Monday, January 31, 2011

The Mass and the Bible!

I just noticed on The Sacred Page blog that there is a new annotated edition of the ordinary of the Mass complete with references to the Biblical passages. What does that mean to us? It means that we have the opportunity to look through the new translation of the Mass that is to come in Advent this year to see just how Biblically-rooted the Catholic faith and Mass are. It is definitely worth taking a good look at. You can find it here.

1 Peter 3:15 - 'Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who call you to account for the hope that is in you'

Becoming Like Children

A Painting of Jesus with Children
by Nicholas Maes
(Optional) Readings for Monday, January 31/ Memorial of St. John Bosco:
Philippians 4:4-9
Psalm 31:20-24
Matthew 18:1-5

Today at the seminary we read the proper readings for St. John Bosco, which are those indicated above. They are different from the ones that are ordinarily read, so if the reflection is totally different from what you read or heard, there is a reason. In the opening passage of this reading from Saint Matthew's gospel today, we hear the story of Jesus calling us to humble ourselves and become like children. As I heard it proclaimed I could not help but think of the book I recently finished reading, The Context of Holiness by Fr. Marc Foley, OCD. In it he reflected on this aspect of being childlike and he made that point that when a child really wants or needs something, they let you know. A hungry child will ask for food. A sleepy child will tell you by their attitude that they are sleepy. It doesn't exactly seem like what we usually call humility, but I think it illustrates the deepest meaning of humility. Humility is nothing other than acknowledging that which is true. In a spiritual sense we remain humble by recalling our nothingness and simultaneously our giftedness and the fact that we are loved so deeply by God. So with children, they recognize the truth of the situation - hunger, tiredness, thirst, etc - and bring it to the attention of those who care for them. As children of God, sons and daughters of the Father, we are invited by the Lord to come before Him and to acknowledge that we are in need of things as well, that we have deficiencies, that we have gifts that are in need of use, and that He is the One who can really bring us fulfillment. He is the one to satisfy all of our needs and desires. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

As They Understand

Readings for Friday, January 28/Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas:
Hebrews 10:32-39
Psalm 37:3-6,23,24,39,40
Mark 4:26-34

"He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it."

The other day I was checking my Facebook account and noticed a friend who had posted as his 'status' something to the effect of 'Why do people write books that their readers cannot understand?!?!'. I laughed because I too have said this on occasion when trying to understand some of my philosophy or theology textbooks. But it comes to mind today because if people cannot understand what you are trying to say, then you're really not saying it at all. The point of language is to communicate ideas to another and if we fail to communicate the idea, it's all in vain. And so when we hear that Jesus spoke to people in ways that they were able to understand, it is an opportunity for us to look at our lives and see if we are doing or can do the same. When people ask us about the faith or when we feel called to speak to others about the faith, can we do so in a way that they understand or do we simply say the same textbook response over and over hoping eventually it will sink in or can we find something to connect with them? This is part of the reason that Christ spoke in parables, because He was able to employ common things which everyone knew and understood to speak of theological concepts. In connection with this, Mother Church celebrates today Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the thirty-three doctors of the Church. He was a man who was graced with an incredible gift for taking what was highly theological and bringing it so that the people could understand. He wrote numerous great works, notably his Catena Aurea in which he broke open the gospels in a way that made them understandable to the people of his day. I pray that we, like St. Thomas, might be able to so deeply understand the faith that we can break it open to all those who are longing to hear it and simply need someone to speak it to them so that they can understand.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

From His Excellency, Athanasius Schneider, ORC, auxiliary bishop of Karaganda, Kazachstan:

"the Christian and Catholic family is a living accusation to the world, accusing the world of sin"

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Readings for Friday, January 21/Memorial of St. Agnes:
Hebrews 8:6-13
Psalm 85:8,10-14
Mark 3:13-19

