Archive for the ‘Liturgical Year’ Category

2nd Sunday of Easter

April 14, 2012

Today’s Gospel begins with an unusual scene, if we stop and think about it.  Jesus appears to the disciples but one of them is missing: Saint Thomas was not there.  This scene is unusual in the Gospel, because all the other times that Our Lord appears to the Apostles they are all together.  Why was Saint Thomas missing from this first appearance?  Why did Our Lord not wait for Saint Thomas to be there before He appeared to them?  Certainly Our Lord knew that Saint Thomas was not there.

The doubt and then later faith of Saint Thomas was a gift that was given to us.  Saint Thomas was allowed to doubt to show us that faith was never easy.  Sometimes we might be tempted to think that faith was easy for the Apostles; we might be tempted to think that it was easy for those who saw Our Lord during His lifetime on earth to have faith, but that it is difficult for us now who cannot see Him in a bodily way.  If we are tempted to think that way, we need to realize that Saint Thomas saw Our Lord and followed Him throughout Our Lord’s public ministry; Saint Thomas listened to Our Lord teach and he watched Him perform miracles.  Saint Thomas witnessed Our Lord call Lazarus back from death to life, and Saint Thomas heard Jesus predict that Our Lord, Himself, would die and three days later rise from the tomb.  Saint Thomas had all of these benefits and yet still was unable to believe that Our Lord had risen from the dead: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail-marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Faith was not a given, even for those closest to the Lord during His public life.

The doubt of Saint Thomas shows us that faith requires that we have hearts that are open to belief; the transformation of Saint Thomas’ doubt to faith helps us to believe.  Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to be absent at His first appearance to the Apostles to show us that faith was not automatic for them: they came to believe because they encountered risen Christ.  Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to touch the nail-marks in His hands and feet and place his hand in Our Lord’s side so that we, too, might come to believe.  Our Faith is based on eyewitnesses: eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after the Resurrection: they saw Him and talked with Him; they touched Him and ate with Him.  Our Lord’s Resurrection was a physical Resurrection: Our Lord rose in the flesh and this encounter between the doubting Thomas and the Risen Lord helps us to know the reality of the Resurrection.

After Saint Thomas professed His faith in Jesus, Our Lord then says something to him that might sound strange, he says: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  Our Lord is speaking there about us: you and I.  We are not able to see and yet we believe and we are blessed in that belief.  It almost sounds as if we are more blessed than Saint Thomas because we believe without seeing.  How could we be more blessed than Saint Thomas, who was able to see and touch the wounds of the Risen Lord?

Again, we should remind ourselves that faith is never easy.  Just because people saw Jesus as He walked the earth two-thousand years ago was no guarantee that those who saw Him would have faith.  Our Lord looked normal.  He did not have a halo following Him around.  He did things that other people did.  He got thirsty and tired; He ate and he slept.  Those who knew Him from His childhood rejected Him: He performed few miracles in His hometown because people there did not believe in Him; they said things like: “Is this not the son of the carpenter?”  It is true that He performed miracles, but then so did the Old Testament Prophets; and even those who saw the miracles did not necessarily come to believe in Him: when the Pharisees saw the miracles it only made them persecute Our Lord all the more.  Even when Our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees, instead of coming to believe, only became eager to kill Him and they decided to kill Lazarus too because people were coming to believe in Our Lord because of him.  The Gospel tells us that even the soldiers who were at the tomb were willing to accept a bribe and lie about the Resurrection.

Saint Thomas needed a special grace from Our Lord in order to believe, and we all stand in need of that grace.  That grace is not refused to those who ask for it.  A great prayer to repeat frequently is the prayer uttered by a man in the Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Saint Thomas and the other Apostles did not understand all that Our Lord meant and did; in fact there are many examples in the Gospel where we see the Apostles often misunderstood Our Lord; only after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did they receive the wisdom, courage and power to go out and boldly bear witness to the Resurrection even at great personal risk and eventual martyrdom.  And their preaching transformed the entire world.

We are very blessed to live at a time when we have the benefits of two-thousand years of Church Teaching and Tradition which help us to understand all that Jesus Christ has revealed.  Our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to lead them into all truth; the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and we have the benefit of two-thousand years of Church Teaching that has been guided by the Holy Spirit.  Thanks to the internet we have easy access to all of that wisdom: we have access to early Christian commentaries on Scripture as well as access to all of the Church’s teachings and explanations of those teachings.  There are many sources of information which can help us to learn about and grow in our Catholic Faith.  May we take advantage of them.  The more we understand our faith, the more easily we believe; the more we believe, the easier we put our faith into practice in our daily lives.  May Our Risen Lord fill our hearts with Faith; may He give us the wisdom and the courage and the power to live our faith with boldness everyday and everywhere.

