Wednesday, August 27, 2014

HWP: Prayer to St. Monica

Today is the feast of St. Monica, that great woman of faith whose prayers converted her husband and her son, St. Augustine, to the Catholic faith and the promise of eternal life. The patroness of mothers, we invoke her intercession today to be the parents we are called to be and may we see our prayers bear the fruit of holy children, grandchildren, godchildren, and spiritual children, as we pray...

A Prayer to St. Monica
O Lord, Who taught Monica to persevere for the good of her family, help me to be a better parent to my children. Help me to have patience with them when they misbehave and give me the strength to guide them gently to the right path. Permit me always to forgive their misdeeds and keep me from speaking harshly or punishing unwisely. Please help me to be a beacon of goodness for them as they grow to adulthood and to be a good example to them in all that I say and do. Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Unnamable Weight

Pilgrims walking the Camino
Readings for Sunday, August 24/ 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 2219-23
Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

Friday night I went with a friend to grab a cup of coffee and hear about her adventures walking the Camino, the ancient pilgrimage trek that runs several hundred miles from lower France through Spain and ends at Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of the Apostle James is found. My friend told me how the daily walk was about 15-20 miles and that on average it took 35 days to walk the whole thing, so that is quite a trip! She told me that one of the first lessons they learned was about buying things. Everywhere that they stopped there were opportunities to pick up little knickknacks to remember the pilgrimage or to bring for others, but that they didn’t buy them because the one thing that was most important in purchasing stuff was the question ‘How much does it weigh?’. They knew that every item bought had to be carried along the road for 10-20 miles that day. And 20 miles the day after that. And 20 miles the day after that. And all of that stuff would be quite heavy by the end of the trip.

It struck me because we are all aware of physical weight that becomes a burden on our bodies, but it is easy to be oblivious to the spiritual weight of sin that weighs on our hearts. I can’t tell you how many times I have people come to me looking for help because there is just a weight on their spirit that they can’t explain and so often it is because they haven’t been to confession in a while; they know the weight but can’t pinpoint the problem. And yet we do it, for weeks, months, years, we pile up the sins of our lives on our heart and walk around bound in sin when Christ wants us to know freedom. That’s the message of the scriptures today.

When we hear the story of the keys to the Kingdom, we can easily think it’s Jesus just making an analogy again to try to make people understand, but it was actually something much deeper. The keeper of the keys was actually an important person in the Jewish faith and we hear their story in the first reading today. The king was, of course, the head of the people of God, but the one who held the office of keeping the keys was basically second in command. When the king was absent, that man could make decisions and they would carry the authority of the king himself. And he had an actual set of keys because he was the one to open and close the Temple Gates. This is a significant thing because to be welcomed into the Temple meant you could meet your God, you could have a relationship with God, and you could worship your God. To be unable to enter the Temple meant you had no relationship with God, you were an outcast. When we hear of Jesus healing lepers, this was miraculous because they were healed of a physical infirmity, but even more importantly, they were able once again to enter into the Temple to worship – they could get to know their God! This key-holder was a man noticeable in the crowd: he had a special robe and sash of authority.

(Holding up my stole and pointing to my vestments) Can you think of any other person that also wear a specific robe and has a special sash indicating authority?! Y’all, Jesus didn’t just make things up out of the blue! When He set out to build His Church on the Rock of Peter and his confession, He pulled from the Jewish heritage that was His own and which was understandable to His followers. Basically it’s like this: I want you all to imagine a large box-type object that’s about 7 feet wide and 15 feet long. It has two doors on each of the long sides, it has glass on the top half of the object to see around the sides, it has four large rubber circles connected to it that hold it up off the ground, and if you sit by the front left door there’s a circular thing to hold onto that moves the front rubber things. What am I describing? A car! You all knew that though and that’s exactly what Jesus is doing here. He’s saying ‘Imagine a person with keys, a special robe & sash, a King’s authority, etc.’ and everyone there would have known exactly who He was talking about – they would have known that’s the guy that gets them into the Temple! And if Jesus is describing that guy but talking about Heaven, this key holder is one you really, really want to get to know! And yet, there are many reasons we don’t.

