30 December 2009

Around the blogosphere

• Over at the New Liturgical Movement, Shawn Tribe has posted a few Romanesque-inspired altars. I especially like the first and fourth ones.

• A Catholic Mom in Hawaii, a.k.a., Esther, passes on the news that St. Anthony Messenger Press is looking for stories about how a priest helped you grow in faith, challenged you in some way, or strengthened your faith.


...it's still Christmas!

27 December 2009

Stupidity is

...looking for an alb in the sacristy closet and, not finding it there, realizing you are already wearing it. It's going to be a long day.

26 December 2009

In honor of the day

Sadness is

...having your escape from reality completely blocked.

It has been snowing much of the day here in Virden and the snow really picked up - or fell harder - sometime during the course of the evening Mass.

Since I had a few errands to run in Springfield, I decided tonight would be a good night to swing by the Hawaiian BBQ in an attempt to escape the reality of winter and dream of a happier place.

You can imagine my sadness when I pulled into the parking lot only to find the lights of the restaurant off. They were closed today yet for Christmas.

There once was a time when I saw the beauty of a freshly fallen snow, but no more. Snow may still be fun for sledding and having a snowball fight, but I see now beauty in it. In all honesty, if I were never to see another snowfall I would not be disappointed.

To add to the sorrow of the night, it seems as though people have forgotten how to drive in snow, even with no ice on the roads. I had to follow someone who insisted on staying twenty miles an hour below the posted speed limit, even in towns. It was most aggravating.

Happy winter. Humbug!

Looking for a picture

During the celebration of Christmas Mass at Midnight here in Virden, I heard someone snap a picture while I was at the altar.

If you, dear photographer, are reading this post, would you be so kind as to e-mail the photo to me at pastor[at]sacredheart[dot]dio[dot]org? Many thanks!

Remember the Octave!

Whereas today the secular world is already tossing Christmas trees and other decorations to the curb with yesterday's wrapping paper, Mother Church continues to celebrate Christmas Day for the next seven calendar days.

The observance of an octave - a period of eight days - is a way of drawing out a solemnity (in this case the birth of Christ) so as to mine its riches more deeply. The beauty of Christmas cannot be exhausted in one short day; there is simply too much to it!

I urge you, dear friends, not to give in to the spirit of the world and of this age! Do not been done with Christmas so soon, as though it were just another day! Sit with it. Stay with it. Pray with it. Mine every jewel and gem from this holy day that you can and bask in the light of the Christ Child! Do you find his beauty so repulsive that you want to be done with him?

Keep your trees decorated and your lights lit. Keep the nativity sets displayed as we await the visitation of the Magi from east. Even now they are making their journey and will arrive in eleven days. Say to the world, today a Savior has been for you who is Christ and Lord!

Remember the Octave! Remember, we are not secularists; we are Catholic!

Linkin' around the blogosphere

...it's a happy holiday. (If hear the melody for "Rockin' around the Christmas tree," you're on the right track.)
  • For your Christmas cheer, Mac McLernon, who blogs over at Mulier Fortis, has posted a reply from the North Pole for an order for the gift of the first day of Christmas. I hope she posts more like this for each of the twelve days of Christmas!
  • The Crescat wants to make it clear that she was not in the Vatican City State for Christmas and she's getting an extra special gift this Christmas (the rest of us might not be too far behind her).

25 December 2009

When was Jesus born?

For some years now various "experts" have been telling us that Jesus was, in all likelihood, not born on the twenty-fifth day of December. These experts tell us that the Church supplanted the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice with the celebrations of the birth of Christ.

I questioned these claims when first I heard them and wondered how the Church could simply declare the date of Christ's birth when surely there were those at the time who - if the date were false - would have known otherwise.

Fr. Longenecker directs us to an excellent article refuting such a claim. There is, however, one correction that must be made to the article. The author, Andrew McGowen, says: "The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs."

Just a few days ago, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that, in actuality, the earliest mention of December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth (at least that has come down to us) is found in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome around the year A.D. 204.

Homily - 25 December 2009

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Mass at Midnight

Bethlehem. The City of David. It seems so far away from us, but it is not really all that far removed from us. It is here in our midst this night as we hear the words of the angels, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Luke 2:11).

This truly is “good news of great joy,” for it means that in this holy Child born of the Virgin that “God has visited his people” (Luke 2:10; Luke 7:16). Can this really be? It is a wondrous and astounding greeting the angels bring to us; is it true? Surely this question was found in the thoughts of those shepherds.

When the angels left them, the shepherds “said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place” (Luke 2:15).

Dear brothers and sisters, this night we, too, have gone to Bethlehem, for “today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). We, too, have gone to see what the shepherds saw, to behold the Child whom Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger (cf. Luke 2:7).

What wondrous love is this! “The grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11)! Tonight we see “the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14).

This night a savior is born for us, he who is Emmanuel (cf. Matthew 1:23). God is with us! He is not far from us, but here in our midst. The Creator of all things has made himself a creature and entered his creation. This

is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that occurred there.

If we go to Bethlehem, we, too, will see the Christ Child. We, too, will be invited to receive him, to worship him, to love him.

The shepherds recognized the truth of the angels greeting because they saw the promised sign: “you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). The sign given them is nothing spectacular or miraculous, but a sign of the mysterious humility of God. God makes himself small; he makes himself an infant so that we might touch him and give our love to him.

It is such a simple sign and yet one that the shepherds “went in haste to see” (Luke 2:16). Abandoning everything they went in search of a baby boy and found him just as they were told. Have we left also in haste, or are our thoughts wandering away from us this night?

The shepherds knew what was most important, what matters most. Placing all else after their search for God, they went in haste to find him. Tending their sheep was certainly important – indeed, it was their livelihood! – but worshipping God is still more important; it is most important. From these simple shepherds “we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place – however important they may be – so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time.” We, like the shepherds, must make haste in our search for God, placing everything after this.

Even as we set out towards him, we know that he has already come toward us, that he continually comes toward us. Before he ascended to the Father, he promised his Apostles, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). It was the Lord’s way of answering their plea, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over” (Luke 24:29).

Gazing upon the Child of Bethlehem, do we not also say, “Stay with us”? Do we not want the Lord to remain with us so that he his love might always be in our hearts?

Centuries ago, Origen asked, “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).”

Through the Blessed Sacrament, dear friends, the Lord Jesus remains with us always and enters into our souls, changing us into himself. It is a mystery already revealed at his birth.

