Living Our Life

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen and for me, a deacon, it is a special feast day.  I make sure to read his account in the Acts of the Apostles. Quite a heroic ‘play’, Stephen out-argues the established intelligentsia, doesn’t fear the outcome (death) and proclaims great words. Usually when I am done I reflect on what he did and whether I could do the same, then I pray for the strength that he had.

All of this is good. But this year I am struck by the idea that his great acts weren’t things he all-of-a-sudden did; his actions are really the result of how he lived his life.  That he fearlessly held to the truth regardless of the outcome was the result of his firm understanding of the truth and that God was with him always.  His, ability to pray for those who gave false witness and those who stoned him wasn’t some great feat of will that he had to dig deep for but came from the daily love of neighbor that he had.  These events in his life were not some heroic self-sacrifice that he rose to, but was the result of another sacrifice that he knew was for him.  He was a loving servant of Christ!

C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.[1] Brothers and sisters, this is the paradigm of a Christian, we recognize the truth of Jesus Christ in which contains the knowledge that Jesus is within everyone. When we can obtain this paradigm then those ‘great acts of heroism’ we are called to are actually just living our life as always.

St. Stephen pray for us.
Merry Christmas!

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[1] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’

Radiant Beauty of Unnoticed Minutes

This past Thursday, the senior staff of the parish where I work, along with the pastor, sat in a classroom and celebrated our year in serving the mission of the parish, and of course the upcoming Christmas. There were just the five of us, celebrating in an empty parish since we closed the office at noon. The main part of our celebration was watching the movie ‘The Nativity Story’.  We ‘gifted’ this movie to the rest of the staff, but we sat together and watched it.

I have seen this movie a few times, it is always a beautiful and spiritually fruitful experience.  Today, however, I was struck with something that, though obvious now, I seemed to have missed in the past. What we were watching was a movie about individuals trying to follow their faith in the daily trials of their lives. Towards the end, at the birth of Christ, the movie powerfully showed two people, man and wife, who had gone through so much together, enduring the fear and joy of childbirth, alone. They were facing the next trial of their lives which was parenthood, and they were also facing a new phase of their faith life. Could they raise the child of God? Could their wisdom and love bring to adulthood God Himself? Were they worthy of such trust? I kept reflecting on that throughout the rest of the day and during the evening I remembered the Responsory of morning prayer that day in the Liturgy of the Hours.

You will see his glory within you;
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.[1]

Brothers and sisters, as we enter the celebration of the Nativity of Lord, as we gaze with our hearts in amazement and humility at the baby in the crib, God Himself, let’s remember that it was the daily lives of Mary and Joseph, that brought us this celebration. It was by struggling through each day of their lives, through the temptations and hardships of life, that Mary and Joseph participated with God in His incarnation and nativity. No great plan on their part, it was just living their lives as best as they could by following God that mankind is given the chance to receive God’s gift of salvation.

Let’s remember and follow their example. It is not doing great things that we bring the Kingdom Heaven to earth as much as it by living our lives in faith, day by day, seemingly unnoticed, that the great things God offers comes about. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine love also consists of little things.[2] It is by living as Mary and Joseph did, and the countless saints since, that we will truly see His glory within us, and by doing so the Lord will continue to dawn on us in His radiant beauty.

May the God of mercy and love reign in our hearts, especially in those ‘unnoticed minutes’ of our lives.

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Responsory for Advent Lauds (Morning Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours.
[2] St. Josemaría Escrivá ,The Way #824

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

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.

Crossing Ourselves

As Catholics, the most common expression of our faith is when we cross ourselves with the words ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. Most people probably don’t even think about it; the words and the actions just come automatically. Even when we say grace before meals, our action of crossing ourselves and saying those words is almost a subconscious segue from what we were doing to our prayer.  And yet, those words are the core of our faith.

First of all, they declare our belief that God exists! Not only that, but that He has come to us and revealed to us that He exists. He takes an interest in His creation. He is concerned that we come to know who He is. He is in dialog with us.

