Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Papal Intentions for February 2017

Papal Intention for February 2017

That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.

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. Amen.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Building Blocks: Sacred Tradition - Homily for January 29

Readings for Sunday, January 29/ 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13  |  Psalm 146  |  1 Corinthians 1:26-31  |  Matthew 5:1-12

"Where is that in the Bible?" Have you ever heard that question before? Often it comes in response to a teaching of the Catholic faith when speaking with a brother or sister who isn't Catholic, but is from a Protestant denomination. They raise that question of things of the faith, "Where is that in the Bible?" The implicit belief or statement of what they are saying is that unless it's in the Bible, we shouldn't believe it. And yet, that's not exactly what we understand as Catholics. If fact, nowhere in the scripture does it say that only in this book are the things that are the teachings of God. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "This is the only place where we find the teaching of the truth." Rather we find something that's quite the opposite. In St. Paul's letter to Timothy, he explicitly speaks of the Church as the defender and pillar of truth; not the scriptures, but the Church herself, the Body of Christ, the Living Membership of the Lord. It's thus that we, the Body of Christ, rely not exclusively on the scriptures, but with the scriptures as well as tradition - the living tradition passed down to us from Christ Jesus, to the apostles, to their disciples and down to our present day. It's that that we lean upon, and it's in that that we rejoice. 

If you remember, in the early Church there wasn't exactly a Bible that was passed out to all the Christian communities to say that this is the fullness of belief of the things that we are to teach, the things that we are to believe. Rather, they had the oral tradition. The disciples would go and pass on the things that were taught to them. The apostles, hearing all of the things that came from the lips of our Lord, seeing the things He had done, the ways in which He had prayed - they went forth and began to spread that in the Christian community. Only later did they write it down. It was mainly by the gift of the spoken word, the living tradition. 

How many times has it been said by new parents, "If only kids came with a manual, things would be a little bit easier." How many times has that desire been there in the midst of a screaming baby at night, you're trying to find some way to console the child, or in the same way teenagers as they are becoming young adults, trying to understand young people, even in the course later in life as children become adults - how do we respond to them as parents. All of these questions would be welcomed to have a manual that answered every single one of them, and yet we know that that's not always the case. Certainly, there are many books about babies, we can know the many do's and don'ts of raising children. But quite often what happens when a person is struggling with how to respond to something that is happening with their children, to a friend or someone else, rather than go to a book, they go to someone with the experience. We go to our own parents and say, "What do I do? How would I respond? How did you respond?" And more often than not, things that are not always written in books are given to us as advice, and often times they work. Not just a written tradition passed down, but a living one. Something that is given from generation to generation and is passed on, and is true. It's much the same with things of Christ in the Church. Of how indeed we do have the scriptures. There are the holy scriptures - the Word of God written for us to help us walk in the path of heaven. Remember too, that we have the living tradition, the family of God. 

In the Gospel of John, toward the conclusion, it said that if he wrote down all of the things the Lord Jesus said and did, there would not be enough books in all the world to contain them. So there is this recognition, necessarily so, the gift of faith that we live is not confined to books, but rather is a living gift, the gift of faith passed from one person to the next. Much in the same as Jesus; He didn't pass out papers saying, "Everybody read this paper and reflect on it." Rather He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness... Blessed are the peacemakers..." Remember, too, the many accounts that our Lord Jesus would speak in parables and all of these various stories, but then He would go back with His disciples, His inner circle, they would ask more questions and He would give more answers. He would clarify things that often times were a little bit unclear, and we don't have every single one of those clarifications in the scripture, but we do have them passed down from one person to the next, generation to generation to generation. The living gift of our faith. 

As Catholics, we understand, believe and profess that there is nothing that the Catholic Church teaches that is contrary to the scriptures. Nothing. But there are things we believe that are not explicitly contained in the scriptures. We can dig a little and see implications there, but it doesn't have to be explicitly stated because we know they have been given to us from Christ; they are a part of our family story. 