Jesus, the “bread of life,” was born in the city of David, in Bethlehem (John 6:35). Having no room in the inn, the Virgin Mary “laid him in a manger,” a food trough for the animals (Luke 2:7). The name of the city of his birth, Bethlehem, means “the house of bread.” The Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread and placed in the manger. He has come to us to enter into us, to live in us that we might “share his life completely.”

How do we arrive at the city of Bethlehem? By going to the altar of the Lord for the celebration of the Mass. The same Lord born in Bethlehem comes to us wherever the Eucharist is celebrated and enters into us when we receive his Body and Blood.

Let us say with the shepherds, Transeamus usque Bethlehem, Let us go to Bethlehem! Yes, let us go to see love made flesh. Let us go to him to receive his gift of himself that produces within us “abundant joy and great rejoicing” (Isaiah 9:2). When we leave this night, let us announce to all we meet: “The Word of God became man; we have seen his glory” (John 1:14)! Amen!

To my dear readers, family and friends:

May the Child of Bethlehem, born for us this day,
fill your hearts with the great joy and peace
that comes from being loved by God.
May you hasten with the shepherds to Bethlehem
to behold your salvation
and be caught up in love of the Word made flesh.
Buon Natale!
Mele Kalikimaka!
Merry Christmas!

24 December 2009

A Christmas must read

Tonight, the Holy Father preached an excellent and moving homily, reflecting on the shepherds who went to see the newborn King. It is, in my estimation, one of his best homilies. Be sure to read it and share it with those you love.

I was about to post my homily for midnight Mass, but now I'm going to revise it significantly.

22 December 2009

For your holiday pleasure

Back in Effingham there is a foreign exchange student from Verona, Italy who apparently thinks rather highly of me. His parents arrived in the U.S. the other day and he wants nothing more than for me to meet them. On my part, I am looking forward to meeting them and will leave for Effingham in just a few minutes to join them for dinner.

Before I go, though, I wanted to share with you a recipe I found for a hot wassail in one of my favorite cookbooks: Hawaii's Favorite Pineapple Recipes. I picked it up at the Dole Plantation during my last visit. If couldn't be simpler to make and it's very tasty, especially during this time of year.

The wassail includes the following ingredients:

4 cups unsweetened apple juice
3 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
Combine the ingredients in a pot and simmer for about 10 minutes until hot. Stain the wassail into mugs and top with a slice of lemon.

I served it last night at a meeting and again today at lunch. I've not yet heard any complaints about it.


I may need a dog

After Mass this morning I spent some time in the church talking things through our choir director and when I returned to the rectory I was surprised not to be greeted by a dog.

I'm not sure why I was surprised since I don't presently have a dog by which to have been greeted.

I suppose it may be time to really consider getting a dog. I'm thinking a beagle, a German shepherd or a lab (either golden, chocolate or black). What do you think?

21 December 2009

From the mouths of babes

Last evening we had our Advent Penance Service at Sacred Heart Parish.

Three of my brother priests assisted me and each of us heard confessions for a solid 75 minutes each, without any lull; it was quite remarkable. I've no idea where so many penitents came from for such a small parish; I think we had more people present last night than we have parishioners! God be praised!

One of the moms in the parish told me that as she brought her family to the church last night she reviewed with her children how to go to confession and remarked that there would be different priests present that he might they not know.

One of her boys thought for moment and said, "I think I'll go to regular Father." She found it amusing that I didn't have a name, just "regular Father." It is amusing, but also quite profound.

At the altar and in the confessional the priest acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. In this way, he himself does not matter. When the action is done and words spoken the sacrament happens. He is just a "regular Father."

19 December 2009

Just what I always wanted

As children, we were always encouraged to make a Christmas list so that Santa might know what he should bring to leave under our tree.

A great variety of things often ended up on my list, from Legos to roller blades to video games to chocolate covered cherries, but never did I ask for suspected terrorists, which makes the following report seem just a bit odd:
The decision to house both federal inmates and no more than 100 detainees
from Guantanamo Bay Detention Center at a largely unused prison in northwestern
Illinois should be viewed as a “billion-dollar Christmas gift for the people”
there, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Friday [more].

Regardless of whether the people of Thomas are in favor of this decision, LaHood's comparison strikes me as a bit over the top.

18 December 2009

Fr. Barron on healthcare and "pro-choice"

Just in time for Advent!

A friend sent me a link to the movie, Born of Hope, a Lord of the Rings fan film. It's an excellent film lasting just over an hour:

A scattered people, the descendents of storied sea kings of the ancient West, struggle to survive in a lonely wilderness as a dark force relentlessly bends its will toward their destruction. Yet amidst these valiant, desperate people, hope remains. A royal house endures unbroken from father to son.

This hour long original drama is set in the time before the War of the Ring and tells the story of the DĂșnedain, the Rangers of the North, before the return of the King. Inspired by only a couple of paragraphs written by Tolkien in the appendices of the Lord of the Rings we follow Arathorn and Gilraen, the parents of Aragorn, from their first meeting through a turbulent time in their people's history.
Here the trailer:

I enjoyed it this morning as I attended to a bit of paper work.

17 December 2009

Looking for something different?

Over the course of years in parishes, priests grow close to certain families and with some of them they remain friends even after being assigned to a different parish.

One such family invited me to join them on Thanksgiving, and since my family gathered the evening before I happily accepted.

I ate there a dish that I had not heard of before: scalloped pineapple. Now, to be sure, when I first saw it, I was a bit taken aback and didn't quite know what to think of it. But, I thought, I've never met a pineapple I haven't liked and tried it. It was great!

Here's the recipe:

1 can pineapple tidbits in juice drained
4 slices of cubed bread
2 beaten eggs
pinch salt
2 Tablespoons lemon Juice
1/4 C milk
1 stick melted butter
3/4 C (or less) sugar

Spray 8x8 baking dish with Pam. Mix pineapple and bread and spread in pan. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over pineapple. Bake at 350 for 30-35 min until lightly browned.

Don't be afraid; give it a try!

16 December 2009

Warm up with Dr Pepper

Since it is so cold outside, why not warm up with nice, hot Dr Pepper?

It couldn't be simpler. Just warm up the contents of a can in a saucepan or in the microwave and add a fresh slice of lemon.

You could also try a Dr Pepper wassail as you go awassailing. Or how about a nice Dr Pepper punch for your next Christmas party?

15 December 2009

Have you prayed for your priest today?

Yesterday morning I awoke with the beginning of a cold, which seems to have settled in by the time I awoke this morning.

