Sunday, December 30, 2012

Being Holy Families

Readings for Sunday, December 30/ Holy Family Sunday:
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

As we continue to celebrate the joyous coming among us of the Son of God and contemplate the reality and the meaning for us of His assuming our very flesh, we are today reminded by Holy Mother Church that Christ came among us not as an isolated individual, not as one entirely set apart, but as a member of a family – one who had an earthly mother and father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Just as in taking on our flesh he elevated the nature of humanity itself, so also in coming among us as a child in a family he elevates the meaning and value of family in our world. Blessed John Paul II, of happy memory, spoke often about the reality that the family is the basic unit of society and that is families grow in holiness, the world itself grows in holiness. He, as well as many saints throughout the centuries, also spoke of the family as the ‘domestic church’ in which the faith is first taught. As the ritual for Baptism reminds us, it is the parents – and the family inclusive – who are the first teachers of the faith for their children. It’s not primarily the priest who should be conveying the faith, but the family in which the children live, learn, and develop both materially and spiritually. The family, because it is the foundation of society, is absolutely vital for our world and for ourselves and for that reason Mother Church recalls that reality and places before us the perfect model for us in the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Now, I have to admit that I laughed a little bit when I began to pray with the scriptures for this feast day in that we hold up the Holy Family as the model of families and yet the gospel we read is the one where they lose their child in the largest city in their region. At first glance it could seem that they’re not that perfect after all, but even this story of finding the Lord shows us just how wholesome they were.

All of us, when we reflect on things, do so from our own personal lived experience. Our past shapes the way we see the present and future. When I think about going as a family to a certain place – to visit another family member, for instance – it always happened that when you left I got in the car with my parents and whatever other siblings were with us and we went together back home. The Jewish custom was different though. They often travelled in large groups for feasts like this and in those caravans the women would all gather together and start walking first with the young children. Following them would be the men of the group at the back of the caravan with whatever supplies were needed. As Luke also points out, Jesus was 12 years old, which was the age of transition for a boy from being a child to an adult. Thus it would have been easy for Mary to think Jesus being now an adult would travel with Joseph and for Joseph to think that Jesus simply hadn’t remembered his new status in the community and continued to travel up front with His mother. That’s entirely possible, but going even more deeply, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, points out in his new book ‘The Infancy Narratives’ that this event shows that Jesus was an obedient son who had so earned the trust and freedom from His parents that they knew He wouldn’t do anything wrong intentionally. Even losing their son in Jerusalem, he points out, shows that they were incredibly intimate as a family. But in this intimacy the Lord Jesus now challenges them to a new understanding of their relationship as a family when He points out that He ‘must be in His Father’s house’ – He uses the word ‘must’ to show His awareness of His Divine Sonship and the relationship that it requires of Him in prayer and faith. And just as He challenged His parents, so He wants to challenge us to live as families in a new way.

From the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph we can glean much wisdom. The simplicity and poverty that characterized their lives, the love they shared with one another, and the ordinariness of life that is the background of holiness are all helpful in us understanding our own relationship with the Father and our families. But even more, they provide for us a witness that faith is most important of all. The scriptures tell us in other places that each of them was always open to God’s Divine Will. As soon as they heard the Lord or His angel speak, they went to action to fulfill that desire. This shows us that they faith that they lived was not an external faith but one that was deeply ingrained in them. The gospel tells us that they regularly made trips to Jerusalem for the feast and that Mary, who was not obliged to go, also made the trip as a sign that they went together as a family to meet the Lord God in His Temple.

The challenge is for us to become families in imitation of that Holy Family. To do so we must first be families. Too often today parents and children both get so caught up in the latest gadgets, sports event, club meeting, or activity that family time is almost entirely lost. In order to be a holy family then, we must each in our own way make that conscious effort to be a family – to turn off the TV, put away the phones, have dinner together and simply make time to talk with one another. The next step is to come together as a family before the Lord. This can happen in a whole variety of ways – and it should since our families are different and need different things. It could be simply praying before and after meals, spending an evening in the week to pray with the scriptures for the coming Sunday or make a brief visit to the Adoration Chapel. Even simple things like listening to Catholic Radio on AM690 or talking about a neat story of faith we heard can be beautiful ways to join ourselves to the Lord in imitation of the Holy Family.  So let us especially in this Year of Faith and coming New Year work to indeed become Holy Families. Let us turn to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, whose images we have in each of our parishes, and ask them to help us grow as individuals and as families, that in the end the whole world would be set ablaze with love for Christ as He so greatly desires it to be. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Open Our Hearts

Manger Scene at St. Francis Church, Granada, Niacaragua
Gospel Readings for December 25/ Christmas:
(Vigil) Matthew1:1-25
(Midnight) Luke 2:1-14
(Morning) John 1:1-18

Today we celebrate the great turning point in the story of salvation. For centuries the Jews had been waiting for the Anointed One, the one to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven and at His coming among them as a child they were filled with joy who looked upon Him. So, too, are we filled with joy today because we, like they, recognize that salvation has indeed come to us. Salvation is here in our very midst, as a child. A child is born to us! The one who is all-powerful makes Himself helpless for us. He Who is clothed in glory in Heaven comes wrapped in swaddling clothes. The One through Whom and in Whom all things exists comes among us and finds no place to lay His head. He who lives eternally in Heaven comes to dwell in a cave. The Bread of Life comes is laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, as a sign that even from the first moment of His existence among us He is meant to be consumed by the world that life might come to us and all of creation.