On the March for Life the other day, on Friday, I was struck by a particular group of individuals who came out to protest. They didn't come to protest abortion. They didn't come to protest the protesters of the abortion. They came to protest the Catholic Church because they know that the Catholic Church is one of the most prominent voices in the right to life movement. And indeed, as we looked around, as we were marching ourselves, some 450 or so students and young adults from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, most of the signs around us were so-and-so Catholic Church or college. It was a very Catholic experience. As we were praying the rosary, we would look around and groups we didn't know would be praying with us. As we were singing the chaplet of Divine Mercy, so too there were many others around us that were praying along with us. It was intriguing because in the midst of that, there was one particular group who came to protest the Church. They had microphones to be able to yell at us over our prayers, and they had signs to let us know that the Pope is the anti-Christ, that all Catholics are going to hell, and we need to repent and believe in the Gospel. I was trying to listen to the individual who was preaching at us as we walked passed. One of the things he said caught my ear. He said, "Brothers and sisters, in 1952 the pope proclaimed Mary assumed into heaven. In 1952, the pope said Mary never died, and we know that St. Paul says the wages of sin is death, and no one is free from death. Therefore the Catholic Church is wrong, and all of you who are Catholic need to understand, repent and turn from the Church." I was marching at that point next to a brother priest, smiled and said to him, "Apparently he never read the document the pope wrote." Because firstly, the pope never said that Mary never died. He is just forcing that reading into it. The pope was very clear; he never said Mary didn't die. But also, there is this implicit belief that because we stated and clarified something in 1952, it doesn't mean that it wasn't true and it doesn't meant that the Church didn't believe it for the previous 1,952 years. 

It's a simple reality that never has it been claimed by any Christian Church, by any Catholic community, that they have the tomb of the Blessed Mother. Have you ever thought about that? We can go and point to all the tombs of the apostles. We can point to all the tombs of the saints. We can say they were here and here and here, we know where the Blessed Mother's house is in Ephesus, we can point to all kinds of things, but not one single soul has ever said in the history of the Church or the history of the world, that they have the tomb of the Blessed Mother, and they know where it is. From the first days of the Church, we believe and understood that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. It took us 1,900 years to come to a full explanation and to be able to say definitively because, and only then, it came under attack. If you remember in the early Church the letters of St. Paul - when he was writing, he didn't come to give a catechism lesson. He didn't say, "Let me lay out the entirety of the Christian belief of our faith for you." Rather he said, "I notice in your community, you are struggling with this. Let me respond to that." None of the letters were meant to be a catechism lesson; they were responding to the needs of a particular church in their struggle. So too, it continues down to our day. A question of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, ultimately led to the pope going, "I see that in our current day there has been a question, a struggle. Let me clarify. Here is what we believe and here's why." Is it in sacred scripture? No. Is it contrary to it? No. Is it something we believe from the beginning? Yes. And we can go down that with so many things that our Catholic Church teaches. Several of them revolve around Our Lady: the Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and those sorts of things. But also they look to the things of the Eucharist, the sacraments of the Church, the life of faith, the life of prayer. Not always included in the scriptures explicitly, not contrary to them, but very much a part of our faith because we have believed it from the beginning. 

For 2,000 years, generation upon generation, has received the gift of faith, and every generation's duty is to receive it in its fullness and to pass it on to the next generation in its fullness. To fall short is a grave error on our part. So we receive and pass on. Those family remedies, those tales of things that seem odd and yet they work. Wonderful gifts of our faith. 

Often times, whenever we speak of tradition, it is seem as a bad thing. We cling to our human traditions, often times it is said. Us Catholics. And because we cling to our human traditions, we are at fault. But there is a different between human traditions and Sacred Tradition itself. Human traditions can change, and indeed they should, according to the need and the culture of the day. The fact that there is certain days where we fast or feast according to the liturgical calendar, the fact of the liturgical calendar itself, the manner in which we celebrate the sacred liturgy. Sometimes we get the new translation of the liturgy or a new part is added or something is taken away or changed. The fact there are so many other things through the course of the life of the Church, indeed those are human traditions, and as they come and go according to God's will, God be praised. If they served their purpose and they are done, fine, we move on. But Sacred Tradition itself, is non-negotiable. These are not things that come and go according to times and season, but rather are perennial teachings of the Church, from the start, form the hearts of our leaders, the hearts of the faithful. 

