated to Him by God Himself.
It is a mater of Divine Revelation that Jesus is the Son of the living God, and Peter is shown to play a special role in making known God’s revelation. So, the Lord goes on: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
We call Peter “Prince of the Apostles” because he was given this office of binding and loosing and entrusted with the keys of the kingdom in the presence of the other Apostles.
While Peter is given special responsibility in exercising the Lord’s authority, all the Apostles are entrusted with it, for after His resurrection He says to all of them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. …Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
Still, we might ask, wasn’t this authority given only to St. Peter and the Apostles? If it were given only to them, it would not make sense for the Lord to say, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it”?
“Christ founded the Church to last until the end of time. The apostles lived for a short time only. Christ must, then, have intended that the apostles provide duly authorized successors to carry on the work of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling” (Baltimore Catechism No. 3, question 146, a).
Nor did He “intend that the special power of chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church should be exercised by St. Peter alone, but intended that this power should be passed down to his successor, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who is the Vicar of Christ on earth and the visible head of the Church” (Baltimore Catechism No. 3, question 148).
So, the Pope is the bishop who is the successor specifically to the Apostle Peter,
and the bishops in general are successors to the rest of the Apostles as a whole. Furthermore, the bishops associate with themselves priests, sharing with them this authority in order to reach all the souls under their care.
This is how we have the assurance of being presented with the Faith as revealed by Christ even to this day. This is how “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [the Church].”
Unfortunately, we are too often disappointed by bishops and priests. These disappointments can range from individual instances of being rude, giving bad advice, or making mistakes all the way to downright scandalous behavior or teachings that stain the entire priesthood. In the face of these failures on the part of bishops and priests, we must remember two important points.
First, Christ has entrusted His power to the Church in such a way that we are able to receive the sacraments despite the sinfulness of their ministers and we are even able to discern His teaching amidst erroneous propositions.
With regard to His teaching, we have the deposit of faith, or the constant teaching of the Church, easily found in various faithful Catechisms, like the Baltimore Catechism of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
And with regard to the sacraments, we have the assurance that the sacraments work ex opere operato: when the right words, right material, and right intention are carried out by the right minister, the sacrament is there despite other short comings.
Plus, God is always able to pull good out of evil, so often enough (at least in the less extreme cases), priests are better able to understand our short comings because of their own.
The second thing we should remember in the face of the sinful failures of bishops and priests is to show them charity because they are still instruments of Christ. Just as we owe our parents respect despite their short comings, the same is true for our priests and bishops. But this certainly doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to bad behavior. If it is serious enough, it must be reported to the proper authorities. In other cases, it would be appropriate to speak with the bishop or priest directly. But at the very least, prayer and penance for them is essential, such as offering up the Rosary and fasting.
In fact, this charity is a duty before God. “Charity is the virtue by which we love God and our neighbor for the sake of God. If we love God then we will want his Church to be healthy and we will pray and do penance for it. If we love our neighbor for the sake of God, then we will want him to overcome his error….” (Ripperger, Magisterial Authority, 56). Depending on the offense, we may even need to remember that the Lord also commands us to love our enemies.
The city of Caesarea Philippi, although built upon rock, does lie in ruins today. But here, as a contrast to that which is earthly, Christ shows us that this fate will never befall His Church. The promise He made to St. Peter endures.
Let us ask the Lord today to strengthen and preserve His Church: To send those laborers into His vineyard that will speak His words of life to us. To make steadfast those who already serve that they will be faithful in the mission with which they have been entrusted. Let us ask Him that we will always hold fast to the rock of His Church because in doing so, we will be found ready to enter His heavenly kingdom when we are called from this life to the next.
Father Langan's Homily for the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, 2020
Deliver Us, O Lord, By Your Truth
“The heavens shall confess they wonders, O Lord, and Thy truth in the assembly of the saints.” These words from Psalm 89, from the Mass for today’s Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, give us an important theme for our celebration of this Sacred Writer. The Church celebrates the feasts of the Evangelists and the Apostles with such great joy and fervor, because had the Lord not sent them to be witnesses to the fact of His resurrection, we ourselves would know nothing of the forgiveness of our sins, and we would not have received His saving grace in the Sacraments. They went out and gave voice to the wonders of the Truth confessed by all the Heavens, that God is our first beginning and last end, and that He has saved us from certain and eternal death by His dying and rising. Though St. Mark himself did not see the risen Lord, his words transcribed for us in his Gospel are those of the preaching of the Apostle Peter, who asked his disciple St. Mark to write down his memories of the Savior and the message he gave to preach to all the world. Indeed, our joy is full today because God our Father gave us witnesses such as St. Mark to confirm our faith in Him.
But, this date does not simply mark the Feast of a great Evangelist, who witnessed to Christ to the point of death; it is also the occasion of one of the Rogation Days. The Rogations Days are penitential occasions dating back from the ancient Church. They take place on April 25, as well as on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday immediately preceding Ascension Thursday. The observance of these Rogations Days has traditionally consisted of a solemn procession, often around some part of the geographic boundaries of the local parish, during which the Litany the Saints is chanted at least twice through. Thus, another name given for these days are the Greater, or Major, Litanies (plural) for April 25, and the Lesser, or Minor, Litanies for the days preceding Ascension. At the end of the procession, which ends in the Church from which it began, a special “Rogation Mass” is celebrated. As this is considered penitential Mass, the priest wears violet.
What are the significance of these days? Why such a penitential celebration, in the midst of our Easter joy? The word “rogation” comes from the Latin word “rogare,” which means “to ask.” The Litany of Saints and the procession, as well as the Rogation Day Mass, was offered up to ask for God’s blessings upon His people, that He would help us in all our spiritual and temporal needs. One such need, for example, was for the blessings of a good harvest, as these days take place during planting season. In fact, the procession would often go by the local farms, and the priest would stop and bless the fields. But they were also offered up to ask the Lord for protection, or even deliverance, from harms both natural and supernatural. This might be why, in some cases, the path of the procession went along some portion of the physical boundaries of the parish, so that God’s blessing might strengthen those boundaries and keep safe His people who were within them. Indeed, the oration from the Rogation Day Mass expresses this very intention: “Grant, we beseech Thee,...that we, who in our affliction put our trust in Thy mercy, may ever be defended by Thy protection...” Prayers of this kind were considered to be penitential in nature, because the dangers that we face in this life - war, famine, death, and sickness - were understood in the light of revelation to be a consequence of our fallen nature, and so served as a kind of chastisement for our sins, at least generally speaking.