We come to celebrate the King of kings and Lord of lords who comes to be with us. That is the mystery we celebrate today, that God’s love for us is so great that He would stop at nothing to draw us closer to Himself in this life and eternity. If we grasp even the smallest bit of that love, we would surely die of joy.

I wish there was more time to speak of the beauty of the scriptures that we read for the Christmas Masses. For each of the Christmas Masses here at the parish there is a separate reading and there is so much that could be said about those passages. But I will limit myself to reflecting upon the gospel passages from each of the Masses.

Matthew’s Gospel passage illustrates how Jesus was truly born of human flesh, as we read the genealogy. This being born of human flesh is emphasized by the fact that Matthew highlights the person of King David in this narrative. King David was the one who a millennia before received the promise that an heir from his lineage would rise up as king of Israel and would reign gloriously, never allowing the scepter of power to be taken away. The people looked for centuries for this king and many had almost given up hope as they kingdom of Israel was divided and ultimately fell under the rule of foreign powers. But in the person of Jesus Christ, Matthew points out, the promise to David is fulfilled – a king is born from his line who indeed is to reign forever, both on earth and in heaven. Additionally, the genealogy includes four women, which was not done in Jewish tradition. This showed that Christ was indeed calling forth all people to be part of the Gospel. What’s more,  those women weren’t all Jewish, so even Gentiles were included in the mission of Jesus.

John’s Gospel is a bit more heady and theological, as it was written later with that intention in mind. He speaks of the eternity of the Word, how all things came to exist through Him. He helps us to understand that while Christ comes as a small child, He is also at the same time entire different from us. He is God; eternal, all-powerful.

Luke’s Gospel, with which we’re all more familiar, gives us the more historical account of how Joseph and Mary went to register for the census and while in Bethlehem Our Lord is born and placed in the manger. This again emphasizes the universality of the faith, including even – and especially! – those who are poor and lowly. The poverty of the Holy Family and the inclusion of the shepherds, which was a lowly task, highlight the call that all are important to God, loved by Him, and called to relationship with Him.

Each of these Gospels shows us a different aspect of the Lord. They have different authors, audiences, intentions, details, and yet they all come together to show us a beautiful picture of the Savior. In this we can see the beauty of the diversity of the Church. But even more, we see that God comes to us as individuals. He comes to each of us personally because we are all different. He knows, more than we do, that we are all at different places in our lives, have different needs, have different struggles, and are at different places in our relationship with Him. He knows all of these things and for this reason He comes still to be with us and to love us as we need to be loved. But He needs us to open up to Him. Certainly we’ve said yes to Him and opened up before, and we’ve already done so to some extent in that we are all here to celebrate this Mass. And yet He wants to have us open up that He might not only visit for a bit but truly remain and abide with us.

And so He comes to us, that little child who longs to love and be loved by us. Notice the beautiful image of Our Lord that we carried in tonight, the infant Jesus with arms outstretched, reaching out to us that we might pick Him up and in truly receive Him into our lives once more. He longs for us. He didn’t come simply to be among us for a time. He came to ransom us to Himself that we might be with Him forever in Heaven. Going back to Luke’s Gospel, we see that familiar story of how Christ is coming among us and yet He has no place to stay because there is no room in the inn. As He comes to us once more, He comes looking not for an inn but a dwelling place in our hearts. Let us open wide the doors of our hearts, that He might find a fitting dwelling place where He will indeed love and be loved. 

HWP: St. Thomas Aquinas' Prayer of Thanksgiving

Having begun the celebration of the birth of Our Savior, I now intend to turn to the next section in the 'Half-Way Prayers': Prayers of Thanksgiving after Mass. The first one is a beautiful prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas, complimentary to the one prayed prior to Mass. Enjoy!

I give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father,
Almighty and Eternal God,
who have been pleased to nourish me,
a sinner and your unworthy servant,
with the precious Body and Blood
of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ:
this through no merits of mine,
but due solely to the graciousness of your mercy.
And I pray that this Holy Communion
may not be for me an offense to be punished,
but a saving plea for forgiveness.
May it be for me the armor of faith,
and the shield of good will.
May it cancel my faults,
destroy concupiscence and carnal passion,
increase charity and patience, humility and obedience
and all the virtues,
may it be a firm defense against the snares of all my enemies,
both visible and invisible,
the complete calming of my impulses,
both of the flesh and of the spirit,
a firm adherence to you, the one true God,
and the joyful completion of my life’s course.
And I beseech you to lead me, a sinner,
to that banquet beyond all telling,
where with your Son and the Holy Spirit
you are the true light of your saints,
fullness of satisfied desire, eternal gladness,
consummate delight and perfect happiness.
Through Christ Our Lord.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Visitation...not a visit.

Readings for Sunday, December 23/ Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

With Christmas just two days away, the natural tendency of our hearts is to look forward to the birth of the infant Lord, rightly so. But if we look too much to the Lord’s birth and miss the message of this last Sunday in Advent, we do ourselves a great disservice. In the past few weeks we have heard again and again the call to ‘prepare the way’ for the Lord’s coming and to ‘make straight the paths’ of our hearts. Those exhortations are certainly needed to get us into the mindset of receiving the Lord once more as the infant of Bethlehem. But as we conclude this blessed season, it is now time to transition from preparing for the Lord’s coming to understanding what to do when He finally comes. For this reason Mother Church holds up for our reflection this weekend the perfect model of discipleship: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While some might be confused or even object to a homily on the Sunday before Christmas being about the Blessed Virgin Mary, it actually makes a great deal of sense if we understand the role of Our Blessed Mother in the salvation of mankind. Never does Mary try to draw the attention to herself, but always points to Christ. In a sense, her entire life and vocation is to become a bridge by which God comes to men and men go to God. God specially chose her and gave her unique graces to bear the only begotten Son of God in her own flesh and to bring Him forth into our world. It is Mary who inaugurates the ministry of Christ when at Cana she compels Him to perform his first public miracle. After the death of the Lord and even to this day in apparitions around the world, she always comes to us with a message of drawing closer to Christ and takes as her mission nothing other than making a reality the union of our souls with His. With that in mind, let us now turn to the story of Mary's Visitation to Elizabeth.

