Sunday, January 20, 2013

...and the mother of Jesus was there.

Readings for Sunday, January 20/ 2nd Sundary in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

“And the mother of Jesus was there.”

As I was praying with the Gospel for today, that passage stuck out to me. It seems to be a simple statement of Mary’s presence at the feast, so as to introduce her who will momentarily encourage the Lord Jesus to begin His earthly ministry. And yet at the same time, there is a certain richness in it – Mary was there. She was present with Christ, faithful and urging Him on the way to the fulfillment of the Father’s will. In the same way, she is always there for us too, her spiritual children. We might be totally unaware of it, but that does not change the fact that she is there.

Yesterday during our high school day retreat we were touring the church and looking at the symbolism of the altar, vessels, and various things in the church when a question was asked about the stained glass windows. Fr. Vincent answered the question and then pointed out the detail in the windows. On one side of the church all the way down there grape clusters in the design. On the other side of the church all the way down there are images of wheat in the design. Grapes and wheat, wine and bread. A beautiful symbol of the Eucharist and a reminder as they line the whole body of the Church that we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, called to be shared with the whole world. I had noticed the grapes, but never the wheat. I was feeling bad for having missed that when one of the parents said “I’ve been coming here for 40 years and never noticed that!” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad for having missed it only 6 months. But the point was that they had been there the whole time, the beautiful windows conveying a message to encourage us in our faith, even if we are unaware of that message. And the same is true of Our Lady.

For years I didn’t know Mary as a spiritual mother. I honored her as I knew that I should. I prayed the rosary from time to time and certainly knew that she held a very special place in the story of our faith. But I didn’t know her as a mother. It was actually in my first year in seminary that I really began to understand this reality of Mary’s spiritual maternity. A friend of mine asked me to join in praying a consecration to Jesus through Mary according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort. I agreed and started the preparation for the consecration, a 33-day process. As I read the readings and reflections I began to understand the role that Mary had played in my life until then and continuing ever since and rejoiced that I had someone in heaven who was constantly praying for me and being mindful of me, as a mother never forgets her children.

This spiritual maternity is actually something we see in the gospel for today, which can seem a bit rough if we don’t understand it properly. To say ‘woman’ is not a exactly a term of endearment. In fact, I’m quite sure if I ever addressed my mom as ‘woman’ I wouldn’t be able to stand up for a good while. But for the Lord to say this to His mother at the wedding feast is quite different. The only other time He addressed Our Lady as ‘woman’ was at the Crucifixion, when he said ‘Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.’ Those two moments, the beginning and end of His earthly ministry, point us to that first person who was called ‘woman’ – Eve, the mother of all the living. By calling Mary ‘woman’ He is connecting her with Eve and showing us that she is our new mother and indeed the mother of all the living – but not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. She is our spiritual mother and as such she is seeking to bring us spiritual life by guiding us in the path to glory while we journey on Earth – whether we are aware or unaware.

My consecration to Mary was a significant point in deepening my relationship with Mary as my mother. But I also have to admit that I sometimes stray in that relationship. It is for a good reason that I somewhat jokingly call myself a ‘wayward son of Mary’ but the beautiful thing is that she is faithful and always brings me back to Christ. What a blessing to have such a mother! Always faithful, always there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

HWP: Prayer to Our Lady of Mental Peace

Things around the parish have been a bit crazy, to put it nicely. In addition to the many other things going on currently, we've also had now eight deaths in nine days, which is difficult to handle as a priest but even more difficult for a community to endure, as so many have had someone close to them die so recently - and often times multiple people. It has been said that in battle the most common person called for by the wounded soldiers was 'mama'. Something in us longs for our mother when we ache because we know they can make it all better. So in the midst of so many spiritual struggles, why not call upon our spiritual mother, Mama Mary...

Prayer to Our Lady of Mental Peace

O Lady of Mental Peace,
Mother of Tranquility and Mother of Hope,
look upon me in this time of disquiet and weakness.
Still my restless spirit, teach my searching heart to know
that God's love for me is unchanging and that the suffering
which He may will for me now is to draw me closer to Him.
Let thy gentle peace and His - which the world cannot give -
be always with me, that I may be sanctified: and then:
I beseech thee for the grace to bring this peace to others.
Jesus, My Savior, I give myself entirely to Thee through Mary:
Our Lady of Mental Peace, pray for me!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Voice

Readings for Sunday, January 13/ Baptism of the Lord:
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 104: 1-4, 24-25, 27-30
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

As we gather to celebrate this weekend the Baptism of the Lord, the question should naturally arise in our hearts why the Lord Jesus, Himself fully God and perfectly sinless, should receive baptism. Furthermore, how is it that the Divine Son, who always was in perfect union with the Father and Spirit, received the Holy Spirit at His Baptism? To be honest, there are a number of reasons, of which the following are a few.
I was interested to find in one source that Christ received baptism to fulfill the Jewish Law that a man, to be recognized as a priest, must go through a ceremonial washing and anointing with oil. This first part, with the latter anointing, would show to the Jewish people that legally He had fulfilled the requirements to be considered a priest. He didn’t need to fulfill these requirements, but for their sake He did so. And so we see that one reason was to manifest His priesthood to the people of Israel, that priesthood which offered Himself as the sacrifice to win for us eternal life.