Now, what is the point of such a lesson on Rogation Days? What have they to do with the feast of such a great Evangelist. Before I get to that answer, let me tell you a bit of a story that has some relevance to our circumstances today: In the year 590, the city of Rome was wracked with a deadly plague. Many perished; even Pope Pelagius perished in February of that year. His predecessor, Pope St. Gregory the Great, some months before he was eventually elected at the end of that year, assembled the clergy and faithful of Rome, and held a great procession through the Eternal City. Chanting the Litany of the Saints, they pleaded God for an end to the horrible plague that beset them. Finally, as they processed along the Tiber where it bent past the great mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, Pope Gregory beheld a vision atop the mausoleum: St. Michael the Archangel descending from heaven, passing above the procession, and our Blessed Mother looking down from her throne in heaven! All the angels of heaven were singing a hymn of praise to Our Lady, and as this hymn ceased, St. Michael, who was standing atop the mausoleum, sheathed his sword, and at that moment, the plague ceased. The date that all this took place, as you might have guessed, was April 25th.
This date, then, not only marks the feast of the Gospel writer St. Mark, but also the anniversary of Rome’s deliverance from a deadly plague. Pope Gregory eventually commanded that this procession be annually commemorated on this date - with St. Mark’s Feast Day not being assigned on this date until much later. This date is also significant because, as Pope St. Gregory would have well known, it has longed been accepted as being the very date on which St. Peter first set foot in the city of Rome to preach the Gospel.
What do all these mysterious and Providential convergences mean for us in our present situation? As we begin to hear of talk of reopening from the lockdowns brought on by a pandemic of our own, all sorts of questions are swirling: what will “normal” look like now? Can we simply go back to our old ways, unquestioningly? The wisdom of our forefathers shown in the practice of these Rogation Days is that, even in the best of times, sickness, death, and sin lurk ever at our door. We often do not see them, and therefore live our lives with sufficient care to avoiding them, or preparing to bear the crosses they bring to us. For the greatest contagion and pestilence we face, is not one of those of nature, but rather of super-nature, i.e., the contagion of sin. Physical evils and the calamities of natural disasters God allows to befall us so that we might be awakened to the fact that at any moment, God could require our lives of us, and if we are not found to be in his friendship at that moment, a greater suffering - the suffering which Christ came to deliver us from - will then befall us! Isn’t it interesting that God chose to send St. Michael, who we often think of today as a valiant helper in our battle against temptation, who himself was sent by God to put down the rebellion of Lucifer and his fallen angels, to deliver Rome from that awful plague? Indeed, the Lord did come, and He suffered, and died, and rose from the dead, and He sent out St. Peter and St. Mark and all His Apostles and Evangelists to preach the very good news that would give us the weapons we needed to overcome sin. He commanded them to baptize the whole world, so that we might be reborn by His grace to a new and eternal life in Him. We are blessed to have this Good News preached to us, and to have the grace of His friendship in this hour of need.
During this lockdown, I am sure many of us are being reminded about the nature of the spiritual warfare around us. Being separated from the sacraments certainly has the character of an evil about, even as it a thing that must be accepted for the greater good. The enemy is taking advantage of our vulnerability. We can truly see how important it is for us to have this the truth which has been given to us in Christ, which was handed down through the preaching of the Apostles and their successors. We know how important it is for it to be known and lived. When this lockdown lifts, many question whether we should even consider “going back to normal.” In light of the temptations and crosses that we have faced, and reminded as we are of the far more pressing dangers that the contagion of sin poses for us, we might benefit from making a spiritual plan for ourselves, asking what old habits and ways of seeing things should be left behind for a new sight and new lifestyles more deeply grounded in the Truth of our Catholic faith. One question we might ask ourselves, on this feast of one of our great Evangelists, is whether we have spent enough time and effort in our lives sharing the truth with those around us. As urgently as we feel the need now for the helps of grace that God has given us, we who know and understand the Truth that has been given us, how much more pitiable must the state be of those still in ignorance of their need!
Our world will reopen soon, and this pestilence will pass. Will we let it change us? Will we let it correct our view, and remind us of what truly matters, spurring us to engage the spiritual battles we daily face against sin and temptation with ever greater fervor, faithfulness, and fortitude? Even as we call out today to God and all the saints to be protected from the virus that afflicts us, let us call out to the Lord through the intercession of St. Mark for the grace to never again be touched by the affliction of our sins - for there is no greater danger to our souls than to lose the light of the Truth and Love that has been preached to us.
Father Cibelli’s Homily for Palm Sunday 2020
This is the moment for which the Lord came into the world. This is the moment for which He took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.
The Lord Jesus came into this world to die. The innocent author of life chose to subject Himself to the punishment we deserve for our guilt.
“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7).
Jesus deserved none of the cruel treatment that we commemorate this week. He did not deserve to be mocked or scourged or beaten or crucified.
But He chose to do so, so that we would not be destined to suffer with the miseries of this life without help, or suffer the fires of hell for all eternity. He chose to do so in order to shoulder our burdens. He chose to do so, so that we could experience His love even in the midst of our own afflictions, of our own humiliations, of our own follies.
“He emptied himself.”
And for that matter, the Lord, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” If God, Himself, is willing to accept the miseries of our human condition, does not that give us the courage to endure them ourselves.
Some of these miseries we bring upon ourselves: our sins, our rash behavior or foolish decisions. Sometimes we even make good intentioned mistakes that have a very adverse impact on ourselves or others. On the other hand, as we are experiencing now, some of these miseries are imposed upon us by nature – diseases and disasters – or even by other human beings, through no fault of our own. The miseries we experience can come from innumerable and even surprising or disappointing sources.
The Lord, however, accepted all of the miseries of His Passion – none of which He deserved, but each of which He endured lovingly and patiently.
He did not take these miseries upon Himself for misery’s own sake. He took our sinfulness and our follies upon Himself in order to bear them to the Cross. There He would conquer them and give us a new chance at life, divine life, when His Father raised Him from the dead three days later.
Today, we commemorate the Lord’s Passion not because we are sadistic or can’t forgive ourselves. We commemorate His Passion because of the great hope that it offers us. Without the Passion, there can be no Resurrection. Had the Lord not died on Good Friday, He would not have risen on Easter Sunday.