The first line of the Gospel tells of how Mary “set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah.” Notices that Mary travels with haste – she goes quickly and with specific intention in mind; she had a mission. That mission is why this story is known as the Visitation to Elizabeth and not just the Visit to Elizabeth. A visit is informal, relaxed. A visitation, however, is something formal, serious, and has a goal in mind. Having conceived God in her womb, Mary goes in haste to share the good news with Elizabeth, and because she bears Christ in her womb, John the Baptist leaps for joy at her presence and while still in his mother's womb begins to point to Christ and prepare the way for His coming into the world. Too, we find on the lips of Elizabeth the beautiful proclamation of the Lord’s coming to Earth as she exclaims “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She knows it's not just her cousin who has arrived, but her cousin who holds within her the very God of all Creation. So we see that the Visitation is much more than a visit to a relative; it is a sharing of the joy of the Good News that salvation is at hand. In this we find both the model and the message of what we are called to do in these coming days.

In a couple of days the Lord Jesus will come once again looking for a place to be born. We celebrate His birth in Bethlehem in a manger, but the place He desires most to be born is within our very hearts. And once He takes rest within us, we, like Mary, will have the mission of going out to others to share the good news, to make visitations of our own in order to share the Good News of Christ’s coming and our salvation. Our world is desperately in need of the Good News. We need only check the newspapers or internet each day to hear more tragic news, more cause for despair and more a falling away from faith. It is our mission to share the Good News of Christ to those in need: those who need peace, forgiveness, hope, love, and redemption. And if they don't hear it from us Christians, they won't hear it at all. The question we each must ask, then, is to whom is the Lord calling us to make a Visitation? We all know people who need to be renewed in faith, ransomed from sin, or brought to Christ for the first time. May God grant us the discernment to know to whom we shall go, the courage to make that visitation to them, and the openness to speak His words to them. And this all we ask through Our Blessed Mother's loving intercession, that we might truly become bridges in imitation of her.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

HWP: Prayer to the Virgin Mary

Being that Our Lady's entire mission is to bring us closer to the Heart of her beloved Son, it seems only right to conclude this section on Prayers of Preparation for Mass with a prayer to Our Lady. She who was for her entire life full of grace desires to bring us more deeply into the grace of the Sacraments and help us to receive them well, so let's open ourselves to her that she might do be able to perfectly fulfill her mission in us.

Prayer to the Virgin Mary before Mass
(Adapted for laity)
Mother of mercy and of love, most blessed Virgin Mary, I, a poor and unworthy sinner, fly to thee with all my heart and all my affection. I implore thy loving-kindness, that even as thou didst stand beside thy dear Son as He hung upon the Cross, so wilt thou also stand by me, a poor sinner, and beside all thy faithful people receiving the Most Sacred Body of thy Son. Grant us, that by thy grace, we may receive it worthily and fruitfully. Amen. 
Taken from the 'Quo Vadis Days' website at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prayer Request

In about 7 hours from the time this is posted, I will be on a plane along with about two dozen seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary, my alma mater, on our way to a 9-day mission experience in Nicaragua. I had the joy of going on this mission four times during my formation at NDS, three of them as a student leader, and found they always bore great spiritual fruit and helped to prepare me for the life and ministry of the priest. I ask you to pray for the seminarians, that they might have hearts open to what the Lord desires to speak to them (a prayer for myself and the leaders of the trip would be appreciated as well). Thank you and God bless you for your generosity in offering prayers for us.

HWP: Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Continuing our Half-Way Prayers (HWP) of Preparations for Mass as we continue in this Advent Season, today I bring to you this text from St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274).

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas

Almighty and everlasting God, behold, I am about to approach the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I approach as one who is sick to the physician of life, as one unclean to the well-spring of mercy and goodness, as one blind to the light of eternal brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Wherefore I beseech Thee, of Thine infinite goodness, to heal my sickness, to wash away my filth, to enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of kings, and Lord of lords with such reverence, such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention, as may conduce to the salvation of my soul. Grant, I beseech Thee, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also the fruit and virtue of the Sacrament. O most indulgent and merciful God, grant me so to receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which He took of the Virgin Mary, that I may be found worthy to be incorporated with His mystical body and numbered among His members. O most loving Father, grant that I may one day contemplate for ever face to face Thy beloved Son, whom now on my pilgrimage I am about to receive under a veil, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

He's Real

Readings for Sunday, December 9/ Second Sunday of Advent:
Baruch 5:1-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

When I was a teenager, probably around 13 or 14 years old, I wasn’t exactly the best kid, so my mom and step-dad got me involved in the youth group at our parish, hoping that some of that positive stuff would rub off a bit on me. One weekend the youth group went on retreat and as part of the retreat we were told to go to confession. So, not wanting to cause a scene or make things difficult for myself, I went to confession. I opened with the usual ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned’ and noted the length of time it had been before beginning with this: “I don’t believe in God and I think this is all a big waste of time.” The priest spoke with me about that and asked me to do something a bit different for my penance. He said when I was ready to do so, to look up toward heaven and say “God, if you’re out there, show yourself to me” and leave it up to Him. I agreed to do so and with my presence here today you can probably figure out how it all worked out in the end. When I came to know God was real, it was a very moving thing because I knew that if God was real, then Christ really died for me, saved me, loved me, and wanted to be the center of my life. It’s a matter first of realizing that God is real.

