Hope

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, might be the most celebrated event in the world. All around the world, regardless of religion, culture, race the people wait for midnight and the new year. There is a palpable atmosphere of hope with this celebration. The old year is passing and the future is very noticeable. No matter what the old year held there is always the promise of the new.

Of course, this evening Catholics start the last day of the octave of Christmas.  The eight day of the celebration of the birth of He who is Hope – Christ. We Catholics are, or should be, a hopeful people regardless of what is swirling around us. We are bolstered by the fact of what we are celebrating – God came among us. He came to us, to lift us up. He will never leave us alone; that is what our hope is built upon.

As we travel these last hours of this year, ready to welcome the promise of the next, Holy Mother Church, in her Vigil Vespers, prays two great ‘hymns’; the ‘Te Deum’ and this great ‘canticle’ of hope from Ephesians[1]; let’s make this our prayer as well:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

even as he chose us in him
before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy
and blameless before him.

He destined us in love
to be his sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace
which he lavished upon us.

For he has made known to us
in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose

which he set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.

As we pray this canticle let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the deliverer of Hope, who we celebrate tomorrow as Mother of God, to pray for us to her Son.

Happy New Year !
Ad multos annos!
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[1] Ephesians 1:3-10

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Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.

Light and Healing

Throughout the year, indeed our lives, we have felt the effects of loved lost. By betrayal, by distance and most intensely by death, our lives have felt pain – the pain of loss.  It is intense, it is real and though when it is fresh and acute we can’t see it; later we have the chance to try and come to terms with the fact that it is part of love. The pain would not be so great if love wasn’t involved. However, the only way to not feel this pain is to never love – that is numbness and a life wasted. But, why would God do this to us? Why would God allow love to have pain? I have no wise and comforting answer, I can’t really understand it either.

But, tonight, from within our hearts we look down upon Love incarnate. We look upon Love Himself born a babe. Tonight, if we allow it; we can, to some degree, understand what love means. Tonight, if we allow it, love will spread throughout our worn and tired bodies. Tonight, if we allow it, love can radiate from us into this darkened world. Tonight, if we allow it, we can be refreshed and confident that love, in spite of the pain that can accompany it, is the best of all emotions.

Brothers and sisters, especially those in the clutches of the pain of loved lost – take heart – Love has come to heal. Feel the warmth of His light; then spread the light of love throughout our lives and to those we meet. It might seem that the little light that we can radiate gets absorbed into the darkness with no effect but that is not true; the world is a little brighter, imperceptible to us, but brighter anyway. With every display of love, the darkness gets that much lighter – darkness can’t remain – dawn comes!!

Love is here, the question is; will we allow it (Him) to heal us? Allow Him! We owe it to ourselves, to those around us, to the world, and especially to He who loved us first.

Don’t try and embrace the darkness – dawn is here!!

Merry Christmas!

Our Gift Back To God (and Mary)

So we come to the core period of Advent, the nervousness from what we have reflected on at the beginning of this season (the eschaton and the second coming) should now be waning as we see with the coming celebration of the Nativity how much God desires us to succeed. He came among us to help us get home. We now focus intensely on the gift of Christ – as we should.

But this weekend Holy Mother Church asks to look at the other side of this gift from God – our gift back to Him. Today’s Gospel scene is one which Pope Francis has talked about a lot – it is a foundational reading in his spirituality and he desires it to be ours as well. Why? Because so does God.

Frequently Pope Francis has talked about the first thing that Mary did after submitting to the will of God; she goes in haste to help others. It is a call to Christians for Christian action, especially Catholics, who might have the tendency to celebrate feasts of the church and not put them to action.

Christ teaches that the greatest commandments are Love God and Love your neighbor[1] – this calls for action – this calls us to go in haste to others. So, I ask myself, and you; how are we doing with our gift back to God? I for one need to be better – my gift back to God is very, very, anemic.

Of course this gift of action to God and others is full of uncertainty and doubt. It is fraught with various forms of persecution from being ignored and marginalized, to being derided or rejected, all the way to being attacked and yes, even possibly martyred.

But so it was with Mary; she knew that her journey and her action would be difficult – right from the beginning. Going in haste to anywhere in Judea was not like driving a long distance today – it was dangerous and life threatening – but she did it. Advent reminds us that she wasn’t alone, Christ was with her; and as He was in her – she was brave in Him.

So, how are we doing with our gift back to God?

Once again, this past year we have seen many attacks on the personal liberty of religion – and some have shown us great acts of Christian action; worthy gifts back to our Lady and Lord. Here is one that epitomizes heroism with and for God; an example of gifting back to God worthy of His (and Mary’s) gift to us:

At Brandon High School, in Mississippi, the marching band was ordered off the field by their school board because they performed ‘How Great Thou Art’ at halftime in violation of a federal court order. Todd Starnes from foxnews.com writes what happened next:

Something must be done to right this wrong, people said. A message had to be sent to the likes of Judge Reeves. Locals gathered in coffee shops and garages to devise their plan.