Knowing how long it takes my already weakened immune system to defeat a cold - and not havinig a lot on the agenda today - I have spent the day napping, resting and reading. One of the books I picked is the Sermons of the Cure of Ars, Saint John Marie Vianney, patron of this Year for Priests proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.

In the first sermon collected in the book, Saint John said to his people:

...I am going to show you this [the dreadful state of a lukewarm soul] so clearly that perhaps many among you will be hurt by it. But that will matter little to me, for I am always going to what I ought to tell you, and then you will do what you wish about it...
The man of God says this not because of a callous spirit, but because of his zeal for souls. He knows that he, a priest of Jesus Christ, must proclaim the truth to his people, that he must call them to a life of repentance and conversion. To do so he must point to sin wherever he finds it, thus calling people to change their lives.

It is this pointing out of sin, this demand to turn away from sinful living, that causes people pain because admitting our failures is never easy.

Ultimately, he knows that his duty is to preach to the truth, but that he cannot force anyone to accept it and live by it. Nevertheless, he is duty bound.

I often wonder if too few priests preach in clear and simple terms for fear of offending their hearers. The patron saint of priests never feared offending people; he feared, rather, allowing them to continue living in sin.

Let us pray for all priests, that following the example of the Cure of Ars, that they will realize more and more the great duty that is theirs and always speak what ought to be spoken.

Let us pray, too, that we will heed their words and do what we ought to do.

That said, in just a few minutes I will head north to Chatham to have dinner with a few priests and then hear confessions. Upon my return to Virden, I'll finish up a bit of paperwork and head to bed.

Should I grow a beard for charity?

Last night a friend invited me to join a fundraising effort he is calling "Beardfest 2010."

The rules are simple: beginning February 1st and clean shaven, those participating will grow their beards for forty-five days. A $5 donation will be given by those participating and will be given to a worthy cause yet to be determined (I suggested Catholic Relief Services or Aid to the Church in Need; do you have another suggestion?).

On the fifteenth day, but not before, participants will be allowed to post pictures of their beards to show their progress.

At the end of the contest, a prize will be awarded based on the judgment of the group, who will vote the winning beard on the following: 33% fullness, 33% length, and 33% cleanliness (I'm not sure what happened to the other 1%).

Other prizes may also be awarded, perhaps for the Best Effort or Most Pathetic.

It sounds like a great deal of fun, especially given the final line of the rules: "Have fun, and let the smack talking begin."

I am very tempted to participate. What do you think: should I do it?

The contest would begin before Ash Wednesday (February 17th) and end before Easter (April 4th).

You can cast your electronic ballot in the poll on the sidebar to the right. You have six days to do so.

14 December 2009

Standing or sitting? Chair or Ambo?

In my post over the weekend about the scaffolding in the sanctuary, I mentioned that "ordinarily I preach from the chair."

Peter, who blogs at Ubi Petrus, raised the following question:

I've only heard of Bishops preaching from the chair (or, in their case their Cathedra). Is this generally allowed for anyone or is it a special allowance given your health? I'm just curious as I've never seen it done before.
His is a question I thought others might as well.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, "the priest, standing at the chair or at the ambo itself or, when appropriate, in another suitable place, gives the homily" (n. 136).

Not only is it licit for a priest to preach from the chair, it would seem that the ordinary place from which to preach is the chair, even though most homilies are given today from the ambo.

Only rarely do I preach away from the chair or ambo, moving about as some priests do, since that would seem to be a series of suitable places and not one place. That, and it just drives me crazy; I hate having to follow someone moving about when I'm trying to listen to them and I know I am not the only one (I also know there are those who prefer a moving target).

The distinction that Peter raises, I think, rests on the posture of the priest who is preaching; is he sitting or standing?

A priest is to stand at the chair when he preaches. A Bishop, on the other hand, according to the Ceremonial of Bishops, "gives the homily seated in the chair (cathedra), unless he prefers some other place in order to be easily seen and heard by all" (n. 142).

We see, then, that priests preach standing while Bishops preach seated, in keeping with the ancient custom of teachers.

And then there is me.

This past April, I wrote to the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, now Archbishop of Omaha, requesting permission to preach while seated in the chair, on occassion, for reasons of health. At the time, my arthritis was acting up quite painfully in my hips and I am under no disillusion that the arthritis will go away any time soon.

His Excellency answered my request, saying, "I give you permission to preach the homily at Mass while seated, when you feel that this is necessary. I will leave that to your judgment." As I understand it, this permission remains in force, unless another Bishop should revoke it.

Prior to making my request to then-Bishop Lucas, I had already preached while seated two or three times because of my arthritis, hence the reason I wrote to him in the first place.

I find it much easier to preach while seated. It feels, to me, at least, more natural and I think my delivery comes across more easily, comfortably and enthusiastically.

I did preach from the ambo Saturday evening, but found I didn't like it at all and returned to the chair on Sunday morning. The ambo just seems to get in the way.

13 December 2009

Homily - 6 December 2009

The Second Sunday of Advent (C)

Dear brother and sisters,

Over the past several weeks we have seen here an increase in the number of people attending Sunday Mass. I gladly welcome the return of so many - as I know you do as well – and with Saint Paul I pray “that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).

It is this “day of Christ,” his glorious return at the end of time, for which Holy Mother Church seeks to prepare us through the observance of the season of Advent. She teaches us to be ever vigilant because we do not know the day or the hour of his return (cf. Matthew 24:36). How, then, do we best prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord when at last when he comes? We do so by heeding the cry of the Forerunner of the Lord, Saint John the Baptist, to “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

If we are to repent of our sins we must “discern what is of value” and what can be more valuable than the very reason for which we have gathered here today: the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saint Paul warns us sternly that we must receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner:
Whoever therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (I Corinthians 11:27-29).

It is this admonition that tempers my joy at the return of so many with a deep sadness, for I fear that many who have returned after being away from the Holy Mass for so long have been receiving Holy Communion without first making a sincere sacramental confession.

We know that purposefully missing Mass on Sundays and holy days is mortally sinful and that receiving the Eucharist when not in the state of grace – as the Apostle instructs us – compounds the gravity of the situation with the sin of sacrilege.

This concerns me greatly. When I was appointed your pastor I was entrusted with the care of your souls and my chief duty is to do what I can to help you grow in holiness and lead you to heaven. I implore you most earnestly to examine your lives before receiving Holy Communion, lest you eat and drink judgment on yourself.

My brothers and sisters, this is a most serious situation and I urge you with all my heart to get to confession as soon as possible. I urge you to do so because “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 must tear down the mountain of our pride, with the Lord’s help, that he might “remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy.”

