26 December 2006

In case you were wondering...

God is English. So I learned last night to my amusement in Christina Hardyment's Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur's Chronicler (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005).

Herself an Englishwoman, she writes:

Then came proof positive that God was an Englishman (162).

What proof have we, you ask? This proof: "On 23 May 1430 Joan of Arc was captured [by the Burgundians who then sold her to the English who then burned her at the stake in France].

Her biography of the literary genius Sir Thomas Malory is an excellent read for anyone interested in the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. It is also for good anyone interested in the history between England and France. I give it my recommendation.

A book not worth reading

Some weeks back I picked up a copy of Stephen Mansfield's Pope Benedict XVI: His Life and Mission (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005). It is a book I do not recommend.

I cautiously read the book because Mansfield constantly refers to "his [Pope Benedict's] God" and "his church." Of course, His Holiness neither possesses God nor the Church, but be that as it may, toward of the end of the book my suspicions were confirmed that Mansfield does not have a good grasp on the Roman Catholic Church.

Speaking about the days leading up to the conclave in which Pope Benedict was elected, Mansfield asserts:

Then there was the apparent transformation in Ratzinger's personal style. By all accounts, he could be painfully dry, both personally and in public. One cardinal feared that the banner over a Ratzinger papacy would be "The Bland leading the bland." Ratzinger and his supporters understood and this worked to make a change. At a funeral in Milan just weeks before John Paul II's death, both the popular [Cardinal] Tettamanzi and the usuallly tepid Ratzinger spoke. In a passionate and inspiring eulogy given without notes, Ratzinger so moved the crowd that they burst into applause when he finished. Tettamanzi was forced to follow him, but his uncharacteristically plodding talk, which was read from apprarently disorganized notes, met only with stony silence.
The Ratzinger makeover continued. His sermons improved and his newfound ease with a crown was widely acknowledged. He seemed to be everywhere. He not only gave the Good Friday homily as John Paul lay dying but he also spoke at the first of the novemdiales Masses, at the cardinal's daily congregation meetings, and at the pre-conclave Mass, where he seemed to outline a direction for the future of the Church....

Many [Mansfield apparently included] saw this as Ratzinger's bid for office (142-143).
Mansfield's assertions are, of course, quite ridiculous, and betray a lack of knowledge of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, his writings and his preaching. Ratzinger himself did not change; people's - largely Americans, I expect - perception of him changed. Raztinger was not "bidding" for office, but simply proclaiming the truth, in the most public way he could.

As bad as this false assessment of Ratzinger is, Mansfield makes a much greater - and inexcusable - error on page 159 where he says:

The vast majority of Catholics in America do not attend Mass regularly, believe it is possible to have an abortion and still be a good Catholic, and believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol rather than a repeated sacrifice of the real body of Christ as Church doctrine maintains [emphasis mine].
Church doctrine, of course, does not maintain this, nor has it ever. It is the same sacrifice re-presented. A simple consultation with the Catechism of the Catholic Church would have given Mansfield the correct and authentic Catholic sacramental belief: "The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice are one single sacrifice" [emphasis original], 1367.

If Mansfield cannot even get this most basic of Catholic doctrines correct, his book most certainly is not worth reading.

One papal biography worth reading is Peter Seewald's Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006).

I wonder as I wander

Three years before his death and just one year before receiving the Stigmata, Saint Francis of Assisi began the praiseworthy tradition of erecting of Christmas crèche, a Nativity scene.

Today these sets come in all shapes and sizes, from a tiny version to place on your desk to larger than life displays, from the cheapest and sickeningly cute to the most lavish displays of realism possible.

Tomaso de Celano tells us that “the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion were foremost in [Francis’] mind, so that he rarely wanted to think of anything else” (The First Life, 30.84).

I wonder, as we look at the manger, how often do we consider the Passion of the Lord? When we look at the Christ-child, do we see simply a cute and beautiful infant ready to play with us, or do we see the totality of Christ? Do we see both his beauty and playfulness together with his love and humility?

When he created the first Nativity scene, Francis said:

I would like to portray the Christ born in Bethlehem and to see somehow with my bodily eyes the hardships he underwent because he lacked all a newborn’s needs, the way he was placed in a manger and how he lay on the hay between the ox and the ass (The First Life, 30.84).
“Sighing, the Saint of God stood before the crèche, filled with sighs, contrite in piety and overcome with ineffable joy” (1.30.85). Let us do the same as we gaze upon the displays in our homes, in our churches and on the street corners.

Oh, and please keep your Christmas decorations up until the season truly ends, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Monday, 8 January). Don’t forget: the Nativity set in St. Peter’s Square stays up until the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Happy Christmas!

23 December 2006

Homily - Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: with great joy do I welcome you this evening as we keep the solemn vigil, waiting for the birth of the Son of God.

