Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Encounter Him

Readings for December 25/ Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS! What joy to be able to say those blessed words after the continued anticipation of the Lord’s arrival throughout the Advent season. It is a special joy to be here on the river for a second year, a privilege not always granted to associate pastors, and to celebrate with so many people whom I have come to know and love. I’ve been reflecting lately on the many good things that have happened in this year and some of the things that were simply notable. For instance, at some point scraggly beards became all the rage this year, which I was happy happy happy to see. Sweet little Hannah Montana shocked the nation, which I was not so happy to see. For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church we elected a Jesuit as Pope and then he confused the whole world by promptly taking the name of the founder of the Franciscans! And, I think most notable, there was that one Sunday this year that my Sunday homily was under 10 minutes. (Don’t get your hopes up today…). These are just a few things that crossed my mind amidst the many things that I have seen God do in my life and in many of yours and I know that you can add many other good memories to that list. But I think one of the most important for all of us was the election of Pope Francis. While he has changed nothing of the teaching of the Church, he has brought to the papacy once more a vibrancy that we haven’t seen in a while  and which is drawing many to him, the Church, and the Lord. That vibrancy isn’t just in his youthfulness; it is in his visible witness of love and joy. Love and joy are attractive and it’s beautiful to see so many people interested in the faith once more, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

In a similar vein, I am aware of the fact that we who are gathered here today come from different places – sometimes physically, but especially spiritually. Some of you showed up early and claimed your usual Sunday spot, some of you may be here for the first time in some months or even years, some of you may be here because it’s just what you do at Christmas, others because it’s a family obligation and the gumbo is held hostage until everyone attends Mass. Some of you may be here today because there is just something missing that you don’t put a finger on and you’ve looked elsewhere to no avail, so you figured you’ve give the Lord another try. Or maybe you just got caught in traffic and decided to pull over here and rest for a bit. We come with different things on our hearts and from different places, but the invitation to each and every one of us tonight is the same: encounter the Lord.

In his recent exhortation, Pope Francis wrote something that is especially apropos in this Christmas celebration. He said, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” Each of us is invited to that encounter today, to meet the God who is love and who took on flesh to draw us closer to Him here and in eternity.

How, though, do we encounter this God? How do we open our hearts to Him? A few weeks ago we heard in the Gospel the question put to Jesus by the disciples of John the Baptist, “Are you the one or should we look for another?” and His response was essentially, ‘Open your eyes and ears. Look and listen and tell me what you see and hear.’ We’ve heard the Scriptures proclaimed, so let us pause to reflect on their meaning. If the Lord had not taken on our flesh, we would be damned. If the Lord had not been born to this life, we would not be able to taste eternal life. If the Lord had not ransomed us from sin, we would still be enslaved to it. If the Lord had not come to bring peace, joy and life, we would dwell in a state of constant misery. If the Lord had not given the gift of His grace, we would all be lost, wandering in the desert of this life. If the Lord had not come to us, we would have nothing. The good news, though, is that He has come. He has ransomed us from sin, given us His grace, filled us with His life, made us His brothers and sisters, and opened for us the way to gates of Heaven. He has saved us, is saving us, and we pray at the end will save us once and for all. It is that God, love itself, who comes to us in the crib, who offered His life on the cross, and comes to us day after day on this holy altar. Let us encounter Him here in this place, calling to mind His love for you. Not ‘you’ as a group but ‘you’ as an individual. He created each of us with His own hands and He knows us better than we know ourselves. It is for us to recognize that truth and to respond in love.

That’s the Gospel we rejoice in today, that God is with us - with me, with you - that He loves me and He loves you. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, Saved in Hope, said these consoling words: “When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, He can help me.”

Our God is here. He has humbled Himself to encounter us and to be encountered by us; Emmanuel, God with us. May we also be with Him today, that He might fill us with His grace and draw ever more closely to the glory that is to come. Amen.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Preparing with Mary

Angel Appears to Joseph - Anton Raphael Mengs
Readings for Sunday, December 22/ 4th Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-6
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

I don’t get anything out Mass. These were words that I spoke often when I was younger and they are words that I hear even more often now as a priest. It’s not surprising. After all, everything else in our culture accustoms us to simply showing up and being able to get what we want when we want it to fulfill our perpetual desire to be satisfied. But the truth is that it just doesn’t work that way; there has to be some preparation. It would be like me buying a field to raise sugar cane and showing up at harvest time and getting upset because there wasn’t anything to harvest when I never even planted the cane to start with. If we want to get something out of Mass, or anything really, we have to be willing to put something into it first. Preparation.