Continuing on, we read in the scriptures that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance and conversion. It seems odd that Our Lord would receive it since, as I noted to begin with, He was completely free from sin and needed no repentance. But if we look at the final goal of John’s baptism it makes a bit more sense. The repentance and conversion toward God that happened in the washing meant that one was now given a mission to remain in God’s grace and to begin something anew. This we can certainly see in the effects of the baptism Christ receives. It is in receiving His baptism that the Lord begins His formal mission of salvation by teaching, healing and enduring His Passion. So we see, took, that this baptism began something new in the life of Christ.

Another reason is simply that it provides for us an example. Essentially Christ shows us that if He who had no need of baptism humbled Himself to receive it, then we who are in need of it must do the same in imitation of Him.

More important for us is the reality that in receiving baptism, Christ prepares the way for us to follow. It has been said that when we receive the Eucharist, it is not we who change the Eucharist but rather the Eucharist which changes us. The same can be said analogously of Christ at His baptism – when He was immersed in the waters, it was not the soul of Christ was that changed by the water but rather the water was purified by the soul of Christ. The water was purified by Christ that in receiving it, we ourselves might be purified. Furthermore, because He has taken on our very flesh and assumed our human condition, we are in a sense all taken up into His action of baptism. St. Paul tells us that through the disobedience of one man (Adam) all merited death and that by the obedience of one man (Christ) all are invited to receive eternal life. In baptism, Christ the Head receives the washing with water that we the body of Christ might follow and receive it as well. Likewise, Christ receives the Spirit in His humanity that we, as members in His Body, might also be able to receive the Spirit. It was not for Himself that He received baptism so much as it was for us.

And then we come to that final point, when the heavens were opened up and the Spirit came down in bodily form. This shows us that the baptism we receive is a heavenly one, not an earthly one. Also, in that moment, the Father reveals to us the Son and the Spirit and we are invited to enter into that relationship with the Blessed Trinity here on earth that will merit our living it eternally in Heaven, which has been opened up for us. On this last point, when Jesus hears the Father, I want to reflect a bit more.

Think for a moment of the consolation that must have been in the heart of the Lord Jesus in that very moment. Remember, while the Divine Son, He was also a man in the flesh who had emotions and thoughts of His own. It wasn’t a revelation or adoption of Christ as the Son; He knew He was the Son of the Father even at age twelve when Mary and Joseph find Him in the Temple and He says to them that He must be in His Father’s house. He knew who He was, but to hear it out loud and in front of a crowd so as to truly enter into the mission must have been a true gift for the Lord to hear.

Changing gears a bit, this coming week is national Vocations Awareness Week, a week in which we are called to pray for more vocations, talk about vocations, and encourage others to consider a vocation.

When I first decided to enter seminary, I made the decision and then said not one word of it to anyone for a couple of weeks. The happiness I experienced in that time was immense, as I had finally figured out why God created me and what part of my mission was to be. After that first couple of weeks, my mom and I were cleaning up after a family gathering and it was just the two of us in the house. She was cleaning the last of the plates and asked if she could tell me something in confidence. I said yes and we spoke about something going on in the family at the time. Then I paused and asked if I could tell her something. She said yes and I said, “I think I want to go to the seminary to be a priest.” She paused, turned to me, turned back around and said, “That works.” I didn’t exactly know what ‘That works’ meant so I asked and she said that she thought I would make a good priest. In that moment I was full of joy to be able to share what was in my heart and hear someone confirm it. But at the same time I wondered a bit how things might have turned out differently if my mom or someone else had encouraged me to discern a vocation when I was younger.

The reality is that in our own community we have people who are discerning a vocation to priesthood, religious life, and consecrated life. I have spoken with some of them and I’m sure you know them as well. Others are quietly thinking about it, without us being aware. Still others have the seed of a vocation in their heart but haven’t realized it yet. For all of these people – children, young adults, and adults as well – we must be sources of encouragement not only in prayer but also in word. If we see someone who might make a good priest, religious sister or brother, deacon, or consecrated virgin, tell them. That might be the confirmation they’ve been waiting for or the invitation they need to take the next step in discerning a vocation. You never know how a simple question or invitation can affect someone. And, yes, it can be a bit scary sometimes. As one approaching someone it can be scary because you don’t know how they’ll take it. And as one being approached by someone about the possibility of having a vocation, it can be equally scary because of the reality that you might actually have one. Remain open to God’s Will and to seek the Spirit’s guidance. Fear may well come, but as Our Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples and many have said since then, “Be not afraid.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

HWP: Prayer for a Happy Death

On account of the now-five funerals that I have this week and early next week, I feel inclined to depart from the trend of Thanksgiving Prayers after Mass. With all of these funerals I've been reflecting much more on the passing nature of this life. With all the distractions and busyness of the world today, it can be easy for us to take time for granted and get so caught up in everything going on around us that we can easily fail to prepare ourselves for the real life that awaits us and be caught off guard when the Lord comes to bring us to our eternal reward, wherever it may be. With that in mind, let us pause for a moment and entrust ourselves to St. Joseph's care and pray that our death would be a happy one that ushers us into the great heavenly banquet.

