A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The dignity of obedience

One of the options for the second reading on today's Feast of the Holy Family, reminds wives and children of their obligation to obey.

Not exactly a popular message for many wives and children (especially when they do not consider the equal or greater obligations Scripture imposes on husbands and fathers).

In today's culture, obedience is an abhorrent concept: an offense against human dignity and harmful to one's self-esteem.

But in today's Gospel (Luke 2:41-52) we hear that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ "was obedient" to the very human Joseph and Mary.

Obedience was not something abhorrent to Christ nor did he consider it an affront to his dignity or a threat to his self-esteem.

Obedience was essential to the dignity of the Holy Family: obedience, love and respect for one another flowing from their obedience, love and respect for God the Father.

Obedience in God is necessary for an environment for growing in grace, wisdom and strength.

Each of us need to consider obedience as part of the way we live our lives, whether we are living with our families or not: obedience to each other as appropriate, obedience to the truth and to the greater good, but - most of all - obedience to God and to the way of truth and love he calls us to follow - for in the will of our loving God lies our greatest dignity.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Resolution Proposal

For your consideration and mine,
a proposal for a New Year's Resolution this year:

That I will seriously and prayerfully
explore the meaning of the vocation
to which God has called me
and walk more firmly and boldly
in the path God has set out for me
in the name of Jesus.

Looks good, feels good, ends badly

Opportunities for pleasure seem to be all around us, promising happiness and deliverance from boredom.

But invariably these are just opportunities for greater enslavement and for estrangement from true happiness and eternal excitement.

That is the warning of today's first reading (1 John 2:12-17).

Do not love the world
or the things of the world.

If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father is not in him.

For all that is in the world,
sensual lust,
enticement for the eyes,
and a pretentious life,
is not from the Father
but is from the world.

Yet the world and its enticement
are passing away.

But whoever does the will of God
remains forever.

By the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may we pull away from the traps of this world and persevere in the good things that are true and everlasting.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sanctimonious haters

The world is full of sanctimonious haters, even in a faith that emphasizes forgiveness.

Some liberals are sanctimonious about tolerance and diversity and water down the concept of sin to undetectability while they vehemently denounce and hatefully despise conservatives.

Some conservatives are sanctimonious about their orthodoxy and rubrical correctness while they violate charity and over-emphasize their favorite corners of Church doctrine to the point of distortion.

Today's first reading (1 John 2:3-11) speaks to all of us about truly knowing Christ.

The way we may be sure that we know him
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.

May we love each other in Christ and in truth.

The Commander in Chief

replaced his most troublesome enemy with his very best friend.

His friend, however, took his new job very seriously and the Commander in Chief grew more and more frustrated and angry.

After conflict after conflict, the Commander in Chief cried out in exasperation.

Some military officers overheard him and decided to eliminate his former friend.

They murdered Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own cathedral on this very day in 1170. He was canonized three years later.

(From an earlier post)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is online at From the Anchor Hold.

Self-deception and sin

A moral theology professor used to make jokes about liberal theologians "who take away the sin of the world" by minimizing the reality or effects of personal sin to the point of nonexistence.

It is amazing that anyone can look at this world today, from the horrors of genocide to the collateral damage of personal selfishness, and deny the reality of sin or disconnect people from any responsibility, but that is what is put forward by too many "facile prophets of happiness" (to use the Holy Father's phrase from this Christmas' Urbi et Orbi).

The words from today's first reading (1 John 1:5-2:2) speak directly to this treacherous self-deception with the light of truth and forgiveness that is real.

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.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.

On this Feast of the Holy Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents by Guido Reni (1611), Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna

On this Feast of the Holy Innocents who were murdered by Herod in his eagerness to defend his lifestyle, let us remember in prayer those millions of unborn children killed every year by abortion.

Let us also pray for those who are tempted to choose abortion and those who have committed it.

We also need to work for a world that protects children even in the womb and that takes good care of children, their mothers, and their families.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Seeing and believing

Today's Gospel (John 20:1a, 2-8) says that when the beloved disciple went inside Christ's tomb "he saw and believed."

Faith is a gift from God, which enables us to look upon the world and see the deep meaning and eternal reality that underlies all things.

Amid the confusion, suffering, and injustices around us, may God give us more of this grace and increase our faith, so that we too may see clearly, believe firmly, accomplish lovingly, and speak boldly in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The one Jesus loved

In today's Gospel (John 20:1a, 2-8) and throughout the Gospel according to St. John, one of the disciples is always referred to as "the one whom Jesus loved."

This disciple has been identified as John the Apostle, whose Feast we celebrate today.

As I mentioned in a similar post last year, the repetition of the phrase "the one whom Jesus loved" in this very literary Gospel indicates a deeper meaning than just describing a relationship between two historical people.

Indeed, each of us by our baptism are to be disciples "whom Jesus loves."

And so, the Gospel writer is in some sense placing us in the middle of these great events that he recounts.

You are there.

You are the one whom Jesus loves.

Live that way.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Seeing the glory

It was the most difficult moment of his life.

He was surrounded by enemies and there was no way out.

As we hear in today’s first reading (Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59), it was at that moment that Stephen was given a glimpse of glory and the grace to persevere and even stand strong in the midst of overwhelming challenges.

But (Stephen), being full of the Holy Ghost,
looked up stedfastly into heaven,
and saw the glory of God,
and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
And said,
Behold, I see the heavens opened,
and the Son of man standing
on the right hand of God.

No matter what challenges you and I may face, may we always look to the Lord so that we may receive from him a glimpse of glory and the grace of perseverance in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Pondering the Word.

The Number One Guy

Upper management reviewed all the candidates and picked seven men for promotion.

Steve was the first picked and was the obvious star of the group.

Steve exceeded all expectations. No one sold like he did and he really cleaned up against the competition.

Then Steve found himself the target of some serious accusations. He was hauled into court, but didn't let it rattle him. Instead, he continued to sell - right there in the middle of the court with the competition all around.

The competition was beside themselves with anger, so they took Steve outside and killed him.

Thus, Steve was the first to be picked and the first to die.

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and first Martyr of the Christian faith.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Feeling empty at Christmas

For many of us, there is an emptiness that comes at Christmas.

For some of us, the incessant cultural drumbeat of Christmas as a time of love and "family” cruelly reminds us how empty our lives really are.

For some of us, the intense anticipation of THE Really Great Present and the giddy denouement have given way to the emptiness of "so what happens now?"

This flies in the face of today's culture, which tells us that Christmas is all about being full: full tables, full bellies, and full credit cards.

