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of the things that I have noticed over the years is that the secular holiday season of ‘Xmas’ has gotten more and more withdrawn.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

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A Serious Prayer

Last week I reflected about Blessing ourselves, how it is almost rote, no thinking behind it, and yet it means so much. This evening I would like to bring up another almost rote prayer, one that just comes off the lips without a lot of thought. A prayer that also means so much in spite of our almost absent minded recitation.

The Our Father, the prayer our Lord taught us to say. The perfect prayer prayed by many over the millennia. One that, in a certain way is a very dangerous prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.

Look at what we are proclaiming. God is our Father and as such we owe a child’s obedience to Him. Not only that, we are stating that we want His will, not ours, to be done. And since He is God, we can’t comprehend what His will entails, but nonetheless we want it to happen. I would add that because we are the ones praying this, we want to be an instrument in making this happen, which means that we participate in something that ultimately is unfathomable to us. We are telling God that we will go blindly forward with His will – come what may.

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

We are asking for not only His help in nourishing us, but we are saying that we totally rely on His gifts. Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow because God will provide.  ‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.[1] and again ‘do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.[2]

Then we ask for forgiveness, and we need much; but only as we have been forgiving others. Think about how we harbor grudges, anger, yes hatred. How petty we are and fickle.  Is this how we want God to act towards us?

And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

And now we ask God to protect us. Protect us from how we handle the assault for Satan’s advances, protect us, at times, from even our loved ones, but mostly protect us from our own weaknesses.

This whole prayer is a prayer of conversion. We are asking God for certain guarantees and in return we will change our lives. Not slightly, but radically, totally. We are, in a very real way promising much to God in this prayer and this is very serious.  Let’s look at it from a real world point of view. When you ask your bosses for more responsibility they hold you accountable for it, if you fail to do what you promised when you asked for more responsibility then there are ramifications and not good ones. Now, of course God is a merciful God, but the comparison is still valid; the Our Father is a request to participate in God’s work, it is a blind request because we don’t know what that will be, but we request it anyway. And though He won’t fire us, how we will feel when our failings are revealed to us?

Brothers and sisters,
This great prayer that we learned very young, that we can proclaim in an instant should give us reassurance because it is what God desires to hear from us. But, at the same time it should give us concern because what it means and what we are intending when we pray it can be as far apart as the sunrise and sunset. Whatever we are intending when we pray the Our Father we are telling God that we will be obedient and St. Josemaria Escrivá writes ‘to obey is to be a martyr without dying’. This prayer is that serious.

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[1] MT 6:34
[2] LK 12: 29-31

Hasten away!

Fifth Sunday of Easter 4/24/16

On Easter day, our hearts were lifted by the removal of fear and the joy of hope. The fear of being alone in our journey through this world turned to the hope that walking with God brings. Pope Francis in his Easter Vigil homily commented on Peter’s resurrection, ‘the resurrection of his heart[1] during which he reflected on the words of the angel in the tomb: ‘why do you seek the living among the dead?’[2] He said: ‘Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish…the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves.  May the Lord free from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives… Tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems and in a certain sense, to ‘evangelize’ them.[3]

But now, five weeks later, let’s reflect on the growth of this Easter hope; for it needs to grow.  To only revel in the hope given to us at Easter will cause a stagnation to creep in, an erosion of the joy, that will give Satan cracks to enter through.  If we go no farther than revel in this gift from God then we become like a body in a tomb never to move; in our case, move closer to He who saved us. Our peace and joy that comes from God’s gift needs to see the light of day, to feel the breeze, to be nourished; to breathe and stretch.  We need to turn from ‘evangelizing our problems’ and help others evangelize theirs. We need to act.

The angel’s comment to the women in the tomb ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?[4]  is also a call to each of us. We need to turn our gaze from within and seek the living elsewhere – we need to look to those around us. Brothers and sisters, as we start the final weeks of Eastertide let’s discern how we can keep this gift of Easter joy healthy and vibrant. We can only do this by finding ways to gift it to those around us. Our faith can only be healthy and vibrant if we go out from ourselves towards an encounter with Jesus in those we meet. It is appropriate that, along with Peter we hastened to the joy of the empty tomb; now, let’s take the joy found there and prepare to hasten away from it.

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[1] Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homily 3/26/16 (L’Osservatore Romano English edition 4/1/16 pg. 5)
[2] ibid & (Luke 24:5)
[3] Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homily 3/26/16 (L’Osservatore Romano English edition 4/1/16 pg. 5)
[4] Luke 24:5

Ode to a Mother

I am a convert to Catholicism; born and baptized in the Methodist Church but lived a life as a suburban secularist – God just wasn’t important. But, as I was trying to understand better why the Catholic church was an anathema to the human race I began to realize the great lie of secularists.  The only way that God wasn’t important is if you ignored Him.  He was and is there, He was and is in love with me.  He was and is who always makes me more human. This process of coming to terms with, and growing in the real truth was my road home to Catholicism.