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3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Last week we began to reflect upon the Gospel passage that Fr. John asked us to focus on for Lent this year.  In this passage Our Lord says: “If anyone would come after Me, let Him take up his cross and follow me.”  This reminds us that discipleship is intentional: it involves our free will—we must make a choice to follow Jesus Christ.  If you would follow the Lord: this implies that you can choose to follow or not follow Him.  I mentioned last week that we became Christians at our Baptism: through our Baptism into the death and Resurrection of Christ you and I began to share in His divine life, we became members of His mystical body, we became co-heirs with Christ to the Kingdom of Heaven.  That being said, being a disciple requires our choice to faithfully follow Christ.  Each moment of every day we are free to choose or reject God.

Discipleship, in this sense, is much like marriage.  On the day that two people come to Church and receive the Sacrament of Marriage, they begin to be married; yet being married is ongoing and it involves choices and effort.  Both husband and wife must make an effort for a marriage to be successful.  On the day that a couple is married, they made certain promises to one another.  They promise to love one another, they promise to honor one another, they each promise to put the other ahead of themselves, and they promise to be faithful to one another for the rest of their lives despite whatever difficulties might arise.  Keeping these promises from day to day is a choice.  The couple can either grow in their love and deepen their relationship or they can drift apart.  The love that the couple promises to each other is a choice, it is a commitment; it is not a feeling.  That kind of love has to do with what is done, not what is felt.  On the day that the couple promises to love one another for the rest of their lives, they are filled with excitement and joy.  It is easy for them to make those promises to one another.  It is important to note that by promising to love one another for the rest of their lives the couple is not promising to feel the same emotions that they feel on the wedding day for the rest of their lives.  We cannot control our emotions; we cannot promise to always feel a certain way: we might as well promise to never have a headache again for the rest of our lives—it is a promise that we cannot keep.  When the couple promises to love one another, they promise to put the other ahead of themselves: to truly wish the good for the other and do what they can to bring that good about.

All of these things that I have been saying about marriage is true of our Christian discipleship.  On the day that we were baptized, we began to be Christians, but like the wedding day, that is only the beginning of the rest of our lives.  Like the couple on the wedding day, when we were baptized promises were made: we promised to faithfully follow the Lord.  Our Baptismal promises, like wedding vows, must be lived throughout our lives.  We have to choose to love God: and that love is a choice, not a feeling.  When Our Lord calls us to follow Him He asks us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not always easy.  We have a fallen human nature which is inclined towards sin.  Our fallen human nature is inclined towards selfishness, pride, laziness and the other deadly sins.  Faithfully following Our Lord means that we have to take up our cross: it means that we have to put our selfishness to death and choose to follow the Lord.  Following Christ requires that we choose to root sin out of our hearts so that we can do what we know is right despite how we may feel.

In our spiritual journey, we either deepen our relationship with God or we drift away from Him.  God is always there for us: we have to allow Him to act in our hearts and in our lives.  We have to do what we can to grow in our love for Him.  We grow in love by learning about our Faith and by putting it into practice.  Through Jesus Christ God has revealed how we are to live.  He calls us to live a life of love: He calls us to love Him above everything and He calls us to love others.  We are called to put God first in our lives: to put His will ahead of our own, and that is not always easy.  Loving our neighbor is not always easy.  That is why we talk about denying ourselves or putting self to death.  When we talk about it in the abstract, it can sound very daunting.  Yet this is how we were created.

We were made in the image of God and God IS love.  Christ shows us what true love looks like by His death on the Cross.  Love pours itself out for the beloved.  Love gives everything that it has to the beloved; Christ gave all that He had for love of us and He calls us to respond to His love in the same way: He asks us to make a total gift of ourselves—He asks us to imitate Him and to pour ourselves out for love of Him and for love of others.

Pouring ourselves out is the only way that we can be truly fulfilled.  That is the paradox of the Christian life.  A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that in reality expresses truth.  It seems contradictory to say that the more we pour ourselves out the more we will be filled: but that is the truth.  We were made for love: we were made to pour ourselves out for others; if we do not love, we remain unfulfilled.  The more selfish we are, the more unhappy we will be.  The more we deny ourselves and put God and others ahead of ourselves, the more joy we will have.  We have probably all had some experience of this at some time or another.  Have you ever helped someone else and then felt happy because of it?   We were made to love and we experience joy when we show love.  May we use this time of Lent to put our selfishness to death so that we can live as true disciples and more faithfully love God and others.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Keeping with the theme of the parish mission, Fr. John has asked Fr. Stanley and me to preach on discipleship during Lent.  (If you weren’t able to attend the parish mission, the talks are available on the parish website.)  The Gospel passage that Fr. John has asked us to specifically preach on immediately precedes today’s Gospel reading in the Gospel of Saint Mark.  If anyone would be His disciple, Our Lord says, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.  Our Lord says this to a multitude of people and to His disciples.

Picture the scene: there is a crowd around Our Lord.  Some people are there because they have heard that Our Lord performed miracles, some are there because they or someone they love is in need of healing, some are there because they are looking for the Messiah who will bring freedom to Israel and establish an earthly kingdom.  Some of the people in the crowd were His disciples, they already believed in Him; undoubtedly there were some in the crowd who were there merely because they were curious about Him; there were probably even people there who did not believe in Him—perhaps some of the Pharisees or scribes.

