To Decrease

Homily for the final Sunday Vespers at my original parish (1o.5 years of Vespers).
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In today’s Gospel St. John the Baptist reveals to us a great attribute of a Christian, one that enables us and ennobles us. Humility.  As he spots Jesus walking towards him on the beach he points to him and says: ‘‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ‘He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’’[1] He effectively directs those who follow him to follow the Lord.  He removes himself from fame and importance because he knows the truth and it is the truth that is most important.

His ministry was extremely popular and most effective. He was able to bring many to the river for ritual purification and by doing so, prepared them for the advent of the Lord; prepared the soil of their souls so they could accept the truth.  His ministry is now fulfilled, and that was ok with him.  He had done what needed to be done, what God had prepared him for, which was: ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,[2] This was his calling from birth, his vocation was this and only this, no more no less – and that was ok to him.  When the time had come he resolutely decreased so the Lord could increase.

This is the way of our calling as well; we are given talents and time to affect our surroundings as the Lord desires. Ours is not to win the battle of salvation but participate in it and to move forward in the journey. Ours is to use what is given us and point to who is most important: the way, the truth and the light – Jesus. This doesn’t make us unimportant, it doesn’t reduce us; rather it shows how integral we are to the Lord’s plan and to each other.

Brothers and sisters, our greatest act in life is to listen to God, allow Him to guide us along the journey, a journey that only He knows the path. Our response to His love is to trust completely. He might move us from the comfortable to the uncomfortable but He will move with us. He might need to change how we participate with Him, allowing someone else to fill our place; but His grace will always be with us. Our part in His plan is to participate within Him, within Him. So, in all the things He calls us to, let’s remember St. John the Baptist’s words and make them our own. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3]

I would like to close this homily and my part in our Sunday Vespers with words from John Henry Cardinal Newman.

God has created
me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which He
has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. [4]

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[1] JN 1:29b-30
[2] LK 1:76-77
[3] JN 3:30
[4] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations & Devotions Part III

Mark Our Calendars

On this feast day, The Epiphany of the Lord, Holy Mother Church does something that at first glance doesn’t seem to fit with the celebration, something out of place. She proclaims an announcement; a sort of housekeeping chore, where she announces future dates of the liturgical year – the moveable dates.

But let’s look deeper at this celebration of Epiphany, in particular – the Magi. Their competence was in the science of the heavens, astronomers. The field was more than just cold science, it was much more encompassing, and it was colored with philosophy and religions.  They looked to the stars not so much to understand the stars as they did to understand the meaning of life both now and what lies ahead for mankind; they were guided by the stars towards the future.  But these particular Magi were truly wise people in that they were learned who knew they didn’t know everything.

This star, the star that they expected and hoped for appeared as they thought. However, this star called to them, urged them forward to explore it’s meaning for being there.  They understood from a foreign religion that it revealed a new king in a far-off kingdom. But there were many kingdoms and many kings and rulers, why would the heavens announce this one? They went far to understand what this meant for them. What they learned was epiphanic, life changing. The gospel tells us they were not the same afterwards, they went home by a different route. They grew.

Brothers and sisters Holy Mother Church, in her great wisdom, gives us these moments for epiphanies throughout the year. Events, that if we participate in whole-heartedly, celebrate properly, reflect on devoutly, will bring us an increase in wisdom and faith. They will enable us to open ourselves to a deeper understanding of who we are and are meant to be.  It is not surprising that on the Solemnity of the Epiphany we hear proclaimed the Announcement of Easter and Moveable Feasts. These star-like points on the liturgical calendar will lead us to the same person that the Magi found at the end of their journey. They will lead us to our Lord and we too will never be the same afterwards. Let’s mark our calendars

Merry Christmas!

He, Who Can Heal Us

One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that the secular holiday season of ‘Xmas’ has gotten more and more withdrawn. In spite of the increased decorations and festive environment the interaction among the people out and about has become less. People used to smile and wish each other good will; there were events that drew them together and they were well attended. There was fellowship, regardless of any religious meaning. This has seemingly diminished greatly – and I have to ask myself why.

There is a societal numbness today that is the result of a loneliness, an isolation that comes from, as Fr. Thomas White writes: ‘the negative peace of nonjudgmental tolerance.[1] Modern society has built itself into a great amalgam of views and attitudes, life styles and choices. This amalgam of life philosophies allows each of us to find our own path to happiness which is a false happiness – a false peace of heart. It offers a ‘peace through coexistence’ by allowing each of us to detach ourselves from those around us because they don’t adhere to our understanding of truth and happiness. In reality it is a false peace of coexistence by not co-existing. There is nothing to bring us together in a healthy fellowship. There is no internal fulfillment, because mankind is meant to be together. So, as evidenced in the holiday scene people pass each other by oblivious to anything except their selves – a social numbness.

