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...

Monday, December 31, 2007

The defectors

As the secular calendar year comes to a close, news outlets invariably list the famous people who left this world during the year.

It may not seem like the happiest way to prepare for the New Year, but there it is.

On this last day of the secular calendar year, the middle of today’s first reading (1 John 2:18-21) focuses on people who have left the Church.

They went out from us,
but they were not really of our number;
if they had been,
they would have remained with us.
Their desertion shows
that none of them was of our number.

But you have the anointing
that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.

Faith is a gift and it does not bloom with the same fullness in everyone.

Apostasy is a tragic thing, but our focus should not be on people who have left the Church or even on famous people who have entered the Church. Rather, our focus should be on God’s gift of faith, on letting it blossom ever more fully within us, and on doing our best to share that gift with others.

We are reminded of the glories of that gift in today’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) in the wondrous hymn that reminds us of the foundation of our faith and what we celebrate in this ongoing season of Christmas.

May the light of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shine ever more brightly upon us, within us, and from us in the year of Our Lord 2008.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it….

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

The Church was not popular

but Sylvester loved it anyway.

Practicing his Christian faith could get him in serious trouble, but his faith in Christ was strong and he remembered the words of the Lord:

Blessed are they
which are persecuted for righteousness' sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you,

and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely,

for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad:
for great is your reward in heaven…

Matthew 5:10-12

Still, like everyone, Sylvester wished that they might be able to practice their faith without fear of reprisals or ridicule and that the Church might have a place of prominence and honor in the world.

Such were the thoughts that crossed Sylvester’s mind: of what might then be and what he might then do.

And then it happened!

Society embraced Christianity, the truth of Christ came to be discussed and defended in the highest corridors of power, plans were begun for church buildings that would dominate the skylines of the greatest cities of the world…

And Sylvester became Pope.

Pope St. Sylvester I, Bishop of Rome during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, died and was buried on this very day in the year 335.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Politically incorrect family life

The first two readings on today’s Feast of the Holy Family say things about family life that are politically incorrect in today’s world.

The second reading (Colossians 3:12-21) is a great test of a parish’s mettle, for the Lectionary gives the option of omitting the last few verses: the passage that begins “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands...

Sadly, too many celebrants, readers, and liturgists would choose to take the option of omitting that passage rather than speak honestly and faithfully about what God is telling the world in these verses.

The first reading (Sirach 3:2-6,13-14) also may appear, from its first words, to be cut from what some would call patriarchalism run amok: “God sets a father in honor over his children…”

The first reading goes on to tackle some other topics of family life that are often perilously ignored: the problem of care for the elderly, especially those suffering from dementia.

None of us are perfect in our family lives (I certainly am not), but what God is reminding us in today’s readings is critically important for all of us and for society -- even as the elites keep pushing society down a very different path.

The world’s path is advertised as “autonomy” but comes with its own kinds of slavery.

What God calls us to is love: expressed in commitment and mutual care – parents and children, husbands and wives, young and old, brothers and sister s, close friends and relatives.

May our lives be politically incorrect with the love of God.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Old resolutions for the New Year

Resolutions are traditional for the New Year: the act of making resolutions is traditional and (quite often) the resolutions themselves are traditional (every year we resolve the same things and – traditionally – every year we fail in those resolutions within days).

Today’s first reading (1 John 2:3-11) offers us some important insights for our resolution-making this year.

First of all, it offers us some very old resolutions for us to consider: the Commandments.

The Commandments may not have been high on our list of possible resolutions. We covered those in Sunday School, we might think, and we haven’t killed anybody or anything like that.

But if we really think about it, our keeping of the Commandments has significant room for improvement (especially in our coveting) and so many of the problems of our life and our world would be much less if we and others followed those Commandments much more.

The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,”

but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know

that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him

ought to walk just as he walked.

Second, we may have experienced some familial strains during these weeks of gathering with family and friends. In this light, the words about hating and loving our brother are particularly relevant.

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.

These verses also remind us of how we can be blinded and led astray by hatred.

We have seen this happen on a large scale too much in recent times: partisan, ethnic, religious, and anti-religious hatreds blinding the eyes of many, pulling people into cycles of conflict and even horrific violence.

We see this also in our own lives: we let emotions cloud our decision-making, pulling and pushing us in this way or that – usually in directions that end up hurting us and hurting others.

We should not only walk as Christ walked and walk in his light rather than the darkness of hatred, we need to let ourselves be filled with Christ, with Christ’s light, and with Christ’s love.

We fail in our resolutions because we are human, but we can succeed in our godly resolutions if we open ourselves and keep ourselves open to God’s grace, light, and love in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This New Year, may we resolve, with the help of God’s grace, to be channels of the light, life, and love of Jesus Christ.

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)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sin? What sin?

A newspaper columnist recently denounced a politician’s assertion of the bond between spiritual faith and civil freedom, saying that this was a dangerous repudiation of the values of the so-called Enlightenment and the Age of Reason espoused by a few of the nation’s founders.

The detachment of reason from faith, advocated by many elites during those days, did not end well (the Reign of Terror, Nietzsche, Marxism, Communism, Nazism, etc) and in fact it was doomed from the beginning, in no small part because it denied not only the relevance of God but also the reality of original sin as well as actual sin.

Sin clouds and distorts reason, leading us to reject logic in favor of rationalization.

