Saturday, January 31, 2015

Papal Intentions for February 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 February 2015

Universal Intention: That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.
Mission Intention: That married people who are separated may find welcome and support in the Christian community.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

HWP: St. Peter Nolasco

Today is the feast of St. Peter Nolasco, who, alongside St. Raymond of Penyafort, founded the Mercedarians. This community was formed with a specific intention of freeing many of the Christians who had been taken captive by the Moors, going so far even as to take a vow to exchange their life for those of the captives they sought to free. Today there are many still in chains for their faith, as well as many trapped in the chains of sin. Let us pray to St. Peter that they might experience freedom according to God's Holy Will as we pray...

A Prayer to St. Peter Nolasco
O God, St. Peter was divinely guided by the example of Your own love to enrich Your Church with a new community dedicated to the ransoming of imprisoned Christians. Release us from the slavery of sin through his intercession so that we may enjoy the eternal freedom of our home in heaven.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Suffering Makes Me Me

Readings for Sunday, January 25/ 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

It’s nice to be home after a couple of weeks moving around, and especially after such an intense week as this last one has been. Last Sunday morning I departed from Baton Rouge as part of a bus group of over 450 people headed toward Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life held there on January 22. It was a phenomenal trip with many graces and that is because the trip is a pilgrimage and not simply a nice vacation away from the worries of parish life. At the beginning of the trip, we pray a prayer with all of the youth on the buses that reminds us that we are pilgrims and not tourist. It includes such things as: when someone else grabs the last of the food I want, Lord help me remember that I’m a pilgrim, not a tourist. When someone takes the spot I wanted to sit… When someone is always late and I’m on time… When things don’t go according to schedule… etc. All of these various scenarios are mentioned to emphasize that pilgrims suffer through things and unite them with the Lord, where tourists might simply try to make things more comfortable and avoid the suffering.

With this little prayer completed, everyone realizes from the start that the pilgrimage is one that will involve suffering and self-denial in some way. To follow up that prayer, we include a short talk on ‘offering it up,’ the traditional Catholic practice of uniting our sufferings to those of Jesus Christ and knowing that He will make use of them for some good in our soul or the souls of others. As the bus youth minister I was in charge of both of these and had the joy of putting them into practice almost immediately as the DVD player on our bus wouldn’t play the DVD we intended to show and which was foundational to the rest of the trip and on top of that the AC quit working, leaving us in a nice extra warm bus on the way up north. We arrived in Hanceville, AL that afternoon for the celebration of Holy Mass and I had the privilege of offering it and preaching to half of the pilgrimage group. I spoke about the Divine Will and how sometimes despite our best efforts things don’t go as planned and we need to be open to God changing things on us during the trip and that we are invited to submit to that and joyfully follow where the Lord leads. A few minutes later we found ourselves in the parking lot preparing to head off to DC when we discover that at this point our DVD had broken, our AC had broken, and now the whole bus had broken! I sat there saying to the kids (and to myself!) ‘It’s okay. God has a plan here. Like I said in Mass, we’re not in control and we simply have to roll with what He unveils for us.’ And so the other 8 buses of our entourage rolled out and we stayed put waiting for our repairman.

The six hours that we waited gave us plenty of time to pray, play games, get to know each other and sing songs, including our own rendition of a familiar classic: “The wheels on the bus they stay, stay stay”, “The emergency lights glow red, red, red”, and so on. What struck me, though, was that in the midst of suffering the youth responded with an attitude of joy and holy resignation to what God was doing. The adults struggled a bit, but the young people went with the flow just as we had advised. At 11pm we found ourselves unloading and reloading onto a different bus. At 6am we found ourselves doing the same thing again as we reached our bus to be used the rest of the week. And in the end, that setback and suffering we enduring of having to change plans, buses, and everything in between became our glory. We rejoiced in it and became one of the most tight-nit and prayerful groups.

I know that’s a lot of story and not much homily, but I mention it because it was my lived experience that brought me to a well for reflection throughout the week on a single point: our response to suffering makes us who we are. Every one of us can name the many things that have happened in our lives that were a cross in some way, and chances are those same places are where radical growth or change happened. We can see it across the board in any type of suffering: physical suffering, emotional distress, loss of loved ones, spiritual struggles, temptations, mental trials, and much more. Every one of those things is a place where we encountered a cross and had a choice to pick it up and walk or to flee from it in search of comfort. Our choice changes things.

