31 December 2019

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God


O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary, hast bestowed upon mankind the reward of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may know the help of her intercession, through whom we have been accounted worthy to receive the Author of our life, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

29 December 2019

The Sixth Day of Christmas


“There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” 
 - Luke 2:36-40

The prophetess Anna was one of the “anawim,” a term which referred to the remnant people, the lowly and quiet ones who simply waited in faithfulness for the Day of the Lord. We know nothing about Anna except what these verses tell us, but even in this brief description we learn the important things.

Anna was a widow. She had known sorrow, certainly, but she had not grown bitter. Sorrow can have different effects upon people. Either it can make a person hard and bitter, resentful and rebellious against God; or it can make a person kinder and more sympathetic. Intense sorrow can rob a person of faith, or it can root faith even deeper, helping it to blossom. We see in Anna a woman who loves God and who quietly serves Him with her worship.

At the time of the Presentation of Our Lord she was eighty-four years of age. Advanced age can take away the strength of the body, but sometimes it can do even worse by taking away hope and a love for life. But in Anna we see a woman who lived in hope and anticipated each day as a gift from God.

She never ceased to worship and she never ceased to pray. The years had left Anna without bitterness and with an unshakable hope because day by day she kept herself close to God, who is our source of strength and in whose strength our weakness is made perfect.

Helping to heal the rift


"When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne…" and that Word took flesh untainted by sin from the Virgin chosen from the beginning of time. It was done for the healing of that tragic rift between God and Man.

God created all things to be in perfect unity. He made the universe as a reflection of His own divine order. He created Man in His own image, to be in perfect communion with Him. But through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, disorder entered into the world, and perfect communion was broken. And ever since that time, there has been a tendency in the natural order of things for there to be disintegration, the breakdown of things, a crumbling. Sadly, what should be unnatural has become all too normal in the world around us, and within us, and even within the Church.

Christ founded the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – and so it is. But our sin has caused division, and that is a clear contradiction to the Divine Will of our Lord. While there is an invisible spiritual communion deeper than we know, especially through the bonds of baptism, nonetheless there is to be a visible communion, too, because that is the Will of Christ.  The constant invitation from God is that we work and pray to build up both the spiritual and visible unity of Christ’s Body.

It is this purpose – the building up of unity – which is outlined at the very beginning of the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. In fact, this stated purpose is sometimes glossed over in the search for the particulars of the Personal Ordinariates. People tend to look at the details of how they are established, and of who can belong, of the liturgical use, and of who can be ordained – indeed, any number of other details.

But all that neglects the reason for Pope Benedict XVI’s great generosity, and that is to help bring about the prayer of Christ “that they all may be one.” It is not accidental that the first three paragraphs of the Apostolic Constitution speak of the Church as “a people gathered into the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and that the Church was instituted by Christ as “a sacrament…of communion with God and of unity among all people,” and that this Church is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Then, recognizing that there are “many elements of sanctification and of truth [which] are found outside her visible confines,” he says that these “are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”

What had been broken, the Personal Ordinariates invite us to repair. The communion that has been impaired, we are asked to help restore. The fellowship which has been strained, we are bidden to strengthen.

God’s Incarnate Love came into this world by Our Lady’s “yes,” and it would gladden her heart for her children to be one again. She, who stood beside the Cross and saw her Son in agony, would be comforted by us taking away this pain of separation. There are few things that touch a mother’s heart more, than to see her whole family together at one table. This is why we have been given the Apostolic Constitution: so that we can put division behind us, and join together with one voice and one heart in “that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel” to the whole world.

“Lord Jesus, make us one, as you and the Father are one.” Amen.

28 December 2019

The Feast of the Holy Family


The Feast of the Holy Family gives honour to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and it is an occasion when we remember the importance of every family. In fact, it is so essential in the Church’s understanding of herself that the family is known as the “domestic Church.” Parents have the great privilege and responsibility of raising up yet another generation of Catholics who will walk in the great “stream of faith” which has come from others, and they are given the grace to do this through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

While parents have this as their primary obligation, every one of us – whether parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, clergy, teachers, friends – has the responsibility of assisting in the solid Catholic upbringing of children. Christ Himself has given us this responsibility as members of His Body.