To all of those people Our Lord said: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, to be a true disciple, one has to do more than simply be in the crowd around Jesus.  To be an authentic disciple we have to do more than merely listen to the words of Our Lord.  Being a disciple means making a choice to follow Jesus Christ even when following Him is not easy.

Being a Christian is rooted in our Baptism.  Baptism unites us to the Body of Christ.  On the day that we were baptized we became members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Holy Spirit filled our souls for the first time.  Through Baptism all of the baptized began to live a new life in Christ—but that was only the beginning of that new life.  Living a Christian life from day to day is a choice that has to be made: I have to choose to follow Jesus Christ each day and at every moment.  At Baptism you and I received a share in God’s own divine, supernatural life; yet we continue to have free will and we can either grow closer to God and increase in that divine life, or we can turn away from God and reject that life.

Our spiritual life is a journey that began on the day of our Baptism, but that journey is a life-long journey.  As long as we are alive we must choose to follow Christ.  Discipleship requires our commitment to following Christ.  On the day that we were baptized there were certain promises made: if you were baptized as an infant, those promises were made on your behalf; if you were baptized as an adult, you made those promises yourself.  Either way, those promises are renewed explicitly each year at Easter.  Each year when we renew our baptismal promises we reject sin and recommit ourselves to God.  In fact, every Sunday we renew the second half of our baptismal promises when we affirm our beliefs in the Creed.

When we say that we renounce sin, when we say that we believe in God these are more than mere words.  It is easy to get through the Creed on Sunday without actually thinking about any of the words that we have just rattle off, but the Creed is supposed to be a prayer by which we acknowledge what we believe and commit ourselves to it.  What we believe ought to influence the way that we live our lives and the way that we think, act and speak.

If we really believe that God is our Almighty Father, that He created everything and that everything that we are and everything that we have is a gift from Him, it should influence us: we should be filled with great gratitude to Him.  If we really believe that the Eternal Son of God set aside the glory that He had from all eternity and was born of the Virgin Mary so that He could take the punishment that you and I deserved upon Himself—if we believe that He suffered and died in order to save you and me from sin and death that should have an impact on how we live.  How should faith impact my life?  If I realize that Jesus Christ hung on the Cross for me, because I needed to be saved from my sins the Crucifix takes on a whole new significance for me.  You and I are completely incapable of saving ourselves.  The Cross is what Jesus endured for you and for me.  When you look at a Crucifix remind yourself that He did that for you.  Jesus Christ gave everything He had to give for you.  He gave His very life.  You and I were bought with a price: Jesus Christ paid for us with His Precious Blood; and He asks something of us in return: He asks for our all.  God has given everything to us as a free gift; and we are called to offer it back to Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means following Him wholeheartedly.  He doesn’t want part of your heart, or part of my heart; He wants all of it.  The greatest commandment is to love God above all things: with all of our mind, with all of our heart, with all of our strength.

The temptation can be to think that if we turn our lives completely over to God that we will have nothing left for ourselves.  Sometimes the Christian life is seen as less.  The opposite, of course, is true: Our Lord tells us that He has come to give us abundant life.  When we turn our focus onto the things of this world, we might be entertained or distracted for a time, but the things of this world can never satisfy us.  We were made for God, and until we give our lives to Him, until He is at the center of our hearts, our hearts will always be restless.  God and God alone can give us the abundant life that we all seek.

May God give us the grace and strength we need to be ever more faithful to our baptismal promises.  Let us strive, this Lenten season, to allow God to reign more fully in our hearts and in our lives so that we can experience the abundant life that Our Lord promised to those who faithfully follow Him.

Epiphany Homily 2012

January 9, 2012

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, that is to say the manifestation of Our Lord to the nations. We have just a short time ago celebrated the Nativity, the Birth of the Eternal Son of God in time, and today we celebrate the fact that Our Lord and God came to earth to fully reveal God to all people of all nations. He is the True Light of the World: the Light of the entire human race. He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. But to those who did receive Him, He gave power to become children of God.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites are referred to as the chosen people or the people of God. These terms are used to refer to the Jewish people: people that shared a certain bloodline. In the Book of Genesis we hear about how God had entered into a Covenant with Abraham and made certain promises to him and to his descendants. The people of God in the Old Testament were descendents of Abraham; they were God’s people because they were in the bloodline of Abraham and therefore they inherited the promises of the Covenant that God had made with Abraham. God set Abraham’s descendants apart: he made them a holy people, a people set apart. God set them apart so that they would be a priestly and intercede with Him on behalf of all the nations and help the other nations come to know, love and serve the Lord. Yet the people of the Old Testament were not faithful to God. Again and again in the Old Testament we hear the Prophets calling the people to repent, to be faithful to God. In the fullness of time, God sent His own Son into the world: Christ came to fulfill the role that the people of God were intended to fulfill: He came to be Light for the nations: Light for all people of every time and place. Through Christ the world is offered light: for He is the Light of the world. Christ gives light to our minds: He reveals God to us so that we might know Him and He gives light to our hearts: He sheds Light on the great Love that God has for us. When we talk about someone “shedding light” on some subject, we are talking about someone helping us to know it. Christ helps us to know God and the love that He has for us. He reveals God to us because He is God incarnate: in the flesh.
This manifestation of Christ to the nations of the world is prefigured in the adoration of the Magi. The three wise men from the East were not members of the chosen people: they were pagans from a pagan nation. The wise men were not members of the people of God yet they were given a special knowledge, knowledge that most of the chosen people did not have: they were given the knowledge that the Lord of Heaven and earth had been born. Filled with joy at the birth of the Savior of the world they embarked on their long journey and traveled all the way to Bethlehem in order to offer their gifts and to adore the newborn infant Whom they recognized as the King of kings. In that little child, they recognized God-made-Man and they prostrated themselves before Him and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These three non-Jewish men were given a gift that most of the chosen people were not given and their adoration foreshadowed the fact that all nations would come to know Christ, not just those in the bloodline of Abraham, but those who (like Abraham) believe and faithfully follow God.