The end of the trip was the cap and summation of my reflections on suffering through the week as on the bus ride home we watched the movie The Giver. I don’t know if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, but it was fascinating to me. The premise of it is that a society saw the pain suffered by humanity and sought to be freed from it, so they created a special society in which they eliminated all that might cause pain. They minimized differences, inequality and injustices to make things uniform. This makes sense. But they also took away other things like art, music, and dance. They limited freedom and personal touch. They dulled emotion and the capacity to love. In the name of being freed from pain, they removed all that makes the human person truly human! In a very real sense we can say that to be human is to suffer because to be human is to love and to love is to suffer. This sounds like a big circle, but the truth is that God is love itself and love is self-giving. The Father sent the Son and permitted His death for us. The Son permits His humiliation and death. And the Spirit pains Himself by remaining in hearts that often desire to have nothing to do with Him. While we believe that God doesn’t suffer like humans do, there is a sort of self-sacrificial suffering that is present in the Blessed Trinity and if we are invited into the life of the Trinity by our baptism, then it makes sense that we are invited to a deeper suffering than most would have.

If I lost you there, let me attempt to clarify. God is love, total self-gift. The more we love, which entails suffering, the more we become who we are created to be. And so the invitation here is threefold:

First, we must recognize our suffering. Sometimes we experience pains or crosses in our life but fail to name them such. We see them as inconveniences and many other things, but they are crosses. So what is the cross you bear? More than likely it is several.

Second, find ways to respond to it. A book club I’m part of sends a book each month and each title addresses some specific topic but in the end they are all guide on suffering well. It might be depression, grief, anger, temptations to sin, lack of faith, problems in prayer, but they all provide means to working through a particular cross. So when you name your cross, look for proven ways to help walk with it.

And lastly, don’t walk with it alone. Unite your crosses to Christ Jesus, Who has power to make all things fruitful and can use your suffering to build up the kingdom. There’s no special formula. You just say, ‘Lord, I unite my sufferings to yours. Please make them fruitful.’ Or something to that effect. The genuineness of prayer is more important than the words.

Suffering makes us who we are. Suffering makes us human. Do not fear the crosses that come your way, but take them up and bear them with Christ, knowing that He is with you, shaping you and saving you by your ‘yes’ to His will.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

HWP: St. Agnes

This week I am in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life at our nation's capital. Today being the feast of St. Agnes, I wanted to honor this little lamb of the Lord with a prayer to her. It is a prayer to be preserved from harm in our own trials and strikes me that it is the vigil of the legalization of abortion in our country. Perhaps today we can pray on behalf of those little souls in danger of being aborted? So let us pray...

A Prayer to St. Agnes
O glorious St. Agnes, you served God in humility and confidence on earth and are now in the enjoyment of His beatific Vision in heaven because you persevered till death and gained the crown of eternal life. Remember now the dangers that surround me in the vale of tears, and intercede for me in my needs and troubles.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

HWP: Prayer for Priests

As my brother priests and I take a bit of time away from our parishes for continued formation and education, it highlights that fact that we are still flawed men in need of prayers and the grace of God. Please keep us in your prayers and be assured of our prayers for you as well.

Lord Jesus, we your people pray to You for our priests. You have given them to us for OUR needs. We pray for them in THEIR needs. 
We know that You have made them priests in the likeness of your own priesthood. You have consecrated them, set them aside, annointed them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, appointed them to teach, to preach, to minister, to console, to forgive, and to feed us with Your Body and Blood. 
Yet we know, too, that they are one with us and share our human weaknesses. We know too that they are tempted to sin and discouragement as are we, needing to be ministered to, as do we, to be consoled and forgiven, as do we. Indeed, we thank You for choosing them from among us, so that they understand us as we understand them, suffer with us and rejoice with us, worry with us and trust with us, share our beings, our lives, our faith. 
We ask that You give them this day the gift You gave Your chosen ones on the way to Emmaus: Your presence in their hearts, Your holiness in their souls, Your joy in their spirits. And let them see You face to face in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.
We pray to You, O Lord, through Mary the mother of all priests, for Your priests and for ours. Amen.
Composed by John Cardinal O'Connor 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What's Under There?