And what they did — would become known as the musical shot heard around the world. During halftime of Friday night’s game – a lone voice began to sing the forbidden song. “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,” the singer sang.

Brittany Mann was there and she witnessed the entire moment of defiance.  “We were just sitting there and then one by one people started to stand,” she told me. “At first, it started out as a hum but the sound got louder and louder.” She said it was a “truly incredible” moment to watch hundreds of people singing together in the stadium.[2]

This isn’t a faraway issue; ask the football team at Naperville Central – since they too are under legal attack for quietly praying as a group. So, how are we doing with our gift back to God?

Friends, what is our story?

  • Are we intimidated by the social environment?
  • Do we sit back in the shadows and wish it were otherwise?
  • Do we allow the children of our towns who proclaim Christ publically to do it alone?

Or

  • Do we trust in the Lord and travel with Him?
  • Do we, like Mary, go in haste to bring her son to others?
  • Do we hold our heads high in the Lord to those in our communities who look at us with derision and threatening distaste?
  • Do we support those in our communities, especially our children, who proclaim Christ publically? Do we stand with them and proclaim our faith?

Brothers and sisters, we celebrate the birth of our Lord in five days. We rejoice in the great gift of God made man. We rejoice that our redeemer was born to walk among us and offer Himself for us.

But we also, celebrate another gift, that greatest of human action – ‘fiat’! Mary’s yes that allowed us to rejoice. How will we thank her? By the gifts of empty words, shallow prayers and wistful wishes; or will we follow up her example, make her actions our own and also go in haste to those who need Christ in their lives. Will we celebrate by being happy and inspired for a day, only to have the effects fade; or will we follow her and constantly hold our heads high in Christ in public and endure what she endured with her Son? Let’s give her and Him thanks for their gifts by bearing the cross of discipleship all the way to Calvary and beyond.

Let’s make our gift to Christ, and His mother, as meaningful as theirs is to us.

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[1] Matt 22:36-40
 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (RSV)
[2] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/08/21/school-band-told-to-stop-performing-how-great-thou-art.html

Declutter not Defeat

There is a scene in the Sherlock Holmes mystery Study in Scarlet that is always in my mind. Sherlock is explaining to Dr. Watson:

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. … It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.[1]

The ‘purple seasons’, Lent and Advent, are times when we should take stock of what is stored in our own ‘attics’. Time when we take a step back from our dizzying lives and come to grips with who we are and who God wants us to be. Our lives, and the desires and wants that come with them, can have the effect of crowding what is really important in our relationship with Christ. On top of this, we too can provide useless lumber with our sophistic reasoning that we use to make ourselves feel ok; mental gymnastics that we go through to try to make us right with ourselves and right with God.  When it comes down to it – we need to put ourselves under the light of Christ and honestly and determinedly clean out the things that elbow out what is truly valuable for our journey home. We need to declutter.

Now, as we start the final two weeks of Advent let’s make a conscious effort to clean house so that when Christmas arrives we can open ourselves up to the glory of Emmanuel. Don’t plan to do it, just do it. Start now – otherwise it will never get done because tomorrow never arrives. Tomorrow is a very dangerous word when it comes to our faith journey because as St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘“Tomorrow!” Sometimes it is prudence; many times it is the adverb of the defeated[2]

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[1] Sherlock Holmes, Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
[2] The Way #251, St. Josemaría Escrivá

Changing Our Gaze

December 13, 2015 (Cycle C)
Gaudete Sunday

I must admit that over the past 22 years (since I became Catholic) that this Sunday has become one of my favorites – and it is not because I can wear a rose dalmatic. No, color aside, this 3rd Sunday of Advent, for me, truly lives up to its name – Gaudete Sunday.

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.[1]

Is the proclamation of the opening Antiphon for Mass today. This specific Sunday, throughout the world takes on a special atmosphere – most especially with Catholics.

Why? Well, I suppose we can point to the fact that we are getting closer to Christmas Morning. In some countries, like Italy, families bring their baby Jesus figures to church to be blessed. Or maybe it’s that, in the northern hemisphere at least, the days are so noticeably shorter on this weekend that the outdoor lights are shining so much brighter for so much longer throughout the evening. All of these, are good reasons. But for Holy Mother Church and Her members (each of us); it has an even more important, spiritual reason.

Today we change our gaze.