Children need to be developed in virtue; they need to be formed in character. And as our children learn the virtues, so our families – and the Church – will be strengthened and will be that leaven which will help our society come to know God as He has revealed Himself to us.

How do children learn these things?

First, through the examples they see around them. What children witness in the lives of parents and grandparents, and in the other adults whom they admire, they will tend to imitate.

Second, by repeated practice. We need to remind our children constantly to do the right thing, to the point that they know they can do the right thing because they have become accustomed to doing it.

And finally, by word; that is, by what they hear coming from our own lips, and having those words match the actions they see in our lives.

We do our children no favour when we allow them to control us; rather, we have an obligation to assert a godly control over them, guiding them and correcting them and forming them in the image of Christ.

Let this Feast of the Holy Family be a reminder to us of our responsibility to exhibit a solid, holy Catholic life. We must impart good habits of mind, will, and heart to our children, and to do it through hard work and sacrifice each day, setting an example for them of what a Catholic life can be, when it is well lived.

With God's assistance and with our own dedicated and sacrificial work, we can help our children to grow into great men and women, and that will lay the foundation for every family to become more like the Holy Family.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the prayers of the Blessed Mother and of St. Joseph, help us to do this.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy wondrous holiness didst adorn a human home, and by thy subjection to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate the order of earthly families: grant that we, being enlightened by the example of their life with thee in thy Holy Family, and assisted by their prayers, may at last be joined with them in thine eternal fellowship; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

27 December 2019

The need for silence...


The Scriptures refer often to silence. We read of the beauty of silence, and of how it pleases the Lord to receive from His faithful children the sacrifice of words unspoken and thoughts not expressed.

We see the greatest example of the meaning of silence in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is the omnipotent Word of God, the very Word which brought the universe into being, and yet He came into the world as a child unable to speak. Indeed, there are no recorded words of His until He was twelve, and then silence descended again until His public ministry commenced.

There were times during His passion that our Lord’s silence spoke with a particular eloquence. Scripture tells us that when He was before Pontius Pilate, He made no answer to the accusations leveled against Him, nor did He speak a word while He was being mocked in Herod's court. But in those times of silence there was a strength communicated which ultimately would put to silence the cacophony calling for His death, until at the end there was but one voice remaining which proclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

One of the many things our Saviour teaches us is that we should challenge the habit of constant chatter and non-stop access to every word being said in every corner of the world. We should take time out from incessant talking with people and listening to the media. We need to provide for times and places of silence. We must "go apart" as Christ did on occasion, periodically leaving the crowded world that insists upon being seen and looked at, to be heard and listened to.

Of course, there are those with freedom to have solitude, but for some it is less easy. Different people are in different circumstances. Yet everyone should do whatever is possible to have at least some freedom from the oppressive noise that the world inflicts on us so that we can have times of quiet silence before God.

26 December 2019

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

The cave of St. John on Patmos.

Our spiritual journey continues during this Octave of Christmas, as we travel from the Feast of young St. Stephen to the Feast of the aged St. John. And what a journey he made, being taken from tending his fishing nets by the Galilean sea to a cave of exile on the island of Patmos. In both places he was called by the Lord Jesus; first, to listen to the Divine Word so he could follow, and second, to record the Divine Word so those of us who have come later can also follow.

On one of our parish pilgrimages we went to Greece and Turkey, where we visited the cave in which St. John received the apocalyptic vision. As many holy places as I have visited, rarely have I been as affected as I was while standing in that place. There it was that the Risen Lord spoke to John with a power so overwhelming that a fissure was left overhead, dividing the rock into three pieces as a reminder that the Trinity had revealed the truth on that spot. Every place one looked, there was a reminder of John: the hollow in the rock where he rested his head when he grew so tired he could no longer stand upright; the sloping shelf on which the Revelation was recorded. It was all I could do to keep my shoes on my feet, so clearly was this "holy ground." It seemed as though the breath of history was held in that place, and that the apostle would at any moment appear once again to take up his pen to continue recording the living and awe-full word of the Lord. But of course, that could not be. It was there, in that cave, that the final word was spoken. What St. John heard there was the last word of truth. There is no more to be revealed; all we can pray for now is for our increased understanding of what Christ has spoken once for all. Here are the last words the Lord spoke to the last living apostle, written down with trembling hand:
"I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.