Last night (Saturday) I went home for our family Christmas party and I got there a bit late since I had the evening Mass up the river. When I walked in I said hey to everyone and since they hadn’t seen me in months they started to comment on my weight loss.  My mom immediately came over and wrapped her arms around me and said, “Look how much weight my baby boy lost!” I have to laugh because I’m 29 years old and am still her ‘baby boy’ – although I sometimes wonder if the dog hasn’t replaced me, but that’s a different homily. Later in the evening when most of the younger families had gone home and it was just a handful of the adults left my cousin and I were watching TV and a commercial came on of a child crying. At a near full sprint from the other room came all of the ladies looking frantically and asking, “Who is crying?! What happened?!” I was struck by it because they knew good and well that there weren’t any more kids in the house and yet they still ran. Also, all the men stayed in the other room. Only the ladies came. There’s something in a woman’s heart that connects to her child in a way that doesn’t go away and is always there to care for them. The child doesn’t even have to be their own; there is still a mothering instinct in the heart of a woman to care for a child in need. And if that is true of earthly mothers, it is even truer of our Blessed Mother who walked the Earth just like the rest of us and yet is privileged to have remained sinless and now beholds God’s face for eternity in Heaven. If we are looking to receive something out of Mass, why not turn to the woman who has the ability to make that a reality? Why not ask Mary to help us prepare for the Mass?

In the Gospel tonight we heard how Joseph was visited by an angel in his time of confusion and was told, “do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” The awesome thing is that in welcoming Mary into his home, he also received Jesus into His home. That’s the whole mission of the Blessed Mother: to bring us to Jesus and Jesus to us. Her life was given entirely for that mission and she continues to fulfill it in glory even now. The invitation for us is to imitate St. Joseph and welcome Mary into the home of our hearts, that as she comes to us she might also bring to us the Lord of all creation.

St. Louis Marie de Montfort, a saint from the 19th century who had a great Marian devotion spoke in his writings of the many ways that we can invite Mary to be with us in the celebration of the Mass but I would like to speak to just three points tonight. The first is to pick up the Scriptures for Sunday earlier in the week and ask Mary to help you to pray with them. Several times the Gospel writers speak of Mary “pondering these things in her heart” and if we ask her, she is more than happy to help us to ponder the Word of God too and see how it might be speaking to us today as it spoke to people for many years before us.

The second point is to ask Mary to be with us during the Mass itself. As a priest and many times as a layman, I have come into a church during the day or before or after Mass and seen a mother or grandmother with a little child walking around to the saints telling them who they are and what their story is. I see it often in Mass as parents take their little ones and try to explain what is going on and what the words means that we say. As a priest, it’s an absolute joy to witness that passing on of the faith and the fact is that Our Lady wants to do the same with us. She wants to speak to our hearts by God’s grace and to call our minds to be attentive to the words we pray, or to some particular aspect of the Mass or the chapel we haven’t thought about before. To, in a sense, take each of us in her arms and to say “listen to that” and “look here” all throughout the celebration.

The third point is to welcome Mary to our hearts as we prepare to receive Holy Communion. I know I’m not the only one in church who has a hard time focusing sometimes. It is easy to get caught up thinking about something that is happening soon or was supposed to happen already or any list of possible options that pull us away from what is important. When that happens we sometimes fail to receive all of the grace that we could have received in Holy Communion. St. Louis suggested that immediately prior to receiving the host we should pray a simply act of entrustment to Mary giving ourselves entirely to her and trusting that she will help us to receive Communion well and to receive every ounce of grace possible. The pray is short, sweet, and to the point: “Mary, I am thine and all I have is thine.” The prayer recited three times, he suggested, truly permits us to receive Our Lady into our hearts and to bring with her the Lord Whom she bore in her blessed womb.

Throughout this Advent season we have been awaiting the Lord’s arrival and return. We have called upon Him under many names and tonight we hear them again – Emmanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves; Christ, the anointed one. He is truly Emmanuel, God with us. And not just in a sense of being present to all people generically but in the sense of being with us personally. He knows us by name and created us Himself. He longs to be with us, but we must long to be with Him in exchange. Let us welcome Him to our hearts tonight. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

HWP: Old Testament Saints

We often talk about Saints and reference those whom the Church has canonized and we implore through the liturgy and private devotion. We can easily forget, though, that a saint is simply someone who is in Heaven. So, while we have canonized saints we can pray too for various causes, there is a whole host of other people in Heaven alongside them also praying for us. Some of them are friends or family who have gone before us, but many more are strangers to us (for now). Among them are also many figures from the Old Testament who, while not canonized, have been held as saint-like figures from pre-Christian times. The Church traditionally honors Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael on December 16 and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on December 20. So I figured, in this Advent season, why not invoke some of those saintly figures from ancient times who helped prepare the way of the Lord and continue to help us do so even today?! With that in mind I was able to dig up this little gem:

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.
God of Abraham, Have mercy on us.
God of Bethel, Have mercy on us.
Mighty One of Jacob, Have mercy on us.
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Have mercy on us.
God Almighty, Have mercy on us.
God the Most High, Have mercy on us.
Yahweh, Have mercy on us.