Something good, true and holy. Not to be set aside, but rather to be cherished because they come forth from the lips of Christ our God. And so we rejoice in this gift. We rejoice in the fact that for 2,000 years, we have had a continuous heritage and history, a family story connected to Jesus Christ. Not confined to a sacred word or text, but rather a part of a true family, one that knows the story and shares its story. So let's pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters, to pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to receive the gift of our faith, to receive it in its fullness, and to go forth from this place each and every weekend to share the gift of faith with others, that so too the next generation may rejoice in this gift that we share and pass it on there next.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Building Blocks: Where did the Bible come from? - Homily for January 22

Readings for Sunday, January 22: Isaiah 8:23-9:3  |  Psalm 27  |  1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17  |  Matthew 4:12-23

I'm heading out to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in a few minutes, so this week is only the audio for the homily. Please pray for safety for all those attending the March and for the growth of a culture of life in our world. Our prayers will be with you too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Building Blocks: Where Did the Catholic Church Come From? - Homily for January 15

In the first Sunday of Advent, I mentioned that I would begin doing homily series and that those would include lots of things on the basics of our faith - the hows, whats, whys of our daily experiences of Catholicism. What followed was a series of things that didn't exactly seem like the basics; they may not have been formed with a lot of questions of why, what and how, but indeed I prefaced them as a sort of foundation before we get into the things of our faith. I say that because if you remember, in Advent, we looked at the reconciliation of God: how the coming of Christ, first in the flesh, as He comes to us through the course of our days (in the scriptures, the Eucharist, and various other ways, as well as the coming in glory that we await in the end - all have one singular purpose: mainly to reconcile broken humanity back to the Father. As Christmas came upon us, we reflected upon the earthly life of Jesus, and especially those invitations for us to meditate upon the marvels that God shows to us, of how the Lord speaks to us in so many various ways through the course of our days. And last week, the invitation for us to obey the voice of the Lord when we hear Him speaks. Those points are important for us, again, because unless we recognize that reconciliation is our entire purpose, our entire goal in this life, and when we hear the voice of God we ought to follow Him to be able to be reconciled, unless we know those things, we ultimately fall short and all else can be lost because we fail to recognize the foundation of everything we do. 

For this entering into ordinary time in the Church year, I want to begin some of those basics that I mentioned during the First Sunday of Advent - to look at some of the whys, whats and hows of our faith. And I want to begin with looking at some of those things that are the basic building blocks of our Catholic experience. This week I would like to look at the question of "Where did the Catholic Church come from?". Next week, to look at, "Where did the Bible come from?, " and the week after that, the things that we profess as Catholics that are not in the Bible, where do we get that and why does it hold weight if it's not explicitly found in the scriptures. I would like to use these starting points for us in our reflection through the course of this year. 

And so, where did the Catholic Church come from?

We can find lots of answers for that particular questions. We can say, as the secular wisdom tells us and various encyclopedias, that the Catholic Church was found by Jesus Christ. It's true. We can say that the Church first came into being on Pentecost Sunday with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles when they received the fullness of the strength to be able to go out and spread the Good News as Christ calls. And indeed that's true. But I would like for us to go back a little further and find the roots of our faith. Not just the external express because that's only a small portion of what we experience. 