The Lord’s Passion offers us the Hope of the Resurrection with Him on the Third Day. Moreover, it offers us the Hope even of daily resurrections, of daily opportunities for new life, of daily opportunities for God to bring good out of evil.
Today, although we are separated physically, let us allow the Lord to unite us in prayer and help us to lay down our miseries, afflictions, and sins at His Altar. Today, let us begin the solemn observance of Holy Week from our homes. Let us comfort the Lord in His Passion from there, and allow the Him, in turn, to bear not just our sufferings, but also, our shortcomings and faults to the Cross. That there, they may be conquered, and us raised to new life with Him on the day of His Resurrection.
Over the past few months several parishioners have donated their time and talent to the beautification of our campus and our church.
I am cautious about identifying these individuals because they prefer not to have attention drawn to themselves, and I’m also concerned that I will accidently leave someone off a list that should be on there. With that in mind, however, I would like to try to highlight some of these contributions.
Just in terms of people who have directly used their talents to beautify our campus in the past few months:
If we went back even farther, the list would be much longer!
And we now have another parishioner stepping forward to offer her talents to beautify our church.
Saskia Smith has offered to donate much of her time and talent to clean and paint the statues of Mary and Joseph in the niches above their altars. Saskia has worked with me to select colors that will complement the beauty of our church. She has provided a color board and samples of other similar projects for you to see in the back of the church.
Saskia writes: “I want you to know that throughout the cleaning process and in every brush stroke, I will spiritually brush in your intentions and needs, first onto our Lady of Lourdes, then eventually St. Joseph. So PLEASE pray for me too that I may serve you well. Let’s do this project together in the Spirit! So that together, when completed, we may experience answered prayers and behold a glimpse of the beautiful majesty & creative renewing power of God!”
For several weeks, Saskia will put all her other projects and work on hold to do this; therefore, I ask that we take up a collection when each statue is finished to thank her for the sacrifice she has made.
Finally, please note that this work can’t be done where the statues are now, so we will have to take them down. If we have a smaller statue of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph that we can put in their place temporarily, we will do so. Saskia will also provide pictures to be posted on our Facebook feed.
We all have a role to play here, many of them behind the scenes. Thank you to everyone for your contribution. If there’s a contribution you think you can make, please let me know. Please take a moment to say a prayer of thanksgiving for Saskia and everyone who contributes to the beatification of our church and campus, seen and unseen.
May God bless you and keep you in His care, and may the
Blessed Mother intercede for you,
Father Cibelli’s Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2019
Have you noticed how even though Christmas is always on December 25, and there are always four Sundays of Advent that sometimes Advent can be basically three weeks or a full four weeks or anything in between? This is determined by which day of the week December 25 falls on.
But, because we need to have a more deliberate, intense period of preparation for Christmas, no matter what, on December 17th, the Liturgy begins to focus in a particular way on the upcoming feast of the Nativity. You might liken this period of Advent to Holy Week in Lent.
While this might not be obvious just from Mass on the Fourth Sunday, it is very prominent when looking at these days as a whole. The Liturgy, in daily Mass and the Divine Office, concentrates more resolutely than during the preceding days of Advent on the coming feast of the Lord’s birth.
It happens in a very notable way at the Divine Office where we find these things called “O Antiphons.”
An Antiphon is a short text that is sometimes entirely scripture or simply based on scripture or the particular feast day. It is a musical composition, even though sometimes it is recited without its music.
The Entrance and Communion Antiphons that you find in the Pew Missal (and that we heard last Sunday) are examples.
These “O” Antiphons, proper to this time of Advent, are used in the Divine Office before and after singing the Canticle of the Blessed Mother, commonly called the Magnificat from the its first word in Latin.
They are called “O” Antiphons for a very profound reason – they all begin with the invocation “O”! They go on to invoke a different title of Christ, usually taken from the Old Testament, and followed by the petition that he come to us (veni) and act on our behalf:
They have been used for centuries in this way, each being sung according to the same melody,but each meditating upon that title of Christ, helping us to understand better the Person for whom we are waiting.
From December 17 onward, these titles are:
December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Iesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Daystar)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-with-Us)
Perhaps you recognize these titles from the song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Well, this is where that song originates.
Consider for a moment today’s antiphon: O King of the Gentiles (or nations) and the Desired of all, You are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save the poor man whom You fashioned out of clay. It acknowledges that Christ has come to unite the Jews and Gentiles in common Adoration of the One True God who created their common parents: Adam and Eve.
It is well worth reflecting on these brief passages, posted below, for this purpose along with where you can find the chant to listen to, which is especially beautiful.
But there’s another interesting level to these antiphons. When taken together from the last title to the first, the first letters of each title form a profound Latin acrostic:
Emmanuel Rex Oriens
Clavis Radix Adonai Sapientia
They form the Lord’s response to the Church’s ardent petition that He come (veni):
Ero cras (I will be there tomorrow)!
I have mentioned last year and, in the bulletin, last week that we have good reason to believe that December 25 is in fact the day of the Lord’s birth. That He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit on the same date that would later be Good Friday, March 25. Moreover, before the civil calendar was corrected with four missing days along with the leap year system (to avoid that problem in the future), December 25 fell on the shortest day of the year. The day after which the days get long and the night shorter. Additionally, John the Baptist was born on the day before the days get shorter. (He must increase, I must decrease).
All of which I point out in the light of this extra message from the O Antiphons “I will be there tomorrow,” to say that there are no coincidences with God. While He certainly respects our freedom and allows us to make mistakes, even sinful mistakes, that do real damage, He does indeed, in His Wisdom, order all things mightily and sweetly. There are no details beyond His providence.
And if that goes for how carefully He ordered the Advent of His Son in the world, He orders all things well for the sake of your lives, too.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or crushed. If you feel like there is too much to do and too little time in which to do it. Even if you feel like the odds are all against you. Consider the mighty providence with which God sent His Son to save us, to save you.
If He orders these details so carefully, will He not also do the same for you? You whom He looks upon with the same delight as He does His Son Jesus.
These last few days before Christmas, take a few moments each day to reflect on God’s providence in your life. Ask Him to reveal to you His love for you. And allow yourself to trust that He will indeed order all things mightily for your good.
It may not be the good you had imagined for yourself. But it is certainly the good that will one day lead you to salvation, to home with Him in heaven… if only you will make His will your own.
For more information, please see: http://www.catholiceducation.org/ Search for “Great Antiphons” and see the articles by Fathers Saunders and Landry (Landry’s article includes recordings of each).