There are many in our world today who struggle to grasp this fully. Often the try to reduce the Bible to being a ‘How-to guide on being nice’ and suggest that the biblical stories are greatly embellished at best and at worst that they are fictional and were made up simply to convey messages. Even some biblical scholars and clergy have fallen into this trap of doubting that the miracles of the Bible were actual events. That is one of the reasons that I love the Gospel of St. Luke. He begins writing to Theophilos and describes how he has taken the accounts recorded by Christ’s disciples, stories he has been told from others and things he has personally witnessed and brought them together to form a complete picture and to provide and accurate description of the events of the life and ministry of Christ. He says it himself that he is writing a factual account. And he shows it in the passage we read today by noting all sorts of specific things. Rather than being ‘In a time long ago in a place far away’ like some fairy tale, St. Luke tells us of Tiberius Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Anna, Caiaphas, John, Zechariah, as well as places, years, and other details to emphasize the fact that the events he is describing are true. Placed in the context of the whole world around at the time, Luke begins to tell the factual story of Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah, the One for which Israel had been waiting for so many years.

Our first reading from the prophet Baruch tells of people coming from East and West to Jerusalem. This was a sign that God was calling the people back to Himself. Jerusalem was the home of the Temple, the dwelling place of God and the Jewish people had recently been conquered and dispersed among the nations, so this imagery was one of God calling everyone to Himself, to come home. For us today we have no earthly Jerusalem toward which we are called but rather a heavenly one. God is calling us to Heaven, where He eagerly awaits our arrival there for eternity. But it is for us to choose to go there.

The other day I heard a neat little phrase – God has no grandchildren, He only has sons and daughters. In an area that is culturally Catholic, it would be easy to be Catholic because our parents were Catholic and that’s just what we do. The challenge, though, is to choose the Catholic faith for ourselves - to make it my faith. If we’re Catholic only because someone before us was Catholic, then it’s time to claim our faith and to live it more boldly. And that starts with and continues by a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must know Christ and understand His voice to hear the direction to go in seeking after our heavenly homeland.

If there is anyone here who does not know Jesus Christ personally, where you can speak with Him as with a friend, ask Him for that and put it in His hands. If you have that relationship, are you actively preparing your heart to receive Him more deeply this Christmas and to be received by Him on the last day? Christ is very real and He is calling us to Himself. Let us not miss this blessed opportunity to draw near to Him. 

Our Mother's Love

The newly-invested novices immediately following the Mass
Readings for Satuday, December 8/ Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 98:1-4
Ephesians 1:2-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

Yesterday morning I had the joy of being at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. for a Mass of Investiture as fourteen young women, most of them in their early to mid-twenties, gave themselves to Christ as Spiritual Brides. My seat being in the sanctuary, I had the blessing of seeing their faces and each of them was called forward, called by their religious name for the first time, and received their veil to mark their bridal vocation. The joy that showed in their faces was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life and my heart burned with joy simply watching them. This joy of this already beautiful moment was increased as I saw a good friend and one of the youth from my previous assignment who has become a spiritual daughter to me. The ceremony was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced and I was shocked by the love and joy in my heart for the sisters, including even the ones that I had met only the night before. Throughout the day, as we continued the celebrations with the community and family, I continued to reflect on the experience. And as I was reflecting on that experience and preparing a final draft of this homily, I was struck by something. If I, imperfect and sinful as I am, was so filled with love in that moment for my daughter, friend and their sisters, how much more does our Blessed Mother Mary look upon us, her children, constantly with burning love in her heart - she who was full of grace, perfect in all things, and absolutely pure in heart?

In our first reading we heard the familiar story of Adam and Eve disobeying the Lord and partaking of the forbidden fruit, which cost them God’s grace and merited pain and death. Then our first parents passed onto us that spiritual state which longs for some redemption. For centuries humanity and all of creation awaited that redemption and we find it in Christ Jesus, through His Blessed Mother.

Eve was mother of all the living in the physical sense, that she gave us our lives. Mary comes to us as a spiritual mother, bringing us eternal life. By that beautiful response to Gabriel, “Be it done to me according to your word,” she opened herself up to God and enabled God to bring about salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ, who Himself made a radical act of obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said to the Father, “Not My will by Thy will be done.” By their acts of obedience, Jesus and Mary, the New Adam and New Eve, gained for us a gift far greater than physical life – they gained us the ability to behold the Face of God for eternity! Indeed she is the true mother of all the living. And as a mother she does not look up us all as a large group but rather as individual souls – each of us a special child in her eyes - honored, guarded, and deeply loved. How blessed indeed we are to have such a mother who is always, at every moment, watching over us and working to pour out the grace of God upon us that we might be drawn more deeply into the tender embrace of her Son and the Blessed Trinity. With that all in mind, I want to pray with you a section of St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s ‘Prayer to Jesus’ [full prayer HERE]:

Yes, Mary is necessary for me at Thy side and everywhere: that she may appease Thy just wrath, because I have so often offended Thee; that she may save me from the eternal punishment of Thy justice, which I deserve; that she may contemplate Thee, speak to Thee, pray to Thee, approach Thee and please Thee; that she may help me to save my soul and the souls of others; in short, Mary is necessary for me that I may always do Thy holy will and seek Thy greater glory in all things. Ah, would that I could proclaim throughout the whol world the mercy that Thous hast shown to me! Would that everyone might know I should be already damned, were it not for Mary! Would that I might offer worthy thanksgiving for so great a blessing! Mary is in me. Oh, what a treasure! Oh, what a consolation! And shall I not be entirely hers? Oh, what ingratitude! My dear Savior, send me death rather than such a calamity, for I would rather die than live without belonging entirely to Mary.

