Wednesday, December 31, 2014

HWP: O Virgin Immaculate

Advent and Christmas preparations got the best of me with posting things here in a timely manner or any manner at all. So today we begin again with the Half-Way Prayers and pray for the blessings of the Lord to be poured from the Heart of Jesus upon each of us through the intercession of all the angels and saints, and especially Mary, the Mother of God. So we begin in anticipation of that great feast with the prayer...

O Virgin Immaculate
O Virgin Immaculate, Mother of God and my Mother, from your sublime heights turn your eyes of pity on me. Filled with confidence in your goodness and knowing full well your power, I beg you to extend to me your assistance in the journey of life, which is so full of dangers for my soul. In order that I may never be a slave of the devil through sin, but may ever live with my heart humble and pure, I entrust myself wholly to you. I consecrate my heart to you forever, my only desire being to love your divine Son, Jesus. Mary, none of your devout servants has ever perished; may I, too, be saved.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Papal Intentions for January 2015

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
Our Father... Hail Mary...
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. 
Through Christ our Lord. 

Papal Intentions for January 2015

Universal Intention: That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Mission Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy offollowing Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The School of Nazareth

Readings for Sunday, December 28/ Holy Family:
Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Psalm 105:1-6, 8-9
Hebrews 11:9, 11-12, 17-19
Luke 2:22-40

This weekend Mother Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family, holding up for us the most perfect models of Jesus, Mary & Joseph. These giants of holiness are examples of every virtue we can name, which can easily lead us to discouragement and to question how in the world we can even look to them as models when we ourselves fall so far short of their example. In celebrating this most holy of families, it is important to remember that God doesn’t require of us the holiness of Jesus, Mary & Joseph but rather the holiness that we ourselves are called to and able to attain. And so we turn to this family to contemplate how it is that they lived and seek some encouragement in living our own lives. In a pastoral visit to the Holy Land, Blessed Pope Paul VI spoke of his desire to become a child once more and grow up learning in the ‘school of Nazareth’ where the Holy Family dwelt and where Christ grew in grace and wisdom. And so today I want to take a few moments and speak to the reflections he offered on that trip, that they might continue to bear fruit with us today.

Of the many things that the ‘school of Nazareth’ offers to us, we begin first with the aspect of work. Every one of us has some ‘work’ that we seek to accomplish in the course of our days. Some have 9-5 type jobs, others do shift work, some are out in the fields, some working in the home, students work on their studies, and those without work still have hobbies or some other task to accomplish in the midst of the day. These things are valuable in themselves and have a great dignity. They provide us opportunities for self-discipline, cooperation with God in some manner of creativity, service to others, and a means by which to sustain ourselves in this life. This work, however, can seem to be at time anything other than good and dignified, turning out to be something that consumes us rather than something that serves us and others. Admittedly this consumption takes place in certain situations or times of the year, but it should not be the norm and the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth helps us to focus all of that work towards it’s ultimate end: God. Catherine Doherty once said that “Every little thing should be done perfectly, completely connect to God. ‘This also, Lord, for love of You.’” When I read it initially, it seemed that it was saying to do everything perfectly and completely connected with God, but it was a call to do everything perfectly connected to God, completely connected to God. It is a call to give our best in the work that we do, knowing that sometimes it is rough to make things work as we desire, but doing all for love of the Lord. With each task we do, to look far off in the distance and see how it can benefit yourself and others and do it for love of them and God.

The second aspect we can contemplate in Nazareth is that of the family. In the Holy Family we see the perfect model of love and community, virtue and compassion, a strong foundation and a place in which children can grow into healthy adults. We see this clearly, but what strikes me even more for us today is the impact a family can have. In my office I keep a little bookmark that was given to me that says ‘One good priest can change the world’ and it includes a picture of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. It drives home how one priest’s work has literally changed the world through the ministry of the Knights. But if one priest can change the world, how much more can a whole family accomplish? We don’t have to look just at the Holy Family to see the effects. We can look to St. Augustine and Monica, who are known world-wide. Or St. Therese of Lisieux, who has millions invoking her intercession daily, and her family that didn’t do great acts of holiness but simply tried to live their particular call to holiness in their little town. And the world has changed. We can say the same for most of the saints as they most often came not from pagan origin but good Christian families trying to become holy people. Abraham and Sarah received the promise of generations as numerous as the stars of the sky and because of their faith it happened. And God isn’t done working with His people; what might happen if we decided today to become holier husbands and fathers, mothers and wives, children and siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles? What might happen if we try to be holy people making up holy families today?