The icon pictured here was obtained during a parish pilgrimage, which included a visit to the island of  Patmos, where St. John had been exiled and where the Revelation was given to him by the Risen Christ. This image hangs in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, near the altar.

Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist St. John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

25 December 2019

Pure Love rested here...

Chapel of the Manger, Basilica of the Holy Nativity, Bethlehem.

One of my earliest Christmas memories was learning to sing "Away in a manger" for a pageant.  I must have been very young indeed, because I can remember it hadn't been too long before that I had stopped sleeping in a crib, and since the carol said that our Lord had "no crib for his bed" I had the thought that we could probably give the one I had been using to the baby Jesus.  It was a child's charitable thought which never worked out, but I've always loved the lullaby that inspired it.

Here's the traditional first verse, with three other verses I wrote several years ago.

Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Savior with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.

Text: V.1, Traditional,
vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music; CRADLE SONG, William James Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921)

24 December 2019

To you...


I can remember as a child the excitement of looking under the Christmas tree, with all the gifts wrapped and waiting, and then seeing one that had my name on it. In fact, even as adults we still get a little bit of that feeling, when seeing a beautifully wrapped package, sneaking a look at the tag, and seeing that something’s been chosen and wrapped, just for you.

So then, imagine a gift, beautifully wrapped, with a tag that simply reads, "To you." No other name on it, just "to you." A present labeled like that would mean that anybody who saw it and picked it up, could say, "This one's for me." Anyone could unwrap the gift and claim it as his own. Well, that's what the tag says on this bundle wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in Bethlehem's manger. It says, "To you, from God." Or as the Gospel puts it, "For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour…."

There, lying in the manger, is God's pure love for each one of us. There sheltered amidst animals and straw is His love which has come to us. There, in the form of the Divine Infant, is God’s desire for each one of us to be His own.

Before we even knew enough to ask for a Saviour, God sent One. Before we even knew enough to ask for a Lord, He came and showed Himself to be our Lord, a Child conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Here, wrapped in swaddling cloths, is God's gift to us. And it’s a gift that will outlast all the others.

This little Child in the manger gives us exactly what we need most. When we’re oppressed with guilt, when we’re burdened by our past, when we’re at a loss about who we are and why we exist, when we’re afraid, in the hour of our death, He gives us exactly what we need.

Salvation is born!


Lest the fact of the Incarnation and the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ become something relegated to cards expressing the greetings of the season with stars and angels hovering over nothing, our Holy Mother the Church marks each day of of the year, including Christmas, with the offering of the Mass, making the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ a present reality.

The Child was born for that purpose. The wood of the cradle makes way for the wood of the cross. The infant in the arms of Mary is the Saviour reposed in her arms. The beginning of the Passion of our Lord was at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Shepherds came to adore the Lamb of God, and the Magi brought gifts in preparation for the death and resurrection of the King of the universe.

Here is mysterium tremendum: salvation is born in the stable, salvation is born on the cross, salvation is born on our altars.

O precious Lord, once born for us
in stable small and poor;
be born again within our hearts,
and there let us adore.

As once our Savior thou didst come,
both Man and God divine,
so now thou givest Flesh and Blood
'neath forms of Bread and Wine.

Sweet Fruit of Virgin Mary's womb,
once hid from earthly sight,
may we thy children fruitful be,
and show the world thy Light.

Now stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ,
in solemn Mystery,
that when our work on earth be done
thy glory we may see.

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips
Music: St. Botolph, by Gordon Slater

23 December 2019

Benedictus Dominus Deus


The Benedictus is the canticle of thanksgiving spoken by Zechariah on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist, and recorded by St. Luke in the first chapter of his Gospel (vv. 68-79).  It is included in the portion of the Gospel read on the morning of December 24th.

It is composed of two parts, the first section being a thanksgiving for the fulfillment of the Jewish hope for the coming of the Messiah. The time of their long-awaited deliverance was here, and it was the fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham.  It meant that God's people would be able to "serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness."

The second part of the canticle is addressed by Zechariah to his own son, John, who was to have an important a part in the redemption of mankind. He was to be a prophet.  He would preach repentance, and would "go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways."

