Archive for November, 2009

First Sunday of Advent (C)

November 30, 2009

Today we begin a new liturgical year.  Advent focuses our attention, in hopeful expectation, for the coming of Christ.  Advent reminds us that right from the very beginning, right after the Fall of Adam and Eve, there was the promise of a Redeemer who would save us from sin and death.

Throughout the Old Testament, the People of God waited and longed for the coming of the One Who would save them.  The People of God waited for thousands of years for the fulfillment of their hope.  Every Prophet predicted His coming; every event in the Old Testament points to the deliverance that Jesus Christ would bring.  In the fullness of time, over two thousand years ago, the Second Person of the Trinity fulfilled all those promises.  Advent reminds us of that wait for redemption experienced by all the Patriarchs and Prophets and all of God’s chosen people.

Advent is also a time that calls to our minds the fact that we await Jesus’ return in glory.  Jesus promised that He would come again, and we wait in joyful hope for His Second Coming.  We were not made to live on this earth forever.  We were all made to be with God forever.  This life is a time of testing in which we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as Saint Paul says.  We do not know when the end of time will be; none of us even knows when we will be called home, and so we all must live our lives in such a way that we are prepared to meet Our Lord.  Jesus told many parables about the importance of watching and being prepared for when the Master comes.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy . . . from the anxieties of daily life . . . be vigilant at all times and pray.”  It is easy to let the “anxieties of daily life” distract us from the things that are truly important, especially around the holiday seasons.  I have heard people say that they just cannot wait for the holidays to be over.  If that is the attitude that we have, perhaps we should re-evaluate the way that we celebrate the holidays.  Christmas isn’t meant to be a burden; it is meant to be a celebration.  This season of Advent is not about running around and rushing and getting everything done before Christmas.  It is meant to be a season in which we prepare our hearts to celebrate the fact that our God became a man like us in all things except for sin; He was born for us that we might be set free from slavery to sin and death.  Jesus Christ came to set us free and help us gain access to Heaven and to Our Heavenly Father.  And we celebrate that by making ourselves slaves to Christmas shopping?

Advent is a time to examine our hearts and root out everything that keeps us from being prepared to meet Jesus Christ, when He comes again.  Christians in the early Church longed for His Second Coming and they often prayed: “Come Lord Jesus!”  Do we make that prayer our own?  Do we look forward to Jesus’ Second Coming with joyful hope?  Or have we become so comfortable in this world that we have forgotten that our true homeland is Heaven?  Jesus taught us that wherever our hearts are, there also will our treasure be.  This life is short and this world is passing away.  Woe to us if our only treasure is in this world.

When Jesus Christ was born all those centuries ago, He came as our Savior.  When He comes again, He will come to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the Creed.  We need to make sure that our hearts are prepared to welcome Him.  If we detach ourselves from sin, we will have no fear of the Just Judge.  If we live for this world alone, we will likely have a difficult time praying: “Come Lord Jesus!”

Let us make use of this Advent Season to prepare our hearts for the Coming of Christ.  Let us ask Our Lord to help us to have a proper focus on the things that are truly important: the things that are eternal.

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit upon us to enlighten our minds and to inflame our hearts with love for You.  May we use this Season as a time to focus ourselves; may these days of Advent bring our families and all of us closer to You.  May we long for Your coming with joyful hope.  Lord Jesus, come in glory!  Amen.

November 29th

November 30, 2009

The second part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  It begins with the offertory.  During the offertory, the altar is set and the gifts are brought forward and offered to God.

Just a few people present the gifts to the priest but the offertory is not a time for the rest of us to passively watch.  We should all be engaged at the offertory; each one should be offering their selves to God.  God has given us everything that we have that is good.  (cf. 1 Cor 4:7)  We offer everything back to Him out of gratitude.

While the bread and the wine are being presented, I can offer to God my life, my cares, my worries, my sufferings.  I can unite my whole self to Him, and thus my whole life becomes a pleasing offering to the Lord.  Spiritually place your heart on the paten that the priest is offering up, unite yourself to the offering of bread and wine.

The priest accepts the bread and the wine and gives thanks to God for giving them to us and offers them back to Him.  The priest then bows and prays that the Lord will be pleased with the sacrifice we offer.

There is then a ritual hand washing.  This is, of course, symbolic rather than hygienic.  While water is poured over the priest’s fingers, he prays: “Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sins.”  This ritual action reminds the priest, and the congregation as well, of the holiness of what is about to happen and the need to have a clean soul in order to offer worthily the sacrifice of the Mass.

God bless,

Father White

Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009

“Father, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise.”

Those are quite frequently the first few words of the prayer known as the Preface, the prayer right before the Eucharistic prayer.  We do well always and everywhere to give God thanks.  There is not anything that we have, that we have not received, Saint Paul tells us.

God has done so much for us and has given us so many good things, and yet our fallen human nature is more inclined to complaining than to thanking God for the good that we have.  It is easy for us to get frustrated when things don’t go the way that we want them to.  It is easy to complain about all that we have to do, especially around the holidays.  Holidays can become so stressful that we just can’t wait for them to be over.  Then, when all the craziness of the holidays is through, then we might have time to give God thanks and praise.

That is not what we hear in the Preface that the Church gives to us in our Liturgy.  We are to give God thanks and praise always and everywhere.  What if I am too busy?  What if I am stressed out?  It is in times when I might think I have too much to do and too much stress that I have a greater need to pray.  God can give us peace, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle.  Holidays were not meant to be a burden.  Perhaps we should re-think the way that we celebrate holidays if they have become burdensome instead of a joy.  Perhaps we are not focused on what we should be.  Part of the problem might also be that we need to learn that it is possible to thank God, even in the midst of difficulties.

Jesus, of course is the greatest example for us.  The day before He suffered, He took bread in His sacred hands.  He looked up to Heaven, and gave God His Father thanks and praise.  He knew that He was about to suffer.  He had predicted it again and again.  He predicted what was about to happen to Him as He broke the bread; He said: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”  He took the cup, and again gave God thanks and praise.  He said: “This is the cup of my blood; it will be shed for you.”

The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek and the word in Greek means “Thanksgiving”.  One of the reasons that the early Church used this word is precisely because Christ gave thanks as He broke the bread; another reason is that by offering the body and blood of Our Lord at Mass we return perfect thanks and praise to God.

Let us be sure to thank God for all the good things that we have; let us not forget to thank Him for the gift of our Faith, and for the great gift of Himself that Jesus gives to us in the Most Holy Eucharist.  May we remember to give God thanks and praise always and everywhere.

May God bless you and your families.

Solemnity of Christ the King (B)

November 24, 2009

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and within the context of our Mass we are going to celebrate the baptism of Lauren Gabrielle.  Celebrating Baptism within the context of Mass helps all of us to call to mind our own baptisms and what Baptism means to each and every one of us.

Baptism is a Sacrament.  The classic definition of a Sacrament is that a Sacrament is: “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to convey grace”.  Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism when He sent the Apostles out to the ends of the earth to teach all that He commanded and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Today, the first part of Christ’s command will be completed for Lauren; the second part, to teach all that Christ commanded, will take a lifetime.  We all go on learning and deepening our understanding of what Christ taught and Who He IS.

Christ instituted baptism and there are two parts: the part we will see and the part that we cannot see.  In just a few moments, we will all witness the Baptism of Lauren Gabrielle.  We will be able to see water poured over her head; we will hear the name of the Trinity invoked over her.  That is the outward sign, but there is more to baptism than the mere external signs; the outward signs effect supernatural graces that they signify.

Water has many uses.  Two of the most important uses are for washing and for drinking.  We use water to wash things everyday.  The first supernatural effect of Baptism is that it cleanses our souls of all stain of original sin which we were all born with.  Water also gives life.  Without water, human beings cannot live for very long.  The second supernatural effect of baptism is that supernatural life is infused into the soul.  Each of us began to share in the divine life of the Holy Trinity at our baptism.  By our baptism we were made children of God, our bodies were made temples of the Holy Spirit.  Through baptism we are elevated to a new status: we become adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ.

Baptism conforms us in a very special way to Jesus Christ.  Saint Paul says that in baptism, we die to sin and rise with Christ.  Immediately following our Baptism, we were all anointed with sacred chrism.  This anointing is a reminder that just as Jesus Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so we all share in those three offices by virtue of our baptism.

We are a royal priestly people, set apart by God, to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.  Prophets announced God’s message to others: we too are called to bear witness in the world.  A priest is one set apart to offer sacrifice and pray on behalf of others.  Every single baptized person is supposed to offer sacrifice: we are all called to offer ourselves to God.  God gave us everything that we have; there isn’t anything that we have that we have not received, Saint Paul says.  There is a difference between ordained priests and the priesthood that we all share in as a result of our baptism, but through Christ, we all have access to God and we can all offer ourselves to Him.  We are set apart by our baptism.  As a result of our baptism, we have entered into a very special relationship with God: we are His children.  We can ask Him for things; we can intercede on behalf of others in need of prayer.