This presupposed the last piece for reflection: silence. Silence is where the Lord speaks to us and silence is almost impossible to find today unless we intentionally seek it out. When we content ourselves to be always entertained by electronics, caught up in distractions, and working on todo lists, we miss that most necessary piece of our day in which the Lord of Creation wants to speak to us of those things and much more. The invitation, then, is to be people of faith just like Jesus, Mary & Joseph and to spend some time daily in prayer and reflection, pondering these things in our hearts as we await the voice of the Lord to make Himself known to us. I want to encourage you, if you aren’t already doing so, to spend at least 5 minutes a day in silence. You’ll be amazed at what God can accomplish in 5 minutes. But if we all spend those few minutes with the Lord it will permit us to follow Him and grow in grace and wisdom just as Christ did. Another fruitful activity might be the daily examination of conscience – the reflect back on the day with the Holy Family and see how the day went. To focus on a crucifix or other image of the Lord, Our Lady or St. Joseph and question ourselves. How did I love like You today, Jesus? How did I have faith like you Mary, Joseph? Where did I do well in serving others as I am called? Did I do my work well for the Lord or did I do it out of frustration? Where did the Father speak to me today? These and many other questions can give us ample opportunity to reflect on the ways in which God is acting daily in our lives and inviting us to journey with Him to heaven.

May the Holy Family be not only for us a model to follow but intercessors to fill us with the grace fo God and indeed make us holy people, holy families, to the glory of God and the Kingdom.

Friday, December 26, 2014

It Doesn't Belong There

Readings for Christmas Masses:
Vigil Mass
Midnight Mass
Mass at Dawn
Mass during the Day

If you watch social media or late night TV you have likely seen or heard of the SNL skit that parodies the ‘annual Christmas trip to church’ in which we see persons such as Pastor Pat, whose weak sermon is rivaled only by his weak jokes and the weak laughter from the congregation, the organist who hits all the wrong notes, and the choir that sings all 44 verses of ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’. I know some folks have gotten upset saying that we shouldn’t talk about the holidays in such a way, but if we can’t laugh at ourselves and our church’s quirkiness then I think we’re in trouble. If you’ve seen the video I’m sure you can relate to some of the things they joke about. But what struck me wasn’t so much the humorous aspect so much as the underlying kernel of truth that our contemporary world (especially my generation and younger) has a struggle connecting with the Church. The world is routinely pulling folks father and farther from the faith and that video spoke to me of that reality through the media of comedy. But what strikes me even more is that every year at Christmas, what the skit notes actually comes to pass: thousands upon thousands of people who don’t darken the doors of a church throughout the year come into these sacred places and enter into the celebration of Holy Mass. Every year churches fill back up, if only for a day, because there is something that draws us here. It’s more than just making our parents, spouse, or friends happy; it’s something deep within us that compels us to come once more.

The other day we were setting up here in the church and I was over playing with the nativity scene. This is actually a favorite pastime of mine. At my home parish in Denham Springs there was a large set of figurines from all sorts of gospel passages and a nice big landscape with houses and all sorts of things. In the midst of the many characters there were a great many little sheep. The lady who kept up with it was a good friend and so I used to go and move the sheep around. She’d walk by and find a sheep on a roof or in a tree. Or the man with arms outstretched in prayer was now holding a sheep with each arm. And she’d see it and just shake her head and say “Oh, Brent!” Well, that tendency came back and I picked up that little lamb next to St. Joseph and put him in the empty manger, turned around and said, “Behold, the lamb of God!” Those around me just laughed a bit and probably thought ‘what are we gonna do with this crazy little priest?’ I smiled and said, “I know. I know. He doesn’t belong there.” And so I put it back at the feet of St. Joseph and we continued working.

Later that evening I was sitting there praying with the empty manger and I began to think of how often I have tried to fill up the empty space in my heart with things that didn’t belong there. We all try it at some point and in some way, but it struck me the many ways it had taken shape for me. We can do it with our sins: I’ll commit this sin just one more time and then I’ll be happy…one more time…one more time… and no matter how many times it is, it’s always one more time because it never satisfies. We can do the same with possessions or wealth: many times I’ve bought books, CD’s, shirts, concert tickets and more, all in the hope that I’ll be filled even for a moment and yet come up empty. Sometimes it’s not sin or things but intangibles: if I can just get a little more honor, power, respect, etc. We can take these and so many things and make them our goals that we think will ultimately bring us happiness and every one of them falls short because the hole in our hearts can be filled by only one thing: the One True God.

The invitation for us, then, is to do our best to recognize what truly brings fulfillment and to seek after it. Though we’re often unaware, the manger scene speaks this message in the form of the ox and the ass. Tradition nativities include these two animals not because they were necessarily at the event itself but because of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (1:3) The figures remind us that they knew where to find their fulfillment but broken humanity still wanders from place to place. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Every time a man knocks on a brothel door, he is really searching for God.” The wandering that we do, whether it leads to brothels or any number of other places, ultimately manifests the reality that we’re searching for the peace of Christ Jesus and if we stray 1001 times, filling our hearts with that which doesn’t satisfy, then 1001 times Christ comes to us and says, ‘I know what you’re looking for and that this isn’t it. Come to me and I will give you rest.’

