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Reflections on Catholic Faith - December 2008 - Mary is the Reason for the Season

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December 29, 2008

The Four Last Things

These words are contained in today’s Gospel as they were also mentioned in this past Sunday’s Gospel: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” The words of Simeon – the gift given to him – a vision of the Holy One with whom he, Simeon would spend eternity.

And yet – we humans must pass through death to gain access to what God has ready for us. This leads to the theology of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. A preacher shouldn’t need to spend much time on death because it is the only unarguable, permanent, proof-positive fact that everyone in the world agrees upon. Yes, Virginia there is a reality called death. For most of us, death will be a liberation from some amount of suffering in our lives (JPII). Death is the ultimate surrender from which none of us can escape. And so, a ccording to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: "You are dust and to dust you shall return."

Have you ever been around anyone who has had a near-death experience? Father Dwight Long told a story of his grandfather who was run over by a car… the grandfather saved two of grandsons from harm – but the man himself was crushed… and his internal organs were so damaged that it was impossible to surgically repair him…. And he died. But just before he died – his wife was with him at his hospital bed – and just moments before he died – he came back to consciousness and he looked up to the corner of the ceiling.. he said, “Can you see them Esther – they are so beautiful.”

Many of us have heard of such stories – people gifted with a vision of what it’s like on the other side… they are given a glimpse of who is waiting for them… or there is an inviting white light… These stories give us comfort – and for some, they may give faith or hope of a better world to come. And what we need to take into our inner belief – what we need to accept and prepare for (by the lives we live) is that heaven is more real – totally real than anything else we know of here on earth. In fact everything here isn’t real – if by real we mean permanent.

There are enough of these stories to remind us that heaven is real… and not just from anecdotes. St. Therese, the Little Flower spoke of a vision of heaven where, in heaven, each piece of dust is a jewel. Other holy ones gifted with heavenly or beatific visions have had their lives radically changed…. St. Paul was one of them and he tells us that no eye has yet seen what God has ready for those who love Him. And C. S. Lewis in his book The Great Divorce, wrote of souls given a day pass from Purgatory and allowed to visit Heaven… and when they get there – they find they can’t walk on the grass because each blade of grass is like a tiny sword… cutting their feet. It is so much more real than anything experienced in our human life.

And so most Christians will believe or hope -- taking comfort that there is a ‘goodness’ waiting for us on the other side. But many ‘believers’ don’t see or can’t accept the reality of judgment… and all-too-many have given up belief in hell. A good God wouldn’t condemn anyone to hell they say. Even some clergy give in and preach such a corrupted gospel.

It is beyond the scope of a short reflection such as this to expound on judgment and hell. I refer you to the Catholic Catechism for a scripturally based teaching on these matters. What is interesting is that there are countless examples of natural laws that no one will ignore or dispute… the law of gravity is but one example. You may dispute that a Good God would create a world in which someone could be killed for ignoring a law of gravity – and if that person wishes to test that law – he’d best be prepared for a smashing demonstration of the permanence of the effect of gravity – and he’d best be prepared for meeting his maker.

It takes no great leap of wisdom to believe that there are moral laws which are as absolute and which have consequences… and if (finally) – one comes to accept the truth of these absolutes, then to keep violating moral laws and expecting God’s eternal forbearance is not a wise position to assume.

In our parish – a few of us will be in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on New Year’s Eve from 11pm till midnight – welcoming in 2009 in a quiet and peaceful manner. I, for one will spend some time considering these matters. I hope you will do so as well.

So – as I prepare this last reflection for 2008 – this summary of what we might consider as we end this year and prepare for the new – I recommend that each of us could spend time meditating upon the realities of death, judgment, heaven and hell.

Reading 1
1 Jn 2:3-11

Beloved: The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked. Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. And yet I do write a new commandment to you, which holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Responsorial Psalm
Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 5b-6
R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty go before him;
praise and grandeur are in his sanctuary.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Lk 2:22-35
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

December 22, 2008

Praying for Priests and Vocations

Words from our first reading: “I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.” She left Samuel there.

I don’t think I have ever seen the likes of our Catholic Church and its relationship with priests. While certainly the last couple generations have brought about many areas of change and damage to the pedestal that we put priests on – I can tell you from my recent years as a deacon – that no authority figure – no leader – no guide -- no shepherd has more effect and affect on people than our Catholic priests. Whether we talk about holy, loving dedicated priests and bishops who brave the slings and arrows of second guessing, gossip or outright ambush – or we talk about priests who have betrayed the trust placed in them – what reaction… what expectation… what love… what hurt can be brought about by priests in this day and age.

It is a great sadness to me that in these last ten years, I believe I have only met one family – one family out of hundreds – perhaps thousands of families that I have met. One family in which the parents are praying for and encouraging their son to become a priest. One family. What a great famine in our families…

Now – those are some sad aspects – but I have had some periods and experiences of uplift.

