Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Papal Intentions for December

It's that time again - here are the Holy Father's intentions for the month of December!

General Intention: That all peoples may grow in harmony and peace through mutual understanding and respect.

Missionary Intention: That children and young people may be messengers of the Gospel and that they may be respected and preserved from all violence and exploitation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Restful Sundays

Updated: article link now works!

Keep holy the Sabbath.

While we tend to think about taking the Lord's name in vain, coveting goods and the other Ten Commandments, it seems that keeping the Sabbath holy is likely the one most commonly broken when we're honest with ourselves. At the seminary I often saw Sundays as the day when I could crank out a whole paper or do some serious reading for class. Then I was lamenting to my spiritual director one day the fact that I never had time to rest and he asked about really keeping Sunday holy and resting with the Lord. I realized just how much I had been doing the opposite and he challenged me to try it out. Much fruit has been born from that challenge. I can't say I don't give into the urges to work on Sundays anymore, but I'm quite sure that I'll never be free of that inclination. As we enter into this Advent season and spend these 4 weeks quietly awaiting the Lord's coming at Christmas, learning to keep the Sabbath (Sunday) as a day of rest may be something to consider looking at. There is a wonderful little article about one woman's experience and struggle with doing so found HERE that is well worth 5 minutes to read. Gave me pause to re-evaluate how I've been doing lately as well... Have a blessed Advent!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rend the Heavens!

Isaiah 63:16,17,19; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3,15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

Be watchful! Be alert! Watch, therefore! Watch!

As we listen to the words of the gospel today, even someone who isn’t Catholic and doesn’t know about Advent could probably give a good guess at the purpose of this Advent season, given that Our Lord tells us to ‘watch’ three times within a minute.

While each of us ought to be constantly watching for Our Lord’s coming into the world around us, Mother Church sets aside this special season each year to help us look more deeply and to watch more keenly for the entry of Christ into the human scene. While this season tends to find us focusing on the coming of Christ as a child born of the Blessed Mother, we are reminded that this is a way to remind us of the need always to be watchful also of the Second Coming of the Lord, as well as His coming in other ways – in the Eucharist, in the Sacred Scriptures, and in those around us.

Reflecting on these various ways in which Our Lord comes to us in the midst of our lives, we realize that no matter how He comes, whether as an infant, triumphant King, or neighbor in need, in the appearance of simple bread and wine or in sacred words written millennia ago, the Lord ultimately comes to be with us; but not in any superficial way of simply being around us or knowing about us. He comes with a heart that longs to be in an intimate relationship with each of us; He opens Himself that we might be part of His life and desires that He be all of ours. It is for this union that we are called to prepare ourselves and to keep watch.

I don’t know about you, but when I come to pray before the Lord in silence, He often brings up things in my heart where I have failed to live the life I’ve been called and consecrated to live. Times where I’ve been lazy or short-tempered or any number of things where I haven’t fully imaged Christ. And for most of my life, I spent my time in prayer and outside of prayer working on those things myself, thinking that I could make myself better and make myself more virtuous. But the reality is that I couldn’t - and still can’t - do anything myself; it is God Who does things in me. And the things that He revealed in my prayer were not things that He wanted me to fix but, rather, were things He wanted to fix in me, but needed my permission to come in and do so.

As we keep watch for the Lord’s coming during these next four weeks of Advent and listen for His voice in our prayer, may He bring to light those places where He desires to work in our hearts. And seeing those places, let us make our voices one with Isaiah in crying out for the Lord to rend the Heavens and come down to us, that He might continue to mold each of us into the son or daughter He desires us to be. As we begin that journey, we pray that simple prayer of Joseph Cardinal Mercier, known as the Secret of Sanctity:

Oh, Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You.
Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.
Tell me what I should do. Give me Your orders.
I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me
And accept all that You do permit to happen to me.
Let me only know Your will.

Come, Holy Spirit.
Come, O Come, Immanuel.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

From a sermon on man's mortality by Saint Cyprian (from the Office of Readings today):

"The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you? ... Our part, my dear brothers, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God's will, whatever it may be. Banish the fear of death and think of the eternal life that follow. That will show people that we really live our faith."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Written? Kitten!