We know that artists - when their work is executed properly and with much prayer - have the wondrous ability to capture within their works the profound truths of the faith. Tonight I wish to focus on the statue of St. Joseph as a way to come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of Christmas. Take a look at this Joseph, if you will.

His face is both serene and stern. He is serene because he holds the Son of God in his arms and because of this he is also stern; he is quite peaceful and yet very serious. Joseph knows that this Child born of Mary is the “vindication” of Israel, the “glorious crown in the hand of the LORD” (Isaiah 62:2-3). Joseph is serene because he has heard the Lord say to his people: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ and your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the LORD delights in you” (Isaiah 62:4). Joseph rejoices and yet he is serene because he knows the very reason this Savior has come: he has come to die for his people.

From Joseph’s face, I ask you now to look to his hands. See how he holds in his hands the child Jesus, but look at how he holds him. At first glance, it seems as though Joseph’s hands form a throne for the Son of David “who will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Joseph supports the child with his left hand and he steadies him with his right, and yet Jesus really seems to simply rest above Joseph’s hands. Jesus is not held by the strength of Joseph’s hands, but by his own divine power. This “righteous man” holds Jesus closely, but not too closely because he knows that in his hands he holds God himself (Matthew 1:19).

Now look at the Infant’s own hands. As he sits on his throne he extends his hands toward us in welcome, in reception. For this reason we are invited to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus calls us to himself and he is ready to embrace us, but there is more still.

Look at Jesus’ feet; he is ready to stand up. He wants not only for us to come to him (cf. Matthew 11:28); he wants to come to us himself! Is this not the great mystery of Christmas itself? That God so loves man that he abandons the glory of heaven to save us and raise us up? Yes! Such is the love of God!

But even as Jesus stands down from his throne, Joseph seems ready to hand him to me, to you; he will not keep him for himself. He knows that this Child has been given not to himself, but to and for the world.

Looking again at Joseph’s face, he seems perhaps a bit sullen, a bit sad. I wonder if he is not sad because of how we receive his son, because of how we follow him? I wonder if Joseph does not ask what Pope Benedict recently asked:

Does humanity of our time need a Savior? The impression is that many think that God is foreign to their own interests. It would seem they have no need of him; they live as if he did not exist and, worse still, as if he were an “obstacle” that must be removed so they can be fulfilled. Even among believers, we are certain, some allow themselves to be drawn by seductive chimeras and distracted by deceitful doctrines which propose illusory shortcuts to attain happiness.
[1]I expect Joseph is sullen and sad because we have too often neglected the Child whom he raised. Too often have we turned our backs on the Savior and looked elsewhere for salvation. Too often have we sought our own ambitions and desires and ignored the one who died for us.

However, despite its contradictions, anxieties and dramas, and perhaps because of them, today’s humanity seeks a way of renewal, of salvation, a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Lord who renews the world and our lives; the coming of Christ, the only true Redeemer of man and of all men. It is true, false prophets continue to propose a “cheap” salvation, which always ends by causing harsh deceptions. In fact, the history of the last fifty years shows the search for a “cheap” Savior and manifests all the disillusions that have derived from it.
[2]I ask you then this night: Are you happy? Are you fulfilled? Are you at peace and filled with joy? What do you lack?

Look now from Joseph to the Christ-child and hear the words of Saint Augustine:

See, O man, what God has become for you. Take to heart the lesson of this great humility, though the Teacher of it is still without speech. Once, in Paradise, you were so eloquent that you gave a name to every living being; but your Creator, because of you, lay speechless, and did not even call his mother by her name. You, finding yourself in a boundless estate of fruitful groves, destroyed yourself by having no regard for obedience; He, obedient, came as a mortal man to a poor, tiny lodging that by dying He might seek the return of him who had died. You, though you were only man, wished to be God; and you were lost. He, though He was God, wished to be man that He might find what had been lost. Human pride pressed you down so that divine humility alone could lift you up.
[3]Look then, my dear friends, to the humility of God born in the manger. Look to God who is love and see this night your salvation! Amen!

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience Address, 20 December 2006.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience Address, 20 December 2006.
[3] Saint Augustine, Sermo 6.2. In Johannes Quasten, ed., Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, Vol. 15, St. Augustine: Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, trans., Thomas Comerford Lawler (Newman Press: New York, 1952), 93-94.

Homily - 24 December 2006

Brothers and sisters, the ways of the Lord truly are remarkable! He promises today through his prophet Micah that from Bethlehem “shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1). The Son of David, who is also the Son of God and the son of Man, is to come from the city of David’s birth (cf. I Samuel 17:12; John 7:42). Yet there is something far greater happening here than even this divine design.

You know well the story of Jesus’ birth, how when Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). This detail, I think, we pass over too quickly each year.