Indeed Mary is a most incredible gift and through her we have all receive the Lord Jesus and the offer of salvation. Today as we honor Our Lady, let us give everything we have, to her who has opened the way for us to receive everything we desire. Let us make our own the words St. Louis so often prayed:

Mary, I am thine and all I have is thine.
Mary, I am thine and all I have is thine.
Mary, I am thine and all I have is thine.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HWP: Prayer of Saint Ambrose Before Mass

A few weeks back I sought your input about the possible addition of weekly 'Half-Way Prayers' to my regular Sunday posts here on the blog (check out my reasons HERE). After unanimous positive feedback, the time has come to make it a reality... so, without further delay, I present to you: Half-Way Prayers!

The Second Vatican Council speaks of the Liturgy as "the source and summit of the Christian life" and as such it must hold a place of primacy in our thoughts and prayers. For that reason, I want to begin this series of Half-Way Prayers with those focusing on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Traditionally, there are two different prayers for the Mass - Prayers of Preparation (before Mass) and Prayers of Thanksgiving (after Mass). My thought was to use Christmas as the centerpiece for these prayers by posting Prayers of Preparation as we prepare for the Lord's coming at Christmas and Prayers of Thanksgiving during the Christmas season. Enjoy!

Prayer of Saint Ambrose before Mass

I draw near, loving Lord Jesus Christ, to the table of Your most delightful banquet in fear and trembling, a sinner, presuming not upon my own merits, but trusting rather in Your goodness and mercy. I have a heart and body defiled by my many offenses, a mind and tongue over which I have kept no good watch.
Therefore, O loving God, O awesome Majesty, I turn in my misery, caught in snares, to You the fountain of mercy, hastening to You for healing, flying to You for protection; and while I do not look forward to having You as Judge, I long to have You as Savior.
To You, O Lord, I display my wounds, to You I uncover my shame. I am aware of my many and great sins, for which I fear, but I hope in Your mercies, which are without number.
Look upon me, then, with eyes of mercy, Lord Jesus Christ, eternal King, God and Man, crucified for mankind. Listen to me, as I place my hope in You, have pity on me, full of miseries and sins, You, who will never cease to let the fountain of compassion flow.
Hail, O Saving Victim, offered for me and for the whole human race on the wood of the Cross. Hail, O noble and precious Blood, flowing from the wounds of Jesus Christ, my crucified Lord, and washing away the sins of all the world.
Remember, Lord, Your creature, whom You redeemed by Your Blood. I am repentant of my sins, I desire to put right what I have done. Take from me, therefore, most merciful Father, all my iniquities and sins, so that purified in mind and body, I may worthily taste the Holy of Holies. 
And grant that this sacred foretaste of Your Body and Blood which I, though unworthy, intend to receive, may be the remission of my sins, the perfect cleansing of my faults, the banishment of shameful thoughts and the rebirth of right sentiments; and may it encourage a wholesome and effective performance of deeds pleasing to You and be a most firm defense of body and soul against the snares of my enemies. Amen.

Taken from the Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preparing the Way

Readings for Sunday, December 2/ 1st Sunday of Advent:
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

The Advent season is my favorite liturgical season of the year – and not just because we get to wear purple & gold for Mass -  and yet, sadly, it is also the most neglected season of the whole year. Everyone knows about Christmas and Easter, since they are both popular in the secular world because of the gift-giving, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and delicious edible chocolate rabbits. Even protestants and non-Christians have begun to see the great wisdom of the season of Lent and imitated it in their own ways. But because of all the Christmas decorating and preparing, holiday parties, football games, and other activities of the world Advent is easily passed over – so we Catholics must make it our task to show the world the great value of this blessed season known traditionally as the ‘little lent’.

The past few weeks have shown me over and again how we, as modern men and women, have a particular gift of overly complicating things. Like when we are having trouble with our newest high-tech equipment and we are caught up in all the details but forget simple things like – Is it plugged in? Did I hit the power button? Is it on mute? And we can do the same with the season of Advent. We are joyful at the Lord’s coming but penitential in our vestments and liturgical celebration. We look forward to the birth of an innocent child and hear readings of the end of the world and judgment. The world around us is singing Christmas carols of Jesus’ birth and we quietly sit before empty crèches waiting for another three weeks. Behind all of that complexity we are called to a very simple task: prepare.

Our Lord challenges us in the Gospel: “Be vigilant at all times and pray….” And so for these next few weeks we make that special effort to be vigilant and prayerful in light of His coming to us. The first coming, we know, is one that we commemorate at Christmas – the coming of God among us as a little, helpless child. With that quiet entry into our world He fulfilled that promise spoken by the Lord in Jeremiah of a sprout from David’s line. Just as Christ came to fulfill that promise of the Lord, so too, will he fulfill that second promise of coming again in glory. This second coming will be entirely different from the first. Rather than a quiet, largely unnoticed arrival, there will instead be great signs that mark the skies and his coming will be so incredible and powerful that He Himself notes that “many will die of fright in anticipation” of what is to happen on the earth.