Christ came into the world so that everyone would have access to the Light: so that everyone would have access to God. The Eternal Son of God left the glory that He had in Heaven from all eternity and came into the world for you: to give you light. The Eternal Son was born in time so that you and I could come to know and love God. He is the Light of the world, yet this Light can be rejected, this Light can be ignored. God is Light: He wants to reveal Himself to us; He wants us to know Him and to love Him. That is the reason that He created you and me. Yet He does not force us to love Him: if He forced us to love Him it wouldn’t be real love. He offers us His love, He offers us His friendship, He offers us a share in His own divine life—but we have to accept His offer. He created us with a free will and He will never take our free will away from us.

Each and every day each one of us is faced with choices. From moment to moment throughout my life I either choose to follow God and allow His light into my heart, or I choose reject it. Like the chosen people of the Old Testament we, Christians, have been set apart by our Baptism; but we have been set apart so that that we can make God known to the world. Again and again we are all faced with the choice: will we allow God’s light to shine through us, or will we refuse? Being a Christian means following Jesus Christ: being a Christian is a choice that I make not once but again and again. God leaves us free to follow Him or reject Him. As Christians, we are in a relationship with Our Lord; we are called to imitate Him; we are called to love Him we are called to make Him known and loved in the world. Christ gave us the power to become sons and daughters of God—yet how often do we ignore that gift? He wants us to give us a share in His divine life—yet how often we prefer the things of this earthly life? May this Epiphany remind us of the great gift that we have been given and may it remind us that we are given the gift of faith in order to share it. Like the Magi let us eagerly seek Him. Like the Magi let us give Him gifts: the gift of our adoration, the gift of our lives, the gift of our whole heart, and the gift of our love. May we allow His light and His love to shine through us that He may continue to manifest Himself to the world.

[This was the homily I used at the 4:00PM Mass on Saturday. I used a simplified homily at the 5:00PM on Sunday, but that one was hand-written and therefore will not be posted on the blog. Sorry.]

Christmas Homily 2011

December 26, 2011

Christmas is probably most widely known in our culture as a time for giving and receiving gifts. The stores and the media have placed the importance of Christmas shopping before our eyes non-stop since before Thanksgiving. Christmas advertising seems to begin earlier and earlier. It is important for us to remember the reason that we give gifts to one another on Christmas: as Christians we must keep our eyes fixed on the reason for the gift giving.

Why do we give gifts to each other on Christmas? Part of the reason we give gifts is to let other people know how much we care about them. That is the reason we give a gift to a person on their birthday, for example. We give gifts to our family members and loved ones on the day that they were born in order to show our love and affection for them, to show them that we are glad that they are a part of our lives and we are a part of theirs. Why do we give gifts to each other on the day when we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ? On Christmas, we celebrate the Birth of Our Lord and Savior in time: we celebrate the fact that God became man. Why do we exchange gifts when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ? We give gifts to one another on this day in order to imitate the generosity of Almighty God, Who on this day over two-thousand years ago, gave the world the greatest gift ever given: the gift of His Only Begotten Son. It is said of the gift that God gave in giving us His Son that “Although God is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.”

To help us appreciate the greatness of the gift that God has given to us, let us reflect on this gift from two different aspects: first we will consider it from what God has given to us; second, we will consider it from the point of view of our need. God gave us the greatest gift because He gave to us what He most loves: His own most-beloved Son. From all eternity, the Eternal Son of God existed with the Father in Glory. The Father and the Son live in perfect union and in perfect love together with the Holy Spirit. From all eternity God has existed as a community of divine Persons. Within God there is perfect joy, perfect happiness, and perfect glory. When God gave to us the gift of His Son, He gave that which He loves most and He gave Him freely to us as a gift. When the Eternal Son of God became a man, He came to earth freely in order to reveal God to us and to give Himself completely to us in Holy Communion. God sent His Son, freely; Christ became one of us, freely; and this gift that is freely given to us shows us how much God loves us. In Christ the fullness of divinity is made manifest: God became a man, like us in all things except for sin, so that we could know God and have access to Him. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and He has been sent, He has willingly come to earth so that we might have life and have it in abundance: and the kind of life that He came to bring is not merely the earthly life that we have now but will one day lose; He came to bring abundant life to our souls: to give us a share in His divine life, and that kind of life is life that will never end.