Also, when God is removed from the equations of reason, man imagines himself the center of the universe, leading us to a skewed view of reality (and sometimes even to deny objective reality).

Today’s first reading (1 John 1:5-2:2) reminds us of the fallacy of denying the reality of sin.

If we say, “We are without sin,”
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

It also reminds us that a relationship with God is the foundation for true peace and harmony.

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.

In Christ we can have true enlightenment and an eternity of perfect reason.

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)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Breaking news

Something big has just happened – and the uncertainty surrounding it is overwhelming.

In a country that has nuclear weapons and the world’s most wanted terrorists within its borders, a former Prime Minister has just been assassinated at a political event. In these first few hours after Benazir Bhutto’s death, the uncertainties are truly overwhelming. Was she killed by shrapnel or bullets? Who was behind it? What will happen to Pakistan next? How will this affect the rest of the world?

(May God have mercy on her, her family, and the people of Pakistan.)

If we turn our attention to the Gospel scheduled for today (John 20:1a, 2-8), we find something very interesting:

Something big has just happened – and the uncertainty surrounding it is overwhelming.

In this case, the tomb of Christ has just been found empty and the uncertainties for his disciples are truly overwhelming. Mary Magdalene runs in a panic. Peter runs to check things out but does not seem to be able to figure out what has happened.

But when the beloved disciple walks into the tomb, he sees and believes.

Christ is risen.

John had been given the grace to understand quickly and he would be given the grace to proclaim eloquently.

As you and I continue through all of the uncertainties and dangers of this world, may we always ask our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the grace to understand clearly, to proclaim effectively, and to live faithfully – no matter what news.

Long distance sprinter

He was younger than his buddies and he was also faster.

Everyone still talks about That Day when he ran against the number one guy and beat him.

Not only was he fast on his feet, he also had intuition like lightning.

When his older colleagues would still be gathering information, he would have already grasped the situation and understood its implications.

As a matter of fact, on that same famous Day when he proved his fleetness of foot, he also demonstrated his rapidity of perception.

They both ran,
but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there,
but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths
but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
(John 20:4-8)

John, the beloved disciple, would prove to be more than just a sprinter: he would live longer than any of the other Apostles. He would see generation whose grandparents had not yet been born when these things had happened and he would tell them of Jesus:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands…
(1 John 1:1)

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars (a wife and mother hosting the Carnival on Christmas Day!! Wow!!)


At the end of today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:17-22), in which our Lord encourages his followers concerning future persecutions, our Lord says:

Whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Endurance is an interesting concept the day after Christmas: after we have successfully endured the long slog of shopping and wrapping and feasting – with Midnight Mass gloriously capping off our adventures in sleep deprivation.

Today’s reading and today’s Feast of St. Stephen reminds us that there are much worse things to be endured, including the hatred of the world: a hatred that is present even during Christmas (from Political Correctness’ prohibition on Christmas greetings to the burning of churches in India on Christmas Day to an anti-religious children’s film released in December).

It is important, of course, not to overstate – in what we say, think or feel – the difficulties we endure: the challenges of the holiday season are relatively minor and the whole world is NOT against us

But whenever things are indeed difficult to endure, today’s Gospel reminds us that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrated yesterday, has promised us the help of the Holy Spirit on whatever road we must walk in this world and, when the road ends, eternal salvation.

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)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Nativity stinks

The nativity scene is very familiar to us. We know what it looks like: the Christ Child, the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph, the stable…

What we often forget is what it smelled like: all those animals and their you-know-what, and then the shepherds arrive on the scene, bringing their own special, er, aroma.

Yes indeed, stables – for all their picturesque charms – stink.

Yes, and you stink and I stink and the whole world stinks – with the foulness of sin.

Yet Christ was born in a stinking stable.

Christ was born one as one of us –stinking human beings that we are – like us in all things but sin.

No matter how bad things may seem or how badly we may feel about ourselves, God loves us.

Christ was born in a stable and Christ has come to be with us.

Come, let us welcome him and adore.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The missing spot on the list

Everything on his list was checked off.

Then he realized that he had forgotten to get something for someone very important to him.

So David made up his mind: he was going to build a house for God.

As we hear in today’s first reading (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16), God had other ideas.

In fact, God had the greatest idea, which would be fulfilled in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow: son of David, son of God.

As we complete our preparations for this celebration- whether by shopping for presents, getting ready for festive gatherings, or preparing for religious observances - may we remember to keep God on our list, not just by the obligation of participating in Christmas Mass, but by opening more and more a place for him in our hearts: opening ourselves to the greatest of Christmas gifts, which God in his infinite love has given to us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

And have mercy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Do not be afraid

He was afraid of what other people might think.

He was afraid to be publicly associated with anything.

Those are some of the reasons Joseph had decided to divorce Mary quietly (not to mention the deadly punishment that Mary might face).

But, as we hear in today’s Gospel (Matthew 1:18-24)...

Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,

do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”

Sometimes we too are afraid of what people might think and we are even afraid to be publicly associated with the Catholic Church and the faith of Christ, even in this season leading up to Christmas.

May we heed the voice of the angel:

Do not be afraid....

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lord, fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I once heard a famous journalist say that his job was to discomfort the comfortable and comfort the comfortless.

Such an attitude seems to find resonance in today’s Gospel and in today’s Responsorial.