What is a manger? Have you ever really given it any thought? A manger is, quite simply, a box, a container, for food for the oxen, sheep and cattle. Why should Mary place her newborn Son in a feeding trough? Surely something more fitting was nearby, but, then again, maybe not. Says Saint Jerome:

[Jesus] found no room in the Holy of Holies that shone with gold, precious stones, pure silk and silver. He is not born in the midst of gold and riches, but in the midst of dung, in a stable where our sins were filthier than the dung. He is born on a dunghill in order to lift up those who come from it: “From the dunghill he lifts up the poor” (Psalm 113:7).


But then why not simply have Joseph hold the Child? Because Mary knew well what she was doing when she placed Jesus in the manger.

The Virgin must have somehow known in her heart what Jesus would later say of himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

When, in the fullness of time, Jesus came among us and was born of Mary, he

found humanity reduced to the level of the beasts. Therefore he is placed like feed in a manger, that we, having left behind our carnal desires, might rise up to that degree of intelligence which befits human nature. Whereas we were brutish in soul, by now approaching the manger, yes, his table, we find no longer feed, but the bread from heaven, which is the body of life.[2]
There is still more to marvel at besides this!

Why is Jesus to be born in Bethlehem? It is not simply because Bethlehem is the city where David lived. If we dissect the name “Bethlehem” we are left with two Hebrew words “Beth” and “hem”. “Beth” means “house” and “hem” means “bread.” Bethlehem, then, is the “house of bread” in which the Bread of Life would be born and placed in the manger – the trough – as food for the world.

It is this very Bread of Life who “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD, in the majestic name of the LORD his God” (Micah 5:3). He is the Good Shepherd who, because of his deep love, “will lay down [his] life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Through his Death his sheep will be “consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). All because the Bread of Life was laid in the manger in the house of bread.

What is more is this: whereas most shepherds simply lead their sheep to pasture, our Shepherd is himself our pasture! He is our food! He is our drink! By humbling himself and taking on our flesh, Christ Jesus “gives himself in order to raise man up and save him.”

Elizabeth, too, must have had some sense of all of this, else wise she would not have greeted Mary, saying, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:43)? Elizabeth recognizes her own sinfulness and ponders why the Lord comes to her in the womb of his Mother. Let us ponder the same.

Mary comes to visit each of us today just as she visited Elizabeth. Let us be filled with the same wonder and joy as was Elizabeth. Let us marvel at the Lord’s gift of himself and cry out with the Psalmist:

O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us (Psalm 80:2-3).
Tomorrow, then, with Joseph and Mary, with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, with the angels and shepherds, “let us also recognize him, let us go to the crib [to the manger], let us eat our Food.”

[1] Saint Jerome, On the Nativity of the Lord.
[2] Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 1.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 12.
[4] Saint Augustine, Sermo 8.3. In Johannes Quasten, ed., Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, vol. 15, St. Augustine: Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, trans. Thomas Comerford Lawler, (Newman Press: New York, 1952), 104.

22 December 2006

More on the church fire

The Catholic Times has an article about the recent fire in St. Mary's church in Paris, Illinois.

Please continue to keep these parishioners in your prayers during this difficult time.

Experiencing the blessings of Christmas

Here a couple of snips from the Most Rev. George J. Lucas' column in the Catholic Times:

"If we want to experience the blessings of Christmas, it is essential that we focus on what God is doing and not on what we are doing."

"In Jesus, God approaches us humbly so that we can approach him confidently," he said.

The Pope on Christmas

From the Holy Father's Wednesday Audience Address:

....On Christmas Eve, we will place ourselves once again before the Crib to contemplate, astonished, "the Word made flesh." Senitments of joy and gratitude, like in every year, are renewed in our hearts as we hear the melodies of Christmas carols, which sing of, in so many languages, the same, extraordinary miracle. The Creator of the universe, out of love, came to make his dwelling among men....

Does humanity of our time still await a Savior? The impression is that many think that God is foreign to their own interests. It would seem they have no need of him; they live as if he did not exist and, worse still, as if he were an "obstacle" that must be removed so they can be fulfilled. Even among believers, we are certain, some allow themselves to be drawn by seductive chimeras and distracted by deceitful doctrines which propose illusory shortcuts to attain happiness.
However, despite its contradictions, anxieties and dramas, and perhaps because of them, today's humanity seeks a way of renewal, of salvation, a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconcsiously, the coming of the Lord who renews the world and our lives; the coming of Christ, the only true Redeemer of man and of all men. It is true, false prophets continue to propose a "cheap" salvation, which always ends by causing harsh deceptions. If fact, the history of the last 50 years shows the searth for a "cheap" Savior and manifests all the disillusions that have derived from it.
...On being born in the poverty of the stable, Jesus comes to offer to all the only joy and peace that can satisfy the expectations of the human spirit....

May the Child Jesus, being born among us, not find us distracted or dedicated simply to decorating our homes with lights. Rather, in our spirit and in our families let us decorate a worthy dwelling in which he feels welcomed with faith and love. May the Virgin and St. Joseph help us live the mystery of Christmas with new wonder and pacifying serenity.