This rest is often sought as we hear the words of God speaking through the psalmist: Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46). But in light of the feast we celebrate, it might behoove us to make use of another translation of the original text from St. Jerome, one of the Early Church Fathers. His translation says not ‘Be still and know that I am God’ but rather ‘Be EMPTY and SEE that I am God.’ As we come today to celebrate the entry into our world of the God-Man Jesus Christ, let us set aside those things that we have so often sought as our fulfillment that we indeed might see that He is God.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Just Sit There

Readings for Sunday, December 21/ 4th Sunday of Advent:
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16
Psalm 89:2-5, 27-29
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

The first time I remember holding a baby was when I was 12 years old. Being the baby of the family, both among my siblings and my cousins, there weren’t many little ones around for me to have dealt with, so when my sister was due to have a baby girl, I had to start learning how to handle little ones. The day my niece was born we all went to the hospital and everyone got a chance to hold the little girl. When it was my chance, my mom (knowing I was nervous about holding her) told me to sit down in the chair. So I hopped in, got settled, got my arms in place to cradle a baby, and then I sat there. They brought her over and placed her in my arms and I sat there marveling at the little person in my arms. After a few moments of my nervously holding her, they took her back and passed her to the next person. This story came to mind because this weekend we are invited to stop doing so much and simply prepare to receive a little child.

The past few weeks have been all about preparing for Christmas. We’ve all been to a bunch of parties and gatherings, we’ve been working on preparing the churches, preparing for liturgies, decorating our own homes, and probably a little bit of shopping too. And this is in addition to the spiritual movements encouraged by this season – that of being watchful, of repenting and trying to turn away from our sins, and of being a people constantly seeking the face of God in prayer, thanksgiving, and rejoicing. But this weekend the readings make a dramatic turn from all of that doing to an attitude of receptivity because as Psalm 127 puts it, “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labor. Unless the Lord watch over the city, in vain do the watchmen keep vigil.” We can do all sorts of things and prepare in so many ways, but it is ultimately the work of God that makes it all fruitful.

This is the lesson that God seeks to teach King David in our first reading today from Second Samuel. David notices that he lives in a nice house and the dwelling place of God is basically a tent out in the yard and so he decides to make a temple for the Lord. In response the Lord gives His own plan and while we can hear the things that God has done or will do, what strikes me is just how many time God speaks in the first person ‘I’. “I took you from the pasture… I have been with you… I have destroyed your enemies…I will make you famous… I will fix a place for my people… I will plant them… I appointed judges… I will give you rest… I will raise up your heir… I will make his kingdom firm… I will be a father to him.” Eleven times the Lord drives the point home that it is His work that makes things happen. We have to do our share, but ultimately it is the Lord that makes these things happen.

He does a similar thing and gives us a perfect model to follow the account of the Annunciation we just heard. Mary receives the good news that she is to bear the savior of mankind. The first thought in my mind would be “Okay, what do I have to do?” But Mary’s doesn’t have to do anything. It is the all the work of God as she hears “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you.” She doesn’t have to do anything other than say ‘yes’ - “May it be done to me.” And the same goes for us. We’ve done much in the way of preparation for Christmas. Now it’s time to rest and the let the Lord move.

Since school is out now, I figured I’d make up for the lack of homework and give some here at church. I’m inviting each of you to make a little time before Christmas and simply sit before a nativity scene. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything. Just sit in front of the scene, ready for the coming of a little baby to you.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Readings for Sunday, December 14/ Gaudete Sunday:
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11

Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

As most of you likely know, my previous parish assignment was to the River Road communities of Convent, Paulina, and Gramercy. One weekend we had a high school retreat with the students and parents in attendance at Most Sacred Heart in Gramercy and we had decided to speak about the church architecture and all the stuff one normally finds in a church as a means to praying. Fr. Vincent and I would go back and forth noting the things that struck us most about the church and at one point he asked if anyone had ever noticed the windows. Of course, everyone started looking from side to side at the large stained glass windows all along the sides of the church. He point out that the accents in the windows on one side were all images of wheat and the other side was all images of grapes. He then began to speak about the Eucharist and the community as the Body of Christ. I started to feel bad about myself since I had been there for almost two years by then and hadn’t even noticed the pattern. That was, until after we concluded and some of the parents came up to me and mentioned that they had been here for 40 or 50 years and had never noticed it either! This story came to mind as I was sitting by our own stained glass of the Blessed Virgin receiving the Holy Spirit and noticed for the first time in almost six months that the artist’s name was etched into the glass at the bottom, right next to where I normally rest my arm. These stories got me to thinking of how easy it is to miss something when our eyes aren’t looking for it and I began to wonder how aware I am of God’s activity in my own life? How many things is God doing – or waiting to do – but I’m totally oblivious to it?

This is what the season of Advent continues to draw our attention to: the activity of God in our midst. In the Gospel we see the priests and leaders of the community going out to find the Messiah. This was their whole mission, to find the one that was to save the people of Israel and fulfill all of the ancient prophecies. And so they went to John the Baptist and start asking questions: Are you the Messiah? Elijah? The Prophet? Who are you? When John gives his reply, he doesn’t just stop there but point out that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” How interesting that the leaders come out seeking the Messiah and they are so focused on John that they’re standing side-by-side with the Lord Himself and fail to recognize Him!

