Tuesday, November 30, 2010

O, Blessed Feet

Readings for Tuesday, November 30/Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle:
Romans 10:9-18
Psalm 19:8-11
Matthew 4:18-22

"But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!"

These words from the Apostle Paul are quite appropriate for us as we celebrate the Feast of the Apostle Andrew today. It was by the feet of St. Andrew, who went out to preach the gospel to the nations, that many thousands of souls were converted and brought to Christ. Certain those souls are grateful for St. Andrew' preaching of the good news. I was struck, though, by the selection of the gospel passage for today. As I was praying in the chapel this morning I began to read through the calling of the disciples in each of the gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have accounts where Sts. Andrew and (Simon) Peter are met by Christ in the boat on the shore - such is what we hear in the gospel today. And yet John's passage is different. St. Andrew's first point of contact with Christ in John's gospel comes when John the Baptist points out to two of his disciples the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The two disciples, one being St. Andrew, immediately go to follow after the Lord and spend the night with Him. Then St. Andrew went first to His brother (Simon) Peter to tell him that they had found the Messiah and brought Simon Peter to meet Christ. Those sacred feet of St. Andrew followed in the steps of Christ and then went to bring his brother, who became the rock on which the Church was built, to follow in those same steps. Those sacred feet brought the gospel to many souls of that day. And certainly in some distant but connected way, those feet have brought the gospel to each of us today. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Watch and Pray

Readings for Sunday, November 28/First Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

As we begin this new liturgical year on this First Sunday of Advent, we are struck once again with this concept of the imminent coming of the Lord. The reading from Matthew's gospel comes from the end of the gospel, when Christ is speaking to the disciples about the things that will happen at the end of time. We hear about how the time is unknown when the Lord shall come and we shall indeed be ready at every moment. As we reflect on that in light of the Advent season, we begin to understand that we are not simply preparing for the coming of the Lord Jesus in the form of a little child born in a manger. There is a sort of triple waiting that each of us should be aware of during this time. The most obvious is of course the waiting that we are most notably aware of - the coming celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas. But in addition to this we are also awaiting the coming of the Lord in our lives each day, when He again reaches out to us to continue His work in and through us. And finally, we await that final, glorious coming at the Last Day, which the Lord speaks about in our gospel today. And as we ponder in our hearts and await this triple return of the Lord, remember that it is not just a time to wait. Rather, it is a time to prepare; for as St Peter said: "consider the patience of our Lord as salvation." If we are not yet ready, this is the time to prepare.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No Cross, No Crown

Readings for Monday, November 22/St. Cecilia:
Revelation 14:1-5
Psalm 24:1-6
Luke 21:1-4

No cross, no crown.

Yesterday we heard Saint Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Our Lord, reminding us of the fact that it was only through his passion, death, and resurrection that Christ became the King of All Creation. The cross won Him the crown. And as we begin this last week in Ordinary Time, we find that the Cross has now cast its shadow across these final days. As we celebrate the memorial of Saint Cecilia, we recognize that today kicks off a sort of ‘Week of Martyrs,’ in which the necessity of the Cross in the Christian life is made manifest by the shedding of blood of so many witnesses – Cecilia, Clement, Andrew Dung Lac and his companions, and finally Catherine of Alexandria before we get a break from the bloodshed on Friday. Though this isn’t necessarily something planned by the Church for the last week of the year, it does stand for us as a reminder of the close connection between the cross and our heavenly crown.

In these our final weeks of class, most of us are starting to feel more intensely the weight of the cross in the forms of papers, presentations, and other such academic requirements. This in addition to the private crosses of spiritual struggles, the sickness or death of loved ones, and many other burdens that each of us are given to bear. But in all of these things, we must keep our eyes on the prize of heaven. Rather than give in to frustrations and to try to avoid the weight of the cross, we must rather accept it joyfully and put our trust in the Lord. Like the poor widow in the gospel who gave her whole livelihood, trusting that the Lord would take care of her, we too must give ourselves entirely over to Him, trusting that He will also take care of us not only in this life, but also in the next.

*And because it's my mom's patronal feast day: a second picture of Saint Cecilia rocking out with the angels!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The King of Hearts

Readings for Sunday, November 21/
Christ the King Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-5
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

On this the last Sunday before Advent, the Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King. We honor the Lord and recall the fact that He has defeated Satan and now reigns as king of all creation. But the question I want to pose today is this: is Jesus Christ the King of our hearts?