In truth, Christmas is about something very different:

But rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.

(Phillipians 2:7)

But as we hear in today's Gospel (John 1:1-18), this emptying (kenosis) by the Son of God means fullness beyond all imagining:

And the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us,
full of grace and truth;
we have beheld his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father....
And from his fullness have we all received,
grace upon grace.

The fullness that Christ offers us is greater than any fullness or emptiness we may ever experience in our earthly lives.

The fullness that Christ offers us is truth: an infinite resonance of reality, wisdom, and purpose that can bring light to all our days and wonders ever new in eternity beyond.

The fullness that Christ offers us is grace: a sharing in the life of God himself, with overflowing comfort, undefeatable strength, and limitless joy.

May we empty ourselves of our egos, of our selfishness, and of anything else that may keep us from walking in the fullness of Christ in this life so that we may receive and share that fullness in all its beauty and experience that love beyond all telling in our hearts and in our souls in the name of Jesus: the child born in Bethlehem, the eternal Son of God, the Lord of all, and the Savior who gives us his life.

The Word became "brief"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

'We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.

'God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love.

'God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us.

'In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of l ove, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.

'And so we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up – he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity.

'Yet now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us?

'This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high.

'Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created.

'During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord’s words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!

'And so, finally, we find yet a third meaning in the saying that the Word became "brief" and "small". The shepherds were told that they would find the child in a manger for animals, who were the rightful occupants of the stable. Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans – and thus all humanity – who each in their own way have need of a Saviour: the God who became a child.

'Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labour. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again we see how he became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, he gives us himself.

'All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us.

'Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!'

Homily by Pope Benedict XVI
Mass at Midnight 2006
(translation by the Holy See)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Jump for joy

In today's Gospel (Luke 1:39-45), John the Baptist leaps for joy in the presence of the Lord, even while he is still in his mother’s womb.

In this Christmas season that is about to begin,
and in all the seasons and years that God grants us
may our hearts and souls always leap for joy
at the thought and in the presence
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Have mercy on me and lift up my heart
that I may sing your praises
in the eternal joy of your Holy Spirit.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

When the sun rises in the morning sky,
you will see the King of Kings...

from the Magnificat Antiphon for tonight's Vespers
December 24th

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Stick to it

In today's Gospel (Luke 1:57-66), a old man and an old woman stick to what they have heard from the Lord, even as all their friends and neighbors try to talk them out of it.

As we have looked ahead to Christmas
(now just two days away),
perhaps the thought has come to us
that we could make this Christmas
a very special one:
perhaps a turning point,
for us to really immerse ourselves
in what we celebrate this day
and to live that mystery from that day on
in a full way, each and every day
- profoundly and joyfully.

A good thought.

By the Lord's grace, let us stick to it.

Accused priest assigned to parish

Father John had been a teacher, but he was assigned to a parish after accusations were raised.

After several years, he was completely exonerated and was able to return to his position at the University.

He was very popular with his students, mindful of the poor, and willing to give his life for his faith.

St. John Cantius died on Christmas eve in 1473 in Krakow, Poland, and was canonized in 1767. His memory is celebrated on this day.

Later he would be an inspiration for another Krakow priest who was also a professor and would become the great Pope John Paul II.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Everything turns upside down

She is just a teenage girl from a small town.

And suddenly she is at the very center of God's plan for the universe.

The amazement of the Blessed Virgin Mary is quite evident in today's Gospel (Luke 1:46-56): in the exultant words of her Magnificat.

...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.

A little later, as she reflects on the mercy of God, she observes how the Lord turns the ways of the world upside down.

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.

Sometimes things happen in our lives that seem to turn our little corners of the universe upside down.

Yet, like Mary, if we keep the Lord as the center of our lives, no matter what happens, no matter how the world may spin and churn around us, we will be eternally secure and internally peaceful in the tender, unconquerable mercy of our God.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Vocation Answers

The Diocese of Phoenix
has a wonderful new site called
Vocation Answers.

It has good information about
vocations to the priesthood...

...vocations to the religious life...

...and praying for discernment...

look upon our troubled times,
which need preachers of the Gospel,
witnesses to you,
persons who can point the way
to 'life in abundance'!

"With this petition
we knock on God's door;
but with the same petition
the Lord is also knocking
on the doors of our own heart.

"Lord, do you want me?
Is it not perhaps too big for me?
Am I too small for this?

"' Do not be afraid,'
the angel said to Mary.

"' Do not fear.
I have called you by name
God says through the Prophet Isaiah
to us
-- to each of us."

(Pope Benedict XVI)

Love is on the way

A passage from the Song of Songs (2:8-14) is one of the options given today for the first reading.

The selection of ancient Hebrew love poetry may seem like a strange choice, in some respect, but it represents the yearning love of the Church as it awaits the arrival of its beloved Savior.

Hark! my lover – here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
"Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!
For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land..."

For some reason, the juxtaposition of these verses with the imminent feast of the Nativity makes me think of a small but very playful child, capering and playing peek-a-boo with his mother.

Did our Lord play thusly with his mother and St. Joseph? Quite possibly.

These reveries should remind us that the Lord of heaven and earth, through whom all things were made, really became one like us (in all things but sin): a child and then a man but always in love with the people for whom he came and for whom he would give his life.

With this same love he calls to us

Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.

May we speak to the Lord from our hearts.

May we let his grace make us lovely.

So that when the Lord calls we may sing with the doves in the eternal morning of heaven

A Church rocked by scandal after scandal

The priests seemed either totally detached from the real lives of people or openly indulging in earthy things.

Many people were running away from the Church and many others were attacking it.

But Peter had faith and he felt called to do what he could to rebuild the Church as a community of faith in Jesus Christ.

He traveled and spoke widely and wrote extensively. He defended the Church vigorously against its attackers and worked to reform the lives and education of the Catholic clergy, even at its highest levels.

Peter consoled victims of sectarian strife and preached Christ to the multitudes.

Many would later say that Peter almost single-handedly saved the Church in his adopted country.

St. Peter Canisius, S.J., sometimes called the "Second Apostle of Germany," died on this very day in 1597.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Theological Calculus.

The Lord himself will give you this sign

In today's first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), King Ahaz refuses to ask the Lord for anything, because he does not trust the Lord.

Bad for him, but good for us, because this was God's response:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

This reminds us that God knows what we need better than we do ourselves, and that if we are faithful in our prayer, open to his will and trusting in his love, God can do things for us that are beyond our imagination.