December 17: O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence!
December 18: O Adonai and Ruler of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law. Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us!
December 19: O Root of Jesse, You stand for an ensign of mankind: before You kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.
December 20: O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel: You open and no man closes: You close and no man opens. Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 21: O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 22: O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, You are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save the poor man whom You fashioned out of clay.
December 23: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God!
Father Cibelli’s Homily for Christmas Day 2018
I think we take the manager for granted. I mean, we probably understand what it is, but do we really appreciate just what it means?
Now first, let’s make sure we’re all thinking of the same thing. When I say manger, what’s the first thig that comes to mind? I don’t mean the entire nativity scene or even the stable as a whole. I make that point because when I was growing up, I think I used the words “nativity” and “manger” somewhat interchangeably. In fact, sometimes I still do!
What I mean by the manger is our Lord’s crib, His first bed.
Now I should have known better: growing up I remember little blankets or pieces of straw that were given to help the baby Jesus keep warm, as a child’s devotion. But I don’t think I ever realized how significant that was. I think I took the straw for granted.
We depict the Lord’s first crib as made with wood and with straw in it, not because that’s just what they had for bedding back then, but because straw is what belongs in mangers. Mangers are troughs, the place where animals come to feed in a stable. If you’ve ever heard an Italian say “mangia” at the dinner table, the two words are related.
So I think we take the manger for granted because we don’t realize just how much God was telling us by being laid in a manger when He was born on December 25 roughly 2018 years ago. In fact, He told us a lot about Himself and what He would do for us just by the way He was born.
Bethlehem, swaddling clothes, the shepherds, the magi and their gifts: All of these say something about who the Lord is and what He came to do.
Just the manger itself makes two powerful statements by what it is and what it is made of. As a trough for animals, God is telling us, already in His birth, that He has come to give Himself to us as food. He has come to be Living Bread for the life of the world (cf. John 6:51). He has sent his Son to feed and fill our deepest longings.
When we consider that the manger is made out of wood, we come to understand how He would accomplish this. The Lord gives Himself to us as food by being offered up on the wood of the Cross. We might not think of the Cross immediately when we think of Christmas and the Lord’s birthday – but He does!
Already in His birth, our Lord tells us about why He has come into the world: To suffer and die for us and to feed us with His very Body and Blood.
This year, as we gaze on the nativity scene, both today and throughout the Christmas season, whether we are here in church, at home, or anywhere we see it, my challenge to you is to see more than just a cute baby. See more, of course, than an excuse to exchange gifts.
I challenge you to see even more than God’s humility, the way He accepted our human condition even as a helpless child for as important as this is. See the depths of the reason why we call Him God-with-us, Emmanuel.
When you look at the nativity, let your attention be drawn to the manger that the Lord called His first bed, and consider that the Lord loves us so much that even as a little child He was preparing us for what He would do, what He would be for us.
Whatever your burdens, trials, or disappointments are, whatever your deepest longings and hopes might be: Lay them in the manger with the Infant and let Him carry them to the Cross for you and feed you with His Body and Blood offered up thereon.
Let the manger speak to you about God’s love for you, the sacrifice He made for you, and the Food He gives you, so that one day you will be with Him in heaven.
Father Cibelli’s Homily for Christ the King and the First Sunday of Advent (aka Four Words for Advent)
When Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King during the Jubilee Year of 1925, he reflected on three ways that Christ is said to rule: In humanity’s minds, in their wills, in their hearts. In doing so, he demonstrated great foresight.
Christ rules in humanity’s minds both on account of His power of mind and fulness of knowledge, but also because if humanity is to know the Truth, we must receive it from Christ Himself.
Christ rules in humanity’s wills first because His human will corresponds perfectly to the holiness of His divine will, but also because “He subjects our free will to His grace and inspiration so that we may be fired with desire for nobler things.
And Christ is “’King of men’s hearts’ because of His ‘love which surpasses knowledge,’ His mercy and kindness which draw our souls to Him; For there has never been or will be anyone who is loved or will be loved by men of all nations as Jesus Christ is loved.”
We may listen to these reflections of Pope Pius XI and think, that is all very well and good, but how many today have rejected the truth and have pursued their own will?
How many do not even know who Christ is? But this is why Pope Pius XI displayed such foresight in establishing this feast, because in doing so he puts in front of us not just the opportunity to acknowledge and honor Christ as King but even to pray that His rule may prevail first in our own lives and then be advanced throughout the world.
This feast presents us with the contrast that Christ is indeed King, but that in the world He is not just overlooked, He is in too many ways ignored, or even worse, pushed out.
On one hand, we have honored Christ as out King and are preparing to welcome Him as the new-born King on Christmas. On the other hand, how many people have not even thought about Christ today? For how many people is the coming season about nothing more than gift-gettingand winter treats that ends on December 26?
If the world does not recognize Christ, much less as our King, how are we ever going to advance His Kingdom? By human standards, this is certainly a daunting task, and for that matter, Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, so success is not measured simply by how many people call themselves Christian. There are plenty of those. If Christ’s kingdom is to be advanced, where we must start is by submitting our own minds, wills, and hearts to His rule.
We submit our minds faithfully – not blindly – to His voice by learning the Truth. Of course, not just that Truth which is contained in the Bible but that which has been constantly taught by His bride the Church.
Having learned this Truth, we submit our will to it. We do this by choosing to act in accord with that truth. In other words, our actions must correspond to our words, we must dowhat we saywe believe.
In turn, we cannot help but to give Him our heart, for knowing the Truth and saying yes to it brings us into intimate relationship with our Lord and King. It’s no problem to give our heart to someone once we’ve fallen in love.
To make this a little more practical, there are four things we can and should do on a regular basis to allow Christ to reign in our own lives, to welcome Him when He comes.
Prayfor our own conversion: Let’s identify one particular sin in our lives, and ask God’s help each day, to overcome it; or maybe there’s a particular virtue which we need to grow, let’s ask God for that strength.
Learn: Identify one particular teaching that we struggle to embrace or need to understand better. Then take the time to read and listen to reliable sources such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Baltimore Catechism, or trusted media such as EWTN or Ascension Presents. In fact, we have a special new resource at our disposal called FORMED.org. Access engaging video, audio, and e-books at no charge. Click here sign up!
Fast: make a simple act of self-denial each day – such as putting down our phones for a few minutes, turning off the music, or taking a smaller portion for dinner. These are simple but important ways of submitting our wills to God’s.