As I just mentioned, this mindset of individual philosophies of life doesn’t bring us to fulfillment and mankind needs to be fulfilled in order to have real peace in our hearts. This is shown by the manic tint of the daily experience that comes from the hunger for wholeness not addressed by these individualistic philosophies of modern society. Why? Maybe because philosophies are cold, lifeless exercises of the mind not the heart. Maybe because philosophies look within and away from others. Maybe because philosophies don’t offer and accept human emotion. Maybe because philosophies can’t affect the soul. In short, maybe because philosophies don’t offer love. Men and women need to feel loved, they need to embrace and be embraced. Mankind needs to realize the true value of each other and celebrate it. We need relationship not philosophy.

There is a gap between what mankind is striving for and what they are meant for. This gap has been around since the fall of Adam and Eve. That our society has taken it to new and aggressive limits is worrying, but in varying degrees and intensities it has always been there. We can see it in the great and ancient O’Antiphons that we started to celebrate yesterday. We can also see in the O’Antiphons the answer to this philosophical malady – Jesus Christ. Christ is the love that brings all other love together and makes it healthy. Christ is the fulfillment of mankind’s needs and goal to their journey. Christ is the center of what mankind needs the most – relationship – love! It shows us the realization of what is important – Jesus Christ – a person, not a philosophy. When we proclaim the O’Antiphons we are calling out to a person who is the:

Guide of creation,
Giver of law,
Sign of God’s love,
Opener of gates,
Splendor of eternal light and sun of justice,
King and keystone.
Who is: God with us.

We call to Him who are these things, and we ask Him to do something for us, to:

Teach us,
Rescue us,
Save us,
Free us,
Shine on us,
Come to us,
Be with us,

Brothers and sisters, we have now reached the time in the Advent season when we turn our minds and hearts to the great medicine for modern society. We start to focus on the start of what gives us hope and shows us total fulfillment – Christmas. When the transcendent God, aloof from mankind and almost an abstract indifferent ideal, made Himself present to us, real. When the true philosophy of life, the one that makes everyone whole, became touchable and touching, lovable and loving.  Let’s prepare ourselves to allow His touch, His love, tangible and real, to affect our hearts, to affect our minds, and maybe just as important to do the same, through our witness, to those we encounter. The O’Antiphons, after all, are not just titles of Christ and petitions to Him, they are also charges to each of us and actions required of us. Because, Emmanuel, God with us, is more effective, more fruitful, when we bring Him to each other as gift.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

May your Christmas be a blessed one.
May the infant Christ reign in your hearts and minds, and guide you in your witness of His love.

 

The O’Antiphons

December 17
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

December 19
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

December 20
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

December 21
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

December 22
O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

December 23
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
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[1] Catholicism In An Age Of Discontent, Thomas Joseph White, O.P., First Things, November 2016

Liturgical Tinnitus

Over the years there have many discussions about various aspects of the Holy Mass. What are the roles of the various participants, architectural importance, vestments, furniture and their positioning and on and on.  What might seem to some as just opinions or theological sparring or unimportant minutia can have a profound impact on how the faithful view the Mass; this in turn can affect how the faithful view the Church and her place in the ministry of Christ and how the faithful live their lives. Lex Orandi, lex Credendi, lex Vivendi is more than just a cute saying. All of this has a profound impact on us, and in turn we on the Mass. Tonight I would like to reflect on one of these aspects, one that, thanks be to God, is not an issue with our Vesper prayers.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time of preparation, an almost hushed season where we look within and look both backward and forward to the comings of Christ. But, for me this is always battered by the clang of the secular holiday season. Noise and action and bright lights that drive us to distraction.

Holy Mother Church is not immune to noisy activity, and not just in Advent. At another parish, the month of November is when they sing the Our Father; not chant, but sing. And between the Our Father and the congregation’s final response where, according the rubrics[1], the priest, by himself says: ‘Deliver us Lord from every evil…[2] there is also an instrumental bridge, in short there is background music during the priest’s words where it isn’t allowed. And if the priest and the music don’t match up correctly, then the congregation has to wait for the music to finish before they start their response: ‘For the Kingdom the power…[3] For me, this takes away the congregation’s participation in the prayer our Lord taught us and makes it a tune – of course this is my opinion.

This is not an isolated incident; in many parishes, impromptu musical interludes happen during baptisms, confirmations, post communion time and in almost any moment of quiet. For example, during the sign of peace, where it isn’t allowed[4] many congregations have an instrumental background.