The Responsorial is from the second chapter of 1 Samuel: a song of exaltation by Samuel’s mother Hannah, who has been given a son as an answer to her prayers (as recounted in today’s first reading – 1 Samuel 24-28).

The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.

The order of the world has flipped.

The Gospel (Luke 1:46-56) consists of the Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has conceived a son who answers the prayers of all mankind.

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.

The order of the world has flipped.

But while the journalist’s slogan may seem to resonate with the canticles of Hannah and Our Lady, nothing could be farther from the truth.

For one thing, this journalist himself lived an extremely comfortable life: living in a great mansion nestled along an exclusive and thickly wooded lane of mansions above a set of cliffs just up the river from the most powerful city in the world (when he was not on his ranch).

But there is another, desperately critical difference between the journalist’s self-important assertion and the joyful exclamations of these two humble women (who would be more important that the rich journalist ever could be).

The rich and powerful become hungry and weak,
while the hungry and weak become satisfied and exalted,
but at the center of this cosmic flip is God.

Flipping the order of the world purely for the sake of flipping is a short route to chaos.

But if the flipping of the sinful and unjust order of the world is a direct result of God’s presence and action in the world, the result is not chaos and destruction, but rather drawing nearer to God.

May we not seek change simply for its own sake.

Rather, may we seek only God and let ourselves be changed by him.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why me?

In today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45), we have the very familiar account of the Visitation, as the Blessed Virgin Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth.

The first thing that comes out of Elizabeth’s mouth is repeated as many as a million times every day in the prayer known as the Hail Mary:

Blessed are you among women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

The second thing she says, while not quite as famous, is important for our consideration in these last days before Christmas:

And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?

We can very easily resonate with what Elizabeth is saying.

Consider all of the galaxies and stars and planets in the Universe.

Consider how infinitesimally small our time on this planet, as individuals or even as a race.

Consider the evil we do, the pettiness that fills our lives, and the selfishness that occupies our thoughts.

And how does this happen…?
that the only begotten Son of God
should come to us?

How does this happen
that Infinity and Eternity itself
should become one of us?

How does this happen
that the Lord of all the Universe
should be born in a stable
and die on a cross
for us?

Yet so it is.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes.

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)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Teenage girls

They're airheads.

They talk incessantly in that same annoying tone, mindlessly repeating the same expressions over and over again.

They don’t seem to have a serious bone in their bodies.

That is what many people think.

God thinks differently.

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), the great prophet Isaiah tells the King that a young, unmarried girl (the most basic meaning of the Hebrew word rightfully translated as “virgin” in this passage) will be the turning point of a new future to be established by God himself.

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary men,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

A teenage girl is also the center of today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38).

The Archangel Gabriel comes from the throne of God to visit her.

She alone is told of the greatest event in history: an event that is just about to happen.

This greatest event in history will have this teenage girl at its very center.

And then the Archangel waits: the greatest event in human history hangs upon what this teenage girl will say.

Mary said,
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from her.

And this teenage girl in a small town became the mother of God.

May we never disrespect teenage girls or anyone else of whom the world thinks little.

May we encourage teenage girls (and anyone else in the shadow of low expectations) not to settle for the mundane and the everyday, but to strive for the glorious path that God has laid out for their lives and the even more glorious destiny that God prepares for his faithful ones.

By the grace of God, may we all walk in the ways of glory totally.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


In ancient times (and even in some places today), a woman who had no children was thought to be cursed and to be of lesser value (to put it mildly) than a woman who had borne children.

Today’s readings tell us of two childless women of ancient times who were childless. One of them was “advanced in years” and lived in what she herself called “disgrace”.

God, however, would bless each of these women with a son – and extraordinary men they would be.

One would be a legendary defender of Israel whose name is associated with great strength even today: Sampson (Judges 13:2-7,24-25a).

As for the other, our Lord himself said that no man born of woman was greater than he: John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).

In “modern” society today, no one speaks openly of an involuntarily childless woman disparagingly as “barren”, but it is hard to say that this has been associated with a general improvement in society’s approach to infertility.

Quite the contrary, those who are involuntarily infertile are tempted to try immoral methods, including the artificial conception of multiple human embryos (most of whom are doomed to death and even scientific experimentation).

Meanwhile, much of society encourages people to render themselves infertile, temporarily or permanently, either for selfish purposes or for specious reasons (that are often just a front for nihilism or genocide).

Of course, this same society denounces and ridicules anyone who freely chooses to renounce sexual activity and childbearing for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

One might say that such a society, which encourages immorality and infertility and denounces the spiritual fertility of celibacy, is itself barren.

Children should be seen as gifts from God: not as a “must have” possession or a cure for self-esteem issues, nor should they be seen as a burden on our lives or even a burden for life on this planet.

With the help of God every child will be a net benefit to that child’s parents and family and also to the world.

May you and I shun the barren ways of this world and – married, celibate, or single; childless or childrearing – may you and I be instruments by which the grace of God is fruitful and multiplies in this darkening world.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Aussie Coffee Shop.

Worried about losing the house

He had a decent house and a good job.

But there was a threat on the horizon: if he continued on the same path, he might lose all his customers, lose his business, and perhaps even lose his house.

He decided to go ahead and to take Mary into that house as his wife, as we hear in today’s Gospel (Matthew 1:18-25).

Housing and financial markets, of course, were very different in that time and place, but even the future foster father of Christ was not immune to worries about shelter and livelihood.