Readings for Sunday, January 11/ Baptism of the Lord:
Isaiah 55:1-11
Isaiah 12:2-6
1 John 5:1-9
Mark 1:7-11

There’s something hardwired into us that wants to understand the unknown. I doubt that I’m the only one who, when presented with a gift bag with the nice paper sticking out the top, feels compelled to pull it aside to see if I might be able to get a glimpse of what lies inside before the time comes. And how many times did Christmas or birthdays come around and there we sat with a wrapped present in hand trying to figure out by size, shape, weight, and the sound it made, what was inside the box? And if we find out someone knows something we don’t we have to try to guess what it is or else have them tell us. It can happen in other ways too. One day at my first assignment I was visiting with the students at recess and we were having light saber wars (invisible, of course) and I was being teamed up when in the midst of the movement I looked down and there at my feet was a little boy, about 6 years old I’d say, laying on the ground trying to look up my cassock. I said to him, “That’s no acceptable. What are you doing?” and he replied, “I just wanted to see what was under there.” I talked to him for a moment and sent him off to play with the others.

In the course of the Christmas season we are given a generous gift from our heavenly Father who knows this desire of our heart to know the unknown and it comes in the form of revelations. This whole season is a series of revelations of ‘what’s under there’ in the Most Holy Trinity. To help us to understand who is this God? Who is this God who calls us to adore and worship Him? Who is this God who wants to save us? Who is this God that loves us? We see the revelation begin with the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity at Christmas, when we see that God has become man by taking up our lowly humanity and uniting it with His divinity. Days later we celebrate the Octave of Christmas and hear the gospel account of the circumcision of Christ, when this God-man becomes a member of a family of faith, a son of Abraham, a son of the Law. In the days to follow we hear of the Magi, shepherds, and countless others who come and bend the knee before this little infant whose birthday presents are no less than gold, frankincense and myrrh. These revelations bring us to today’s feast in the baptism of the Lord, marking the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. Each of these feasts reveal some new aspect about Jesus Christ and rightly beg the question made familiar by the hymn: What child is this?

St. Maximus of Turin noted that the baptism of the Lord rightly sits as the conclusion of the Christmas season as it helps to bring to fulfillment five particular aspects of this revelation of the Christ. At Christmas we behold a little baby, a son of man and child of Mary. Today, in the baptism, we behold one who is not only son of man, but also the Son of God. At Christmas we honor a child born of a virgin and today we honor a child begotten of the Father from all eternity. At Christmas we picture the Blessed Virgin holding closely to her breast the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Today we begin to understand that he rest even more deeply in the embrace of the Father and Holy Spirit. At Christmas we hear how Mary quietly ponders these things in her heart. Today the Heavenly Father tears open the heavens and proclaims ‘You are my beloved Son!’ At Christmas Christ is adored by the Magi, shepherds, animals, and others. Today He is held up to be worship by all people in all places forever.

The baptism of the Lord marks the end of the 30-year period of preparation and waiting and the beginning of the ministry of the Christ. Today begins anew the ‘work’ of salvation, when Christ preaches, teaches, and acts in order to bring salvation to us, the people to whom He has joined Himself. This revelation brings us the place where He can invite us to the work of our salvation, when we can begin to hear the ‘come follow me’ once more and respond. As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we recognize that while it is primarily about Him, it also indirectly shows us something about ourselves because as we understand Christ better, we understand ourselves better.

When it comes down to it, Christ didn’t need to be baptized. He had no need of it. Zero. He was sinless, having nothing from which to repent or be cleansed of. So why the baptism? For you and for me. In our baptism we had water poured over us (or we were immersed in water) and it changed us and brought about many wonderful effects. In the baptism of the Lord, it was not Christ was who changed and transformed, but rather it was the water poured out that was changed. Because of His baptism, every drop of water on this earth has the power to cleanse us from out sins by baptism. His baptism was truly for us and as such helps us to grasp something of ourselves. How so?

Christ was revealed as the Son of God. In our baptism, the first effect is that sin is washed clean. We are sinless, Christ-like in our purity. Christ was revealed further to be the eternally begotten Son of the Father. When God removes something from us, He always fills the empty space up once more. When he cast out original sin from our hearts He put grace in its place – He put His life in us and we too become sons and daughters of the Father in Christ. Christ is shown to be eternally in perfect union with the Father and Spirit. And in our baptism we are mystically united to Jesus Christ and His body, the Church. We, too, are joined forever the God the Father and the Holy Spirit by our sonship. At His baptism, the Father tears open the heavens to speak to His Son. And how often has He torn open the heavens to come to me? To us? How many times have I been in need and my heavenly Father came to my, though I might have been unaware at the moment? And lastly, Christ was held up to be worshipped by all nations. And with our baptism we become His ambassadors. At our baptism we received a candle and the priest said, “Receive the Light of Christ. Parents and Godparents, this light is to be kept burning brightly.” We now have mission not of going out to have people worship us, but of going out that the presence of Christ might be spread through the whole world and He be worshipped by all people. Our mission is to bring Christ and be Christ to others, and to reverence and see Christ in them.

