Wednesday, February 27, 2013

HWP: The Memorare

For today's prayer we have the simple and beautiful prayer The Memorare, a prayer commending ourselves to Our Lady's loving maternal care. Our Blessed Mother is ever-attentive to our needs and concerns, as a loving mother is, and so it is with joy that she hears from us, her children, the things of our hearts as she brings them quickly to the Heart of her Son. 

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, 
that never was it known 
that anyone who fled to thy protection, 
implored thy help, 
or sought thy intercession 
was left unaided. 
Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, 
O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; 
to thee do I come, before thee I stand, 
sinful and sorrowful. 
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, 
despise not my petitions but in thy mercy, 
hear and answer me. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fear, Trust, and Relationship

Icon of the Transfiguration
Readings for Sunday, February 24/ 2nd Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

As I was reflecting on the Gospel passage for this weekend, a question came to my mind: ‘Why are we not all saints?’ After all, we come week after week, some of us even daily, to the altar of God to receive Him in the flesh. We have dozens of opportunities for growth in faith and countless ways for us to encounter God here in our community. So why are we not saints? I think the answer is that same as that feeling Peter, James, and John experienced and they were surrounded by the cloud of God’s Presence: fear.

There is a reason that God tells us not to be afraid over 300 times in the Scriptures. There is reason that Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI each began their pontificates with that refrain – “Be not afraid!” And there is a reason that in this time of chaos in the world around us a devotion has arisen whose mantra is simple yet profound: Jesus, I trust in You.

What is keeping us from being saints? Fear.

We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid of others rejecting us if we live our faith more visibly. We’re afraid of not living up to our own expectations, so we keep the bar low. Sometimes, because people aren’t perfect, we have been hurt by others and are afraid to trust again. We might be afraid of the possibility of being called give up something we love. And some are simply afraid of the implications of God’s existence might have on their freedom or enjoyment of this life. These and other fears keep us bound up. The devil loves to plant these little seeds of fear into our hearts because they paralyze us and keep us moving forward. The invitation the Lord extends to us is to trust.

The thing about trust is that, unless you are naturally disposed to be extremely trusting, it is something that takes a while to develop and it takes a good relationship to develop it. This is the primary goal of the Christian life: relationship with Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

This is one of the things that I appreciate most about Pope Benedict – if you look at any homily, exhortation, writing, or encyclical, they almost always include at some point the fact that we must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. He says it in a dozen different ways, but the message is always the same. We must know Jesus.

Pope Benedict XVI
As we heard last weekend in the Gospel, the devil knows well the scriptures and he likes to put them into use to try to trip us up but it is by relationship with God that we can see the truth of things. As a Catholic Church we have done a great job sacramentalizing people, a decent job catechizing people, but a poor job of evangelizing people.  We have lots of people who are Catholic – they’ve been baptized, receive Holy Communion, maybe even been confirmed and married in the Church – and yet the number of empty seats in the pews tell us that they haven’t been evangelized. They haven’t heard the gospel in a way that really reached them. They might know their catechism lessons and know what the Church says they should do. But the lack of a living relationship with Christ means that all of that is in vain. When the Father says to Peter, John, and James “Listen to Him,” He doesn’t mean simply hearing the words and being able to spit them back out on command. It’s not with our ears that we are called to listen by with our heart. It’s only by hearing the Gospel with our hearts that we are able to follow Jesus, to know Jesus, to love Jesus, and to live for Jesus.
Too often, as St. Paul points out, we get caught up in all the things of the world around us and forget that we were made for Heaven, that we were built for union with God, and that this life is just the testing ground to see if we’re ready to do it for eternity.

As we come today to receive Holy Communion, let us remember that it was God who took the first step in pursuing a relationship with us and He awaits our step to Him in return. Let us ask for this grace today to take one step closer to Christ today, that we might come to know Him more deeply, and be able to trust Him as He leads us down the path to holiness and Eternal Life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

HWP: Conclaves and Popes and Prayers, oh my!

Well, it's no secret that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI will be resigning from the See of Peter at 8pm on Thursday, February 28th. With that in mind, I introduce to you two prayers that I invite (and strongly encourage) you to pray in the coming days...