For nothing will be impossible for God.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monterey and Palermo

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of the Bishop of Monterey, California, the Most Rev. Sylvester D. Ryan, and has named as the new bishop the Most Rev. Richard J. Garcia, up to now Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento.

Bishop Garcia was born in San Francisco in 1947. His parents were Mexican immigrants. He studied at Saint Joseph College in Mountain View and St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1973 and served as an Assistant Pastor and as Director of the Office for the Spanish-speaking for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. From 1980 to 1984 he studied dogmatic theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. During this time, the Diocese of San Jose in California was created and he was incardinated into that diocese.

Returning from Rome, he taught at St. Patrick and St. Joseph Seminaries from 1985 to 1992, served as Vocations Director for the Diocese of San Jose 1992 to 1997 and also served as Pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish in San Jose from 1995 to 1997.

He was named Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento November 25, 1997 and consecrated January 28, 1998.

The Holy Father has also accepted the retirement of the Archbishop of Palermo, Sicily, Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi and has named as his successor Archbishop Paolo Romeo, Apostolic Nuncio to Italy and San Marino. Archbishop Romeo was born in the province of Catania in 1938. He studied theology at the local seminary and then at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He studied canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University. He was ordained a priest in 1961. He entered the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in 1964 and entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1967. He served in the Philippines, Belgium, Venezuela, Rwanda, Burundi, and in the office of the Secretariat of State. He was named Nuncio to Haiti in December 1983 and consecrated Archbishop the next month. He later served in Colombia and Canada before his assignment in Italy in 2001.

Supernatural fear

In today's Gospel (Luke 1:5-25), we have the familiar account of Zacharias, Elisabeth and the birth of John the Baptist.

A dramatic moment comes when Zacharias, a priest and therefore a professional man of religion, is doing his job for the Lord and then something totally unexpected occurs.

And there appeared unto him
an angel of the Lord
standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

And when Zacharias saw him,
he was troubled,
and fear fell upon him.

Even though he was a priest, dedicated to the service of the Lord, Zacharias reacted with fear to an angel of the Lord.

It was only natural.

You and I may be people of faith, with our hearts set on the things of heaven, but we walk every day in the natural world. Of necessity we are accustomed to the natural environment as well as the structures crafted by man. We come to rely upon the firm-set earth and in the mundane regularity of nature and of the human world.

But then something happens: something that comes from outside, that breaks through the what we thought was harmony of nature and that shatters the illusion of human dominion in which we have made ourselves comfortable.

We have seen a bit of this in the devastation of hurricanes and tsunamis. Sooner or later we are liable to see it on an even larger scale: one of the many disasters that have literally shaken the globe and that inevitably will return again.

And then there is also the devastation that can be wrought by evil men, multiplied astronomically by the technology of terror, war, and toxic waste.

It is only natural to be afraid when the bubble of our human existence is broken, when we realize that the world is more than we know.

That is what Zacharias felt, even aside from the popular wisdom that such visions presaged doom: the familiar world had been broken into and everything would now be very different.

This will happen to us too: one way or another, the commonplace world in which we have lived our lives will be shattered.

May God have mercy on us.

Perhaps it will be a disaster. Perhaps it will be a death close at hand. Perhaps it will be the change of a job or perhaps the collapse of one's health.

Perhaps it may even be an angel of the Lord appearing before our waking eyes.

Whatever may happen, it will be our relationship with the Lord that will see us through.

If the Lord is our rock, then we need not fear anything that may happen to us, for the Lord will always be there: at every moment of our lives and in every wonderful moment of eternity.

As you and I continue the steady march of our everyday lives, walking upon the well worn paths of our comfortably familiar world, we need to remember always to keep reaching out in prayer to the Lord, for our familiar world will some day be broken and all our paths may fall into darkness, but our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will always be there and will say to us:

Fear not...
for thy prayer is heard

Monday, December 18, 2006

Which way do I go?

In today's Gospel (Matthew 1:18-25), we have a man confronted with a difficult decision and every alternative appears to be some degree of cooperation with evil.

One choice requires the brutal death of a young girl.

A second choice involves him getting in bed with an evildoer.

The only other alternative is to hush everything up with a quickie divorce and walk away, hoping that no one ever finds out.

He decides to take the quickie divorce. It appears the lesser evil.

But then he receives a new insight: a grace of God and word of knowledge that puts everything in its proper light.

When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

We ourselves are often confronted with difficult moral choices.

Sometimes we feel as if we are choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Sadly, many of us are ill equipped for such choices. Some of us have had little formal education in moral concepts since Sunday school or CCD and now we face adult problems with the understanding of a 12 year old (and sometimes even that is fuzzy).

Cooperation with evil is one of the most common moral problems in our world, but it is very doubtful that we heard or retained anything in Sunday school about the difference between formal cooperation with evil and material cooperation, let alone the distinction between direct material cooperation and remote material cooperation.

Then questions inevitably arise: How remote is remote? If I cooperate materially, am I just rationalizing my involvement? If I do not cooperate, am I rationalizing my inaction or inattention to my duties?

What we need to do, of course, is learn continually: this includes studying the word of God, the teaching of the Church, and trustworthy texts on moral theology.

It also means seeking greater knowledge, wisdom, and grace from the Lord through our life of prayer.

We may not see the angel of the Lord with our waking eyes or even in our dreams, as St. Joseph did, but if we are diligent in using the minds and the learning tools God has given us and if we are even more diligent in deepening our relationship with the Lord in prayer, word and Sacrament, by God's grace we will be able to discern always the right path: not merely flipping a coin between two evils, but walking strongly, humbly, and faithfully in the path the Lord has laid out for us and through which he leads us to everlasting life in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Foreshadowings of joy

In the northern hemisphere, it is getting darker. For those in far northern lands, it is dark all the time.

We know that this will pass and that after the solstice, we will have more and more light in our days.

Yet the gloom of these days can still hang heavily.

The diminishment of daylight, however, is not the only darkness afflicting our world.

There is the darkness of violence, terror and oppression.

There is the darkness of unbelief: a cancer that gnaws at the hope and rationality of society.

There is the darkness of uncertainty about the future: a darkness of fear and futility that sucks the life out of our present.

And in the midst of all these darknesses, the message of the Church on this third Sunday of Advent is very simple: expressed succinctly by the Apostle Paul in today's second reading (Philippians 4:4-7).

Rejoice in the Lord always.

What? We might ask. Is he nuts? Doesn't he know what's going on? Doesn't he know how bad things are?

