Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent 1 11-27-2011

Get more out of Mass especially with the New Translation.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent as well as the first Sunday of our using the new translation from Latin into English of our prayers at Mass. How do the two things go together and what do they teach us about how to live our Christian life?

The combination of these two events, Advent and the translation, could be together for several possible reasons. First of all, Advent is the beginning of a new year in terms of Church prayer, or liturgy. Finish one year with one translation and begin another with the new. But it didn’t have to be this way. In England, Catholics began using the translation in September. Perhaps we could have waited for the civic New Year, on January 1st.
I think these two events are combined, not just for poetic reasons: it’s nice to have a new year, and a new translation, but for deeper reasons. What does Advent teach us about Mass? Over the next few weeks, as we make spiritual preparation for the season of Christmas, we will look at the prayers and parts of the Mass. What does Advent teach us about the Mass?

First of all, what is Advent? Our Gospel today- which is NOT a new translation- speaks about watchful waiting. From the 13th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, this is not about the baby Jesus but Jesus in the final week, mere days before his betrayal, crucifixion, death and resurrection. We are very far from the stable in Bethlehem. What is Jesus asking us to watch for?

Jesus is asking us to watch like he watches: in the evening, midnight, cockcrow and morning. In a few days from this passage, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper- the First Mass- on the evening of Holy Thursday. At midnight he prays in the Garden of Gethsemanae and is betrayed by Judas. At cockcrow he is under the judgment of the Chief Priest and abandoned by Peter. At morning he is sentenced to death by Pilate and sent off to be crucified. Jesus is watching for the will and presence of the Father and invites us to do the same. “What I say, I say to all: watch.” Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means arrival or presence. Advent is about attentive watching for the arrival of Christ.
In these days after Thanksgiving, in American culture, we can get confused. Is Christmas here yet, or not? Christmas seems to be both already here and not yet here. We purchased most of our presents on Friday but we have not yet opened them. When we were kids, we would be attentively watching the foot of our tree, wondering when the new gifts would come? We were observing an “advent of presents.”

So what does Advent teach us about the Mass and our new translation? You’ve done pretty well today, a few slip ups here or there, but it is like you are praying your first Mass and I am praying my first Mass. We have to be more careful, deliberate, and watchful. Advent should teach us that this is how we should pray at every Mass, watching and waiting. We believe that Jesus is present at every Mass, but do we encounter him at every Mass? If he is present, present in the priest, the people, the Scripture, the Eucharist, then if we do not encounter him, who is at fault? We must not be paying attention. This is our “Advent of every Mass.”

The translation of the Mass introduced today emphasizes this aspect of the Mass. The Holy Mass is our opportunity to attentively watch for Jesus. Usually, as a Catholic you can rely on auto-pilot when you go to Mass. You don’t have to think about prayers and actions; you just do them. This is not attentive participation in the Mass. This is not what God or the Church wants from us as we pray Mass.

Perhaps we could think of this attentive watchfulness as maturity. How do we define maturity? Facial hair? Driver’s licenses? Diplomas? Perhaps we could think of it as attentiveness to others? When we are young or immature, we are unaware of others around us: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We might grow aware of physical presence but not emotional as we grow up, and eventually, hopefully, aware of everyone present around us. That seems a dependable definition of maturity. Do we pray at Mass with maturity? Are we aware of and attentive to the arrival and presence of Jesus Christ? Or are we more focused on our selves? “These pews are uncomfortable, this homily is boring, or did I start the right fantasy team?”

So what does Advent teach us about the Mass? First, it is more than mere physical presence. We must be participating in our own way with the Holy Sacrifice being presented in an unbloody way. Second, our participation should be watchful attentiveness. We are to be searching for Jesus. When will that encounter with Him come? In the opening prayer? In the consecration? In the creed? In our personal communion? If I talked to you three hours later, could you say where you met Jesus in this Mass?

Finally, we must learn to savor and dive into that encounter and make it a lived and personal encounter with the saving Jesus. I hope your Thanksgiving dinner was more relaxed than your normal lunch. That you didn’t just shovel down the food but savored the flavor, let it roll around in your mouth. Jesus Christ is truly present in every Mass. Jesus Christ is more present to us than we are to ourselves. What I say, I say to all: watch!