Archangel Michael, Pray for us.
Archangel Gabriel, Pray for us.
Archangel Raphael, Pray for us.
All you holy angels and archangels, Pray for us.
Noah,  Pray for us.
All you holy people before the flood, Pray for us.
Abraham, Pray for us.
Isaac, Pray for us.
Jacob, Pray for us.
Joseph, Pray for us.
All you holy patriarchs, Pray for us.
Aaron, Pray for us.
All you holy priests, Pray for us.
Moses, Pray for us.
Joshua, Pray for us.
All you holy leaders, Pray for us.
David, Pray for us.
All you holy kings, Pray for us.
Job, Pray for us.
Tobit, Pray for us.
All you holy men, Pray for us.
Sarah, Pray for us.
Rebecca, Pray for us.
Rachel, Pray for us.
Miriam, Pray for us.
Deborah, Pray for us.
Ruth, Pray for us.
Hannah, Pray for us.
Judith, Pray for us.
Esther, Pray for us.
All you holy women, Pray for us.
Samuel, Pray for us.
Jeremiah, Pray for us.
Ezekiel, Pray for us.
Daniel, Pray for us.
Malachias, Pray for us.
Elijah, Pray for us.
Elisha, Pray for us.
Isaias, Pray for us.
All you holy prophets, Pray for us.
Abel, Pray for us.
Eleazar, Pray for us.
Ananias, Pray for us.
Azarias, Pray for us.
Misael, Pray for us.
All you holy martyrs and heroic witnesses,Pray for us.

All you holy men and women, Old Testament saints of God, Make intercession for us.
Be merciful, Spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful, Graciously hear us, O Lord.

From all evil, O Lord, deliver us.
From all sin, O Lord, deliver us.
From breaking Your Commandments, O Lord, deliver us.
From falling away from the Faith, O Lord, deliver us.
From doubting Your Word, O Lord, deliver us.
From denying Your Name, O Lord, deliver us.
From fear of proclaiming Your Name, O Lord, deliver us.
From lack of sincere repentance, O Lord, deliver us.
From losing hope, O Lord, deliver us.
From fear of fraternal correction, O Lord, deliver us.
From doubt of Your Power, O Lord, deliver us.
From all false desires, O Lord, deliver us.
From lack of zeal in Your service, O Lord, deliver us.

We sinners, We implore You, hear us.
That we continue to walk by faith, We implore You, hear us.
That we witness to You regardless of human respect, We implore You, hear us.
That we grow in love for Your Holy Word, We implore You, hear us.
That we appreciate the blessing of having children, We implore You, hear us.
That we overcome evil by the power of good, We implore You, hear us.
That we who have more respond more, We implore You, hear us.
That the Jewish nation will recognize You, We implore You, hear us.
That all non-Christians will come to the Light, We implore You, hear us.
That You would give eternal rest to the faithful departed, We implore You, hear us.
That You would grant my special intention, We implore You, hear us.

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rest & Rejoice

Readings for Sunday, December 15/ 3rd Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
Psalm 146:6-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice! 

These words from the Introit or Entrance Antiphon today give us the title of this weekend – Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday – and call us to a state of joyfulness. But what is it to rejoice? What does joy look like? We can often mistake a simple human happiness as joy, this exciting emotion that lifts up our spirit, but this is not joy. Nor is joy that mask of false optimism or nicencess that can easily be put up when we know that it is expected from others. Instead, joy is something that God does within us. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and as such comes to us only in response to an encounter with the living God. In His love for us He infuses His life within us and from that we have the fruit of joy, which is truly a state of contentedness in the Lord despite all the things that may be going on around us. And this can only happen after encountering Him and knowing that we are welcomed to His embrace and loved. This is what we hear in the Scriptures tonight.

The prophet Isaiah speaks to us of the many things that will take place at the coming of the Lord. The desert will exult, the steppe will rejoice and bloom, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap like stags and the mute will sing. Not just talk – SING! At the coming of the Messiah, everything will change, even creation itself, and all things will be filled with joy at His coming. That’s what the Lord speaks to in the Gospel when the disciples of St. John the Baptist come with the question “Are you the one or should we look for another?” To this question he says ‘Use your eyes and ears! The deaf hear, the dead are raised, the lame walk, the poor have the gospel proclaimed to them!’ With this He essentially says, ‘Yes! I am the one!’ and then draws their minds back to the prophet to the attitude of rejoicing that should well up in their hearts at His presence. And that same rejoicing should be in our hearts now and always. But is it? Are we really a joyful people?