The short answer is: yes, Paul knows how scary and painful life can be. He is writing this letter from prison and is being threatened with death.

I shall say it again: rejoice!

How can he say this in the midst of such much suffering and uncertainty?

How can there be joy?

St. Paul proceeds to map out the way to joy. First he says

Your kindness should be known to all.

There are multiple levels to this: first, that we need to recognize the good that we have done and the good that we do, not to let the eyes of our minds be filled only with the darkness, but to keep also in view the ways we have brought light to the world; second, that acts of kindness, considerateness, fairness, and mercy do indeed bring light and joy to the world.

Perhaps these little lights of Christian charity may not seem like much in the face of some of the things that are going on right now, but in the deepest, darkest pit, even the tiniest light can bring a touch of sweetness to our soul, a rekindling of hope in our heart, and even a faint aroma of joy... if only we open our eyes.

The Lord is near.

Again, so many levels!

The Lord is near. When we act in Christian charity and do deeds of kindness, the Lord is near (ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est).

The Lord is near. No matter what may be happening right now, it will come to an end and God will turn all our sorrows into a joy beyond our imagining in his own time and in his own way (Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!)

The Lord is near. A young Jewish girl and her husband are making their way slowly to a small town in the territory of the West Bank. The squalor of an animal enclosure awaits them. Yet in the midst of that squalor and humiliation, something wonderful will happen (Veni, veni, Emmanuel).

Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.

The path to joy requires us to place ourselves in the hands of God: or rather, to recognize that we are indeed in the hands of God.

Prayer, petition and thanksgiving do not help God (he is omniscient and omnipotent, after all), but prayer, petition and thanksgiving reaffirm in us (in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls) both the need for God and the reality of God in our lives.

Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus.

All is not well with the world, but the Lord of all goodness is near and no matter what darkness may hover upon us, God offers us foreshadowings of joy: foretastes of the dazzling and infinitely sumptuous banquet that he is preparing for his faithful ones.

The Lord is near....

I shall say it again, rejoice!

Third Sunday of Advent

Lord God,
may we, your people,
who look forward to the birthday of Christ
experience the joy of salvation
and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God,
for ever and ever.

Today's Collect

Saturday, December 16, 2006

JFK Pastor dies

The Washington Post reports today that Father Martin J. Casey, SJ, passed away December 10 at the Jesuit residence of the Georgetown University community. He was 96 and suffered from congestive heart failure. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1931 and was ordained in 1943. He taught for many years in the Philippines before returning to the United States He was pastor of Georgetown’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church from 1958 to 1964, including the time President John F. Kennedy and his family were parishioners. He also served as Pastor of Old St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia. He moved to the Georgetown University community in 1973 and was Community Treasurer until 1992.

Requiescat in pace

Among his survivors is a sister: Mother Marie Therese, O.C.D. of the Carmelite Monastery in Mobile, Alabama.

In heaven

"A seventh grade boy had attended the ordination the night before and said, 'Fr Dwight, that Mass was awesome! That part where you were on the floor and they were singing in Latin, that was like we were in heaven!!'

"Don't tell me 'the young' all want praise and worship music at Mass. Our teens love a liturgy celebrated with mystery, honor, dignity and love.

"My Protestant brother in law 'got it' too. He said about the litany of the saints, 'We were in heaven at that point right?' I nodded, 'You got it.'

"Don't underestimate the power and the glory of the liturgy done well. It saves souls, brings people back to God, reconciles lost sheep and proclaims the mystery of faith."

from the blog of Father Dwight Longenecker who was ordained Thursday

Heal the relationships

In today's Gospel (Matthew 17:9a, 10-13), our Lord says that Elijah will "come and restore all things."

Today's first reading (Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11) speaks of how Elijah is destined to "turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons."

In this time of preparation for the coming of Christ, as we traverse the stressful season between the traditional family gathering times of Thanksgiving and Christmas, may we pray for God’s grace to heal all the broken relationships in our lives and in our memories: that we may all live more fully in the light, the love and the truth of Christ.

New Archbishop of Toronto

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of Cardinal Aloysius Matthew Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto, and named as his successor Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins, 59, Archbishop of Edmonton.

Archbishop Collins was born in Guelph, Ontario. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Jerome College at the University of Waterloo and a Bachelor’s degree in Theology from St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ontario. He was ordained a priest in 1973 for the Diocese of Hamilton. He served in two parishes before being sent to Rome where in 1978 he obtained his License in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Back in Canada he would receive a Masters degree in English from the University of Western Ontario. He served as Professor of Sacred Scripture and Dogmatic Theology at St. Peter’s Seminary from 1978 until 1997. During that time he returned to Rome (1983-1985) to obtain a License in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He also served as Dean of Theology from 1992-1995 and Rector from 1995-1997.

On March 25, 1997, he was named Coadjutor Bishop of St. Paul in Alberta. He was consecrated May 14 and assumed governance of the See June 30. On February 18, 1999, he was named Coadjutor Archbishop of Edmonton and became Archbishop the following June 7th.

Friday, December 15, 2006


The Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, bishop of Charleston, ordains to the Priesthood Dwight Joseph Longenecker - former Evangelical and alumnus of Bob Jones University, former Anglican priest and alumnus of Oxford University, husband and father - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - St. Mary's Catholic Church, Greenville, SC.

Ad multos annos

Father Longenecker's blog is Standing on My Head

He has been involved in the Coming Home Network (whose founder, Marcus Grodi, participated in the ceremony).

The tide of reality

Some people like to pretend that they make their own realities: that they are the god of their own solipsistic universe.

In their self-centered universe, there is no God that can tell them what to do. They are like children who have decided they do not have to listen to their parent.

Inescapably, real reality always reasserts itself. Objective reality intrudes upon even the most elaborate subjectivist: sometimes like a speeding truck that mows down the daydreaming jaywalker.

Today's first reading (Isaiah 48:17-19) reminds us that God's law is not the arbitrary rule of a capricious parent: God’s word is the word of "the love that moves the sun and the other stars" (as Dante put it).

I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.

If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea...

We live in the real world. We cannot hide forever in manmade or self-made delusion.

We need to come to grips with this real world and take advantage of the insights of the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth, who created us and redeemed us in love through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Worms and maggots

Disgusting, pitiful, wretched, crawling through scum and filth and decay.

So may one describe the life of worms and maggots.

And there are days when our own lives feel that way.

Yet even in those times, today's first reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) reminds us, God is with us.

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you,
"Fear not,
I will help you."
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

Life is not always pleasant.

But the Lord is always with us.

