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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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

Martha And Mary

Homily given at a Mass at St. John The Baptist Parish, Winfield IL. They are celebrating their 150 year jubilee year.

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Last week while serving at your Sunday morning Masses I learned that you were going to have a concert in the park on Thursday – and it would be big band swing music.  Since I have always liked this type of music I attended, and it was marvelous.  The music, your campus and the energy of the attendees made it a beautiful evening.  It was a marvelous way to help celebrate St. John the Baptist Parish’s 150 year jubilee.

This community can be proud of your journey and it is always good to look back at what you have accomplished, where you are today, and look towards tomorrow to where and what you will be in the future. A jubilee year celebration is always a special time to reflect on the journey of your parish.

A parish journey is one of community and as such it is made up of a multitude of journeys; as many as there are and have been parishioners. Each of us is on a journey; we are pilgrims, we are journeying through this existence to a goal. Each of our journeys are different but with the same future goal, the only real goal – eternity with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ walks with each of us on our journey, and gives us helps through His bride, Holy Mother Church. We have the helps of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist to strengthen us and heal us.  We have each other, fellow Christians to walk with us and support us; and this extends to the Church victorious, the angels and saints in heaven. We have the revealed word of God to lead us; and on and on.

But one of these helps is little understood by most Catholics – the Liturgical Year.  Other than clergy and liturgists and few others, most don’t really understand the gift of the liturgical year.  Except for when decorations and music change, vestments turn a different color there is no notice. But there should be. The liturgical year is a great spiritual and catechetical tool; if we live with the liturgical year affecting us we can grow in our faith and our witnessing to the beauty of that faith.

Holy Mother Church gives us great seasons and feast days to teach us the many facets of our God and His people. Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter celebrate the great acts of our God for His people; but the one season that seems to be mostly ignored is the ‘green season’, Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is a poor title because it is a horrible translation of the Latin; there is nothing ordinary about it.  A closer translation would be Ordered Time (thus the titles like today, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, next week will be the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and on and on). I like to call Ordinary Time the ‘School of Discipleship’ because the readings in it teach us what it means to be followers of Christ, it trains us to be better witnesses for God.  Through honest reflection of the readings we can take stock of how we are doing.

Today’s reading is a great lesson in our journey as disciples.  We see Martha and Mary. Martha – she is busy doing; and Martha has the right of it. Jesus calls us to do things – calls to activity. In the gospel of St. John (known as the most Eucharistic gospel) the description of the Last Supper doesn’t mention the institution narrative as other gospels do. No, instead it relates to us the washing of the feet – action, service – this is what the Eucharist calls us to do. The final words of the Mass, the dismal, in the official Vatican text is Ite Misa Est – ‘Go you are sent’ a call to action. His final words to His apostles before His ascension calls us to action: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…[1]  So Martha is following the teachings and commands of Christ to do things.

Mary – on the other hand seems to be just sitting and doing nothing, letting her sister do all the work.  This is true, she is not doing, she is listening, and Mary has the right of it as well. But Mary has correct priority of things.  She is listening to our Lord. Another Mary, the Blessed Mother, tells the servants and us at the wedding feast of Cana to ‘Do whatever He tells you.[2] She calls us to action but first to listen.

Being a disciple means we have an apostolate – we have things to do for our Lord, but we need to listen to what it is that He has to tell us. We have to come to understand His directions first then do them; otherwise we are just doing our own thing, spinning our wheels in our journey to be more like Christ.

To listen to the Lord we need to participate in His dialog, the Mass of course is the summit of His dialog but we also need to dialog with Him in our prayer.  Mass is at best daily, usually weekly, but prayer is constant.

I would suggest to you that this gospel reading about Martha and Mary can be viewed not as two different people but what goes on with our journey. We are at times more Martha than Mary, then more Mary than Martha.  We need to prioritize our lives with Martha and Mary in mind. Martha and Mary teach us a very important lesson in priority; we need to use our ears first, mind and heart second, and last our hands and feet. Or as St. Josemaría Escrivá puts it: ‘First, prayer; then atonement; in the third place – very much “in the third place” – action.[3]

May the lesson of Martha and Mary help us be more fruitful in our apostolates.

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[1] Mt 28:19-20a
[2] Jn 2:5
[3] Josemaría Escrivá The Way #82

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)

Conversion – it’s lifelong

As disciples of our Lord we spend ourselves to our limits in making His good news known. But, just as we spend ourselves in His name, every so often we run into periods of frustration and exhaustion which can lead us into doubt. Thoughts such as – I have given my life to my God; why isn’t my life easier? Why isn’t my witness met with more interest than derision? Why do I receive ridicule instead of curiosity? Why don’t people want what I have? – enter into our hearts and minds. It is all too easy to question our choice for God, our vocation as His disciple, within this attitude of despondency.  And this is made all more difficult by Satan who looks for these cracks in us; as we hear in Peter’s first letter: ‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[1]

Tomorrow (January 25th) we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul; it is one of my favorites.  For me, this is a feast that shows me the truth about successful discipleship – conversion.

Tomorrow’s feast is all about conversion. To only think of St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus does this feast a disservice because it hides a most important aspect of his conversion; St. Paul’s conversion is a lifelong conversion. Pope St. John Paul the great wrote: ‘His conversion on the road to Damascus was immediate and radical, but he had to live it in faith and perseverance for long years of apostolate: from that moment on his life had to be an incessant conversion, a continual renewal.[2]

Brothers and sisters, let’s take tomorrow’s Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul as a time to look at what conversion means in our lives. It is not a onetime thing, it is constant. As St. Paul was constantly tested in his faith, so will we.  As we are challenged almost daily to prove our discipleship, so was he.  Each morning St. Paul woke up and made the decision to take up his witness again, so should we. Each evening he laid his head down in review of how his decision for the day went, so should we. Being challenged day in and day out, being exhausted in the Lord’s work day in and day out, is the way of continual conversion; because it is our response to these hardships that builds our lives into a continual ‘yes’ to God. It is not easy but it is necessary; the path to conversion is through the cross since it is by the cross that we have the chance to begin with.

This is a tough road – this road of conversion. What can we do to assure our ‘yes’ to our constant and continual conversion? Abandon yourself to Him! Surrender to the will of Love Himself. ‘Depend on Jesus for everything.[3] Trust in He who never leaves. Live within the ever open embrace of Mercy.

I will finish with a beautiful quote from St. Josemaría Escrivá, one that I go back to time and time again; it helps against those doubting times: ‘Each day, O my God, I am less sure of myself and more sure of you![4]

Amen

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[1] 1 Peter 5:8
[2] Pope St. John Paul the Great General Audience January 1980
[3] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way #731
[4] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way #729

Declutter not Defeat

There is a scene in the Sherlock Holmes mystery Study in Scarlet that is always in my mind. Sherlock is explaining to Dr. Watson:

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. … It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.[1]

The ‘purple seasons’, Lent and Advent, are times when we should take stock of what is stored in our own ‘attics’. Time when we take a step back from our dizzying lives and come to grips with who we are and who God wants us to be. Our lives, and the desires and wants that come with them, can have the effect of crowding what is really important in our relationship with Christ. On top of this, we too can provide useless lumber with our sophistic reasoning that we use to make ourselves feel ok; mental gymnastics that we go through to try to make us right with ourselves and right with God.  When it comes down to it – we need to put ourselves under the light of Christ and honestly and determinedly clean out the things that elbow out what is truly valuable for our journey home. We need to declutter.

Now, as we start the final two weeks of Advent let’s make a conscious effort to clean house so that when Christmas arrives we can open ourselves up to the glory of Emmanuel. Don’t plan to do it, just do it. Start now – otherwise it will never get done because tomorrow never arrives. Tomorrow is a very dangerous word when it comes to our faith journey because as St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘“Tomorrow!” Sometimes it is prudence; many times it is the adverb of the defeated[2]

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[1] Sherlock Holmes, Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
[2] The Way #251, St. Josemaría Escrivá

‘Family Time’

I don’t know about the rest of you but I always look at the Solemnity of All Saints as the winding down of the ‘School of Discipleship’ – Ordinary Time; only four more Sundays and then its Advent. We have Thanksgiving coming up in just four Thursdays. We are coming very close to the most ‘family oriented’ of times – Christmas.  I can almost feel the additional pounds just waiting for me.

But if we look closely, Holy Mother Church starts ‘family time’ today and tomorrow. The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) tomorrow are intense celebrations of our Christian family.

Solemnity of All Saints.
Today we look to heaven, to those of our family who have triumphed in their journey and made it home – the saints.  They have lived a life in pursuit of God’s design. They have taken the words of Christ proclaimed in the gospel today as meat to live on, and the Ten Commandments as guideposts to lead them.  They weren’t always perfect, they struggled and they were tempted and every so often failed; but they continued to offer themselves to the Father through Christ. Or as Dr. Peter Kreeft writes: ‘The saints, too, had wandering minds. The saints, too, had constantly to recall their constantly wandering mind-child home. They became saints because they continued to go after the little wanderer, like the Good Shepherd.[1] They knew who they were and who they needed for strength and help. They overcame their weaknesses by submitting to the mercy of God and receptive to His will.

Their lives are something we should always and everywhere reflect upon. Saint John Paul the Great wrote: ‘All the saints have ever been, and are, poor in spirit, meek, afflicted, hungry and thirsty for justice, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted because of the Gospel. They have been these things in varying degrees. We have to be like them. “God’s will” is our sanctification.[2] They are our big brothers and sisters who, by their examples and prayers, will help us home. They are the ones we should look to for intercession and guidance.

Our celebration today of All Saints isn’t really for them, they don’t need our praise. St. Bernard in a homily said: ‘The Saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…. But I tell you when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.[3]  It is a celebration to remind us of their value in our lives as example and help. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Saints spend their lives in this world loving God and other people, imitating Jesus Christ who “went about doing good.” And when they get to heaven, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (no. 2683), they “constantly care for those whom they have left on earth… Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.[4]

All Souls
But this is not the only dynamic in this family of ours.  We are guided and helped by our big brothers and sisters; but, as in any family we are responsible for each other. Tomorrow, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) is where we take these gifts we have received and pass them on.  We are called to help those around us. It is easy to see the need among our living family members; but what of those who have preceded us from this part of the journey?  Do they need our help? Most likely.  Obviously, if a soul is in hell then no prayer can help; if a soul is in heaven then no prayer is needed; but a soul in purgatory can be helped by our intercession. How do we know who of our departed family needs help? Let’s pray for them all. In 2nd Timothy St. Paul writes about his recently deceased friend Onesiphorus, who was a model christian: ‘may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.’[5] As Christians we are commanded, and as family we are obligated through love, to help each other; and for our departed that is through prayer – let’s pray for them all.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t help but wonder about the day of my judgement when Christ asks me about how I helped our family.  I have this picture in my mind that behind Him will be our big brothers and sisters eagerly waiting to see if I lived up to their example. Will they be proud of me?

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[1] Dr. Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners
[2] Prayers and Devotions 365 Meditations
[3] Disc 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff
[4] http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/the-intercession-of-the-saints
[5] 2 Tim 1:18