This just in from the 'totally random' department of my brain:

As a college student and grad student for a total of eight years, I had many papers to write and often found myself less than excited about having to write them. I was forwarded a website from a good friend that aims at helping with this problem. It's called Written? Kitten! and it's a website that is based off of this premise: cats are cute. It starts out with a blank screen and a text box, but as soon as you type 100 words - a cat picture! And for every 100 words after that - another cat picture! If you've got a monster paper, you can up the count to 200, 500 or 1000 words for the picture change. It certainly helps to write a paper if the more progress we make the more cute cat pictures we see, right? After all, seeing this cute kitten picture makes me want to write a paper...and I don't even have to...

Why all the changes?!

Below is an article I wrote for our semi-annual publication The Oaks.

As we all continue to transition to the new wording in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there are lots of questions that can be asked: How were the choices of new prayers made? What do the new words mean? What was wrong with the other prayers? Why does it matter what words we use to pray? These and the many other questions that could be asked ultimately lead us to one central question: Why are we changing?

We could answer this with a simple analysis of recent events – the release of a document on the proper way to translate liturgical texts in 2001, the promulgation of a new edition of the Missale Romanum (the Latin text of the Mass) in 2002, and the subsequent process of translating that Latin text into the English we will soon be employing in our celebrations. In my opinion, however, that does not really answer the question. Rather the answer is simply this: the Holy Spirit.

All throughout his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II spoke of a New Springtime in the Church and His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI has continued this prophetic proclamation. This ‘New Springtime,’ as they call it, is a time when the dew of the Spirit brings new life to the Church and a flowering of the faith is made visible to the world around us - a flowering that changes our culture and our world. If we only take a quick glance at the Church today it would be easy to get frustrated or discouraged, but if we look deeply we see great things happening on a grassroots level throughout our entire Church. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst.

It is with this in mind that I say the Holy Spirit is the real answer to why we are changing and updating the prayers of the Mass. But just because God is doing things doesn’t mean that we necessarily enjoy it. After all, change can be a difficult thing. Most of us are creatures of habit and once we find a way of doing something that is comfortable to us, we don’t like it when changes are introduced. But the reality is that when change does happen, there is an invitation for us to grow in the midst of our frustration. I think it is that change and growth which the Holy Spirit desires of us as a nation and as a world in bringing forth this new translation of the Mass at this point in time. Why do I think that? Because the fruits are already showing themselves.

The fact is that for the first time in many years the whole English-speaking segment of the Church is encountering extensive, deep catechesis on the prayers and celebration of the Mass. The availability of materials and regular discussion of this most-central aspect of our faith is already permitting and encouraging people to enter into the celebration of the Mass in a way that they might not have until now. The Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, tells us that “taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, [the faithful] offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.” Calling the celebration of Mass the source and summit of our lives drives home the point that we are essentially a Eucharist-centered people and that our participation in the celebration of the Mass has a profound impact on the entirety of our lives; every grace comes from the Mass and every action points toward it. As we continue to talk about and learn more about this great mystery of faith, will not out our lives and world also be changed and powerfully transformed in the process?

All of this is simply summed up in that great axiom Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, which simply means that the way we pray determines the way we believe, which determines the way we live. And if we live the prayers of the Mass then the world has no chance of remaining unchanged. How so?

If we look at the style of prayer, we see that the new translation uses notedly loftier wording. Rather than simple sentences and more commonplace words it uses complex sentences and words that will make us realize that this is not just an ordinary celebration at which we gather. It is a celebration in which we come into contact with the God of all creation and humbly seek his grace.

Our current translation turns to God saying ‘make us’, ‘renew us’, ‘give us’, and other such prayers that seem to simply tell Him what we want. The new translation will feel different as we now emphasize the fact that we must implore God’s help rather than tell Him our desires; thus we will see more of ‘be pleased’ and ‘we pray’ throughout the celebration.

Also, in our current translation we often do not hear the extra adjectives that are part of the original Latin edition. We will hear of ‘Blessed Joseph’ and the ‘Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul’ rather than simply ‘Joseph’ or ‘the Apostles Peter and Paul’ as well as the ‘glorious ever-Virgin Mary’ and ‘most beloved Son’ rather than ‘Mary, the ever-Virgin mother’ and ‘Jesus Christ, your only Son.’ Too, we will hear about break being taken into the ‘holy and venerable hands’ of Our Lord and the reception of the ‘precious chalice’ during the consecratory prayers over the bread and wine.

