Monday, December 31, 2012
One of the coolest parts of praying the Rosary is that the Mysteries help us meditate on the Gospel in the nutshell. Think about it—the Mysteries begin with Jesus’ birth in the Joyful Mysteries, capture crucial aspects to His public ministry in the Luminous, share about Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection in the Sorrowful, and conclude with Jesus’ resurrection.
A few years ago I helped teach Totus Tuus to children and we taught them the Mysteries of the Rosary. As I did I found myself asking a question. Why, if the Rosary is about the story of Jesus, are the last two mysteries solely about Mary? I mean, I know Mary is important, but at the time it seemed strange to think the culmination of the Mysteries was on Mary.
What I failed to realize was that you cannot celebrate Mary without simultaneously celebrate Jesus. It was Mary’s yes that brought Christ into the world and everything in her life pointed beyond herself. What great humility for the Mother of God. Yes, we can in fact call Mary the Mother of God, and it is this aspect of Mary we celebrate today. Yet in so doing, we are actually saying something more about Jesus than Mary herself, and this is just how she would want it.
In the early Church, a certain group of heretics—the Nestorians—rejected the title Mary, Mother of God. They did so not because of anything about Mary, but because they did not believe that Jesus was actually God. Yet we believe that Jesus, true God and true man, was born of Mary. Thus Mother of God is a fitting title for our Blessed Mother.
Now if you want to get answers to parse how Mary is Mother of God while being a creation and daughter of God the Father, or how she relates to the Holy Spirit, you can enroll in a theological course. For now it is enough to celebrate Mary as the Mother of God as we conclude our Christmas feast.
Today we see the brilliance of our patron, St. John the Evangelist, at work. We hear from both his letter and Gospel.
Our Gospel passage is from the Prologue. This acts as an introduction and prelude to his whole work. John sets forth a number of vivid images—light and darkness, life and death, belief and disbelief.
John also shows Jesus as the fulfillment of word theology. The Word was first associated with God’s creation. It then was connected with the God’s Law. Later the Israelites saw the Word through the framework of wisdom literature, and eventually the sacred authors personified Wisdom itself.
“And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ, who was present in the beginning during creation, fulfills the Law and Wisdom of the Old Testament. Now He comes in the flesh as a baby.
As we continue to celebrate Christmas, we look to our patron to help us discern how important the Word made flesh is to our lives. And we ask that this Word will help us grow in holiness.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Job is a fascinating book that asks about the question of suffering. In the face of three false friends, Job maintains his innocence before God. While this is a bit extreme, God eventually vindicates Job and denounces his friends. He leaves the mystery of suffering virtually unanswered, at least for the moment. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example to this question. Here are some thoughts on this book.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
In honor of Adrian Peterson, the great Minnesota Viking’s running back who may break the NFL season rushing record against our beloved Packer’s, I am going to give a 28-minute homily. Buckle up.
Actually, I first want to mention my eye opening experience of visiting Ghana, Africa. It was very interesting encountering a world so different than ours. They have so little compared to us—vehicles, food, good roads and technology. Yet we can learn a lot from this culture.
One of the characteristics of the Ghanaian culture that was so inspiring to me was their firm grasp on family life. Often, whole families—including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (for which they actually have no word!) and the immediate family—live together. Divorce is minimal. Abortion is illegal. And, when I told some of them that in our country we are now voting on who can marry, they were truly scandalized. We have before us a culture that is rooted in family values and from that we can be taught.
Our culture is in crisis when it comes to family. Our divorce rate is skyrocketing, there are 3,500 abortions every day, and the very meaning of what marriage means is in question.
In the face of such turmoil, we would do well to remember the exhortations of our popes and bishops since the Second Vatican Council—the family is of primary importance in our society and Church.
There is no better day to reflect on families than on the Feast of the Holy Family. We see in Jesus, Mary and Joseph the example par excellence of family life. Imagine this family with two sinless people. (Poor Joseph, the only sinner in the bunch! If anything happened in the house, it had to be Joseph’s fault.) The Holy Family fulfills the Scripture’s teachings on family life.
We have before us a true man in Joseph. He protected Mary and Jesus, leading them out of danger. He was chaste as he was not physically intimate with his wife.