The roots of our faith ultimately go back to the same thing we talked about in Advent, mainly reconciliation with God. In the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah, we heard the Lord God speaks to Isaiah, but through Isaiah to the whole people of Israel, the whole Jewish people saying, "I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." That is our starting point. Again, always the invitation for us to focus on our reconciliation with God, the story of salvation. And so what I'd like to do, as brief as possible, is to be able to give you the salvation history timeline. Now we could go out and break this up. There's a DVD series that has 24 DVDs that are an hour long each that cover exactly this, so if you feel like I am giving you a whole bunch of information and you can't keep up with it all, there is a whole bunch more to be had and it goes at a much slower pace. You're welcome to go check it out. We also have on our website the link to FORMED.org that we subscribed to as a parish, you'll find a number of works that are very similar to this. If you are looking for more time to immerse yourself, we've got resources for it. But I would like to go back to the roots, to tell the whole story, from Adam and Eve until today. So ... pray that it's under half an hour. (I’m not joking)

Adam and Eve begin. They are created by our Lord God and He breathes life into them. We know the accounts. Adam and Eve have their children - Cain and Abel and Seth - and others that are not explicitly mentioned in scripture but that we know are there. And for generations, they go on doing exactly what the Lord God had said: to increase, multiple and to fill the face of the earth with your children. Except the problem is, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, as the generations increased, more and more come to recognize their brokenness, and the world falls into great depths of sin. The world is looking forward to a reconciliation with God. We know that in Genesis that as soon as Adam and Eve fell into their sin, the Lord God promised that a Virgin would bear a child, that the Man would crush the head of the serpent, and that ultimately God would have the victory. And so they looked forward to that day. But in the meantime, generation upon generation came and populated the earth. We know that at some point, the sin became so great that the Lord God sent a great flood. Noah, with the ark, brought a bunch of animals in and saved a number of the righteous and members of his family as well, and brought them safely to the land after the flood. The Lord God cleansing the world in a sense of its sin. So they start fresh once more, but it didn't actually heal humanity. It's just that the worst part was deleted in a sense and we started over, much like Adam and Eve. The families of Noah, the children of Noah, go out to various nations, and we can trace in the scriptures where exactly they went. We can look at where they went, and the nations began to increase and multiple once more. And always this longing for reconciliation with God. 

There came a day when the Lord God said, "It's time to begin the work." For generations, they have been waiting, but today is the day. He takes one man, Abram, whom he would later name Abraham, and he says, "Abram, I want to form a covenant with you. I want to form a family bond." That's what a covenant is, it's not just a contractual agreement. It would be a family bond that 'you're going to be a part of my family and I'm going to be a part of yours.' And so the Lord God says, "Abram, in your person, I want you to be part of the family of God." And as part of that covenant, as with a contract, there are promises and stipulations that were made. Abram was promised three things by God. First, "Your generations will increase." Remember how Abram looks up at the sky and the Lord God says, "As numerous as the stars in the sky, so greater will be the children that come forth from you." His family was to be immensely blessed even in his old age. So it's that question of faith for Abraham. So the Lord God promised him a greater lineage. From that, He secondly blessed him saying, "I will give you a promised land," the land of Israel as we understand it today. And He said, "This land I will give to you and your future generations." Lastly He said, "Through your family, I will bestow upon the whole world My blessings." There is ultimate crown that in the end, God will bless the entire world through this one particular family, ultimately through one particular man, Abraham himself. 

So begins the story of reconciliation: Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had the twelve sons. If you remember the story of how the twelve sons, eleven of them were jealous of their youngest brother, the baby brother, and so they sold him off to the Egyptians for a little profit... always a good idea, right? To sell your little brother and get a little money on the side ... And providentially, the Lord God used that because Joseph, the young one, worked his ways up the ladder by God's grace to be the second in charge in Egypt, second to Pharaoh, his right hand. And when the famine struck, the eleven brothers who remained and all the family who was with him, they fled to Egypt because Egypt had food. It was Joseph who became a type of Christ of saving the people. Joseph took in his nation, and he brought them into Egypt safely. Soon, they entered into exile in a sense. By being in Egypt, they were taken into slavery, and became slaves of the Egyptians, forced to build their towns, cities, etc. By all the time, the nation increased. More and more the people of God grew. The time came of course where God raised up Moses after several hundred years, and Moses brought the people of God out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, and they wondered in the desert for 40 years. At the end of that time, they entered into the Promised Land, the land of Israel. And there they rejoiced. 