Going to Rome and meeting seminarians in the North American College – to see those men (well -- let me add -- nuns too ) who are studying for ordination for service to the Church in America. They are so awesome – so scrubbed – so much like the image of the priesthood we beg God for. That gives me hope. That should give us all hope. They will be the future bishops and cardinals, God willing.

I’ve also seen and met some of the men studying at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH. Some will go on to major seminary and will become on-fire priests, God willing. If you met them – this would give you hope. May it please God that we pray for vocations… we pray for these men and pray for the future of our Church in America.

From our Gospel of today: ““My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Mary our Mother in Heaven gave over her only begotten Son – and she proclaimed the greatness of God even though she was to lose Him to sin so that He could overcome sin and death. It is through the priesthood that the work of Christ continues on earth. We need priests. We need deacons. We need sisters. We need prayer. We need the support and encouragement of priests.

Mary, Lover of priests…. Mary the Mother of priests… pray for us. Amen.

Reading 1
1 Sm 1:24-28

In those days Hannah brought Samuel with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh. After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull, Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
She left Samuel there.

Responsorial Psalm
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd

R. (see 1a) My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted in my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry batten on spoil. The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The LORD puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; he raises up again. The LORD makes poor and makes rich, he humbles, he also exalts.”

R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“He raises the needy from the dust; from the dung heap he lifts up the poor, To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.”

R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.

Lk 1:46-56

Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.

December 15, 2008

Advent Mother Mary & Her Other Titles

In a recent homily at our parish, I spoke to the morning Mass attendees saying that next year, we should go together and have custom made t-shirts prepared for us all to wear. This would be the message: ADVENT – Mary Is the Reason for the Season. It sounds sort of strange when people suggest the message that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Jesus is the reason for everything – every Word – every facet of creation. Jesus is certainly the reason for Christmas and the Incarnation. And at the holy name of Jesus every knee shall bend. But about His mother, we know she was present at the first Advent season. In fact, she was the first ever participant in Advent. And of course, it was she who gave birth to the Word, and she who helped raise Jesus. Good Christian men and women have understood Mary under and with a variety of titles that convey her singular role in all of salvation history.

The beautiful picture accompanying this reflection is called Our Lady of the New Advent. And here are some wonderful words of meditation – spoken by Mary’s Son: "My children: open to me; give me a place in your heart.  I have descended from Heaven to earth in order to form my life in each one of you.  My Mother is the center in which I reside, and all my children will be the circumference, in which I want to form so many of my lives for as many as are my children."

The most beautiful and familiar recognition of Mary’s Advent place in history has Scriptural origins and is found in the opening words of the prayer to her: Hail Mary, Full of Grace…. Blessed are you among women…Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” We Catholics – and many others lift our eyes toward Our Mother when we hear or sing the Ave Maria, or favorite hymns such as On This Day, O Beautiful Mother, or Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest. And I’ve had the opportunity to listen to seminarians and priests who sing Salve Regina in Latin as the hymn to end special liturgies or before going to bed. The opening words in English of Salve Regina are: “Hail, Mary, Mother and Queen of tender mercy….” The hymn asks Mary to show Jesus to us when we complete our sojourn here on earth.

There is a beautiful Litany of the Blessed Virgin. It honors and asks her intercession under titles such as Seat of Wisdom, Ark of the Covenant, Morning Star and many other titles. There are Scriptural, theological and devotional reasons for applying these to Our Blessed Lady.

Calling Mary the Seat of Wisdom comes from Mary’s ‘fiat’ (Be it done to me according to your word).

Her womb and her life were host and sustenance to the Son of God made man. God’s Holy Wisdom was a physical part of her body, and Mary demonstrated subordinate wisdom by agreeing to God’s plan for salvation.

In the Book of Exodus, there is a description of the Ark of the Covenant… it was a symbol of God present to the chosen people. The Ark contained the Commandments – God’s way of life for His people. Mary then was the Ark of the (new) Covenant – hosting Jesus in her holy body. Jesus is the new Covenant between God and man.

Did you know that Planet Venus is referred to as the morning star? Venus appears in the eastern sky just before or at the rising of the sun. The title ‘Morning Star’ honors the coming of Jesus Christ – the Sun and Son of a new day – the dawning of the day of redemption. In the days remaining in Advent – turn to Mary… pull out your rosary and speak – just speak to the Queen of the Rosary. Or, look and find a Litany to her… Tell her you recognize that she is truly Our Lady of the New Advent – the one who will help give birth to her Son in the manger of your heart.

Advent blessings.




December 8, 2008


It isn’t so much spoken these days, but it was common a while ago to compliment someone’s house as being immaculate. And we know there is wholesomeness in some women that can be so attractive – so pure that it invites most to a gaze of loving respect.

But dear friends -- there is a purity… a wholesomeness that is so blinding that it alone can be described as Immaculate. That is the capitalized word given to the Mother of Christ. It is the word used to describe the gifts given to Mary at the time of conception in the womb of Mary’s mother Anne. There is a God-given Immaculate calling such that even the parents of the Blessed Virgin are honored as saints in the Catholic Church.