There is Mary, who is perfectly submissive to Joseph, God and Jesus. This word—submissive—is used by St. Paul to describe a wife’s role in the family. Unfortunately this word has negative connotations in our society. We think that a wife submitting to her husband means being his slave, or by having to make him food whenever he demands. On the contrary, the real meaning of this word can be seen in remembering its makeup. The prefix -sub means “under”. A wife, then, is to be “under the mission” of her husband. And what is the husband’s mission? To love his wife as Christ loved the Church and died for her. Wives—you are asked to be submissive to your husbands and allow him to love you so much that he would die for you. This is what Mary did. She submitted to God’s will and allowed her son to die for her and all mankind.
Finally we see the child Jesus who was perfectly obedient to His earthly parents. As fully God, there were probably many times he could have corrected His parents or said, “See, I told you so!” Yet Jesus lived out to the full the fourth commandment—honor your father and mother.
Finally, the earthly Holy Family is our best reflection of the family—God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Family was caught up in the Trinity, and this is what our family is called to do.
I pray that your family may be in union with the family. And by following the example of the Holy Family, our earthly example, I pray that your families may grow in holiness.
Friday, December 28, 2012
It is universally recognized in all cultures and throughout history that one of the most heinous crimes in humanity is the killing of children.
A couple of weeks ago our nation grieved the killing of twenty children and some of their teachers and adults at the hands of one man. This isn’t new to humanity, but is grievous just the same.
We remember today the babies who were killed at the hands of the jealous Herod who ordered two year olds and under to be killed, afraid the “King of kings” would usurp his throne. We can also look back in time to the slaughtering of the Hebrew children at the hands of Pharaoh.
In our own country the events at Shady Hook elementary, the Holy Innocents and the slaughtering of Hebrew babies pales in comparison to a crime that happens in our country every day. Over 3,500 babies are lost each day to the heinous crime of abortion. This doesn’t occur at the hands of someone with mental difficulties, and isn’t a one time action by a jealous political ruler. This is legal.
It is somewhat ironic that we celebrate the lives of the innocent who were lost at the time of Jesus as we also celebrate the coming of Christ as a baby. This gives us great hope that Jesus comes to us even in the midst of great depravity.
We pray that, God willing, the grace of Christ may eliminate the crime of abortion in our own country.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Happy feast day of our patron, St. John the Evangelist! St. John is one of my favorite saints, not only because he was a good runner, but also because of his writings in the Bible. I am very excited to celebrate his feast today.
I think I’ve mentioned to you before—I know I have to our students—but St. John is represented in symbology and iconography as an eagle. That’s why you see an eagle on our ambo and in the blue stained glass window in the choir loft. I also have the eagle, as well as the symbols for the other three Evanglists—Matthew, Mark and Luke—on my chalice and vestments.
John is represented by the eagle because he soars the heights of spiritual and theological insight. He is one of the most brilliant thinkers our Church has ever seen. Consider part of our first reading: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life—for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us…” In a few words John synthesizes the essence of the Old Testament and Christ—the Word—who was made flesh.
The soul purpose of John’s writings is to inspire belief. He can write so eloquently about faith in Jesus because he was an example par excellence of believing: “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.”
May St. John, our patron, inspire us to believe more deeply in Jesus Christ whose incarnation we celebrate this Christmas season. May we seek his insight in his writings in Scripture.
St. John the Evangelist, pray for us!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
I pray this finds you and your families living out the joy of the great gift of Christmas. What a gift that Jesus "humbled himself" by not only becoming a man but also becoming first a baby. God's blessings upon you all during this joyful time of year.
Here are some thoughts on a pretty cool narrative. Through the story of Tobit, his son Tobias, the angel Raphael and Tobias' eventual wife Sarah we see God's providence at work. We can learn a lot about what it means to love God and neighbor through the righteous man Tobit. Enjoy!
Monday, December 24, 2012
For our Christmas and Easter brothers and sisters: if you thought you’d make it through Mass without a plug for coming more often, you thought wrong!
I would like to share that I am a new priest, ordained only last June. Because of the Mass, I became a priest. Because of the Mass, I gave up having a wife and children.
There is no better place to experience God’s love and mercy than at Mass.
I challenge you as you brainstorm New Year’s resolution—make getting to Mass a goal in your lives. If you make a commitment to come to Mass you will be happier because of it. I guarantee it.