To take a brief aside, as I'm speaking, I'm using multiple terms, but all are referring to one particular people. As Isaiah said, that was a common Jewish custom; they would say things in different phrases that meant the exact same thing just to heighten the intensity of it. They would say something and then double it up. As we heard in Isaiah, "They will raise up the tribes of Jacob, and they will restore the people of Israel." They were saying the exact same thing because the tribes of Jacob were the people of Israel. The people of Israel are the Jews. The Jews are Judaism. It's an interesting thing because a lot of times we can get the terms mixed up. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham. And Jacob is the last of the patriarchs (the fathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Jacob one night fought with an angel and after wrestling with this angel all throughout the course of the night, the angel bestowed his blessing upon him and then gave him a new name which always indicates a new mission. The name that was given to him was Israel which means, "The one who wrestles with God." So whenever we hear "Jacob," it simultaneously means Jacob the individual as well as the entire family tree that comes forth from Jacob. When we hear "Israel," we understand Jacob the man who was renamed Israel, but also the entire people is Israel because the entire people now wrestles with God, trying to make sense of God's will and living in that family with God, trying to make sense of everything as the Lord God speaks. So too, they were also later referred to as the Jews, the Jewish nation. It was interesting because it was not only a nation; it was a family tree that became a political nation, but also was a religion. It was one particular family, who became a country, literally, and that country was embody with the one true worship of the one true God. So, whenever we say Israel, the Jews, Judaism, Jacob, it's all the same. We have to think in both contexts. And so, getting back off the side track there ... 

Now that the people of God have entered into Israel, into the Promised Land, we see that two of the promises of God have been fulfilled. Entering into the Promised Land, you can go back and they have the numbers exactly of each tribe of how many were included, and it's well over a million people. I think it was 1.6 million people who were wondering in the desert for those 40 years and ultimately walked into Israel and the Promised Land. So, many people in the generations of Abraham. The land has been given - the Promised Land - but they are still waiting for when God will bless the entire world through their family. They are looking for the day and they don't see it yet because so far they have seen exile and slavery. Where is the blessing that will come through them to the world? And they wait for that for many years. 

As each of the twelve tribes get into Israel, the twelve sons of Jacob, they get their own portion of the land, a family portion. They are basically states in the country of Israel that was given to them. They go through the course of their years. They raise of kings, David and Solomon and so forth. The king became divided, north and south, and their was raising up of other kings and all sorts of upheaval in the political realm of things. Through that time there was even more separation. The people of God were exiled from the Promised Land twice before the coming of Christ. What happened during the exile, they would be prisoners of wars. A foreign country would come in and conquer the army of Israel. Rather than taking all the people and bringing them to one other place where they would be together and possibly have an uprising there overturning the government in return, what they would do is take the individuals in small groups. For example, if there were 100 people, they would take 5 and send them to one city, 5 people and send them to another city, and so on spreading them all through the nations, all over the empire they controlled they would send the various people they would conquer. The Jewish people, the Jewish nation, Jewish family, that was supposed to be a blessing to all the nations, began to disappear entirely almost. There was a point where there were almost no Jewish people in the land of Israel. And yet, the Lord God still had that one promise to give: universal blessing.

A thousand years passed from the time of King David, and a virgin conceives and bears a child. We know that story very well. Our Lady bears the Lord, and raised up, humbly living in Nazareth. St. Joseph as the father of the household. The Lord Jesus growing in holiness and wisdom, trying to understand what it is God the Father wills of Him in His earthly life. There comes the day where He enters into His ministry, and that's what we hear in the scriptures. As the Gospel comes to us, Jesus is baptized and we hear those blessed words of John, "Behold the Lamb of God." 'All these years, we were waiting for the blessing that would come forth from our family tree, here He is. This is the one. Follow Him. This is the one through whom all the world will experience God's blessing. The time is here. God is fulfilling His promise.' It was made manifest that that was exactly what was taking place as Jesus began to gather crowds around Him. Although He could have just kept it vague and general over the thousands around Him, He selected explicitly twelve people, twelve sons representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Any Jewish person looking at Jesus, hearing that He was the Lamb of God, and seeing Him raise up twelve disciples to gather around Him as a central core that would travel with Him, would have known immediately that everything is changing. The day God would come and restore the tribes of Israel, when He will raise up the sons of Jacob, it's now. And here He is at work. They would've understood that very clearly. They could've fought against it, and many did, because of the things that Jesus did and said, repulsed them. But they couldn't reject what He was saying. 

The Lord Jesus comes among us. For three years, He walks with those twelve and the countless thousands who walk around them. He trains them in the ways of His teachings. He gives them the new commandment of love. He tells them that one day, they will eat His body and drink His blood, and indeed they will do it in the same way He has, and so many other things. On the night before He died (as we will hear in just a few moments), He said those blessed words, "This is My body. This is My blood. Do this in remembrance of me." He went to His death on the cross and three days later was raised up in the tomb. For 40 days, He wandered around Israel appearing in different places to various peoples. We hear the accounts through the Acts of the Apostles. At the end of those 40 days, our Lord ascended into the heavens to sit at the right of God the Father and to claim the throne which was rightly His. Nine days later - the first novena - the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and our Lady who were gathered in the upper room in fear. In that moment, the birthday of the Church. 

The Church just didn't come out of nowhere. It's not as if the disciples were hanging out in the upper room thinking, "Well Jesus did this incredible thing. We ought to come up with a cool name for it and give it a title. Let's call it the Catholic Church. It'll be great!" It's not exactly what happened. But rather, they took their faith they knew, that they had been raised in through their entire life, and they lived it in a new way. There are so many things about our Catholic faith that are intensely Jewish, and yet we don't always clearly understand it. The arrangement of our churches is very similar to the arrangement of the Jewish temple. The vestment we wear, very similar to those that described in Leviticus, of how the priests were vested in the celebration of their rituals. The prayers we offer in Mass, very similar to those of our Jewish brothers. The fact that we come and celebrate two main parts to our Liturgy - the reading of the Word of God and the presence of the sacrifice - is the same as the Jews. The synagogue and the temple were meant to be together. We could go down a long list of things, but it suffices to say that the Catholic Church, Christianity, was not a radical transition or separation from Judaism, from the Jewish celebration of the faith, but rather the fulfillment of it. For a thousand years people were looking for the one who would bring the universal blessing to the world. In Christ Jesus, it begins, But He knew that He wanted it to go from generation to generation, and it wasn't His job to stay here among us in the flesh. And so He formed His Church. He reconstituted the twelve tribes in a sense. He gave the mission to go forth, to be the light to the nations, to spread the good news of salvation to all the earth. 

Those disciples took that message, went out and began to preach. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, they went from town to town preaching about this Jesus. They would speak of the name of Jesus. They would set up shop somewhere, often times a synagogue or a local center of town, and they would teach the things that Jesus said, and tell about the things that Jesus did. As people would come and begin to listen and believe in this Jesus, they would do this for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. As the Christian community would be formed up, eventually there would come a day where the apostle or the disciple who was there, saw that they were more or less self-sustaining; that the apostle didn't need to be there anymore and he could go off elsewhere. And so they would ordain a priest to be able to offer the Eucharist. They would have deacons to assist in the service of the community, to serve those who were sick or homebound. If there was a large enough community, they would come together and a bishop would be ordained, so that he could watch over a number of smaller churches. This was from the first centuries. It wasn't something that was made years and years down the line. We can see all of these things within 100 years of the life of Christ. The disciples of the disciples write and speak of these things. 

In the 2,000 years subsequently, yes things change. Things have happened that we have become more formalized, more ritualized. But the reality is the same. That the Lord God comes and He sets one particular person over a community, and He says to build up the faith. That one is sent out to go, to preach and to teach. His disciples come. The day comes that the community seems to be self-sustaining and they move to the next place. Over and over and over again it's happened through history. And yet, here we are, almost exactly the same as the first day. The same mission. The same people. The same Holy Spirit who comes to compel us. That's where the Catholic Church comes from. Not from men, but from God. It's the fulfillment of the promise of God who said to Abraham 3500 years ago, "Through your family, all nations will be called blessed. Through you there will be a universal blessing." The word Catholic means universal. 