Let me digress for moments and share about the evils and filth of prostitution or pornography. The act of prostitution has never taken place in public places. It happens in seedy motel rooms with blinds or curtains that are shut. It happens in places that charge by the customer or by the hour. If it happens in higher socio-economic settings, it is still kept secret. Why is it that this sin that some people even espouse to be legalized doesn’t happen in the open?

Why is pornography running rampant and affecting marriages and teenagers and even clergy? Why isn’t it happening out in the open? It is because each purveyor of this filth – and each user of this filth know down deep inside that it is the work of the devil. It is the dishonoring of the dignity of women (and men). Worse – it is the most serious of moral injuries when it involves children.

Christ said that for those who harm the ‘little ones,’ that it is better that a millstone were tied around their neck and they be thrown into the water to drown.

Amidst the growth of evil in our society… amidst the clamor for more self-determination and ‘freedom’ to do whatever one wants, people are becoming more coarse and vulgar. Television becomes more unfettered year after year. Marriages are destroyed at a rate of 50 percent and more. And in the uncontrolled communication arena know as the Internet – inquisitive children (and morally weakened adults) are beckoned… enticed to see and explore the basest of human sinfulness. It is no wonder that God is allowing much pain and suffering upon our society. May God have mercy upon us.

And yet – there is a woman – a holy and Immaculate woman who gives us example, leadership and hope. Her name is Mary – she is the mother of our Savior Jesus Christ. She has come to visit the world in several apparitions. There is a beautiful hymn about Mary. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it sung. But this old hymn stays with me. It makes me yearn for restoration of my own Baptismal innocence. I beg forgiveness of my failings and ask for a holy and immaculate ‘Christ-ening’ in my life again. Here are the words of this hymn.

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day; Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!

Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine; Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!

Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread; Mary the stem, Christ the Rose, blood-red!

Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood; Mary the cup; Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple; Christ the temple’s Lord; Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!

Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest; Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!

Mary the mother, Christ the Mother’s Son By all things blest while endless ages run. Amen.

I urge each of us to renounce all that is impure, suggestive, coarse, vulgar or destructive of good value in society. Turn off the TV and not let our children hear or be exposed. Let us pray this day for Mary’s help to begin a journey back to the innocence and beauty given to man and woman in the Garden of Eden.

Reading 1
Gn 3:9-15, 20
After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree, the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!” The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; on your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4

R. (1) Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
Sing to the LORD a new song; for he has done wondrous deeds; His right hand has won victory for him, his holy arm.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
The LORD has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice. He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God. Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.

R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.

Reading II
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12
Brothers and sisters: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.

In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.

Lk 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “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 behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

December 1, 2008


I ended last month’s reflection saying that I’d would share a few more words about becoming saints – about us trying to be more like saints. Our Gospel for today has some telling words – “Lord, I am not worthy….. but if you say the word, it will be accomplished!” God has the power to transform us… and therein is the secret – surrendering to the power of Christ and allowing Him to transform us.

Now here’s a thought about the transforming power of the Lord – and the idea of being a part of something vastly greater. If you are reasonably close to your Catholic faith – and I pray to Jesus that you are, I hope in your journey, you have found a favorite priest… or a nun or a deacon… someone who has moved you… someone you love or loved… someone who became a part of your journey and your heart. Being with them… talking to them… listening to their holy sharings… these can help you in steps toward sainthood. Here’s an example.

I have more than one such journey-mate. One in particular is a priest. Father Pat was, at times a Christ to me… Several years ago – Father Pat sent a Christmas card and these are the words of his handwritten message: “Thomas, you were chosen to be perfect – to be holy and blameless in His sight. And if you ask how this can be -- t he answer is: of yourself, you can’t. But if, like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, you say: Be it done unto me according to your word – if you are willing – then, as we know from the Gospel – the power of the Most High will overcome you – and you will receive the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Pat concluded by writing: “You must be willing to live out the reason that God made you… to be holy, to be blameless in his sight, and to be full of love.” From those handwritten words, you can tell why Fr. Pat is most special to my wife and me.

My friends – my Advent and Christmas friends – there is only one way to start the journey to become full of love – and that is to worthily feed yourself with the gift of the babe… the gifts of Passover, of Calvary… the gift of the Eucharist… And as the Power of the Eucharist changes you – empowers you to become blameless and holy, imagine Jesus saying of you, “Behold, never have I seen such faith.”

As the words of a popular Christian praise song of these days go: “I Can Only Imagine.”

Jesus – let it be!

Reading 1
Is 2:1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come, The mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 122:1-2, 3-4b, 4cd-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
I rejoiced because they said to me, “We will go up to the house of the LORD." And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity. To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD.

R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May those who love you prosper! May peace be within your walls, prosperity in your buildings.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Because of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you!"
Because of the house of the LORD, our God, I will pray for your good.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Mt 8:5-11

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.”
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