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.