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center blog.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Get more out of Mass

In this Sunday's homily we spoke about attentive and watchful participation in the Mass, tying in the Season of Advent as well as the New Translation of the Mass. We mentioned the use of Missals (not missiles) as a way to get more out of Mass and to develop our personal encounter with Jesus, truly present in each Mass. Here are some sources for your Christmas gift list.

Here are a couple varieties from Aquinas and More book store. They are from a reputable and good Catholic bookstore. There are simpler and cheaper versions (from St. Joseph's press). As well as more expensive, and dare I say, deluxe versions.

Another great option I mentioned was the Magnificat magazine. it contains the readings and prayers of, not only Sunday Masses but also daily Masses. It also has beautiful artwork and inspiring passages each day from saints and other Catholic authors. A subscription is $45 for the year. If that seems too much, you could order a promo copy. They even have an iPhone version, free with a print subscription or with an online subscription.

Quite cool and all good use of your Christmas list. What grandma wouldn't want to her grandchild in college something with which to dive into their faith?

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

33rd Sunday, Year A November 13, 2011

This morning we’re going to talk about marriage. Marriage is especially of interest for those that aren’t married—I get a lot of questions about marriage from students. Taking our cue from the readings today, we’ll talk about marriage in three ways: first by it’s foundation, secondly by what marriage is, and finally a few tips on dating.

What is the foundation of marriage? Marriage is a naturally occurring relationship that is raised up by Christ to be a Sacrament. The Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation and all the other Sacraments do not exist in nature, marriage does. Before Jesus Christ there was marriage, before Jesus there was no Eucharist. We see how marriage is the one gift left to Adam and Eve after Original Sin. Before sin, they enjoyed free eating of the fruit of the land, they enjoyed harmony with God, life without death, and their marriage to each other. After Original Sin, they had to eat by the sweat of their brow, they lost harmony with God, and they were to die. But marriage remained.

Everywhere there was some notion of marriage even if it was not everywhere lived well with full respect for those involved. So marriage is something inherent in human hearts that is elevated by God and strengthened by His grace. This has implications. Mainly, marriage is something that we can purify but not modify. We are called to purify our understanding and living out of marriage. Polygamy is bad, serial divorce is bad, women have rights to choose a spouse, men should live in chastity. As one author says: “Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be.”

If we can purify but not modify marriage, what is this purified understanding. Catholic marriage is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. Before the vows at a wedding, A “free” marriage is not a “free wedding” but one that is entered into without reservation. If you’re someone who thinks that you can’t be happy without a spouse, then are you free to choose marriage? If you’re entering into marriage because “I guess that’s what people do,” then are you freely choosing? The free choice implies that you understand what you are choosing: to bind yourself to someone for the rest of your life with no guarantee that they will return their promise to you.

Catholic marriage is “total” in that it encompass the whole of your relationship. You cannot enter into marriage with something set aside. That is why a “pre-nuptial” agreement is a serious sin on marriage, because it sets a boundary on something that should not be bounded. Catholic marriage is “faithful” because it is exclusive and permanent. Finally, Catholic marriage is “fruitful,” it is open to life and children because they are a natural crown on marital love. A couple that cannot have children or is delaying children is still open to this fruitfulness by their generosity to the Church and the poor.

A final word on the origins of marriage. As Catholics, we believe that marriage is something natural that is purified and elevated by Grace. Meaning that non-Catholics and non-Christians can know and benefit from these four truths of marriage. So when Catholics enter into the public debate about marriage in society we do not see our arguments as religious but natural.

Finally, we’ll end with a word for those who are dating. Date with the end in mind. The purpose of dating is marriage, if you’re dating someone you wouldn’t marry, why are you dating them? What are some BAD reasons to date? Loneliness, insecurity, or pleasure. If you’re find yourself lonely or insecure without a significant other, then you need a friend, not a boy/girl friend. I’m sure any of our married couples have been lonely. Start by looking at someone you are friends with when you’re looking for a spouse. Have you ever been in a relationship where you’ve shared lips before you’ve shared dreams? That is not a healthy relationship and is not headed in the right direction.