Act: perform some act of kindness without being asked, to someone who can’t repay you – or at least, without expecting repayment. It need not be profound or take a lot of time, but acts like this begin to share the love with which God has loved us first.
Pray, learn, fast, act.
These efforts only need a few minutes each day and are very simple, but they do require constant effort. Sometimes they will come easily, sometimes we will have to push ourselves. But living by these four words will help Christ’s reign to come about in our own hearts. They will help us to be ready for Christ’s coming at Christmas and at the end of time.
And frankly, the more that happens, the more others will notice something attractive about our lives and desire it for themselves.
In other words, Christ will come to reign in others’ hearts when they see how He is reigning in yours.
Statement of Archbishop Lori on the recent meeting of the USCCB (United States Confrerence of Catholic BIhsops).
Like many of my brother bishops, I have spent much of these past weeks and months listening to the laity, clergy and religious of my diocese. They face a crisis of identity and question the fundamentals on which they have based their faith. They are hurting and angry and they want change. And they rightly demand it yesterday. They want greater transparency, greater lay involvement—especially of women, and they want bishops to be held accountable the same way we hold others in ministry accountable. They are sick of hearing “child sexual abuse” and the name of their Church uttered in the same breath and they can’t fathom how and why we are still struggling to rid the Church of the crime and sin of abuse that we have now been confronting conspicuously for some two decades.
In 2002, some of the faithful left, while others gave us the opportunity to create a robust and transparent approach to eradicating sexual abuse from the life of the Church. Most of us thought that what we put in place at that time was appropriate and sufficient. Then came the summer of 2018, the events of which have caused many to understandably ask if the Church is systemically flawed, if it’s irreparably damaged and if it’s even possible to save. They question if it’s possible that we still do not “get it.”
Believing in the inherent goodness of Christ’s Church, we came together this week to try and fix what’s broken and to humbly place ourselves in the center of necessary reform. Representing the Church in Baltimore and with the pain and suffering of abuse survivors ever present on my mind and in my heart, I affirm the measures on which we were prepared to vote and strongly advocate for a strict code of conduct to which we bishops must be held, and I further advocate for an independent body to which allegations against bishops can be reported. I wish this for the Church in the United States and for the Church in Baltimore and I pray these measures will give our people greater confidence that their Church is being led toward goodness and holiness by individuals who are, in fact, good and holy. This is an essential step to reminding our people that the Church is not any one priest and it’s not any one bishop. The Church is Jesus, the Body of Christ. The Church is the One whose love and grace flows forth through those who believe in Him to bring light to the world. In this period of true crisis, may we have the courage to let His light pierce the prevailing darkness and shine through.
Father Cibelli's Homily for the Announcement of the Build our House, Guard Our City Campaign Thirty-first Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Fourth Resumed Sunday after Epiphany, 4 November 2018
For 260 years, St. Mary’s has been forming Christian disciples. From our beginnings as a mission under the care of the Jesuit Fathers from Conewago, to the construction of our beautiful church in 1826, to the establishment of our school in 1874, to years of great expansion in the 1940s and 1950s and again in the 2000s, each generation has made a mark on this community by means of spiritual, financial, material and physical sacrifices.
For 260 years, St. Mary’s Church and School has been a center for people of all ages and backgrounds to come to know and love our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have a special duty towards our children in this regard. Whether we are their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, friends, or priests, we are blessed to have so many children who call St. Mary’s their home in one way or another. Striving to form them as Christ’s disciples is our chief duty.
On Pentecost, when I shared with you the plans to renovate the Msgr. Passarelli Room, Pangborn Hall, the kitchen, and replace the chain link fence with a beautiful brick wall, I asked you to look at these projects as far more than cosmetic. I invited you to consider them not just an opportunity to leave our mark on this sacred ground, not just an opportunity to give our children a safe and attractive place to grow in who God made them to be, but an opportunity for the physical renewal of our campus to help inspire a deeper and more important renewal, the renewal of our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
We’ve had the opportunity to speak of renewal these past few months, but for an unexpected, sad, and deeply troubling reason. Not for the reason I had intended. We have been confronted by horrible failings on the part of bishops and priests throughout the Church. While much has been accomplished since the first wave of this scandal in 2002, we must keep before us and insist upon reform on every level where it has not yet taken place.
My encouragement to you has been to hold fast to your own pursuit of holiness, for just as the suffering of some of the members of the church cause all the members to suffer, so, too, does the pursuit of holiness by some – God willing, many – members of the Church help to increase the overall holiness of the Church (Cf. 1Cor. 12:26). Our prayers and sacrifices are needed especially now to bring the gospel and the light of Christ to those areas where we can. You are the face of the Church, you are the ones who give her witness credibility these days.
Indeed, the Lord tells us today that the first commandment is that we must love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength and that the second commandment is to love our neighbor as our selves. If we are truly to love God and our neighbor in this way, if we are going to pursue true holiness, if we are going to be instruments of renewal, it’s not enough just to say this.
For such a renewal to succeed, it must be God who does the work through us. In Psalm 127 we read, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.” That means striving to bring together all our daily actions and efforts into the perspective of love of God and neighbor.
Today I wish not only to repeat this message in an effort to keep it ever before our hearts, I would also like to ask your help in a very practical and important way. It is certainly notthe mostimportant way. In fact, it’s the aspect I enjoy talking about the least. But that is why it is so important to me that I remind myself (and you) of the proper perspective to maintain when discussing the financial side of our spiritual endeavors. The Lord addresses this kind of topic when He talks about the laborer deserving his wage (Cf. Luke 10:7). Saint Paul does similarly when he gives instructions to the Corinthians about taking up collections (Cf. 1 Cor. 16).
The particular case I would like to present to you is that of the present and near future needs our parish and school community. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of our predecessors,
pastors and parishioners alike, St. Mary’s has a firm financial foundation to stand on (reviled only by the firm spiritual foundation they built). This firm financial foundation allowed us to carry out these construction projects when the time was right this summer.
But to preserve that firm financial foundation, we have to replenish the investments we used to make this happen. The gym, dining hall, and kitchen project cost about $950,000. The wall cost about $450,000. We also had to consider what projects would need attention in the near future. The AC system here in church is nearing the end of its useful life. The rectory kitchen and foundation walls need attention. The rooves on the church, school, and rectory will soon need to be replaced. We have estimated these costs at about $375,000. For a total of $1.75 million.