Such worries were also deeply ingrained in his ancestral memory, because his ancestors were dramatically evicted not only from their homes but even from their own country, as we heard in the references to the Babylonian Exile as a key point in yesterday’s genealogy.

Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:5-8) is a prophecy from that very time, with God's promises to those who had been dragged away from their homes: they shall again live on their own land.

Many people today are fearful of losing their homes, especially in places where the “bubble” of housing prices has burst and adjustable rate mortgages have exploded.

Losing a home, of course, is not simply the loss of something to shelter us from the elements: a home is a place where we can rest at the end of the day, a point of stability and solidity amid the chaos of our daily lives.

Ultimately, however, no house is secure: even the greatest mansions may be taken away by fire, mudslides, and foreclosure.

Ultimately, the only true and lasting home we have – the only place where we can feel totally secure and at rest – is being prepared for us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in his Father’s house.

In the meantime, as we continue the work that God gives us in this world, we need to be prudent regarding the practicalities of livelihood and shelter, especially if we are responsible for the shelter and wellbeing of others, and we need to do what we can to help the helpless with such things, but we also need to remember that we will have no perfect home here on this earth.

The perfect home is in heaven, awaiting God’s faithful ones.

By his grace, may we be faithful to God in this world, so that when he calls us, we may rest peacefully in Him in our eternal home.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fulfillment out of obscurity

Sometimes the readings heard at Mass are easy to understand, sometimes they may seem a bit difficult.

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) gives us one of the genealogies of Christ: a long list of names, few of which may be familiar to most today.

Today’s first reading (Genesis 49:2,8-10) is Jacob’s deathbed blessing on his son Judah and a good part of what he says seems obscure, especially the last verse. Part of this obscurity comes from the obscurity of ancient symbols and rituals and part of this comes from obscurity in the Hebrew text.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is probably more successful in dealing with this verse than the translation in the U.S. Lectionary:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

This verse has traditionally been seen as a messianic prophecy. Like many prophecies of the future, what was obscure when the prophecy was given becomes clearer later on, especially when the prophecy is fulfilled. The RSV maintains a messianic approach to this verse (albeit a bit differently, the Lectionary translation took a different approach).

As for the genealogy, although there are some familiar names in the list of our Lord’s earthly fathers as well as a few unique names, most of them are obscure people with common names: “regular Joes” in the context of ancient Israel.

Taken together, these readings remind us of how it was in obscurity that God laid the foundations of his most wonderful and important action in our world: the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

You and I may not be household names, we may live our lives in obscurity, but as member of Christ’s faithful people we have been called to continue his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the power and the grace of God can do important and wonderful things with what we do in his name – even in obscurity.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Joy and Doubt

The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday: a celebration of joyful anticipation in the middle of our spiritual preparations for Christmas.

The first reading (Isaiah 35:1-6a,10) is clearly in sync with this joyful theme, but the Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) seems to be about John the Baptist and what might seem to be doubts on his part (“Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”)

As we know well from Scripture and from history (even to the present day example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta), even the most saintly people are not necessarily free from doubt, although in this case, the question John sent through his disciples may have been really because of their doubts rather than any his own.

Our Lord’s answer connects his actions with the prophecies of old, including ones in today’s first reading, demonstrating himself to be the fulfillment of these messianic prophecies.

John’s disciples knew of Jesus’ works (they had doubtlessly been the ones to tell John of them) and they certainly knew of the ancient prophecies, so why could they not connect the two? Why did they doubt?

It is not enough to say that they simply had not been given the grace of faith.

At the heart of the doubt experienced by John’s disciples were mistaken and misleading expectations: their expectations were that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would drive out the Roman occupation, purge the nation of evildoers, and establish an earthly paradise for righteous people like themselves.

None of that was happening with Jesus and so they doubted.

Indeed, incorrect expectations can also be found at the heart of many (if not all) of our doubts and crises of faith: expectations based on human desires and human imagination rather than divine truth.

We need to be careful not to let our human expectations, conscious and unconscious, get in the way of God’s gifts of faith and hope.

In the midst of the ups and downs of life, we must exercise patience (as we hear in today’s second reading – James 5:7-10) as well as discernment, praying always that God will give us these graces and thereby draw us closer to himself.

As St. Paul says in Colossians 1:11-12:

May you be strengthened with all power,
according to his glorious might,
for all endurance
and patience with joy,
giving thanks to the Father,
who has qualified us to share in the inheritance
of the saints in light.

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

(from an earlier post)

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Summary of
by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)

I. Introduction

1. "The Doctrinal Note is devoted principally to an exposition of the Catholic Church's understanding of the Christian mission of evangelization, which is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the word 'Gospel' translates 'evangelion' in the Greek New Testament. 'Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to proclaim the Gospel, calling all people to conversion and faith. "Go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16,15).' [n. 1]

2. "The Doctrinal Note cites Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter 'The Mission of the Redeemer' in recalling that '"Every person has the right to hear the Good News [Gospel] of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling." This right implies the corresponding duty to evangelize.' [n. 2]

3. "Today there is 'a growing confusion' about the Church's missionary mandate. Some think 'that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom,' suggesting that it is enough to invite people 'to act according to their consciences', or to 'become more human or more faithful to their own religion', or 'to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity', without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith.