Today our Advent journey turns away from reflecting on the end of times. For the last two weeks we have given consideration to the end of times and Christ’s final coming – the final judgement; and through the readings Holy Mother Church tried to assure us that we have nothing to worry about if we only hold strong to the faith. And yet? Still we have doubt.  It is only human to wonder and doubt about the unknown, the future.

What can remove this doubt? What can cause us to live the introit: ‘Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete’? What proof are we given that our doubts are unfounded?

With the whole of Christendom we now look at this proof, we draw close to the undeniable witness who proves to us what Holy Mother Church has been reflecting on. We look towards God Himself. Today our reflections and our journey turn towards Christ’s first coming. Proof that, if we only hold fast to the faith, the end of times isn’t worrisome but something wholesome. Why? Because God has come among us. He didn’t stand at distance – He came among us to raise us to the destiny that was always ours, but for the fall. If He would do that for us in our fallen state then we can rest assured of how He will greet us, His faithful, at the end. God, never left us! He will never leave us!!

But there is another important aspect to this Sunday of rejoicing amid the pensive (albeit hopeful), introspective season of Advent. This rejoicing isn’t something that we initiate. We aren’t the ones who spontaneously throw rejoicing towards heaven. We are echoing what God has done all along. Today’s first reading, from the almost unknown book of the prophet of Zephaniah rings with this reality.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
[2]

God is bursting at the seams, so to speak, with joy at who each of us are. He created each of us personally, He is proud of who we were created to be.  And through the sin-soiled garments around our soul He can see and love the beauty that is truly us. So, before, we are ever able to proclaim: ‘Gaudete in Domino semper’ (‘Rejoice in the Lord always’) God, sings: ‘Gaudeo igitur in vobis semper(‘I rejoice in you always’)

Finally, why do I use the Latin version of this introit? Because it gives me even more joy and peace knowing that this idea of rejoicing isn’t some contemporary theological mind game. This weekend of rejoicing has been around for millennia. The faithful throughout all of history have understood this reason for rejoicing and it is now our time. To celebrate, to rejoice and most importantly, to pass this celebration on to the future – our children.

Brothers and sisters, make this one of your gifts this year to those you hold dear.

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[1] Roman Missal, Introit for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
[2] Zeph 3:17

I Believe

Preparing our hearts and minds for both comings of Christ, His final return at the end of times and His nativity, is the reason for Advent. Last week we reflected on the hope that is prevalent throughout the season – indeed throughout every disciple’s journey. This evening I wanted to look into what allows us to have this constant hope – faith. It is faith that provides meaning to our existence because it is faith that allows God’s revelation to be fruitful. Faith unlocks the hope, it brings us to the fullness of humanness. We believe. We are receptive to the divine.

As we might infer from this dynamic of revelation and faith; faith is not a self-initiated interior process that leads to an individual an understanding of God – that would be a philosophy. It is brought about by, initiated by, an external authority. We don’t reflect to the truth – we are given the truth and reflect upon it in our hearts. In short, faith is the acceptance of a reality brought about from without that we then journey towards. The response that starts us on this journey of faith is ‘Credo’ – ‘I Believe’. It is proclaimed first from within (in our heart and mind); then outwards.

‘I believe’ should also be the hermeneutic for this evening’s reflection. So, in regards to faith, what do we mean when we say I believe? Do we really believe or give lip service to the words?

When I say ‘I Believe’ I am affirming this action of faith that is stirred within from something outside of me. Someone has told me, I didn’t think it up; couldn’t, however detailed and flawless my logic is. When I say ‘I Believe’ in regards to faith it is authoritative. It doesn’t contain any of the relative doubt that we attach to that phrase when used in other aspects of our life. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book Introduction to Christianity: ‘The phrase could literally be translated by ‘I hand myself over to.’, ‘I assent to’[1]The powerful reality behind Credo should cause our lives to change. By proclaiming ‘I believe’ we are new people reconfigured by faith, faith in the Triune God. Again, Cardinal Ratzinger from the same book: ‘the true nature of faith or belief is clearly a conversion, an about-turn, a shift of being.[2]

So as we continue our Advent journey let’s look within and reflect on what we mean when we say ‘I Believe’ for the answer to that query will determine how fruitful our Advent season will be and how our faith will affect us. Is it a rote proclamation without much weight; or is it a proclamation of intensity, of certitude? When we say Credo do we hunger for the reality behind the words and look for ways to change; or do we let these words drift away from us and not affect our life?

Brothers and Sisters, let’s open our mind and our hearts to the gift of faith; so that every time we say ‘I believe’ the words of St. Thomas Aquinas become an actuality in each of us.

Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Præstet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Lo! o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.[3]

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[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – Introduction to Christianity’ Section 1 chapter 7
[2] ibid
[3] St. Thomas Aquinas – Tantum Ergo  (the incipit of the last two verses of Pange Lingua)