Fortunately we are off to a great start:
The Knott Foundation has made a grant of $100,000 towards the new gym. The Archdiocese’s Embracing our Mission campaign has sent us a check for $100,000 towards the gym, dining hall, and kitchen. And a generous but anonymous benefactor has given us $125,000 towards the construction of our beautiful wall. Moreover, several of our fellow parishioners have already made generous pledges. These contributions and sacrificial gifts have already brought us to more than $600,000 towards these projects.
Today, I respectfully ask you to consider what contribution you can make to this work. You’ll be receiving a packet in the mail this week with details on this endeavor along with a suggested donation based on your past generosity for your prayerful consideration. I have no way of knowing what your current situation is. Your first duty is always to your family. I also ask that you try to leave your regular offertory contribution as is because we depend on this to pay our employees’ salaries, fund our programs, and take care of day-to-day operations.
This week, I simply ask that you prayerfully consider joining me in supporting these exciting and important projects as a way of expressing your gratitude to God and helping to advance His kingdom here in Hagerstown. Please use the prayer we have designated for the campaign, which you will receive as you leave church. It’s mostly two traditional prayers, but I think it’s important to use a prayer that keeps the focus on what is truly important, not just the campaign itself. The campaign is at the service of the bigger picture: Christ’s Gospel. So this prayer is an appropriate prayer for all of our endeavors.
Next week, I invite you to join us for coffee and donuts or cookies in the newly renovated spaces and make your commitment to this campaign. All of your support benefits St. Mary’s and only St. Mary’s.
Whatever gift you can offer to this campaign, financial, spiritual, something else or both, I ask that you allow the Lord to be the one who guides your efforts. Please pray that He always Build our House and Guard our City, that we may serve Him will our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Father Cibelli's Homily for Twenty-ninth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, 21 October 2018
This homily was largely inspired by Fr. Mike Schmitz presentation: “We are not cosmic accidents” (https://youtu.be/MoYMEju41Sw, accessed, 20 October 2018).
We certainly could not endure it if the Lord were to count all of our iniquities (cf. Ps. 129:3). In contrast, we hear St. Paul say that “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Moreover, Jesus tells His disciples that to be great they must become servants, even slaves of all (cf. Mark 10:35-45). To live in the reality of these profound statements requires, at base, the virtue of humility. But once we start thinking about that virtue, we need to make sure we have the right understanding of it.
Too often we confuse “humility” with self-contempt or letting people walk all over us.
And sure enough, no one is going to find this attractive. No one would want to pursue humility if that is what it is. In fact, despising our self or thinking less of our self than we actually are is not only incorrect, it can even be sinful.
When we hear the Lord tell His disciples that to be great they must be servants even slaves of all, yet Jesus is certainly not promoting self-contempt. He’s not saying we should let people walk all over us. We can probably even think of folks that are in harmful relationships because they let the other person take advantage of them under the guise of humility or service.
So, what does true humility look like?
One priest puts it very simply: “humility is the willingness to acknowledge, tell, and live the truth of you … I acknowledge my weaknesses, I acknowledge my strengths, I acknowledge my failures, I acknowledge my successes.” Humility is an “accurate assessment of my gifts and strengths, my weaknesses and wounds” (Fr. Mike Schmitz, “We are not cosmic accidents,” accessed 20 October 2018).
Even still, this is challenging because we can be disappointed if we start acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses and feel like our list of weaknesses is longer than the strengths.
Or maybe we have a really great long list of strengths and successes – but then we make a mistake. We trip and fall, we lose or fail. If I put all my self confidence in that long list of successes, all of a sudden, with one slip, it’s wiped away, and we are disappointed, even down right depressed.
In another kind of extreme, some folks might even define themselves by their wounds or weaknesses and thrive off of the sympathy they receive. Offense can be taken if this expected sympathy isn’t offered.
Therefore, this still isn’t the right – or complete – standard of humility, because we might be truthful about what our strengths and weaknesses are, but we’re relying on them for the source of our goodness and dignity. If we lose one of our strengths or even weaknesses, we feel like we have lost our goodness and dignity.
So, another key to living a truly humble life, a life of true service, is acknowledging what or who reallymakes us good, what reallygives us dignity. The answer lies in what Jesus replies to the Pharisees tempting Him regarding the tribute Caesar. If the tribute to Caesar is to be paid with what has Caesar’s image on it, the answer to what makes us truly good, what give us dignity, is whose image is imprinted on us (cf. Matt. 22:15-21).
The source of our goodness and dignity is nothing other than God. It is God in whose image and likeness we are made. It is God who redeemed us by becoming one of us and suffering, dying, and rising. It is God who has sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts to make us His dwelling place.
And no one can take that away.
We might shut the door on Him, but He will never take that away, nor can anyone else.
Consequently, a complete understanding of humility is notjustacknowledging our true strengths and weaknesses, but acknowledging why we are good, why we have dignity.
If we are going to follow Christ’s call to greatness, if we are going drink the cup that He drinks, becoming the servant of all, the slave of all, if we are going to allow Christ to being the good work He has begun in us to completion, we must first acknowledge that our goodness and dignity comes from God, and that cannot be taken away.
We must acknowledge that Christ humbled himself not by denying who He is as God, but by choosing to accept our lowly human condition and all the sufferings that come with it.
Christ accepted those sufferings while still acknowledging His goodness. With His help, we can do the same.
Assisting the person in need, being generous with our time, bearing insults patiently, forgiving those who hurt us, praying for our enemies: all of this will be possible if we realize that we do not have to give up our dignity to do so. Indeed, we must not give it up, for Christ is the source of that dignity.
Father Cibelli's Homily for the Closing of the Rosary Congress.
Votive Mass of Our Lady/Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Time throughout the Year
14 October 2018
On October 13, 1917, the sun “danced” in the sky above Fatima, Portugal. Word had got around that something special would happen that day, so anticipation had been building.
There were roughly 70,000 people gathered. Some hoped to witness the event; others hoped to laugh mockingly when, supposedly, nothing happened. Indeed, it seemed that nothing was going to take place. It had been raining heavily that day: everyone was soaked, and the ground was muddy. Yet, despite the heavy rains, the sun not only showed itself but “danced,” turned colors, and even seemed to fall from the sky. When all returned to normal, both the ground and everyone’s rain-soaked clothes were dry. These facts were verified by believers and un-believers alike. It continues to be one of the most well attested miracles in history.