That is the gift from the point of view of what God has given to us; now let us look at the gift from the perspective of our need. As members of the human race, we stand in absolute need of a Savior. That is the reality of our condition: we are fallen; we possess a corrupted human nature. We need a Savior and we cannot save ourselves. Our current state is not the way that God created us. We were created by God to know Him and love Him and to be united with Him: that is the purpose of our existence. Our first parents disobeyed God and thereby lost God’s friendship for the entire human race. Because of sin, suffering and death are a part of our lot in this world: no one can escape suffering and no one can escape death, they are part and parcel of our lives as human beings. Because of original sin, human beings are, by nature, estranged from God. Had God Himself not become one of us to save us from sin and eternal death, we would be forever lost; had Christ not been born for us, we would never have been freed from our sins; we would not have the access to God that we have as Christians, had Christ not been born, suffered, died and rose again from the dead for us. Had God not assumed our fallen human nature in order to redeem it, we would have no hope of ever seeing the joy of Heaven. Jesus, Himself, said that no one comes to the Father except through Him; through Jesus Christ, and through Him alone, we have access to God, through Him and through Him alone we have hope of attaining the union with God in Heaven for which we were created. If God had not become one of us in order to redeem us, the purpose of our very existence would be forever frustrated. That is the reason that God so willingly sent His Son; that is the reason that Christ so willingly shed His Precious Blood: so that we would not be lost in sin, and despair and death, but through Him we might have hope and through Him we have access to divine life.

Jesus Christ is the greatest gift ever given to the world because He is Himself God and nothing greater than God can ever be given as a gift because nothing is greater than God. We should appreciate the gift all the more because apart from Him we would be lost; without His coming among us we would have no hope of attaining the eternal union with God in Heaven that we were created for. Let us be truly grateful for this gift that God has given to the world this day: the gift of His Only Son. “Although He is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.” May our hearts be filled with gratitude and awe that such a wondrous gift has been given to us!

Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2011

A Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to all! May Our Lord abundantly bless you and your families and fill your hearts with joy during this grace-filled celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity!

Remember that the celebration of Christmas does not end the day after Christmas; the Church celebrates Christmas time all the way up until the Feast of the Epiphany. The Mystery of the Incarnation cannot be adequately celebrated (or contemplated) in one day, so the Church gives us several.

The Solemnity of Christmas is one of those important Feasts within the Church that has an octave attached to it: eight days that are celebrated as one day. Even after the octave of Christmas, Christmas time continues until January 6th.

The fact that Christmas continues to be celebrated after Christmas day can be easily overlooked because the day after Christmas the secular world has already stowed away the decorations until next year. In the stores, the Christmas decorations go up at the beginning of November and come down the day after Christmas. (I assume that the reason for this is to get people thinking about Christmas shopping.) In the Church we do the opposite. We celebrate four weeks of Advent, the time leading up to Christmas in which we prepare our hearts for the Birth of Our Savior, and during that time the Church is relatively unadorned. Then, the Church puts up Christmas decorations the day before Christmas, so that the Church will be ready for Christmas vigil Masses, and the decorations stay up all the way until “Little Christmas,” Epiphany, the day we celebrate the adoration of the Magi.

May the joy of Our Lord fill your heart every day of Christmas time and may He bless you throughout the New Year.

God bless,
Father White

4th Sunday of Advent 2011

December 24, 2011

When a Gospel text is very familiar, we have to put forth extra effort to be attentive and not tune it out. How well we all know the account of the Angel delivering God’s message to the Virgin Mary. How many times have we all used the Angel’s words in our own prayer: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Precisely because we are so familiar with this Gospel, we need to stop ourselves from glazing over it and really meditate upon it with attention and devotion; the Church gives us this Gospel on this, the last Sunday of Advent, in order to stir up in our hearts joyful longing for the coming of Our Savior. The Church puts Our Blessed Mother before us in the Gospel today as a model of that joyful expectation that we are all to have.

It is easy for us to take for granted the way that the account goes: Mary says “May it be done to me according to your word” and the Eternal Son of God became one of us, in order to redeem us by His death and Resurrection. We know the way that the Gospel ends, and therefore we don’t always pay much attention to the details. Let us take a few minutes to really reflect upon this Gospel passage.