The Prayer for the Election of a Pope

O God eternal shepherd, who govern your flock with unfailing care, grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your Church who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Prayer for the Holy Father
. Let us pray for Benedict our pope.
. The Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Benedict, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(or in LATIN!!!)
. Oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto.
. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

Deus, omnium fidelium pastor et rector, famulum tuum Benedictum, quem pastorem Ecclesiae tuae praeesse voluisti, propitius respice: da ei, quaesumus, verbo et exemplo, quibus praeest, proficere: ut ad vitam, una cum grege sibi credito, perveniat sempiternam. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2013

With Intensity

Christ in the Desert by Ivan Kramskoi
Readings for Sunday, February 17/ First Sunday of Lent:
Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

One of the things that I love about the Gospels is that they are written in such a way as to allow us to enter into them and, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, see ourselves within them. As I was praying with the Gospel for this weekend, I was trying to enter into them in that way and was struck by the simplicity with which St. Luke describes Jesus after spending forty days fasting in the desert: “He was hungry.” He was hungry?! I don’t know about you but saying “He was hungry” seems to me to be the understatement of the millennium. I mean, I was about to tear into whatever moved in front of me come Wednesday evening and that was having had my permitted one meal and two small snacks. I can only imagine the hunger that Our Lord must have experienced after forty days with nothing.

As I was reflecting on that fact, alongside the other scriptures this weekend, it seemed to me that as much as Christ was longing for food during his time in the desert and the temptations, we should hunger even more for God. Our desire for God should be one of great intensity, passion and purpose. It reminds me of that old story of the man who goes to the wise spiritual master and says, ‘I want to find God and become holy.’ The master says ‘follow me’ and begins to walk. The two men come to a lake and the master continues in until the water is about waist deep, the man follows along. Turning to him, the master says, ‘Immerse yourself in the water.’ Thinking it would be a simple moment, the man went underwater. The master then moved over and held him down. The man thought it was a bit odd, but went with it. He was okay for a moment, until he realized the master wasn’t moving his hands. He began to move around, trying to get up for air but the master held him still. He was thrashing by this point and bubbles were starting to come up as his air ran out. Then when he could hold on no longer the master moved his hands and he sprung and took in a huge breath with a gasp and shock in his face. The master simply looked at him and said, ‘Until you desire God like you desired that breath, you will never be holy.’ Our thirst for God should be the same, and our readings this weekend help us to see that.

In the book of Deuteronomy we hear that the people ‘cried to the Lord’ and He brought them out because of those cries. To cry out to the Lord is not a little mumbled prayer to God but is something that is bold, alive, impassioned. Anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close to them, some major tragedy knows what it is to cry out to God. So, too, does the responsorial psalm speak of this intensity in relationship to God. “Because he clings to me, I will deliver Him” says that Lord in the psalm. The word ‘cling’ also has a sense of intensity connected to it. To cling, as I understand it, is to be white-knuckles-tight, not letting go for anything. That is a very powerful phrase to use, especially from the lips of God Himself! And yet it is because of that clinging that He is delivered, the same as the cry of the Israelites in Deuteronomy won them victory. It’s about passion.

Saturday morning we had a retreat with some of the high school students and we spent some time in the church reflecting on the meaning of different things in the church from the architecture to stained glass to the sanctuary. One of the beautiful reflections was given by [our pastor] Fr. Vincent  on the three steps entering the sanctuary. It is a sign of the journey that each of us is making towards our God – or rather we should be making toward Him. If we start with the main floor being the world, then the first step is being ‘good’, the second step is being ‘better’, and the third step is ‘best’. Too often, he reflected, we think we’ve done a great job for ourselves by being ‘good’ and avoiding the sinful things of the world but the truth is that there are steps beyond simply being ‘good’. Here is the danger – that we think because we’re ‘good’ and are not doing what the world around us does then we’re okay in God’s eyes, but this may in fact be our demise because we become complacent rather than continuing to seek after God with the intensity He seeks and deserves.

May God grant us today a burning desire for union with Him and pour out His grace to help us always seek to become not simply ‘good’ or ‘better’ but in fact the best that we can be here on Earth, that we might reign gloriously in Heaven as Saints among the Saints for all eternity.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Return of HWP!!!

After my multiple-week failure in posting on Wednesdays... a return! In preparing for the Lenten season, I came across this nifty little prayer from St. Ephraim the Syrian. Though not very popular among Roman Rite Catholics, it has a great history among Eastern Rite Catholics. Part of the beauty of it is that the prayer includes either kneeling or lying prostrate on the floor after each of the three verses as a sign of humility before the Lord. Nothing like putting the words into action! So, without further rambling I present to you:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, 
faith-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. 

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors,
and not to judge my brothers,
for Thou art blessed unto ages and ages. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Prepare for Victory

Readings for Sunday, February 10/ 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been thinking a lot about the season of Lent, both for myself as well as within our community. As I was preparing for this homily and odd connection came to my mind. It is a quote from a book titled “The Art of War,” an ancient Chinese manual on war tactics. It says this:

“The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in this temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.” [Chapter 1, Section 26]

The point is that preparation ensures victory and the lack of it, defeat. This is in reference to military battle, but it is also especially applicable for us this weekend. Remember that St. Paul says in one of his letters that we are at battle – not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers. We are in a battle for our eternal destiny and to reign victoriously, we must prepare. The season of Lent is a blessed time in which abundant graces are poured out upon the world and extra effort is put forward, all so that we might draw closer to Christ. But before we can draw closer to Him, it is fitting that we first recognize where we stand in relationship to Him. One litmus test to determine our closeness to the Lord, as attested to in the Scriptures and history of the Church, is our awareness of our own sinfulness. The extent to which we are aware of our sins, our brokenness, and our unworthiness to stand before God, to that same extent are we truly in union with Him.

