Monday, October 31, 2011

Remember the Holy Souls!

Remember the indulgences that can be gained for the souls in Purgatory on All Souls' Day (Wednesday), as well as each day from November 1 through 8. More info on that HERE.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Check out my Phylacteries

Readings for Sunday, October 30:
Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10
Psalm 131:1-3
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
Matthew 23:1-12

People often ask me why I wear a cassock rather than ‘normal clothes’. My short answer is always that it reminds me of who I am and it lets other people know that I’m not a normal person – I’m a Catholic priest. That doesn’t mean I’m better, but does mean I am different. And that visible, external marker helps people to identify that invisible, internal reality.

The idea of using external signs to mark internal realities is not uncommon. In fact it’s abundantly common. Sports players wear a specific jersey to mark themselves as part of a team. We wear clothing that marks us as being fans of a certain team. We put stickers on our cars to indicate what school we support or political views. That and many other things mark us off as belonging to a specific group. And the same is true of religion.

Each religion is often marked by some external sign that sets them apart as belonging to a certain group – either by language, style of dress, specific times for prayer in the day and throughout the year, rituals, and other such things mark a person as belonging to a certain system of religious belief.

We hear about one of those marks in our gospel today as the Lord points out the phylacteries of the Pharisees. I’m a big visual learner, so I went online and googled ‘phylacteries’ and the pictures were rather interesting. To be short, Orthodox Jews follow the mandate of the Lord to bind the ‘Shema’ (Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one) on their heads and wrists, and they do so with little boxes and long straps which wrap around their forehead and spiral down their arms; it was a very visible thing. It showed those around them that they were in prayer. By widening their phylacteries, the Pharisees they were showing off and implying that they were better and their prayers held more weight because of their rank. Our Lord points out that their beliefs did not match with their external actions. It was taken too far.

As Catholics we also have a number of markers that we can point to – most vividly the ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday - but there used to be many more. Our 55 and up crowd may remember others such as meatless Fridays, the wearing of scapulars, bowing one’s head at the name of Jesus, Ember and Rogation days, 40 Hours devotion, lighting candles, novenas, making the sign of the Cross as you pass a Catholic Church and many other pious practices that were common in the pre-Vatican II age. These were all external marks of internal realities. You don’t make the sign of the Cross as you pass a Catholic Church unless you believe in Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, you don’t fast or abstain from meat unless you realize the need for penance and its value for sanctification, and you don’t light a candle in front of a statue unless you know the power of the saints’ in our lives. There are all things that clearly marked us as Catholic. And while they’re not entirely gone, they have largely disappeared from our Catholic culture. I dare say that most of my generation has never even heard of an Ember Day, much less know what it is (it’s a seasonal day of penance). Sometimes these pious actions went a bit too far though. I have heard stories of people that press themselves against walls in a stairwell, almost to the point of falling down, so as not to be in the way of a priest because they were always taught “Don’t touch Father!” because it was a sign of respect. Pious practices such as that exaggerated sign of respect certainly needed to be looked at with a closer eye and some education clearly needed to take place on what is realistic and what is overdone. But the problem is that often we threw out the baby with the bathwater. Rather than try to educate on a proper expression of piety, we got rid of the signs entirely.
Coming back around, I noted at the beginning that often our exterior marks what we really believe. If we rid ourselves of the external signs and rituals of our faith, what then holds us together as a Catholic community? As that familiar hymn says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”. But how do they know we are CATHOLIC Christians?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Consecration Time!

During my first year of seminary, in the fall of 2004, I was asked by one of my best friends if I would like to join in 'the consecration'. I said sure and was given a booklet to follow along - 'Preparation for Total Consecration according to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort'. St. Louis' method is mainly to consecrate oneself to Our Lord through the hands of Our Lady; one can read his book True Devotion to understand more deeply this theology. The consecration booklet was comprised of 33 lessons leading up to the day of consecration. After making my way through the preparation period, I decided to continue with the consecration and have renewed that consecration each year (excepting one) on that same date - December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Each year as November comes into view, so too does my 'Total Consecration' book, now held together by duct tape with the pages discolored from regular use. As I begin this year's round of 33 days of preparation prior to the consecration, I want to invite you to join with me. The booklet can be found HERE and a website that contains an older version of the lessons and prayers is available HERE. To conclude on December 8, one must begin on November 5. The consecration can be done any day, but it is nice to have such a solemn feast on which to celebrate one's consecration. If you do join in the preparation and consecration, maybe we could have a special gathering on December 8 to do the consecration as a group? Might be cool :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Prayers and Purgatory!

