Saturday, December 22, 2012

Does a priest ever pray Mass alone?

As a priest with a different assignment, campus ministry, life is a little unusual. This week, most priests are working their tails off with final preparations for Christmas. I am pastor of a ghost town. With semester break 90% of my parishioners are gone. So it raises a question? What does a priest do if he schedules a Mass and no one shows up?

Does a priest ever pray Mass alone?



Yes, a priest sometimes prays Mass alone. I have Masses where no one shows up and I still pray them. Why? Because the Mass is the greatest prayer of the Christian faith. There is no greater prayer that could ever be offered than the very prayer of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, as he offers himself to the Father on Calvary. At every Mass there is a real and unbloody participation in that offering. So the prayers of the Mass have great effect on the world, whether or not there are people in the pews.

In fact, you should be mindful as a Catholic- or Christian- of the Masses being offered somewhere at anytime throughout the world. When temptation or trial comes, first, invoke the Holy Spirit who lives within your baptized and confirmed soul, and then call upon the fruits of the Mass being offered by the hands of priests. Especially in the light of the tragedy in Newtown we should all be happy about every Mass being said anywhere. More joining of heaven to earth, please.

No, a priest NEVER prays Mass alone.

I may have a Mass to which no one shows up. Brookings becomes a ghost town when the students leave. I go from having so many cars pass by that I don't even notice them to having so few cars go by that I know them by sight. Its like living in Manhattan to living in the middle of no where. But even when the pews are empty I never pray Mass alone.

The angels and saints, the whole company of heaven attends and is attentive to every Mass offered. In fact, the Mass is heavenly worship being offered here on the ground. Listen to this portion of the Preface Prayer: "And so with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory..." Notice that the prayer mentions 5 of the 9 choirs of angels. Notice how it says WITH them.

Next time you're at Mass, pay attention for the angelic choirs joining you as you re-present to God the great sacrifice of Jesus.

Next time you're NOT at Mass, call upon the fruits of the Masses being offered throughout the world to sustain you in your trials, temptations, and tragedies.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homily for 3rd Sunday

It has been a violent and sad week. It has been a week in which we know our need for joy. Death, tragedy and sorrow expose that the joys of this world to be fleeting and incomplete. A full belly and a warm house are not the same as peace, joy and freedom. In this week we face both our greatest need for God and the greatest argument against Him.

The Rose vestments of this Sunday, the rose candle on the Advent wreathe, the word we hear so frequently: “rejoice!” may seem to mock our pain and tragedy. How can there be joy and freedom of heart amidst the sadness of Connecticut, student suicide, and our own daily sorrows that weigh down our hearts?

But it is into these precise sorrows and to share in these precise sorrows that Jesus Christ took on flesh. So that you and I would not be alone, the Son of God took on flesh in the manger in Bethlehem. So that you and I could see God’s answer to the tears of mothers in Connecticut, he took a mother for himself in Mary.

Think for a moment about Mary. In the face of that tragic shooting many where asking the question: “Where is God?” We know that the whole of the Christian faith is God’s answer to suffering. Where is God? He is innocently and freely suffering on the cross. Where was the Immaculate and Sinless Virgin Mary? Weeping at the foot of the cross of her Son. The mothers of the slain in Connecticut stand shoulder to shoulder with Mary at the foot of the cross.

This past week of death was also a week of life. The 12th of December was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Historically, Our Lady appeared to the Mexican people after decades of suffering: first and most bloodily at the hands of Aztec emperors and secondly at the hands of Spanish Conquistadors. Where was God? In the womb of His Mother who appeared, not European in continence but mulatto—European and Mexican.

In the midst of decades of bloody death, God sent an appearance of Immaculate Mary, bearing in her womb Jesus Christ. She spoke to the Aztec people in their language. If you look closely, you'll see that her dress is overlaid with golden flowers- almost like wrought iron. These flowers are the sacred language of the Aztec people and they tell the story of the Gospel. There is one unique flower, a four petaled flower, that is positioned over her womb. This flower with four petals is the sign of the god above all gods. The god that would come to judge the violent Aztec gods. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe comes bearing Jesus Christ to bring judgment to the violent. Even today she sustains and encourages the life of faith for Central, South, and, indeed, all of the Americas. Let her be our answer because she is God’s answer. Where are you God? Here. Where I remain. God who is with you, Emmanuel, in the midst of your suffering.

Make Our Lady of Guadalupe your consolation and your pattern. She is our consolation because she bears Jesus Christ into suffering. She is our pattern because she bears Jesus Christ into suffering. Our world of death needs the Lord of Life and Light. God has sent Jesus Christ to bring us Light and Life and God reminds us of His gift through Mary. We must remind ourselves of this gift. On Christmas day Mass, we hear the Gospel of John say: “[Jesus], the light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.” The darkness will not cease trying to overcome the light of God, Jesus Christ, who is the answer to suffering and the source of joy.

Since the darkness tries to overcome the light, it is our Christian duty to remind others of this gift of God. We must pattern ourselves after Mary and seek to make our hearts a worthy temple for Jesus Christ. We must pattern ourselves after Our Lady of Guadalupe by bringing Jesus Christ to our neighbors and our world full of grief, death and pain.