In the business of daily life, it is easy for us to get caught up in simply keeping our spiritual ship afloat. We try to bail the water as soon as it comes in and attempt to steer clear of any worse waters than we already find ourselves in. But sometimes in the midst of all of that, the Lord wants us to simply gaze upon Him and know that despite the battles that we must fight and the various experiences we will have along the way, He love us and has is held safely in His care. I have to laugh because periodically I'll have catchy tunes in my head that I learned years ago, such as "He's go the whole world in His hands..." And, thanks to me, you probably have it in your head now too. You're welcome :) Anywho, as I think about that little song, I can't help but think (yes, I'm over-analyzing this) that the song is to holistic and impersonal. Sure, it teaches us a great thing that all people should know, namely that the Lord does have us safely in His hand. And yet I think there is also a sense in which we need to tweak it a bit and say "He's His hands..."It's rather simply but often the simplest of concepts are those that speak most deeply to our hearts. To understand that God loves us personally, that He has me in His hands, is something that can easily bring us to tears if were to really grasp it. And as I was reading these readings from Mass, I couldn't help but be struck by this concept which I have often contemplated. In calling the Twelve to Himself, He spoke their name. Peter. James. John. Andrew. Philip. and so for each of them. Imagine being Peter, James, John or one of those blessed Twelve who hear their name called by God to come serve Him in a particular way. What would you think? How would you respond? Now contemplate the fact that just as He called them by name, so He calls each of us by name. He calls out to us and asks us to come to Him so as to simply love and be love by Him Who is Love itself. 

As I conclude this little reflection, I can't help but recall the chorus of this song entitled "Name" by the Christian rock band Fireflight. It gets to the point well enough I think :)

He sees you. He's near you. He knows your face. He knows your pain.
He sees you and He loves you. He knows your name. He knows your name.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

From The Context of Holiness by Fr. Marc Foley, OCD:

"Love and suffering are inseparable. If we are unwilling to suffer, then we cannot love."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beset by weakness

Readings for Monday, January 17:
Hebrews 5:1-10
Psalm 110:1-4
Mark 2:18-22

In each celebration we are invited by the priest to "pray...that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." In the Latin, however, the 'our sacrifice' is actually 'my sacrifice and yours'. Why is this distinction important? It points to the fact that each of us if offering something in particular. When we go to Mass we don't just watch the priest offer bread to the Father; we are supposed to be offering the sacrifices of our lives - the gift of our joys, sorrows, sufferings, and every word, deed, and action of our life that day. We lift all of those things up to the Lord and He takes them and transforms them with the sacred host and we receive the grace to persevere in all that comes our way. 

Connected with this fact of the individual aspect of the sacrifices brought to the altar of God, there is the fact that the priest has a special place in this sacrifice. In the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews we hear of how every high priest is chosen from among men and because he suffers from his own weaknesses as a person, he must offer sacrifices not only for others but also for himself. He must be purified in order to offer well the sacrifice that he receives from the people before him. This is highlighted in the celebration of the Mass by the fact that immediately before this invitation to prayer is said, the priest washes his hands and prays that he be cleansed from his iniquity. From the perspective of one preparing to be ordained a priest in just a few months, this is strikingly beautiful. As the days pass by, I become more and more aware of my own inadequacy and weakness at undertaking such a ministry but trust that, cleansed from any impurity myself, the Lord will accept my sacrifice and so make me worthy to offer to Him the sacrifices of His beloved people. 

Isn't it amazing how the spiritual life, the scriptures, and the sacrifice of the Mass are so intimately connected?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In heaven as on earth...

This past Tuesday I had the privilege of attending a Project Rachel training workshop led by Project Rachel founder Vicki Thorn. As part of the workshop, Mrs. Thorn spoke about various biological aspects that are often overlooked and can actually have very deep spiritual effects in the lives of all people especially women. One thing that she discussed to struck me and has left me pondering it since then.

When a woman conceives a child, from that point on, the mother then contains in her own body both her own cells as well as some cells from her child. The same applies to her subsequent children and, interestingly, the subsequent children also get some of their elder siblings' cells. She noted countless instances when children felt they had an older brother or an older sister - they knew the sex of the sibling - and it turned out to be true and that the elder sibling was either adopted, miscarried or aborted. That part isn't uber-scientific, but it is interesting. The notable part in this, though, is the fact that a mother forever carries in her own body the cells of her child. Now think about that in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the point at which my mind was blown away.