Maybe an example will help. We all know how light can drastically change how things appear. For instance, when I went to seminary, I found that my 12x16 room served many purposes. It was my bedroom, my office space, my study area, it was where I would eat meals and drink coffee, and it was where friends would come hang out. All of those activities in that little space meant that it had the tendency to get real dirty real quick. So I had to options: clean my room often or I could close the blinds and use the dim lights rather than the big bright ones. It didn’t change the cleanliness of my room, but it did change the appearance of the cleanliness of it. But when I would turn on the big light or open the blinds at midday, you could see all the junk that needed to be vacuumed and cleaned up. I think that we can do the same in our spiritual lives. So often we sit in the dim light because it’s comfortable and easy rather than clean up all the junk. But as we prepare to enter into Lent, we have the joy of having the Light of Christ come and shine upon us that we might uproot all of that stuff. To the extent that we are aware of our sinfulness, to that extent are we close to Christ. And it’s not just being aware of our sins for the sake of feeling bad about ourselves, moping around or anything of that nature. Quite the opposite! Awareness of our sins leads us to a deeper awareness of our absolute need for God, which compels us forward to relationship with Him and transformation of ourselves and those around us. Awareness of our sin is closeness to Christ. But don’t take my word for it – look to the scriptures.

Isaiah, the great prophet, is called forward to prophesy to the peoples and he holds back, aware of his own unworthiness and the uncleanness of his lips. He sees his sinfulness and because of that the angels comes, purifies him, and sends him on the mission. St. Paul in his letter speaks of his unworthiness to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He had persecuted the Church and consented to the killing of Christians. He describes himself as the least of the Apostles and not worthy to be such, and yet he is able to say “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” Aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness before God, he is received, converted and made the Apostle to the gentiles. And last we have the person of St. Peter, the Rock. I love St. Peter in the scriptures because he seems so relatable as a regular person. I hope it’s not unholy or impious, but I often wonder what St. Peter thought when Jesus the carpenter started telling Peter the fisherman how to fish. One could almost see a lack of faith in Christ and a desire to prove Him wrong when Peter consents to going out into the deep water. But he goes and behold the great catch that nearly sinks two boats. And his response? “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” On that confession of unworthiness and sinfulness Christ later builds His Church. Awareness of our sins leads us closer to Christ.

This Lenten season, as I said, is a special time and as a parish, we want to help everyone have as fruitful a Lent as we can. If you came in through the back doors you passed by a table full of books and information – books of Lenten reflections, books on renewing our faith, examinations of conscience, rice bowls to act charitably, and a number of other resources to aid you in making this Lent one of the most powerful and transformative our community has ever seen. Let us prepare well, then, that we might indeed claim victory at the end of Lent. My prayer is that when Easter Sunday comes and we announce joyful once more that He has Risen, the Lord won’t have to try to find people to go out and spread the message but will instead have our whole community there waiting and ready, making our own the words of Isaiah: Here I am, Lord. Send me!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

God Always Wins

Readings for Sunday, February 3/ 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Luke 4:21-30

As I was praying with the readings for this weekend and reflecting on the various feasts that we are celebrating in the coming weeks, one thought kept coming back over and over: God always wins. No matter how bad a situation might be, no matter where we find ourselves, God always wins. And He is inviting us to join in that victory.

We see it first in the prophet Jeremiah, whose calling is recounted in our first reading. Jeremiah who was formed in the womb of his mother by the Lord and destined to be a great prophet of the Lord is called forth by God to become that prophet he was created to be. He must certainly have had some reluctance in his heart because to be a prophet meant speaking the truth to a people who didn’t want to hear it, which often resulted in violence, as we see in the Gospel. But Jeremiah was given the great commission by the Lord to speak that truth and call the straying people back to the Lord. To encourage him in this, the Lord gives a most consoling message. “Be not crushed on their account,” says the Lord, “as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city… They will fight against you but will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” What a message of hope! The Lord tells Jeremiah that he will endure suffering and persecution – he will be crushed – but that he will not leave him in that state, but rather will raise him up to glory once more. The Lord will deliver him; the Lord will win the battle. He is always victorious.

The psalm today calls us, like Jeremiah, to turn to the Lord and make him truly our rock of refuge, our stronghold, our strength. If we remain in the Lord and His love, then we have much cause for hope and no reason to fear – the Lord will deliver us the same as He did with Jeremiah and the other prophets.