The Benedictus Dominus Deus is found in our Divine Worship as one of the canticles in Morning Prayer.

BLESSED be the Lord God of Israel; * for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us, * in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets, * which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies, * and from the hand of all that hate us.
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, * and to remember his holy covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham, * that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies * might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him, * all the days of our life.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: * for thou shalt go. before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people * for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God; * whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, * and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

21 December 2019

Advent IV: St. Joseph's Annunciation

 
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.

-Matthew 1:18-25


In his Gospel, St. Matthew tells us that an angel from God appeared to St. Joseph. It was in the context of a dream, but that didn’t make it any less real. It’s related to another event recorded in scripture, when the Blessed Virgin Mary also was visited by the angel, and she was told that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her, and that she would conceive and give birth to a son. The Virgin Mary’s encounter with the angel we know as the Annunciation, and St. Joseph’s experience was no less an annunciation, too. So let’s look more closely at St. Joseph and the place he was given by God.

St. Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “just man.” What is it to be “just?” It means being upright and righteous. Then we’re told that he resolved to send Mary away quietly. Let’s look carefully at that. If Joseph really thought Mary was guilty of wrongdoing, then as an upright, righteous man, he would be obliged by law to denounce her publicly. That’s what was required of a just, righteous, obedient Jewish man. A just man would keep the law meticulously, and the law would require that Mary face the consequences of being a young unmarried woman who was expecting a child. But on the other hand, if Joseph thought that Mary was innocent, then he would certainly be unjust in sending her away. A righteous Jewish man, upholding the law, could never knowingly inflict an injustice on someone. So this gets us to the important question – and the answer to this question tells us something extremely important about Joseph. Here’s the question: “If Joseph was indeed a just man, why was he going to send her away?” It’s in the answer to that question that we’re going to gain insight about Joseph’s spirit, his uprightness, his humility, and his sense of justice. The real crux of the matter isn’t whether Joseph believes Mary to be innocent, or whether he thinks she’s guilty. Rather, it’s this: it’s whether Joseph already knows, at the time of the visit of the angel, that Mary has miraculously conceived this Child. But why is that important?

If we look at the words the angel spoke to Joseph, we get a clearer picture. Our translation says, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…” Really, a more accurate translation of the original text would be this: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for you know that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…” In the original language of the scripture it’s apparent that Joseph already knew of the supernatural origin of Jesus. The purpose of the visit of the angel wasn’t to inform Joseph that Mary had conceived this child; rather, the purpose was to tell Joseph what his place was to be in all of this.

Now we can more clearly understand Joseph’s uprightness and sense of justice. It wasn’t that he wanted to put Mary away in secret; rather, it’s that Joseph didn’t want to presume a role that wasn’t his. In his humility he didn’t want to pass himself off as the father of the child whom he knows to be the Son of God. It would have seemed to him that he was usurping a role that the Lord hadn’t entrusted to him. That’s why he planned to send Mary away quietly and respectfully and with delicacy. In Joseph’s thoughts, God had plans for Mary, and so he thought he probably should just disappear, he should get out of the picture, so as not to meddle in a plan that was much bigger than the marriage they had planned.

But God did have a place for St. Joseph in this great plan of salvation for the world, and that’s why he had the visit, that annunciation, from the angel. It was Joseph’s vocation to accept, and take into his own home, the Lord of the universe. St. Joseph, as a descendant of David, was to take Emmanuel – God with us – into his own family, into his own genealogy, to be of the house of David. Joseph, the just man, the upright and obedient descendant of David, was to be the means whereby scripture would be fulfilled, and Joseph’s acceptance of this was the last ingredient that was needed for God’s plan to be put into action. Joseph was the first one after Mary to accept the Lord Jesus Christ into his life.

As Jesus comes to us as Word and through Sacrament, so we need to be as Joseph was: willing to serve, willing to obey, willing to open our own hearts and our own homes to the living God who has come to us. Just as St. Joseph had a role in fulfilling God’s plan for the world, so do we. But we need to be intentional about it. Are we opening ourselves to what God has planned for us? Do we pray regularly? Are we involved in regular works of charity? Are we holding a grudge against anyone? Are we giving in to gossip? These are the sorts of things that can either help or hinder us from following the example of St. Joseph.