In these holy days, as we prepare for the day the day when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6), let us beg the Lord for the grace of true repentance that the words of the Psalmist might be fulfilled in us: “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves” (Psalm 126:6).

When we enter the confessional we enter carrying the seeds of our repentance, the tears of sorrow for having failed to return the love of the Lord Jesus Christ in neglecting the love of God and of neighbor. After our encounter with the Lord, the fruit of the seeds we have sown, we carry the sheaves of the grace and mercy of God.

Inside the confessional, the penitent soul “take[s] off [the] robe of mourning and misery” (Baruch 5:1) and the Lord purifies the baptismal garment, making it “white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18), and clothes the penitent with “the splendor of God” and “the glory of the eternal name” (Baruch 5:1, 2).

This great Sacrament commonly goes by three names: Confession, Penance and Reconciliation.

It is called confession because that is what happens. The penitent confesses the sins he or she has committed in kind and in number, as best as can recalled.

It is also called penance, because a penance is given to the penitent as a means of demonstrating sorrow for his or her sins and as way to try to make right what was made wrong, however large or small the penance may be.

This Sacrament is also – and more commonly in our day - called reconciliation because through it we are reconciled with God and with one another because the Lord himself removes what stands between us and him and each other. We are able to raise our eyes to God and to look each other in the eyes again because through the Sacrament the obstacles are taken away by the grace of God.

Let us examine ourselves in these holy days that we might be filled with the joy of the Lord and stand pure and blameless before him. Through our reception of the sacraments may he “teach us to judge wisely the things of earth and to love the things of heaven,” that when he comes again we may lift our eyes to him in joy and behold the power, the splendor and the loveliness of his face. Amen!

This should lighten your day


12 December 2009

I haven't done this before

I have offered the Holy Mass in many settings, but I have yet to do so in a construction zone. Soon I will have done so.

We are in the process of replacing not only some of the lights in the sanctuary, but the sockets, as well:
As Murphy's Law would have it, the work is taking longer than was hoped so some scaffolding remains in the sanctuary, pushed as best out of the way as possible, though it will still be a distraction:

I almost wish there was another set of scaffolding on the opposite side, but I may like symmetry just a bit too much.

Ordinarily I preach from the chair. This weekend I think I'll preach from the ambo. It might not be quest as distracting.

On a mostly unrelated matter, I will try to post last weekend's homily this evening. After each Mass I did some touch ups to it on paper but have yet to type them in. I hope to finish that tonight and, if I do, will post it for you.

Homily - 13 December 2009

The Third Sunday of Advent (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

When the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited this nation, he reminded us of what he wrote in his encyclical letter Spe salvi, that “the one who has hope lives differently.” Who, then, is the one who has hope and what does his life look like?

The hope of the Christian is not as Denethor said to Gandalf as the armies of Mordor encircled the city of Gondor: “[T]hy hope is but ignorance.” Such a hope is founded only on possibilities, the chance of victory, but the hope of Christians is founded on no mere possibility, but on a certainty. It is founded on the certainty of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem and of his glorious return at the end of time. What is more, it is founded on the certainty that “the Lord is near,” present in the Scriptures, in his sacred ministers, in his people and, above all, in the Holy Eucharist (Philippians 4:5).

The one who has hope – true and authentic hope and not simply optimism – is the one who has God, or, rather, who is possessed by God and has known his love. The hope of Christians is founded on their union with Christ, who has baptized them “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). This is why the one who has hope lives differently. They are to live, as Saint John the Baptist teaches, lives of generosity, honesty and humility, in imitation of Christ Jesus (cf. Luke 3:10-14).

It is God himself who “is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety,” who was born at Bethlehem and placed in a manger, crucified for the sins of humanity, rose from the dead and will come again.

The one who has hope lives differently because he lives not only hoping in God but also lives in the joy of God’s love. On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). This joy, my friends, comes from God who is our hope (cf. Psalm 71:5).

Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. Whenever we learn a loved one whom we have not seen in some time plans to visit us, our hearts rejoice at their expected return. So should it be with us who await the return of Christ our King.

Everyone who lives the season of Advent well cannot help but notice and be almost overwhelmed by the great hopefulness of these days as we await the coming of the Lord. This expectant hope produces within the soul a deep pocket of joy seemingly ready to burst forth and overflow. It is for this reason that the readings today are so marked by the themes of joy, rejoicing and gladness.

The prophet Zephaniah exclaims, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel” (Zephaniah 3:14)! Isaiah calls us to “cry out with joy and gladness” (Isaiah 12:6). Saint Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). Even the opening prayer, which collects all of our individual prayers and raises them before the throne of God, prays that we might “experience the joy of salvation.”

What is the cause of this joy, what is the reason for our rejoicing, if not the certain knowledge that “the LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he 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 3:17). This, brothers and sisters, is the hope of Christians, founded in the certainty that Christ has come “to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1).

The glad tidings that he brought was the good news of victory over sin and death through his total giving of self that has won for us the forgiveness of sins. With the prophet Isaiah we can say, “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior” (Isaiah 12:2).

This same Lord who came among us so many centuries ago, who gives us courage and strength by his presence among us even now, will also come in his glory to judge the living and the dead. This realization gives the season of Advent a profound sense of joyful hope and at the same time it gives it a penitential character. It is, one might say, a spirit of joyful penance or of penitential joy, for while we know that he is coming we also know that not all of us are ready to receive him and greet him when he comes.

This is precisely why the Lord gives us these holy days to prepare for his coming and to meet him in the Sacrament of Penance to be reconciled with him and our brothers and sisters. This requires, first of all, an awareness of the reality of our sins. Each of us is sinful and has committed sin, whether great or small.

Too often today it is said, “I’m a good person. I haven’t stolen anything, killed anyone or committed adultery. I don’t have any real sins.” Rubbish! We have all sinned and are in need of his mercy, which he wishes to bestow upon us in the confessional. Let us hasten there that the words of Isaiah might be fulfilled in us: “With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Many will say that their sins are always the same and wonder about the point of going to confession, if it does any good at all. Pope Benedict once put it this way:
It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our
rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to
live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be
seen but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, for me
myself; If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am
pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to
improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus
gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more
alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human

By going to confession on a regular basis, even if confessing the same sins again and again, we are strengthened with the Lord’s grace, and this is always a cause of joy and gladness.

Let us seek his mercy so that we might rejoice always in the Lord, confident that he is near, and so celebrate the festival of his Birth “with love and thanksgiving.” Amen!