As All Souls' Day draws nearer, it is good to think about the many graces that are available for those who have gone before us and are enduring spiritual purification in purgatory. They can be our loved ones, members of our community, and souls we don't know from all places of the world and history. To pray for them is to help them in their journey to Heaven. And the cool thing is that once they get there - they'll be praying for us before the Throne of God! It's good to have friends in high places, so let's gain these many graces for our beloved departed.

A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who fulfill the following conditions:
  • Visit a Church on November 2, All Souls' Day
  • Offer an Our Father and Hail Mary for the Pope's Intentions
  • Offer an Our Father and the Creed for the Faithful Departed
  • Make a good confession and be free from all attachment to sin
  • Receive Holy Communion that day (or ASAP following if unable that day)
A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is also granted to the faithful who fulfill the following conditions:
  • on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed (the 'Eternal rest grant unto them...' suffices)
  • Offer an Our Father and Hail Mary for the Pope's Intentions
  • Make a good confession within a week of All Souls' Day (before or after)
  • Be free from all attachment to sin
  • Receive Holy Communion that day (or ASAP following if unable that day)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Facing East

The topic of the orientation of the priest in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is one that we will surely hear more about in coming years as more and more priests realize the beauty and (I personally think) necessity of this style of prayer. Enjoy this wonderful homily from Bishop Alexander Sample from the Diocese of Marquette on the topic.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Repay to God what is God's

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Matthew 22:15-21

Not to praise the Pharisees, but I am almost impressed by their perseverance in the face of constantly being humiliated by Our Lord. Onetime after another, they keep asking questions or responding to parables and wind up falling into the traps they had set for Our Lord. This gospel passage even gives us a little hint about just how angry they were at Christ. The Pharisees were religious leaders and were against the Roman occupation and control over the land of Israel. They hated the Roman leaders and would often fight back against them. And yet they join together with the Herodians, the Jewish group who worked for the Romans and whom they viewed as the most despised of Jews. They were consumed by hatred of Our Lord. And in response to this the Lord keeps pointing them in the way of Truth, as each parable or question gives us another little piece of the puzzle.

As the Lord hears their question, which comes off as a very flowery but insincere word of praise, he sees the intention of their hearts and asks for the Roman coin. Oddly enough, the very men who rebel against the taxes and the Caesar pull out the coin; they have already begun to condemn themselves just by this action. And then the Lord asks a question to allow them to continue to dig the hole a little deeper. By replying that the image and inscription on the coin were that of Caesar, the Lord has them right in place because to have your inscription on something meant that it technically belonged to that person. In this case, the coin was rightfully Caesar’s and ought then to be given. Simply leaving his response as “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” would have been sufficient, but because the Pharisees were gathered who would have rioted over this answer, the Lord continues, saying “and to God what belongs to God.”

To add this latter statement was to take the Pharisees question even farther and, really, to make it a non-issue. Jesus’ response ultimately leaves one having to ask the next question: What belongs to God? What bears His image? It’s simple – everything.  The Jewish people lived out this ‘repaying God’ by offering the first fruits of their produce and livestock. They offered tithes from their money. And they offered grain or animal sacrifices for graces received or in atonement for their sins.  They had a very clear way of repaying to God what was God’s. But then the question comes to us – how do we repay to God what is His?

Certainly we still tithe out of the riches the Lord gives us. More than sacrificing animals for the remission of our sins, we offer the Father the Christ’s own sacrifice of Himself in the Eucharist. But beyond that, the Book of Genesis speaks of how man and woman were created in the image of God, so what we are called to give God is actually our entire self. All things come from God and are given to us freely, but they must eventually be repaid. It’s interesting that the Lord uses “repay” rather than “give” in His response. To give means it’s optional, something done from the kindness of one’s heart. To repay means it is a duty, something that must be done because the other person deserves it. Thus, we must repay to God what is God’s and lead lives of praise, giving over our will, desires, and control in our lives because it is truly He Who is deserving of it.

St. Ignatius of Loyola summarized this well in his 'suscipe' prayer, which we now pray:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own, You have given to me; to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Retreats and Things

As noted on the previous blog post I was on retreat with my brother priests from our diocese for the past few days. On a funny note, I left the parish and didn't post anything to the blog and my hit count on the blog went up - go figure! On a deeper note, thank you for all the prayers for us as we were on retreat. It was a truly blessed opportunity to take a few days out for some special quiet time with the Lord and with my brother priests. The retreat master, Fr. William Parker C.Ss.R. was a joy to hear and certainly gave us some good food for thought as we return home and into the parish setting once more. It was also a joy to be able to spend time with the men alongside whom I will serve for the rest of my life. Seeing the witness of so many of these men faithfully following the Lord and joyfully living their vocation for 30, 40, or 50+ years and being able to hear some of their stories was a great blessing. I return refreshed and renewed after being immersed in the Lord's grace, but I also return strengthened in the bond of unity that hold our presbyterate and diocese together. As the Psalmist says: How pleasant it is when brothers live in unity!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Prayers Please