We need to open our hearts and our minds and our lives to Christ. And when we do that we’ll be helping others to open themselves and their lives to the Incarnate God, who wants all of us to be in that closer relationship with Him.

 Let that be your resolution this Christmas – to be like Mary, to be like Joseph, in saying “yes” to God’s call for us to be close to Him, and to obey His divine plan for our lives. It’s in obedience that we find real freedom; it’s when we say “yes” to God that we become the men and women He intends us to be.

19 December 2019

"Hail, full of grace..."


Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  
- Isaiah 7:10-14

A prophecy had been given long ago, that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. It was given to a rather unfaithful king of Judea, Ahaz by name, who greeted it with sarcasm and some disdain – much like the world greets it today. But whether the world likes it or not, the prophecy has been fulfilled. The Virgin spoken of in the prophecy we now know is a young girl named Mary, and she would be lifted from obscurity to become the best-known woman in history. And the son spoken of in the prophecy now has a name: it is Jesus, and He is the Son of the Most High God.

Until that time the prophets had been called to announce the will of God to a particular people in a particular place. But God has revealed something not just to the Children of Israel, but to the whole world. Until then prophets and kings had desired to see this great thing, but they had not been so privileged. In fact, no human being was to know it before it was revealed to the Virgin herself.

The archangel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, always ready to announce the divine Will of God to mankind, was the messenger. The purpose in visiting Nazareth was to announce the coming of the God-Man.

We can never know what Mary was thinking when the archangel came to her. We can only imagine that Gabriel’s gaze was kind and steady as the words were spoken to her – words which have woven themselves into our own devotion: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” And the archangel went on to deliver the divine message: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

In simplicity Mary asks a question: “How can this be...?” Gabriel makes everything clear to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…” and then those beautiful words of assurance: “…for with God nothing will be impossible.” And it was when Mary heard those words that she eagerly replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In those words was the obedience which would change history.

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” That’s what strengthened Mary and opened the door to her complete obedience to God’s plan. And in the face of the difficulties we sometimes have in our own lives, with the decisions we have to make, and with the responsibilities we have, we should remember the words of Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: “with God nothing will be impossible.” When we seem to be almost crushed with worry or confused by the many thing in this life that try to draw us away from our life in Christ, we should remember those words. Those are the words which contain God’s promise that He will be with us in all things, just as He was with Mary. His promise, and her faithfulness, meant that she bore the Incarnate Word for the salvation of the world.

And God makes the promise to us – that with Him nothing will be impossible. All He asks is that we say “yes” to what we’ve been called to do – to pour our heart and soul into our marriage, into being parents to our children, into the priesthood, into religious life – whatever our state in life, and whatever our vocation, to seek God’s will and then to do it. It really is that simple. It may not always be easy, but it is quite simple. God is asking for our obedience in remaining faithful to Him – and if we do that, He’ll give us the grace and the strength to meet every challenge, and to bear the good fruit of the Incarnate Word in our own lives, so that through our cooperation, the world might be sanctified, and that all mankind might come to know Emmanuel – the fact that God is with us, in our Savior Jesus Christ.

15 December 2019

Authority


On Monday of the Third Week of Advent these words are included in the readings for Mass: from the Book of Numbers (24:17): “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…”; and from St. Matthew’s Gospel (21:23) we read “When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’”

The thread in today’s Scripture readings has to do with authority. From our experience we might tend to think of people with authority as being people who just want to boss other people around, but of course, that’s not really what authority means.

First, look at Balaam. He was a seer or diviner who was hired by the enemies of Israel to put a curse on the Israelites. Why? Because the Children of Israel were nearing their forty-year period of wandering and were getting ready to enter into the Promised Land. The people who were already there didn’t want them and so they wanted to do whatever was necessary to keep them out.

 Balaam was a greedy man, and although he was being paid by the enemies of Israel, he tried to make a deal with God, too; and God agreed, but as a result Balaam couldn’t curse the Israelites. In fact, he prophesied about a king who would be coming, a king who would lead Israel. The enemies of Israel weren’t happy about that! Balaam had no other choice but to prophesy what God revealed to him, because the authority of God was stronger than any deal Balaam could have made with Israel’s enemies.