May our hearts be always open to his presence and to the grace of his truth and his love.

John's father had an easy life

but then he married for love and was promptly disowned.

And so John was born in poverty.

The poverty grew deeper when John's father died. John would help his family as best he could.

As he grew older, John began to work in hospitals, caring for others in need. He decided to devote his life to God in a special way by entering a Carmelite monastery.

The monastery was not all he had hoped for. While he found godly men there, John felt a lack of intensity in the spiritual life of the place.

He resolved to seek a greater intensity within himself. He embraced a more rigorous observance of classic Carmelite asceticism. He was also sent to study for the priesthood and was ordained.

Still not entirely satisfied, he was considering joining a Carthusian monastery. It was at this time that he met a Carmelite nun who convinced him to keep striving for greater perfection among the Carmelites.

John then gathered a small group of like-minded monks around him. As word spread, more and more Carmelites sought to follow the same path. His nun-mentor also asked him to serve as spiritual director for her convent.

John would face tremendous opposition, even to the point of being imprisoned, but he remained firm. By the very end of his life, even his opponents recognized the sanctity of what he was doing and that it would flourish.

St. John of the Cross, cofounder with St. Teresa of Avila of the Discalced ("barefoot") Carmelites, died on this very day in 1591 at the age of 49.

He was canonized in 1726 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His spiritual writings, such as Dark Night of the Soul, are widely read to this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Weary never again

Sometimes we just get tired.

Sometimes we feel worn out from the steady march of events in our lives.

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the burdens that have been thrown upon us.

Today's readings (Matthew 11:28-30 and Isaiah 40:25-31) give us hope and strength. Indeed, they feel like God himself singing hymns of encouragement to us.

Come to me,
all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you
and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy,
and my burden light.


Do you not know
or have you not heard?

The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.

He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD
will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles' wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.

May you and I walk more firmly in the Lord this day and every day of our lives: weary never again, but forever strong by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

New bishops

The Holy Father today named Father Shelton J. Fabre, 43, a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge and pastor of Sacred Heart parish in that city, as Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans (accepting at the same time the retirement of the current Auxiliary, Bishop Dominic Carmon). Bishop-elect Fabre was born in Baton Rouge and studied at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana, before obtaining a Master’s degree in Religious Studies at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1989. He has served in several parishes while also serving in diocesan positions (Director of the Center for African-American Catholics from 1991-2004 and Defender of the Bond since 1997).

The Holy Father has also accepted the resignation of Bishop Carlos Suárez Cázares as Bishop of Zamora, Mexico, for reasons other than age.

The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Bishop Carlos Jesús Patricio Baladrón Valdés as Bishop of Guantánamo-Baracoa, Cuba, for reasons other than age and has named as the new Bishop Father Wilfredo Pino Estévez, 56, a priest and native of the Archdiocese of Camagüey. Bishop-elect Estévez was educated in Cuba and has served in several parochial and archdiocesan positions.

The Holy Father has also accepted the retirement of Bishop José Siro González Bacallao as Bishop of Pinar del Río, Cuba, and has named as the new Bishop Monsignor Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez, 56, up to now Rector of the Major Seminary in Havana. Born in Sanata Clara, Bishop-elect Pérez studied theology in Belgium where he was ordained a priest in 1968 for the Archdiocese of San Cristóbal de La Habana. However, he was unable to return to Cuba, whereupon he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Bogotá, Colombia, where he served in parishes and schools until he was finally able to return in 1999. He then served in parochial and Archdiocesan positions prior to being named seminary rector in 2003.

The Holy Father has also accepted the resignation of the Ukrainian Eparch of São João Batista in Curitiba, Brazil, who is succeeded by the Coadjutor Valdomiro Koubetch, O.S.B.M.

Child of light

When she was born, she was a light to her parents' eyes, so they gave her the name Lucy, which means light.

As she grew, she continued to shine in the lives of all who knew her: a gentle girl, devoted to God.

For that, she was mercilessly killed.

The name of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, would spread far beyond her native Sicily and continue long past the 4th century persecution of Diocletian in which she was killed. Her name remains today in the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at just another day of Catholic pondering.

The handmaid of the Lord

Put aside what you have heard.

Put aside the paintings, the Sunday school plays, the movies.

Put aside any controversies.

Just sit and listen.

Sit there in a small place with a young girl - barely a woman - whom no one had ever heard of.

Suddenly she hears news that will change her life forever, literally forever, in ways extending far beyond the limits of human imagination.

Listen to what she says:

Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to thy word.

So we hear in one of the Gospel readings provided for today's celebration (Luke 1:26-38).

So we ourselves should say to the Lord in our own hearts: simple words that place us totally and unreservedly in the Lord's hands, humble words that make us absolutely vulnerable to his will, fearless words that risk all our plans and all our desires for the sake of his love.

May these be our words to God as we begin every day of our lives.

May these be our words to God when all seems well with the world.

May these be our words to God in the face of our greatest terrors.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to thy word.

Image and faith

A racist character in an old television show was once arguing with someone about whether God was white or black. The racist said that all the pictures showed God to be white, including those by an Italian painter he identified with an ethnic epithet. The other person humorously suggested that the white racist had only been looking at photographic negatives and that God was black.

We know, of course, that God is pure spirit and therefore neither black nor white.

Likewise, artists have depicted our Lord Jesus Christ in countless ways, from a blue-eyed blond to a black man with an Afro to a man with decidedly Chinese features.

We also know, of course, that our Lord, the Savior of all nations, was born of a Jewish woman and therefore with physical characteristics typical of Jewish people.

Today the Church celebrates Our Lady of Guadaloupe, when a Mexican peasant had a miraculous vision of the mother of Jesus appearing very much like a Mexican peasant herself.

It was an important moment for the history of the faith in the Americas: a sign and an instrument by which the native people could embrace the Christian faith of the European invaders as something that could be their own.

Today’s celebration is a reminder that God reaches out to all of us, wherever and whoever we are.

In some way, if only deep within our heart of hearts, all of us walk around with visualizations of the Lord and of saints such as our Lord's Blessed Mother. Often, these visualizations are related to idealized visualizations of ourselves and make us feel closer and more connected to God.

Yet, while visualization and imagination may be useful servants of faith, they also have their limitations. Faith therefore must also go deeper: to the reality of God, who works through human history and yet is infinitely and eternally beyond it - God who became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

This holiday season is full of images. Let us use them to draw closer to the One who is "the image of the invisible God" - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, December 11, 2006

There is a way

In today's Gospel (Luke 5:17-26), a small group of men finds a creative way to bring to Jesus a man in need of healing, overcoming many obstacles.