21 December 2006

On behalf of all priests...

I wish to beg your prayers over the next several days.

As you are certainly aware, this is shortest possible Advent season, with the fourth week lasting a mere several hours.

As a result, priests the world over (and others besides) will be extraordinarily busy about the work of the Lord. In less than 36 hours' time, I will celebrate six Masses. In this same time period, I will hear confessions for roughly one hours' time and sit "in choir" at the Christmas Midnight Mass and chant the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ. All of this on top of the preparations of changing from Advent to Christmas, rehearsing the chants and preparing the homily, working with the servers and visiting with people before and after the Masses.

As I'm sure you can well imagine, this promises to be one of the most exhausting two days of my life. Your prayers for strength and stamina for me - and for all priests - will be greatly appreciated!

20 December 2006

Assisi bound!

The Bishop of Assisi announced that the Holy Father intends to visit the city on 17 June 2006 to participate in the “Year of Conversion” marking the 800th anniversary of St. Francis.

I wish I could be there, too!
The Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square, which stands just over one hundred feet tall, was lit today.

The lighting took place during a ceremony presided over by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo.

It is now safe to light your own Christmas trees.

The nativity scene in the Square will be unveiled on Christmas Eve.

Photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Q.U. President "excused" from post

The Board of Trustees of Quincy University has "excused" Sr. Margaret Feldner, O.S.F, President of Quincy University, from her duties.

The Quincy Herald-Whig has an article here and WGEM-TV has information here.

One faculty member of the University suggested current recruitment efforts focus too much on the school's Catholic identity and mission (see QHW article), as oppossed to focusing on it's liberal arts education. This, it is suggested, is to be blamed for the declining enrollment over the past two years.

It may well be to blame for it, but is it not the very purpose of Quincy University to provide a Catholic liberal arts education? Of course it is!

As an alumnus of Quincy University (I graduated in 2000 with a Bacherlor of Arts in history), I noticed in my years at the University that the Catholicity of the campus was on a steady decline, especially after the Order of Friars Minor elected Fr. Kenneth Capalbo, O.F.M., as Provincial Vicar, thereby requiring him to leave Quincy and head to St. Louis. Since Sr. Feldner's arrival at Quincy University, I have noticed a marked improvement in the Catholicity of the University.

I met with her shortly after she first took office simply to introduce myself to her, as an alumnus and, then, a deacon. I expected a simple, five-minute conversation with her; she spent an hour and a half with me sharing her vision and hopes for Quincy University. I was very impressed, to say the least, and I agreed with much of what she said.

Quincy University - and all Catholic universities - needs to promote its Catholic identity and allow it to permeate every level of university life. This will attract not only more students, but quality students as well. Simple numbers, both student and financial, do not a good university make.

Sr. Feldner has my vote. Change takes time, and often is painful at first.

17 December 2006

Homily - 17 December 2006

Today Holy Mother Church says to us: guadete in Domino semper, “rejoice in the Lord always” (Introit; Philippians 4:4)! Today we put aside the violet vestments symbolizing our desire and need for sincere repentance and we take up the rose vestments of quiet rejoicing because “the Lord is near” (Introit; Philippians 4:5).

We know that the Lord is coming; his advent is near indeed. We have been – or at least we should have been – preparing ourselves these past two weeks to welcome him with great joy. From whence does this joy come? It comes from a life and faith lived in “festive seriousness.” We are to be festive, to be joyful, because, as Zephaniah reminds us, “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior” (Zephaniah 3:).

But how can we be festive if we know that, as John the Baptist warns us, the Lord holds his winnowing fan in his hand? How can we be festive if we know that the Lord is coming to separate the wheat from the weeds (cf. Matthew 13:24-30) and the sheep from the goats (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). How can we be festive knowing that not all of our fruit is good (cf. Matthew 7:16)?

We can rejoice in the Lord always, we can live in this festivity, if we have worthily prepared for his coming. If we have made the most of these days and truly examined our lives, comparing them to the teachings of Christ, if we have sought his mercy through the Sacrament of Penance, of Reconciliation, then we have prepared for his coming and we “have no further misfortune to fear.”

For this reason the prophet tells us: “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! [The Lord himself] will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals” (Zephaniah 3:16-17).

The Lord will rejoice over us in the same way that the widow rejoiced over the coin she lost and then found again (cf. Luke 15:9). He will rejoice over us in the same way that the shepherd rejoiced over the lost sheep he found (cf. Matthew 18:13). The Good Shepherd will place us upon his shoulders and take us home. This we know; this is the cause of our rejoicing, of our rejoicing. At the same time, however, we know that we do stray from the shepherd, that we do get lost.