And so we must prepare. We have at our fingertips all sorts of great ways to prepare for the Lord’s coming – both in humility and in glory. Reading the Scriptures, spending time in the Adoration Chapel, volunteering or helping out others during the holiday season, and many more things are great ways for us all to prepare ourselves. But above all there is one specific thing that can prepare us best and that is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is because rather than us trying to prepare ourselves and do things, it is the Lord Himself who comes and prepares us.

As I was reflecting on the need for reconciliation, I was reminded of when I was in high school and my parents gave me their old Ford F-150 with an extended cab. As I was living the busy life, I tended to simply toss stuff in my back seat to make room in the front for people to ride. After months and month of doing this my mom finally came to me and  said, “Brent, that is disgusting. You really need to clean your truck out.” And so I went to work cleaning the truck. To my surprise, I found a disturbing number of fast-food bags, tons of miscellaneous papers and receipts, and even a few bags full of clothes and CD’s that I had bought and promptly forgotten about as they found their way to the seat behind me. I didn’t realize it, but I was carrying around a ton of junk, much of which I had forgotten about entirely. And the reality is that many of us are doing the same. And so I come today to take my mom’s for each of you to say “It’s to clean up.”

The longer we wait to go to confession, the more stuff just builds up and builds up. And it’s doing us no good whatsoever. Our Lord Jesus came that we might have life to the full and experience true freedom, yet so often we do the exact opposite, binding ourselves in sin and free only from freedom itself. So why not come and place at the feet of the Lord all the stuff weighing us down? Come and experience pardon and peace.

I know that some of you might have some reservations about coming to Confession, but it is nothing to be feared. Quite the opposite, it is something to be loved and greatly anticipated because it is the place where we can meet God and know for sure the love that He has for us by the forgiveness of sins. We priests are not in the business of judgment. We are there to be instruments of mercy. And we don’t concern ourselves with remembering sins, because it is by God’s grace that sins are forgotten when you walk out the door. But even more than that, we can be freed from all the stuff that can bind us. When we go to confession we go before the Lord Himself and there hear Him say to us through the voice of the priest “I absolve you for your sins”. And as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, when the priest raises his hand over the penitent in the sacrament, he is not just praying over them but in a spiritual sense he is allowing the blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, to pour forth from his hands onto the soul of the person before him, washing clean every stain of sin that is present.

To conclude, I want to issue each of you an invitation, and even a challenge, to make a good confession before Christmas comes. Let the Lord have the stuff of sin from our lives and receive the freedom for which we were created. Truly then we will be prepared for the Lord’s coming and not be like those frightened to the point of death at His coming, but rather be like those who stand erect with eyes facing Heaven because we know in our hearts that redemption has now come to us. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christus Regnat!

Readings for Sunday, November 25/ Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe:
Daniel 7:13-14
Psalm 93:1, 2, 5
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33-37

As we come to the close of the liturgical year we honor Our Lord Jesus Christ under the title of King of the Universe, for indeed He is our great king and “ruler of the kings of the earth.” But why this solemn feast?

The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe was instituted not so long ago, only in 1929, as compared to most other feasts that date back many centuries, even to the Apostles. At that time, Pope Pius XI saw tin the world around him a radical secularization, as God and faith were being increasingly removed from the public forum and often mocked from those in power. To combat this tendency, Pope Pius instituted this solemn feast – the highest rank of liturgical celebration in the Church – in order to emphasize to Catholics and people all throughout the world that not only does God belong in the public forum, He is Himself the foundation of all that we do and He has absolute power over all creation, including those who claim earthly power. He is indeed the King of the Universe!

Often when we think of kings we think of those men who are less than honorable figures in society. While there certainly have been some great Catholic kings in the past two hundred years, the greater majority are characterized by a certain self-seeking attitude. The kingly authority is something they relish in and flaunt their authority over those subject to them. Sometimes by military strength, other times by birth or by election, they assume an authority and must fight to defend it. But in the end, every earthly king will pass away, his crown be given to another after him, and his name be forgotten in history.

But Christ comes to us with a new type of kingship, something utterly different. In saying “My kingdom is not of this world” He reveals to us this difference – that His kingdom is a heavenly one. He knew this long before and even gave us a hint earlier in His life, as we see in John 6 at the feeding of the 5000. After He had worked this great miracle the people immediately start seeking the Lord out in order to make Him their king, but He knows that this is foolishness because doing such would be settling for a lower authority than awaits Him, so he flees. His Kingdom is surely on the Earth – it is around us and within us – but it is not of the Earth.

As we look at our readings today we see three distinguishing features of this Heavenly Kingship that Christ Jesus exercises. First, His authority is not taken but received. The reading from the prophet Daniel describes this but in mystical terms. The Book of Daniel is a mysterious one in which Daniel has visions of Heaven. One such vision, immediately preceding the passage we heard proclaimed, is one in which various beasts rise up and flaunt their power and authority over one another. But then something happens that changes it all: One like a son of man comes on the clouds. As people on Earth, coming on the clouds means looking up for one coming down. But since Daniel’s vision was a Heavenly one, it seems more that the one coming on the clouds is coming up to Heaven. This is Our Lord Jesus coming on the clouds of Heaven in His Ascension from the Earth. After conquering death by His Glorious Resurrection, Our Lord merits the Kingship bestowed upon Him, and receives it; a Kingship that is unending and unmatched.