In this blessed season we hear and work to put into practice the call of habitual readiness for the Lord’s coming. That was the obvious tone of the First Sunday’s gospel call to “Be watchful!” The subsequent weeks help direct us the way of being habitually ready for the coming of Christ in His glory. Last week we were reminded that the most important and effective way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is repentance. John the Baptist’s call to turn from sin, confess one’s faults, and receive a baptism of repentance invite us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we do the exact same thing. There we find the means to breaking the chains of sin and experiencing the freedom to follow the Lord when He comes.

This week, with the freedom from sin established, the next step to be always ready is found in the passage from St. Paul and his three other ‘always’ type statements: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.”

It begins with ‘pray without ceasing,’ which we know isn’t walking around praying rote prayers all day long. Prayer is simply a dialogue or relationship with the Lord, so to pray without ceasing is to go through our day doing our best to keep in mind that God isn’t just up in Heaven and He isn’t just in the tabernacle at the Church, but that He is right there with us and is actively involved in our life. Sometimes we have tangible experiences of His presence and sometimes we can started putting clues together that our prayers are being answered or that God is leading us in a certain direction. That is the unceasing prayer that St. Paul invites us to, because it is then that we see the Lord working, speaking, and moving in, through, and around us.

As we start to recognize the Lord among us throughout the day, we will begin to express more deeply our gratitude. We will give thanks in all circumstances because we will be able to see the Lord in all circumstances. And as we allow our hearts to give joyful praise to the Lord the ways that He is working in our lives, we are led to that third piece of rejoicing always.

Rejoicing isn’t having warm emotions of happiness, feeling good about things, or the result of positive events taking place in our life. Rejoicing is the spontaneous reaction of our heart to the presence of the Lord. Why does Isaiah rejoice in our first reading? Because God placed on him the robe of salvation and the mantle of justice; God came to him in his brokenness and he encountered the God of love and mercy. Why does Mary rejoice in the responsorial? Because the Lord looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid and done great things for her – because she had a profound encounter with the Lord and His messenger Gabriel. Why does St. Paul call us to rejoice always? Because He first was knocked off of his horse by the Lord and filled with the Light of His Presence. And us? Why should we rejoice? Because just like Isaiah and Mary and Paul, God has come to us too. He came 2000 years ago, He comes daily in the Eucharist, and He comes to us in the course of our daily lives over and over and over again.

So where is God acting in your life today? Where is the Lord inviting us to find Him today? And are we ready to experience His presence and be filled with rejoicing?

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Practicing for the Game

Readings for Sunday, December 7/ Second Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

I want to begin by thanking everyone who came out to the dance on Friday night. It was really great to see folks having good, clean fun. As I sat there watching everyone, I was brought back to my days of watching cartoons, of how they’d show a big crowd dancing and the whole group would move up and down in sync with one another. Well, I saw it in person on as the whole group moved with the beat of the music – it was neat to see. I mention that I was watching others because I don’t dance. I do great with formulas, patterns, and rituals, but not so much with spontaneous stuff, like dancing of is. As I was reflecting on that reality I began to think of those places where I felt most comfortable and was able to thrive and one of those was in sports.

As a child I loved playing baseball. I played spring, summer, fall, and tournament teams and loved every minute of it. But any person who has any experience with sports knows, as with most any activity, that the game is preceded by much practice and preparation. Especially when we were younger, coach would bring us in and quiz us on various scenarios. He say something like, “There’s a runner on first and one out. If the ball is hit to first base, what do you do?” and he’d point and we’d have to answer as quick as possible. And he’d do this regularly with all sorts of scenarios so that as when it was game time we wouldn’t have to think about what to do, but rather we’d already know how to respond. But all the time it was because in practice we’d have to stop, take stock of the situation, and mentally prepare to execute whatever play came up.

That idea of continuous scenarios being tossed at me struck that it seemed oddly similar to what we keep experiencing throughout the Advent season. This constant attitude of being prepared, of taking stock of the situation and getting ready to move, is the spirit of this season of expectant waiting. And much like our coach in ball coach would do, the prophetic voices of scripture keep tossing things our way.

The great ancient prophet Isaiah, living several hundred years before the Lord Jesus came among us, is recalled almost daily in the readings for Mass. And in each of them a little scenario is given to help point out the Messiah. “When the blind see, what do you think? Messiah! When peace comes to us, what do you think? Messiah! And what do we do when the Messiah comes? Prepare the way! Turn away from sin!”  This attitude of constant watching and waiting was meant to prepare the Israelites so well that when the Messiah finally came they would be more than ready to follow because they knew exactly what to look for. And to some degree this happened in the disciples, as we see in Mark’s Gospel opening.

To this we add the prophet St. John the Baptist, who prepares the way for the Messiah. He who would point out the Lamb of God also helps to train us in our response to the Lord’s coming – repent, be washed clean, turn from sin. And lastly we have form our second reading the person of St. Peter, who is living in the time after the Messiah has already come and yet is calling us once again to prepare the way. This time we prepare not for a first coming but for His second coming in glory. But how do we prepare? In the same way as before: by watching for the signs of the times and turning away from sin.