Have you wondered what seminary life is like?

10 December 2009

Preparations and unexpected findings

This morning it was made known to me that no one seemed to be aware where predecessor placed the infant Jesus that belongs to the Nativity set that will soon be displayed in the church. The task fell to me to try and locate him.

When I returned to Virden this evening after running a few errands in Springfield and having dinner with a couple of college friends, I went over to the church to begin the search.

I looked through every cupboard, cabinet and drawer I could find, but to no avail. I did find one infant with two broken hands - he is missing several fingers - but I am certain this cannot be the one for which I was looking. (After Christmas he'll have to be sent away for repairs.)

When I was about to leave the church and give up the search, I remember a tabernacle built into one of the cabinets in my sacristy. I do not know why it is there. At any rate, I decided maybe - just maybe - the holy infant might be in the tabernacle. Stranger things have happened.

After searching and searching for the key - and trying numerous possibilities - I finally found the right one and opened the tabernacle. Inside were three chalices, quite a few other keys and, sure enough, the Baby Jesus.

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. I suppose a tabernacle should have been the first place I looked for Jesus.

09 December 2009

Good advice

The esteemed Fr. Zuhlsdorf suggests the proper response - some of it serious and some of it humorous - to disturbances at the Holy Mass.

Sad news

When times turn difficult and expectations remain, you can never quite be certain of people's actions, especially given the sinful condition in which we live.

This morning the Springfield State Journal-Register carries the sad story of stolen Christmas gifts from a Catholic Church:

Police are looking for the Grinch who showed up at Church of the Little Flower on Tuesday and stole about 100 toys that parishioners donated for children in need this Christmas.

The Rev. John Ossola said the toys were mostly in plastic store bags underneath an “angel tree” in the vestibule of the church. Parishioners had been bringing in toys for about three weeks. Only about 30 remain [more].

08 December 2009

New furniture

Courtesy of an anonymous benefactor, a new kitchen table and chairs arrived today for the rectory:

Last week I was told to go to the local furniture store and select a table and chairs for the kitchen and someone would provide them for the rectory. I am grateful to this anonymous donor; thank you!

I selected a high table and chairs - something like a bistro style - to help balance out the lack of counter space in the kitchen. Now when I need to slice tomatoes and combine ingredients for a pasta I will be able to do so with plenty of room at the table.

This could be helpful

His Hermeneuticalness Father Finigan passes on the happy news that New Advent now has a new biblical feature presenting the Greek, Latin and English texts of the Scriptures on the same screen.

In honor of the day

O Holy Mary, Immaculately Conceived,
receive the prayers of the faithful
of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
who have placed themselves under your patronage.

Present our humble supplications to your Son and intercede for us.

Pray for us, dear Mother,
that we might soon have a Bishop
to sit in the seat of the Cathedral dedicated to you.

Transforming a worship space

In a post at the Creative Minority Report, Denis McNamara, one of my professors at Mundelein Seminary and at the Liturgical Institute, shows what can be done to a plain church with a small budget, strong leadership and a good architect.

07 December 2009

Sometimes people do listen

It seems that at least once a day I wonder if people listen to a word I say. I'm sure you wonder the same about yourself from time to time, especially you parents.

You know what I mean. I ask a server before Mass to bring something to me and he or she simply looks at me. I ask the server at Subway for a twelve-inch tuna on wheat and she gives me instead a six-inch turkey on wheat (don't laugh; it happened). You get the idea.

Before I left St. Anthony's in Effingham, the primary grades (kindergarten through third grades) wanted to say good-bye to me and presented me with a big banner and numerous letters. It was an enjoyable and brief time with them.

Such occassions are always moments to address a lot of people all at once (even little people) and I rarely shy away from such moments.

Yesterday I received a request from one of the parents seeking help recruiting the high school students to decorate luminaries for life. She wrote:

Before you left Effingham you must have said something to the kindergarteners about how you'll pray for them if they'll pray for you. Well, that certainly stuck in my son Henry's head because ever since then he's been consistently including you in our daily family prayers. Did you realize the extent of your influence on 5 year olds?
I did indeed tell them I would pray for them every day if they prayed for me every day, but I certainly had no idea of my influence on five-year olds (I barely know how to talk to them!).

It looks like I'll have to add another specific person to my daily prayer list. Perhaps one day he'll be a priest.
Over at the Creative Minority Report, in a great piece of satire, Patrick Archbold demonstrates the absurdity of the "personally opposed" position using unconventional circumstances.

06 December 2009

Yes, Virginia, there is a sword in the stone

I have been a great fan of the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. I was fascinated by the stories as a boy and now I am particularly interested in trying to discover just who this "king" upon whom these legends are based was. One of my dream vacations would be to drive around the British Isles in search of King Arthur and his pursuits.

Saint Francis of Assisi, too, being a trabadour of sorts, must also have enjoyed the legends because he once referred to his friars as his Knights of the Round Table (one of these days I'll write an article about this).

I bring this up today because the Lion and the Cardinal has a post about about the sword of Saint Galgano:

You are eyes do not receive you. That is indeed a sword thrust into a stone.
Saint Galgano was born in 1148 in Chiusdino. Saint Michael the Archangel twice appeared to him in a dream when he was twenty years old, initiating a great conversion in the life of the soldier.
Galgano eventually became a hermit. After Pope Alexander III (probably in 1180) urged him to build a monastery, Galgano returned to his hermitage and put his sword into a stone, which, we are told, received the sword easily up to the hilt, thus forming a cross.
Galgano died in 1181, the same year Saint Francis of Assisi was born.

Handel sung by silent monks

The following video comes to us from the Creative Minority Report via Mac McLernon, who blogs over at Mulier Fortis.

I think you will enjoy it:

02 December 2009

Worth the wait

Today's dedication of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception went very well; thank you for your prayers!

At this point I'm a bit too worn out to offer any decent reflections for you, but I've posted a few pictures I took throughout the day in my Facebook albums.

You might also be interested in the Springfield State Journal-Register's story (as before, feel free to ignore the comments) and WCIS' story.

Be careful where you sit

When I was in the seminary I took two quarters of Latin. It was not enough but I could not fit more into my schedule.

The professor was one of my favorites, a witty, sarcastic priest with a monotone teaching voice that could put you to sleep in moments who taught via tangents (which is part of why I enjoyed him), but if you stayed awake you were guaranteed many good chuckles. Uproarious laughter, though rare, was also a good possibility.

At any rate, I sat in the back row and was part of what the professor referred to as the turba, the unruly crowd.