The second distinguishing feature of Christ’s Kingship is that it is eternal. Unlike all earthly rulers, Christ, because He is the eternal God, exercises a Kingship that does not pass away and that encompasses all places and all times. He is the King of a thousand ages past, the King of all the future, and the King of each of us! And here we are led to that final difference in the Kingship of Christ, and arguably the most difficult: service.

Bl. Miguel Pro - Viva Cristo Rey!
A king had the authority to have anything he desired – food, property, wives, possessions. But Christ the King comes as a servant and slave to all. Just days before His victory over death and sin, He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Where most men would enter on noble animals and great beasts to show their greatness and power, Christ came on a humble donkey, despite the fact that He Himself had more authority than any other. Moreover, His entire goal in coming was to testify to the Truth, essentially to draw people to Himself, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He calls us to draw close to Him not only for this short time on Earth, but also for the whole of eternity. And He draws us closer, day by day, by His grace poured out for us on the Cross and by the gift of the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. What a humble servant we have in our great and glorious king! Indeed, He is the King of the Universe! May He reign forever in our world! May He reign forever in our hearts! 

For your listening pleasure, here are two of my favorite versions of Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat! (Christ Conquers! Christ Reigns! Christ Commands!)

***The song has many variations, but HERE is one translation to help give more understanding.***

And for a little humor...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lessons from Fig Trees

Readings for Sunday, November 18/ 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

Once when I was around twelve years old or so my parents went to one of the LSU games and left me home for the evening. I got permission for my best friend Stephen to come over but my parents made the point clear that we couldn’t go swimming in our pool and I wasn’t to leave the house. I told them I’d be good and they went off to the game. Thinking I was smart, I calculated the time they’d be gone and figured I had at least 5 hours to do whatever I wanted before they returned home late that night. So, Stephen and I called some friends over, we all went swimming and then we left and went riding bikes around Stephen’s subdivision. As we passed by Stephen’s house during our little excursion his mom came outside and told me, “Brent, your parents just called and said they want you home.” I rode back home, walked through the pool water soaked back porch and into the kitchen where my parents were waiting. I had no excuse, nothing to say. I just went to my room to await whatever punishment and grounding was inevitably headed my way.

Nowhere in my brilliant calculations had I considered the possibility that my parents might leave early. Never did the thought cross my mind that they’d leave after halftime because the Tigers were doing so well; I figure four quarters of football meant they’d be there for all four quarters. I was wrong and I was totally caught off guard when I realized that they were home and I wasn’t.

Looking around at the world today, it seems to me that far too many of us are out riding our bikes and we are absolutely unprepared for what is inevitably coming our way. The Lord reminds us today in the Gospel that though we know not the day or the hour, He will return. It could be tomorrow, next week, a hundred years from now or it could be before I finish this homily. He is going to come in glory and judgment for each of us, and the Lord challenges us to be prepared.

The problem, though, is that there are so many things going on in the world around us that we get caught up in those things and lose sight of the main thing. We get consumed with sports, fashions, and all the latest news, gossip, and fashion. We get prepared for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and for all that comes with it. And in the midst of all that preparation it’s easy to lose sight of the most important preparation of all – that of our soul. We forget that He really is coming back. Without really being conscious of is we seem to tell ourselves that He hasn’t come back yet and it’s been 2000 years – surely we have more time. And we might. But we almost might be wrong like I was with my parents. So we must prepare our hearts to be ready for whenever He does come. We must strive for holiness, to be saints on earth who long to be brought up to Heaven.

And to do this we must put the desires of our heart into action. This is why the Lord calls to mind the image of the fig tree in the Gospel today. Many of the trees in that region were evergreens – they stayed the same year round with little change in them. But the fig tree changed visibly. It’s branches would change and leaves would sprout as summer drew near. In the same way, our lives ought to be visibly changing little by little as we are perpetually drawing near to the return of Christ in glory. As the weeks and years go by people should see the change in us that leads them to the understanding of the Lord’s coming in the same way the fig tree indicates summer.

'Fig Tree' by Yvonne Ayoub
All of us want to improve ourselves, to become better people – better parents, better spouses, better children, and a whole variety of other things. We know those places in our lives that need to change and we have the desire to change them, but the reality is – and you know it as well as I do – that we aren’t going to change unless we actually begin to put out desires into concrete actions. At our priest retreat this year Bishop James Tamayo from Laredo, Texas challenged us on this point. He said ‘You want to pray more? Good. Make a concrete resolution. Every day at twelve noon I will stop what I’m doing and pray for 15 minutes. Or everyday from 6 to 7 in the morning I will be at prayer in the church.’ This was just one example, but it’s a clear one. If we want to change something about ourselves, to grow in a virtue or cut our a bad habit, we have to make it concrete so we can measure it and push ourselves when we start to fall away from it.  So I want to challenge each of you, and myself, to spend some time in prayer this week to find that one thing we want to change right now and come up with a concrete way to change it, then hold ourselves accountable to that in the coming weeks and months. We need not worry about having the strength to do it because God will provide that. If He permits the simple fig tree to change itself based on the coming of seasons, how much more would He bless us who are created in His own image and likeness with an abundance of grace to conform ourselves more to His Will in preparation for the Lord’s return? He has been faithful and He will be faithful to us. And as we continue to change things in ourselves one by one, surely when the Lord comes or when He calls us to Himself, we will not be caught off guard and unprepared, but rather fully prepared and happy to finally behold the face which we have longed to see. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nun Update

Over the past 8 months or so you may noticed my two posts (HERE and HERE) about helping a few young women with their debt, which would enable them to enter religious life. It is with great joy that I report that all three of the young women have since raised all of the funds needed and have entered religious life. I will actually have the chance to meet Sister Pam and Sister Alex when I go up to Washington, D.C. for their investiture ceremony on December 7, in which two good friends (Sister Brooke and Sister Angelique) will also be invested for the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. Thank you for your support - both financial and spiritual. And please keep them in your prayers as they soon take the next step in their religious vocation. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Your input, please!