The baptism of the Lord is a magnificent feast. It is one more of the thousand attempts of God to show us His love for us in helping us to understand ‘what’s under there.’ As we conclude this Christmas season, I invite each of you to not let the contemplative spirit of Christmas pass. What great fruit could be seen if throughout this year we continue to reflect on that question ‘what child is this?’ because as we contemplate the answer to that question we will come every more deeply to understand Whose children we really are.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

HWP: Epiphany

This past Sunday (or yesterday in the Extraordinary Form calendar) we celebrated the Solemnity of Epiphany, marking the arrival of the Magi with their gifts and the invitation for all of humanity to seek the face of God. So we pray...

An Epiphany Prayer
O God, 
Who by a star
guided the wise men to the worship of your Son
we pray you to lead to yourself
the wise and great of every land
that unto you every knee may bow,
and every thought be brought into captivity
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, January 5, 2015

We All Like Stories

Readings for Sunday, January 4/ Epiphany:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Everyone likes a good story. If you think about it, much of our lives revolve around stories. We’re drawn into stories as we watch movies and tv shows. We’re drawn into stories as we read our books and articles. I guarantee you that right now half of my facebook newsfeed is filled with stories: this inspiring story, that tragic one, this one that’s sure to make you cry (as if that’s gonna make me click on it!), and so on. Even our daily conversations are often simply telling stories to one another about what happened recently or in the past. Stories have a magical power that permits someone who is otherwise separate from a situation to have access to it – to be able to enter into a situation vicariously and have something of the same encounter.

The other day I was visiting with a friend who is applying to the seminary and he was asking about what to include in the biography and how long it had to be. I said ‘Just write your story. Length and such doesn’t really matter.’ After the conversation I began to reflect on my own journey in seminary and they many times that I was asked to share my story. It seemed like the second vocation as a seminarian because it seemed like every person I met or every group I encountered sooner or later got around to the question ‘Can you tell me/us your story?’ Over time my story would grow and evolve, not because the details were different, but because I understood things differently or sometimes would emphasize something that was specifically striking to me in that time or some knew insight I had recently realized. But in the midst of it all there was the invitation to reflect with others on the ways that God has shaped and guided my life to the point where I was then as a seminarian and where I was heading.

As we listen to our Gospel today we hear recounted to us the familiar story of the Magi, those three wise men from the East who come in search of the newborn king. The gospel narratives are necessarily short in this instance. This is because the writers were typically working with expensive scrolls of a certain length and so they had to be careful only to include what was most beneficial. But the vagueness of the Scriptures does make us wonder a little bit about the Magi. A few weeks ago we had our La Posada celebration as we went in search of the Holy Family, just like the Magi. To prepare for the journey we watched a little animated video narrated not from the perspective of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but from that of the Magi. They used a little creative license, but it got me thinking about the ways God might have worked in their lives to bring them together. How they may have been all in separate places and converged as they each separately sought the Lord, a sign of unity in Christ. What were the things God used in their lives to prepare them for that blessed day of finding the Christ child? What were the stories of the things that happened along the way as they risked their lives and livelihood on this journey chasing after a star?

It’s interesting to ponder all of this, especially in light of the fact that the Church traditionally honors the Magi as saints. We can see part of the reasoning in this at the conclusion of today’s Gospel reading. It says that they received a message in a dream not to return to Herod, but that they “departed by another way.” And as Fr. Robert Barron has noted well: isn’t this always the case that when we meet Jesus, we walk away changed, by a different route as it were. In every encounter our heart is either softened like that of Peter or hardened like that of Judas. We always leave by a different route.

And what about us? What about you? If someone were to walk up to you today and ask you to tell them your story of faith, what would you say? If someone said to you ‘tell me the story of your vocation’ what would be the places that are significant? Where are the places where God has invited you to make a journey of faith chasing after your own star? Where are the places where you encountered the Lord and went off by a different route? What is your story?