Finally, we are a royal people.  Christ is King and through baptism, we share in that kingship.  And what does Christ’s kingship look like?  While on earth, He taught us that He came to serve, not to be served.  To serve Christ, and others for love of Him, is to reign.  In Heaven, we will reign with Him; we will go on for all eternity sharing in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.  Here on earth, we are to follow the example of our divine head: we are to take up our cross and follow the Lord.  In Heaven, Our Lord has a crown of glory; while here on earth, His crown was made of thorns.

All who are baptized share in these three offices; we receive them on the day of our baptism and yet we continue to grow into them and we all are to strive to fulfill them ever more faithfully.  Dear parents and godparents of Lauren, today you are answering on behalf of Lauren.  You are making promises on her behalf, and it is your responsibility to help her learn about her faith and learn to fulfill the offices that we have just been reflecting upon.  The Church teaches us that the parents are the first teachers of the faith to their children.  Godparents are to assist the parents in fulfilling that duty.  Children learn from imitating their parents.  It is by watching you and imitating you that Lauren will learn to speak and how to do all sorts of other things.  It is also by your example that she will learn about the importance of our Catholic Faith.  The parish family is here to support you in carrying out that role, but the ultimate responsibility is yours.  May God bless you and strengthen you with His grace as you take on these responsibilities.

November 22nd

November 19, 2009

Once we have prayed the Creed together, the next part of the Mass is the General Intercessions or the Prayer of the Faithful.

The priest briefly introduces the General Intercessions and then either a deacon or a member of the congregation (if there is not a deacon present) leads the congregation in the prayers.

The prayers normally follow a specific pattern.  First, we pray for the Pope and for the other shepherds of the Church (other bishops, priests, etc.); then we pray for government leaders, either our own or throughout the world.  There can then be prayers for the local community as well as prayers for the sick.  There is always a prayer for the faithful departed and finally, the last intention is usually for people for whom the Mass is being offered.

At the end of each intention, we are invited to pray to the Lord and we ask the Lord to hear our prayer.  It is very easy to make this response without thinking about it, but we should try to be attentive to what it is that we are praying for as a community and truly pray the response: Lord, hear our prayer!

The priest concludes the Intercessions with a short prayer, and then all are seated.  With the conclusion of the General intercessions, the Liturgy of the Word is completed and we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We will take up that topic, next time.

God bless,

Father White

November 15th

November 15, 2009

Following the proclamation of the Gospel, the priest gives a homily.  The homily is optional on weekdays, but it is required on Sundays.  The homily is meant to break open the Word of God and help people understand what it means for us today.

After the homily, there may be a brief period of silence for reflection.  During that time, it can be helpful to reflect upon the main message of the homily, or some point that particularly struck us.  We also may make some resolution, based on the message of the homily.

When making resolutions, it can be particularly helpful to make resolutions that are concrete, not general or abstract.  It is not enough to say that I will do better in the future, for such resolutions are easily forgotten.  The question to ask, when making a resolution, is how will I do better in the future.  If I resolve to do something specific, I am much more likely to follow through on it.

The next part of the Mass is the Creed.  We together stand up and profess our faith.  The Creed is a brief summary of all that we believe as Catholics.  When we recite the Creed together at Mass, it is also a prayer.  At our Baptism, the Creed was professed for us.  At Mass, every Sunday, we profess our own belief in all the articles of faith contained in the Creed.  In a sense the Creed is our prayerful re-commitment to the Truths of our Faith.

It can be easy to get through the Creed and not even realize what we have been saying.  It is important to try to say the Creed with attention, thinking about the mysteries contained therein.  The mysteries contained within the Creed are the mysteries of our salvation: they call our attention to the great things that God has done for us.  Praying the Creed together at Mass should inspire our hearts with gratitude.  Let us try to be attentive whenever we pray the Creed and thank God for the gifts that He has given to us: especially for the gift of revealing Himself to us through His Son.

God bless,

Father White

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

November 9, 2009

The poor widow put in more than all the other contributors.

The poor widow gave everything that she had.  She did not have much, only a few coins, which the Gospel tells us, were only worth a few cents.  Yet it was all she had to give; it was her whole livelihood: it was all that she had to live on.  She gave it to the Lord and Jesus points her out because of her great trust in God.

We hear of a similar thing in the First Reading.  The Prophet Elijah went to a particular town, during a time of great famine.  There hadn’t been any rain, and therefore there weren’t any crops.  There wasn’t anything to be found to eat, anywhere.  He saw a widow and he asks her to give him something to eat.  The widow says that she was just getting ready to cook the last bit of the food that she has in the house and then her plan was to wait to die because there just wasn’t any more food.  Elijah promises her that if she trusts the Lord and gives him something to eat, that the Lord will miraculously provide for her and for her son.  And that is exactly what happens.

