Light To See The Devil

There is a scene in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ where Christ is walking the Via Dolorosa. The people are in an almost party mood as they watch the condemned carry their crosses to Golgotha. Both sides of the street are lined with people, revelers mostly but some sadden by the spectacle.  Mary is walking parallel to her son watching in agony. On the other side of the street is a grotesque figure, if not Satan then one of his minions doing the same as Mary, only it is enjoying the spectacle.  What strikes me most is that Mary is the only one that sees this creature for what it truly is. She is aware of the evil among us, Satan’s manipulations.

On this Holy Day of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God I am reminded of two undeniable facts.

Satan is real, and he and his hoards do walk among us affecting evil in our world. Maybe by direct action but mostly by whispering in our ears to move us farther from God.

God is real, and he is calling us back towards His path and Heaven. But it is important to understand, as in the scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that the closer we get to God the more clearly we see the world for what it is and what it should be. The more we are bathed in the light of Christ the more we see and understand God’s plan for us; but also see the manipulations of the evil one in our world. God’s light doesn’t blind us from evil it reveals it. The closer to God we become the more we see clearly both the good and the bad.  This is ok; it not bad. Though we might not wish to be aware of Satan, we need to be. To be blinded from his mechanizations is to allow him to succeed. We just need to be strong and call his actions for what they are, be heralds against Satan. This is especially important in our age where our society is pushing God from the public discourse – which removes him from the personal consciousness. His light is dimmer which means Satan is now in the background, in the shadows, hidden – making it easier for Him to work against us.

Brothers and sisters, this might seem frightening but we can rest assured that we have the better of him when we are living within the light of Christ, as Mary did. God’s light doesn’t protect us from evil but His love does, and where His light shines so does His love – in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

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

Introductions

In this morning’s gospel we are surprised by Christ’s attitude. We have come know Jesus as the compassionate, the peacemaker, the merciful. His attitude towards his apostles, his disciples and those he meets during his ministry was one of fellowship, brotherhood, love. But this morning he seems to almost hurl his words at us: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing![1] and: ‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.[2] and he continues in talking about a house, a family, divided.  How does this reconcile with our understanding of the prince of peace?

We can know much about Jesus; we can dive deep into study and reflection of our Lord; but as important as that is, it is not what our faith calls for. It is a very big mistake on our part to only ‘study’ our Lord; Pope Benedict in his first encyclical writes: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person…[3] We need to know Jesus himself; we need to build and deepen a relationship with Him. As we become closer to Him then words like today’s gospel start to open up into the loving, not threatening, message that they truly are. We need to embrace the love of Christ with our love for Him.

Where do we start? Where can we go to step into this relationship that is so needed? How can we be sure that we are building a true friendship, a loving relationship?

This evening we start the celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who loved God absolutely. She who offered her body and life to God Himself. She who embraced Christ every day and built a mother’s love for her child as she deepened her love for God. She who, at the cross embraced all humanity with a mother’s embrace. She who, has come to us through the millennia to introduce us to Jesus. Let’s look to her as our guide to Christ, as our model for our relationship with her Son. She loves us with all her heart and soul.  Let’s ask her for the wisdom to deepen our friendship with her Son.

It is then that all of Christ’s words will come into clearer focus and consistency. It is then that His words this morning will take on the attitude of love and we will realize that our hearts will blaze with the fire of true love as He wished.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
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[1] LK 12:43
[2] LK 12:51
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 2

Four ‘Yesses’; Four Faces

(Divine Mercy Sunday – 2016)

This year, because of the liturgical calendar, we have a special alignment that speaks even more fully of God’s gift of mercy.  This year our celebration of Divine Mercy is wedged between two great acts of God’s Mercy, indeed it is situated between the beginning and the culmination of His gift of Mercy, albeit in chronologically reversed order – but still between them. The celebration of Divine Mercy, this year, rests between Easter Sunday and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (which we celebrate tomorrow). Normally, when Easter Sunday isn’t so early in the year, the Solemnity of the Annunciation falls within Lent.

Why is the Solemnity of the Annunciation tied so closely to Divine Mercy?  After all many would say, and rightly, that all celebrations are tied to Divine Mercy. But the Solemnity of the Annunciation is especially integral to this gift; Easter couldn’t have happened without the Annunciation.

Of course it is easy to understand why Easter is so connected to today’s celebration of Divine Mercy. The great Pascal Mystery; when through no merit of our own, due only to the love of the Lord mercy was shown to us, mercy opened the gates of hell; mercy healed the universe.  Easter is when the light of mercy explodes to those who seek it.  It is the culmination of this great gift from the Father. It is the reason for our joy.

But, again, why is the Annunciation closely connected to Divine Mercy?