In the Gospel the chief priests and elders of the Jews go to Jesus and demand to know by what authority He was acting and speaking. After going back and forth, Jesus refused to answer their demand, because they were only trying to trap Him and have him arrested. He had made it very clear that His authority is God’s authority, and He had come as the Messiah.

So let’s look briefly at the idea of “authority.” The word comes from the Latin “auctoritas” which is related to the word “augere” which means "to increase, make bigger." A person with ‘authority’ isn’t somebody who wields coercive power over others. The exercise of genuine authority is not to control, or to keep people in line; rather, to have authority is to be someone who helps people reach their full potential.

So, when parents exercise authority over their children, it should be done in such a way as to help them become better people. When the clergy exercise authority, it should be to help people to become more of what God intends them to be.

This is the kind of authority Jesus showed perfectly. He invited people to follow Him, and to be more like Him. He came to serve, and not to be served. He came to give life in its fullness. He came to lead people into all they could be and were meant to be. We can tell the difference between good authority and bad authority – is it making you a better person? Is it helping you to become what God wants you to be?

12 December 2019

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr


Lucy’s name has as its root the Latin word for light, lux. This makes her commemoration all the more meaningful during this time of Advent, as we increase each week the number of candles we light on the Advent wreath, reminding us that our lives are to be more and more illumined by the light of Christ.

We can be certain that there was a young Christian girl named Lucy who lived at the end of the 3rd century and into the beginning of the 4th century, because devotion to her is widespread from the 4th century on. Lots of the details of her life, however, come from legends and stories which were told from one generation to the next – and although the stories no doubt have some factual basis, many of the details were added over the years.

So what do we know about her? We know that Lucy’s father died when she was very young, because there is no mention of him whatsoever in the stories about her. Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, suffered from a serious sickness for many years, and she was unable to find any doctor who could help her. Young Lucy had heard of the healing power of the prayers of a young girl, St. Agatha, who had been martyred for the faith. The story is that St. Lucy convinced her mother that they should travel to the tomb of St. Agatha, so they could ask for her prayers for Lucy’s mother. They prayed all night, even falling asleep at the tomb. In her sleep, Lucy had a vision of St. Agatha, and at that moment, her mother Eutychia was cured.

Now, it happened that some time before this, Eutychia had arranged a marriage for Lucy with a young man who was a pagan, but Lucy insisted that she wouldn’t marry, and that the money which would have been used for her dowry should be spent on the poor. In fact, Lucy gave away everything she owned, including her property and her jewelry. News of this came to the attention of the young man whom she was supposed to marry, and he became very angry. He went to the local authorities to report that Lucy was a Christian – and this was a time when it was illegal to belong to the Church.

She was condemned to prison, but when the guards came to take her away, they found that it was impossible to lift her. No matter how much they tried to lift her, she seemed to become immoveable. It is said that she was killed when they plunged a dagger into her throat, and the story is that they had gouged out her eyes before her death. She is often pictured in art with two eyes on a plate, and for that reason she is the patroness of those who are blind or who have any disease of the eyes.

She is Lucy – lux – who lived and died in the light of Christ.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Lucy, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

11 December 2019

"He who has ears to hear..."


“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  - St. Matthew 11:11-15

Jesus has high words of praise for someone who is especially present for us during the Advent season; namely, St. John the Baptist.

John had a unique role which sets him apart: he was the one to announce the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah. John is the last in the line of the great Old Testament prophets, he forms a kind of bridge between the Old and the New. He died – in fact, was executed – before the mission of Jesus was completed.

The New Covenant was sealed with Christ’s blood on the cross but John did not live long enough to see that. And so, Jesus says, even the very least in the Kingdom of God is in a more privileged position than John. John was not able to share in the abundance of life in this world that was released through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and so did not have what we have.

John is also described as "Elijah who is to come.”

Why does Christ speak of Elijah here? The prophet Elijah did not die a natural death. He was carried off to heaven in a chariot. However, it was a Jewish belief that one day Elijah would return to die as all men must die. But the important point was that his return would be the immediate prelude to the arrival of the Messiah. In referring to John as Elijah, our Lord is clearly pointing to Himself as the Messiah. That is why Jesus says: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

09 December 2019

Jesus, Our True Shepherd


Our Lord tells a parable about a lost sheep, recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel (18:12-14). We hear this Gospel read at Mass on Tuesday in the Second Week of Advent.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

When Jesus told this parable about the lost sheep, He was reflecting a picture already familiar to the Jews. The prophet Ezekiel (34:11, 12) had spoken about God searching out His sheep, rescuing them from the places in which they were lost.