My sins aren’t that bad, so I don’t need to go to confession. I can go straight to Jesus. What is Father going to think or say…and will he remember next time he sees me? I haven’t been to confession is 5, 10, 20+ years; I don’t think I even remember the words anymore. My sins are so bad that there’s no way that God would forgive that.

The truth is that there is only one thing that can separate us from the love of God and the freedom that comes from receiving forgiveness and that is ourselves. You have probably figured out by now that I love celebrating Mass. But, even more, I love being able to say to a repentant sinner ‘I absolve you from your sins’ and know that they walk away freed. It’s not that I like to hear sins or anything foolish as that. It’s that there have been countless times in my own life where I was the one standing outside the gates and was filled with gratitude to be received back into God’s good grace by one who had the keys to forgive my sin and unlock the path to heaven. I know that joy and I want every one of you and every person in the world to know that freedom, that joy, that weightlessness that comes from those blessed words of forgiveness.

So today I suggest to you a spiritual routine that I encourage everyone to take up as a starting place and it is this: make some time for real prayer at least once per day, receive Holy Communion at least once a week, and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month. That is the basic starting point for a life truly alive in Christ Jesus. And if you think that’s a bit much, Padre Pio’s routine for people who were serious was to make time twice a day for serious prayer, receive Holy Communion daily, celebrate reconciliation weekly, and to make time for spiritual reading each day. If we want to begin walking the path to heaven, we need Confession. And if we want to become saints, people whose lights shine so brightly that others see God in us, go to Confession even more often.

It’s not about feeling bad about ourselves so much as it is recognizing and receiving the healing of our hearts in the many places that are still wounded from past sins. Come to Confession. If you can’t make a scheduled time please call me and I will work something out with you. There is nothing I want more than your freedom from sin and your journey to heaven to continue on. Let us all ask this grace today: to become aware of our sins, to repent for them, and to celebrate frequently that sacrament that opens to us time and again the gates of Heaven.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HWP: St. Bernard's Prayer to the Holy Name

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, author of the Memorare to the Blessed Mother, and a man of great love for the Lord who is Love. Since I have already offered the Memorare in the past as HWP of the week, this week we offer another prayer by St. Bernard:

The Prayer to the Most Holy Name of Jesus
Jesus, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills the breast! Yet sweeter far Thy face to see And in Thy presence rest. No voice can sing, no heart can frame, Nor can the memory find, A sweeter sound than Jesus' name, The Savior of mankind. O hope of every contrite heart! 0 joy of all the meek! To those who fall, how kind Thou art! How good to those who seek! But what to those who find? Ah! this Nor tongue nor pen can show The love of Jesus, what it is, None but His loved ones know. Jesus! our only hope be Thou, As Thou our prize shalt be; In Thee be all our glory now, And through eternity. Amen.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cats and Jesus?

Dominic (formerly Oreo)
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Psalm 67:2, 3, 5, 6, 8
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

So yesterday I became an official cat owner – true story. I’ve always loved animals, especially cats, and I’ve wanted a cat for years but I wasn’t able to because of restriction at the seminary and my previous pastors’ lack of openness to a loveable little pet in the rectory. So when I got here and figured that I’d be living alone, I started looking only at adoption agencies for a cute kitty or two. I found two that I liked and yesterday I went to Petsmart to start the adoption process.

Being adopted myself, I know there is all sorts of paperwork and stuff to do, so I figured they would start the process then and I’d go back later in the week to actually take the animals home. But surprise, surprise, when I asked about later in the week the lady helping me said, “Oh no, you can take them home with you right now.” “Oh…ok…” was my semi-stunned response and I immediately went to get a buggy to start shopping for everything necessary to make kittens happy. I didn’t get a big carrier because they suggested one that was available online, so I settled for the boxes they had there to transport my two adorable kittens home.