It is a reminder for us that we sometimes need to explore creative ways of bringing to Jesus individuals and even societies that need healing, overcoming obstacles such as cynicism, hedonism, and secularism.

It is easy to get discouraged. Today's world seems increasingly to be a spiritual desert: a moral wasteland, patrolled by human jackals and pseudo-intellectual predators seeking to waylay confused souls for their own purposes.

The words of today's first reading (Isaiah 35:1-10) give us hope:

The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.

A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.

It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk.

As we continue our walk through this world, today's readings remind us that no matter what discouragement may afflict us or obstacles lie before us, God has a way.

Jesus said to him,
"I am the way
and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me.
(John 14:6)

Accused of adultery...

...he was exonerated by the highest civil authority.

Beset by heretics, he rallied other bishops in defense of the faith and initiated a new translation of the Bible.

Born in a time of persecution, he lived to see the Christian faith take a central place in a new world order.

St. Damasus, bishop of Rome and mentor of St. Jerome, died on this very day in 384.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Prayer for a Generous Heart

Father in Heaven,
you have blessed us with many gifts.

You chose us before the world began
to be your adopted sons and daughters
and to live through love in your presence.

Give us wisdom
and insight to know your purpose;
give us courage
to follow where your Spirit leads us;
give us generosity
to serve you in our brothers and sisters.

We make this prayer
through Christ our Lord.

from the Vocations pages of the Diocese of Leeds, UK

God will bring them back

Most of us have recovered from the family gathering at Thanksgiving (perhaps) and are now getting ready for the sometimes more stressful family gathering at Christmas (not only do you have to eat together, you have to exchange presents without breaking decorum).

It is during these days that some of us may be forced to deal with the fact that our children or other family members have left the practice of the faith.

Perhaps we may take comfort in these words of prophecy from today's first reading (Baruch 5:1-9)

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.

Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you...

Even those without children should take comfort in these words, for while it is true that these words apply first to the Jews, the children of Israel, they can easily be extended not only to our own children (biological, adopted, or mentored), but also to our accomplishments in the Lord.

Most of us try to put our faith into action everyday, but there have been times in all of our lives when we may have felt the call to put forth special effort and even make a serious sacrifice as an act of our Christian faith and an extension of Christ's love...

...but things did not turn out the way we had thought or hoped. Other forces pulled events in a different direction, leaving our godly effort in the dust.

Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you...

People can fool themselves for a long time, but God has made each of us for himself - to be loved by him and to be happy forever with him when he calls us to himself.

There will come a time for each of us human beings when the foolishnesses with which we distract ourselves will collapse and in that emptiness we will hear the word of God anew.

Then, by the grace of the Lord, we will be rejoicing that we are remembered by God, despite all our sins, all our wandering, and all our failures.

The grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can bring back our children and all of our loved ones who have fallen away from the fullness of the faith.

The grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can bring to glorious fruition all those godly works of ours that seemed to go for naught, so that like seeds beneath the snow and ash of a wretched world, they may flower at last into bountiful life.

Thus we draw strength and encouragement from the Lord in this time of Advent, this time of preparation for the great things that our Lord is about to do.

Thus we may say as St. Paul does in today's second reading (Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11):

I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus

Second Sunday of Advent

Almighty and merciful God,
let no works of worldly impulse impede
those hurrying to the meeting of Your Son,
but rather let the learning of heavenly wisdom
make us to be His partakers...

(Collect of the day - translation Fr. Z)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Helping vocations to priesthood and religious life

"People often ask us how they can help promote vocations. Absolutely the first way is to pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into His vineyard. In our culture today, men and women need the help of our prayer in order to hear the tiny whisper of the Lord amid the noise and distractions of this world. It's not easy to hear a whisper with a cell phone on one ear and an ipod on another!

"Young men and women need encouragement to follow Christ's call; parents need encouragement to not only accept but to be supportive and grateful that their son or daughter is being called by God to a life of total consecration.

"Another way, is to support endeavors such as the Fraser Family Foundation which make it possible in very real and practical ways for the future of religious life to be a reality.

"The Fraser Family Foundation has two programs: The Mater Ecclesiae Debt Relief Grant Program whose purpose is: 'Through the Mater Ecclesiae grant program, we seek to accelerate and to prevent the abandonment of vocations by guaranteeing the eventual retirement of the student loans of men and women who have generously answered a call to religious life' and the St. John Vianney Debt Relief Grant Program which is similar: 'Through the St. John Vianney grant program, we seek to accelerate and to prevent the abandonment of vocations by guaranteeing the eventual retirement of the student loans of men who have generously answered a call to the diocesan priesthood.'

"Please consider helping the Fraser Family Foundation continue this essential service to the Church and to Religious Life by making a charitable donation. You can easily make a tax exempt donation online. For more information go to: HOW YOU CAN HELP or send a cheque to:

Fraser Family Foundation
2513 N. Quantico Street
Arlington, VA 22207

"May God bless and reward you for your generosity!

"PLEASE tell others about the Fraser Family Foundation, especially if you have a blog!"

from the blog Moniales OP
the Dominican Nuns of Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery
Summit, New Jersey


Many of us run from the idea of a vocation.

For some of us, it offends our sense of autonomy: that we should listen and follow a voice other than our own.

Others may think that vocations are only something for nuns and priests: not for those already with spouses and children.

Still others of us may avoid the idea of a vocation because we suspect - and deep in our hearts we know - that God is calling us to leave behind our lives of independence and freedom and to follow him, leaving behind desires for romance or family so that we may serve God and his people totally and completely in the vocation of priesthood or consecrated life.

And some of us answered our vocation - to priesthood, marriage, or the consecrated life - but the path seems harder than we had thought.

And so we run.

Yet God still calls.

From behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:

"This is the way; walk in it"...

So we hear in today’s first reading (Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26).

We cannot run from vocation.

God calls you and he calls me.

He calls people to the devout married life: not with the purpose of putting together just another household in suburbia, but to witness boldly to the world as husband and wife the joy, power and peace of mutual self-surrender, openness to new life, and building up of the kingdom of God.

He calls people to the devout single life: not the comfortable life of pleasure without attachments, but to witness boldly to the world that individuals can make a difference, can live without self-absorption and decadence, and can walk faithfully in the footsteps of Christ even in the very gut of the workday world.

He also calls people to the consecrated life: to give oneself totally to the love and the service of God and his people with solemn vows and to be bound in love to a community committed to the imitation of Christ.