Because the widow trusted in God she and her son, and Elijah as well were all miraculously provided for.  God is not outdone in generosity, but we have to trust Him.  The widow in the Gospel could have held on to those few cents.  She could have reasoned and justified herself by thinking that she could not afford to give anything.  She might have thought: “I better hold on to these few coins; they are all I have left.  I can’t give them to God.”  Instead she realized that a few coins wouldn’t do her any good anyways; but if she entrusted herself completely to the Lord, she had faith that she would be provided for.  She was likely familiar with how God provided for the widow through Elijah and she likewise put all her hope in the Lord.

What both of these Scripture passages illustrate for us is the importance of relying upon the Lord.  We should not put our trust in the things of this world.  This world is passing away.  We were not made to live in this world forever; we were made to be forever happy with God in Heaven.  If we seek God first, everything else falls into place.  That doesn’t mean that our lives will necessarily become easy, there are always trials in this life; but we will find that if we put our trust in the Lord, He will always provide for our needs.

Another lesson we can learn from these passages is not to hold anything back from the Lord.  If the widow had not given Elijah something to eat the flower and the oil would have run dry, and she and her son would likely have died from the famine.  Jesus says it like this: If anyone tries to preserve their life, they will lose it; if anyone loses their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel, they will save it.  (cf. Mk 8:35)

We are all called to be Saints.  We are all called to love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, and with all our strength; it is by making this radical gift of ourselves to God and to others for His sake that we will find true happiness.  If we aren’t Saints yet, it is because we are still too attached to something other than God.  We have to examine our hearts and ask ourselves what it is that we love more than we love God and then surrender that part of our lives to Him.

The goal is to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ.  Jesus didn’t just talk about this kind of total love; He fulfilled it on the Cross.  Jesus did not hold anything back on the Cross.  He gave everything that He had.  He shed every last drop of His Precious Blood for you and for me.  Jesus says that if we want to follow Him we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.  We have to imitate Him.

We can easily imitate the other people that we heard about in the Gospel, those who give of their surplus:  “God can have this part of my life, He can have this part of my heart; but this other part is mine.  I like this sin too much, God.  I am not ready to give up that part of my life just yet.”

God wants your whole heart.  God sacrificed His Beloved Son to save you from sin and death.  He doesn’t love your out of His surplus.  God IS love, and He loves you with all that He IS.  If a billionaire gave you several hundred thousand dollars, you would think that that was a pretty great gift.  Of course the billionaire would still have a lot more money leftover for himself.  God doesn’t just give you part of what He has; He doesn’t give you part of Himself.  He gives Himself totally, wholly, and completely to you in the Holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ: it is everything that He IS.  And He asks us to respond to Him, by giving Him ourselves: wholly and completely.

If we had to choose between a million dollars and receiving Holy Communion, which would we choose?  What if we chose the million dollars, thinking that we can always receive Communion next week, but then died the same night that we received the million dollars?  Could you imagine standing before God after choosing money over Him?  What would it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul?  We cannot serve both God and mammon.

Ask yourself this upcoming week: “Do I love God above all things?  What part of my heart have I not given over to God?  What part of my life am I not willing to sacrifice for God?”  Then ask God for the grace to give yourself completely to Him, just as He gives Himself completely to you.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, on fire with love for us, help us to love you with all our hearts and please you in all our thoughts, actions, and desires.

Amen.

November 8th

November 9, 2009

At the end of the first and second readings of the Mass, the congregation responds to the Word of God by saying: “Thanks be to God.”  That can seem pretty strange, if we think about some of the readings that we hear proclaimed, particularly from the Old Testament.  (e.g. Think of the account of David and Bathsheba.)  If we have just heard a reading that has a tragic ending, one might wonder why we are thanking God for something tragic.

The reason that we thank God at the end of the reading, is not necessarily because of what we have just heard, but because through the Scriptures, God continues to speak to us.  We thank God because He has just spoken to us through His Word.

After the second reading, we stand for the proclamation of the Gospel.  There are several things that we do during the proclamation of the Gospel to show the importance and the reverence that we have toward the Gospel.  We all stand out of respect for the words and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  We all sing the “Alleluia” before the Gospel is proclaimed.  The word “Alleluia” literally means: “praise the Lord”; it is a hymn praising God for revealing Himself to us through the Gospel.