To those who have not used these weeks to properly prepare for the Lord’s return John the Baptist tells us what to do in order to be found:

Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise… Stop collecting more than what is prescribed… Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages (Luke 3:11-14).
Whoever follows the instructions of the Baptizer – of Elijah who is come – lives in justice and in righteousness. Whoever follows the words of John follows also the words of Christ: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
In that crowd of common people who came to John the Baptist asking him, “What should we do?,” we hear the question of every person who has ever lived and who will live (Luke 3:10).

Do we not all ask the Lord, “Teacher, what should we do (Luke 3:12)?” We ask this question because we know that “one mightier than [John] is coming” (Luke 3:16). We know, too, that “his winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). When he comes on the last day to judge the living and the dead we want to be prepared and ready to enter the heavenly kingdom with him. We want our fruit to be good, not bad; we want him to carry us home and so we must prepare.

To those who have used this holy season well, the Prophet Zephaniah exclaims:

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you; he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear (Zephaniah 3:14-15).
What greater cause of rejoicing can there be?

By his grace and call we know and hear the voice of the Shepherd (cf. John 10:14) calling us to himself, saying, “I will come back again and take you to myself” (John 14:3). Because we hear his voice we know that he is near and we can listen well to the advice of Saint Paul: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6). We have no anxiety at all when we live our lives with festive seriousness, rejoicing always in the merciful love of Jesus Christ and conscious always of our duty to faithfully follow after him.

If we follow faithfully after him we will abide in him and our hearts will know peace, then our hearts will know the true and lasting joy of Christ Jesus, rather than the fleeting happiness of this world.

By his mercy we have one more week to prepare for his coming, to uproot evil and tear down pride, to confess our sins and seek his forgiveness and love. Then we will be at peace with him who made us. Only then we can live in festive seriousness, eagerly awaiting his return in glory.

Let us, then, heed the words of Saint Paul: guadete in Domino semper! Rejoice in the Lord always! Amen!

15 December 2006

Fire damages church in Paris, IL

An Advent wreath candle began a fire that damaged St. Mary's church in Paris, Illinois.

The Paris Beacon has an article here.

The church building is a beautiful one. I wish I could provide pictures of the church for you but I cannot find any online. Please keep the parish of 375 families in your prayers.

14 December 2006

A pastor of great importance

The Holy Father used his Wednesday Audience yesterday to speak about the life of Saint Timothy, co-worker of Saint Paul and the first Bishop of Ephesus. Through his efforts to evangelize the world, "the figure of Timothy stands out as that of a pastor of great importance."

Reflecting also on the first Bishop of Crete, Saint Titus, Pope Benedict XVI noted that "we are aware of some significant facts" when we look at the lives of these two men:

The most important is that Paul used collaborators in the development of his missions. He is, of course, the Apostle par excellence, founder and pastor of many Churches. Nevertheless, it is clear that he did not do it all alone, but leaned on trustworthy persons, who shared the effort and responsibilities.
To be point out, moreover, is the willingness of his collaborators... [T]hey teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, knowing that this also implies a service tot he Church herself.

12 December 2006

Exhaustible paper clips

I have had the same paper clip holder (whic looks like the one in the picture, only the clear part is a bit darker on mine) on my desk since high school. Much to my surprise my college and seminary years I never had to buy more paper clips than I first purchased in high school. The holder simply seemed inexhaustible - whenever I needed a paper clip, there were always plenty to be had.

About a month ago I realized my supply of paper clips seemed to be dwindling, for reasons that I do not fully understand. I can only surmise that I am using many more paper clips as a Parochial Vicar than I am receiving.

This morning, for the first time in at least ten years, my paper clip holder was empty. I used the last paper clip to . . . I can't remember now what I used it for (and it was only twenty minutes ago!).

At any rate, I now have one hundred paper clips in my holder. I wonder how long they will last?

Papal portrait

Sandro Magister has an excellent piece examining the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. He is quite right in his assessment of the Holy Father. Have a read.

Is Christ coming or leaving?

After he dedicated a new church in Rome to Mary, Star of Evangelization, His Holiness spoke the following observation during his Angelus Address:

In these days the liturgy reminds us constantly that "God comes" to visit his people, to dwell in the midst of men and to form with them a communion of love and life, that is, a family. John's Gospel expresses thus the mystery of the Incarnation: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us"; literally, "he made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14). Does not the building of a church amid the hourses of a village or neighborhood of a city evoke perhaps this great gift and mystery?
The Holy Father is, of course, correct in this observation. But I wonder if the reverse is not also true? When we close churches - and worse, parishes - does it not seem that God is leaving his people, that is abandoning them?

In the past decade in my diocese we have been closing parish after parish; rather, we have been "merging" them together, which is, I think, more painful and less wise than a closing of one parish or another. As one who has experienced these "mergings" not once but twice, I can testify that the process is deeply painful and it does feel as though God is abandoning his people, or at least the Church.

"Does not the building of a church amid the houses of a village or neighborhood of a city evoke perhaps this great gift and mystery?" Absolutely!

