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

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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

Episodic

During our vacation last week, we went through the Amish region of northern Indiana. Every time I go through there and see the Amish traveling the roads in their horse and carriages I am both impressed by their total devotion to living their faith in the wider society and am saddened and concerned by our inability to do the same.  It seems to always bring me back to one issue in our society.

I have noticed for decades that the lives of people have become more ‘episodic’.  Men and women go through their daily existence and relationships as if they are watching TV. Each move through the day as if they turn on and then turn off the different events; and one event doesn’t relate to the other.  They live in sequential but different realities; family life is one episode, work life is another; weekends are different from weekdays; interaction with friends are different from interaction with their loved ones; and their episodes of faith are separate from their secular life.

Holy Mass doesn’t escape this malady. People seem to turn on their religious life as they enter the church for Mass and then turn it off when they leave.  When faith is viewed in this way, it is easier to understand why it is so hard to build a vibrant parish. But there is an even more direr aspect to this episodic malady, and it has to do with a fundamental reason for Mass.

An important purpose of the Holy Mass is, sadly, almost unheard of; and it is the mission of the faithful: consecratio mundi. We are to go forth and help consecrate the world – make it holier.  The dismissal at the end of the Mass isn’t just a quaint way of closing the celebration, it is a mandate. The original and still primary dismissal is ‘Ite Missa Est[1] – Go, she (meaning the church, us) is sent. Two alternatives in the Roman Missal which closely reflect the essence of the Latin dismal are ‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.[2], and ‘Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.[3]  The Mass, our participation in it and the fruits we receive from it are not to be stored in the back of the Church as we leave, they are not turned off as if we switch the channel from Mass to Sunday Morning breakfast, they are to continue outward. In a book review in the September Adoremus Bulletin the reviewer writes: ‘The liturgy of the Mass nourishes Christians to sanctify the world[4]. This is what it means to us and how important it is to mankind. The reviewer goes on in the next paragraph: ‘…the liturgy does not exist for its own sake, but it is oriented towards the transformation of the world. All Christians have the vocation to take the cues for how they live their lives and they see the world based on the liturgy.[5]

But this understanding of the Mass is missed by many today because of this ‘episodic’ paradigm they live their lives under.  How can we hope to instill in the faithful this understanding of consecratio mundi if they don’t understand the organic connectedness of all moments in their lives?  When they leave their lives in the narthex and pick them up as they go out? This is not only a malady of Mass participation, it is a malady for all religious participation: the Liturgy of the Hours, private prayer, devotionals, and so on.

So, the question for us this evening is: how can we enliven the mission of the Royal Priesthood of the faithful; reinvigorate the true paradigm of living our lives; remove the social mentality of ‘episodic’ lives? The complete answer is complex and nebulous; but maybe, our small part is clear: living our lives in an even more public way.

Brothers and sisters, for those of us who try to live a full and connected life within our faith – let others see what we know; that all parts of our lives are interwoven with the Mass, with Christ. There is no ‘turn off one aspect and turn on another’; at every moment the Mass affects our lives and every moment of our lives are offered up in the Mass; because it contains Christ in the Eucharist which is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life..[6]

But, of course all of our actions mean nothing without receptivity to the Holy Spirit by those around us; and this means prayer.  We need to pray and then pray more.  Our plan is clear, though hard, in the words of St. Augustine: ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.’ May God bless us all in our part of His plan. Maybe, just maybe, more and more people will see life as it is intended to be, an interconnected and continual journey towards He who made us. In turn, person by person, the world will be become a holier place.

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[1] http://www.usccb.org
[2] Roman Missal page 673 order of the Mass Dismals.
[3] ibid
[4] Adoremus Bulletin September 2015, page 9. Book review on Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology by Dr. David W. Fagerberg – written by Roland Millare.
[5] ibid
[6] Lumen Gentium #11

Cafeteria Food

Vesper homily for the Vigil of the Memorial of St. Dominic (patron saint)

I attended a morning of reflection the other day for parish and diocese staff about the ministry of administration.  The talk was a little awkward at the beginning and the end because the author of the book we were reflecting on tried some rather trendy prayer techniques. That is my feeling but I know others liked it.

