11 January 2019

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - January 2019

6 January 2019

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - January 2019

01 January 2019

Homily - 1 January 2019 - The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Dear brothers and sisters,

The secular celebrations accompanying New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have always baffled me, in part because the designation of January 1st as New Year’s Day is something of an arbitrary decision. More than a millennium ago, Aelfric of Eynsham observed this arbitrariness, saying:

We have often heard that people call this day 'year’s day', as the first day in the course of the year, but we do not find any explanation in Christian books as to why this day should be appointed the beginning of the year. The ancient Romans, in heathen days, began the calendar of the year on this day; the Hebrew people began at the spring equinox, the Greeks at the summer solstice, and the Egyptians began the calendar of their year at harvest. Now our calendar begins on this day, according to the Roman practice, not for any holy reason, but because of ancient custom. Some of our service books begin at the Advent of the Lord. However, that is not the beginning of our year; there is no reason for it being this day, although our calendars continue to put it in this place.[1]

Though we have chosen to follow the ancient Roman practice of observing the date of the New Year, it should not be forgotten that this falls in midst of the season of Christmas. As such, what seems arbitrary, might not be. Even so, there is something besides this seeming arbitrariness that baffles me about New Year’s Eve and Day.

Each year, many people make New Year’s resolutions. They do so with the full knowledge that they did not keep the resolutions they made the previous year. They also do so with the honest expectation that they will also not keep these new resolutions for more than a few weeks, at best. People know this, and yet they still make such resolutions every year; they expect to fail in their resolve, but hope they will persevere in their resolve. Is this not the very reason the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary? Did he not become incarnate in her womb to save us from our sins? Did not he, the Bread of Life, allow himself to be placed in manger as a foreshadowing of the nourishment he would give to us to strengthen us in our resolve?

The ancient Anglo-Saxons observed the beginning of the New Year on December 25th because of the newness that the Child of Bethlehem brought to earth. In other places, the beginning of the New Year was observed on March 25th, also because of the newness that the Child of Bethlehem brought to earth when the Archangel Gabriel announced God’s plan for our salvation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In both cases, the beginning of the New Year was seen as somehow connected to the mystery of Christmas, the mystery of God made flesh, the mystery of our salvation. Because our secular celebrations of the New Year have been so disconnected from the Church’s ongoing celebration of Christmas, she has placed this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, at the beginning of the New Year as a way of calling us back to the joy of Christmas.

Because we too often celebrate Christmas well before Christmas has actually come, we miss an important aspect of what our forebears knew so very well.

The ancient custom was to fast in Advent in preparation for the feast, and then to celebrate for at least twelve days after Christmas (and to some degree, all through January). Now we do it the other way around; for many people the feast is followed by a penitential fast, in the form of 'Dry January' or New Year's resolutions about eating less and going to the gym. As a manifestation of the desire for a fresh start, this 'New Year, new you' impulse is natural enough, but it does strike me as strange that it's so often framed in negative terms. There's an odd sense, encouraged mostly perhaps by journalists and advertisers, that the indulgence of Christmas is a 'sin' which has to be atoned for - as if eating and drinking with friends and family, to celebrate the turn of the year from darkness to light, is a moral lapse for which one must subsequently make amends by privation and self-punishment. We are much less kind to ourselves in these weeks after Christmas than the strictest confessor would have been in the Middle Ages. Feasting at Christmas is not something to atone for, but a proper observance due to the season; and that feasting is also the sustenance we need to carry us into the New Year with energy and strength.[2]

Christians of centuries gone by looked to the new year with hope because they knew the joy that Christ Jesus brought with him, the joy he promises to those who unite themselves to himself (cf. John 15:11).

A quick glance at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram last night seemed to suggest a great many people think the year 2018 had personally gone after them. It was, they said, a bad year and they could not wait to see what 2019 will bring. The presumption, of course, is that this new year will better than the old year, though no explanation was given as to why this ought to be. If we find ourselves thinking along these same illogical lines, it is good to remember what Saint Augustine said: “Bad times! Troublesome times! This men are saying. Let our lives be good; and the times are good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times.”[3]

The year itself has been bad to no one; it has no personality and so cannot act against us or in our favor. Rather, it is we who shape the course of the year, by what we do and what we fail to do. This we too often forget. A lot of Christians in these United States of America grumble and moan about the course society seems to be taking. Too be sure, the trajectory does not look promising, but some 70% of Americans claim to be Christian.[4] If this 70% of the population would live like Christians everyday the course of society would dramatically alter overnight, and for the better.