"Others have argued that conversion to Christ should not be promoted because it is possible for people to be saved without explicit faith in Christ or formal incorporation in the Church. Because 'of these problems, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged it necessary to public the present Note.' [n. 3]

II. Some Anthropological Implications

4. "While some forms of agnosticism and relativism deny the human capacity for truth, in fact human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth. Human beings are given intellect and will by God that they might come to know and love what is true and good. The ultimate fulfillment of the vocation of the human person is found in accepting the revelation of God in Christ as proclaimed by the Church.

5. "This search for truth cannot be accomplished entirely on one's own, but inevitably involves help from others and trust in knowledge that one receives from others. Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, 'but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful.' [n. 5]

6. "The communication of truths so that they might be accepted by others is also in harmony with the natural human desire to have others share in one's own goods, which for Catholics includes the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Members of the Church naturally desire to share with others the faith that has been freely given to them.

7. "Through evangelization, cultures are positively affected by the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, through evangelization, members of the Catholic Church open themselves to receiving the gifts of other traditions and cultures, for 'Every encounter with another person or culture is capable of revealing potentialities of the Gospel which hitherto may not have been fully explicit and which will enrich the life of Christians and the Church.' [n. 6]

8. "Any approach to dialogue such as coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization.

III. Some Ecclesiological Implications

9. "'Since the day of Pentecost … the Gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is proclaimed to all people so that they might believe and become disciples of Christ and members of his Church.' 'Conversion' is a 'change in thinking and of acting,' expressing our new life in Christ; it is an ongoing dimension of Christian life.

10. "For Christian evangelization, 'the incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages.' In this sense, then, 'the Church is the bearer of the presence of God and thus the instrument of the true humanization of man and the world.' (n. 9)

11. "The Doctrinal Note cites the Second Vatican Council's 'Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World' (Gaudium et Spes) to say that respect for religious freedom and its promotion 'must not in any way make us indifferent towards truth and goodness. Indeed, love impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all the truth which saves.' [n.10] This mission of love must be accomplished by both proclamation of the word and witness of life. 'Above all, the witness of holiness is necessary, if the light of truth is to reach all human beings. If the word is contradicted by behavior, its acceptance will be difficult.' On the other hand, citing Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, the Note says that 'even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run, if it is not explained, justified… and made explicit by a clear und unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus.' [n. 11]

IV. Some Ecumenical Implications

12. "The CDF document points out the important role of ecumenism in the Church's mission of evangelization. Christian divisions can seriously compromise the credibility of the Church's evangelizing mission. The more ecumenism brings about greater unity among Christians, the more effective evangelization will be.

13. "When Catholic evangelization takes place in a country where other Christians live, Catholics must take care to carry out their mission with 'both true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries as well as a sincere spirit of cooperation.' Evangelization proceeds by dialogue, not proselytism. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideals, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one's partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.

"'In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term.' [n. 12]

V. Conclusion

14. "The Doctrinal Note recalls that the missionary mandate belongs to the very nature of the Church. In this regard it cites Pope Benedict XVI: 'The proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God's love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world.' Its concluding sentence contains a quotation from Pope Benedict's first Encyclical Letter 'Deus caritas est': 'The love which comes from God unites us to him and "makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28)".'"

(released December 14, 2007 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

Full Text available here.

Elijah the Restorer

Both of today’s readings focus on the work of the prophet Elijah as one of restoration.

In the Gospel (Matthew 17:9a, 10-13), our Lord says that “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things.”

Today’s first reading (Sirach 48:1-4,9-11) says of Elijah:

You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.

Turning back “the hearts of fathers toward their sons” makes Elijah sound like an ancient family counselor: a sort of Old Testament “Doctor Phil”.

How does Elijah “restore all things” and “turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons”?

It can be summed up in his very name: Elijah – The LORD is God.

Recognizing God and restoring our relationship with Him is the starting point, foundation, and ultimate goal of the complete restoration of all things in our lives and in our world.

To put it another way, our broken relationship with God lies at the root of all of the wrath and all of the broken relationships in our world.

When God is not the center and the foundation of our lives, something else becomes the center and foundation of our lives: something that is not infinitely fulfilling, something that does not resonate perfectly, something that may be good in itself but is very, very out of place. Sometimes it is an ideology, sometimes it is pleasure, sometimes it is another human being, sometimes it is our ego. The basic structures of our hearts, minds, and lives are thus themselves out of place and disordered and this is manifested in the out-of-control emotions and the broken relationships that we experience in our lives.

By recognizing that the Lord is God, by restoring God to the center of our hearts and the center of our lives by his grace we restore a solid foundation to our lives upon which our emotions and our relationships can be restored.

Whenever we feel overcome with wrath or recognize the limitations of our relationships and the brokenness of our world, may we listen for the voice of Elijah and come to understand more fully, deeply, and perfectly that the Lord is God.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Aloof or muddy

Some Christians believe that the most important thing is to be firm and clear about the truth of Christian faith and morals and to avoid anything that might be interpreted as compromise or entanglement with the ways of this world.

Other Christians believe that the most important thing is to make present in this world the love of Jesus Christ and the justice of God by being actively involved as followers of Christ in the problems of this world.

In the former case, the people of this world often denounce such Christians as out-of-touch, holier-than-thou, hypocrites, or other terrible things.

In the latter case, the people of this world often smile patronizingly and use such Christians as de facto allies for very unchristian purposes.