You are welcome here at St. John’s/St. Joe’s and I speak on behalf of all priests that you are welcome to experience the fullness of our Catholic faith on a weekly basis.
Is there anything more precious in this world than a baby? You Moms and Dads, think of when your baby came into the world and when you first held your newborn child. Have you had an experience that brought more joy than this one? Jesus came into the world the same way. (As a thought experiment for you Moms—consider going through the birthing process, not in a modern hospital but in a stable!)
Two of my best friends—Josh and Emily—had some difficulty getting pregnant right away. It was a great day when they called me to tell the good news that their first was on the way. I had the great privilege of being in the hospital waiting room with their family at two in the morning on the big night. I’ll never forget walking down that hallway, standing outside their room and hearing the baby cry. When the nurse said “he,” we all knew it was a boy and Grandpa Tom was the proudest man on the planet—his first grandson.
A few minutes after Andrew was born, I got to hold him. My first thought was, “What a beautiful gift from God.” My next: “Dude, you don’t smell too good!” Thanks to Hollywood and TV, many of us have an idealistic notion of what a delivery room looks like. We imagine this pristine baby coming into the world spick and span. You parents know this is not exactly the case. As I looked down I noticed his hair was still wet. I didn’t want to think of what it was wet from. And there were still some gunk on him—again, I didn’t want to know why that was there either. In short, while the birth of a child is a joyous occasion, it is also quite messy.
“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.” Many of us, especially if our relationship with God is not the strongest, often consider God as this old man looking to send us to hell. Here it is helpful to remember that God became a baby. Jesus humbled Himself, becoming a man. But Jesus didn’t descend from the heavens as a thirty-year old. He came into the world as we all do—as a cold, naked, helpless baby that couldn’t feed, change or bathe Himself. He came, like all babies, as a mess!
This reality captures the fact that God enters into the messiness of our lives. He doesn’t wait until we are perfect or have it all together. He takes us as we are and brings our messiness—our sin, depression, unemployment and addictions—and eventually nails them to the cross.
And in this we have great reason to rejoice. We can rejoice no matter what sufferings we may be enduring right now—sickness, unemployment, family issues or others. Jesus came to enter into the messiness of humanity and into your life. We can rejoice because we don’t need to figure everything out or be our own savior. We can rejoice whether we were in Church yesterday, last week, last Easter or ten years ago. God takes us where we are and wants nothing more than to usher His love and mercy upon us.
As we celebrate Christmas (which, even though Target says ends on the 25th, does not end for several days) I pray that Mass this evening and the joyous Nativity may strengthen your relationship with Jesus. I pray this time may be fruitful in your spiritual lives and that you may be drawn more deeply into God’s love, even in, or rather, especially in, the messiness of life.
Know of my prayers and have a very Merry Christmas.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
First, a quiz. Where can we find the opening prayer from today’s Mass in a Catholic devotion? I’ll give you a hint. The prayer is: “Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.”
This is the closing prayer of the Angelus, which is traditionally prayed at 6:00am, noon and 6:00pm. It is a prayer that reminds us of the realities of Christmas on a daily basis. Check it out on google.com.
There are few experiences in life more joyful than the husband and wife who find out they have successfully conceived a life. Two of my best friends (who married each other) had somewhat of a challenge achieving pregnancy and I’ll never forget that phone call with the good news.
We have a touching narrative this morning centered on two pregnant women. Mary, pregnant with the baby Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth—pregnant with John the Baptist. “When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb…” John prophesied for the first time in his mother’s womb!
It is fitting to reflect on John the Baptist on this fourth Sunday of Advent as Christmas is only a couple of days away. First, we read from the letter to the Hebrews: “He takes away the first to establish the second.” Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament—the first—and establish the second—His covenant of love. John the Baptist announces the coming of this new covenant.
For centuries, the prophets announced the coming of the Messiah in veiled and shadowy terms. John the Baptist, the first prophet of the New Testament, pointed directly to Christ Himself: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
In so doing, John the Baptist fulfilled our Responsorial Psalm: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” For John the Baptist, it was all about Jesus. He put all attention on Christ and exhorted the crowds to “Repent and believe!” He even said, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
As Christmas is only a few hours away, may we follow the example of John the Baptist as he leapt in his mother’s womb for joy at the coming of Christ. In our own hearts, souls, and dare I say—our bodies—may we, too, leap for joy in this great reality.