If we want 2019 to be any different than 2018, we will need to keep alive within our hearts the memory of what those shepherds saw: “the infant lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16). This is why, at the beginning of this New Year, the Church urges us to turn our eyes to the Virgin Mother of God, to her who is also our Mother, and who kept all the events of the Birth of her Son in her heart (cf. John 19:27; Luke 2:19). As we lift our eyes towards her lovely face, we, as devoted children, say to her: “Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.” With the eyes of the Holy Child and of his Mother upon us, how can this new year be bad? Indeed, with their eyes upon us and ours upon theirs, how can any year bad?

As so many people look on the past year with displeasure, they would do well to remember that, as Saint Augustine reminds us,

…it is evil men who make this evil world. Yet as we cannot be without evil men, let us, as I have said, while we live pour out our groans before the Lord our God, and endure the evils, that we may attain to the things that are good. Let us not find fault with the Master of the household; for He is loving to us. He bears us, and not we him. He knows how to govern what He made; do what He has bidden, and hope for what He has promised.[5]

If we do, this new year will be filled with the joy and peace of Christmas, that of the Mother of God and of her Holy Child. Amen.

[1] Aelfric of Eynsham, Sermon for the Circumcision of the Lord. In Eleanor Parker, “A New Year’s Day Carol,” A Clerk of Oxford, 1 January 2011. Accessed 31 December 2018. Available at https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-years-day-carol.html.
[2] Eleanor Parker, “‘Wyle New Year watz so yet that hit watz newe cummen…,’” A Clerk of Oxford, 31 December 2017. Accessed 31 December 2018. Available at https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2017/12/wyle-new-year-watz-so-yep-that-hit-watz.html.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon on the New Testament, 30.8.
[4] Cf. Pew Research Center, Religious Landscape Study. Accessed 31 December 2018. Available at http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/
[5] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon on the New Testament, 30.8.

31 December 2018

Homily - 30 December 2018 - The Feast of the Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

I do not know if you have yet had a chance to begin reading Matthew Kelly’s new book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity or not, but he begins the book with an intriguing story of family life. A husband and father attempted to work from home preparing an important speech but kept being interrupted up his seven-year-old boy. In an effort to occupy the boy,

Picking up a magazine, he thumbed through the pages until he came to a large, brightly colored map of the world. He ripped the picture into dozens of pieces, and led his son into the living room. Then, tossing the pieces all over the floor, he announced, “Son, if you can put the map of the world together I will give you twenty dollars.”[1]

Naturally, the boy set to work.

To the great surprise of his father, the boy returned after only a few minutes had passed by, with the map of the world restored. The father asked the boy how he completed the task so quickly.

The boy smiled and said, “You know, Dad, I had no idea what the map of the world looked lie, but as I was picking up the pieces, I noticed that on the back there was a picture of a man.” The father smiled, and the boy continued. “So, I put a sheet of paper down, and I put the picture of the man together, because I knew what the man looked like. I placed another sheet of paper on top, then holding them tightly I turned them both over.” He smiled again and exclaimed, “I figured, if I got the man right, the world would be right.”[2]

As it is with the world, so it is with the family, not only with the man, but also with the woman; get them both right, and the family and the world will both be right.

While the secular society has already abandoned the celebration of the Lord’s Birth, we in the Church follow the example of Blessed Mary and, with her, keep all these things in our hearts, turning them over and asking what they mean (cf. Luke 2:51). So it is that today, on this sixth day of Christmas, we find ourselves contemplating what it means that the Lord chose to be born into a human family. How can we forget that

The first witnesses of Christ's birth, the shepherds, found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also a small family: mother, father, and newborn son [cf. Luke 2:16]. God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God![3]

In our contemporary society, this new reality of the human family is far too often overlooked, even within Christian families. The family is an icon of God because the family is the first place where love is to be shared, received, and learned.

We can see here that the family is more than a practical human institution in which to raise children; it is that, of course, but it is so much more! Indeed, because

God is the Trinity, he is a communion of love; so is the family despite all the differences that exist between the Mystery of God and his human creature, an expression that reflects the unfathomable Mystery of God as Love.” In marriage the man and the woman, created in God's image, become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24), that is a communion of love that generates new life. The human family, in a certain sense, is an icon of the Trinity because of its interpersonal love and the fruitfulness of this love.[4]

In God’s plan for us, men are fathers and women are mothers because they are first husbands and wives; children come from this loving union and from it, in the love shared between husband and wife, the children see a reflection of the love of the Triune God. Because we so often ignore God’s will for the beginning of the family, the often family suffers in many ways.

One way in the which family suffers in our society today is through an inordinate focus on the self. It is of the utmost importance that husbands love their wives more than themselves. Likewise, it is of the utmost importance that wives love their husbands more than themselves. In this way, they both imitate the love of Christ Jesus. If a husband lives more for himself than for his wife, he cannot show her a proper reflection of the love of God. If a wife lives more for herself than for her husband, she cannot show him a proper reflection of the love of God.

A second way in which the family suffers in our society today is through a distorted order within the family. If you ask most parents today what their most important role is, they will likely say their most important role is being a father or a mother. This is not correct. Their most important role is being a husband or a wife, by which they become a father or a mother. This is why it is of the utmost importance that a husband and wife put their married relationship before their children. This is not to say that parents should neglect their children; children cannot be ignored, but they come from the relationship of the husband and wife. If the relationship between the husband and wife fails, so, too, does the family fail, and if the family fails, society also fails. If we get the family right, we will get the world right. The relationship between husband and wife must be nurtured and sustained if the children are to see in their parents an icon of God’s own love.

Such a task is daunting and is not easy, which is to say that it is a sharing in the Cross of Christ, a sharing in the deepest and most perfect love. We know that “love alone enables us to live, and love is always also suffering: it matures in suffering and provides the strength to suffer for good without taking oneself into account at the actual moment.”[5] Indeed, in Jesus Christ, “No longer is [love] self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation, and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[6]

It is this form of love, a love that always seeks union with the Cross of Christ, that a husband must share with his wife, that a wife must share with her husband, and that children must learn from their parents. In an overly busy society, we need to rediscover this fundamental reality of the Christian life. If we do, then, “in the face of the overwhelming problems in our world, we can wake each day and joyfully share God’s truth, goodness, and beauty with everyone who crosses our paths.”[7] Amen.

[1] Matthew Kelly, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture Is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness (North Palm Beach, Florida: Wellspring: 2018), 2.
[2] Ibid., 2-3.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 27 December 2009.
[5] Ibid., Address to the Clergy of Aosta, 25 July 2005.
[6] Ibid., Deus caritas est, 6.
[7] Matthew Kelly, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, 43.

24 December 2018

Homily - Mass During the Night - 25 December 2018

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Mass During the Night

Dear brothers and sisters,

Did you notice it? We intoned tonight a great and celestial hymn which – with the exception of two occasions - we have not sung these past four weeks. Did you miss it? Did its lyrics cause your heart to leap with joy? This hymn, of course, is the Gloria, the text of which begins with the wondrous hymn sung by the angels over the shepherds’ field this night so many years ago and has been lovingly expanded by Mother Church in praise of God.

There is something profound in the song of that heavenly host which cried out in the darkness of the night, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Did you feel the light of heaven warm your heart this night as you joined your voice to the voices of the angels? Did you feel your heart lift as you sang, “Glory to God in the highest”?

In the words of the Gloria, we, reflecting on the mystery of the Birth of the only begotten Son of God who has now taken to himself a human face, offer to the Father “words of pure praise. Praise is not an easy activity for us: left to our own devices we lapse into thanksgiving to God for his blessings (which is certainly a good thing to do, but it is not quite synonymous with praise).”[1] Thanksgiving is concerned with what God has done for us; praise is concerned only with God in himself. Indeed, when we praise God the Church does so “for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS.”[2]

We sometimes grow weary of praising God through the text of the Gloria because we are too pragmatic, too practical, for our own good. The act of praise “takes us beyond the merely ‘useful,’ the utilitarian, we might say, into that realm where the calling back and forth in the great seraphic antiphons of what is true turns out to be the central activity of the universe.”[3] Yes, the praise of God is at the heart of all that exists.