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a statue of Christ that I keep on my desk at the seminary to constantly remind me of this question. It depicts the Lord standing in front of a door with His hand raised, about to knock. The beauty, though, comes in one little detail; there is no doorknob. This easily-passed-over detail is actually the key to the meaning of the statue. You see, the door is not the door to someone’s home; it is the door to our heart. And the fact that there is no doorknob emphasizes the point that it is only the one who stands behind the door that opens it. Christ knocks. But do we let Him in? And if we do, do we allow Him to really reign as King of our heart?

Our first reading from the First Book of Samuel recounts for us the anointing of King David, who reigned over Israel around the year 1000 B.C. But remember that Israel didn’t always have a king. In the early history of the Chosen People, it was not a man who ruled over them but rather the Lord God Himself. God reigned over them, giving them the law to live by, providing their food, drink, shelter and many other things. But as the Israelites went through life, they began to look around and see all of the things that other cultures did. They began to see people who worshipped other gods, people committing adultery and other serious sins, people who elected men to rule over them as kings. As they were around these other peoples and cultures, they began to have a distaste for the Law of God and for His ruling over them. They began to worship other gods, commit adultery, and desired to have a king of their own. In all of this, their hearts gradually turned away from the Lord, little by little. One day they finally told God that they wanted a king of their own, to be like those around them. And a king they got – many kings in fact. And not one of them was able to provide for the people Israel as the Lord had done, and yet they were content because they finally had their king. So hard were there hearts that they willingly endured slavery to a mortal man than put themselves in the hands of the invisible God.

At this point it is easy for us to wonder what was wrong with the Israelites. After all, they had God Himself leading them through their journey of life, the Lord provided for their every need, and yet they just simply turn away from Him and seek after the things of the other peoples and put their trust in a mortal man rather than God Himself. And yet as easy as it is to look at them and wonder at how easily they turned away from the Lord, we’re not all that different. After all, we Catholics are called the ‘New Israel’ and in some sense, history does repeat itself in our lives.

At our baptism we were totally consecrated to God, who desires to provide everything we need in this life. We simply must ask for it and be open to it. And yet, we get curious eyes and start to look around. Like the people of Israel several thousand years ago, we start to see all sorts of things that appeal to us and start to take those things and make them our own. And it is an easy step for us to make those things our idols, just as the Israelites began to honor the gods of other people instead of the Lord God Himself. Think about it - how easy is it for us to spend an hour every day watching TV, playing on the internet, playing our phone, shopping at the mall or some similar activity? I find it pretty easy to do any of those activities for an hour or more each day. And I would imagine that I’m not alone in that. But when it come to prayer, how easy is it for us to spend a whole hour with the Lord everyday? And if we are trying to commit that time to the Lord, are we really praying? I have to be honest, yesterday morning I went to do a holy hour in our chapel at the seminary and all that kept coming to mind was the LSU-Ole Miss game, what would be for lunch, and when I was gonna write my paper. And this is where we have to really be honest with ourselves and ask the question of who is really reigning over our hearts? Are we allowing all of these things out in the world to rule over us or do we allow the Lord to really come in and reign in our hearts and our lives?

On this last weekend of ordinary time in the Church year, we recognize that in just a few weeks we will be celebrating Christmas, when the Son of God first came into the world and invited people to open up their hearts to Him. But we don’t have to wait until then to have His Presence dwelling among us and within us. In just a few moments on this very altar we will have present the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. And as we come forward to receive Him in our mouths, we are reminded that most important of all is that we receive Him into our hearts. For in that moment, as He unites Himself to each one of us in a special way, He speaks to our heart, saying: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

How will we respond?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"The Church of the Saints therefore is the Catholic Church. The Church of the Saints is not the church of the heretics. The Church of the Saints is that which God prefigured before it appeared; and put before us that it might be seen. Before, the Church of the Saints was in the Books only; now it is among the nations; before, men only read of it; now we read of it, and we see it. When men only read of it, they believed in it; now men see it, and they contradict it! Let his praise be in the Church of the Saints."