In his Angelus address Pope Francis spoke to the crowds gathered in Rome and reminded them and us that the Church is supposed to be a house of joy. A house of JOY! It’s easy for us to be quite un-joyful. That’s what St. James speaks to tonight when he challenges us not to complain against one another. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to find fault, especially in others, and we have an endless list of options – our family, our friends, the community, the president, the government, the state of the world today, etc. But when we complain we don’t really encounter the Lord who comes to give us joy but rather turn in on ourselves. Nobody wants to be around that kind of person, right? We want to be around people that really pick up our spirits. We want to be around people that no matter what are able to continue to press forward because there is an underlying joyfulness, or contentedness in the Lord, that enables them to see past the temporal and into the eternal.

In his recent Exhortation Pope Francis calls us to that same state of joy and rejoicing. The document has gotten all kinds of air time as some politico-economic treatise that the Pope has no place speaking to, but the fact is that the economic, political parts of the document are part of a bigger picture that calls us to a general joy of life and concern for others that is rooted in the encounter with Christ. After all, it IS called THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL! [While on this point, I want to encourage and really challenge each of you to take a few minutes and read just the first ten paragraphs of the document HERE, which speak powerfully and simply to the source and need for joy in our lives.] One of the things that he spoke of in that letter which affects all of us especially this time of year is that we are robbed of joy because we rarely stop for a moment to enjoy things. Speaking for myself, and presumably many of you as well, it is easy to get caught up with so many activities that we run from place to place to place marking off all the tasks the we have to do and never stopping to really enjoy any of them. I use the word ENJOY purposely because when we stop for a minute we open ourselves to the encounter with the Lord who is already there waiting for us to recognize Him and be filled with His life. After all, the Lord isn’t just here in Church or at the chapel when you stop there or when we pause to pray or read some spiritual reading. He is everywhere at all times and is speaking is to us in so many ways. When we stop for a moment and really enter into the moment we will surely begin to see the face of God and have His joy well up in our hearts. But we have to be willing to stop.

'Joy!' by Eugene Salandra
To help us with that the Church makes her own the words of the Lord – use your eyes and your ears! The readings speak of rejoicing and a spirit of joyfulness that should strike us as we are listening because they become a sort of refrain that sticks out. Also, it’s pretty obvious that these rose/pink colored vestments are not the norm. They are worn in connection with that third candle we light tonight which as we go around the Advent wreath illustrates that we are over halfway to Christ. The unique color joined to the words of the Scriptures are meant to give us the opportunity to be filled with joy at the Lord’s coming that has taken place already, that is taking place in this celebration, and that will take place in our celebration at Christ and the Lord’s final return. So let us encounter the God who loves us and be filled with His joy which we desire.

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

HWP: Saint Damasus

Today is the feast of St. Damasus, Pope from the 4th Century and a man of profound impact upon our faith, though he is seldom mentioned. St. Damasus had a great devotion to the saints of the Church, specifically the martyrs, and he made it a major part of his mission to ensure that their remains were well cared for, thus preserving their tombs and relics for us to continue to venerate some 1600+ years later. He also encouraged St. Jerome in his continued translation of the Scriptures into what is known as the Latin Vulgate, the official edition used by the Church for nearly a millennium and a half. Humble servant of God he was, he continues to serve as such before the Throne of God in Heaven. So let us pray...

A Prayer to Saint Damasus
Saint Damasus, instead of worrying about the short term of life on earth, you took God's view and looked to the things that last. Pray for me that I may be able to look beyond immediate popularity and fleeting favors, and choose to do the things that God wants me to do. Amen

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tota Pulchra Es

In honor of Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, here is a beautiful piece named 'Tota Pulchra Es'. It comes in many different arrangements, but this is my favorite version. Enjoy! 

Thou art all fair, O Mary! Thou art all fair, O Mary! And the original stain is not in thee! And the original stain is not in thee! Thou art the glory of Jerusalem! Thou, the joy of Israel! Thou art the honor of our people! Thou art the advocate of sinners! O Mary! O Mary! Virgin most prudent! Mother most tender! Pray for us, intercede for us with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Come to the Water

Readings for Sunday, December 8/ 2nd Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 11:1-11
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

As we all know, Advent is a time for us to continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. We are preparing in all kinds of ways right now for Christmas with bonfires, decorating homes, shopping, and planning for parties with families, friends, and co-workers. And while all of those are good things, St. John the Baptist powerfully calls to mind that above all of those things we must be preparing our hearts by repenting from our sins. “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” cries the Baptist to each one of us, a challenge to turn from our sins and toward Christ.

With his call to repent St. John also provides the beautiful symbolic ritual of washing with water, a precursor to our sacrament of baptism. Water is such a rich image because we use it for so many things but they all come down to two basic features: cleansing and bringing life. We wash our bodies with it, we wash our cars, our clothes, and a whole host of other things. And the symbolism is that the dirt is washed away and there is cleanness once more. This image holds especially well in a river, where the water is constantly flowing. To go and be immersed in the river meant that the old self and the sins of the past, were symbolically washed away when you come out of the water. They’re gone. You come out different than before. This was actually the basic format of baptism in the early Church too. There was a special building called the baptistery where you would receive baptism because you would come in with your old clothing on, then strip naked, be immersed in the water of baptism and walk out the other side to receive a white garment symbolizing your purity and the reality of putting on Christ. The old clothes were left there, you didn’t go back to retrieve them. And in the same way, your old life of sin was left behind, not to be sought after again. The old self died and a new one came to life in Christ.