When they put the cats in the box they were like two little angels. The boxes were totally closed but had holes to see and get air and such and for the five or so minutes they were in the store they just quietly sat there. When I got them into the car for the ride home, the story quickly changed. Dominic started meowing. Then meowing loudly. Then howling. Then scratching at the box trying to tear his way out. The further along we went, the louder and more upset he got. And the whole time I was sitting there trying to console this poor cat stuck in a box. I spoke as gently as I could saying, “It’s okay. Only 30 more minutes…” as if the could would understand the logic of such a statement. And yet I tried. As I was driving along trying to console this cat that was now crying unceasingly, and the other cat, Gemma, who had joined in on the fun, I laughed and thought to myself that maybe I should have tried what Jesus in the Gospel today and not respond at all. But I didn’t. I kept doing my best to help the cat, when in reality there was absolutely nothing I could because in the end he was still in the box and needed to stay there.

As I was stressing about this cat situation it hit me – how often am I like that cat in the box? How many times in my life have I felt completely trapped by something – illness, broken relationships, struggles at home, work, or school. How many times have we all felt some trial that we wanted to be over with an quickly? And in the midst of it all what do we do? We keep on crying out like the woman in the gospel today – Lord, help me! That’s what we’re supposed to do; we’re supposed to persist in our prayer.

Gemma (formerly Padmé)
When we were driving home yesterday there was nobody in the world that wanted that cat out of that box more than I did and the same is true of God with us in our trials, in those boxes we experience in this life. God doesn’t want us to suffer. He doesn’t enjoy watching us struggling and listening to us cry out over and over. And yet He permits it to happen for some particular reason – usually that we might grow in some aspect of our faith. That’s why Jesus ignores the Canaanite woman in the Gospel today. It wasn’t because He didn’t hear here. It wasn’t because He didn’t want to help her. He avoided speaking to her for a moment because He is the God who knows our hearts and He knew that in her heart there was much more faith than she expressed in that initial request to save her daughter. Christ saw in her a great faith that He wanted to pull forth from her heart to show her what was present there and to show her that God is faithful is we persevere in prayer. It wasn’t for Him that He remained quiet but for her and the same is true of us today. When we continue in the boxes in our life, we cry out over and again and so often the response is silence, nothing, not even an acknowledgement. We can think that God isn’t listening but He is. And as He is listening to our cry, He is also looking into our hearts to pull forth from us greater faith in Him. It is up to us to persist because at some point, He is going to open that box and free us.

When I finally got home I brought the boxed up cats into my room and closed the doors, as the agency suggested to give them time to transition. I opened the boxes and Gemma ran under the bed to find her safe place. Dominic, however, turned around, walked over to me and sat on my feet. I moved over a few steps and he walked over and sat on my feet. I did it a couple of more times and he continued to do the same. And I think that is what God really wants of us. He wants us always to come and sit at His feet, but sometimes it takes a little difficult in this life to bring us there. Sometimes it takes a box for God to pull faith from our hearts. So let us ask for the grace today to persevere in prayer and keep crying out to the God who created us, the God who saved us, and the God who will free us from all evil in this life and bring us rejoicing to the next. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

HWP: St. Philomena

This past Monday was the feast of St. Philomena, my patroness and the saint under whose patronage I began this blog. As you can tell from the blog url, she rocks. So, for this week's Half-Way Prayer, I wanted to honor her a bit and post this beautiful...
Prayer to St. Philomena 
Humbly kneeling before thy throne, O great and glorious Virgin, St. Philomena, I beseech thee to look favorably on the petitions I present to thee. My Patroness, St. Philomena, pray for me! Glory be …

Overwhelmed with sorrow and distress, I have need of thee, great Saint. Heed my supplications and help me in my present tribulation. O glorious Saint, pray for me and help me! Glory be …