These and so many other little changes here and there throughout the Mass will help us to realize that God and the heavenly realities are something entirely different than normal life. They are far beyond simple mundane things and we are blessed to be able to enter into them. And as we come to integrate this realization into our belief systems, our lives will be visibly transformed. Such a great mystery!

As we sit here on the threshold of this New Springtime in the Church and the world, I cannot help but rejoice at the blessing the Lord has given all of us at being here to witness the movement the Holy Spirit so powerfully in our midst. A true blessing indeed! Come, Holy Spirit!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"Dear young people, Jesus loves you. Ask your parents to pray with you! Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!" 
 - Pope Benedict XVI in his recent trip to Benin

Who is Jesus?

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

Below is a rough draft of my homily for the weekend, which turned out different but with the same essential points.

Who is Jesus to me?

At different points in our life of faith, we see Our Lord in a different way. At one time He may be a shepherd, rescuer, or healer as we heard in the prophet Ezekiel. At another time He may be viewed as judge and mighty king, as in the gospel. At another time He may be friend, brother, lover, or intercessor. All of these are good and healthy relationships to Our Lord, but as we gather here today we honor Him specifically under the title of King.

In our intimate personal prayer and devotion, we can come before the Lord and speak informally, as with one we’ve known our whole lives. It is fitting because that intimacy with Christ is necessary for a vibrant faith, and so we can draw near and simply rest our head on the chest of our Savior as St. John at the Last Supper and speak simply to our friend, brother, shepherd, and Lord. But as we celebrate this great feast of Jesus Christ the King, we recognize that this simple intimate speak also is limited to a time and place, and that there is also a time where a more formalized dialogue is called for.

In the gospel reading, Christ is the King and we hear from Him a formalized, kingly language. Rather than simply saying “You blessed ones, come get the inheritance that’s been waiting for you”, Our Lord says rather poetically, “Come, you who are blessed by my father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” There’s a loftiness of speech that is noted, it’s understandable and yet not just common speech.

As we come together as a community, rather than use the simple speech of two intimate friends we come into the house of our God and Christ our King and are called to worship not as we desire individually but as the Lord deserves from us collectively. Rather than simplicity and flexibility, we come with rituals, routine gestures, and rich language. By this we are reminded that the celebration of the liturgy is not one of many things we do, but rather is unique and deserving of its own ritual language.

When the Second Vatican Council permitted the Mass to be celebrated in the language of the people some fifty years ago, there was a great rush to make the Mass in English available quickly. The translation we received and have celebrated for the last forty years is good, but is quite simplified. The theological depth and rich poetic nature of the Latin original was often lost in the translation. With this revised translation of the Latin text, we now can reclaim some of that beauty, richness, and theological depth of our Catholic faith and liturgical celebration. Let us look, for instance at the prayers we’ll be praying next week.

Last year on the First Sunday of Advent we prayed this after Communion:

Father, may our communion teach us to love heaven.
May its promise and hope guide our way on earth.

Next weekend, with the new translation of the same prayer in Latin, we will hear this:

May these mysteries, O Lord, in which we have participated,
profit us, we pray, for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them to love the things of heaven
and hold fast to what endures.

The current translation is rather simple with bluntness and little embellishment. The new translation expresses the same idea in a much more poetic form that is more humble and theological in wording - a form truly worthy of Our King. So as we draw closer to Our Lord, we realize that while He is certainly to us a brother, friend, lover, savior and much more, above all He is our King.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Africae Munus!