10 December 2006

That's how I like it

Simply beautiful! Now if only there was a thurible around...

Homily - 10 December 2006

“Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see … the light of his glory” (Baruch 5:5, 9). This is the Advent posture. We stand and look to the east, to the land of the rising sun. We stand in hope and look with joy for the coming of Christ our King who is the “salvation of God” (Luke 3:6).

From a spiritual point of view, the one who stands is one who is able to move swiftly and eagerly toward the Lord. The one who stands is able to survey the road lying open before him. The one who stands is able to move along the road removing, with the grace of God, whatever obstacles lie in the way. The one who stands and looks intently can heed the words of John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths” (Luke 3:4; Isaiah 40:3).

To prepare the way for the Savior, the Baptizer issues this command:” Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5-6; Isaiah 40:4-5).

What potholes, then, lie before you on the way to Jesus Christ? What twists in the road need straightening? Where is the road crumbling and in need of repair? For each of us the answer to these questions will be different but no less important. We must cooperate with the grace of God to remove these stumbling blocks, these sins that keep us from beholding the vision of God. Whatever it is that keeps us from him must be uprooted and torn down, all done in a spirit of joyful hope for we know that he is coming indeed!

We know, though, that at the same time that we are preparing the way for him he has also given the command that his way may be prepared for us, for he calls us to himself. “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God” (Baruch 5:7).

We are, then, in a certain sense preparing the way for and toward each other, man toward God and God toward man. This is the motion of the lover to the beloved and of the beloved to the lover.

Simply think back to the parable of the prodigal son. Recall with what eagerness the father anticipated his son’s return: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Is this not how the Lord waits for us?

Imagine the preparations the father undertook as he waited each day for the return of his son. This is the wonder of love! That when we stray from him and forsake him, God never abandons us, never forgets us, never disregards us. Rather, he continually prepares the way for our return to him and for his coming to us.

“The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company” (Baruch 5:8-9). As we, the new Israel, advance on our pilgrim way, the Lord orders these same trees to stretch out their branches over us, to shield us from the rays of the burning sun. He guards us from exhaustion and graces us with his strength so that we might prepare our hearts for his coming.

As we look for his coming, then, we must prepare ourselves and not simply wait. To simply await his arrival when the Lord himself helps to prepare the way would be very foolish and most unwise. Jesus himself told us to prepare our hearts for his coming so that he might find us watching and waiting, eager to welcome him with love. This is our task this Advent season, to prepare our hearts for his coming.

But this effort of preparation and repentance is not to be a dreary task, a great burden or drudgery. The Lord tells us: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever” (Baruch 5:1). Sadness and misery are not marks of the Christian life. For this reason, the Lord himself orders: “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him” (Luke 15:22). With this new robe we are “wrapped in a cloak of justice from God” for we have been clothed in Christ Jesus (Baruch 5:2).

Will we be ready when he comes? Will he find us waiting in joyful hope? When we examine our lives in honesty our eyes are opened to the many ways that we have not prepared the way for the Lord. We see the ways in which we create obstacles in his path and we can be tempted to despair and lose hope in the Lord’s return, but we must always remember that we are not without hope for the Lord will come. Of this hope,

In Advent, the liturgy often repeats and assures us, as though seeking to defeat our mistrust, that God ‘is coming.’ He comes to be with us, in each one of our situations; he comes to live among us, to live with and in us; he comes to the distances that divide and separate us; he comes to reconcile us with himself and with one another. He comes in the history of humanity to knock on the door of every man and woman of good will to offer individuals, families and peoples the gift of fraternity, concord and peace (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 3 December 2006).
Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see the light of his glory!

07 December 2006

Homily - 8 December 2006

Today we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our redemption even as we celebrate Mary, our patroness, under her title of the Immaculate Conception. We pause today, as it were, from the Advent watch to gaze upon Mary. As we do so, we are attracted to “her beauty, [the] reflection of divine glory, so that 'the God that is coming' will find in each one of us a good and open heart, which he can fill with his gifts” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 3 December 2006).

In her Immaculate Conception, Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin. When he at long last defined the Church’s ancient – yet undeclared – understanding of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX said:

From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully (Ineffabilis Deus).
Mary, as the perfect disciple of Christ and exemplar of the Church, was conceived and born in the state of grace, as God intended for his creation from the very beginning. “It was Mary’s privilege to receive this gift, not returned because never lost, but given in virtue of the redeeming blood of her Son, in order to prepare a place for him.”[1]

Only by being preserved free from the stain of sin could Mary truly be a fitting and worthy temple and vessel of the Lord. Precisely because of her Immaculate Conception Mary was the true Tabernacle, the Dwelling of the Lord Most High. This is Mary’s singular honor.

We know that the stain of original sin, which we inherited from the sin of Adam and Eve, excluded us from Paradise, from eternal life with the Father. “Each of us must once more find entry to the paradise lost from which Mary was never excluded, entry to the eternal company of God, presented, as St. Jude says, ‘spotless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.’”
[2] Mary, then, shows us the way by showing us her Son.