This blessed season of Advent is a time in which we can hone our skills on turning away from sin, practicing the little scenarios and continuing to think about the ways of recognizing the Lord’s coming to us throughout our days. I recognize that while this is a penitential preparation liturgically speaking, the world around us is already celebrating Christmas and we all have calendars full of events with Christmas themes. So I was thinking of ways that we could continue to contemplate the scenarios of the Lord’s coming and one is to practice little mortifications, little deaths to self. When you go to the next gathering, take only one of the desserts. Or maybe look at the whole spread of food and find the thing you want the most and skip that for the evening. Or maybe you could drink the cheap beer or drink the diet drink you don’t like. They seem little things but if we are able to deny ourselves the little things that are good for us, when it is game time we will be used to this denial and will be better prepared to turn away from the sins that come our way.

And so we do as I was required to do for so many practices: stop, take stock of the situation, and prepare for whatever might soon come our way. And so we continue watching and waiting, preparing for the coming of the Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

HWP: St. Francis Xavier

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits and a man whose zeal for the Lord rivaled that of the Apostles. As we continue in this Advent season, we pray to grow in God's grace and in zeal for souls by this week's Half-Way Prayer:

My God, I love thee; 
not because I hope for heaven thereby, 
nor yet because who love thee not are lost eternally. 
Thou, O my Jesus, 
thou didst me upon the cross embrace; 
for me didst bear the nails and spear, 
and manifold disgrace. 
And griefs and torments numberless and sweat of agony; 
even death itself, 
and all for one Who was thine enemy. 
Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ 
should I not love thee well? 
not for the hope of winning heaven, 
or of escaping hell. 
not with the hope of gaining aught, 
nor seeking a reward, 
but as thyself has lovèd me, 
O ever-loving Lord! 
Even so I love thee, and will love 
and in thy praise will sing, 
solely because thou art my God, 
and my eternal king.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Papal Intentions for December 2014

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
Our Father... Hail Mary...
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. 
Through Christ our Lord. 

Papal Intentions for December 2014

Universal Intention: That the birth of the Redeemer may bring peace and hope to all people of good will.
Mission Intention: That parents may be true evangelizers, passing on to their children the precious gift of faith.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Time to Stay Home

Readings for Sunday, November 30/ 1st Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

It was sure nice to not have to worry about whether LSU would pull out a win this weekend. As I was thinking about that and praying with the readings for this weekend I was reminded of the time when I was around 12 or 13 years old I guess. My mom and stepdad decided they could trust me to stay at the house by myself while they went to go watch the Tigers play. So before they left, mom laid down the ground rules: don’t go swimming, don’t go anywhere, and don’t invite anyone over but Stephen, my best friend who she figured she could trust me to be around. I agreed and they left for the game. Shortly after they left, I looked at my watch and figured I’d have a good 5 hours until they got back. So, I did what most young men that age would have done: I called up Stephen and told him to bring his swimsuit over. We went swimming for a bit and afterward decided to hop on our bikes and ride around for a bit. We were cruising all around his neighborhood when we rode by his house and his mom was in the front yard waving us down. As we got close she called out and said, “Brent! Your mom said you need to go home!” I very slowly peddled my bike back to the house, knowing good and well what was waiting for me.

The obvious thing is that I figured I had plenty of time to do what I wanted, clean up the evidence of my disobedience, and be in the clear. Not for a minute did I think something might bring my parents home earlier than I had figured. And that is the point the Lord is speaking to us as we gather to begin this Advent season: that we must be prepared at all times for His coming, not caught off guard. You don’t have to know anything about the Lord or the Scriptures in order to get that idea from the Gospel passage we just heard. In the span of a few sentences the Lord tells us: “Be watchful! Be alert! Watch, therefore! You know not the hour! Watch!” In various ways He drives home the point of preparedness for His coming.

In reflecting on that aspect of the Lord coming, it struck me how often we pray for that very thing to happen. Every time we pray the Our Father we pray “Thy kingdom come” partly in expectation of the Lord’s return in glory. We say it every Mass, it’s used in nearly every ritual of the Church, we include it in most of our rosaries and chaplets, and when we get put on the spot to pray a spontaneous public prayer there is no safer bet than mumbling something and concluding with “Our Father” and having everyone join in. We pray it often, but I was thinking to myself what I would do if I prayed “Thy kingdom come” and it actually happened? The prophet Isaiah uses vivid imagery to describe this point: “return for the sake of your servants…rend the heavens and come down”. What if in the midst of my prayer the skies opened up and I beheld the Lord in His glory? Am I ready for that? Am I prepared for that? Are you prepared for that?

Be watchful. Be alert. Watch.

I think there are, here, two important things to note. First, the continuous waiting for the Lord’s return isn’t just sitting in prayer all day looking holy for when He comes. It’s about living every moment of our lives with a purity of heart that proves we’re ready. If I had stayed at home when my parents left for the game, I could have watched tv, played video games, played guitar, read a book, or any number of things, I would have still been ready. And that is the invitation from the Lord: to content ourselves in whatever we do with a mindset that Christ may come at any moment.