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…”

Why had the sheep been scattered? It was because they had false shepherds over them, concerned only with themselves and their own comfort. Just before assuring Israel that He, the Lord God, would care for His sheep, He had said this:

“Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His own Person, shows us the kind of shepherds He wants to have over us. Jesus our Shepherd is concerned about each one of us. Each one of us is precious to Him. He tends those who are wounded. He heals the sick. He searches out those who are lost. He even watches over those who are strong.

Jesus our Shepherd has an overwhelming love for each one of His sheep, and the power of that love is expressed through tenderness. Our shepherd is neither dictatorial nor is He weak; rather, He is a shepherd whom we want to follow, because He is a shepherd who comforts us, warding off danger and leading us on to safety. His sheep do not fear Him; rather, they return love for love, and they are obedient because they have seen His own obedience.

Oh, to have shepherds after Christ’s own Heart!

07 December 2019

Judgement


During Advent our thoughts should include the coming judgement of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we profess in the Creed, "...and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead..."

First, some facts. God’s judgement is really two-fold. There is the Particular Judgement, and there is the General Judgement. Particular Judgement is that judgement which takes place immediately upon the death of an individual.  When we die, we are no longer the “pilgrims” that we are in this life – we will no longer be able to sin, nor will we be able to repent from sin. If there is the rare individual who dies in a state of perfect grace, with no further need of purification, and with no temporal punishment due to them because of their previous sins, that person will directly enter heaven with the other saints.  Those who die in the state of grace, but who still need some purification before the final destination of heaven will enter purgatory, where they will be cleansed and made ready for heaven, aided by the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful. And finally, those who die in the state of mortal and unrepented sin – those who have purposely offended God and don’t care that they have – will, at the Particular Judgement, enter into their unending punishment in hell. This is, of course, a much simplified explanation of Particular Judgement.

But in addition to the Particular Judgement upon each and every soul, which will take place individually at our death, there also will be the General Judgement – that judgement which we profess in the Creed, when we proclaim that “He shall come again in glory, to judge both the quick and the dead...” This is the Final Judgement of God upon all mankind. It is not simply the summation of all of the particular judgements which have taken place, but it involves the consummation of all things in Christ, when God’s kingdom will be complete. At that time, there will be no further question in anyone’s mind or heart as to the power of God, or as to the Kingship of Christ, or as to the truth of the Catholic Faith. All things will be put in subjection to Christ, and it will be the age of “the new heaven and the new earth.” Of course, we should understand that these two judgements are not as separate as they sound, because in this, God acts outside of time.  In fact, they are really the one judgement by God, bringing all lives and all things to a final end.

Having outlined those basic facts, what does it really mean to us? Actually, a great deal. God’s judgement necessarily involves God’s system of justice, so we must have some understanding of divine justice as we face the reality of divine judgement. Perhaps we can better understand it if we look for a moment at the system of justice which we have in the United States.

When American justice works as it is supposed to (which, of course, is not always the case) it is based upon the supposition that if a person is found to have done something wrong, then he has to pay a price for that action. In other words, if a man is caught robbing your house, then you should be able to expect him to spend some time in prison. It’s not enough for him simply to go into the courtroom and say, “I’m sorry, your Honor,” and then expect it all to go away. The question that gets asked is, “How to you plead: guilty or not guilty,” and if he is found to be guilty, then a punishment will be exacted. That is our system of justice, and it is what we expect to happen in our courts of law.