Because of her sin Eve was banished from Paradise, and we with her. Because of her absolute preservation from sin Mary was never excluded from Paradise. Death entered the world through the sin of Eve but through Mary “the way, the truth and the life” entered the world. Eve is the mother of all the living while Mary is the Mother of all of the redeemed. Just as Jesus Christ is the new Adam, so is Mary the new Eve.

Indeed, Mary is the woman of whom the LORD God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:20). While the devil strikes at Mary’s heel, Mary – and the Church with her – stomps at his head.

Through her acceptance of the will of the Lord Mary – and the Church – has triumphed over the serpent. Victory is ours through the precious blood of Christ, and yet our battle with the serpent in this life must still be fought. Together with Saint Bernard of Clairvoux and with Adam, we ought to cry out:

The woman, whom you gave me to be my companion, gave me of the tree, and I did eat. Make haste now, O Eve, and come to Mary; come O Mother, to your Daughter! Change those words from a miserable excuse to a song of thanksgiving: Lord, the woman, whom you gave me to be my companion, gave me to eat from the tree of life![3]
Mary takes us to her Son and says to us: “Eat of his Body, drink of his Blood. You will find life and he will make you spotless and immaculate.” “We are sure that, from on high, Mary follows our steps with gentle trepidation, gives us serenity in the hour or darkness and storm, and gives us security with her maternal hand” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 16 August 2006). Amen.

[1] Hugo Rahner, S.J. Our Lady and the Church. Sebastian Bullough, O.P., trans. (Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press, 2004), 20.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Homily 2 on “Missus est” (PL 183, 62).

Will it snow?

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception last year school was dismissed here on account of a heavy snow fall we received. As the celebrant of the 12:15 p.m. Mass at which our high school students were in attendance, it was my distinct pleasure to make the announcement at the conclusion of the Mass.

As I was returning to the sanctuary, a number of students asked me to join them after school to go sledding at the park. I did join them and had a delightful time.

For the past week now, I have been asking Our Lady of the Snows to smile upon us and give us another snow fall tomorrow.

I woke up this morning to see that Mary grinned at me . . . there was a light dusting of snow covering everything, and much of it remains now. Will she change her grin into a full, beaming smile?

Our Lady of the Snows, pray for us!

More on Advent

His Holiness said Sunday of Advent:

In Advent, the liturgy often repeats and assures us, as though seeking to defeat our mistrust, that God "is coming"; He comes to be with us, in each one of our situations; he comes to live among us, to live with and in us; he comes to the distances that divide and separate us; he comes to reconcile us with himself and with one another. He comes in the history of humanity to knock on the door of every man and woman of good will to offer individuals, families and peoples the gift of fraternity, concord and peace.
Therefore, Advent is par excellence the time of hope, in which believers in Christ are invited to remain in vigilant and active expectation, nourished by prayer and by a concrete commitment of love. May Christ's approaching nativity fill the hearts of all Christians with joy, serenity and peace!

02 December 2006

Homily - 3 December 2006

Dear brothers and sisters, “your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28).

Today the watching and the waiting begin. Today we beg with the Psalmist: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and for you I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:5). We want to be taught how to love like him.

We watch, yes, and we wait, but we do not simply watch and wait: we prepare so that the day of his coming will not “catch [us] by surprise like a trap” (Luke 21:34-35). We prepare for that day when “the powers in the heavens will be shaken” and we see Christ our King “coming in a cloud with power and glory” (Luke 21:27).

Jesus told the Apostles, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3) and “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). Today he tells us through his Prophet: “The days are coming . . . when I will fulfill the promise I made” (Jeremiah 33:14). We know that when he does come at last he will “judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed).

In these past several weeks we have seen that we will be judged according to our love, according to our acceptance of and imitation of the love of Christ Jesus. For this reason Saint Paul prays:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones (I Thessalonians 3:12-13).
Love, then, produces and deepens holiness, and those who are holy will recognize Christ, “the Lord our justice” (Jeremiah 33:16). If we desire to be holy, if we desire to be saints, we must love as God has first loved us (cf. I John 4:19).

Already there are many distractions that vie for our attention that keep us from growing in love. Rooms must be cleaned, presents must be purchased and wrapped, houses need decorating, cookies need to be baked and friends and family need to be visited. Already on top of work, school and family duties, all of this is enough to make one sick.

Jesus warns us of these distractions and he speaks against them, calling us to prepare, to watch and wait:

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap… Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:34-36).
It is all too easy for us to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of these weeks before Christmas. In doing so we lose sight of the primary focus of these days and we deprive ourselves of the grace of God. It is also tempting for us to decorate our homes as though Christmas has already come. Remember this season of Advent and join Holy Mother Church as she watches and waits for the coming of the Lord. If we bypass Advent altogether and skip right ahead to Christmas, we again deprive ourselves of the grace of God.