He also calls men to priesthood: to be bound in an especially close way to the sacrifice of Christ, to his Body and Blood, to his Word and his Forgiveness, and to the struggles and pains of his people.

And so we hear in today's Gospel (Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8):

At the sight of the crowds,
his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
"The harvest is abundant
but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest."

Let's stop running.

Let us listen…

And pray....

The aliens had invaded

They came from far, far away and laid waste to everything. Resistance was futile, for their technology and their ruthlessness were beyond imagination. Wherever they went, death followed and some of the people they merely touched would die of strange diseases.

One man, however, had learned not to fear the aliens. Even before their coming, he had always known that there was more than the world in which he lived and his eyes had often been fixed on the skies.

He had learned how to communicate with them and had even been accepted as one of their disciples. He felt sure that not all of the invaders were evil and that the message they brought was a higher and greater truth than anything his people had known. It would bring them great happiness, if only they would believe.

And then he saw her face.

He was walking in a place away from the city around dawn. She was standing on a small hill, surrounded with dazzling light. As he looked at her, it was as if he were looking at his mother, except infinitely more beautiful and loving and kind.

Immediately, his faith in the message was reaffirmed.

But nobody believed him – not even the invaders.

He saw her again the next day and they still didn’t believe him. He saw her yet again two days after that. Then they believed him, for on the front of Juan Diego’s outfit appeared a miraculous image of a woman clothed with the sun, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who would now also be known as Our Lady of Guadeloupe.

Our Lady of Guadaloupe appeared to Juan Diego on this very day in 1531. St. Juan Diego went on to live a very devout life and was canonized by the great Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Friday, December 08, 2006


A comedian once said that when George Washington was a boy, nobody knew that he was the George Washington.

Today's feast of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that, even at the first moment of her conception, God knew that she would freely become the mother of her Savior.

One might imagine God speaking to Mary as he spoke to the prophet Jeremiah (1:5):

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

Yet Mary was no mere prophet, she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and thus even more wonderful and unique was the grace bestowed on her before she was formed in the womb.

She was chosen.

We, of course, have not been chosen to bear Christ physically in our womb nor to have that unique mother-child relationship with the Eternal Word made flesh.

Yet, as St. Paul reminds us in today's second reading (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12), we too have been chosen by God in Christ.

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.

As we go through our daily lives - struggling with work, relationships, or even the lack thereof - we may sometimes not feel very special.

Today God reminds us that, in Christ Jesus our Savior, we are indeed special: truly special, eternally chosen.

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.

May we live that way.

"God ineffable...

"whose ways are mercy and truth,
whose will is omnipotence itself,
and whose wisdom
'reaches from end to end mightily,
and orders all things sweetly'
- having foreseen from all eternity
the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race
which would result from the sin of Adam,
decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries,
to complete the first work of his goodness
by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime
through the Incarnation of the Word.

"This he decreed
in order that man
who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy
had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan,
should not perish;
and in order that
what had been lost in the first Adam
would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam.

"From the very beginning, and before time began,
the eternal Father
chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son
a Mother
in whom the Son of God would become incarnate
and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time,
he would be born into this world....

"Wherefore.... the most Blessed Virgin Mary,
in the first instant of her conception,
was preserved free from all stain of original sin
by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God,

in view of
the merits of Jesus Christ,
the Savior of the human race...."

(...beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem...)

Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX
December 8, 1854
152 years ago today

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What are we building upon?

Arid regions such as Israel tend to have no shortage of sandy places.

Indeed, in areas that are both arid and mountainous (which describes many locations in Israel), sandy places tend to be the flatter ones and therefore the easiest upon which to build.

In time, however, it becomes apparent that these nice, flat, sandy locations are not the safest on which to build a place to live. Disaster inevitably follows.

The image of such disaster, which our Lord uses in today's Gospel (Matthew 7:21, 24-27), would have been very familiar to his listeners in that time and place:

(A fool) built his house on sand.

The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.

And it collapsed and was completely ruined

You and I today live in a world of sand: the shifting sands of popular opinion, culture, and pseudo-scientific fads.

It is upon these sands that many people today build their lives and base their views of reality. It is the easiest way to go and the most effortless place to live.

Until the deluge.

And the deluge will always come, sweeping the people of sand to utter disaster.

The shifting sands of conventional, popular wisdom offer no security against deceptions of evil men, the rush of human passions, the infinite complexities of the universe, or the utter blackness of death.

Hear the words of the Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who is the way of everlasting life:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine
and acts on them
will be like a wise man
who built his house on rock.

The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.

But it did not collapse;
it had been set solidly on rock.

And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool
who built his house on sand.

The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.

And it collapsed
and was completely ruined.

What are we building upon?

He wasn't even baptized

He was a lawyer, he worked for the government, and he was only in his early thirties.

Everyone thought he was an excellent choice to be the new bishop.

He tried to hide, but the people tracked him down. He was baptized, rushed through all the intervening stages and ceremonies, ordained a priest, and then, 1632 years ago today, Ambrose was ordained bishop of Milan.

He then began his on-the-job training – surely one of the most successful of all time.

Ambrose was not only a devout bishop, who gave away his immense inheritance and lived in simplicity, he also became a powerful teacher of Christian truth in a very contentious world. His writings are venerated to this day.

Among his many converts were a man who would become Emperor and an unmarried father who would become known as St. Augustine.

Ambrose died of natural causes in his late fifties, universally acclaimed a saint, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How do you know what God is asking of you?

"Each person must discern her own vocation in prayer. The Lord will reveal His Will to her if she has a relationship with Him in which she listens to His urgings.

"If you are a prayerful woman and feel that the Lord may be asking you to be totally His in the religious life, then you should actively look into different Communities.

"Explore the religious life and the different gifts that Communities bring to the Church. Visiting convents often helps in the discernment process because you are able to see the religious life as it is – not as it is portrayed in the media. When listening to the Lord speaking to your heart, you must act in faith if you believe that He may be calling you.

"There is not 100% certainty, but there is a certain hope and complete trust we must have in His Will."

from the website of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George who in August celebrated the First Profession of Six Novices and Reception of Six Postulants into the Novitiate at their convent in Alton, Illinois.

"I really need a drink"

"I really need some cheesecake."

"I really need some loving."

So we think and so we say.

Invariably, however, these "needs" are really just desires and many times temptations to sin as well.

What we really need is the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Lord helps his people in this world: in today's Gospel (Matthew 15:29-37), our Lord feeds multitudes and cures the sick.