Inconsolable in my grief and weighed down with so many trials, I turn trustingly to thee. O valiant Saint, beseech God to have compassion on me. My powerful advocate, pray for me and help me! Glory be …

Courageous Martyr, well do I know that my grievous sins deserve God’s severe punishment. Good St. Philomena, beseech God to pardon me all my sins and to teach me the ways of His holy love. Illustrious Saint, be loved child of Jesus and Mary, pray for me and help me! Glory be …

Gracious Saint, look graciously upon this house and bless the members of our family who devoutly honor thee. Wipe away our tears and smile benignly upon us, imparting the blessings of peace, hope, love, and good health to all of us. O Wonder-working Saint, pray for us and help us! Glory be …

O Child of Wisdom, well thou knowest the graces of which I stand in need, so be with me at every moment of my life, but be with me especially at the hour of my death. Establish my soul in peace, protect me from danger, and permit me to enjoy thy sweet companionship here as well as in eternity. Amen. 
All-powerful Saint, hear and help me!

Through the merits of thy cruel martyrdom, Saint Philomena, hear and help me. (3 times)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Look, Speak, Listen

Readings for Sunday, August 10/ 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
Psalm 85:9-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

All of get nicknames at various points in our lives. We get them from our parents. We get them from our friends. Sometimes we get them from people we’d rather not get them from. But we get them. One of mine when I was younger was ‘Eagle Eyes’. I got it when I was at the airport with my mom and stepdad trying to find my sister in the midst of a large crowd. As I excitedly shouted “There she is!” they said, “Way to go, eagle eyes” and it stuck. I was very proud of that name and my good vision. A few years back I went to the DMV to get my license renewed and did that nice little test when you put your face into the machine and read the line full of letters. When I did so the lady said, “Good. Now read the first few letters.” I read them off again  and she said, “No, the ones before them.” I looked at the screen again and said, “There aren’t any letters” to which she responded, “There should be.” And with that I earned my self a nice little ‘Restricted’ tag on my license.

I soon found out that my right eye is perfect, but my left eye…not so much. For years I had made along okay thinking that my eyes were perfectly fine but when I had to get glasses I realized just how clear things were supposed to be. I saw again how my eyes were supposed to see everything and that changed things; I will always know how I am supposed to see. And our life in Christ is much the same. When we encounter Christ – not just know about Him, but know Him personally – things necessarily change and we’re never the same again. We can lose our glasses sometimes by wandering away from the Lord and the faith, but there’s this something in us that will seek to see clearly again, to be filled again with His life.

That’s what this entire life is really about – drawing closer to the Lord each day and coming to see our entire lives through the lens of Jesus Christ. Doing so is a lifetime of progress mixed with setbacks, growth in virtue and struggles with sin. But the invitation is always to keep trying. Today the Lord places before us three witness to show us three aspects of that journey with Christ that we’re invited to embark upon each day: Peter reminds us to look at God, Jesus reminds us to speak to Him, and Elijah reminds us to listen.

We start with Peter. We all know the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. Jesus is in the midst of the sea and Peter goes out to meet Him. The crazy thing is that Peter really does walk on the water at first because He keeps his gaze upon the Lord. He trusts that Jesus is really there and will care for Him, but then he takes his eyes off of the Lord and starts to look at the wind and the wave and woosh: down like an anchor he goes. When I take me eyes off of Jesus, when we take our eyes off of Jesus, we sink quickly. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we sometimes do crazy things like walk on water.