Hello all! I know that there are at least a hand of you out there who read this blog with some regularity and for that I am humbled and grateful. I have been thinking for a while about adding in a new element. Until now I have posted my weekend homilies regularly and sporadically posted quotes and other relevant (to me) links. I've been thinking of adding a little series on 'Half-Way Prayers' on Wednesdays.
My rationale: Advent and Lent both have special Sundays (3rd Sunday of Advent & 4th Sunday of Lent) dedicated to being a little 'pick-me-up' to encourage us as we go through these penitential seasons. My Breviarium Romanum (pre-1962 book of daily prayers) points out that Wednesday is the day each week where we can take stock of how things have done and, breathing a little, plow forward through the rest of the week. My thought was to take each Wednesday and post a Catholic prayer and, time permitting, a brief reflection on that prayer. Our faith has a great abundance of beautiful prayers and they sadly get lost in the midst of so many other things. This is an attempt to highlight some of those prayers that I've found helpful and inspiring and that you might as well. This would take a commitment on my part and I'm curious, especially for the regular readers, if this is something that you would enjoy and like to see. PLEASE let me know. You can comment below or just email me at frbrent AT rivrdcat DOT org. Also welcome are comments/thoughts on things you'd like to see changed, improved or added on the blog in general.
Thank you and know of my prayers for you and your intentions.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Little Help?

Blackstone Films, a Catholic film company, is ready to work on a new and MUCH needed project, but they need our help. Check out their website and watch the 4-minute video and pray about whether you might be able to help them - and our world.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hear, O Israel!

Mezuzah - Shema on Doorposts
Readings for Sunday, November 4/ 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Deuteronomy 6:2-6
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28-34

This weekend Mother Church recalls that ancient creed of the Jewish people, the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

This prayer was one of the most common prayers for the Jewish people, comparable to our Hail Mary and Our Father as Catholics. Jews were prayed it in the morning and evening, had to keep it posted on their doorposts and touch it when coming or going, bound it on their hands and foreheads during certain prayer times, and were encouraged to make it the last words spoken before death. It was for them a most powerful prayer and one that must be prayed frequently and reverently. As our ancestors in the faith, it still has great importance for us today.

It’s significant to note that the first word is ‘Hear.’ We are meant to listen! To listen is to acknowledge, firstly, that someone is speaking – namely, the Lord. And to hear rather than speak means that we are submitting to the one speaking. As listeners or hearers for the LORD, we recognize that we are called to be attentive to the words spoke and to strive to put them into action, not to take the words and attempt to craft our own rules or plans. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, forgot this reality and when they heard the Lord speak to them they heard with their ears but they didn’t really listen with their heart. Rather than receiving the Word purely they twisted it to become what they desired rather than what the Lord willed. And ever since that first fall into sin, we have the task, by God’s grace, of striving to actually hear the God speak to us purely, without ourselves getting in the way.

We’ve all likely played the telephone game where you start with a phrase and whisper it to the person next to you and quite often when it gets to the last person it resembles nothing of the original phrase. In reference to our faith, we are called to receive it purely and to convey it purely so that the same message we receive from God is the message we live and pass on to the next generation. This is what God desires for us. As the Shema continues, it points out that the LORD is our God, the LORD alone! This means that not only are other things supposed to take a back seat to the LORD, but that in hearing His Word, we are not able to change it. God is God and we are not; He sets the rules and we are to hear and heed them.

Lately with all the talk about moral issues, economics, foreign policy and the like, I’ve seen a number of people – nationally and more locally – who call themselves Catholics and yet at the same time reject the very teaching that the Church has upheld since her founding by Christ. Archbishop Charles Chaput responded to this recently, saying:
’Catholic’ is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. If we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act.  We can’t truthfully call ourselves “Catholic” and then behave as if we’re not.”
It can be tough to conform our minds to that of the Church and none of us is exempt from the struggle to do so. Sometimes the teachings of the Church are things beyond what we can comprehend, seem useless or overly pious, or even oppressive and out of touch with the world today. No matter what the issue, the reality is that if we differ from the teaching of the Church on a major issue that she has stood firmly on, then it is not she who needs to change but rather we who need to change. It is interesting to note that when Christ says the Shema in the Gospel passage the phrase “with all your mind” is added. He knew well that much of what He spoke was difficult for people to grasp in their mind and consent to. We see it most clearly in John 6 when He teaches on the Bread of Life and people leave because they are hard words to accept. Christ didn’t change His teaching, he clarified and invited those who could accept it to continue with Him. The same applies today. As we hear the Shema today, the Lord invites us to hear His voice and His truth and to rest in it and to live it out. In this we will find peace and eternal joy. May God grant us today the grace today to hear well His words, to set ourselves aside and love Christ with our whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind.