Monday, December 26, 2011

A Savior has been born!

A very blessed Christmas to all!
I humbly ask your prayers for me during my annual retreat, December 27 - January 3.
Saint Joseph, pray for us!

My Christmas homily:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

From the Burning Bush to the Stable

The Catechism provides a very moving meditation upon God's revelation of His name to Moses in the Book of Exodus. Here is what it has to say:
A name expresses a person's essence and identity and the meaning of this person's life. God has a name; he is not an anonymous force. To disclose one's name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally. (CCC 203)
First, it is an important point to note that the God of the Bible is "not an anonymous force." In other words, He is not the kind of being the New Age movement would make Him out to be. He is a personal God, a God with Whom we can speak and Who can speak to us.

And how beautiful is this idea that, in revealing His name, God has "handed Himself over" to us. We can "possess" Him by knowing Him more perfectly. He desires to be known by us, and He desires us to allow ourselves to be known by Him. This is what prayer is all about. It is the fulfillment of that deep desire of the heart to know Another and to be known by Another. In the end, this is what Christmas is all about. If God "handed Himself over" to us at the burning bush, it was only a prelude to His handing Himself over to us as a tiny infant.

One of my favorite meditations when I pray the Third Joyful Mystery (the Nativity) is to imagine myself there with Our Lady and Saint Joseph in the stable in Bethlehem. They offer to allow me to hold the Holy Infant, so I take Him into my arms and simply marvel that I hold God Himself in my hands. Since God has handed Himself over to us, should we not also hand ourselves over to Him? There is no surer place for us to be than in the hands of God.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae": The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary

If you go to daily Mass during the season of Advent, chances are good that you'll have the Gospel account of the Annunciation memorized by Christmas. We have now heard it four times in the past twelve days. Indeed, of all the events recounted in the Gospels, there are few that would be more profitably memorized. It is quite literally the turning point of human history. While Christmas is all about the Incarnation, it is ultimately the moment of the Annunciation when the Word became flesh. In other words, the Incarnation happened not in a stable in Bethlehem, but in the womb of a humble virgin in Nazareth.

The Catechism says of Our Blessed Mother that she "most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith" (CCC 148). It is important for all of us who would be disciples of Christ to foster this theological virtue. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). "Without faith no one has ever attained justification" (Dei Filius 3; cf. CCC 161). Thanks to the faith of Mary, who believed the words of the Archangel, salvation and justification are possible for us.

Today's Divine Office includes a beautiful reflection on the Annunciation from Saint Bernard. Here are his words:
The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us....
 Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet....
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the Divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter.... Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet..."

Anyone who claims that the Catholic Church gives Sacred Scripture a lesser place than other ecclesial communities has clearly never read the documents of the Second Vatican Council or the Catechism, which quotes from those documents extensively. For example, CCC 103 states,
The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.
Sometimes, the claim is also made that the Church reserves the reading of Scripture only to those who have been properly "trained." Again, CCC 131 and 133, quoting Dei Verbum:
"Access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful."
The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,' by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures."
Scripture so informs the life of the Church that often we don't even recognize it hiding in the background. This is especially true of the Sacred Liturgy. Many of the commentaries on the new translation of the Roman Missal have made explicit these Scriptural roots of the Liturgy.

This is a model for our lives. Scripture should also pervade our daily lives as Christians. We should become so familiar with it that it works its way into our words and prayers without us even noticing it.

As we prepare to welcome the Word-Made-Flesh again this Christmas, let us make a new resolve to welcome the Word of God into our lives by reading and praying with Sacred Scripture. Where do we begin? Why not with the daily Mass readings? If we faithfully read and reflect upon them, we will find that, after just a few years, we have covered a vast majority of the pages between the covers of our Bibles.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

3rd Sunday of Advent: Rejoice Always!

Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2011

Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11
Luke 1:46-48,49-50,53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tota Pulchra Es: The Immaculate Conception

The "Prayer over the Offerings" for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
Graciously accept the saving sacrifice which we offer you, O Lord, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grant that, as we profess her, on account of your prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin, so, through her intercession, we may be delivered from all our faults. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prevenient??? As I chanted this prayer at Holy Mass tonight, I almost stumbled over that word. I'd never chanted it before!  What in the world does "prevenient" mean?

There are those who would be critical of this new translation of the Roman Missal because of such words. "This is way over our heads," it has been said. "Technical theological vocabulary has no place in the Mass!" But I love it. I love it because it challenges us and calls us to deepen our understanding of our Catholic faith. Why not take a word like "prevenient" not as an occasion to roll the eyes but as an opportunity to learn something new?

"Prevenient" comes from the Latin prae-venire, "to come before." It refers simply to grace that "comes before" any merit on our part. In other words, it speaks of an undeserved gift. Our Lady had done nothing to deserve the grace of her Immaculate Conception. How could she, at the first moment of her existence, as a tiny embryo, have merited anything? It was utter gift from God. It was given as a preparation for the grace of her Divine Motherhood, given to make her a fitting Mother for God's own Son.

None of us has been immaculately conceived, but each of us has experienced prevenient grace. The very grace of Baptism is a completely free, unmerited gift. More that that,
Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace. (CCC 2670)
If you have ever truly prayed, you have experienced prevenient grace. Now our task is to guard the gift of God's grace from the stain of sin. We have a most powerful help in the Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, whom we are blessed to call quite simply, Our Mother.

My homily for the Solemnity:

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Vision? Spare me, O God!

Today's Catechism reading (CCC 65-73) emphasized that we have received the fullness of God's revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no further revelation to seek. In this context, we read the words of Saint John of the Cross:
In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), [God] spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say.... Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him. (from The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2, 22, 3-5)
Over the centuries, the Church has been blessed with many and beautiful private revelations - visions, locutions, etc. She always judges these based on whether they accord with what we know to have been revealed by Christ and lead us to deepen our faith in that public revelation. When a private revelation has been judged authentic by the Church, we can be confident that it can bear good fruit in us, but we need not feel obliged to focus too much time or energy on it. When a private revelation has been judged inauthentic by the Church, we should turn away from it and seek solace and inspiration elsewhere.

This much is clear. The difficulty comes when an alleged private revelation has yet to be judged by the Church. Then we must adopt an attitude of moderation. We can be open to that revelation, vigilant for any wandering from the truth revealed by Christ through the Church, but we must stand ready to submit to the judgment of the Church, should she, as a loving Mother, warn us that this particular case is not good for us.

Above all, let us heed the words of Saint John of the Cross. We ourselves should be content to seek Christ through the teachings of the Church and in her sacraments. We need not seek special favors, visions, or locutions. We leave such a thing completely up to Divine Providence, perhaps even asking Our Lord to spare us the extra burden that visions and locutions bring.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2nd Sunday of Advent: "Prepare the Way of the Lord"

Second Sunday of Advent: December 4, 2011

Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11
Psalm 85
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8


Friday, December 2, 2011

An Inspiring Testimony

Day 6 of my journey through the Catechism, and today's reading included a quote from Venerable Pope Pius XII in which he reflected on the disordered desires of our hearts, which are the fruit of original sin:
It happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. (CCC 37)
In other words, our desires for what is sinful can sometimes be so strong that they lead us to reason poorly that what is, in reality, evil just might be good for us. If we're honest, this is really where the "controversy" arises over certain teachings of the Church.

As a priest, I have been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching faithfully what I have received from the Church. I don't take that responsibility lightly, but at the same time I recognize that the Church's teachings often carry more weight when they are proclaimed by others. So, for example, the reservation of orders to men is more easily accepted when it is taught by a woman who doesn't see that teaching as an injustice. The teaching about contraception and natural family planning carries more weight when it comes from a couple faithfully living that teaching in their marriage.

I came across a similar thing today. It is a piece written by a man who struggles with homosexuality but has found great consolation in the Church's teaching on this issue. I would recommend the whole article to you, but here is a little excerpt:
Is it hard to be gay and Catholic? Yes, because like everybody, I sometimes want things that are not good for me. The Church doesn’t let me have those things, not because she’s mean, but because she’s a good mother. If my son or daughter wanted to eat sand I’d tell them: that’s not what eating is for; it won’t nourish you; it will hurt you. Maybe my daughter has some kind of condition that makes her like sand better than food, but I still wouldn’t let her eat it. Actually, if she was young or stubborn enough, I might not be able to reason with her — I might just have to make a rule against eating sand. Even if she thought I was mean.
Our teaching about homosexuality and same sex "marriage" is the one teaching that I think could lead to religious persecution in our country. I don't think we're far from a situation in which anyone who professes the Church's teaching on this issue will be guilty of hate speech. Thanks be to God for the courage of this young in sharing with us how he has found true life in Mother Church's guidance.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The "Irrigation" of Prayer

I would like to share with you some of the beautiful insights from yesterday's General Audience of Pope Benedict. Our Holy Father said,
Today, I would like to begin to look to Jesus and to His prayer, which runs through the whole of His life like a secret channel irrigating His existence, His relationships and His acts.
Prayer as a "secret channel irrigating" our existence...what a great analogy! When I think of prayer, I think that aspect of my life that gives meaning and purpose to everything else. Without prayer, I am like an unwatered garden - dry and barren. God has borne so much fruit in my life since I made prayer a daily habit towards the end of high school. Prayer always does this - it waters our life and causes fruit to be borne in us.

The Pope poses these questions:
How do I pray? How do we pray? What sort of time do I dedicate to my relationship with God? Does there exist today a sufficient education and formation in prayer? And who can be its teacher?
The most helpful form of prayer that I have found, the form of prayer that fills my daily holy hour, is lectio divina. In this prayer, we enter into communion with the Lord through written words, typically through the words of Sacred Scripture. But it is not limited to Sacred Scripture. We can also pray this way with the writings of the saints or other spiritual writings. This is how I have been approaching my daily reading of the Catechism this week. If you'd like to learn more about lectio divina, click on the words to be taken to a link with a basic introduction.
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. (CCC 27)
If you haven't already done so, how about making a commitment to daily prayer through lectio divina? Allow God, through the intimate communion of prayer, to draw you to Himself.