Second, they declare that God is a relationship, a family. He exists as three persons in one God. We don’t say ‘In the names of’ no, the words are ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

The third declaration, which comes out of the first two is that God is perfect love. Let’s unpack this declaration. As God, He is the absolute totality of creation, He is perfection. As a triune God, one who is dialog, family; He is the perfection of a family. A family is a dialog of love (or is judged by their ability to dialog love). So, as the perfection of family, God is the perfection of love, perfect love. What God is, what perfect love is, is not any love, for there are many uses of the word love, but self-giving love, agape.

Finally, we are led by first three declarations to another declaration. That His self-giving relationship is not just within Himself but outwards as well. We can’t mention the trinity, and especially the second person of the trinity, the Son, without proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son incarnate. And in doing so we proclaim God’s gift of Himself for and to us. His embracing us within the Triune dialog of love.

Our actions of crossing ourselves and using those words proclaims what some call a Trinitarian testimony. Now of course the action of crossing ourselves holds much more about our faith; but these declarations/expressions are the bedrock of our action of crossing ourselves, indeed the bedrock of our faith and should be the bedrock of how we live our lives.

If we acknowledge that God exists – we should strive to grow in our appreciation of He who created us. We should desire to come to understand better our creator who continues to dialog with us, who holds together this creation, especially us. It only makes sense since all of creation and how it works; the nature of everything is by His design.

If we acknowledge this then we should accept that the hermeneutic for understanding God is love; because that is who He is. That is why He created, still creates. That is why He does anything and everything including gifting to us our life, our very being and freewill – love.

If we acknowledge this, then we should be at peace and rejoice that this God, who has revealed Himself to us; who has revealed that He is love; has embraced us into the divine dialog of love within Himself. We are not strangers outside looking in, we are family.

All of this from just fifteen words and two movements of our right hand. Two quick gestures and a few words proclaim the most important and powerful truth of eternity. So I have to ask myself: Why do I still have trouble appreciating and dedicating myself to these words that I so often use?

God help me, give me the wisdom to embrace what I say so often.

 

Towers And The Cross

Today, we remember back 15 years ago to the horrific events that affected those of us who can remember and color the worldview of those who came after. It was one of those moments that shook us to the core, what was certain and secure before became less so. Our peace of mind was ripped from us, we reeled about looking for something solid to grasp.  As horrible as the events of 9/11 are, sadly, they are just another in a long line of life shattering moments that mankind in general, and each of us in particular, go through on our journey.

Living in this world is a journey full of turmoil and sadness, there is just no way around it. Just when we think that things are moving forward as we expect or hope, something barges in that throws us for a loop. Many events are great, world shaking events; some are natural such as: tornados, hurricanes, volcanos, tsunamis, and some are manmade such as 9/11 and terrorism, state declared wars such as WWI, WWII, holocausts such as the Shoah, Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda. These are great and devastating events that affect us all to varying degrees; but there are the more common and more painful personal events that affect each of us as well; the ones where our personal pain is intense, interior, and they isolate us, make us doubt. The journey of our lives here on earth are paths between and through these horrible great and personal moments that take our sensibilities and throw them and us to the ground.

But, we have hope, indeed a hope that is more powerful than any and all of these tragedies. Every time we are thrown down and our eyes are blurred by fear and tears as we search for meaning and security; we can look up as Mary and John’s eyes did to behold that greatest hope – the Cross with Christ upon it.

The Cross, the central point of all that is unshakeable, all that is foundational.  The Cross, an instrument of destruction which became the center of creation – because it holds the creator upon it.  The Cross, a means of humiliating defeat and death, which is now the tree of life. The Cross, that should drive away our hope but now holds eternal hope. The Cross, in which is now enshrined Love eternal, for all to see.

Brothers and sisters, let’s stand next to Mary and John and look up at the Triumph of the Cross. Let’s never take our eyes and hearts off of the pillar that holds creation together. If we do that, all that we endure will gain for us a closer communion with Jesus Christ. If we do that, then all the tempests that buffet us will not drive this victory from our hearts, indeed they will bear fruits from God.

St Paul of the Cross: ‘Oh cherished cross! Through thee my most bitter trials are replete with graces![1]

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[1] St. Paul of the Cross