But before any of that could happen we know that there was another necessary step – acknowledging one’s sins. The baptism St. John performed came only after people acknowledged their sins. If we don’t acknowledge our sins we can’t receive God’s mercy. And in addition to acknowledging our sins, we must also show that we are truly sorrow for them. When the Pharisees and Sadducees come to join all the cool kids for baptism, St. John challenges them “show me fruits of repentance!” It’s not enough to say “I’m sorry”. We have to live it and change our ways. Yesterday was the feast of St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church, and during his life there was a specific incident with the emperor Theodosius that should give us pause in reflection. Theodosius had committed a serious sin that had separated him from the community and yet he didn’t really repent of it. He came to the Church to attend Mass and as he walked forward St. Ambrose closed the doors of the church and told Theodosius he wasn’t permitted to enter the church. Imagine the shock on his face when he heard those words from St. Ambrose’s mouth! Ambrose continued and spoke of the sin on his heart that kept him from entering the House of God. Theodosius recalled the story of King David who sinned grievously and then repented and was welcomed into the Temple. St. Ambrose agreed and said “You have sinned like David. Now show me repentance like David.” At this Theodosius’ heart was converted. He wept tears of repentance, did public penance before the whole community and even made a public confession of his sins. He showed that the repentance was genuine by the fruit of a changed life. God desires the same in us and this happens in the Sacrament of Confession.

It is in Confession that we are able to truly acknowledge our sins before the Lord, have them washed away not by water but by the Precious Blood of Jesus, and then do our penance as the fruit of our repentance, the proof that we desire to change and are willing to work to make it happen. Confession is the place where we encounter God’s mercy most clearly and most powerfully, and it is there that the Lord invites us especially in this season of Advent. Speaking from my past experience, there have been times where I was reluctant to go to confession. Sometimes it was because I was ashamed of my sins and I didn’t want to say it to anyone, sometimes it was because I knew the priest and was worried he would look at me later and think of my list of sins, sometimes it was because I thought I didn’t need to since I hadn’t done anything ‘really bad’, and sometimes it was even because I didn’t know if God would really forgive me. I’ve thought all of them and been held away from God’s grace because of them. But that’s not God’s desire, that is what Satan wants for us. He wants us to be afraid to go to confession or to think we don’t need to because then he keeps us away from the power of God’s grace and life. But the truth is that not only should we go to confession, we must! The Church tells us that we have to go to confession at least once each year. But I’ll be honest with you, that’s really not enough for someone who is serious about the spiritual life. If I cleaned my room out only once a year, it would be horrible when that happened. It would be beyond dirty, there would be junk everywhere, and it would take me ten times as long to clean than if I had done little bits throughout the year. And the same goes with our souls. Many saints of the Church encourage going to confession at least once a month. But don’t make it some gloomy experience. Bring the whole family. Mark it one the calendar, something like ‘the third Sunday of every month we’re all going to confession’ and keep that a priority. Come to confession and Mass and then go have a family lunch afterward. Get ice cream to celebrate the gift of God’s mercy! If we get into the habit then we come to enjoy the sacrament because rather than something to be feared or dreaded, it become a place of great peace in the deepening encounter with God and His love.

Also, I recognize that there may be some folks here tonight who haven’t been to confession in many years, who have some serious sins on your heart or are worried that God won’t keep His end of the bargain. If that is you, don’t let that stop you from coming to confession. There is NOTHING God cannot do in our lives if we give Him the opportunity. Look again at our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. He prophesies that a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse. The word stump is intentional because the tree has been cut down! It’s dead! Jesse lived a thousand years before Christ. He had a promise that a king from his line would always reign on the throne over Israel. And what happened? A couple of hundred years passed and they kingdom was divided. They began to fight against one another and were then conquered by foreign nations. They were exiled, shipped off to become slaves of other nations. The returned here and there but there wasn’t a king like before. Everything was different. The promise seemed to have gone unfulfilled for centuries; the stump was dead. And yet from that dead stump arose a new king – Jesus Christ, God made flesh. From something lifeless He brought a savior. And he desires to bring each of us to know that same transformation and experience of growth in our hearts. Do not be afraid of confession. If anything has held you back, cast it aside and come. Come, encounter the Lord’s mercy. Come, prepare the way of the Lord to come into your heart. Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