That road was paved with great people and great words.  I owe my understanding of the faith to, primarily, the writings of Pope St. John Paul the great, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger among others.  The authors of my conversion were the great points of clarity.  But as great as they were (and are) they are points in time.  I step back from life to read and understand.  But as Peter, James and John had to come down from Mt. Tabor I needed to put the books and papers down and go back into my life. This connection, this taking the truths and using them in my life was helped by another – a little nun in Northern Alabama.  Mother Angelica’s EWTN was the connection between these great writers and leaders and living a life in society.  Her enthusiasm for our God radiated through her television station and deep into my soul.  Through her and the programming of EWTN, I found that life could be lived within the faith joyfully. I came to know that my life lived in Christ didn’t mean a life of repression and boredom but a life of true freedom and vigor. The great truths of our faith didn’t hinder me but gave me fullness.  And of course, her ministry showed me that entertainment could be more than mind numbing titillation that left you empty and hungry, it could be life altering and empowering.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Mother Angelica from the very first years of my conversion and for her EWTN legacy.  May I, in some small way, pass forward what she and her community gave to this former ‘suburban secularist’ – a life in Christ.

Requiescat in pace Mother Angelica

What Path?

In 2005 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was chief celebrant and homilist at the Mass prior to the start of the conclave to elect the predecessor of Pope St. John Paul the Great.  In his homily Cardinal Ratzinger spoke words that rang throughout the media: ‘We are building a dictatorship of relativism[1] . His homily was as profound as it was challenging; one priest, a so-called ‘catholic expert’ for a major Washington DC newspaper wrote ‘I think this homily shows he realizes he’s not going to be elected.[2]

As a sound-byte goes, the Cardinal’s comment was good; but what made this sound-byte profound and challenging was the whole sentence that it came from.  ‘We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.[3]

Solely of one’s own ego and desires[4] His message is as relevant today as in 2005, maybe more so; both in its universal dimension and, most importantly, in its personal dimension. It is essential that we habitually pause for a moment and interiorize his observation and reflect on how our faith-life measures up to his statement; because how we live our faith affects how the universal church acts and thus how she influences the world.

Our faith, our response to God’s revelation, is one of acceptance of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:16).  As Catholics we accept that it is only through our Lord:

  • that we can find our way home;
  • that we understand there are absolute truths and they are imperative;
  • and, that we can gain eternal life with God Himself.

We accept this and we submit to living a life in pursuit and adherence to these realities; we submit to a loving obedience to He who can give these – indeed are these. At least that is what we should be doing; but, because of the effects of original sin, this is never easy to live out – we get in our own way.

Brothers and sisters, during this Lenten season let’s ask ourselves if we are actively trying to live the life that brings us to these truths; or are we allowing our own ego and desires to color our faith life?  Or, in the words of Pope Francis: ‘Am I on the path of life or on the path of lies?[5] One path builds a stronger church and thus a healthier world – the other path leads to a cacophony of disappointments and emptiness.

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[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 4/18/2005 Homily Misso pro eligendo Romano Pontifice.
[2] Fr. Richard McBrien The Washington Post 4/19/05
[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 4/18/2005 Homily Misso pro eligendo Romano Pontifice.
[4] ibid
[5] Pope Francis Homily 2/25/2016

Every Time

Bishop Javier Echevarría, in his February letter, writes about the blessings that God gives us with His mercy, especially during Lent, this great season of interior conversion and returning to the Lord’s embrace:

The invitation to a deep change is especially timely in the Year of Mercy, a special time of grace for all mankind. What trust and security it gives us to know that “God is always ready to give us his grace, and especially in these times; the grace for a new conversion, for rising higher on the supernatural plane: a greater self-giving, an advance in perfection, becoming more on fire.”[1][2]

In three short days we begin our Lenten journey. This time of Lent, if we use it wisely, is a time of challenges.

  • We are challenged to look within us in an ever deeper and more honest way. This can be threatening. We can be put off by the fear of seeing something that we have tried very hard to keep hidden, even from ourselves.
  • We are challenged by trying to give up something, at least for this Lenten season, to offer it to our Lord in love and thanksgiving for what He means to us. This can be very uncomforting and trying.
  • We are challenged by inadequacy, of the thought that we can never live up to what our Lord did for us. Our thoughts can veer towards whether our Lenten practices, even if done well, are enough to bring us closer to the love that God offers us?

But let’s go back to Bishop Echevarriá’s message; God is a God of mercy and because of that we can meet these challenges with the knowledge that He is embracing us in our struggles and He is helping us with them. He desires us to overcome these challenges and His desire is stronger than any doubt we have about our abilities. ‘Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.[3] St. John Chrysostom wrote.