I have always enjoyed plopping down at a table in the corner or the back of a room with good friends making various remarks of humorous quality, quietly, of course, and generally unnoticed by the crowd. Such was my intention today at the dinner preceeding the dedication of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

A priest friend and I were about to join a table when we realized it was full. I suggested we start a new table and so to the empty corner table we went where we could make humorous comments and where I could also take pictures.

No sooner did we sit down than His Excellency the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, Archbishop of Omaha, pointed to the table at which we just sat, saying, "There's room over here." Before I knew it I was sitting next to His Emminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago and his secretary Fr. Dan who's-last-name-I-never-remember, and with His Excellency Edward Braxton, Bishop of Belleville, and His Excellency John Gaydos, Bishop of Jefferson City. I really should be more careful in the future where I sit.

As one of the Masters of Ceremonies at the seminary, I had the opportunity to chat with Cardinal George several times and I always enjoy visiting with him. Just before I excused myself to return to the Cathedral he said the next time he's near Virden he'll stop by and say hello. I'll have to send him a note telling him he's always welcome; I doubt a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church has stopped in Virden before.

Though I was not able to make too many comments during the dinner, I did get a couple of pictures of Archbishop Lucas with the crozier the priests of Springfield in Illinois gave him as a farewell gift:

30 November 2009

28 November 2009

Did you miss them?

It has been a while since I last posted a homily. What follows is my homily for this Sunday. I hope to resume posting homilies for Sundays and holy days.
The First Sunday of Advent (C)

The liturgical year, with its celebration of the season of Advent seems to run in stark contrast with the secular year, which already has begun to celebrate Christmas, even before Thanksgiving Day. We Christians may be tempted to celebrate Christmas now with the secularists, too, but by doing so we would deprive ourselves of a great treasure.

The season of Advent has as its chief end two purposes: a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time and a preparation to celebrate his Birth at Bethlehem when he entered into time. The temptation today, I fear, is to anticipate too early Christmas Day at the expense of our spiritual growth by not realizing that he who comes is both King and Judge.

In many families the Christmas tree has already been raised and will be taken down shortly after Christmas dinner, in stark contrast to the liturgical year, which celebrates Christmas on the twenty-fifth of December through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year on the tenth of January.

It seems that we have forgotten – or at least neglected – this rich season that calls us to wait, to be still, to ponder; this season calls us to those things we would rather avoid, hating silence as we do. Indeed, as the world celebrates a distorted reason for the season, Holy Mother Church calls us to spend these days in quiet recollection preparing ourselves for the two-fold coming of Christ.

Through this season, the Christian people, “raises its gaze to the final goal of pilgrimage in history, which is the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.” But through these days the Christian people also recalls Jesus’ “birth in Bethlehem with emotion, it bends down before the crib. The hope of Christians is directed to the future, but always remains well rooted in a past event.” Through the season of Advent, we focus our attention first to Christ’s future coming through the sixteenth of December; beginning the seventeenth of December we focus our attention toward Bethlehem.

Too often we lose sight of both of these directions – the future and the past - in the hustle and bustle of worldly life and are so caught up in the present distractions. Advent calls us to step beyond this busy-ness, to contemplate anew the great love of the Lord Jesus, of the one who “will fulfill the promise [he] made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jeremiah 33:14).

Joseph Bottum has rightly observed that “the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing – for [it has] injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a whole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.” By this he means:
More Christmas trees. More Christmas lights. More tinsel, more tassels, more glitter, more glee – until the glut of candles and carols, ornaments and trimmings, has left almost nothing for Christmas Day. For much of America, Christmas itself arrives nearly as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long Yule season that has burned without stop since the stores began their Christmas sales.
Will we, too, be caught up in this? Will Christmas come for us as a disappointment, as a relief, rather than the culmination of a great preparation?

Is this not what the Lord Jesus warns against when he tells us to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34)?

It is too easy for us to give in to the temptations that surround us, to ignore this season of grace through which the Lord can make us “increase and abound in love for one another and for all … so as to strengthen [our] hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his holy ones” (I Thessalonians 3:12-13).

If we keep well the Advent season, patiently and intently, if we live it truly as a season of longing through which we hope to learn “to love heaven,” we will not become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life and we will be richly blessed. Indeed, the Lord will make his paths known to us, he will show us his paths and will guide us in truth (cf. Psalm 25:4-5).

As we seek to prepare ourselves for the day when the Son of Man will come “in a cloud with power and great glory,” we will recognize him as the one who comes “to judge the living and the dead (Luke 21:27).” The more we consider his judgment, the more we will realize – if we quiet ourselves in his presence – that “good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way” (Psalm 25:8). If we use these days of Advent prayerfully, the Lord will guide “the humble to justice” and will teach “the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

If we use these days in this way, the Lord will surely “increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.”

Let us, then, my friends, not anticipate too early the fulfillment of this holy season, but let us live it fully each day preparing for the coming of our Lord. May he find us watching and waiting in joyful hope when he comes. Let us “watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord comes again in his glory.” Amen!

Linking around

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson reflects on the season of Advent. Joseph Bottum does the same (it's actually a reprint from the December 2007 issue of First Things.

Sandro Magister has written about the Manhattan Declaration - which you can read and sign here - and Pope Benedict XVI's homiletic style.

The excitement builds

Wednesday will mark one of the greatest days in the history of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois when the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, Archbishop of Omaha, will return to the Diocese of which he was the fifth Bishop, to rededicate the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after an extensive restoration.

A web site has been established for the occasion and has good pictures and descriptions of the various elements of the Cathedral. Be sure to check it out!

27 November 2009

Fr. Tolton

Godzdogz has a good post on Father Augustine Tolton, the first black priest in the United States and who has many ties to Quincy.

26 November 2009

The Establishment of Thanksgiving

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

- Abraham Lincoln
Capello tip to The Crescat.

25 November 2009

In the news

  • The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, whose motherhouse is in Alton, celebrate today their 140th birthday (a.k.a., anniversary of their founding by Mother Anselma). Congratulations, Sisters!
  • St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham dedicated their new grade school building Sunday afternoon.
  • The Franciscan Hospital Sisters will display Nativity scenes from around the world at the Chiara Center December 4-6.

24 November 2009

Most Holy Father...

...can we please have a new Bishop?

In the Year for Priests

This evening the Ladies' Sodality hosted several area priests for a dinner to honor the priesthood. It was evening for us simply to enjoy.

A year ago the ladies began praying for priests and more vocation to the priesthood by having a Mass celebrated each week. When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year for Priests on the Feast of the Sacred Heart (the parish's feast day) the ladies continued having two Masses celebrated for priests each month.