This highlights a very troubling trend in the Mass; one that has been creeping into not only the corporate celebration of the Holy Mass, but into the understanding of the active part of the faithful’s participation – lack of silence. An important part of the Mass is silence, the time that each participant can enter more personally into the presence of God – can hear God within their soul.

The prophet Elijah learned on the mountain that God can be found in: ‘a light silent sound[5]. And this makes so much sense. For us, creatures, to be in the presence of the almighty and total other, who is beyond our own comprehension, the reaction should be one of humble acquiescence and silent adoration, an almost stupefied posture, one that allows only the senses of our soul to be open and receptive.

At the Holy Mass we are in the closest proximity to God that we can achieve on this journey. We are watching God the Son in humble obedience offer Himself to God the Father, and we are watching the action of the Holy Spirit between them. There must be time where the din of noise, both within our hearts and minds, and around us in the celebration stops so we can listen to that ‘light silent sound’[6].

Brothers and sisters, let’s try to resist this ‘noisy participation’ that seems so prevalent in our celebrations and find that quiet time to open ourselves to God. The Tinnitus that has found its way into the Mass must be met with decisive resolve to bring back those moments of peaceful and holy silence. Liturgical Tinnitus numbs the senses whereas holy silence opens the soul to the beautiful symphony that is God. Let’s pray and strive for such times. Even if we can’t affect changes in the Masses that we participate in, we can affect change within each of us in how we look for silence in the midst of the noise. We can try to improve our ability to hear the symphony through the noise – be present in front of that most holy ‘light silent sound’[7].

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[1] Roman Missal pg 664 – ‘With hands extended, the Priest alone continues, saying:’
[2] ibid
[3] Roman Missal pg 665
[4] Pacem relinquo vobis -Circular Letter on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass  #6c: In any case, it will be necessary, at the time of the exchange of peace, to definitively avoid abuses such as: the introduction of a “song for peace,” which is non-existent in the Roman Rite.
[5] 1 Kgs 19:12 (nab)
[6] ibid
[7] ibid

Desire for the King

I was reading a pre-election article in First Things[1] trying to explain the Trump phenomenon and the similar populous actions that are taking place in Britain and Europe. The thrust of the author’s thought was that we are probably seeing a major change in the mindset of the populace, at least in the first world. There is a seismic shift starting among the general population that is changing the western world’s political philosophy from the prevailing post WWII beliefs of globalization back to a more nationalistic view.

The author goes through many reasons for what he sees as this shift – many are compelling. At one point, he writes:

The dictatorship of relativism promises peace. Leaders are to devote themselves to prosperity and the enlargement of individual freedoms. Softer, kinder, secular gods are to rule – health, wealth, and pleasure. These are gods of utility to be ministered to by experts rather than priests and prophets.[2]

He goes on to say:

“Man does not live by bread alone.” The West is beginning to rebel. People do not want to float through life as atomized, utility-maximizing machines. They want the strong gods to return. They want to recover the possibility of noble sacrifice on behalf of something higher than the lonely, inwardly-turned self.[3]

A very insightful thought from a perceptive article. However, maybe what is fundamentally happening is the awakening of the desire, deep within those living in the comfortable West, of God Himself. Maybe, mankind is getting tired not only of the post WWII globalization mindset which came about because mankind was tired of the previous nationalistic ideology; but they are tired of man’s continual and futile exercise of creating ideologies and truths in the first place; of turning inward and ignoring God’s plan for His creation; of creating an answer to solve problems, only to see them fail and then coming up with another plan to solve the last one.

As today’s celebration of the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe reveals to us, God, through Jesus Christ, is the true path, the truth about all creation. He alone can give us the means to live a fulfilled and complete life because He created it, sustains it, and reveals the truth behind it.

Brothers and sisters, deep within each person there is a distaste for manmade philosophies and ideologies that ebb and flow, leaving us confused and conflicted with each other and ourselves, and there is a desire for the eternal plan that brings each of us to fulfillment. A tiredness for top-down directions that coerce us (however benevolently), and an eagerness and desire for guidance from a king that reigns not from on high but within our souls. This is what we hunger for and this is what we as followers of our King need to proclaim at the top of our voices and with every action of lives.

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[1] A Failing Regime, R.R. Reno; First Things; November 2016 issue
[2] ibid
[3] ibid

Election Advice

We are coming up to another monumental national decision, election of a president. Maybe, this time it is more defining for our country than ever before. Maybe, this election will have more impact on how we live our lives than any other election in recent history. Maybe, as faithful who have seen many attacks and manipulations against our beliefs the aftermath will bring more? At the very least I have felt this angst in many people, and to a degree in myself.