Friday, December 21, 2012
One of the questions I hear the most from non-Catholics has been: “Why do you worship Mary?” Of course, we do not worship Mary as to God alone does worship and adoration belong. But we do honor Mary in a special way.
We have been reminded of how the Hail Mary prayer was developed starting in the Bible itself. The other day we read, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” This morning Elizabeth proclaims, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The Hail Mary is a wonderful reminder about why Mary is honored—Jesus.
As you know, the Hail Mary’s help make up the Rosary. Here we meditate on the mysteries of Christ’s life. If you know the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary you know the basics of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We are in the heart of the Joyful Mysteries right now. A few days ago the angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah—the first Joyful Mystery (the Annunciation). This morning is the second Joyful Mystery—the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. In a few days we celebrate the third—Christmas/Nativity. And as the Christmas season continues we will be reminded of the fourth Joyful Mystery—the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple—and the fifth—the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.
As Christmas rapidly approaches, continue to use the Hail Mary and Rosary to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ, and allow His life to impact yours.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
We hear an early prophesy of Mary from Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Jesus was not the only one who was announced in the Old Testament. Our Blessed Mother was as well.
Today our Psalm reiterates what we celebrated on December 8th—that Mary was without sin, both original and actual. “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? or who may stand in his holy place? He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”
Mary was the perfect disciple of Christ. Through her yes, Jesus came into the world as a baby at Christmas. Her yes ought to inspire our yes no matter what state of life we are in.
One of the ways we Catholics ask for strength to give our full yes to God is the Hail Mary. This is a powerful prayer to our Mother, as is the Rosary which many of you pray: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
As Christmas draws near, ask our Mother for strength to continue giving your yes to God.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
In the Advent and Christmas seasons it might be easy to overlook the important role St. Joseph had. After all, he was the only sinner in the Holy Family. Imagine being married to a sinless spouse—they would be right all the time!
Yet Joseph exemplifies three qualities from which we may learn. First, he was able to discern God’s voice in His life. Joseph was able to do this, not because he had telepathic abilities or magical powers, but because he was righteous. He spent decades reading from the Torah and in prayer to God. Thus, he was able to listen to the angel in his dream and discern God’s voice.
Second, Joseph’s faith was second only to Mary’s. Joseph was told that Mary would conceive without his—or any other man’s—help. Stop and think for a moment just what this means. It was only through a profound faith that Joseph could believe the words of the angel and become the protector of Mary and her baby.
Finally, Joseph was a chaste man. Mary is ever-virgin, meaning that Joseph never had sexual relations with her, even though they were married. He lived this way seeing the greater good of Mary’s virginity over his own desires.
As Advent draws to a close and we usher in the Christmas season, let’s not forget the important role Joseph had to play in the Christmas story.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Saturday, December 15, 2012
A few words are in order about the horrifying shooting in Newton, Connecticut. How tragic an event losing twenty children, teachers and adults at the hands of one person in a nightmare of a moment. We must pray for those who lost their lives, the families and the community of Newton in the days and weeks ahead.
The most recent shooting shows just how ugly sin is. We pray to be freed of our own sins as all sin leads to death.
And it shows the destruction of untreated mental and psychological illness. One of the news programs today stated that in the string of school shootings over the last ten to fifteen years in our country all had a shooter who had mental needs left unchecked. It is a good reminder to us who may have psychological crosses to have the courage to get assistance to experience the freedom Christ wants you to have. Not that anyone here is on the brink of a rampage, but many may be facing anxiety and depression. Please know you can talk to Fr. Rich or myself about this and we can put you in touch to many resources to help with these crosses.
Running is one of my favorite activities. I’ve been running for seventeen years now after competing in track and cross-country in junior high, high school and college. I love racing and competing and have done marathons and road races through the years. Racing is all about pushing to the point of wanting to give up, falling over and waiting for the ambulance, then pressing on. In my best races I have gotten to the point where it is like a light switches on and I know I will beat my goal or make it to the finish line. The adrenaline and excitement cause a true second wind and carries me to the finish.
I compare this moment in a race to the place we are in Advent right now. This weekend is Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday to rejoice during Advent.
We have lost a sense of what the season of Advent is. As John the Baptist reminds us, Advent is supposed to be very similar to Lent—a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Gaudete Sunday is a break from fasting to rejoice in the coming of Christ. We know that Jesus is coming at Christmas and is coming soon. The only proper response to this reality is joy.