HWP: Mary, the Virgin made Church

In this Advent season we continue the holy work of preparing our hearts, homes, and lives for the coming of the Lord. And what better way to prepare than by meditating for a moment on the Woman who bore Him unto us the first time, Mary. So let us pray this beautiful little prayer to Mary attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
Hail, O Lady,
Holy Queen,
Mary, holy Mother of God,
Who are the Virgin made Church,
chosen by the most Holy Father in heaven
whom he consecrated with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
in whom there was and is
all fullness of grace and every good.
Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Dwelling!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!
And hail all You holy virtues
which are poured into the hearts of the faithful
through the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit,
that from being unbelievers,
You may make them faithful to God.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Little Things

Readings for Sunday, December 1/ 1st Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44
Every since I was a little kid I’ve always enjoyed travelling. The things of the world around me were absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed plotting out our trips on a map of the road system, seeing how far places were from one another, arranging for stops at attractions, and the excitement of getting ready for the trip itself and all the unexpected things that surely awaited us. That time of preparation made the rest of the trip so much more enjoyable. And that is exactly what the Advent season should do for us as well. Advent, like other travels, has a goal in mind. But rather than a particular location, the goal is instead an encounter with the Lord Himself.

Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah speaks of climbing to God’s house but it is only so that he can there come face to face with God and experience a conversion of his own heart. It is about encountering God.

In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today we will hear about the two coming of the Lord Jesus into this world. The first is the most obvious because ever since the day after Halloween we’ve see Christmas decorations up and the big sales going on around us. That first coming into time as an infant is what we look forward to in the celebration of Christmas. Additionally, we are mindful of the Second Coming of the Lord when He comes in His glory to raise up the dead and make the final judgment of our souls, which the Lord speaks to in the Gospel we just heard. Those are the two ‘comings’ of Christ into time and this Advent season is a time for us to prepare for those two events. But in order to prepare for those two comings, it is helpful for us to pay special attention to what is often known as the ‘third coming’ of Jesus – or maybe, more accurately the first and a half coming? – as we encounter Him in varied ways each day. If we look at where we are today with the Lord, we can truly be prepared as He desires for His coming at Christmas and the end of time.

That is what the words of Saint Paul challenge us to today: “It is now the hour to wake from sleep.” Now, I’m not a morning person. That is clear to me. It is also clear to Father Vincent, who is always wide awake, dressed up, eating breakfast, and reading the newspaper when I stumble through the dining room blurry eyed and shrinking back from the bright lighting. To his chipper “Good morning!” He always receives the same response: a half-spoken, half-grunted “morning.” To put it nicely, I’m not a great conversationalist at 6 or 6:30 in the morning. I can do it, but it’s sure not going to be pretty. And that’s with most things when I’m sleepy. I can do all sorts of things; I just won’t do them very well. And the same can happen in our spiritual lives. Thus the challenge from St. Paul to wake up, to become alert and not simply do things but strive to do them well. That’s what this Advent season is able to help us with. Lent is a time of intense conversion, of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Advent, too, is a season of conversion but not quite to the severity of Lent. That’s why I think it is good for us to reflect in this time not on the new things we can do so much as being sure that what we already do we do well.

When we come to Mass do we get here ahead of time to settle ourselves from the things that often worry us? Do we listen to the readings and try to enter into the prayers? Do we come with intentions on our heart expecting God’s grace to help us?

When we pray our rosary, chaplet or some set of daily prayers, do we really encounter God, Our Lady, the angels and saints or do we content ourselves with passing the beads and flipping to the next holy card?

It’s easy to become a bit drowsy in our spiritual life and to fall into the pattern of simply checking off the pious practices that we do rather than look at how well we do them, but that is the most important part. In the Gospel today Jesus tells us that when He comes again there will be two men at work, one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women at work, one will be taken and the other left. From the outside the people are doing exactly the same thing, yet there is a difference between the two and that difference is only apparent in our hearts. It is better to pray a few things fervently than to pray many things half-heartedly. So how are we doing? Is there some specific place in our life that the Lord might be inviting us to strengthen during these next few weeks?

To make it more concrete, I’ll go back to not being a morning person. That has an effect on my willingness to pray my morning prayers like I intend to do but often fail because I hit the snooze button a few times. So yesterday morning I rearranged my room and put my prie dieu (kneeler) next to my bed and put my alarm clock on the opposite side of it so that if I want to choose sleep over prayer, I have to walk past my place of prayer twice. That changed the way I woke up this morning. It’s a small action, but that is often how the Lord works.