The second things worth noting is that the preparation isn’t one of fear or anxiety. Fear and undue anxiety are from the evil one. The waiting we are called to live is one of joy, much like a little child who excitedly runs to greet a parent at the door when they return home from a trip or a long day at work with arms outstretched saying “Mommy! Daddy!” Eager, hopefully expectancy. Watching. Waiting. Alert.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

HWP: Widows

This week we celebrate the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (today in the Extraordinary Form calendar, Monday in the Ordinary Form calendar), a beautiful soul who lost her spouse and sought consolation in the Lord, who alone can fill our hearts. For this reason she is a patroness of widows and a powerful intercessor. In this month of November I have been particularly aware of the many widows and widowers in my own particular community and throughout the world, how much they are in need of the Lord's presence and grace, and how we are called to journey with them in their trials. With that in mind, I bring two prayers to the HWP this week!
A Prayer of Widows/Widowers 
Lord Jesus Christ, during your earthly life You showed compassion on those who had lost a loved one. Turn your compassionate eyes on me in my sorrow over the loss of my life's partner. Take him/her into your heavenly kingdom as a reward for his/her earthly service. Help me to cope with my loss by relying on You even more than before. Teach me to adapt to the new conditions of my life and to continue doing your will as I see it. Enable me to avoid withdrawing from life and make me give myself to others more readily, so that I may continue to live in your grace and to do the tasks that You have laid out for me.  
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for me. Amen.

  - AND -
A Prayer for Widows

Most loving God, you know the pain and sorrow of death; mercifully hear our prayer for those who mourn the death of their beloved. The nights are lonely and the days are too long. Comfort them and bring an end to the days of tears. Bless them and bring an end to their days of sorrow. Renew them with the joy of life and bring to an end their days of mourning. Let the bond of love which you have for your people be the foundation of their hope that love never ends and that precious moments with our beloved are forever held dear in our hearts. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Homily Today

This weekend I had the joy of spending the weekend with 23 couples preparing for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony at our Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend, as well as two married couples who lead the weekend. It is always refreshing to be able to spend that time with so many excited couples and with the married couples who provide such great witnesses of married life and love. It provides much time for reflection on my own vocation in light of the married vocation and leaves me encouraged and renewed in my priestly calling. That being said, the homily this weekend was specific to the couples and retreat, so I will not be posting it online. If you'd like a little something to read, you might check out The Sacred Page, which usually has some great reflections on the readings. Have a blessed (and cold) week everyone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

HWP: Ut unum sint

Today is the feast of St. Josaphat, bishop and martyr. He was a man of great faith and fortitude and felt called by God to work to heal the wounds of division between the eastern and western churches. This noble work was so effective that he became known as the 'thief of souls' and soon found himself target by enemies of unity, ultimately leading to his martyrdom. Centuries later the division still exists and we need prayer more now than ever to heal that division and so make ourselves a better witness to the world around us. With that in mind we pray...

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst unto Thine Apostles: Peace I leave you, My peace I give to you; regard not our sins, but the faith of Thy Church, and grant unto her that peace and unity which are agreeable to Thy Will; Who livest and reignest ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Soul Cleansing

Cleansing the Temple
Readings for Sunday, November 9/ Dedication of St. John Lateran:
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome. The title of the feast can be a bit misleading because there is no saint named ‘John Lateran’. Rather, the church derives it’s name from its consecration to St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist and its location on the Lateran Hill in Rome. It can seem odd that the celebration of the dedication of a church in Rome would take precedence over the Sunday celebration of Mass throughout the world and yet that's the case. This is because St. John Lateran is the Popes cathedral. Most of us would think that St. Peter's would be the Holy Father’s main church, but St. Peter's only became the residence of the Holy Father a few hundred years ago. Before then, dating back to the 4th-century, St. John's was the central place for the Pope and for this reason it is given the title ‘Mother of all churches in the city and the world’. This bold, yet beautiful, title helps us understand why it is celebrated universally and with such solemnity: because it is the main reminder of God’s love for us in giving us the Church herself, from which flows all grace and spiritual life.

We see this concept of a ‘mother church’ in the first reading from Ezekiel, who saw the Temple with the water flowing from its side out to the world. That vision of life-giving water shows us plants that bear fruit times a year and draw all living creatures to find refreshment in it. That life-giving water is also a cleansing water, as we see that the river flows into the Arabah, making the saltwater fresh. This sign shows us that rather than being changed by the world, the water changes that which it touches. This water is symbolic of the grace of Christ in the church, spoken of by the Lord in various places but especially in John 3. A couple of weeks ago I preached about the Church as the Bride of Christ and we heard it referenced again today in the opening Collect. And what happens when a bride and groom get married? The two become one and from there on out, as the saying goes, ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.’ The same is true of Christ and the Church. In joining Himself to her as a spouse, the Lord gives to the Church the gift of His infinite grace to be able to spread it throughout the whole world.