What was surprising, however, as the author was discussing forgiveness in the workplace and she mentioned that it was hard to truly forgive (and that is true) she commented that was why the church still carried the doctrine of purgatory! My heart and mind screamed.

The reason the church ‘still carries’ the doctrine of purgatory is because it is doctrine! It is a foundational belief of the Catholic Faith. To infer that it was just another piece of luggage not only does damage to that doctrine but it does damage to all doctrine.

Purgatory exists! The Catechism of the Catholic Church has three paragraphs that discuss it.[1] This doctrine is based on long standing tradition and upon the Second Book of Maccabees[2] and other parts of Sacred Scripture.[3] It exists!

But even more; this incident highlights an issue that has been around since the beginning of our faith. One that our patron saint Dominic was well acquainted with and has taken on a more intense ‘persona’ since Vatican II – fitting the faith into a more convenient belief system. In this case, a person, of some importance, giving a reflection to a large group and undermining the reality of the faith by either not fully understanding the faith or choosing to nuance it to her preconceived ideas of how the faith should be perpetuates the ‘cafeteria catholic’ malady.

Brothers and sisters, we need to be vigilant; vigilant but loving; loving but immovable as to the truths.  Faithful to our Lord and His whole revelation, not just parts of it. If we hope to celebrate with the heavenly hosts and our Triune God at the eternal banquet our determined vigilance is paramount.

Let’s face it, cafeteria food is never as good as a full banquet.

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 130-132
[2] 2 MACC 12:39-46; (2 MACC 12:46 – Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.)
[3] Rev. 21:27, Hab. 1:13, II Chr. 6:30, Matthew 5:24-26, I Cor 3:11-15

Doing

It is interesting to listen to the discussions about ‘participation’ at Mass. There are those who think things need to be done by as many people as possible and there are those who think about participation as our interior activity during the Mass. All you need to do is go around to many of the churches in our diocese to see the wide range of understandings.

Cardinal Sarah, in his inaugural speech this month at the 2016 Sacra Liturgia in the United Kingdom spoke about this and the current state of celebrating the Mass and mentioned a maybe more foundational cause of what has happened in the past 50 years to the liturgy: ‘Too often we assume that knowing things about the liturgy is all that is required for liturgical formation, when what is more important is an immersion in the depths of the liturgy, a living out of a truly liturgical life.[1]

His comments and this discussion go much broader than just the ‘doings’ of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; it dives deep into the understanding of prayer as well.  To which we should ask ourselves: Do we just do prayer or are we immersed into prayer?

This question, of course, strikes to the heart of our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours.  If we are not careful we run the risk of only ‘doing’ the hours (specific prayers) and not allowing our conversation with God to come from deep within and allow His response to enter back deep within.

My friends in Christ, our understanding of liturgical action should be based on the realization that the physical actions, either in the Mass or the Divine Office, are not the goal of our participation. Among other reasons, they are meant to focus us and calm our physical being from the chaos of our life so that the spiritual effects of opening our minds and hearts to God is all the more fruitful.

If we come to the Mass to offer our participation in Christ’s sacrifice to His (and our) Father by opening ourselves to God’s transcendent reality then this should also be our attitude in prayer. Our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours should be more than the recitation of printed prayers that we do at certain points of the day; it should be part of an organic flow in our lives where we flow from our dialog with God into our daily activity then flow back into our dialog with God.  It really doesn’t matter if we understand everything about the Liturgy of the Hours if we don’t allow our prayer to immerse us into the cosmic reality of the Triune God. It doesn’t matter how exact, punctual and consistent we are in our daily prayer regime if it doesn’t affect our lives, and our lives doesn’t affect our next prayer. Of course there will be times that our prayer seems dry, seems mechanical, and we need to persevere through these times; not giving up, always praying, because that is what our faith calls for; but we need to cultivate our participation to make those times fewer and farther between.