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent visit to Africa, signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus. While it is written to citizens of that continent and about things important there, it is also useful for us to read as well. As Catholics we realize we are a universal body of believers and so it is beneficial for us to read what our brothers and sisters in Africa are experiencing and also to hear the Catholic faith applied concretely to their situation, which often is similar to ours. You can find it on the Vatican website HERE or ePub & Kindle formats over at The Curt Jester blog HERE. Do enjoy and please keep our Holy Father in your prayers.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Joys of Heaven

In the Office of Readings for the Breviary this morning, there was a beautiful reflection by St. Thomas Aquinas on the joys of Heaven that really made me pause and think for a bit. So often my concept of Heaven, though it is necessarily communal, is rather personalistic in reference to simply beholding God's face. As most children tend to think of Heaven as a place characterized by their favorite things - perpetual games, cotton candy and other such things. The thing that really struck me was St. Thomas' words about our relationship to others there and how our joy perpetually increases. Rather than try to summarize it and fail to show the beauty of it, I'll simply quote it:

"Again, eternal life consists of the joyous community of all the blessed, a community of supreme delight, since everyone will share all that is good with all the blessed. Everyone will love everyone else as himself, and therefore will rejoice in another's good as in his own. So it follows that the happiness and joy of each grows in proportion to the joy of all."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sustain Me

Readings for Tuesday, November 14/ St. Albert the Great:
2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Psalm 3:2-7
Luke 19:1-10

"When I lie down in sleep, I awake again, for the Lord sustains me."

As we come here to this Mass today we hear these encouraging words from the psalmist, speaking to us of the love that Our Lord has for us and the fact that He is constantly thinking of us and holding us in existence. The closeness of God at every moment is something incredible to contemplate. 

The account from Second Maccabees of the elder Eleazer is so beautiful in itself that we could spend hours contemplating it. Before Christian martyrs witnessed to us, we have this witness of the faith of Eleazar, who offered his life to God rather than even appear to defile himself before others. As he went to his death, he did so not only with great suffering but also great joy in his soul. Certainly the Lord was with him, sustaining him in the midst of those trials.

Most of us, though, are not so boldly called to rely upon the sustenance of the Lord. More often than not, in my own life and experience, it comes in simply relying upon Him in the midst of the hectic lives that we lead. Turning to Him in the course of the day and reminding ourselves that it is only by His grace that we are able to accomplish the things that we do. We can be mindful of this by the example of St. Albert the Great, whose feast we celebrate today. In the twelfth century, St. Albert was revered as a "teacher of everything there is to know" - one who was well-versed and even a leader in chemistry, natural sciences, philosophy, theology, architecture, and general daily wisdom. He shaped the mind of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose theology stands as the norm for teaching 800 years later. He was consulted by business men, builders, religious seekers, and the pope on all various accounts. And yet in the midst of all of those various ventures he still found himself able to effectively minister as a bishop and leader of the Dominican community. Those who look at his life cannot but be shocked at the amount of work he accomplished in his life and often at the same time and truly this is all attributed to the work of God, who continually sustained St. Albert all throughout those works and made them bear the fruit they did because he truly dwelled in the Lord. 

From his example we can find our own encouragement, that in the midst of our busy days caught up in so many things - though not so glorious as his - we can still find Our Lord and remind ourselves that it is He who sustains us.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mother Church

Readings for Sunday, November 13:
Proverbs 31:10:13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

Very often in the selection of the texts for a Sunday Mass, the readings clearly tie together. We can see at least some surface-level connections without too much digging. When I read the readings for this Sunday however I have to admit it gave me pause to think. The letter from St. Paul and the gospel both speak about the coming of the Lord, the need for attentiveness, and the final judgment of each soul. In stark contrast to that we find these beautiful, poetic pieces from the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms about the value of finding a worthy wife who is fruitful like a vine. It seems almost as if it were accidental; that someone cut and pasted the wrong scriptures to the weekend’s readings list. And yet, if we look closely and dig a bit, we find that there is a key that unlocks for us the connection between these seemingly unconnected passages: Mother Church.

In the scriptures, the Church is often described as a bride and the spouse of the Bridegroom. As spouse of the Bridegroom, she also conceives children and leads them on the path of salvation. Thus we can see that as wife of the Bridegroom, she is also a mother – our mother.

In our current religious culture, we don’t often hear the Church referred to as Mother Church. So often we are encouraged to ourselves as the Church, rightly so in a sense. But as we begin to think of ourselves as ‘Church,’ it is easy to forget that ‘The Church’ – the Catholic Church - is something much larger and more glorious. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother…. Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” (CCC 169) So strong was the realization of this relationship to the Church as Mother in the centuries past that St. Cyprian once said, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” Quite a statement, and yet we realize the absolute truth in it because it is only by way of Mother Church’s teaching and guidance that we are even able to know and call upon Christ as Savior and God as Father.