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is usually almost forgotten among the celebration of Lent. If we look closely, this ‘hiddenness’ seems almost appropriate. Pope Benedict XVI commented on this at his March 25th 2007 general audience: ‘The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it – but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity.[1]  What is almost always overlooked is that at this small ‘backwater’ encounter there were two fiats, not one. Two acts of mercy happened at that meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, and both were needed to bring Divine Mercy among us. Mary’s yes to the will of God the Father; and first, the Son’s yes to His Father in doing Their merciful work by entering into the world. It was at the Annunciation that Mercy took a face.[2]

But there is another ‘yes’, another face.

Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, takes our Blessed Mother’s yes and adds hers to it.  The Church stands in front of the face of God and the faces of all the angels, and the heavenly hosts and proclaims her fiat. Her yes, to continuing to bring the face to mercy to mankind. Two millennia have seen this ever different yet never changing face of Divine Mercy. It is the face of each and every faithful who has and is doing Christ’s work. Holy Mother Church continues to give physicality to God’s mercy – through her we can see and hear and touch Divine Mercy.

And, there is a fourth ‘yes’ – ours.

As have those who preceded us in the mystical body, we need to allow our own face to project Christ’s face and shine as the face of mercy.  Our ‘yes’ needs to be added to the Church’s nearly 2,000 years of ‘yesses’.  It is our ‘yes’, our face of mercy that ‘completes what is lacking[3]. Our suffering for those around us, the action of mercy, that brings them to Christ through His bride.

My brothers and sisters, do we take up this mission and move forward? Do we add our individual fiat to that of the Church, and of Mary, and of Christ? Are we adding our face to Christ’s and radiating mercy to the world?

This week we have seen the passing of a great witness to the mercy of God. Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation went home to the Father after 92 years of pilgrimage and over 70 years of continual public fiat in doing His will.  By her faith in our merciful God she built the largest Catholic, indeed Christian, media network and spread God’s face throughout the world.  It was her EWTN television station that daily prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy so the world could become aware and appreciate its power and participate in it.  She has been called home – let’s take this milestone to recommit to our Merciful God and say yes to the mandate of Divine Mercy. Let’s embrace His mercy with our own fiat and in doing so let those who haven’t felt His mercy see His face in ours and by doing so instill in them the wisdom of the prodigal son when he finally realized who he truly was and where he should be.

Finally, friends, this Fiat of ours isn’t an annual celebration – it is a commitment to action, continual action. So as we add our ‘yes’ to the millennia of faithful let’s ask our Father to give us the strength to offer the mercy we received from Him to all we encounter.

Let your face shine through us Oh Lord, so that Your Mercy may bring light to our darkened world.

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[1] Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[2] Inspired by: Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[3] Col 1:24 (RSV)

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

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

Our Lady of many titles

Homily given on the Memorial of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Today is a special feast for Mary Queen of Heaven parish.  Today Holy Mother Church celebrates not just another church dedicated to our Blessed Mother but the first Marian Church in the west – St. Mary Major in Rome. Santa Maria Maggiore was erected in the 4th century in honor of the proclamation of Mary as Theotokos (God bearer) or as we say ‘Mother of God’ at the council of Ephesus.

We celebrate not only the dedication of a church named after the Blessed Virgin but we also celebrate another title given to Mary in connection with a miracle that led to its erection when in 352, legend has it, Mary indicated in a dream to a wealthy, childless Roman couple, who had prayed that Mary might show them how to dispose of their money, that she wanted a church built in her honor. The couple’s friend, Pope Liberius, also had a dream in which Mary told him that a church should be built in honor of the title ‘Mother of God’ and the site for this church would be covered with snow. The next day, August 5th, a hot, sultry morning, the Esquiline Hill was covered with snow. All Rome proclaimed the summer snows a miracle, and Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the hill; and from this event Mary was given the title ‘Our Lady of the Snows’.

And so, here at our church in Elmhurst Illinois 1,663 years later, dedicated to yet another title given Blessed Mary we celebrate almost two millennia of special honors given to this small maiden, from a small backwards village in a small backwater kingdom – who offered her whole heart and mind and entire being to God long before she gave her fiat to the Archangel Gabriel. A young maiden whose yes changed humanity. A young maiden who has time and time again come among us with love to do one thing – to lead us to her Son.

Brothers and sisters whether we proclaim her as: Our Lady of Good Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or any of the other dozens of titles let’s make sure that we make it our mission to honor Mary by how we live our lives. Let’s make her total faith in her Son our own.  Let’s be like the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel and approach her Son with the confidence that Jesus will hear our prayer and say to us ‘O woman/man great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.[1]

Let’s not give in to the pressures of trying to fit into society if it leads away from where Mary is pointing.  The last week or so our first readings have shown us a stubborn and wayward Israel nation who at almost every step of their journey were tempted to return to slavery if it meant comfort. This is not our path; our path is that of our Blessed Mother – who trusted in God – come what may! She will help us to move towards her Son, she is our Mother; she will untwist the confusion and chaos we find ourselves in by pointing to her Son; which brings us to yet another title given her (and one of Pope Francis’ favorite) ‘Our Lady of the Knots’.

Oh, Lady of many titles help us to keep close to your Son and our Savior.

Amen.
[1] MT 15:28