Brothers and sisters let’s remember that we are both physical and spiritual, we need both physical and spiritual aspects of our faith, but don’t let the ‘doing’ of prayer crowd out what prayer can do for us.
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[1] New Liturgical Movement – article on the Cardinal Sarah’s inaugural speech at the Sacra Liturgia UK gathering

10 Years

10 years ago, on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time we began our Sunday Vespers prayer group.


Today is a day that I hoped for but doubted would ever come – our 10th anniversary of Sunday Vespers. We can look back and raise a praise of thanksgiving to almighty God for this beautiful and compelling gift of our participation in the internal dialog of the Trinity.

  • Beautiful, because when God became incarnate in Jesus Christ – the Trinitarian dialog became reachable to us. Christ elevated our conversation to among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s dialog with each other. No longer is man’s conversation only between creatures but now it is also with the creator Himself – we have been brought within their dialog of love.
  • Compelling, because it envelopes us in the dialog of absolute love, and as such we are called to live as God lived among us; we are called to continue the witness of Jesus Christ, we are called to love those around us by proclaiming the truth through living it; and by loving everyone especially those who are far from this life in Christ.

This has been and will be a daunting gift.  The world never has and never will be easily receptive to the Gospel, even though their hearts yearn for what the Gospel proclaims.  This is a cross that we must bear, one that we must be joyful in carrying. But in addition, this is all the more daunting because of the ever changing dynamic of the world we live in.  Each day we find ourselves in a new situation; each day things we have done before have changed and things never known are now in front of us and we should participate in. To ignore this dynamic is to stagnate in our own isolation and refuse to participate in what God truly desires us to do, which keeps us from who we can fully and truly be.

However, prayer, our participation in the Trinitarian dialog can be unsettling, makes us unsure and timid; but we should embrace it with the knowledge that our continual dialog with the Trinity both in public prayer, such as our vespers and of course the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and just as important, our constant dialog of personal, internal, prayer keeps us united with our strength and guide.

As we enter the unknown of our eleventh year let’s rest assured that He who we dialog with and in will be right there with each of us.  To be sure, we will know doubt and weakness; but we will be embraced by almighty God and live within His dialog of love. Through His loving embrace we can look confidently through the fog of the changing and unknown to the only real future, heaven. It is really up to us; as long as we participate with the Holy Trinity in their dialog and continue to use His gifts as He desires we will know peace and joy. After all, He desires that we use what He has gifted us to ensure that history is His Story.

Let me finish with a beautiful assurance and urging given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to the youth in Madrid Spain:

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.[1]

Let’s live a life of faith as we journey into the uncertainty of tomorrow with the confidence that prayer gives us – that of the eternal goal.

May God bless each of us; and may each of us continue to participate in the dialog of Love, come what may.
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[1] Pope Benedict XVI, 8/21/11, talk to the youth in Madrid Spain

Art of Love

As I opened my Breviary this morning I realized that this was a sort of special Good Friday (as if Good Friday wasn’t special enough). Today, is March 25th, and if it wasn’t Holy Week we would be celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast of the incarnation of our Lord. As I reflected on the import of the symbolism that the day of His death is being celebrated on the day of His conception it brought me back to the early representations of the manger scene.  In those paintings and other artworks[1] you could see Jesus in the swaddling bands that also were used in death.

Here is a powerful lesson in just what our Lord came to do.  He had a mission and that mission is each of us. But I fear that this understanding and appreciation of what God did for us and what we mean to Him has been faded in the past 100 years.  Does our Lord’s passion impact us as it should? And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me’ first and foremost.

I pray that this year I can open myself up to the greatest act of love ever. I pray that this year I can allow the grief of what I did to our God to bring the sting it should; and the overwhelming wave of unworthiness and joy explode in my heart for His 33 year act of love for me.

I wish the same for each of us.

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

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[1] Such as:
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial, 1308-11 by Duccio
Nativity by Jacopo Torriti
Nativity Scene Fresco (1310) by Giotto Di Bondone
Stained Glass at St. Denis Basilica in Paris (ca 1100s)
Madonna and Child (1319) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti