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.