As American citizens, elections, especially national elections, should give us a little anxiety. After all, as citizens we have a vested interest in how we would like to see our country move forward. In a societal way, this is healthy; to not feel anxiety means that we don’t care. But there is a religious angst that isn’t healthy, a fear that we are losing in the national discourse; that our faith is disappearing from society.

During my weekly scripture reflection, a passage from scripture came across my eyes, Matthew 16:21-24. I was struck by how much it spoke to my mind and heart on this religious angst we might have and why it is unhealthy. Again, this religious angst we might have is useless for followers of Christ. 

‘From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”[1]

This all too familiar event in the life of Christ points out a very important part of being a follower of His, a disciple.  In times past I viewed this passage as another example of impetuous Peter once again sticking his foot in his mouth, but it is much more. We see Peter try to move ahead of Christ, take the lead. We see He won’t accept what the Lord is telling Him; he tries to alter the outcome. Peter wants his discipleship to be on his terms.

Christ tells Peter and us that to be His disciple is to follow Him. It is that simple and that hard. Christ tells us that following of Him will entail suffering, carrying our cross; but it is the only way. As uncertain and scary as this might seem we do have the reassurance that if we stay close to God, follow Jesus, then He will stay close to us, lead us on the true path to heaven – which after all is perfect closeness with our Triune God. We saw this today in the first reading from 2 Maccabees[2] about the seven sons being put to death. A very graphic and horrible example to be sure, but a witness to the most important part of faith – faith in our Lord – complete trust regardless of what is happening.

Brothers and sisters, let’s move forward into and then out of this national election, keeping close to Jesus; not in front of Him but behind Him. He will not fail us.  The election might bring sadness and maybe persecution or it might bring celebration; but these results are only short term – Christ brings us peace and joy that is eternal.

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[1] MT 16:21-24
[2] 2 MC 7:1-2, 9-14

Our Celebrations

During the last 70 years, or maybe even more, there has been a mentality in the Church, an undercurrent if you will, that tries to explain away the mysteries of church, the dogma, and the Traditions.  The idea is to make the faith more palatable for human consumption. Try to make it sound reasonable.  It manifests itself in a wide variety of ways.

For instance, earlier this Month, the head of a bible study at the parish I work at wished me a Happy Rosh Hashanah.  She has been known to hold a Seder meal during Lent for the RCIA class at the parish. I have always been fascinated and dismayed by this sort of misguided ecumenical act done by many in teaching positions in Catholic Parishes.

When asked why they do it, the usual answer varies around: ‘Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, and shouldn’t we celebrate the Holy Days of our ancestors?’ This answer saddens me; it shows an unawareness, if not disregard, for Christianity.

Why? Isn’t it a nice ecumenical action that brings us closer together with our elder brothers and sisters?

No, I don’t think they would care, one way or another, if we celebrated their Holy Days. In fact, it might offend them since we deny their faith by proclaiming the messiah has indeed already come.

Doesn’t it sound more reasonable to show that we aren’t made up, that we come from a deeper and older societal activity?

Not really, what this does show is lack of our understanding of the meaning of Christ and His actions. Trying to make faith more reasonable takes the importance out of the discussion. Catholics believe that Jewish feasts were foreshadows of the actions of Christ. They technical term is ‘type’. For instance, the Jewish Passover is a ‘type’ for Christ’s Pasch. Our Lord fulfilled what the Passover foreshadowed and what is celebrated. Our attention and total obedience is to our Lord and Savior. Our faith is centered on His actions and His Gospel. Why? Because He rose from the dead! So, who He is and what He did and is still doing should demand our whole attention.

The Jewish Holy Days and their feasts are special and wonderful events in salvation history. We wish our Jewish friends the very best as they celebrate. But we have been given the fulfillment of these events, indeed the fulfillment of creation through our Lord. Our celebrations, we believe, make whole and complete any other celebration and so we can in a very real way say that we are honoring the Jewish feasts with our own celebrations. But that isn’t the main point; we have the fullness of the truth, we should be zoned in on that, not on other events; not even to try and make ours sound reasonable. How can man make the mysteries God reasonable? That is like Hamlet trying to explain Shakespeare.

But what worries me the most is that apparent parish volunteer leaders (I shudder to think that clergy are doing this) are catechizing catechumens and candidates with these misguided ideas. These types of events have the possible result of diluting the teachings of Holy Mother Church, minimizing the importance both Traditions and traditions, making them ‘one of among many’ acceptable celebrations as it were.

Brothers and sisters, it is up to us to live the faith of the Catholic Church. To show the import of the faith in our lives and celebrate it with vigor and joy. After all, it is Faith – not social anthropology.