Put differently, we need to learn not to grow tired of singing laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, we need to learn how to delight in the repetitive “spilling of verbs … like water flowing over the sides of a fountain.”[4] If we learn this pleasure and join our hearts with the words that come forth from our tongues, then we can begin

to be taken out of the sinkhole of egoism into which our sin plunged us at the Fall and to begin to take our true place in the universal chorus, which includes all things, from the seraphim right on down to the North wind, the surf, the mountains and edelweiss and the song of the winter wren and the atoms – that chorus which exults in what is true, and which cries Gloria![5]

To unite our heart and mind and voice together as one in the Gloria – both individually and collectively – is to realize the very meaning and purpose of life, simple as it may seem. “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”[6] If we learn to sing the Gloria in sincerity of heart, if we learn simply to praise God for who he is, then, with all of creation, we will indeed be glad, rejoice, be joyful, and exult; we will like the angels who, seeing God’s effusive love, joyfully exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest” (cf. Psalm 96:11-13; Matthew 22:30)!

But what is it about the Birth of the Child of Mary that caused the angels to erupt in praise of God? Why did they break forth into this chorus of praise of the Almighty Father when the shepherds did not? The angels sang their hymn because they saw what the shepherds did not see. The shepherds saw the face of a child; the angels saw the Face of God. It is safe to say that “the shepherds did not see what the angels saw. Nor do we share the vision which the angels know… We see one thing, a small child; we believe another, God made man.”[7]

Here, then, is but one aspect of the unfathomable mystery of Christmas:

Faith, not vision, makes us sing the angels’ song: “Glory to God in the highest.” It is a song of blind people who have not seen, but have heard the good news and understood. There is a gentle peace in the singing of that song. It is the peace that comes from giving glory to God, of reaching beyond where thought and word can take us – into God’s world.[8]

Approaching the manger of Bethlehem and looking upon the Face of the Holy Child, we see “the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14). When we look upon the Holy Infant, we look upon the very glory of God made flesh; how can we not rejoice in this mystery and let loose an exultant, “Gloria!”?

Tonight we come to “adore him, meaning, literally, we seek his face, we long to look upon him with awe.”[9] We seek to unite our voices with those of the angels in their great of hymn of praise, to share “in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory.”[10]

We do not simply give God thanks, but we thank him for his glory. That touches upon a mystery of love. We do more than say that God is glorious. We revel in his glory. We see that the glory of God is a great gift to us, because he has made us to enjoy that glory, as one delights to behold what is most beautiful and holy.[11]

What can be more beautiful, what can be more holy, than the only begotten Son of God? He has made us to see his glory, to look upon his Face!

J.R.R. Tolkien recognized this inner impulse of the human toward the praise of God, toward that praise of God which also gives joy to the human heart. This is why he gave this advice to his son: “If you don’t do so already, make a habit of the ‘praises,’” among which he included the Gloria. “I use them much (in Latin),” he said. “If you learn these by heart you never need for words of joy.”[12]

Tonight, then, let us together turn towards the Lord and lift our voices in his praise. Let us consciously join in the song of heaven and let our hearts be moved with joy. If we do, then “Gloria, Gloria we will sing / That God on earth is come.”[13] In Jesus of Nazareth, in the Child of Bethlehem, we discover his glory, the Face of God, the Face of Love, and “the further we penetrate into the splendor of divine love, the more beautiful it is to pursue our search, so that,” as Saint Augustine says, “amore crescente inquisitio crescat inventi – the greater love grows, the further we will seek the one who has been found.”[14] Amen.

[1] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass (Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University Press, 1995), 63.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2639.
[3] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, 64.
[4] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal (New York: Magnificat, 2012), 212.
[5] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, 65.
[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1.
[7] Basil Cardinal Hume, The Mystery of the Incarnation (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2000), 143.
[8] Ibid., 143.
[9] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word, 212.
[10] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2639.
[11] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word, 212-213.
[12] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 54, To Christopher Tolkien, 8 January 1944.
[13] Ibid., “Noel.”
[14] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 28 August 2005. Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 105.3.