-St. Augustine of Hippo
in a homily on Christ, King and Priest

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Sides, One Coin

Readings for Wednesday, November 17/ St. Elizabeth of Hungary:
Revelation 4:1-11
Psalm 150:1-6
Luke 19:11-28

As we near the end of the liturgical year we being to hear more and more about the end of time, the judgement that awaits us, and the King of Glory. The parable that Christ tells those around Him is one of those that is well known, but which is not often viewed so positively. "To everyone who has, more will be given; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" is one of those scriptures that probably makes us recoil a little bit. We sort of wonder where the loving, merciful Lord had gone and who it is that replaced Him... But the fact is that while the Lord is merciful, He is also just. And this is something about which we must be reminded. Sometimes we can become rather slothful and presume the Lord's mercy upon ourselves. "Oh, the Lord understands." How many times have I given myself a 'free pass' with these few words. And yet the gospel today reminds us that if we do not use what God has given us in a way that glorifies Him and brings about good in the world, then we may well have to suffer the consequences. But to every coin, there are two sides.

There is more than a simple reminder that if we fail to use what is given that it will be taken away. There is a positive view to be seen here: that if we do well in using our gifts then we will receive even more. Here we see the joyful aspect of this passage: the great gifts that are in store for us if we walk the way of the Lord and do well in using what He gave us. Rather than a simple fear of Hell, the Lord also seeks to instill in us a great desire for Heaven. And this is the desire that will ultimately lead us to great holiness of life. If we seek to avoid Hell, we can tend toward minimalism. But if we have a genuine desire for Heaven, then the more we contemplate it, the greater we strive to attain it and the more we join ourselves to the Heavenly Bridegroom in prayer, anticipating that great feast to come.

St. Elizabeth was a queen who had this great desire for Heaven deep within her soul and it was manifested in the life that she led. Selling her possessions, she opened hospitals to care for the sick and dying, she cared for the needs, fed the hungry, and gave totally of the gifts that she had received from God. And in return, she Divine Master looked upon her with joy and bestowed upon her the gift greater than we can even conceive: the bliss of entering into Heaven. May we, like her, always put our gifts to use in building up the kingdom and glorifying the Lord through our lives.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Papal Document!!!

For those who follow the world of Catholic Reporting, you will likely have heard that the Holy Father released a new papal document yesterday. It is a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation entitled Verbum Domini, or The Word of the Lord. This document is significant for a number of reasons:

1-It has taken three years for the Pope to complete it, taking many notes from the Synod (gathering of bishops from around the world) on Sacred Scripture that took place several years back. This timeframe means that much effort was put into it and it is desirable that it be taken up by theologians and laity alike to reflect on the Church's teaching on the Scriptures.
2-It is the first papal document on the Sacred Scriptures in over half a century.
3-The Scriptures are arguably the most significant aspect of Pope Benedict's pontificate.

I hope, in the coming weeks, to be able to read through this document and post some quotes and reflections here so that you too might be able to hear some of what the Church and Holy Father are speaking to us today with regard to this most important of topics. I do encourage you, however, to not rely on my reflections on it but rather to go get the document and read it for yourself. The Holy Father is an incredible theologian and writer and there will certainly be much in this document worth reflecting on for ourselves personally. You can find it at the Vatican website. You can also find more on the importance of this document at The Sacred Page blog. Again - please go get the document and read it for yourself. Even if you take it a paragraph a day, it will be well worth the read.

Christ and Truth

Readings for Friday, November 12/Memorial of St. Josaphat:
2 John 4-9
Psalm 119:1,2,10,11,17,18
Luke 17:26-37

"Anyone who is so 'progressive' as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son."

This powerful verse from the Second Letter of John drives home rather forcefully the connection between  Christ and the teaching of the Christ received through the Apostles. If you reject one, you reject the other. It is obvious - because John is addressing it - that there was a problem of some Christians becoming so 'enlightened' by the wisdom of the age that they began to stray from the truths of the Christian faith. They thought their brothers and sisters in the Lord just didn't have the grace to enter into the wisdom as they had. And so John reminds them and their fellow Christians that if they stray from the Truth that are the teachings of Christ, then they stray from Christ Himself, Who is the Way, Truth, and Life.