But even more wonderfully, perfectly, and unfailingly the Lord will fulfill all our needs - really and truly, free of all evils, in beautiful peace and overflowing happiness - when he calls us to himself, to his holy mountain and the kingdom of heaven, as we hear in today's first reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a):

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.

The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.

On that day it will be said:
"Behold our God,
to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"

And so we move forward with the mission the Lord gives us this life, walking away from temptations and toward the greater perfection to which Christ calls us, for he is with us, he cares for us, and he will give us what we really, truly need.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for ever.

Conqueror of Nations

That was the meaning of the name that his parents gave him when he was born in a city by the sea: a city that is now nothing but ruins.

He came to power while still a young man and he made his mark swiftly, but the Empire moved quickly thereafter to crush him and he soon found himself in chains.

After the passage of time, the emperor died and a new one took the throne. Fortune then smiled and "the Conqueror of Nations" was once again let loose on the world. He returned to his throne and to the labors that had frightened an empire.

He would be remembered as a kind and holy man, generous to the poor and especially benevolent toward children.

Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, died on this very day in the mid-fourth century and was widely celebrated as a saint.

(His legendary kindness toward children would eventually be morphed into the character known today as Santa Claus.)

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Kicking Over My Traces.

And a little child shall lead them

I was thinking a good deal about today's readings (Isaiah 11:1-10 and Luke 10:21-24) and then I realized I was missing the point.

In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit,
and said,
I thank thee, O Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
that thou hast hid these things
from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them unto babes:
even so, Father;
for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Sometimes, especially when it comes to our prayer life, we can "over-think" things instead of just opening our minds and our hearts to the loving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who can put our inner confusions and conflicts to rest and let us luxuriate in the peace that surpasses all understanding.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion

and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Today's readings seem rather far apart.

In the first reading (Isaiah 2:1-5) we have the great hymn of messianic peace:

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.

And in this time of peace and light, Jerusalem is the center of wisdom and knowledge for foreign nations.

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.

Yet in today's Gospel (Matthew 8:5-11), the Messiah himself extols a warrior from a foreign land as having greater faith than anyone in Israel.

In truth, the readings are less far apart than they may appear, for it is the foreign warrior who has come the furthest to walk in the light of the Lord and thus gives the greatest example of the power of the gift of faith.

As we begin this journey of Advent, we should begin mindful of how far we are from the perfection to which Christ calls us, and thus with the Centurion to say "Lord, I am not worthy..." and yet like the Centurion we should trust in the power of the Lord to do his wonders in our lives, even when we are far away, so that we may be drawn ever closer to him and come to rest at the banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven.

A Christian in a Muslim city...

John nonetheless made himself indispensable to the people in power, as his father had been. As a matter of fact, in addition to his fulltime government job, John was even able to write publicly on the hot button topics of Church life and theology.

His fellow Christians responded by forging a letter to incriminate him in a plot against his Muslim employer. At first, John's boss believed them and had John's hand chopped off. Then, without the benefit of surgery, John's hand was miraculously reattached.

John's employer took this as a sign that John was innocent. John took it as a sign that he needed to devote himself fulltime to the work of God. He withdrew to a monastery where he wrote important compilations of Christian theology and other works.

St. John of Damascus, priest and Doctor of the Church, died of natural causes in the middle of the eighth century A.D. and is celebrated by East and West today.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Father Michael J Hunt CSP - Requiescat in pace

Father Michael Joseph Hunt, C.S.P, member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle for 39 years, died November 6, 2006, at the age of 64 after more than 8 years of battling multiple myeloma.

The last entry in Father's blog Westside Paulist was May 12, 2006, in which he commented on the challenging treatments he was undergoing for the disease that ultimately took his life.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him

Promises to be fulfilled

During the past year in the United States and many places, people heard many politicians making many promises about justice and security.

In today's first reading (Jeremiah 33:14-16), we hear still more promises about justice and security, albeit from an infinitely more trustworthy source.

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.

In those days, in that time,
I will raise up for David a just shoot;

he shall do what is right and just in the land.

In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure...

Whether the politicians will fulfill their promises is anybody's guess.

That God will fulfill his promises is absolutely certain.

But what about us? What about you and me?

Nearly a year ago many of us made New Year resolutions. As that year approaches its close, how have we done in fulfilling those resolutions?

When we were baptized, promises were made, promises we have renewed many times since: How well have we been fulfilling those promises?

And perhaps there are other solemn promises and vows that we made before God that we have not perfectly fulfilled and perhaps have even broken.

May the Almighty Lord have mercy on us all.

As for any failed New Year resolutions, 2006 is not yet over: perhaps we still have time to take these resolutions up again and be in better stead for next year's round of resolutions.

As for the solemn promises we made before God, this first Sunday of Advent is itself the beginning of a new liturgical year: a time of preparation and of fresh beginnings.

We may think this is impossible. We may think that we have tread too far on the paths of selfishness and broken promises, that we have bound ourselves too closely with the empty promises of sin, that we have burned bridges irreparably, or that we have committed sins forever unforgivable.

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise...

We may fail, but God will never fail.

We may break our promises, our word, our faith, and everything else in our lives, but all things can be healed and made anew by the loving power of our Eternal, Omnipotent God in his time and in his way.

With God's help, we should take the opportunity of this Advent to pick up again the broken pieces of our promises and the blank pages of our unfulfilled lives and to move forward: humbly seeking the grace of our Lord to amend our lives and, as much as possible, to fulfill the life mission to which the Lord calls us.

As St. Paul says in today's second reading (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2)

May the Lord
make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness
before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus
with all his holy ones.

Happy Advent

It is the beginning of the season
in which we prepare for the coming of Christ
and the celebration of Christmas.

It is the beginning of another year of worship.

"Come, God-with-us!
Free your captive people
That mourns in exile,
Deprived of God's Son.

"Rejoice! Rejoice!
shall be born for you,
O People of God!

"Come, O Wisdom!
Who sets in place all things thus;
Come, so you may teach the path
of prudence and of glory.

"Rejoice! Rejoice!
Shall be born for you,
O People of God!

"Come! Come, Israel's Lord,
Who from atop Sinai
Gave people the law
In glorious majesty.

"Rejoice! Rejoice!
Shall be born for you,
O People of God!

Veni veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio,
privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

Veni, O Sapientia,
quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiae
ut doceas et gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

Veni, veni, Adonai,
qui populo in Sinai
legem dedisti vertice
in maiestate gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!