The Angel Gabrielle was sent by Almighty God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth. The word “Angel” means: “messenger”. Angels are pure spirits: they do not have material bodies: they can appear in a material form in order for them to convey their message to human beings, but Angels are purely spiritual beings. Gabrielle is known as an “Archangel”: an Archangel simply means an Angel (a “messenger”) with a very important message. Gabrielle is known as an “Archangel” because of the importance of the message delivered: in fact this is the most important of all messages for the human race: the Redeemer of the entire world, the Savior promised from the very beginning is about to come to earth. To us, this message is old news; that was not the case with Mary. When the Angel Gabrielle brought this message to Mary, she had no idea she was to be the Mother of the Eternal Son of God. All of the Old Testament looked for the coming of the Savior; all of the people awaited the One Who would come and set us free from sin and death. We can at times take His coming for granted, up until the time that the Angel spoke the words of today’s Gospel to her, Mary waited and longed for and prayed for the coming of the Redeemer, not knowing that her prayer and her desire would be fulfilled in her Holy Child. What must have been going on in Mary’s mind and in her heart while the Angel was delivering his message? Imagine the joy that Mary must have felt: at long last the Savior was to be born into the world; at long last the slavery to sin that had been the lot of the human race since Adam, was about to come to an end. The One Who would crush the head of the ancient serpent was coming into the world. Imagine the great hope that must have filled Mary’s heart as the Angel placed God’s message before her.

The message itself reveals much about Our Blessed Mother: remember that this Archangel is not bringing his own message: Angels deliver messages from Almighty God. God greeted Mary through the voice of the Angel Gabrielle and greeted her as “Full of Grace.” The original Greek word for “fullness” used there implies that Mary is already full of grace when the Angel greets her, and the tense of the Greek verb implies a constant and on going state or condition. The Angel also tells Mary that the Lord is with her; even before Mary conceived the Eternal Son of God made Man in her womb, the Lord is with her; and she has found favor with God. These lines of the Angel’s message speak to us of Mary’s holiness even before she conceived. Earlier this month we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: this Solemnity celebrates the fact that God preserved Mary from all stain of sin right from the very moment of her conception. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the official Teachings of the Catholic Church that many non-Catholic Christians have a hard time with, yet it only makes sense if we stop and think about it. If you were all-powerful, and all-knowing (as God is) and you had the opportunity to create your own mother . . . would you not make her perfect in every way? Would you not make your mother beautiful and virtuous and free of all imperfection? If we, who are so limited and imperfect, would give such gifts to our mothers if we could, why wouldn’t the Eternal Son of God make His earthly Mother free from all sin right from the first instant of her existence? The Church Teaches that He did and this Teaching is in continuity with the earliest writers in Christianity.

Another aspect of this Gospel that we can easily take for granted is Mary’s response: her “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary was free from sin from the first moment of her existence, which is to say right from her conception in the womb of her mother, but she still had a free will. Sometimes people ask: if Mary was without sin, could she really have chosen differently than she did? The answer to that question is: yes. She was created without sin, just as Adam and Eve were and although they were also created sinless, they abused their free will and turned away from God in sin. Mary received extraordinary graces and gifts from the Lord, but she really and truly cooperated with Him in bringing about our redemption. St. Bernard of Clairvaux has a beautiful passage in which he meditates upon the Angel awaiting Mary’s reply to the message he had just delivered. I would like to conclude by sharing part of Saint Bernard’s meditation with you. He writes: “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life. Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive . . . Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.”

3rd Sunday of Advent 2011

December 17, 2011

Today marks the halfway point through Advent. The theme of today’s Mass is summed up in the traditional title given to the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word which means: “Rejoice!” “Rejoice” was the first word of the antiphon sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. The liturgical color of the day is rose: today the rose colored Advent candle is lit, today is one of two days of the year on which the priest may wear rose color vestments. The Church, through the prayers and readings of today’s Mass, encourages us to rejoice: the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord quickly draws near.

The Antiphon of today’s Mass tells us to “rejoice in the Lord.” We, Christians, have a very specific reason for rejoicing: we are to rejoice in the Lord. Saint Paul, in the second reading today, tells us to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. He goes on to say that this is God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we rejoice in Him. God created us to know Him, to love Him and to be happy with Him: not the kind of passing happiness that comes from the things of this world, but real, lasting, true happiness; that is what God created us for.

If that is why God made us, why do we have so many worries, fears, disappointments, and anxieties? The answer is simple: because of sin. Suffering and death were not a part of God’s plan from the beginning. Suffering and death entered the world as a result of sin. The purpose of our existence hasn’t changed (the purpose of our existence is still to know and love God; we are still destined to be happy with Him forever), but ever since the first sin suffering and death have been an inescapable part of human existence on this earth.

Even in our fallen human nature, we are still called to rejoice always. The only way that we can always find cause for rejoicing in this fallen world is by keeping our eyes fixed on God and all that He has done for us. Everything that we have that is good, comes to us from the hand of the Lord. Our life, our faith, our next breath, all of the material and spiritual goods that we have been blessed with are gifts from God and they tell us of His love for us. God has given us so many good things; there are many reasons to rejoice, if we only have eyes that are open to see.