If we spend time contemplating this, there is a ton of biology tied up with the theology of the Catholic Church in regards to the Blessed Mother. It begins with her Immaculate Conception. An ancient title for her is the 'New Ark of the Covenant' because the God of all creation dwelt in her womb just as he sat upon the Mercy Seat in the Ark of the Covenant in Ancient Israel. That ancient Ark was made of wood that would not decay and plated in gold to indicate it's purity. Thus, Mary was to be preserved from all sin and impurity because she was to bear the Son of God in her womb. But then as we come to understand this biological aspect of the mother retaining her child's cells in her body, we are invited to see her Assumption into heaven in a different light.

One thing that seems to come up often when people begin to grasp the concept of Mary's Assumption is the question of why it is important. Certainly there is the fact that she was given unique graces throughout her life and is thus given another special grace to enter into heaven first as both body and soul. But it is interesting also to note this fact that the cells of Jesus were still inside of Mary at the end of her earthly life. A small piece of the God of all creation still remained in a mere mortal. And so it was fitting that rather than to endure the decay of death, she would rise into heaven because of the perfect purity of her own body and the fact that the body of Our Lord still remained in her flesh. And, to take it a step further, it seems likely that at this exact moment, Our Lady who reigns as Queen of heaven and earth still has within her the cells of her beloved Son. How true are the words that she spoke so many years ago: "All generations will called me blessed." How else shall we describe one who still has within her the presence of the Lord?

What beauty there is in creation! The theological axiom that says if we stay close to Mary we will simultaneously be brought closer to Jesus is true not only in the spiritual realm but also in the physical/biological! How, then, does one doubt the role of the Creator with things such as this at work everywhere around us?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hello, Ordinary!

Readings for Monday, January 10:
Hebrews 1:1-6
Psalm 97:1-2,6,7,9
Mark 1:14-20

If you went to Mass today, you likely noticed that we broke out the green vestments again. That's right - Ordinary Time is back! It's interesting that I am beginning to appreciate ordinary time more and more as the years pass. I think it's because I understand it more deeply each year.

I don't know about you who read this, but when I think back on my life I tend to think of the many high points of things that happened rather than on the day-to-day aspect. This emphasis on the big things can lead me to forget the value of the daily work. The same applies to our theology. Certainly we value the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, but at the same time we ought to seek out the value of this 'Ordinary Time' that we celebrate for 34 out of the 52 weeks each year. I never really understood this until it was pointed out to me the value of reflecting on the hidden life of Christ. In the gospels we get the infancy narratives and then almost immediately skip to the ministry and Passion of Christ - a thirty year gap between those two aspects of His life. In that time, Christ went about doing the work of the God, growing in knowledge and love of the Father, and preparing for all that was in store for Him in the future. The same applies for us, too, who have this 'mundane' time of the year to quietly, humbly seek after the Lord and to grow in holiness as we journey through the 'everydayness' of this life. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta once said that what counts is not so much the greatness of the things we do but the greatness of the love with which we do them. St. Therese of Lisieux spoke similarly about doing little things with great love. May we follow in the footsteps of these great saints and Our Lord in humbling growing in knowledge and love of our Father as we sow seeds of love through these days and pray that the rewards may be great in the seasons to come.