There are many good and necessary tasks to be completed, it is true, but we must remember also our Lord’s words to Martha: “you are worried and anxious about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

This holy season of Advent is given us as a time to prepare ourselves for the return of the King. If we take the time and the effort to clean our house for earthly guests and visitors, should we not also take the time and the effort to cleanse our soul for the coming of the great King of heaven and earth? This is the very goal of Advent: to cleanse the house of our soul to receive the Lord. We do not want to be caught off guard and unprepared when at last he comes. How, then, can we choose the better part? How are we to prepare ourselves for his coming?

We would do well to spend time with the Lord each day asking him to increase our faith, hope and love. Time spent with him is always time well spent, for “good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:8-9). He will teach us the way of love.

We cannot truly accept his love without being changed by his love. The experience of the wonder and power of his love must also lead us to a greater desire to turn from sin and to a true and sincere repentance. If we accept his love, grow in his love and share his love, we will be given “the strength to … stand before the Son of Man,” for the love of God is stronger than even death itself (Luke 21:36).

We grow in his love by remaining close to him. Advent invites to spend time quietly with the Lord, loving him and letting him love us. Such common practices as the Advent wreath and the Jesse Tree help us to do this, as does frequent attendance at Mass, frequent confession and acts of love. Let us focus this Advent season not on the giving and receiving of gifts or on the frantic busy-ness of these days, but on the love of the Lord Jesus who came to us at Christmas and will come to us again with power and glory.

01 December 2006

On Advent

Fr. Guy over at Shouts in the Piazza has an excellent post on the season of Advent.

Good news

From Amy at Open Book:

Here's the
account, translated: 20:30:

An encounter with Catholic youths - leaning out the winow of the Apostolic Nunciature, and remaining there for five long minutes as 500 Catholic youths, almost all from Istanbul, sang and prayed.

It was an event of great simplicity - with the Pope smiling and later giving them his blessing.

The young people had prepared this prayer rally with songs, psalms and prayers - and so they did, for at least three-quarters of an hour in the gardens of the Nunciature.

Jubilation when the Pope showed himself, leaning out the window to be able to see them better. Later he told them that he would carry them always in his heart and would remember them every day in his prayers.

When the youths sang "Stay with us" in Turkish, he answered, "But the Lord is always with us."

Later, a delegation of less than hundred met him personally. They presented him with an album of photographs showing their activities in the past year - a walk for Catholic youths, the last Palm Sunday celebration (whichs wa also World Youth Day everywhere), their pilgrimage to Ephesus last summer, their various meetings at local level.

The album was accompanied by a letter from them telling him of their readiness to be witnesses for the faith even in the difficult conditions they have in Turkey.

An unexpected joy

A bit late, perhaps, but what else is new?

Throughout my years in the seminary, the faculty continually told my fellow seminarians and I that we would find ourselves doing many things as priests that we never thought we ever would do. On the evening of 18 November, that warning proved true.

As many of you will know, that weekend was the beginning of - I believe - deer hunting season, with shotguns, that is. Or something like that. A hunter I am not, nor do I ever intend to be. However, as you can imagine, there are a great many hunters who are members of the parish. While I was on the Kairos retreat one of the students asked if I would come and celebrate Mass for the hunters at his family's "deer camp".

At the time I told him that I would have to first check with the pastor and that, if he gave his permission, it would be difficult to do because it was the same weekend as the Bishop's Pastoral Visitation. I did not at the time agree to come, although I did give two conditions for my possible visit:

1. Wherever I would celebrate Mass could not be freezing, and
2. I did not want to see any pieces of dead deer
These conditions were agreeable to the young man who flatly told me: "If you don't come to us for Mass, Father, we aren't going to Mass." (Or something very near that.)

He placed me in a bit of a quandry and so I seriously began to consider his request. My gut reaction was, "Not a chance," but the more I thought about it the better the idea seemed.

I recalled the Servant of God Pope John Paul II's words in his Ecclesia de eucharistia:

When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it. I remember the parish church of Niegowić, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter's Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world. I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.
I thought also of those many early missionary priests to North America who were "circuit riders," taking themselves to wherever the people were, rather than making the people come to them.

The more I considered these examples the more I knew that I simply must go. And so go I did.
I left the dinner and presentation with the Bishop a bit before it ended (I explained the situation to him earlier that day and he thanked me for my generous service) and arrived at the deer camp about 9:30 p.m. and celebrated the Eucharist for some fifty hunters. I visited with them for about an hour after the Mass and returned to the rectory for a short night of sleep. It was a marvelous experience!

Truth be told, it was a Mass that I was greatly looking forward to celebrating throughout the day. It was a great joy and blessing! The hunters told me that if I could have arrived earlier there may well have been over one hundred people for Mass. I certainly think I will try to make this an annual event!