Brothers and sisters, let’s take the lessons of this Year of Mercy and use them to enter our Lenten journey with the will to dive deeper within ourselves, look more intensely at our heart and mind, and come to a clearer understanding of who we are – beloved of Christ. Lets always remember that God is there to pick us up every time.

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[1] St. Josemaría Escrivá, Notes from a meditation – 3/2/1952
[2] Bishop Javier Echevarría, Opus Dei Prelate– February 2016 Letter
[3] St. John Chrysostom – Easter sermon (circa 400 AD)

Making People Hungry

This weekend we are back in Ordinary Time; but in spite of the change in liturgical seasons we are still contemplating what was started in the Christmas season – the great epiphanies of Christ. Today, we finish with the last of the four great events that, by the way, the Feast of the Epiphany originally celebrated. The Nativity of our Lord, the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, and now the Wedding Feast at Cana.

We are also one month into the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. There has been quite a lot of interest and activity already, which is a good thing. My worry, however, is that if we are not careful this celebration of the Year of Mercy might cloud the great initiative already in progress – The New Evangelization. This would be a tragedy because they fit so well together – indeed they have the same goal. The initiative of the New Evangelization is to bring Christ to those who have forgotten Him; to bring the Face of Mercy Himself to those who have forgotten what God has to offer His creation.

With any ministry and mission we are always looking for ways to implement them; the New Evangelization is no different. As faithful disciples we should always look to Jesus and see how He accomplished His mission on earth; in order to gain insight into how we should participate with Him. In this case – how do we continue to bring His face of Mercy, and what it involves, to those who have forgotten or never knew Him. With these celebrations of the four Epiphanies we can go back and look at how Christ brought Himself to the world.

The Nativity in Bethlehem.
Christ comes first to a family. His presence, the presence of divine mercy enters mankind through a family. It is true that the love and mercy of a mother and father to their child was always there, and Mary and Joseph come to know what this love and mercy is about.  They feel it well up in them and pour it forth on this little and defenseless baby. They knew He was God – but I have to believe that in Bethlehem that realization took a back seat to the love of a parent for their child.  But Christ’s presence brings a holiness to this relationship of parent and child, as well as to the relationship of a family. His presence, His love and mercy, elevates the dynamic of a family to something different, something holy, sacred.

The Visit of the Magi.
The world, in the personage of the Magi, comes to the great king, announced by an amazing cosmic display. But when the meeting happens, I can’t help but believe it is just three tired, worried and worn out journeyman visiting a poor rural family with a toddler. And yet their hearts are moved by what they see; they are fulfilled. The world comes face to face with Mercy Himself as they enter this house of a family filled with sanctity.  These outsiders are affected by what radiates from a family, they are changed; or as St. Matthew states more poetically: ‘they departed for their country by another way[1] Mercy is introduced through a normal encounter– not the extraordinary.

The Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan.
Christ, now an adult, is shown to those at the river as a chosen one of God. Mercy is made known by God Himself. And though it comes in the form of a profound mysterious event it comes during an event with the townsfolk of the region. Christ comes to the river with them and comes out of the river as they do; He is one of them. Mercy is made known through a neighbor and human social activity.

The Wedding Feast of Cana.
Christ, now with a few followers makes His first outward act of a miracle. His changing the water into wine wipes away doubt from His disciples who came with Him that He is special. But, just what was the event that He used. Christ, used the event of a wedding, a special but still common occurrence; and not only that but He used six relatively common vessels used to hold water, to show that Mercy was among the people.  He took the ordinary and raised it to the Holy.

Our Model and Our Turn
Brothers and sisters, as we try to contemplate our part in this much needed New Evangelization let’s look to Christ’s actions in these epiphanies as our model. Christ, in all of these moments, took what he was experiencing, took His daily events and raised them, sanctified them by His actions.  Now, some you might be thinking that – well, He was God and He had special gifts that allowed Him to do this; but, I urge you to reread the second reading today. St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we too have been given talents to help the face of Mercy be made known. ‘There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] St. Paul proclaims and then goes on to list a few of the inexhaustible gifts given to us. God has not left us without tools to reintroduce the face of mercy.

My friends – what these epiphanies show us is that our part of Christ’s mission to bring His face to everyone is to take normalcy and raise it to holiness – to always sanctify every moment of our day. This is our task, this is our obligation to He who showed us mercy first; not by clever words but by holy action. Sanctify the workplace, sanctify the home, sanctify the public square; with fearlessness and love. By these actions the people around us will hunger for what we have.

Out part is to make people hungry – Christ will feed them.

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[1] Mt 2:12
[2] 1 Cor 12:4