As a mother educates her children about the world around them, teaching them words, concepts, truths and values, so too does our Mother, the Church, educate us in the things of God, teaching us the faith, encouraging us along the path of Truth toward holiness and salvation. (CCC 171) Scripture elsewhere tells us that the Church is the pillar and defender of Truth; if this is so, then it means that she herself must know such Truth in order to defend it. And if she knows the Truth, then we ought to listen to her and follow the way she sets before us. To do so is to find ourselves always prepared. Our lives, when given over to her, will bear much fruit and will be a rich harvest for the Lord. We will be those servants who were given five talents, and raised five more; or the ones given two talents, who raised two more. Not holding anything back, as the last servant, we are able to come before the Lord and joyfully present to Him on the day of our judgment the fruits of our labor in His service.

Let us turn to our Mother, that worthy wife of the Heavenly Bridegroom, and entrust ourselves to her maternal care and find in her the assurance of our salvation. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I always enjoy a some good clean humor. Have a blessed feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica! More on that HERE and HERE.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oil for Our Lamps

Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 63:2-8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

After the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, there were many who believed that they would see His Second Coming during their own lifetime. As the Lord said, they would not know the day or the hour. Yet many disciples of the Lord, including some of the Apostles, seemed, at least at first, to believe that Christ would not be long in returning to bring about the fulfillment of all creation. For this reason, they were zealous in carrying out the Lord’s commands. They underwent great trials and made incredible ground in a short period of time. And yet the Lord did not make His return in their lifetime, nor did He come in their century or even their millennium. As you well know, we are here nearly 2000 years later, still awaiting that Second Coming of Christ that many in the first days of the Church thought would happen within a matter of years or even months.

We all know that old joke that says, “Jesus is coming, everyone look busy!” But I think that in joking about it we can easily forget the reality that it actually may happen at any moment. Being so far removed from the time of Christ’s earthly life puts us at a certain disadvantage because it’s easier now to be confident that we’ve got a long life ahead of us and we’ve got time to do what we want and get right with God later. Even as I was preparing this homily I was thinking of what to preach in the coming weeks in light of this weekend’s readings – we all assume that we have tons of time, which we may well have. But the thing is that when we get comfortable, we can begin to slack up on our efforts to grow in faith and holiness. That’s what we see in our Gospel passage today. Let’s look again.

We start with the ten virgins with lamps waiting for the bridegroom. The Early Church Father tell us that the lamp here is used as a symbol of faith, marking one who has been enlightened through the Sacrament of Baptism and now walks with faith in Our Lord. The virgins with lamps, then, are symbolic of the Christian community. The Letter of St. James in the scriptures tells us that faith without works is dead, and so we see that the oil that keeps the lamps burning – that keeps faith alive in the soul and merits salvation – is symbolic of works of charity.

The wise virgins entered the banquet because they had extra oil that lasted until the coming of the bridegroom. They were not content with a minimal amount, but sought out extra oil beforehand and were prepared for the long wait. These are the souls of men and women who do not content themselves with the minimal requirements of salvation, but rather strive for holiness by doing much more than what is required in the way of charity and self-sacrifice. Not presuming upon their time here on Earth, they strive to work out their salvation zealously each day.

In contrast we have the foolish virgins who are not able to enter the banquet because the amount of oil they thought was sufficient was in fact not enough, and so they are left rushing at the last minute searching for some, only to find it was too late. These are the souls of men and women who are comfortable with things as they are and content themselves with doing only what they deem necessary, thinking it will be enough to, as one of my seminary professors so eloquently put it, barely flop over the line into purgatory and eventually get into Heaven. These are the ones who presume upon their salvation and are turned away because their presumption keeps them from being charitable, which is the basic requirement for the attainment of salvation.

As we draw closer to the end of this liturgical year and we hear more about the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – the challenge is for us to look at ourselves and see how we measure up. Surely we have our lamps of faith. The question is, do we have our oil?