When I first arrived I told you I would try to explain some of the liturgical meaning of things I do differently, so let me take a moment here to talk about the use of the altar cross. Some of you may remember, or at least have heard of, a time when the priest faced the same direction as the people to offer Mass. We often hear it described as ‘having his back to the people’ but that puts the emphasis upon us rather than on who it’s supposed to be, because the reason he faced that direction wasn’t to hide anything or be ‘better’ than anyone; it was to look together with the community at the center of all of our worship: Jesus Christ crucified. In a strange turn of events, I now typically have my back to God in order to face the community... I wonder how He feels about that? But that’s another homily…

The point is that the crucifix was always the center of worship and rightly so, since the Mass is the re-presentation of that sacrifice Jesus made. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out that while the priest should still be facing the direction of the people, changing back now might not be advisable. But, he said, to help emphasize the centrality of Christ in the liturgy once more, it is good for the priest to place an crucifix on the altar so that the community can gaze up Christ and the priest could as well. You’ve likely noticed that I don’t look up at y’all very often when I’m at the altar and that is because I’m trying to recall that you and I are not the center of attention here. He is. When we look at Him, we are changed. As a shy child, my step-dad had to tell me frequently ‘Look me in the eye’ when I was speaking or being spoken to. What I have realized is that when we look someone in the eyes, the windows to our souls, our disposition changes and we connect on a deeper level. And the same is true with Christ here in this Church.

But not only here. We should have crucifixes in our homes to so we can gaze upon Him there as well. And they don’t have to be a centerpiece. If we have a crucifix on the wall that we only see from time to time, it still stands as a reminder that even if we’re not aware of it, God is always there, always watching over us, always loving us. We need to learn to look at Jesus.

The next step is shown to us by Christ as He set time aside to go speak with the Heavenly Father. We all know there is no shortage of things to do today and it seems like the more structures there are to help us be more time-efficient, the more things we feel like we have to jam into our packed schedules. We go from place to place to place but easily pass over the most necessary thing: prayer. I say that because the simple truth is this: if Jesus needed to take time to pray, we all need to take time to pray. We have to spend time talking with our God, telling Him the needs of our hearts, telling Him the places we see Him and don’t see Him, telling Him those places where others are in need. But we can’t stop there. We have to listen. 

Elijah shows us that in the reading from Kings. The Lord is not found in the loud noise that surrounds him but in the quiet whisper. It strikes me that when he heard it, he covered his face to go out to meet the Lord. Sometimes meeting the Lord is scary because we don’t know what God might say, what He might ask, or the simple fact that God might speak to us. There is a fear or hesitancy in our hearts and so we like to keep things happening and keep noise going on so that we don’t have the option to hear the quiet whisper of the voice of the Lord. To be able to actually grow in our relationship with God we have to spend time in silence. I firmly believe that 90% of our problems can be solved simply by sitting in silence because there the Lord speaks and can give us guidance instead of us trying to make things happen ourselves.

Look, speak, and listen: these are the essentials to our life of faith and the beautiful thing is that the Church provides them for us each and every week here at Mass. We come to this house of God to gaze upon the face of the Lord and to meet Him in the crucifix as well as the Eucharist. We speak to Him as we bring our needs before Him in the offertory and we pause to listen to His voice in the silence of our hearts after receiving Holy Communion. What love our God has for us! And what a shame it would be to fail to love Him in return.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

HWP: Immaculate Heart of Mary

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord! I was hoping to find a nice prayer for the feast, but came up with nothing. So we default to the monthly devotion: the Immaculate Heart of Mary! I didn't find the author of this beautiful prayer to the Immaculate Heart, but it is certainly rich in it's praises of Mary and pleas for her help. Enjoy this...