But to what end? Did God think we needed a little entertainment? And if it was just entertainment that was needed, why just in Fatima? Why then and not now?
The Blessed Mother had promised a miracle not to “wow” the people but as verification of the authenticity of the message she had been sharing in her appearances over the previous five months.
In fact, miracles are not an end in and of themselves. Jesus performed many miracles that are recorded in the Gospels, and frequently these are healings including three instances of raising the dead. He did not perform these miracles to impress His would-be followers. He offered them as proof of the authenticity of His message. More to the point, as our speaker on Monday night insightfully remarked, the miraculous healing of the body, even bringing it to life, was meant to show Jesus’ disciples that He was capable of a far greater healing, a far greater miracle: the forgiveness of sins (Dr. John Mark Miravalle, 8 October 2018, St. Mary’s, Hagerstown).
Similarly, the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima is aimed not so much at intrigue or creating a closed inner circle of people in the know. The Blessed Mother’s message, and the miracle that confirmed it, was directed at inspiring holiness of life in those who would receive it.
For the past week, we have been engaged in a special time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and frequent recitation of the Holy Rosary. This has been accompanied by special liturgical, musical, and intellectual events. The altar has been adorned with beautiful flowers and the Blessed Sacrament surrounded with many flickering candles. A lot of hard work has been put in, by many different people in many different ways to make all of this possible.
And we might ask, like the miracle of the sun, to what end? I can assure you that none of the organizers are suffering from boredom. We weren’t expecting all of Hagerstown to show up in Thursday’s down-pour – and certainly not all at one time!
On one hand, the Rosary Congress had no other aim than to honor our Lord and our Blessed Mother. If only this was accomplished and nothing else, it was well worth the effort. On the other hand, it was to provide an opportunity for a brief retreat from the hectic-ness of daily life for a special time of prayer, an opportunity for renewal and increase to our individual and collective pursuit of holiness. In this regard, even if only one person benefited from it, it was well worth the effort.
We offered it in a special way for the healing and sanctification of the Church, that she may be healed from the sins and crimes of too many bishops and priests, especially for healing of the direct victims of these grievous sins and crimes. In this regard, it was well worth the effort.
However, just like the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima (confirmed by the dancing sun) was not intended to be relegated to the world of memories, neither is the Rosary Congress intended to be an event we forget about until it comes around again next year. Central to the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima was the great value of praying the Rosary every day for peace in the world and the conversion of sinners. Similarly, what I would ask you to take away from the Rosary Congress is a renewed sense of the importance of the Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration in your lives.
The Eucharist and the Rosary are the chief weapons with which God has entrusted us for combating evil in our lives. Whether it’s the evil present in the Church and the world on account of abuse, abortion, drugs, terrorism, or all sorts of attacks against the family. Whether it’s the evil that seems to afflict a family member, a friend, a neighbor or the sins we struggle with personally, perhaps unbeknownst to anyone. The Eucharist and the Rosary are there for us to overcome these evils.
One half hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament once a weekand a decade of the Rosary once a dayis a great step to take whether it’s your first or next.In particular I encourage you to consider stopping in the Adoration Chapel at St. Maria Goretti High School (for a key card, contact Donna Louzon at 301-733-0410 x10 or email@example.com).
There may be some sacrificed in making such a commitment, and we may feel tempted to walk away sad, like the rich young man in this Sunday’s gospel passage (Mark 10:17-30). But whatever the sacrifice, please make prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the Rosary a prominent part of your life each week. In light of eternity, it adds up to a few minutes of our time. Finally, it’s a surefire way to know you are doing something good for you, your neighbor, the Church, and society as a whole – all at the same time.
There are plenty of things in life that are truly optional, things that it doesn’t matter if we choose to do them or not: our hobbies or recreation, playing sports or an instrument. You can probably think of plenty examples on your own.
Yet there are certain things that are not optional – food, water, breathing, sleeping. We take these things for granted, but of course if we were to “choose” not to do one of these things, we wouldn’t last very long.
But how many of us would list prayer in the optional category? When we compare prayer to things like breathing, we probably think, “I can go a lot longer without praying than breathing or even eating.” With the non-optional things, the obvious ones at least, we realize it pretty quickly when we don’t have enough of whatever it is: food, water, air. But do we ever consider what happens when we don’t pray?
Of course, just the fact that we’re all here at Mass right now means that we pray at least sometimes. Still, just as folks who are malnourished can survive for some time without proper food or water, so too can we survive quite a while without the right amount of prayer for us individually. To mix analogies a little bit, we can a ride a bike or drive our cars with deflated tires. If that’s all we’ve ever known, we think everything is fine. (I speak from some personal experience!) But once we properly inflate them, how much faster do we go. The same can be said with our energy levels when we have the right amount of sleep and food.
I recently heard a priest talk about these things that are optional and not-optional (Fr. Mike Schmitz, The Battle of Prayer, accesed via https://youtu.be/DHDQ4Xowfa8). Without any hesitation he put prayer in the non-optional category. A lay woman who teaches in a seminary explained, “if we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy” (Dr. Mary Healy, Symbolon, “The Journey of Faith,” Part 2, accessed via FORMED.org) About a century ago, a great spiritual author made an analogy between prayer and the body. Prayer is not like the arms or the legs. When they have been used too much, we must let them rest. Prayer is like the heart, we dare not say to the heart, you’ve been working hard, take the day off! (The Soul of the Apostolate, Part II, Section IV).
We seem especially susceptible in society today to get wrapped up in so many exciting, enjoyable, even important things. It can be very easy to get to the point where we feel like we don’t have any time to pray, or maybe we don’t even realize that we’re not praying. Our heart begins to beat dangerously slowly, and we might not realize it.
Now to be fair, the opposite extreme is possible, too, albeit less common. We may be so excited about and wrapped up in our Faith and the life of prayer that we don’t realize that our duties to our family are being neglected. We might say, in this case, our heart beats way too rapidly.
Yet a healthy balance is well within our reach. A healthy life of prayer is one that is appropriate to where each one of us is at the moment. It factors in our state in life – single, married, celibate, priest, religious. It factors in our profession – student, laborer, home-maker, or more of a desk job. It even factors in our personality. We know we can find a healthy balance to eating, drinking, and sleeping, and the same is true for prayer.
Where ever we are on this spectrum, we have a unique opportunity this coming week.