This evening the ladies really out did themselves. The decorations alone were outstanding:

The meal was one of the most delicious I have yet eaten, made by Sicilians. I took a couple of pictures, but didn't think to take pictures of each course:

Thank you, ladies, for a delightful evening!

Behold, the new copier

As we received the new copier in the parish office, I think it is safe to say that my secretary and I felt like children on Christmas morning.
The man who gave us the copier told us he tries to make one person happy each day, and he has certainly done so today. In fact, he has made quite a few people here very happy. May the Lord bless him for his generous kindness!
It is really all quite overwhelming. I have no idea how to properly thank him, save only with those two simple words: thank you.

Surprise, surprise!

Have you ever simply been ambling about your day and sat down at your desk to check your e-mail only to discover that a $10,000 copier fell into your lap to replace the below copier (it still works [remarkably], but note the brick that must be in place for it to copy)?
No? It happened to me last week and I could not be more pleased about it. It will arrive here at the rectory and all the parish will to do is keep an annual contract at a very reasonable rate. You should try it sometime.

I am not sure what I am doing, but whatever it is I must be doing it well. Thanks be to God! And to the patron saint of electronic imaging devices!

23 November 2009

Here's something you don't see every day

Have you ever noticed that places do not get really interesting until after you have already left? Take this story, for example, of a bull running loose in the streets of Effingham:

A bull tore down a fence at Effingham Veterinary Clinic on Keller Drive in Effingham Saturday, crossed the highway and escaped into Rollin Hills Subdivision before he was captured after being subdued by a tranquilizer [more].

That would have been fun to see.

The second gem of the midwest

The State Journal-Register has an article in today's edition about the restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and a series of pictures to go along with it. I would ignore the nasty and largely unintelligent comments to the article.

22 November 2009

An evening with the Baptists

This evening the First Baptist Church in Virden hosted the annual Thanksgiving Service sponsored by the North Macoupin County Ministerial Association. Pastor Philips invited me to preach the sermon and I happily accepted his invitation.

My words were very well received and the Baptists were gracious hosts. I'm pleased to say that the local Catholics were also very well represented.

What follows is the sermon I preached for the occasion:

Dear Pastors and Ministers,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace!

I am grateful to Pastor Philips and to my fellow members of the Virden-Girard Ministerial Association for their kind invitation to preach this evening. They have welcomed me warmly and have been very supportive of my ministry here among you, and I thank them. I thank, too, the members of First Baptist Church who are graciously hosting us this evening; may the Lord reward you for their kindness.

Some four hundred years ago, in 1621 a great feast was held between Puritans Separatists and local Indians to give thanks at Plymouth for the recent harvest in the midst of great hardship. This week families will gather across this land to commemorate this event, though the current difficulties are not so severe, the harvest is not yet finished and our own menus will be very much unlike that of the first Thanksgiving on this nation’s soil.

There is something within us, a certain desire and longing, a certain necessity, if you will, to give thanks. Man must give thanks, for he is not his own, in and of himself. Saint Paul puts it this way: “What have you that you did not receive” (I Corinthians 4:7)? All that we have is gift, whether we recognize it or not.

This need to express gratitude has given rise to rituals and traditions in every culture of the world, in every age and place, from the simplest peasant to the most noble of kings. Although much has changed, this desire to offer thanks remains, even, curiously enough, among atheists.

The greater man advances technologically, the greater his need to give thanks lest he become lost in himself, lest he become ill at ease and unable to rest.

In every corner of the world we discover certain truths. Among them is this: the more a person gives thanks, both to his Creator and to his fellow man, he greater his happiness will be.

Here in the civilized West we have come to the notion that life is meant to be happy and that if, for one reason or another, it is not, something must be amiss. But, my brothers and sisters, is this, in fact, the reality of our human existence?

If we think back to that first celebration of Thanksgiving, can we really say that life was happy for the Europeans or for the Indians as we think a happy life should be today? Of the original number who set sail from England, half died of malnutrition, disease and the elements before the celebration of that first Thanksgiving. Twenty years later, they still had only one plow among them.

The hardships they endured, we, with our indoor plumbing and electricity, computers and supermarkets, can scarcely imagine. Theirs was a life few of us could have lived and in this regard they are not very different from the major course of human history.

This certainly could not have been what we mean by a happy life, but it may well have been a contented life. Would any one of the pilgrims have expected anything less? Of course not; difficulty and hardship was part of everyday life. Why should we expect it to be any different for us, here at the beginning of the twenty-first century?

This gives us cause to consider for what we are grateful. Do we give thanks for the ease with which we have our food, for our trusty air conditioners in the summer and heaters in the winter, for our vehicles which make travel so fast and simple and for the other technological advancements of our age? Of course we do, but we should not stop there.

Those first pilgrims rendered thanks to Almighty God who saw them through that first difficult winter. They did “not forget all the gifts of God,” simple as these gifts may appear to us (Psalm 103:2). They were well aware that, as King David sang, it is the Lord “who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills, delivers your life from the pit, surrounds you with love and compassion, fills your days with good things” (Psalm 103:3-5).

The Lord does all of these things through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this very cross of which the Redeemer says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

The Church – and each of her members – must always give thanks to God for so great a gift through which all good things come to us. For without the Cross of Jesus Christ, what do we have? As Saint Peter says, “By his wounds, you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).

So often we seek to flee from the Cross, to avoid what is difficult and seek only what is easy. But, my friends, the Lord Jesus did not promise us a rosy and happy life; he promised us persecution and rejection and division; he promised us the Cross. It is only through his Cross that we know his peace, his joy and his love. Why, then, do we run from it? Why do we not instead run toward the Cross whenever it is presented to us?

We are often afraid of the Cross because it requires us to change our lives, our manner of thinking and doing. It requires us to renounce ourselves more and more until we can say with the Apostle, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The Cross of our Lord is not simply his; each of us is called to share in it and share in it we must, if we wish to be his disciple. The Cross will come in different forms for each us because the Lord knows how we will best grow in holiness and grace. He knows best how to complete the good work he has begun in us (cf. Philippians 1:6).

Whereas the Cross was once the symbol of death, now it is the symbol of live, the symbol of victory. Christ reigns now from the throne of his Cross, offering each of us a share in his victory. This is why Saint Paul says we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Are we grateful for the Cross as it comes to us?