St. Paul in his poetic writing on that greatest of gifts, love, speaks of the many attributes of love – that it is patient, kind, not jealous, and so on. But most importantly, he notes that love bears all things, love endures all things, and love never ends. If we connect St. Paul with St. John, whose letter tells us that God is love, then we can also make the connect that God bears all things, God bears all things, and God never fails. He always reigns victorious.

Then we come to the highpoint of the readings in the Gospel. Today Jesus is seen in His own hometown, where one should expect Him to receive a warm welcome and indeed He does, at least to start with. The people are amazed at His gracious words and sit in awe of what He speaks, but not because they are filled with faith but rather because they are anticipating some great healings to come. They think, because they are Jesus’ hometown, that while other places had great miracles worked in them, they surely would receive an even great outpouring of healings. When they are informed of the opposite, when the Lord identifies their lack of faith and charity, they are led to fury and rage, whereupon they seek to cast the Lord off the cliff to His death. Here is where the Lord shows once again His power. This whole mob of people are entirely focused on the Lord, consumed with rage to the point of murder and yet somehow the Lord “passed through the midst of them and went away.” You would think with all of those people focusing only on Him that someone would have noticed and tried to stop Him, and maybe they did, but the end result is simply that the Lord passed through the midst and left. God won. Christ knew He was to die on a hill, but not on that one, so He pressed forward toward fulfillment of His mission. These are just a few of the many stories in the scriptures that show over and again the power of God and the fact that He is always victorious and will never be outdone. The beautiful thing is that as Catholics we not only have the scriptures to encourage us but we also have the lives of the saints, of those many men and women over the years whose lives have shown us the power of God and given us a blueprint to work from in shaping our own lives after the Gospel call.

One powerful example is that of St. Paul Miki and his companions, whose feast we will celebrate this coming Wednesday. St. Paul isn’t one of the more notable saints like St. Therese or St. Francis and the like, but his story is a helpful one for us today. In the 1500’s St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the founders of the Jesuits, went to the Orient to spread the Gospel, making his way to the Philippines and Japan. The conversions were coming thousands at a time. The priests had almost no time to sleep, eat or pray for the number of baptism, weddings, and Masses they were celebrating for the people. This great increase in converts to the faith began to cause some tension and fears in the hearts of the Japanese leaders, who were still practicing their Buddhist faith. At one point, a man accused the missionaries of bringing artillery in to begin war against the Japanese government. The accusation was entirely false but it was enough to begin greater persecution of the Church. Twenty-six people, including several priests, religious brothers, lay men, and even children, were taken and marched a thousand miles across the country before being put to death. Along the journey the persecutors would stop in towns where the faith had spread and would torture the twenty-six by beating them, cutting off their ears, and various other manners of abuse as a sign that following the faith would earn them that fate. But at each town, St. Paul Miki, one of the twenty-six would pray for the people, forgive his persecutors, and unite himself to the Lord in his suffering. This went along for over a month before they arrived at their final destination, the hill at Nagasaki. There all of them were crucified and pierced with lances, the same as our Lord. St. Paul, himself a religious brother, with his last words forgave the Emperor who incited the persecution, forgave his torturers, and prayed that by his death they would experience conversion, seek baptism and find salvation through Jesus Christ. These men and children were not the only ones killed. As many as 50,000 others were killed during that time of persecution. Additionally, all foreign missionaries were sent back to their home countries. For nearly three hundred years this opposition to the Christian faith was present in Japan. So when in the 1800’s Catholic missionaries returned to Japan they expected to find nothing of the faith, having to start from scratch. But as they settled in the towns and cities and got to know the people, they came to find that the faith had survived three hundred years with no priests, catechists or the sacraments. Indeed, it survived and had continued to grow quietly by God’s grace and through the witness of so many Catholics since the days of St. Paul Miki and his companions’ deaths. The government leaders thought that they had won the battle in the hearts of the people, but it was God who had truly won.

Every single one of us has trials in this life. It might be something happening in our family. It could be a particular sin we are fighting against or a past that haunts us. It could be a situation in our community, state, country or the whole world that causes some unrest within us. The devil wants to use those things to sow in us seeds of doubt, fear, and despair. But the truth is that Christ has already won the battle and that while we might have to endure some suffering for a time, the Lord will deliver us if we but place ourselves in His loving care. So let us pray for that grace today, that by receiving the Sacrament of God’s Real Presence we might be emboldened with great hope in our God and continue to look forward to sharing in the spoils of our victory at the heavenly feast and in doing so give witness to the world around us that our God is faithful and will never fail us. 

A shrine to the 26 Martyrs of Japan on the Hill at Nagasaki