This echoes our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:16-19):

“To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in marketplaces

and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you,

but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge

but you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking,

and they said,
‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking

and they said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Ideally, of course, we as Christians should strive to be clear and pure while also being active in love and justice.

As in everything, we need to ask the Lord continually for his grace: that we may be true lights in this world and effective salt of this earth.

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.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Violent attacks on the Kingdom of God

From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.

Thus says the Lord in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:11-15).

Scholars disagree on the meaning of this verse. On the one hand, because John the Baptist was a victim of violence, incarcerated at the hands of an oppressive regime (a regime under which Christ and his listeners were also living), the violence to which our Lord refers could be interpreted as the physical violence of persecution and oppression. This interpretation would resonate powerfully with the early Church.

On the other hand, some scholars interpret this “violence” as the fervor of crowds trying to push their way into a place they desperately want to enter (like holiday shoppers trying to push into the last store carrying the “must have” Christmas present of the year).

The latter interpretation reminds us that the Kingdom of God is something extremely desirable, but that it is also something that only comes through the grace of God, not the effort of man (not even the strongest efforts).

This interpretation is supported somewhat by the context of the whole chapter. Prior to this passage, our Lord is challenging the crowds who had flocked to see John, with apparently little understanding or interior conversion (“What did you go out to see?”). Immediately following this passage, our Lord challenges the throngs flocking around him and the places he has visited (“To what shall I compare this generation?”). And at the end of this chapter, our Lord reaffirms that knowledge of God and godly things comes through grace, not the brute intellectual force of man.

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.

Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father.

No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

Whether we are suffering the interior violence of our own existential desperation or the violence of persecution (physical or otherwise), may we always depend upon the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and open ourselves more completely to him.

"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 your selves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

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, as we hear in today's first reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) , 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.

(adapted from an earlier post)

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.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Silence! Rejoice!

As with the other first readings this week, one of the passages available for the first reading today (Zechariah 2:14-17) recalls famous music, but not only from Handel's Messiah.

The opening verse recalls Messiah’s famous, bouncy aria “Rejoice Greatly.”

The last verse, however, exhorts not rejoicing but silence.

Silence, all mankind,
in the presence of the LORD!
for he stirs forth from his holy dwelling.

This recalls a classic hymn that goes back to the fifth century:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
in the Body and the Blood
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of Light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph;
cherubim with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
"Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!"

Both rejoicing and silence are appropriate reactions to the coming of the Lord.

It is natural that believers rejoice at the Lord’s coming and that disbelievers keep silent, as today’s first reading indicates.

Yet a certain silence is appropriate also for believers, for the power and the triumph is Lord’s and our rejoicing is in him, not in ourselves, and although we have been gifted with faith and divine adoption, we are also finite beings contemplating infinite majesty and power.

And so we rejoice and keep silence at the coming of the Lord: sometimes rejoicing externally, sometimes rejoicing inwardly.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, whose memory we celebrate in a special way today, exemplified this combination of rejoicing and silence.

Her Magnificat (of which we hear a part in one of the Gospel readings provided today – Luke 1:39-47) is of course a canticle of great joy.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Yet there are also times when Mary is quiet and contemplative (e.g., Luke 2:19):

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

On this day and in this season, may you and I both rejoice outwardly and keep silence in contemplation of the coming 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 A Third Way.

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 Guadalupe 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.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Concern for the grass

Yesterday’s first reading contained a verse or so that can be heard in Handel’s Messiah - albeit in a recitative that is not the most well-known part of that famous work.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:1-11), on the other hand, contains the source material for some of the most famous parts of that most famous of oratorios.

Comfort ye,
comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned....

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill made low,
the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.


O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
get thee up into the high mountain;
O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up thy voice with strength;
lift it up, and be not afraid;
say unto the cities of Judah,
Behold your God!


He shall feed his flock like a shepherd;
and he shall gather the lambs with His arm,
and carry them in His bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young.

But in the middle of today’s first reading, in between the familiar verses of famous song, is this:

All flesh is grass,
and all their glory like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.

So then, the people is the grass.

Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
the word of our God stands forever.

Not the most comforting of words: we are grass – we are small and frail, easily trodden down and quick to wither.

But, as our Lord says in today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:12-14):

It is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.

God loves us, wandering and fragile as we may be.

All mankind is grass, but God has concern for this grass.

Our lives may feel fragile, but the word of our loving God stands forever.

May we always keep ourselves in his hands.

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)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Joy... and reality

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 35:1-10) is one of those Scriptural passages that flow like a symphony of exuberance and joy. Indeed, a part of this passage is found in Handel’s Messiah.

Unfortunately, some of us may turn our ears from these happy noises, especially during a time of the year when songs of cheerfulness and even traditional religiosity bombard us every time we venture into a department store just for a pair of shoes.

Happy happy, joyful, joyful, yadda yadda yadda.

We may have become so accustomed to bitterness, disappointment, and long dark sin that the light of these verses makes us ill or makes us feel absolutely nothing at all.

But there is more than light and joy in these verses: there are also memories and echoes of pain, emptiness and terror.

A desert, a parched land, and a wide empty space without shelter.

Hands that cannot hold, legs that cannot stand, and hearts that feel drained of blood.

Burning sands, thirsty ground, and a place where a stumble means death at the jaws of scavengers.

A world devoid of any path or direction: full of stupid people, evil people, and loathsome predators.