 In our first reading, the prophet Zephania we hear: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!...the Lord is in you midst.” The literal meaning of this phrase, the Lord is in your midst, is to say that the Lord is in your womb. Let us invite Jesus into the womb of our own soul so that He may be born in us in a spiritual way as He was born in the flesh for the salvation of many. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Concerning Hobbits

This week, one of my favorite books of all time was released as a movie. "The Hobbit." At the time of writing this, I haven't seen it but hope to on Friday night. It's always dangerous to see a famous book as a movie. The director's envisioning might be vastly different from your own. With "The Hobbit," I don't think too much damage will be done. Hopefully it will spur people to read the book itself. I encourage you to consider buying it for yourself or your teenager.

What is so good about this little book of a fantasy world? It speaks nothing obvious or explicit about Christ or his Church. But it is a powerful story of God's action on the human soul. You and I are Hobbits. We try to live our lives in comfort. Well fed, well rested, and enjoying a mug of ale. In the book (and hopefully the movie) we read of Bilbo, a hobbit like any other. He likes his warm home, his good food and his comfortable life.

Then something happens that drags him out of comfort and to be stretched for greater glory. His unexpected party and unlooked for adventure. What makes the Hobbit attractive is Bilbo's growth into greater glory. What happens to Bilbo is by grace or what we might call providence. At the end, Gandalf says to Bilbo: "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes where managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you, but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all."

You and I are Hobbits. In the words of Pope Benedict, "You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." At Christmas, we remember the unexpected party and unlooked for adventure of our own lives. Jesus Christ comes from outside ourselves and calls us out of our comfort to a great adventure with Him. We will be stretched for greater glory and our lives will never be the same again.

I hope "The Hobbit" movie lives up to the book. But I hope you read the book and then gain a better understanding of how our Lord calls and moves your soul to greatness.

Here is a good guide for watching/reading the Hobbit: 

5 Ways to Watch the Hobbit as a Catholic by Kevin Cotter

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Homily for First Sunday of Advent

I love the season of Advent and preparing for Christmas. I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights. This past Tuesday I saw a Christmas tree through someone’s dorm window in Binneweis. Awesome. What are the words that we use to describe this season? Other worldly. Magical. Special. Different. If we are disappointed, it is that it is over so soon. In many ways, we wish the world would always be like the Christmas season. The Church agrees with you.

 The Church agrees with you, wishing that, in many ways, the world would always be like this: magical, special, other worldly. The season of Advent is meant to be a time of opening our eyes to the world as it truly is. In truth, the world is dependent upon and waiting upon the Lord God. Let me explain.

 In a non-religious sense, the Christmas or even, dare I say, holiday, season, is a time of expectant waiting. Now, this Christmas waiting isn’t always ideal. I’m sure some people can’t wait to get drunk at the Christmas party for work or that some people can’t wait for presents due a greed in their hearts, but I hope you get the point.

 In the days before Christmas we turn away from our everyday life and little corner of our brain becomes occupied with waiting for Christmas. We wait for Christmas gifts. We wait for Christmas dinner. We wait for Christmas gatherings. Our view on the world changes. It is no long as it was but now our world is occupied by this waiting.

This waiting is to be the basic posture of the Christian faith. Let me use an image from the Mass to illustrate this. Those of you old enough to remember the Mass before 1970 and some of you younger people may have seen photos of this. For many years—even going back to the first centuries of Christianity, the Mass was said with the priest and the people facing the same direction. This posture was called ad orientem, Latin for "to the east." So that when words were addressed to the people, the priest faced them and when words were addressed to almighty God, the priest faced the altar. We still hear this sentiment in the Advent hymn, "People Look East." Our Church architecture still reflects this as well. Our very building is orientated- it has an architectural east towards which the building naturally flows.

The change from ad orientem was one of the most striking changes after the 2nd Vatican Council- although the documents never asked for it. When we look at this posture, I am sad that it is out of common practice and pray Mass in this posture almost once a week in daily Masses.

Some people mistakenly will say; “the priest had his back turned to the people.” This misses the point. Such critique is like saying that parents are cruel to children by buying toys, covering them with opaque paper and then forcing the children to look but not touch for almost 20 days before they can open them. Such a critique of ad orientem does not use eyes of faith. Such a statement forgets the priest is leading them in prayers to God. Together with the priest, the whole assembly at Mass would be physically acting like Advent or Christmas. Standing in the midst of the world but with their eyes turned towards the Lord. Not just turning in any direction but turning towards the Lord.

Isn’t that the basic identity of the Christian? In the midst of the world but seeing a reality deeper than than just our eyes. The ad orientem posture teaches us something about life. That posture teaches us something about faith. That posture teaches us, just as, in Advent, our waiting for Christmas teaches. We stay in the midst of the world, concerned for it, at the same time that our eyes are turned towards the Lord because that is where salvation is found for those people and even things we love within the world.

I’m sure you remember that this year, from October 2012 through November 2013 is a Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI. We are to study our faith more deeply. So far, the lesson that I’m learning in the Year of Faith is that I do not believe enough. I do not believe enough. This thought doesn’t condemn me; rather it opens my eyes to the possibilities of belief. It opens my eyes to a new reality of Christian life. I stand in the world but I am to turn my eyes upon the Lord. That is where I wish to be with you, shoulder to shoulder in the midst of this world, with our eyes turned towards the Lord.