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Reflections on Catholic Faith - December 2009 - Challenges to prepare us for the Coming of the Christmas Miracle

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December 28, 2009

Feast of Holy Innocents

This past week, I preached at two of the weekday Masses. And at one of them, I preached about the fact that none of us is called to be comfortable Catholics. And in fact, I said for the 2nd or 3rd time in recent weeks -- that John the Baptist is our model. We need to be prophets because by our baptisms, we were gifted and given the roles of priest, prophet and king. I could get into interpreting what each of those means. But just sticking with prophet -- I asked -- where are those among us... in our parish... in our town... in our state... where are those who stood up and said about the so-called health care with abortion contained in it -- where are the prophets who say, “THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN!”?

Over and over there is the slaughter of innocents... and I’m not sure whether this should be a feast or if this should be declared a national day of mourning. At least for faithful Catholics and some Evangelicals.

Some time ago, I preached at a Sunday Mass about our first daughter. Of our children -- Barbara would have been voted by her siblings and parents as the most likely to be a mother. A deliriously happy and good parent. Alas, for a lot of years, Barb wasn’t able to find Mr. Right and it looked as if she would become a never-married woman instead of a bride and mom.

In God’s time -- Barbara did meet a wonderful fellow. We are so blessed to have her husband Mike in our family. He is a great husband and provider.
After they were married, we found out that Barb was pregnant and expecting her first child. I related in my homily how, among other steps, Barb had had an ultrasound. The picture (at 10 weeks development) was posted on their refrigerator. You could see the hands and legs and they had already named her Maggie. I had a love affair going with Maggie. We prayed about and for her and I just couldn’t wait.

All things were okay until about six months of gestation when something began to happen while Barbara was on a women’s retreat. Long story short, she was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in the Phoenix basin. Although they tried to stop it, Barbara gave birth to Maggie Lynn -- and Maggie lived for only a few minutes. A Catholic Deacon was on duty and I am told that he did a baptism for Maggie. We were devastated. I am so happy to report that Barb and Mike now have two other girls who were born healthy and that their family is well under way. I wanted to share this story because even though I wasn’t present in Phoenix when Maggie was born, I saw her 10 week ultrasound picture. And later, something else happened.

Not too many weeks before my wife and I moved from Colorado, it was early on a Saturday morning and I received a call from a young couple in our parish. During the night, the wife delivered a baby boy who had been in the womb some 10 to 12 weeks. The boy, of course died -- the parents were distraught and couldn’t reach the priest in our parish. They called me -- in tears -- what should they do?

I went over to their house to hold a prayer service -- we prayed over the baby boy and we discussed what options they had. Should they have a funeral? Should the baby be buried or not?

This was life ended prematurely, albeit naturally and according to God plan and purpose. But there was a boy -- with arms and legs and head and torso -- he had been alive in the womb. He was an innocent child who is now giving glory to God in Heaven as a mature soul. I’ll bet he’s praying for his parents and for his baby sister who was born later, thanks be to God.

In the time that it has taken me to prepare these words, more than 60 babies have been surgically aborted in the U. S. -- some 3,000 per day according to Physicians For Life.

The slaughter of holy innocents continue. Where are the prophets who say THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN? Where are the politicians with guts who will speak on the floor of the House of Senate and not allow any bill to be approved which in any way gives lip-service to choice over life?

Let us invoke the slaughtered Holy Innocents of the 60’s and on up to current times to seek the assistance of Herod’s original slaughtered Holy Innocents: abortion must end. Respect for all life must return to this country and the world. America must stop funding death and contraception and fetal research. God help us. THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN!


Reading 1
1 Jn 1:5—2:2
This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say, “We have fellowship with him,”
while we continue to walk in darkness,
we lie and do not act in truth.
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light,
then we have fellowship with one another,
and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
If we say, “We are without sin,”
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just
and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.
If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar,
and his word is not in us.
My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.

Responsorial Psalm
124:2-3, 4-5, 7cd-8

R.        (7) Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Had not the LORD been with us—
When men rose up against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us.
R.        Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Then would the waters have overwhelmed us;
The torrent would have swept over us;
over us then would have swept the raging waters.
R.        Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Broken was the snare,
and we were freed.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
R.        Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Mt 2:13-18
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

December 21, 2009


You know dear friends -- there is a saying... a somewhat cutting saying that says if you don’t want Catholics to know something, put it in a book. I don’t remember who it was that said that, and I know is sounds caustic, it is probably true that we have a significant number of Catholics who practice their faith based upon what they learned from their parents or however they got started with the faith. For many, that could have been 20 or 30 or 50 years ago... and those Catholics haven’t read the Bible... they haven’t read the Catechism... they haven’t read the lives of any of the saints.