As a result of all of the good things that God has given to us, we owe God a debt of praise. The new words that we say at the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer clearly tell us of that debt. The new translation of the response to “Let us give thanks to the Lord” is “It is right and just.” The priest then goes on to say “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere” to give God thanks. Because of all that God has given to us and done for us it is right, it is a matter of justice, we have a duty to give Him thanks. How offended can we get sometimes when someone does not show gratitude for the little things that we have done for them. How do we feel when a gift that we give to another is not appreciated? God has given us everything and He has given it to us freely: out of pure love. He was not compelled to create us; He did not have to send His Son to die for us; Our Lord did shed His Precious Blood for us against His will. God created us out of love; He sent His Son to die because He loves us and desires to pour out His mercy upon us. Jesus Christ poured out every last drop of His Precious Blood willingly. He freely laid down His life so that we might share in eternal, divine life.

How could we fail to thank God? How could we be so ungrateful as to not have heats filled with thanksgiving to God for all that He has done? When Saint Paul tells us to rejoice always, he says that even though he knew what it was like to go through difficulties in this world. In Second Corinthians Saint Paul says that he forty lashes on five different occasions because he preached the Gospel; he was beaten with a rod on three different occasions; he was shipwrecked three times; he was frequently in danger, and often had to endure hardship that we cannot even imagine in this day in this country. Saint Paul was put in chains for his faith in Jesus Christ and ultimately was beheaded. This same Saint, who knew well what it means to suffer, was able to say “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How could he say that when he suffered so much? Because Saint Paul knew that the sufferings in this life are as nothing compared to the glory that awaits those who love and serve the Lord. Saint Paul knew that as long as he was faithful to the Lord, there wasn’t anything in this world that could separate him from the love of Christ: and that was cause for rejoicing. Saint Paul asks: What can separate us from the love of Christ, anguish or distress, or persecution or famine or peril or the sword? None of those things could take away the joy that Saint Paul had, because none of those things could separate him from the Lord Whom he loved.

If God is in the center of our hearts, we have nothing to fear. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. Let us use this remaining part of Advent to prepare our hearts and focus on Christ. Let us bring our cares and concerns to Him and entrust them to Him; then let us give Him thanks for all the many things that He has done for us, and with hearts full of gratitude let us rejoice in the Lord always and give Him thanks.

2nd Sunday of Advent 2011

December 4, 2011

This is the second Sunday of Advent; Advent is a period of four weeks that has been set apart for us to prepare our hearts to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord. Advent is a time for us to be shaken awake. As we journey through life, we can easily fall into daily routine and slowly lose focus on the things that are truly important. Advent is a time of the year in which we are called again and again in the readings and in the prayers at Mass to be alert, attentive, awake and watching.

Advent is a time for us to be shaken out of complacency, it is a time for us to examine our hearts and honestly ask ourselves: have we fallen asleep in our spiritual lives? Have we turned on the “auto-pilot,” have we allowed our faith to become a mere routine? Our Catholic Christian Faith demands something from us: our Faith is to be lived; we have to profess our faith both with our lives and with our lips. Being an authentic Christian takes more than just saying: “I was Baptized when I was an infant, therefore I am a Christian.” Christianity is not merely a social club and it is not a cultural label. Being a Christian means following Jesus Christ. What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? It means to be in a relationship with Him; it means modeling my life on Him and on His teaching.

How do we deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ? First, we have to know Him. We have to know things about Him, but more than that: we have to know Him. We know about Him by studying Sacred Scripture and by studying our Faith. We come to know Him by spending time with Him in prayer, by praying with Scripture and not merely studying it. We cannot be in a relationship with someone we never spend time with. And the most important relationship that we will ever have is our relationship with God. We deepen our faith by putting it into practice. Our Lord said that when we do or fail to do something for someone else, we have done or not done it for Him.

Advent commemorates the historical reality that from the time of the fall of our first parents, God has promised the human race a Savior. Christmas is the celebration of the promised Savior’s birth. But this time of year is also more than a recalling of history. It reminds us also of our current situation. Just as the Old Testament people looked for the coming of the Redeemer into the world, we are called to watch and wait for Christ to come. We are to do all we can to help build of the Kingdom of God on earth; we are to spread the Gospel; we are to allow God’s love to flow through us to those around us: by what we say and by what we do we are to help others to see God in us and come to know and love Him.

In Advent we also call to mind the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come. In the Preface that we will pray in just a few minutes, we hear that at His first coming Christ assumed the lowliness of human flesh, but when He comes again, He will come in glory and majesty. In the Creed that we pray together each Sunday, we confess our faith that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Our culture’s favorite Scripture verse is: “judge not.” It is true: we cannot judge the heart of another, yet we can judge actions. Our Lord says that if someone sins, we should correct them. We can judge actions, but we cannot judge hearts. The reason that we cannot judge hearts is because God alone knows what is in the heart of someone else. The thing that our culture seems to forget is: we cannot judge others because all judgment is reserved to Jesus Christ. “Judge not” does not mean that there will not be a judgment, it means that judgment is not ours to make: Christ alone will judge the hearts of all.