Isolation, silence, heartbreak, and a feeling of loss that goes deep into the bone.

That is the background of today’s first reading: not a childlike cloudcuckooland, but a real world of pain and emptiness – probably even worse than whatever most of us are feeling right now.

The writer of today’s first reading was familiar with pain, emptiness and fear. He lived in a time of war and genocide, a time when the leaders of God’s people were uneven at best, a time when the people themselves were staggering away from God and lurching into oblivion.

It probably does not take a Scripture scholar to see the parallels with our own time, or even with our individual lives: especially when our lives feel worse than bad.

A desert, a parched land, and a wide empty space without shelter.

Hands that cannot hold, legs that cannot stand, and hearts that feel drained of blood.

Burning sands, thirsty ground, and a place where a stumble means death at the jaws of scavengers.

A world devoid of any path or direction: full of stupid people, evil people, and loathsome predators.

Isolation, silence, heartbreak, and a feeling of loss that goes deep into the bone.

The writer of today’s first reading knew what these things felt like, but he also knew the touch of God’s grace: he had felt it in his own life.

He had experienced God’s presence and he had felt the power of God’s grace cleanse him of all his bitterness, disappointment, uncleanliness, fear, and sin. He had felt the power of God’s grace surge within him and propel him to do the greatest things that he could ever have imagined in his life.

He knew what God could do and he knew what God would do.

And so he opened himself to the reality of the power and the joy of God.

And God invites you and me to do the same.

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.

They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:

Be strong, fear not!

Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.

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.

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Get those gifts now!

Advent, of course, is a time of preparation for Christmas, but for many people, most of the preparation for Christmas is shopping for gifts – especially those “must have” gifts.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 11:1-10) offers us an opportunity to remember of some very special, indeed critically important “must have” gifts:

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

This list would form the basis for a traditional list of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which many of us learned in Catechism, especially in preparation for Confirmation: Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (the ancient Greek translation of this passage translated the first repetition of “fear of the Lord” as “piety”).

And so, as we continue through the last weeks of shopping for Christmas gifts, we would do well to focus also of seeking these more valuable gifts, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as part of our preparations during Advent.

During these days before Christmas, we need to pray with special devotion for an increase in these gifts and try to make them more a part of our lives – not just in this season, but every day of our lives.

Fear of the Lord.

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 08, 2007

A different Eve

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

So ends today’s first reading (Genesis 3:9-15, 20) on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Tragically, she became “mother of all the living” after having chosen the path of sin.

Today’s Solemnity celebrates someone whom the Fathers of the Church called the “New Eve” a woman who, by the grace of her Son and Savior Jesus Christ, was preserved from the taint of sin, who always refused the path of sin, and who chose always and freely to accept the will of God and the most awesome responsibility ever entrusted to a human being.

And so she is called the new Eve: the mother of all the living in Christ.

May we always walk in the path of the new Eve by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – son of God and son of Mary.

"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
153 years ago today

Friday, December 07, 2007

Blinded by the pit

Both of today’s readings involve the healing of those who were blind: our Lord heals two blind men in today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:27-31), fulfilling in part the prophecy in today’s first reading (Isaiah 29:17-24).

And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.

There are different kinds of blindness, of course: not just physical blindness, but intellectual blindness and emotional blindness as well.

At this time of year, many people battle depression, which brings both emotional and intellectual blindness.

It is like we are staring into a deep, dark pit: all we see ahead of us is blackness, all we feel is emptiness, and all we can think of is darkness.

Today’s readings remind us to lift up our eyes out of the pit and look to Christ, so that the light of his grace may lighten our hearts and enable us to see the Good that he is and the good that you and I can do.

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.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

We built this city

Rome was not built in a day, nor was the complex of structures that make up our lives.

Each of us over the years has built up our individual lives as a city: with overlapping sections, histories, and directions within ourselves.

The question posed by today’s readings is: how strong is your city?

We may think we are secure, but we should seriously and honestly consider our situation anew as we hear our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel (Matthew 7:21, 24-27 – verses 22-23 also included below):

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

"Many will say to me on that day,
'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?
Did we not drive out demons in your name?
Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?'

"Then I will declare to them solemnly,
'I never knew you.
Depart from me, you evildoers.'

“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.”

(Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner)

May God give us the grace to build the houses and cities of our lives strongly upon him alone: the rock that holds firm forever (as we hear in today’s first reading – Isaiah 26:1-6):

“A strong city have we;
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace;
in peace, for its trust in you.”

Trust in the LORD forever!
For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

Byzantine Ruthenian Bishops in America

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of His Excellency Andrew Pataki from the pastoral governance of the Eparchy of Passaic of the Ruthenians (USA) in accord with canon 210 §§ 1-2 of the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches.