So what’s the problem you ask? I mean -- they come to Mass, they contribute to the envelope collection each week... they may even help in ministry at the altar... so what’s the problem? Well -- the problem is -- they don’t know about their faith. Their faith is strictly what they do -- it isn’t what they know or believe. And you know -- you can’t pass on things we do to our children or grandchildren -- because they will come to an age and say, “Well - that’s what the old folks do -- but it doesn’t mean anything to me.” And off they go.

And by and large, where do current generations of young people want to go? Well -- to one of the feel-good, have a great emotional time and hang out with your friends type of Church. And who can blame them? They aren’t getting the excitement, the zest, the history, the knowledge of the faith from faith-elders.
Now -- none of these words are directed at us here today. These words  came to mind because when I studied today’s readings -- the first thing I wanted to do was to go to our Catechism and see what it said about the word or term PROPHET. 
A prophet is one sent by God to form the people of the Old Covenant in the hope of salvation. The prophets are often authors of the books of the Old Testament..... and John the Baptist (whom we’ve been hearing about in our Mass readings) concludes the work of the prophets of the Old Testament.

But what then came to my mind is -- do we believe that there is no need for prophets and guides in this day and age? Do we believe that it’s solely the job of the priest? Well -- we don’t have enough priests -- and few are prophetically leading the people to raise families which spawn more vocations. Where are the street-level leaders of this day and age? Look what some among us have caused by voting in the largest growth in abortion ever.... ever. Where were the voices in Payson who stood strong and said this cannot happen?

Where are the trained or at least enthused people who are the prophets of this parish, this county, this state? And lest we think that this isn’t ours to be involved in... then we haven’t been keeping our Catholic studies up to date because by our Baptism into the Catholic Faith - we are all appointed as priest, prophet and king. Catholics are now part of the prophetic calling for the new covenant -- and perhaps -- just perhaps, if enough Catholics studied their faith and made ready to stand up in knowledge for our beliefs and our principles, immediately, our mouths will be open and our tongues freed... and we will help lead others to a return to this being a Christian land... a land which isn’t afraid to say Merry Christmas in our schools or our town government offices. A while back there were some essays written under the title, “While America Slept.” God help us -- there are days when I feel some prophet ought to write a book, “While Catholics Slept.”
Reading 1
Mal 3:1-4, 23-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.
Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

Responsorial Psalm
25:4-5ab, 8-9, 10 and 14

R.        (see Luke 21:28)  Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R.        Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
R.        Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
All the paths of the LORD are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.
R.        Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.

Lk 1:57-66
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
            and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

December 14, 2009

Many of the faithful now recognize the difference between a priest and a deacon. They may not know all of the nuances of what a deacon can do versus a priest. And routinely, as people are leaving Church on Sunday, someone or ones will call me 'father' as they shake my hand. I gave up trying to correct this -- it doesn't matter. And as I've joked fifty times, it hasn't changed my pay grade any (smile -- doubling zero still equals zero!)

There are a few unique vestments that a deacon wears. The dalmatic is an outer garment that a deacon puts on -- most times for special liturgies of celebration, e.g. Pentecost, ordinations, etc. A deacon also wears a stole over one shoulder and it is cinched at his side.

The stole that I wear has a couple meanings -- so they shared with us in the seminary. First -- it has resemblance to a towel put over the shoulder so that deacons are reminded of serving at the Table of the Lord. It also is symbolic of the towel that Jesus took up as we see the priest do at the drying of feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy. The other meaning is that a stole denotes an authority granted by the worldwide Church. I am granted authority to proclaim the Gospel, to preach, to assist at marriages, funerals and baptisms, etc. I have no authority to hear confessions or say Mass.

The authority to do these functions is by way of ‘faculties’ (a letter of assignment to use my authority) in a particular place in the Church or in society (prison, hospital, etc.). So there are actually two types of authority associated with what a deacon can do in the Catholic Church.

And my point is? It doesn't matter how talented I think I am; it doesn't matter what my academic credentials may or may not be, I receive the biblically derived authority to do certain tasks from the Church.