From this evening until next Saturday evening, the church will be unlocked 24/7 and the Rosary recited at the top of each hour. We’ll have special events in the evening, which you can find in the bulletin. No matter what time you find yourself free, no matter whether you need vocal or silent prayer, some music to lift your spirit or a talk to inspire your intellect, you will have a chance this week. Mass will be celebrated each evening at 6:30, and the rest of the time the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed on the altar, adorned with flickering candles to remind us that God is powerfully present among us.
In particular, please consider giving the Rosary new or renewed prominence in your life. Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II have described it as a compendium of the Gospel (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1). In it we use the words of the gospel to meditate on the stories of the gospel, and our guide is the one human being who knows Jesus best, His Mother, Mary.
John Paul II quotes a spiritual writer who says, “Just as two friends, frequently in each other’s company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar [conversation] with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection” (quoting Blessed Bartolo Longo, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 15).
The rosary can be prayed anywhere, at any time. We can say just a decade or two throughout the day, we can pray it in the car or on a run. We can pray it in church or at home. We can pray it with our family, our friends, or by ourselves.
It is a powerful antidote to all the evil in our world, especially that which has come to the surface in the Church in recent weeks.
When our diet or sleep or breathing is out of balance, a visit to the doctor can help us regain our equilibrium. Similarly, a special time of prayer, a retreat, can help get our spiritual lives in order. This week, let us take advantage of that very opportunity in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, with the guidance of our heavenly Mother. May the Rosary in particular be that baseline, that place we always turn to to keep focused and regain our balance. And not just this week, but always.
Fatehr Cibelli's Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday of Time Throughout the Year
26 August 2018
As Jesus finishes His teaching on the Eucharist, we see today that some of His disciples had a hard time accepting it. In other words, some of the men and women who had freely chosen to follow Jesus were having second thoughts. They had come to know and love Him to some degree, yet they could not accept what He had to say about His flesh being true food and His blood being true drink.
How Jesus handles this is frequently pointed out as evidence of the truth of His testimony on the Real Presence. When His disciples murmur about this teaching, notice that Jesus does not turn around and say, “Hey just kidding guys” or “You’re taking me too seriously.”
He lets them walk away.
In fact, “he knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him” (John 6:64).Jesus doesn’t change His teaching just to accommodate those who did not want to accept it. That is not to say, however, that He was happy that those disciples walked away. In fact, Jesus “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), but He who is “the way and the truthand the life” will not compromise on the truth (Cf. John 14:6).
Yet, in addition to making it clear that Jesus meant every word of what He said about His flesh and blood and the Eucharist, this passage shows us that Jesus made decisions that he knew would disappoint His followers. My attention is drawn to this significance because I know that as your pastor I sometimes have to make decisions that may disappoint some or all of you. It’s easier to make these decisions when I know that I am doing so for the sake of one of the truths of the Faith, even though that can be very challenging too. However, there are also times that the decision is more on the prudential side, between options that are not right or wrong, but one may have certain benefits over another.
Any parent who has had to tell their children “No, you can’t have…” understands this dynamic. Parents try hard to make the decision that is best for their children, even though it might mean initial disappointment. Or maybe a given decision seems to benefit one child versus another.
So maybe you’re realizing where I’m going with this. Now that I’ve had a chance to hear from anyone who wanted to respond to the question of how to proceed with the Mass schedule, I have to make a decision.
But I need you to know not just the reasons in favor of one option or the other, I also need you to know that I don’t take this decision lightly, and I don’t wantto disappoint anyof you. Clearly this is not on the same level as Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist. Yet in as much as there are two options (and even possible variations on those options), I know I will be disappointing some of you whether I pick a or b.
I need you to know that I read through all of your responses and have taken them all seriously. There are even some ideas in there that I might not be able to address right now but could be helpful in the future.
My decision is not based on my own personal convenience nor even onlyon what the majority wanted. (Of approximately 145 respondents, there was a 60/40 split). Neither was this decision made any sooner than the last couple of days. I think you already know that I try to take a lot of time to make important decision with as much thought and prayer on the matter as possible. I certainly did the same for this.
I had to make my decision based on which schedule seems to provide for the needs of the greatest number of parishioners, especially factoring in the schedules that our neighboring parishes offer. While I don’t want to see any of you go anywhere else, there will always be times when another parish’s Mass schedule is more helpful.
I had to make my decision based on which schedule would help me and Father Larry best serve the needs of as many of you as possible.
Ultimately, my criteria had to be, how can we better grow as disciples of the Lord, by our devotion to Him in the Mass? Not that a schedule make or breaks discipleship, but does one of these two schedules facilitate that better than the other?
I have to admit that having more time in between Masses provides two very important opportunities: more time for prayer in church and more time for conversation with all of you on the way to your cars.
You hear me speak about prayer frequently, this is not by accident. It’s not that I am running out of things to say. It’s just that prayer is so important for our relationship with God, especially with how we participate in Mass. Having more time before and after Mass gives us greater options for developing this important aspect of the life of Faith.
I also realized two Sundays ago, when we first started talking about the awful scandal of clerical abuse that I had time to hear from people that I normally would not have. For some of you, a few extra minutes is enough to talk about whatever is on your mind. For others a few extra minutes allows us to begin a conversation that can conclude later.
Moreover, there is no virtue in being constantly in a rush or stressed. Sunday is not a day of rest for priests, but they do need to be able to set a good example for their parishioners, including what it means to pray and prepare for Mass and how to interact with others in a compassionate way. Sometimes that means slowing things down and taking a little more time.
There are other considerations that I could speak about, and I will do so eventually, but I also mean it when I say a reverent Mass can normally be celebrated in about an hour, and I certainly want to maintain that practice. (Of course the added solemnity of the 11:30 and on certain days the 5:00 pm Mass will mean that they normally will take a little more than an hour.)
So allow me to conclude by saying this. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns with me. For those of you who find it disappointing that we will keep the summer Mass schedule, I am truly sorry that this disappoints or inconveniences you. For those of you who are happy about it, I trust that you will at least be compassionate to those who are inconvenienced if not find a way to help.
I ask that you would consider allowing your fellow parishioners hear this decision form my mouth.
Whatever group you fall into, please know you are my family – you are the people I happily spend every Saturday and Sunday with – and that you are important to me. I do not want to disappoint any of you. What I do want to do, however, is whatever I can to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ, especially by means of participation in the Mass where He feeds us with His very Body and Blood.