I've been to several conferences where they address this topic that we as Catholics - and really all Christians - don't really have a choice of what is True. Rather, we simply have the choice in whether we will submit ourselves to it or try to make our own truths. One speaker spoke about taking the Catechism of the Catholic Church - the compilation of the teachings of the Church founded by Christ - and we tear out the pages we don't agree with. And if everyone does that, then in the end the Truth will be simply the cover of the book. So, we must accept it all or accept the fact that we cut ourselves off from the Lord. I can't help but think of it as someone looking up into a tree and thinking, "This tree would be better without that limb," and then climbing up, perching on that limb and cutting it off, allowing both the limb and their own self to fall to the ground. The limb is dead - the person certainly injured, if lucky. It's laughable to think that someone would do such a thing, and yet it happens so frequently that souls cut themselves off by pridefully turning away from the Lord because they believe that others are the ones who simply aren't enlightened enough to see the 'real truth.'

Let us pray that we might always abide in the Truth that is Jesus Christ and that those who have strayed away from His teaching might be grafted back onto the Vine Who provides us all life, both today and in eternity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Own Prison

Readings for Thursday, November 11/ Memorial of St. Martin of Tours:
Philemon 7-20
Psalm 146:7-10
Luke 17:20-25

"I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment..."

One the face of things, this sentence isn't that important. After all, it's just one more among many sentences giving us some background before we can finally get to the meat of the Word of God. Right? Or is there something more to this passage?

It's a common experience of humanity that we encounter difficulties and trials at various points throughout life. These trials can come in the form of simply having a bad day, being stuck in a situation that you don't know how to get out of, or any number of things. And one easy way to deal with those times is to simply avoid dealing with what is at hand. We can think back to times gone by when things were better. We can look to things in the future of how everything will be different. We can sit and moan and groan about how things are for us and throw ourselves a great 'pity party' of sorts. I have done these things myself and still find myself doing them on occasion. But if we spend time with this passage from St. Paul, we come to find that in his great trials he kept his eyes on what really mattered. He would have had every right to be downtrodden. He had experienced great things and done incredible works and yet he finds himself imprisoned. How easily I would begin to moan and groan if that were the case for me! And yet, in that time he instead turned toward the Lord and continued to do the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is in his time in prison that Onesimus is 'born' of Paul, speaking to the spiritual fatherhood of Paul bringing about the gift of faith in the man. Instead of turning toward himself, Paul turned toward the Lord and toward others, realizing that even in the worst of situations, God still works incredible miracles and changes hearts. Ultimately, then, it's about recognizing where the Lord is in the midst of everything and keeping ourselves focused on Him so that when He speaks, we might hear and heed His voice. So when things are getting rough or when we find ourselves in a tough situation - and even in the good times and routine-ness of daily life - let us turn toward the Lord, that He might speak to our hearts and we might in turn nurture the faith of those who walk with us on the journey.

To lighten things up a bit...

I don't know the song that this is put to, but that is not the important thing...as you will see.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Even in Tears

Readings for Friday, November 5:
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Psalm 122:1-5
Luke 16:1-8

"For many, as I have told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their 'shame'."

I hope that these words of St. Paul to the Philippians make you pause for a moment and reflect. It always strikes me how he doesn't just say "I have told you..." but rather "I have told you and now tell you even in tears...." In tears he reminds them of the fact that there are some who have made themselves enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ, glorying in a life of sinfulness. Though I am not brought to physical tears, I too experience a great sadness of soul when I look around me sometimes. St. Paul speaks about people glorying in their shame - what else is this other than being prideful of one's own sinfulness? There is certainly no shortage of this - turn on any 'reality TV' show and you'll soon find a small army of people boasting of their sinfulness, though they wouldn't phrase it as such. And because it is so commonplace it is easy for us to accept and treat as if it's the norm. But what St. Paul's words should spark in our hearts is the realization that it shouldn't be accepted, but rather we ought to morn that they lack the joy and life of Christ that abides in the hearts of those who follow in His ways. We too are called to weep, at least internally, at the sorrow of their ignorance of the Truth, Jesus Christ. And what's more, we ought to pray for them, that they might one day come to know Him.

Another important point that needs expressing is the fact that St. Paul sheds tears for two reasons: 1- his total love for God and sorrow at seeing His love rejected and 2 - he himself was once one of those who made himself an enemy of the Cross of Christ. St. Paul isn't just speaking as a man who was always a pious Christian. He speaks as one who formerly persecuted Christians and sought to destroy the Church; but experiencing the love of God, he converted and sought to build up the Church. He knows the darkness of his former life because he knows the brightness and joy of his new life in Christ. And for that reason he weeps, knowing how much more those 'enemies of the Cross' could have than they did. We who have come to know more deeply the love of God for us are also called to point out the way to Jesus Christ and to pray that our world might have the grace to follow in it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Layout

Just curious about your thoughts on the new look of the blog...