While the Alleluia is being sung, the priest bows to the altar and says a short prayer, by which he asks God to purify his heart and his lips that he may worthily proclaim the Gospel.  If the person proclaiming the Gospel is a deacon, the deacon asks the priest for a blessing.  The priest blesses the deacon, and prays that God will purify the deacon’s heart and lips that the Gospel may worthily be proclaimed.  The prayers that the Church puts on the lips of her ministers at the time of the Gospel proclamation remind us of how holy the Gospel is and how important it is that the minister strive to be holy, that he may worthily proclaim it.

The Gospel reading is further elevated from the other readings by the fact that it is read from a separate book which is decorated with gold.  The Gospel book is also carried aloft in procession both at the beginning of the Mass as well as right before the Gospel is read to show its importance.

There are several ways that the priest (or deacon) shows reverence toward the book of the Gospels right before he proclaims it.  The book may be reverenced with incense (on special occasions); the priest signs the book with a cross before he reads; once the Gospel has been proclaimed, the priest reverences the Gospel book with a kiss.  As he kisses the book, he says: “By the Words of the Gospel may my sins be wiped away.”

A final way that the Gospel is marked off from the other readings is that there is a special response made by the congregation at the conclusion of the Gospel: “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.”

God bless,

Father White

Solemnity of All Saints

November 3, 2009

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are.”

We are all children of God by virtue of our Baptism, and therefore we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Today we celebrate all the Saints in Heaven.  This Solemn Feast is meant to remind us of our brothers and sisters who fought the good fight on earth and now, side by side with the Angels, surround the throne of God in Heaven and continually sing His praises.

In our First Reading this morning, we hear that the Saints whom we are celebrating today are from every nation, race, people and tongue.  The Saints we celebrate today are from all walks of life: some were married, some were priests and religious, still others were single.  Some lived to see old age, some died when very young.  Some were tortured and killed for the Faith.  Some lived quiet lives of solitude.  What they all share in common is that they were all outstanding in holiness.  The Saints lived lives of heroic virtue and witnessed, by the way that they lived in the world, to God’s love.

Their heroic lives can and should inspire us to be more faithful ourselves.  This month would be a great time to read about a Saint.  We are all called to be Saints.  Reading the lives of the Saints can help encourage us in the pursuit of that goal.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola experienced a great increase in fervor by reading the lives of the Saints.

Saint Ignatius was a soldier, who was wounded in battle.  He was hit in the leg by a canon ball.  He ended up spending a lot of time in a hospital bed recovering.  Prior to his injury, he had enjoyed reading fictional stories of knights and chivalry.  While bedridden during his recovery, he asked for some books to help pass the time.  The only books that the hospital had available were some books on the lives of the Saints.

Saint Ignatius was reluctant, but because there weren’t any other books about, he began to read the lives of the Saints to escape boredom.  These stories from the lives of the Saints greatly inspired Saint Ignatius.  They made him feel that he wanted to do the things that the great Saints had done.  These books lifted his mind and heart to God.

Saint Ignatius later reflected on the difference between how works of fiction affected him and how the lives of the Saints affected him.  He came to realize that although reading fiction stirred up his imagination, it left him feeling empty afterwards.  The excitement he experienced in a good fiction book, quickly went away.  The lives of the Saints, on the other hand, were not only exciting; they also drew him closer to God.  When he finished reading the lives of the Saints, he continued to have a sense of peace and joy.

The Saints can be a great help to us.  Their lives of the Saints can inspire us; the Saints also pray for us from Heaven.  They want us to be there with them, and they intercede for us with God.  Some Protestants accuse Catholics of praying to the Saints and thereby give to the Saints the worship that belongs to God alone.  Let us be clear, when we answer such objections.  We worship God alone, but we honor the Saints who are in Heaven.  When we honor them, we honor God Who has done great things through them.  We do not pray to them; we ask them to pray for us.  The Letter of Saint James tells us that the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much.  (cf. James 5:17)  The Saints were certainly righteous, and so their prayers are very efficacious.  They are in Heaven, and in Heaven they behold God face to face.  Their prayers are perfect.  They do not suffer from distractions in prayer, as we here on earth do.  Furthermore, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why would they not pray for us?

The Church calls the relationship between the Saints and us the Communion of Saints.  We are all members of the Body of Christ.  We are called to be Saints.  The Saints want us to fulfill God’s will: they want us to be Saints.  Their lives on earth inspire us, and their prayers for us in Heaven assist us as we journey through this valley of tears.  The Letter to the Hebrews calls them the great cloud of witnesses, which surround us.  (cf. Hebrews 12:1)  Let us remember to often ask the Saints to pray for us, and thank God for the gift that He has given to us in our brothers and sisters in the Faith.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Saints.  May their lives inspire us to an ever-greater holiness; may their prayers gain us Your constant help and protection.

All holy men and women, pray for us!

Amen.