So let us focus on our encounter with the Lord today, right now. May the Eucharist we celebrate and receive give us the grace to continue to prepare our hearts for his two comings by encountering Him more and more deeply each day of this Advent. And may He come to us quickly and without delay. Come, O come, Emmanuel. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

HWP: Thanksgiving

Tomorrow being Thanksgiving Day, I figured it only appropriate to pray a prayer for Thanksgiving for today's HWP. Rather than simply finding a 'Thanksgiving Prayer' I decided to take the Collect (Opening Prayer) from the Mass that will be prayed throughout our country tomorrow:
Collect for Thanksgiving Day Mass
Father all-powerful, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite; as we come before you on Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness, open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman, and child, so that we may share your gifts of love service. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
On a tangential note, Pope Francis released an Apostolic Exhortation yesterday entitled 'Evangelii Gaudium' or 'The Joy of the Gospel'. It is a pretty hefty read, but contains much to call our minds to what the prayer above mentions - mindfulness and concern for every man, woman, and child. Maybe you could check it out (HERE) and read through little clips of it here and there in the coming weeks leading up to Christmas. What better way to prepare for the coming of the Lord than to be intent on finding Him in those around us? Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cling to the Throne

Readings for Sunday, November 24/ Christ the King Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-5
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43
Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!
Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands!

This ancient hymn of the Church recalls the kingship of Christ Jesus. Though the hymn is from centuries back, it was only in 1929 that Pope Pius XI instituted this universal solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. He did so in response to the upheaval taking place in governments around the world in the early twentieth century. Nearly world-wide at that time there were examples of national leaders coming to power and making their will and desires the law of the land. They did what they wanted, often desiring a sort of earthly paradise, and because it was not desired by the people they governed, it was most often done with fear and force. The feast of Christ the king shows forth the truth that despite whatever power rulers have in this life, there is but one true ruler over all creation and He comes to rule in a way unlike any the world had seen either before or since. Rather than seeking His own will He came among us to accomplish the Father’s will. Instead of the earthly paradise, He pointed the eyes of all toward the paradise that awaits the righteous. And the power He exercised was seen not in fear and force but love and service. This otherworldly king comes and proclaims His riches not in fine clothing and palaces. Paradoxically, He proclaims His kingship from the most absurd throne the world has ever known: the cross. The sign over His head, the Gospel tells us, said simply ‘The King of the Jews.’ Even now on nearly every crucifix I have seen the proclamation still remains in that little sign: I.N.R.I., Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.
The Gospel story recounts to us the reaction of the crowds who gazed upon this King on His throne. The rulers there mocked Him saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” The soldiers spoke similarly: “If you are king of the Jews, save yourself.” And that foolish criminal on the cross beside Him even mocked Him as he questions Him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”
Each of these people had their expectations of the King and what He should do. They all thought in their heads, ‘if He is indeed a King He clearly doesn’t know how to rule very well!’ And sometimes we can think the same. ‘Save yourself and us!’ they cry. But with those words they say so much else in their hearts: ‘Lord, take away the pain of this life! Take away the illness and disease! Take away sorrow and death! Take away suffering, injustices, and the difficulty of fighting sin! Make things better! Make us happy now!’
To those cries Jesus did what He knew He must: He remained fixed to the cross with the nails and by love for the Father’s will and for the people He was redeeming. With that action Jesus shows us that we are not in control. God is. We don’t make the rules. God does. We cannot see the big picture. God can.

If we wish to be true followers of Christ, true Christians, the place we must find ourselves always is at the foot of the cross. Life is hard. We do experience suffering and pain. We do experience death and loneliness. We do experience illness, disease, injustice and the pain of sin. That is why we call this life the ‘vale of tears’. We all want to be perfectly happy and content in this life, but that is exactly why Jesus doesn’t give us everything we want in this life: because this life is not heaven. It’s not meant to be perfect. BUT, there is a place that awaits the faithful that is perfect, that is free from all pain and sorrow and discord. And to get there we need only remain with our King. In the Gospel passage we heard so many mockeries spoken but remember that silently there at the foot of the cross were the Blessed Mother, the Beloved Disciple John, and others quietly present with the Lord. What they were seeing and experiencing was painful beyond understanding, and yet they gazed upon Him trying to make sense of the mystery. That is our place: alongside the Blessed Mother, John and the others clinging to the cross of Christ knowing that just as Jesus died and was raised up to glory three days later, we too, if we stay with Jesus through the sufferings we endure in this life, will partake in the heavenly banquet. If we are faithful to Him in this life, He will be faithful to us in the next. So let us draw near to our King. By His grace and example let us take courage that whatever happens in this life, we have a King who is greater than anything we must face. He has won for us the victory. So we pray – maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, King of the Universe! Come, live, reign in our hearts.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

HWP: Dedication of the Human Race!