In the parish where a deacon is assigned, he serves under the authority of the bishop but reports to the pastor. He is to do his utmost to assist the pastor in his role as local shepherd of the flock. This isn't always easy. Some priests resent deacons. Some priests don't respect or want deacons. And some deacons create problems by their approach or assumed rank and privilege. (By the way -- they have the 'rank' of servant and the privilege of serving). All too sadly, some priests don't help the relationship.

All of this gets back to authority. So many people, especially miss-formed people after Vatican II assume authority is granted to the laity based upon a goal of an involved laity assisting the pastor to run the parish. And as suggested above, some poorly formed or insecure priests will operate from a 'my way or the highway' approach to working with the flocks they serve. Sad. Really sad. I know of some changes that needed to take place in a former parish --- they couldn’t happen until a new pastor was assigned.

This is a part of the human side of the Church. And as they told me in deacon formation, ‘the last place to look for perfection is in the Church.’ And come to think of it -- we can say the same for federal, state and local governments, our court systems, school systems, etc. Goodness and right ought to be the daily operating standard. And perfection only as an ultimate goal.... when Christ returns at the end of time.

A friend of mine -- also a podcaster and blogger is Fr. Jay Finelli. His site is found at ipadre.net. He is a wonderful, faith-filled and faithful priest.... and you might really enjoy his internet broadcasts and or his blog. Just yesterday he posted a blog column called “What If We Were Obedient?" He writes about the recent efforts to block the approval of the changes to the new translations of the Roman Missal for use in the United States and English speaking countries.

In his blog, Fr. Jay says the following: “During and right up until the final vote, certain people fought tooth and nail to stop the new translation from being approved by the US Bishops.  They failed!  As we know, it was approved and is now awaiting final approval from Rome, before it goes to press.

If we were handed a horrible translation, like the one in current use, we would be expected to use it, no questions asked.  

And if we were to question it, we would be called disobedient, radicals, non-conformists and maybe even traditionalists.  However, since the new translation has been approved, there is a new group, which wants to do their own “grassroots review of the new Roman Missal”.  This group has a website called “What If We Just Said Wait?”.  On the website is a petition with a “Statement of Concern”.

No!  Enough is enough!  No translation is perfect, and if that is what we want, then let’s just go back to the Latin.  If not, there is no more time for waiting.  We have waited long enough!  Maybe the signers of the “wait” website should ask another question, “What if we were to be obedient?””

Now what is behind Fr. Jay's column is the fact that we have constant dissent and disrespect for authority in society any more. This isn't a categoric indictment -  but it is sadly becoming a near pandemic statement of what's happening in the Church and in society at large.

Your rules don't apply to me. I set my own speed limits. I'll tell you what I agree to. Sometimes it's more subtle than that -- but dissent from authority is present.  Sadly -- it's a sign that we are becoming a post-Christian culture which has adopted the me-first, my way approach to life.

I would ask you to pray for our Church and its people Maybe we can't and don't want to go back to the 1940's and 1950's in most senses of the times. But we are certainly not humble and servant-oriented as Jesus was... as his first followers were. Perhaps you can scan the internet and look for the beautiful humility prayer. I know I need it often to give me some sense of balance about my life and faith practice. And yes, I do recommend it for priests too. Teach me YOUR ways O Lord.

Reading 1
Nm 24:2-7, 15-17a

When Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel encamped, tribe by tribe,
the spirit of God came upon him,
and he gave voice to his oracle:
The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor,
the utterance of a man whose eye is true,
The utterance of one who hears what God says,
and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees,
enraptured, and with eyes unveiled:
How goodly are your tents, O Jacob;
your encampments, O Israel!
They are like gardens beside a stream,
like the cedars planted by the LORD.
His wells shall yield free-flowing waters,
he shall have the sea within reach;
His king shall rise higher,
and his royalty shall be exalted.
Then Balaam gave voice to his oracle:
The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor,
the utterance of the man whose eye is true,
The utterance of one who hears what God says,
and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees,
enraptured, and with eyes unveiled.
I see him, though not now;
I behold him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a staff shall rise from Israel.

Responsorial Psalm
25:4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9

R.        (4) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R.        Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your kindness are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R.        Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
R.        Teach me your ways, O Lord.

Mt 21:23-27
When Jesus had come into the temple area,
the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him
as he was teaching and said,
“By what authority are you doing these things?
And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me,
then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things.
Where was John’s baptism from?
Was it of heavenly or of human origin?”
They discussed this among themselves and said,
“If we say ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us,
‘Then why did you not believe him?’
But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd,
for they all regard John as a prophet.”
So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.”
He himself said to them,
“Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

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