This week I will be on retreat from Monday to Thursday with my brother priests here in Baton Rouge. Please pray that the retreat master be lead by the Spirit in giving his reflections, that we may be open to the graces the Lord desires for each of us and that it be a time of fraternity and renewal in our vocation. Thanks so much and know that I will be praying for you as well especially during that time. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Banquets and Clothes

Readings for Sunday, October 9:
Isaiah 25:6-10
Psalm 23:1-6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14

Last weekend we heard the Lord speaking with the chief priests and elders in the form of a parable about tenants killing the servants and son of a vineyard owner and then themselves being put to death and the vineyard given to others. It was a harsh parable that Jesus spoke to show them that the vineyard of Israel would be given to a new people if they rejected Him. Immediately following that, we have the parable we hear this week – a story that ultimately is an analogy to responding to the gospel message and attaining salvation.

The king having a banquet for his son is symbolic of God the Father celebrating the redemption of man by Christ Jesus’ victory over death, wherein all men are able to attain salvation and be ‘wedded’ in a sense to God in Heaven. Entering the banquet is equated with entering the Church; to remain is to gain eternal life. The servants sent out to the invited guests and met with unconcern or violence are the prophets who proclaim the truth to the people of Israel and are met with derision and violence. When the wedding feast is ready and all is prepared, we are to understand that redemption is at hand and it need only be responded to; one need simply say yes. As Jesus tells this to the chief priests and elders, those who rejected Him and the prophets before Him, he is essentially letting them know that they are rejecting the invitation to redemption; they are refusing to enter the fold and attain salvation. In choosing their earthly concerns, they have chosen their eternal reward.

With the rejection of the first group, the invitation is opened to all who are available to come; this is the mission to the gentile nations, those not of Hebrew blood, which includes most of us. The invitation is extended to all who are around, not just a specified group. Surely some of those who were invited then failed to accept the invitation as well, but many did come and entered the banquet. This is what happens with the gospel message as well. Once it was opened to all nations, there were still some who rejected it and many who accepted and entered the Church.

And then we come to the entrance of the King, who approaches the man without the wedding garment. This is a sign of the final judgment because it is not some servant who comes to judge but the king himself who asks about the garment. And the man is left silent because he knows that he had every chance to prepare. Many were gathered and yet he came unprepared. Rather than go, clean up, and dress in the appropriate attire, he simply went and thought it would be fine. He didn’t think that the attire was really that important. We’ve all heard that ‘God meets us where we are’. But we can’t just stay there, we have to be met where we are and then brought to where we need to be. It’s about conversion and this is where the man failed. He was not willing to change himself and be dressed in righteousness. In a way, it’s like every kind word, helpful action and prayer offered are threads that come together to build up a garment of holiness in our lives. The challenge is to put forth the effort to be dressed appropriately.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: when the Lord looks upon us, both at the final judgment and today, we have to wonder what does He see – a beautiful garment of righteousness or a soul who is content being Catholic and nothing more?

Friday, October 7, 2011

A New Battle

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, a feast dedicated to Mary under this title after the miraculous victory over the Ottoman Turks in a naval battle (more HERE) through her powerful intercession in answer to a rosary crusade. Because of the prayers of so many, the battle was won and Catholicism preserved.

Today there is a new battle, and fittingly on this great feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Today the Body of Christ, the Church, is wounded by division and the culture seeks to perpetuate that. Pope Benedict XVI has been striving to preserve Christian unity and draw other back into the fold who have left - specifically Anglican and Orthodox Churches. He has also sought to bring back groups such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist group that has not been in full communion with the Church for some 20+ years now. Today that group is meeting to consider a proposal by the Holy See on the issue of being re-unified and brought back into the fold of the Church. They have asked their parishioners and Church members to pray for the Spirit's guidance in this effort and the Church has asked the same. So today, for the good of Christian unity and the mending of wounds, why not offer a prayer for these efforts and the Spirit's hand to be in the midst. A decade or set of mysteries from the rosary would be rather appropriate on this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary - please join in the prayer for healing from division. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Francis, Martha and Mary

Readings for Tuesday, October 4/ St. Francis of Assisi:
Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm 130:1-4, 7-8
Luke 10:38-42

Today we have that familiar story of Martha and Mary, Mary sitting at the feet of the Lord and Martha busy at work. As much as we may like to identify with one character or the other in the story, it seems that the reality is that we are called to be Martha or Mary at different times. The challenge is to be Mary before being Martha, since our action ought to be compelled by love that is poured into us in the presence of our God. Immersing ourselves in prayer, we are called to action. We see this also in the person of St. Francis of Assisi, who heard the called to rebuild the church while in the quiet of prayer. Grant, Lord, that we might always have the grace to be people of prayer led to action, and not simply people of action who sometimes pray.