Brothers and sisters, we are the blessing. Not in ourselves in the sense that we are a blessing from God, God's gift to the world, but in the sense that we bring the name of Jesus. Every single one of us is a Christian. We bear the name of Christ, conformed to Jesus by our Baptism. We are lights, just like that of Christ, sent forth into the world. A world where darkness is meant to be cast out, it is our place to do so. We are the light to the nations. We are the ones who bring salvation to the world. What a blessing to be a part of the mission of God. What a blessing to be a part of the promise, to be a part of God's promise that He spoke Himself, is fulfilled in you. It's your words, your deeds that become the light to the nations, salvation to the people. 

May God grant us the grace today to open our hearts to Him even more than we already have, to let the light shine even more than it already does, to rejoice in being a part of the people of God, a chosen people, a holy people, ones called to go forth and share the light, to make known the name of Jesus. Let's call upon our Lord, to adore Him and worship Him here, that we might be able to rejoice and show Him and we leave forth today. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Papal Intention for January 2017

Papal Intention for January 2017

That all Christians may be faithful to the Lord’s teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity.

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. 

Christmas: Marvelous Things - Homily for January 1

Readings for Sunday, January 1 / Mary, Mother of God: Nehemiah 6:22-27  |  Psalm 67  |  Galatians 4:4-7  |  Luke 2:16-21

Have y
ou ever thought about how weird the word "spoon" is? What about the word "fork" or "knife" or "plate" for that matter? Who was the first person who thought "spoon" was an adequate description for the object we know as a spoon? Have you ever looked at your fingertips, looked at the patterns to see how they work, to how they go? Interestingly enough, all my fingerprints point the same way except one; it's backwards. I don't understand it. Maybe all of you are the same. It's the way it is. 

Those are odd questions to ask, and I can tell it by the looks on your face, presuming I had a little too much to drink last night to celebrate New Year's. But I ask those questions because they are questions we don't normally ask, things we don't normally think about. We say the words spoon, knife, fork and plate and we use them frequently, daily. We use our fingertips all through the course of our day, but how often are we mindful of them? How often do we reflect on why we are the way we are, why things are what they are, and their names and descriptions? 

Whenever I came to our parish, a couple years ago now, one of the things I did was I went around and took pictures of a bunch of random things: inside the churches, outside the churches, cemeteries and so on and I posted it on Facebook and asked, "Do you know where these things are?" Some of you may remember that. There were of course some things that were rather notable: statues of St. Vincent, stain glass windows, and various other things around here and at St. Ann. But there was one thing in particular caused a lot of people confusion because they didn't know where exactly it was, they hadn't seen it, and yet they were confused because it was so beautiful, but they wanted to know where it was. It was a little icon over the door at the back of the church here. How often we walk to the back of the church and we look down to make sure we don't miss a step, but we fail to look up to see a beautiful image right over our heads. And how many times we simply just walked out of the church without being mindful of it. That and so many other things that are so normal to us - spoons, forks, fingertips and things around us in the world - that they become simply, ordinary things, and they lose some of the marvel that ought to be rightly theirs, some of the awe that should strike deeply within our hearts. 

We celebrate a feast this weekend entitled "Mary, Mother of God." It's a title that should shock us, and usually it doesn't. In the early Church, there were great fights, literal fights, over the title "Mother of God" in regards to Our Lady. There were different bishops who were fighting among one another saying that she's the Mother of God and others who were saying that it was way too strong of a word, that she should be called the mother of the human nature of Jesus - She gave Jesus flesh. But to say Mother of God, no, that's too much. There was great division in the early Church. Many reflections that ultimately came down to bring to us this title of Mary, Mother of God which highlights certainly the maternity of Mary, that she is in fact the mother of God, Jesus Himself. But more importantly it spoke to Jesus, who was not just a human person, but fully God. These were things that shocked them. 