It is this mystery of grace going out to the whole world that we celebrate also in this scandalous teaching of Jesus on the resurrection of the Temple. When Jesus says He would raise the Temple in three day, the hearers of that word would rightly be shocked because they had been laboring for 46 years already and weren’t done yet! And, yet, we are told that He wasn’t really talking about the Temple around them at all, but rather about the TRUE Temple – His Body. This is significant because for the Jewish people the Temple was the place to encounter God. They had synagogues to listen to God’s Word all over Israel but there was only one Temple – and it was there that sacrifice was offered and there that the Holy of Holies was, the place where God dwelt among the Israelites. And with Jesus saying He was the true Temple, He was saying in no uncertain terms ‘Do you want to see God? Here I Am.’

Here is where the mysteries tie together. The Church is often described as the Mystical Body of Christ because, according to St. Paul’s teachings, we are made members of the Body of Christ in our baptism. We are joined to His Body; it’s like having and addition to your house – except the Body of Christ has simply been rejoicing in billions of additions over the course of 2000 years. And if Christ is the Temple, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells in truth, then as we are brought into the Body of Christ, the same becomes true of us. This is why St. Paul can rightly say that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. And if the Temple of the Jerusalem needed to be cleansed to better honor God, the same can be said of us. The cleansing of Temple happened in days of Jesus, but it is intended to continue daily in our own hearts.

This week being National Vocations Awareness Week, I’ve been thinking about my own experience of discernment and I recalled a trip I once took to Nashville, TN. A group of about 20-30 seminarians from Notre Dame in New Orleans went to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. We visited with them for the day, having meals, prayer, and recreation time with them. At one point the seminarians sat down with the group of recently professed sisters and it was suggested that we each give a minute-long clip of our vocation story, and so we went. It was incredible to hear how God has worked in so many different ways and to hear where people were coming from all arriving in the same place. One of the seminarians started laughing at the end and said, “Did anyone notice the pattern?” We all looked, intrigued. He pointed out that almost every sister described her calling in terms of love – they were wooed by God, they were embraced by His Love, they found the joy of being a bride of Christ, and the like. On the opposite end, the guys all spoke in physical, often violent, terms – we were all hit with a divine 2x4, slapped upside the head, tossed into the muck of life, etc. Maybe that’s a commentary on the hard-headedness of men, but that’s another homily! But it struck me because all of us need to have the temple of our heart cleansed, but that can happen in different ways. We can give God the stuff of sin that lies within our hearts and have a gentle, loving encounter with the Lord that builds us up. Or…we can cling to our sin and let God whack us with that divine 2x4 and give up our sin then. The choice is ours, but the end will be the same.

That said, the obvious invitation now is to open the door for the grace of God to pour in and cleanse the temple of our hearts. What is that one thing you need to stop? That one sin you keep struggling with, that temptation you keep having, that mindset that seems impossible to change? I presume most of us know exactly what that thing is right now – we usually know our biggest sins without much reflection – and so the next step is to let God have it. When the offertory comes up, place you sin in the basket. Let’s let God have it and let the waters of God’s grace flow into our hearts to bring life and freshness where saltwater once rested. Let’s take this opportunity and invite the Lord to come cleanse us that we might be worthy dwelling places of the Lord, and one day be welcomed into the glory of the sanctuary of Heaven.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

HWP: Prayer of Thanksgiving

If you read my Sunday homily from this past week, you'll have noted that our mission chapel was broken into and robbed this past week. Over the weekend many prayers were offered for a good resolution to the situation and yesterday it came: the detective informed us that the person responsible had been apprehended and our missing items had all been recovered. As soon as I'm done typing this I'll be heading our to pick it all up. How's that for prayers answered! So, with that in mind, I offer this week's Half-Way Prayer of the Week...

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Prayers Answered
O God, I offer praise and thanksgiving for favors granted and prayers, answered especially those obtained through the intercession of (N.,), who have faithfully and generously brought my petitions before You. Help me continually to see the workings of your grace and blessing in my life and strive always to live by the example of your Son, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints of heaven, especially those for whose intercession I have prayed. 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Praying for Diarrhea

Readings for Sunday, November 2/ All Souls' Day:
Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 23:1-6
Romans 5:5-11
John 6:37-40

When I arrived back in July I began writing in the bulletin a little section called “Fun Facts with Fr. Brent.” I’m not sure how fun you think they are, but I enjoy writing them and I hope you enjoy reading them. This Thursday we printed the bulletins with this week’s ‘fun fact’ about indulgences and I used an example to try to illustrate my point: a child tossing a ball in the yard, when it accidentally breaks through a window. The point was made to show that forgiveness can take place, but that reparation must be made – the window must be fixed. I didn’t realize how strongly that imagery would strike me until Friday morning at around 1030, when Retta (our secretary) called me and said “Father, someone broke into [our mission chapel] St. Vincent’s.”

I got in the car and rode to up the chapel to find: a broken window. It turns out that someone, or multiple someones, threw something through the back window and helped themselves to the paschal candle stand, monstrance, some Mass vessels, and the candle money. After moving all of that they apparently were thirsty so they took the case of altar wine and – for no good reason – kicked the side door open to leave. The thing that hurt me the most, though, was the fact that when they threw the object through the back glass to get in, it also broke through our beautiful stained glass of Mother of Perpetual Help. In the several hours that I was here with the deputy, detective, and those helping to get things back in order, I often sat on the front pew staring at the window reflecting on my own words: we can forgive but something must be done – a window must be fixed.