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"It is essential to develop your interior life above all else. The busier you are, the more you need the interior life. And therefore, the more you ought to desire it, and the more you ought to take steps to prevent this desire from becoming one of those futile longings which the devil so often uses to drug souls and hold them fast in their illusions."

Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO in The Soul of the Apostolate

Monday, October 3, 2011

Interview of Vatican Secretary

This is absolutely worth the 13 minutes the video is, particularly the latter half, when the good Msgr. talks about the state of the liturgy today. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life and Persecution

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

As we hear these words, the culture that surrounds us would certainly agree – we Christians ought to think about these things. But if do these things, if we do what is true, do what is honorable, do what is just or pure, we will not be supported. We will be persecuted.

As we celebrate Respect Life Sunday today, we of course draw attention to the need to pray and work for a greater respect for human life in our city, state, country, and world. We need to pray for an end to abortion, euthanasia, contraceptive use, and the death penalty. But we also need to pray for greater respect for life in general – for the poor, the sick, immigrants and those suffering from discrimination, prejudice, abuse or neglect. And the organization that is doing the most to help all of those people is the Catholic Church.

Worldwide we run:
5,400 hospitals
16,000 homes for disabled or chronically ill
22,000 orphanages and child care centers
65,000 Counseling and Rehabilitation centers
200,000 Schools caring for over 55 million children
All of that in addition to the over 9 million AIDS patients and hundreds of millions of homeless, starving, sick, and suffering persons that are cared for in various other outreach ministries throughout the world.

It’s incredible to think of the positive impact the Church has on the world today. And yet, she is persecuted by our culture and media, and in some places her people even suffering physical violence. And yet this is part of our calling as Christians, as Catholics. Jesus Christ, Truth, Justice and Purity itself, came among us and was nailed on a cross. How are we, servants of the King, to expect better treatment that the King of kings Himself?

This chasuble that I wear today stands as a reminder of that reality that as Catholics we will be persecuted. On the front we see two lines, not for design sake but to form a pillar in the center - a reminder of the pillar on which Our Blessed Lord was scourged. And on the back, a cross to remind us that each of us is called to shoulder our crosses, especially those forced on us by the world around us. 

Reality is that our culture is fighting against the Church because some in our society want the freedom to do whatever they want, to make their own rules, and the Church is standing in their way reminding them that such freedom leads to perdition. True freedom is following in the way of the God who created us and sustains us. And so they persecute us. Right now in our country, efforts are being made by some government leaders to force Catholic Hospitals, School and other Institutions to pay for abortions, contraceptives, sterilizations, and a whole host of items which the Church has perpetually understood as moral evils. To give in is to abandon truth. To stand our ground is to risk being shut down entirely.

I don’t mean to be political. I mean to be realistic. And reality is that the world around us is fighting to have us stay quiet or close up shop. But as St. Paul reminded the Philippians, he so reminds us today - God is with us. He is with us throughout this struggle and, especially throughout this ‘Respect Life Month,’ we are called to pray and trust in His ways. We pray for an end to the taking of innocent life through abortion, euthanasia, and other acts of violence. We pray for a greater respect for all human life and the dignity of every person. We pray for the conversion of those who fight against the Church and those who stand for truth and justice. And finally, we pray for ourselves, that we might have the grace to see in each person we encounter not someone different than us but a fellow brother or sister in the Lord. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Missions and Exiles

Readings for Saturday, October 1/ Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux:
Baruch 4:5-12, 27-29
Psalm 69:33-37
Luke 10:17-24

As we celebrate the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux today, I find it interesting that the first reading is about the Israelites being exiled. "You were sold to the nations not for your destruction....he who has brought disaster upon you will, in saving you, bring you back enduring joy." What beautiful words spoken to our ancient ancestors in the faith. In their exile they felt abandoned by God and yet in the midst of that feeling of abandonment and sorrow, they are assured that the Lord is at work with something much greater. Through their exile, the people of Israel were sent out to be enlivened in their faith, renewed in their commitment to the Lord of Lords and to shine like the sun before the pagan nations. Their suffering brought them back enduring joy, with others having known the Lord more deeply because of their trials. 

St. Therese, though a cloistered nun, is actually patroness of missionaries because she spent her life praying for others, especially those seeking to bring the gospel to lost souls. And yet in the connection with the reading from Baruch, it seems that she too endured great trials that ultimately led her to her eternal home, where she is enduring great joy herself with the angels and saint, beholding God for eternity. And yet in the midst of her trials, she too, like the Israelites, shined like the sun with the peace and love of Christ. Dear Little Flower, shower us with your prayers this day and continue to reflect the light of Christ toward our souls.