Joy is different than happiness. When we speak of happiness we refer to something at the human level which gives us pleasure. I may be happy eating a chocolate chip cookie. I may be happy watching the Vikings win. But joy is something deeper. In fact, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. True joy can be experienced only by experiencing God. It means much more than pleasure but features peace, contentment, excitement and happiness.
Our readings are filled with encouraging joy. Shout with joy. Exult. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. One practical way to live this joy is how we pray at Mass. Today let the rest of the Mass be different. Pray, sing and respond in Mass with joy and exultation. Let me hear your joy.
As we walk towards Christmas, continue to pray, be generous and seek opportunities for fasting. Take to heart the words of St. Paul: “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Thursday, December 13, 2012
“I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I will help you."
We have seen this verse lived out in the saints and martyrs who have gone before us. Many men and women have trusted in God in the face of extremely difficult situations including torture and even death. Yet they were unafraid, because God was truly with them.
Today we remember St. Lucy, a young woman who was both a virgin and martyr in the persecutions of Diocletian. Her name comes from light and she demonstrates the light of faith necessary to give her life to God.
There are many legends surrounding her suffering. One account tells of her facing slavery into prostitution as a punishment for not marrying a pagan man. Yet when the guards came to get Lucy her body became limp and weighted “as much as a mountain.” Another account says they tried to burn her, but her flesh could not be harmed. Her persecutors then plucked out her eyes. Because of this, St. Lucy is the patroness of the blind and those with impaired vision.
Whether the legends are true or not, the fact is Lucy gave her life for Jesus.
She shows that even though (compared to God) we are not much more than worms or maggots we can give all that we are to God. He became one of us—one of us worms!—and died for us. We must follow the example of Lucy and give everything back to Him, trusting that He is with us. We do not need to be afraid.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Daily Mass Homily: Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe given at school Mass)
First, I want to thank our students for your generous gifts to our Advent food drive. Many people, both in our community and in various places of the world, have far less than we do. We must be grateful for the gifts God has given us and be generous to those in need, especially in this time of year.
We heard two important readings about our Mother this morning. The first came from Revelation, in which a woman is clothed with the stars with the moon at her feet. This is similar to what Mary looked like when she appeared to a poor Mexican man—Juan Diego. She appeared to encourage him and the Church in Mexico and to let him know how much she and her Son loved the Mexican people, especially those who were poor.
Then in our Gospel Mary’s cousin Elizabeth declared lines we are all familiar with: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” As you know, this is part of the Hail Mary—the great prayer in which we ask our Mother to pray for us.
Mary is a great model for the Advent season in two respects. First, she gave her full yes to the Lord. We seek to do the same as we prepare for the coming of her Son at Christmas. Second, Mary herself was poor. She gave birth to Jesus not in a castle or hospital but in a stable. She represents those who are poor, those we must continue to be generous to this Advent season.
As we continue to walk through the Advent season we ask Mary to guide us to Jesus who comes to us as a baby on Christmas.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
We can learn a lot from sheep. Most importantly, sheep need to have a shepherd to guide them to food and drink. The image of God as a shepherd is frequent in both the Old and New Testament and we hear the beautiful description of God as the shepherd who “feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”
I recently had the chance to visit Africa and observed that in all the villages I visited animals wandered around at will. Chickens, goats, cows and donkeys freely grazed. As an American concerned about possessions I asked my friend how they could tell who owned what. Do you just grab any chicken off the street for dinner? He answered that the animals know who their owner is and they even come home each evening.
I couldn’t wait for this parable to come up in the readings to preach on it again. I was prepared to wait months to share what I learned about sheep from Africa. Providentially, it came up only a few days after my trip. The point is that the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable isn’t the cute little lamb that mistakenly wandered off from the flock. This sheep was stupid, rebellious and stubborn because it knew its shepherd and left anyway. And that is precisely the sheep Jesus goes after.
Jesus comes after not the cute little innocent sinner, but the idiotic, rebellious and stubborn one. All of us have done things where we think, “Man, that was dumb.” No matter what we’ve done, Jesus the good Shepherd continues to look for us. And when we return to His arms the angels rejoice greater than the 99 righteous ones. This is how much God loves us.