I’m going to be honest and say that it’s hard to forgive. I’m trying to forgive them; I hope to be able to completely and perfectly and wish that I was holy enough to be able to do so right now. But it hurts. In the midst of that reflection I remembered a story of a monastery across the Atlantic somewhere that had a similar situation happen to them. Their church was broken into, vandalized, and robbed. Their response was what you would expect from monks: prayer. But what made the headlines was what they prayed for. They prayed that the persons responsible would have such a severe case of diarrhea that they would repent of their sin, bring everything back, and live as witnesses of the power of God. Now, I didn’t include that petition in our Prayers of the Faithful this week, but if I get a consensus from the community we might add it in the weeks to come.

In the midst of all of that commotion I was reflecting on just how much our world has lost a sense of sin and its consequences. The deputy was in shock that someone would have the guts to rob a church; I was too. And yet, that’s what our world is going to. We – all of us – can easily fall into thinking ‘Oh, that’s not a sin’ or ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘God is good and forgiving’. In the midst of all of these and others such thoughts we forget the fact that sin has consequences. Just like actions in the world has legal repercussions, so too in the life of faith. But the thing is that sin doesn’t just break windows, which are easily fixed. Sin breaks relationships that are very difficult to rebuild. Almost every day I encounter people with broken relationships: siblings who no longer speak to each other, spouses sleeping in separate rooms, different friends who you know not to invite to the same gathering because it would be like lighting a match in a room full of gas fumes. Broken relationships are very difficult to heal and our relationship with the Lord isn’t all that different. Unlike our earthly relatoniships, God is always ready to take us back and forgive us infinitely. We can go 1001 times to the confessional and 1001 times God will speak those blessed words “I absolve you from your sins…” God is faithful to us and will always forgive, but there is still a ‘window’ that needs to be fixed, a relationship that needs healing. We have to show God that we want that relationship to be built up and we do it by praying more, by doing acts of charity, by offering little mortifications or sufferings to let God know that we mean what we say when we say ‘I’m sorry.’

The unfortunate part is that we don’t usually get just how destructive our sins are to our relationship with God. I’m quite sure the burglar didn’t intend to break the stained glass window when they broke through the back window of the Church, and yet they did and now we have to pay a serious price to fix it. And though we might not intend to do such damage in our relationship with God, sometimes we break something more serious than we realize in the moment and we have some extra work to do to heal the relationship. That’s the reason I hope the Lord lets me live a good long while. I’m only 30 years old but it’s impressive how much I can mess things up; I seriously think I should get a trophy sometimes for the accomplishments I’ve made in damaging my relationship with God. That’s why I pray regularly that the Lord would give me another 30 years to try to make up for what I’ve done, to help me come into a right relationship with Him again. But you know what – that might now happen. And here is where God shows us once more the infinite love and mercy that lies within Him.

Angels 'quenching the flames of purification' from prayers of the Mass
None of us will die perfect at the end of our life. I doubt any of us will be able to walk up to the pearly gates and say “Yep, I’ve got no sins and nothing to make up for from past faults.” We all will pass with a bit more healing needing to take place in our hearts. But God in His mercy provides a process for that: purgatory. We don’t often hear about purgatory these days and when we do it’s not always accepted quickly, but in truth it is a gift from God that we are undeserving to receive. It would be easy for God to sit at the seat of judgment and condemn every person that wasn’t absolutely perfect and ready for eternal perfect union with the Blessed Trinity. It would be easy to say “Well, you had your chance, sorry” and turn us away. But He doesn’t. Rather, He looks into our heart and judges us. If we are judged ‘worthy’ to enter Heaven eventually, then our soul is purged of those things that had separated us from God. Like Wisdom spoke in our first reading: the souls of the just are as gold purified in a furnace. Regardless of the description given to it, it is a place where our souls are prepared, our relationship toward the Father healed and perfect. When it is ready to behold God’s face, then it will take place and eternity will be our final stop.

Sin has consequences in our relationship with God, purgatory is the place where that relationship is healed, and it is reasonable to believe that some of our loved ones might still be there. And so we pray. That’s why we’re here today to celebrate All Souls’ Day – it is a day to come and pray for those who have died and aren’t yet in heaven, that the Lord would bring them there. Just as we can pray for one another, we can pray for them and God moves. Think about it, by the power of the prayer of us gathered here in this place, by the end of Mass there might well be in heaven souls who before we started Mass were in purgatory! Think about it! That’s why we’re here - to pray. So I encourage you not to miss the opportunity. Pray for all faithful souls in general, but pray for those you know by name as well. As we take the collection and bring up the offertory, pray for them to the Lord: those who have died this past year, those written in our book of remembrance, those resting in our cemetery and mausoleum, those resting elsewhere. Pray for them to receive the gift of glory today, knowing that they are praying for us to one day receive the same.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Papal Intentions for November 2014

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
Our Father... Hail Mary...
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. 
Through Christ our Lord. 

Papal Intentions for November 2014

Universal Intention: That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of god and the support of others.
Mission Intention: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.