Saint Paul was certainly grateful for the Cross of Christ, even if he asked for it to be taken from him. When it was not, he accepted it as a faithful disciple and through it came to rely on the grace of Christ in all things, finding in it the cause of his joy (cf. II Corinthians 12:7-8). Christ Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” which lead Saint Paul to say, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9). This is the mark of one who has accepted his share in the Cross.

Writing to the Church of Colossae, he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). How can he rejoice in his sufferings? Because he is thankful for them, because he recognizes the grace given him through them.

Saint James, too, recognized this grace, and so he wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

Likewise did Saint Peter know the beauty of the Cross. “In this you rejoice,” he says, “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6-7).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us never seek to shy away from the Cross, but let us welcome it gladly, with rejoicing and much thanksgiving. This seems contrary to our natural inclinations. We willing give thanks for the blessings we receive, those things we ordinarily consider good, but to give thanks for difficulties and hardships seems almost insane to our modern sensibilities.

Consider the following reflection of a soldier from the Civil War:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all people, most richly blessed!

This is the reflection of one who knows the beauty of the Cross, of one who is thankful for it.

As we gather this week with family and friends around our tables, we will rightly recall with gratitude that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. We will rightly recall with gratitude the many material blessings the Lord has given us, both in this nation and in this time. But let us not forget to render thanks to the Father Almighty for the gift of his Son, for the gift of his Cross, for our sharing in his sufferings.

An anti-religious movie?

20 November 2009

For my British readership

Some of good friends of mine and their high school age son are in London visiting their son who is studying in Wales.

Do you have any recommendations as to what they should see before returning home?

The high schooler has aksed if the London Dungeons are worth seeing.

Too much of a production?

A priest-friend of mine e-mailed a request to help hear his second graders' First Confessions. The way in which he offered the invitation both made me laugh out loud and has given a bit of food for thought:
Nothing fancy… my focus on these things is not to make a big production for the second graders. We won’t do a big Liturgy of the Word with song-singing and a candlelighting/butterfly releasing event at the end… (Actually, releasing butterflies in January might be considered cruel.) I’ll just offer a good last-minute examination of conscience, review of the ritual, and get ‘em going. The idea is that this experience of the sacrament should be as normative as possible with respect to what they might experience on a Saturday afternoon-- all the parts and prayers (such as the Act of Contrition, etc) in tact.
I, too, am rather in favor of not releasing butterflies in January. The last thing we need is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals coming after us.

I also share his conviction "that this experience of the sacrament should be as normative as possible."

Is a child's First Confession an important, holy and joyous day? Of course it is. But it should also be just the first of many confessions thorughout their lifetime. Does making a big to do of this day go against that principle by making their first confession so do different than their second confession? Or their 83rd?

I do not know, but I suspect it might. Compared to a child's first confession, his second might seem a rather a let down, a bit anti-climactic.

Singing cutesy songs after their first confession, giving paper hearts or flowers to mom and dad may be fun for the children and entertaining for adults (who are rightly proud of their children), but does not help prepare them for their next confession? Does it help instill within them a genuine love of the sacrament? Does it help them understand our need of the sacrament?

My penitents have told me that they like confessing to me because it is "easy." What they seem to mean is that I do not ask too many questions and I do not offer too much advice. I very clearly make a distinction between confession and spiritual direction. I only ask questions if I need more information to understand the nature of their sin, and I only offer words of counsel if I genuinely feel the penitent needs them. At the same time, I will hear confessions anywhere - on the soccer field, in the library, in a corner stairway, walking down the sidewalk, in the dining room and, of course, in the confessional itself. And all without any fanfare, just the rite in its simplicity and beauty.

I wonder if my priest-friend is on to something. Please feel free to discuss this in the combox, with charity, of course. You are free to disagree with me.

19 November 2009

The sitting room

N.B.: For some reason, Blogger will not let me move these pictures. There were intended to go within the text below.

In the room just off the front entrance my predecessor kept his office. I attempted to do the same but the more I tried to make the room - which seems to have been intended as a sitting room - I simply could not make it work.

One day last week someone came by the rectory for spiritual direction. As I waited for her to arrive it suddenly dawned I me that I really did not have anywhere to sit and visit with directees, parishioners or even friends and guests. We talked at the dining room and I resolved to remedy the situation.

Upstairs my predecessor had set aside a room - that had been two rooms - as a library and study. Since the shelves and desk are attached to the walls I kept the room for the same use and have now moved all of my office into it (consequently, it is a bit disheveled at the moment). I decided to use the room just off of the entrance to the rectory as my sitting room, to visit with friends and guests, to watch television and play video games, and even read the occasional book.

Earlier this week I went to the local furniture store and chose a couch and two chairs to make the room both comfortable and stately. They arrived this morning so I've spent the majority of the day rearranging the house.

When the new drapes arrive which have been ordered the room will really take shape.
Presently I am tired of being in the house all day and am going for a swim. When I return I'll see to a bit of paperwork, work on a homily or two and call it a day.

18 November 2009

Sleepless nights

I apparently was not the only priest to sleep precious little during the course of the night. In my case, I suspect the weather is still up to something...

Another priest put his sleepless night to work (I've been working on a redesigning the format for the parishes bulletins) and put together a list of things on his Facebook page people may not know about priests [with my comments]:
  1. The absolute worst time to tell us anything important is in the receiving line after Mass. Don't expect us to remember... [He's right, you know]
  2. We are very flattered that people think of us when they go to Mass on their vacation, but we don't collect bulletins from other parishes.
  3. We don't have anyone cook for us. Most of us tend for ourselves [and most of us don't mind this].
  4. We aren't offended when people swear in front of us. "I'm sorry, Father," isn't necessary [or if it is, it ought to be necessary in front of anyone].
  5. Celebrating all the sacraments is a joy but, given a chance, 9 out of 10 priests would rather do a funeral than a wedding [there's a lot less paperwork involved].
  6. We go to confession to other priests, usually outside of the Diocese or to a spiritual director. We can't go to ourselves.
  7. We have one weekday that is our day off. The most popular day off is Monday [I prefer Friday because the parish does not have a Saturday morning Mass]. Obviously, we're busy on weekends.
  8. We don't sleep in clerical garb [and we often wear "normal people clothes" around the house]. Nor do we bathe in holy water.
  9. Words of support and encouragement are much appreciated. So is honest feedback. "I didn't understand your homily" would be a most welcome critique [along with an idea of where we lost you, otherwise the critique isn't of much use].
  10. We like other people saying a meal prayer from time to time.
  11. We don't remember most of everything that's said in the confessional because we hear so many [and we don't want to remember]. They all sort of run together...