Advent looks back to the historical first coming of Christ, and looks forward to the Second Coming which will be the end of all history. Christ’s first coming and His promised Second Coming both call for a personal response from each one of us. Advent is a time to be shaken awake: it is a time for us to reflect on His first coming, and to remember that He will come again. When He came to earth the first time, He came as Savior: He came to reconcile fallen human beings with God, and to show us the way to the Father. When He comes again, in glory, He will come as Just Judge. That thought should help us all to be shaken into alertness. We will each be called to render an account of how we have lived our lives. Each one of us will be judged one day on how we have followed Jesus Christ, how we have cooperated with His grace, and what we have done with the gifts that He has given to us. Let us be awake and watchful, let us use the gifts that we have received to build up the Kingdom of God so that when we go before Christ we will worthy to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; come and enter into your master’s joy.”

Solemnity of Christ the King

November 22, 2011

This weekend brings to a close the liturgical year, and next weekend starts Advent, the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar. This is also the last weekend/Sunday in which we will use the current translation of the Mass. Next Saturday evening we will begin to use the new translation of the prayers at Mass. Today, being the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King: in the new translation, by the way, it will be called the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. (It has always had that name in Latin, as well as in other languages.)

Today’s Solemnity is relatively new on the calendar: Pope Pius XI established it in 1925. Pope Pius gave us this liturgical celebration as an antidote to secularism, which he already saw creeping into the lives of many in his day. He saw that people were beginning to think and live as if God did not exist. This feast was intended to remind people that Jesus Christ wants to reign over us as individuals, He wants to reign in our families, over society, over the world. As we shall see Christ is, in fact, Lord of everything, but He wants us to freely choose to allow Him to reign in our hearts in order to build up His Kingdom.

Although the feast of Christ the King is new, the idea that Jesus Christ reigns as King is not foreign to the liturgy. It is mentioned all of the time and in prayers that are ancient. Christ’s reign is brought up so often in the liturgy, that we can easily not even notice it. Many, many of our prayers at Mass end by invoking Our Lord and then adding the ancient conclusion: “Who lives and reigns . . . forever and ever.” Who lives, and reigns. Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father. He is Master and Lord of the universe.

Let’s look at the various ways that Jesus Christ is King of the universe. Jesus Christ is God; Saint Paul says that all things were created through Him, all things were created for Him. Together with the Father and the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ created everything that is. Without Him nothing was made that was made. He reigns, first and foremost, because He created us: He is our Creator, we are His creation. As Creator of the universe He holds supreme power over all things. In Him all things live and move and have their being. We are dependent upon God for our existence and everything that we have that is good comes to us from the hand of God; as a result we owe Him our thanks and praise.

Besides reigning by virtue of His Divine nature, Christ is also our Redeemer: He purchased us by His Precious Blood. The Eternal Son of God set aside the glory that He had from all eternity, emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, Saint Paul says. The One Whom the Angels adore, humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin in a cave because there was no room for Him in the inn: He came to His own and His own received Him not. He became a man, like us in all things except for sin, to fully reveal God to us and we, His creatures, put Him to death for it: He was Crucified to save us from our sins. He willingly laid down His life for you, and for me. He died so that we might have eternal life. By pouring out His Precious Blood on the Cross, He purchased us for God. Jesus Christ has purchased you back from the devil and the price that He paid for you was His own life. The life that you live is not your own: you have been purchased by the Blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us and gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist; He wants something in return: our heart. God desires that we love Him, that we allow His will to reign in our hearts. Jesus Christ is King of the universe by divine right, be He wants your permission to reign in your heart and in your life.

Faith is an individual matter, it is my choice, it is up to me to faithfully follow Christ, or not; but we must also remember that faith is not merely a private matter. There are many in our society today that would hold that it is ok to worship in whatever way that I want so long as I don’t bring my faith into the public sphere. That reduces faith to something which is pointless. We are not just to be Christians in Church on Sunday and then park our religion at the door until next week. If I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, if I know that He has purchased me with His Blood, it has to make a difference in the way that I live my life everyday. Being a Christian means more than simply showing up at Mass on Sunday: being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ all the time, always everywhere. All time belongs to Christ. Following Jesus Christ means living, thinking, making choices in accord with what Jesus Christ has revealed to us about God. If we believe that our faith is true, it has to have an effect on us. We don’t have to stand on soapbox on the street, but we do have the right and the duty to defend our faith, and to share our faith with others. Faith is a gift, and it is a gift that has been given to us, for ourselves but also for others. If Christ is to really reign in my heart, He has to reign in every part of my heart: He wants all of your heart. We are to love God with all of our heart, with all of mind, with all of our strength. That is the greatest commandment, and that commandment cannot be lived out in one hour a week, one day a week.

Let us renew our commitment to Christ that we will strive to follow Him ever more faithfully: Loving Lord Jesus, Redeemer of the entire human race, and King of the universe, look down upon us humbly present before You. We are Yours and we desire to belong ever more completely to You. We consecrate ourselves to Your Most Sacred Heart this day. Give us the grace to faithfully follow You, that we may be with You forever in Your Kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit: One God forever and ever. Amen