The One

Readings for Thursday, November 4/ Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo:
Philippians 3:3-8
Psalm 105:2-7
Luke 15:1-10

"What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?" 

When Jesus asked this question to those that sat around him, surely the vast majority, if not all, of the men would have found this inquiry foolish. What man, after all, would leave behind the great wealth that he has in order to pursue a lesser good? Why not just cut your loses and carry on with the plan? It would be foolish to do otherwise. And yet this is exactly what the Lord Himself did in taking on human flesh. He emptied Himself of all of His glory to take on the form of a slave; a man born of the flesh, one who experiences all things except sin. And why? For you. For me. For each and every person in the course of history. But He didn't just do this to save all of humanity in general, but save each soul personally. In the eyes of Christ, each of us is that one sheep that He left his wealth behind in order to pursue. How blessed are we to be loved so deeply and so personally by Our Lord.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pray for the Poor Souls

Readings for Tuesday, November 2/Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day):
Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 23:1-6
Romans 5:5-11
John 6:37-40

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, honoring those who have finished the race and won the heavenly crown, the gift of eternal life. On this the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - also known as All Souls Day - we remember all those who have gone before us but have not yet gained eternal life. These are the many souls who died in a state of God's grace but are not yet totally purified so as to be ready to enter into the presence of God. This is where the doctrine of purgatory comes into play. These souls are being purged or cleansed in preparation for entry into Heaven and so we pray that their purging may be sped along and they might enter into glory more quickly. The beautiful thing about praying for the poor souls in purgatory is that when they finally attain the gift of eternal life, they will surely pray for us as we too journey along the way to salvation, both in this life and while we ourselves are in purgatory (assuming we find ourselves there after our own death).

It is a good and holy practice to pray for the dead. In fact it is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy and today on All Souls Day there is a plenary indulgence granted to the souls of the faithful depart when you "devoutly visit a church or an oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed" (Manual of Indulgences, 99.1.2). Also, there is a plenary indulgence granted to them if "on any day and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed" (Manual, 99.1.1). If you have the ability, I would strongly encourage you to do these things because, with God's grace, we'll eventually find ourselves in purgatory too seeking the prayers of others to speed along the path the Heaven.

Monday, November 1, 2010

For all the saints...

Russian Icon of All Saints 
Readings for Monday, November 1/ Feast of All Saints:
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14
Psalm 24:1-6
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Throughout the liturgical year Mother Church celebrates the lives of a great number of men and women whose heroic virtue and example of holiness stand as a witness to us all of the power of God's grace in the soul of even a single person. We honor these men and women as saints of God, affirming that they are in fact in Heaven with the Lord interceding on our behalf. In addition to the many who are canonized saints, that is officially recognized by the Church, there are surely thousands upon thousands whose names are not known to us but are nonetheless inscribed in the Book of Life. Today, as we honor all of the saints in heaven, we are given the opportunity to ask once again for the prayers of all the saints and angels, as well as to reflect on their lives.

It is important to reflect on the lives of the saints because by doing so a number of things occur. First we are given the beautiful witness of those who lived the Christian life well. By this witness we are able to look at our own life and be encouraged to continue to strive for holiness and model our lives after these saints who endured many of the same trials as we endure and were triumphant. More than this, we are reminded that this life is not the end but that much more and much greater things lie in store for those who are faithful to the ways of the Lord. For all eternity, the saints stand before God in praise and adoration. When we reflect on the gift that they have won in their salvation, we are inflamed with a great desire to attain that same gift and share with them in the joy of beholding the face of God. Who would not desire this?

Another great gift, mentioned above, is to be reminded that the saints in heaven are not just the several thousand who have been canonized by the Church but consists of many thousands - probably millions or even billions - of holy souls who successfully ran the race and receive the heavenly crown. The vast majority were common men and women like you and I, souls who simply went about their daily work and sought to grow in holiness and glorify the Lord by our lives and in our prayer. This, for me, is the greatest encouragement. That so many humble, unknown souls have crossed into the heavenly banquet and are praying that you and I would soon join them at the feast. God grant that we may we be open to that transforming grace that will bring us all to be saints of God. And may all the saints of heaven pray for us today and always!