Prayer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

O Immaculate Heart of Mary, Heavenly beauty and splendor of the Father, You are the most valued Heavenly treasure. New Eve, immaculate in soul, spirit and body, Created of the godly seed by the Spirit of God, You are the spiritual Mother of mankind. Pure Virgin, full of grace then and now, Your whole being was raised Heavenly in full glory, To be elevated above all the hosts within the Kingdom of God. O Heavenly Mother, Queen of Heaven and earth, I recognize the glory of your highest title, The Immaculate Heart of Mary! Loving Mother, dispenser of endless blessings, You who continuously intercedes on our behalf, Please present my need before your loving Son Jesus. (Here, speak to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as you would speak to another person, begging your Heavenly Mother to plea to Jesus on your behalf, that you be granted your special request.) O Immaculate Heart of Mary, I know that you are now presenting my need before Jesus, For you have never turned away those in dire need. Mother dearest, I await your favorable answer, Submitting myself to the Divine will of the Lord, For all glories are His forever and ever.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dogs, God, and Us

Readings for Sunday, August 3/ 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

How much do we trust Jesus Christ?

All of the readings this weekend highlight the fact that the Lord will provide for all of our needs, and yet we are faced with the reality spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, that we still spend our wages on that which fails to satisfy rather than turn to the Lord who will fill us with wine and milk and give us heavenly bread.

All of us have needs. All of us need food, drink, and air simply to survive. We need education and healthcare to survive and thrive in this world. We need intimacy with others, that closeness with others that permits us to know and be known, love and be loved. We all have needs and it is God Himself who wants to provide for them, but the catch is that we have to be willing to be fed.

Some of you may have noticed the black dog that wanders around the parking lot from time to time. He sits out in the yard across from the church and sometimes comes over and walks around, car to car, person to person looking for some food and attention. The funny thing is that I live here and see him all the time and I want to give him food and attention and he won’t come to me because he doesn’t trust me yet. I want to provide for him but he won’t let me yet. And we’re much the same with the Lord.

He wants to provide for our every need, but we’re hesitant to come near to Him because we’re afraid. In the past we’ve all gotten burned from trusting too much in people, and we are now hesitant to place our trust in the Father who made us - what happens when the day comes that we pray our hardest and try our best to be holy people and things don’t work out the way we want them to? What happens on the day that we feel like God, who is supposed to provide for our needs, isn’t listening? Those days come for all of us because God doesn’t always give us the things we want and He doesn’t always give us the things we need when we want them. He gives us our needs in due season, as Psalm 145 reminded us.

The temptation we all face is trusting not so much in Christ, but in ourselves. The scriptures tell me that if I trust in Jesus I will be richly provided for and will have more than I could have asked. But the thing is that in our wounded, mistrustful humanity, we often settle for a lower payout in exchange for having some control over the situation. We gladly take a worse situation just so that we don’t have to risk our heavenly Father letting us down. But if we never take the risk, we never get the payoff. If we never trust in Jesus in this life, how can we expect to inherit the gifts He has waiting for us in the next?

Y’all, God created us because He loves us. You parents and grandparents know what that love feels like; you know the lengths you would go and often have gone just to take care of your kids. And God’s love is even greater than that. He will provide for our needs, absolutely. But if we trust in Him, He’ll sometimes even provide for our wants, just like earthly parents do. All my life I have wanted to own one of those big orange traffic cones. I can’t explain why; I just wanted one. And guess what I had sitting in the patio of the rectory here at St. Ann’s when I arrived – a big orange traffic cone. It’s crazy, but you know what, I think God makes stuff like that happen sometimes. He loves us so much but He is just patiently waiting for us to realize the extent of that love for ourselves and come to Him to be fed with the grace in store for us, to receive our needs in this life, and to rejoice in the riches of the life to come. He is infinitely trustworthy because He makes no promise He has not kept; the question is how much do we trust Him?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Novena Alert!

Well, folks, St. Philomena's feast day is coming up on August 11 and that means that the novena starts today (if you want to end on the 10th) or tomorrow (if you want to end on her feast).

The novena prayers composed by St. Jean Vianney are available HERE (scroll about half-way down).

The shorter novena prayers are available HERE.

And for more information on the Life, Martyrdom and Intercessory Power of St. Philomena, check out the website of her shrine HERE and click the 'About' section at the top for options.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Papal Intentions for August 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 August 2014

Universal Intention: That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights. 

Mission Intention: The Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.