This coming weekend is the Feast of Christ the King! With my homily a couple of weeks back on indulgences I've become much more attentive to the need and availability of them in my own life. Those who make a public Act of Dedication of the Human Race to Jesus Christ the King this Sunday (along with the usual conditions of Communion, confession, etc.) are granted a plenary indulgence! And if you pray this prayer on days other than the Feast of Christ the King, a partial indulgence is still gained. So... let the grace pour forth and the indulgences wipe away our punishments!
Act of Dedication of the Human Race to Jesus Christ the King
Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before you. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known you; many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart. Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father's house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger. Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd. Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give tranquility of order to all nations; make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Running to the Bridegroom
Bride and Groom before the Divine Bridegroom
Readings for Sunday, November 17/ 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Malachi 3:19-20
Psalm 98:5-9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-9

When we come face to face with our mortality, we don’t concern ourselves with unimportant things but rather with the most important things. In the many visits I’ve had with people drawing near to death, not once have I been heard anyone talk about the price of gas or whether they dusted the house recently. They express their love for others, their sorrow for sins in this life, seek and give forgiveness, and give advice to others which has served them well in their own life. That is what is taking place in the Scriptures today – as we near the end of this liturgical year the Church takes this opportunity to speak to those most important things.

It begins with the prophet Malachi, who tells us that the day is coming when the evildoers will be cut down and burned, and the righteous will rise up and experience the healing rays of the Sun of Justice. He speaks of the end of the world, but even more deeply he speaks of what lies beyond that. After death, for each and every one of us, there are only two ultimate options: heaven or hell. There is no third option; it is one or the other. There is a temptation quite often to try to use hell as a way to scare people into heaven. While that certainly has a time and place, and we all must reflect regularly on the horrible reality that hell is, trying to get to heaven simply because we fear hell is not what God desires most. What he wants is that we fly to heaven not out of fear but, instead, out of love for Him. I had a wedding yesterday in New Orleans and it was such a beautiful ceremony. I was with the groom and the groomsmen beforehand in the sacristy and they were giving him the necessary pre-game razzing: “Only ten minutes! If you’re gonna leave now is the time, buddy!” Of course he didn’t leave (and thankfully I haven’t had one leave yet!), but instead went out to meet his bride. It wasn’t because he feared what would happen if he didn’t – that the father of the bride might have his head on a platter after spending the money to get it all together – it was because he loved his bride. So great was his love for her that he had recourse to his handkerchief to wipe away his tears two or three times before she even got up to the sanctuary. It was the joy of his heart to marry her and it should be the same with us as we contemplate heavenly life. God is the Divine Bridegroom who awaits the Church, His bride, in each of her members. As each of us walk down the aisle to Him, it should take everything within us not to break loose of our father’s hand and run to our Bridegroom. We should LONG for heaven even more than the bride and groom longed to marry one another yesterday.

And yet, we have a choice. God always gives us the choice because He loves us. Our responsorial psalm tells us that “God comes to rule the earth with justice” and it is that justice that makes heaven and hell necessary. It is often said today that God is so loving that He couldn’t send us to hell. That’s absolutely true. If anyone goes to hell it is by their own choosing. It would be unjust of God to have someone reject Him completely in this life and then force him to be in His presence for all eternity. And it would also be unjust to have people who suffer greatly to live the Christian life sit side by side to those who never once showed an ounce of compassion, remorse for sin, or desire to serve the Lord. God’s justice demands that both realities exist because it is by our choosing that we either join ourselves to God or separate ourselves from Him.

This is where St. Paul challenges us in the letter to the Thessalonians. He says bluntly “If anyone would not work, neither should that one eat.” There can be a sense in which we Catholics give ourselves a free pass from living the faith like we are called to. It comes in many forms: ‘I’m too busy’, ‘They can expect that much from me’, ‘I’ve done my share already’, etc. There are far too many leeches in our faith today; people who give nothing to build up the Church but simply come to take take take. We must be people who give of ourselves, who put our faith into action. We must be people of daily prayer, who come to Mass weekly, celebrate Confession regularly, help the poor, contribute in some way to the Church because the Church is the instrument of spreading the Good News of Salvation and we are blessed enough to have received the promise of salvation through her ourselves. We must do all of these things, again, not out of fear of hell but out of love for God.

The thing, though, is that it can be difficult to keep up the pace of giving of our self completely to others and to God. But we must. Recall the last line of the Gospel we just heard: “Your perseverance will secure your lives.” It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being willing to try to become so. In the sacristy I have a little book that is a 33-day preparation for consecration to Mary. On the top of that book there are nine little pen marks, noting that I’ve done that 33-day preparation each of the last nine years. And you know what – when I opened it again this year I began to read through the prayers once more and I feel like I haven’t even started to become what they challenge me to be. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to put it on the shelf and forget about it. God knows that we are sinners, that we will always fall short of perfection. But that doesn’t change the fact that He invites us to strive for it. He just wants us to try. That’s all.

The great Saint of the Church Jean Marie Vianney once posed this question to his congregation: “Where are the Christians today who would be read, I do not say to give up their lives for God, but even to put up with the least unpleasantness or inconvenience rather than disobey Him?”

Where are those Christians? May God find many indeed here among us, men and women willing to try, willing to put one foot in front of the other and walk toward our Divine Bridegroom that awaits us. God grant us this grace today to grow even in the smallest of ways in our love for Him here and now, that He might keep us in His love for all eternity.