Prayer to St. Joseph for a Happy Death
O Glorious St. Joseph, behold I choose thee today for my special patron in life and at the hour of my death. Preserve and increase in me the spirit of prayer and fervor in the service of God. Remove far from me every kind of sin; obtain for me that my death may not come upon me unawares, but that I may have time to confess my sins sacramentally and to bewail them with a most perfect understanding and a most sincere and perfect contrition, in order that I may breathe forth my soul into the hands of Jesus and Mary. Amen.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Faith & Science

Readings for January 6/ Epiphany Sunday:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Today we celebrate with great joy the solemnity of the Epiphany, which literally means ‘to shine upon’ as we recall the visit of the Magi, when the face of God shines upon them and they receive the beginnings of the Gospel promise of the salvation of all nations. But as I was reflecting on this passage what struck me was not the calling of all nations to Christ but that the ones who came to Him are intellectuals – men of great knowledge. At that time there was no disconnect between faith and science. Rather, they often looked to the skies to help them discern religious things. For that reason they knew the stars and had vast knowledge of other things to help them draw closer to the Divine.

This struck me because in our modern world we are often told that faith and science are incompatible. Religion, especially Christianity, is often characterized as being a place of comfort for people who are simpletons and can’t really think deeply about things. Rather than being intellectuals, we are critiqued for our faith as others chalk it up as us simply trying to twist reality according to our religious beliefs. For these reasons and others, many intellectuals try to set the Church and Christianity aside as being anti-rational, antiquated, and ultimately irrelevant in this modern age. The reality, though, though is that rather than being people who have no place in the public square we must proclaim that we have a very prominent place in public debate and point proudly to the truth of what we live as Catholics.

To begin with, science actually presupposes faith because sciences base everything on one main assumption: that whatever is being studied has some intelligible makeup to it. The universe has laws and rules of all sorts and science studies these, but the reality is that something other than random occurrence is responsible for this intelligible makeup and we call that something GOD.

The beautiful thing about our faith, like that of the Magi who came to visit Our Lord, is that we see faith and science as intricately connected. As Catholics we recognize that Truth is Truth no matter where it is. If something is true in the world, then it cannot be contradictory to our faith, which is based on Truth itself – Jesus Christ. For us to grow in our knowledge of the truth of the sciences then helps us to draw closer to Christ. It’s like studying the fingerprints He left in creation; the full picture is found in the faith we celebrate, but there are hints all throughout the universe of His Goodness and Love.

Curious about the contributions Catholics have made to the sciences, I did a little searching online (check out wikipedia!) and found that Catholics are credited as being the founders of the Big Bang Theory, Evolutionary Theory, Bacteriology, Modern Physics, Modern Chemistry, Modern Astronomy, Modern Mathematics, Modern Anatomy, not to mention other major contributions to the intellectual world such as Philosophy, the printing press, modern universities, modern medicines, acoustics, musical notation, countless notable writers and other scientists who made major contributions. And these weren’t just nominal Catholics. These were men and women, many of them priests and bishops, who were learned people and yet people of incredibly deep faith. They knew Jesus Christ and had no problem connecting Him with the truths of the world.

All of this simply means that as Catholics we ought to be proud of the contributions that we have made to our world today, and continue to make, as we seek after Truth everywhere it may be found. Rather than being far from the modern world, we have a unique and privileged place from which to speak about both science and the foundations of it. More personally we each have the obligation to continue to grow in our knowledge of Truth. First - the truths of our faith. We must know our faith because if we don’t know our faith we fail in our primary mission in the world. But we must also strive to learn more about our world and continue to draw closer to the Lord who made it from the beginning. So as we honor Our Lord on this celebration of the Epiphany, the Christ the shining His light upon the world, let us also be seek Him wherever He may be found, that all might come to know His Truth and join us as we come before Him week after week to kneel in humble Adoration.


For more on the relationship between Faith and Science/Reason, check out:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

HWP: Anima Christi

For our 'Half-Way Prayer' this week we look at the 14th-Century prayer 'Anima Christi', which is a beautiful invocation of the Lord's Body and Blood just received in the Blessed Sacrament. Many are the graces of the Eucharist if we open ourselves to receive them and this prayer helps us to do so in a beautiful and poetic manner. Enjoy!

Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Separated from Thee let me never be.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to Thee, bid me,
That I may praise Thee in the company
Of Thy Saints, for all eternity.
Or in the original Latin:

Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Iesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te
in saecula saeculorum.