On a different note, yesterday began Vocations Awareness Week. As we go throughout this week, please pray for an increase in vocations to priesthood, religious life, and the diaconate. Many have been called and need the grace of your prayers to hear and respond to that call. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

From the book The Context of Holiness: Psychological and Spiritual Reflections on the Life of St. Therese of Lisieux by Fr. Marc Foley, OCD:

"Physical pain, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, loneliness, doubts of faith...These sufferings make doing the will of God difficult, but they are the context of our choices. They are the context of holiness."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

From a conference of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to her spiritual daughters:

"We certainly know that our God calls us to a holy life, that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty....You are children of eternity. Your immortal crown awaits you, and the best of Fathers waits there to reward your duty and love. You may indeed sow here in tears, but you may be sure to reap in joy."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Imitating the Mother of God

Jesus praying with Mary
Readings for Saturday, January 1
(Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God):
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 67:2,3,5,6,8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

Each year at Christmas and Easter we celebrate what is called an octave. We recognize the significance of those two great events in the plan of salvation and so celebrate them not for a single day but for eight consecutive days. As we celebrate this octave of Christmas, we have the opportunity to reflect for a longer time on the mystery of the Son of God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us. And as we reflect on this great mystery, it is also fitting that we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Mother of God. As with all of her titles and honors, this title certainly speaks to her special graces received, but it also speaks to us about Christ Himself. Really, she speaks to us about Christ.

In referring to Our Lady as the Mother of God, the early Church Fathers saw that this affirmed that Christ was both fully God and fully Man. He is the Lord of all creation coming to dwell among us to bring us into that relationship with the Father. And He chose to do this by taking on our nature, experiencing everything but sin. These are the most evident ways that Mary, under this blessed title, directs us to her son. But there is also another way and this is in the fact that she is the mother of God. The relationship between a mother and child is a special one in which the child constantly learns from the mother and imitates her.

I was once told a story by a lady that when she was younger she had a car with one of those roofs where the lining was falling in and it would flap in the wind while she was driving down the road. To keep it out of the way she would hold the wheel with her left hand and hold up the cloth from the roof in her right hand while she drive. The funny thing was that one day she came into the living room and found her little daughter sitting on the floor with her right hand raised in the air and her left hand out in front of her. The mother asked, “what are you doing?” and the daughter innocently replied, “I’m driving.” The daughter had associated her mother’s action of holding up the cloth from the roof with that being the proper way to drive. She simply imitated her mother.

And as we look at Mary, we recognize that she is not just the Mother of God, but that she is also our mother. And just as the little girl imitated her mother in driving, so we are to imitate our mother Mary in prayer. This is what our gospel speaks to us today. Mary hears the many great things from the men who came to see the Christ child and she reflects on them in her heart. And she seeks to share that with us.

I’ve been coming here throughout the week to spend time praying before this beautiful nativity scene we have and when I read this gospel passage a few days ago I noticed that this is the exact scene described in our gospel. You can even see it on the face of Mary as she quietly, simply gazes upon her little son, reflecting on the many things that were just told her about Him. Surely the thoughts stream through her head as she hears again those words of the Archangel Gabriel nine months before, the words of her cousin Elizabeth, and the many hidden things in her life leading up to that day. And she continued to reflect all of this throughout Christ’s whole life – from his time as a carpenter and the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana up to His passion and death, where she knelt at the foot of the Cross reflecting on all of this in her heart. Certainly she experienced sorrow, but she also contemplated all that had been in the past and all that was to come. In all of this she held it in her heart, contemplating the mystery of her son and the plan of God unfolding before her. And as her sons and daughters, she desires for us to join with her in this contemplating. She seeks to have us imitate her in pondering the Lord who came among us.

Those of you who came to Mass yesterday were told by Fr. Frank that I like to give homework in my homilies. While I don’t want to start the New Year by giving you homework, I want to suggest something that you might consider as a bonus assignment that will certainly gain you many graces. Sometime today or tomorrow, take some time to be with Mary. Find a good place to really enter into the silence and ponder in your heart with our mother the many things that she seeks to show you, the things that she herself has come to see in Him. You may want to do this by praying a rosary and really trying to enter into the mysteries and the prayers. Or maybe you could come and sit here before the nativity, gazing upon the child with His mother. Or you could go into the adoration chapel and sit in the seat that is literally at the feet of the statue of Our Lady, gazing upon the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In all of these, we are sure to be blessed if we simply turn to our mother and truly contemplate with her the face of Jesus Christ.