Have you looked for someone you can pray with? What makes you think that if you can’t pray before you married that you’ll be able to pray AFTER you’re married? Is it someone you can go to Mass with? Someone who will help lead your children in prayer? Is it someone who will pray for your soul as you breath your last breath? At the end of the day, marriage is about the gift of eternal life. Will this person assist my soul through the gifts of prayer, unity, and children?

Marriage is one of the greatest gifts God gave to the human race. One that was not lost by sin but was retained as a comfort during our exile from Eden. We must protect and cherish it as a great gift so that our Lord will see a profit of souls when he returns.

Posted at Newman Center Site, too!

Thirty Second Sunday, Year A, November 6, 2011

In today’s homily, I’d like to address three things: the details of the Gospel, zombies at Hobo Day and in America, and a Halloween surprise.

First, the Gospel. The parable Jesus is telling is about the Kingdom of Heaven, which we know means the Church. This is not a story about those who follow Jesus and those who don’t, this story is about those who follow Jesus but do so incompletely. Ancient weddings included a point where the groom went and escorted the bride. The bride’s unmarried friends would honor her by an escort- similar to bride’s maids today. The virgins are you and I. The other chief figures are the lamps and the oil.

It might be tempting to view this parable as a sharing parable. Rather it is about our soul. Each of us has an immortal soul. We can’t see, smell, taste, or measure that soul in anyway but it gives us life here and now. Our soul gives life to our bodies. The potential power of our souls to image God is so amazing that C. S. Lewis describes it this way: “The dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

Our soul is born in darkness of sin: aside from guilt sin has two effects, clouding our intellect and weakening our will. In baptism our soul is enlightened by Christ- like a lamp being lit. This is why we light baptismal candles, to symbolize this real event happening in souls during baptism.

In our own baptism we are told to keep our light burning brightly. How? By Christian living in union with Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where the parable becomes so powerful. We must carefully treasure own soul. The most foolish thing in the world is to live as if your own soul did not exist. Yet we often think that there are more important things to worry about than my own soul. We pollute our soul much more than we pollute our environment.

That brings me to zombies, both at Hobo Day and in America. Zombies are soulless human bodies. Perhaps we like seeing them so much because we fear we are becoming them. Not from a virus but from our disregard for our soul. Zombie’s “are incapable of judgment, self-awareness, or self-preservation. Though they still move and act, they are not really alive. They hunger and are never filled.”

In America today, we have more resources, more pleasures, more entertainment than any culture before us or around us can even imagine. Yet we are never satisfied. Our suicide rates are the highest of any civilization before or around us. Why? Because we feed certain appetites but ignore our soul. We are the foolish virgins. We are not prepared for the coming of Christ because we are not guarding the flame of our soul.

That brings me to my last point. Guard your soul. What about your death? What about the moment when the Bridegroom returns? On Halloween night I went to watch my parishioners play a playoff game. I got a call from the hospital that a woman was dying and they wanted a priest. I didn’t know the woman but I was told she was a Catholic, so I gave her the anointing of the sick and the Apostolic Pardon. I have no “oil,” no grace of my own to give her but I can give her the grace of Jesus Christ, the lifesaving oil of salvation, thanks to my priestly ordination.

Do your friends and family members know that if you’re in danger of death that they should call for a priest as they call 911? Do they know to seek out a priest for you? If you see someone in danger of death, do you offer to pray for them even as someone gives them first aid? Do you ask them if they want to pray for their sins? What a privilege it is for anyone to escort a soul into eternity. What a wise gift of grace you can help them receive. They too can have oil for their lamps through Jesus Christ.

Posted at the Newman Center, too.

All Saints Day 2011

Let me tell you the story of a saint. St. John Vianney was interested in me, long before I was interested in him. St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests and he was praying for me long before I ever knew his name. St. John Vianney’s feast day, August 4th, was the birthday of my grandfather, Lowell. Lowell is my middle name. St. John Vianney was praying for me. While I was studying chemistry and asking God what He wanted me to do in my life, I came upon a novena prayer to St. John Vianney. When I went to my first seminary, it was named after St. John Vianney. When I went to my graduate seminary it was named after St. John Vianney. God displayed his rich love for me through his chosen man, St. John Vianney.

“The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us and we ignore them.”

Who are the saints that pray for you, care for you, and love you? Do you know them and have you sought them? As Catholics we observe this feast for two reasons, to remember that the friends of Jesus Christ love the same things he does and to remember and renew our own life of sanctity.

The friends of Jesus Christ love the same things he loves. None of us would deny that Jesus Christ loves us but we are ignorant of how his friends, the saints, love us. They love us not to take anything away from Jesus and his salvation but as a part of the grand symphony that is his salvation. Telling the saints to not love us, to not pray for us, to not care for us, is like telling Jesus to leave us alone. Not going to happen.

This feast also reminds us of our own calling. There is one Catholic Church here on earth, and in the purifications of purgatory, and again in the glories of heaven. One Church that is united by Jesus Christ and one calling that we all have. If we are not yet saints it is because we do not want to be. God is providing everything for you to be a saint. What does it mean? Look at this image of our Blessed Mother. See how she receives light from the infant Jesus and illumines the world with him. You are called to that receptivity in order to illuminate the world.

Let us renew our interest in the saints and so renew our interest in our own salvation through Jesus Christ. Find those saints who care for you with the love of Christ, especially the saints you don’t know about. The saints of your name, of your birthday, of your baptism day, of your confirmation, of some other momentous date in your life. Find the saints who have the same interests as you and ask them to pray for you. They will lead you to Christ.

Posted at Newman Center Website.

Thirty First Sunday, Year A, October 30, 2011

There are certain things in life that we CAN’T NOT know. These things are clear to anyone as they observe the world. Things like honesty, justice, and love. For example, whether or not you agree with Occupy Wall Street, you probably agree that greed is bad. About the only way we could think greed is good is if we had a PhD. One thing that is self-evident is the idea of the beauty of sacrifice. No one likes war but we are moved by stories of sacrifice. Sacrifice is part of what tugs at our heart when we see a woman expectant with child. We don’t need religion to tell us this. We know that we cannot fully find ourselves except through a sincere gift of ourselves.

But our faith does say something about this natural beauty, truth and goodness of sacrifice. The Catholic Church calls this reality “The Law of the Gift.” Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. How do we see this in today’s Gospel?

What does Jesus condemn? Does he condemn institutions of religion? These verses from Matthew’s Gospel are often used by non-Catholics, especially Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christians to attack the structure of Catholic faith. Does Jesus condemn all structures of religion? No, Jesus does not condemn the structure—and therefore all structure—he condemns the empty and selfish living of those in the structure. The Jewish priests of his time—and those of the time of the prophet Malachi—are convicted on their selfish living out of their roles.

On the other hand, we have the example of St. Paul. He even dares to compare himself to a “nursing mother,” so deeply did he live the Law of the Gift with the Church in Thessalonica. “We were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

What do so many college students want? Do you not want to find yourself? “What am I supposed to do with my life? Who am I? What does God want?”

God wants you to live the Law of the Gift. You are called to make a sincere gift of yourself. In many ways you and all of us have an uphill battle in our current culture. We are becoming more individualized, isolated, and even self-centered. Instead of asking: “What sort of sincere gift of myself am I called to make?” our culture asks: “What do I need to be happy? What’s in it for me?”

People sometimes ask why there are fewer priests and consecrated religious today than 40 years ago. On some level, it is because parents aren’t asking their children. But it certainly is NOT because God is not asking. Blessed Pope John Paul II would say that 10% of baptized Catholics probably have a call to give themselves as priests, monks or nuns. If God is calling, we not listening, because we are afraid of the Law of the Gift.

Let me tell you then from my own experience as a young man and a priest. When you answer God’s call, he takes nothing of what makes life good, true, or beautiful. When I took a promise of celibacy, I gave up wife and family but God has brought beautiful goodness into my life. Do not be afraid, it is true that man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. Listen today and everyday for Jesus to speak His call into your heart, He says: “See my example, see how I give myself completely for you? Trust me, then, trust that when you sincerely give yourself back to me, I provide everything for you.”

Posted at Newman Center Website.