Now let’s look at Divine Justice. One of its tenets is that it is Christ who will be our Judge. On that Last Day, when the secrets in the hearts of all men shall be disclosed, it will be Jesus who will mete out Divine Justice. And because of that, it will not be the justice of our human law-court that will be given out. If God were to administer justice in the same way that we expect our human law-courts to administer justice, then our chances of escaping eternal punishment on the Day of Judgement would be slim-to-none. We have all grievously sinned; every one of us has come short of the glory of God. Each and every one of us will stand guilty before the Divine Judge. That is why, thanks be to God, it is a different kind of court-room where Christ is the judge. Certainly, in that court-room we will all stand guilty – and in fact, we will all deserve the death penalty. But in the Divine court-room, when the judge passes the death-sentence, He then gets up from behind the bench to stand next to the guilty party, and He takes the death sentence upon Himself. Why? Because in God’s court-room, He doesn’t ask us to plead “guilty or not guilty” – rather, we are asked to plead “sorry or not sorry.” If we have lived lives which plead “sorry” – lives which have had real repentance and which have been healed and fed with His sacraments – then Christ shoulders the sentence Himself. Here’s the beauty of it all, when it comes to Divine Judgement. Christ is not only our Judge, but He is our Redeemer, too. This is God’s justice: He demands righteousness, and then He proceeds to provide us with the means to become righteous. He demands perfection, and then He provides the means whereby we may be made perfect.

Whatever else is true about God’s judgements, one thing is certain: on Judgement Day, there will not be any surprises. It will be obvious to everyone that God’s judgement is completely fair. In fact, we will receive precisely what we ask for. The record of our relationship with God will lay before us in complete truth and openness, and the facts will speak for themselves. If we have been faithful to God, if we have shown sorrow for our sins and have sought His absolution, if we have been generous to those in need, following the path of the Lord which began at our baptism, then God our Judge will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant...” But if we have been purposely unfaithful to God, untrue to our baptismal promises, stingy toward those in need, prejudiced and cruel to others who are also children of God, if we have been too proud to confess our sins and too lazy to do penance, if we have thrown away our birthright by clinging too closely to the things of this world, then God our Judge will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire...”

It is not some fickle or uncertain justice which God will give out on Judgement Day. In a very real sense, we will actually bring judgement upon ourselves – or, at least, our actions and our attitudes will. The righteousness and the mercy of God will prevail on the Day of Judgement. The righteousness of God demands perfection – and the mercy of God means that we will have been given the means of righteousness through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. And it is through the Cross that we receive the forgiveness which brings us to the joy of life in eternal communion with Almighty God.

05 December 2019

St. Nicholas of Myra


St. Nicholas was born of Christian parents in the last part of the third century, and was raised in the Faith. His parents died when he was young, and they left him a large sum of money. Rather than using this for himself, Nicholas secretly disbursed his fortune to those who were in particular need.

His uncle was the archbishop of Myra, and he ordained Nicholas and appointed him to be the abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. About the time of the persecutions of Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity but was released during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

There are lots of stories surrounding the life of Saint Nicholas, one of which relates Nicholas' charity toward the poor. A certain man, who was the father of three daughters, had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his daughters, he was planning to sell them into slavery. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters, enabling them to be married. There are other stories of his generosity in giving to others, but he always tried to do it secretly.

After Nicholas' death on December 6 in or around 345, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra, and a great devotion to him grew up. More and more people visited his tomb to ask for his prayers. His body remained there until 1087, when some sailors from Bari, an Italian coastal town, came and took the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city. Veneration for Nicholas had already spread throughout Europe as well as Asia, but this occurrence led to a renewal of devotion in the West. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint's intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari.

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children – and we’re reminded of this here in the parish because we have our St. Nicholas Field as a place for our children to play.

Relic of St. Nicholas, in the Lady Chapel.


O God, who didst adorn thy blessed Bishop Saint Nicholas with power to work many and great miracles: grant, we beseech thee; that by his prayers and merits, we may be delivered from the fires of everlasting torment; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

01 December 2019

He will judge the quick and the dead

We're at the beginning of Advent. It's a time of preparation -- but not simply preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. It's also a time when we contemplate such things as death, judgement, heaven and hell, and we prepare ourselves to meet Christ on the last day, when He will judge the quick and the dead. Behind our high altar, in the center panel of the triptych, is a painting of Christ the Judge, and this was a frequent theme in medieval churches.


One of the finest of these is the great Doom Painting over the chancel arch in St. Thomas, Salisbury, England. Painted in 1475, it was whitewashed at the time of the Anglican break with Rome, and then rediscovered and restored in the 19th century. This is the largest such painting in England, and is in the parish church I often visited during my time as a student in Salisbury.




Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility: that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal : Through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.