Indeed the scriptures we heard this past weekend, this weekend, the one we'll hear next weekend, and the ones we'll hear through the course of daily Masses, they are all ones where people are shaken. You hear stories of Elizabeth, who though barren, bore a child, John the Baptist, and how his father, Zechariah, while serving in the temple, saw a vision from an angel, and was told that his son would be the forerunner of the Savior. There was the incredible of recounting of how Zechariah doubted the angel's word, and he was struck mute. But on the day his son was born and he said his son's name was John, he scratched it on paper, he was healed and able to speak fully once more. Angels appeared to Our Lady to announce the good news and to St. Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds. A great star in the sky appears to the three magi, the three kings. All of these stories are things of incredible events. Our Lady, reflecting on all of these things in her heart and rightly so. And the news spread all through the region. Almost every one of those accounts indicates that little phrase with it: and the news spread all through the region, throughout Galilee, through the whole land, etc. Everybody heard. 

And yet, as time went on, the good news became normal. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of David, God With Us, over the course of 30 years quietly working with his father in the workshop became no longer the Son of God to the people around Him, but became Jesus, the son of the carpenter. Mary, the Mother of God, the virgin who bore God in her womb, became Mary, another of the ladies living in Nazareth. St. Joseph, the one who heard the angel speak and was the caretaker of the Mother of God and God Himself became Joseph, the carpenter. So many normal things. And in the course of their days that's how they lived; they lived the exact same life as every single person around them despite the fact that there was something you unique about each of them. The extraordinary was right there in the midst of the ordinary things of daily life. And so many people likely missed it. How many people came to the workshop with St. Joseph and failed to recognize that his son was God - He was just working on a table. How many people sat alongside Mary at the well getting water to go home to take care of things at the house failing to recognize that she had bore God in her womb. How many people? As we reflect upon that aspect of Nazareth, the quietness, the hidden of the extraordinary in the ordinary things of daily life, it's an invitation for us to see again, to have our eyes opened up once more. 

One of the things I appreciated whenever I was working for my parents in the grocery store was that in the store, we could get used to things. In your workplace, things become part of the normal condition, and then someone comes in and says, "Hey, have you every noticed that you need to work on such and such." "No. It's just part of other things. I never thought about that. Thank you." It takes an extra set of fresh eyes to help see again, and it's that that the Church brings to us today. We come and we rest in the midst of Nazareth, in the quietness of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Mary the Mother of God. The Church simply says, "Have you noticed? Have you seen this? Have you let this speak to your heart lately?" To let it bring us to a state of awe, when we can't help but simply go, "Wow! How incredible!" 

This Christmas season has become a celebration that is very comfortable to us. We use the nativity scene, the magi and all the lights, the decoration, and all of these things. And it's good. But at the same time they are opportunities for us to see once again, see with new eyes, fresh eyes, the mystery of God before us. 

What I want to invite you to this week is to allow yourself to marvel at normal, even foolish, things. Marvel at them. Think about the word spoon for a while, look at your fingertips, think about the things of the Mass, the words we say each week. Look at your favorite scripture passage again and read it slowly with new eyes. Those prayers we offer that are so familiar to us, various prayers to saints, Our Lady, to Our Lord, various things we offer throughout the course of our days, to pause and say them differently and allow them to become fresh once more. To look at our churches and to see the beauties they possess and the ways in which they speak to us. Maybe it's our family and friends, people who we may take for granted, people are part of the normal scenery of our daily life, and to see the gift that they truly are to us. Opportunities for us to look around us, even in just the world, and to be in awed by God. Shock and wonder. Inspiration to be filled with the Holy Spirit and enjoy that moment of the things that God has done for us. 

As we allow ourselves to see incredible things in the course of our daily life, it becomes more and more easy for us to recognize that ordinary life is rather extraordinary because our Lord is with us. He has taken on our flesh, born of a virgin, lived among us, did the same things as you and I, and He comes to be with us even more still. Let us prayer for the grace of the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Our Lady and St. Joseph, that we might be able to see with those new eyes the things that God desires to see with us and things He desires to show us, He who is "God With Us."