The Pope has nominated as the new Bishop of Passaic of the Ruthenians His Excellency William C. Skurla, at present Bishop of Van Nuys of the Ruthenians. Bishop Skurla was born in 1956 and studied theology at Washington Theological Union in Washington, DC, and at the Vincentian Seminary in Palmerston, Pennsylvania. His religious formation was provided by the Byzantine Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor in which he received priestly ordination May 23, 1987. He was Director of Vocations for the Monastery of the Dormition in Syberrtsville. After incardination into the Eparchy of Van Nuys November 1, 1993, he wass Pastor of the Church of St. Melany in Tucson, Arizona, as well as a Consultor for the Eparchy. He was named Bishop of Van Nuys by Pope John Paul II February 19, 2002 and received Episcopal ordination April 23, 2002

The Holy Fatherr Pope Benedict XVI has named as the new Bishop of the Eparchy of Van Nuys of the Ruthenians Reverend Monsignor Gerald N. Dino, at present Protosyncellus of the Eparchy of Passaic and Pastor of St. George’s Church in Linden, New Jersey. Bishop-elect Dino was born in 1940 in Binghamton, New York. He studied philosophy at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh (earning a Bachelor of Arts degree) and theology at Pittsburgh’s Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Cyril and Methodius. Ordained to the priesthood for the Eparchy of Passaic March 21, 1965, he was in pastoral ministry until 1970. From 1970 to 1972 he studied at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, earning his License in Eastern Church studies. Back in the USA, he served in various positions within the Eparchy, including from 1972 to 1973 Pastor of the Church of St. Nicholas in Dunellen, New Jersey; from 1973 to 1979 professor and dean of Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh; from 1979 to 1996 Pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Jessup, Pennsylvania.

Since 1996 he has served as Protosyncellus of the Eparchy of Passaic and Pastor of St. George’s Church in Linden, New Jersey (not to mention Administrator of the nearby Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Elizabeth, New Jersey).

"Now I'll be famous"

It happened again: a person who thinks his life is going nowhere decides to attain fame and "end his problems" by entering Eternity with the most horrific mortal sins on his soul.

As for fame, unfortunately, thanks to the media, he got it.

As to the end of his problems... God have mercy on his soul, but I fear for him....

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)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Be well and be satisfied

Every day on the news there is another story about something new and different that people can do to live healthier and longer. This news is invariably followed by a series of commercials that claim their products will give people healthier and happier lives.

It is no surprise therefore that billions are spent on nutritional supplements, diet and lifestyle books, and all sorts of things that are supposed to make life great.

Yeah, right.

Part of the reason that billions are spent is because the first thing people buy does not come with the results they expected, so they go on to buy “The Next Big Thing” and so on and so on.

Sadly, many if not most of the people who chase after these things are motivated by the primordial human desire to feel satisfied and the simple human fear of death.

But we are all going to die, no matter what we do (although we need to be prudent stewards of God’s gift of life). Moreover, despite what advertisers or our own temptations may tell us, nothing in this world will ever give us complete and lasting satisfaction.

Ultimately, of course, the answer to our fear of death is hope of eternal life, which can only come from God eternal, and the fulfillment of our innermost yearnings can only come with experience of the infinite, which can only come from communion with the infinite God.

These things, however, are not merely hopes or dreams: they correspond with the promises and the action of God, as we hear in today’s readings.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 15:29-37), our Lord cures people of their afflictions and he feeds them with the food they need.

And in today’s first reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a), we hear the wonderful prophecy of what God prepares for us: where he will fulfill every need and wipe away every distress, shame, or grief.

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!”

May we not let ourselves be drawn into the desperate, useless scramble of people looking for eternity and glory in material things.

May we keep our focus on God, who will make us truly well and completely satisfied.

May we keep our focus on the glories prepared for us in the world to come and the grace that he gives us to live our lives faithfully in this world in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is being hosted by Bryan Murdaugh.

An end to all conflict

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 11:1-10) we hear one of the most famous and beautiful prophecies ever:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.

There shall be no harm or ruin
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled
with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

This prophecy resonates with a fundamental hope of humankind: that there may be an end to all conflict and danger in the world.

In Spe Salvi, the encyclical he issued last week, Pope Benedict reminds us of instances throughout history in which men have tried to establish this kind of peaceful paradise on earth – what people of faith call “the Kingdom of God”.

"There is no doubt... that a 'Kingdom of God' accomplished without God — a kingdom therefore of man alone — inevitably ends up as the 'perverse end' of all things... we have seen it, and we see it over and over again." (Spe Salvi, 23)

The missing element to these plans to rebuild paradise on earth is God: the One who built and maintained paradise and who will restore us to a new and infinitely better paradise in his own time and in his own way.

The total absence of conflict and danger to the extent described in Isaiah’s prophecy is obviously beyond the capabilities of humankind to accomplish: a fact reaffirmed by the failure of so many attempted paradises throughout history (from a so-called “workers’ paradise” of Communism to the isolated enclaves of innumerable cults).

Pope Benedict reminds us that one of the more successful builders of isolated enclaves, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, was quite realistic about man’s building of an earthly paradise:

"In fact Bernard explicitly states that not even the monastery can restore Paradise, but he maintains that, as a place of practical and spiritual 'tilling the soil', it must prepare the new Paradise.

"A wild plot of forest land is rendered fertile—and in the process, the trees of pride are felled, whatever weeds may be growing inside souls are pulled up, and the ground is thereby prepared so that bread for body and soul can flourish.

"Are we not perhaps seeing once again, in the light of current history, that no positive world order can prosper where souls are overgrown?" (
Spe Salvi, 15)

All we can do – and do this we must – is to prepare the way of the Lord and, as much as we can, to make things ready for the action of God, remembering that paradise – the Kingdom of God, free of all conflict and danger – can only be brought about by the action of God (indeed even our work of preparation is itself dependent on God’s grace).

May we never be fooled by godless messianism that puts itself forward through perversions of “science” and “progress”.

May we strive always to be faithful messengers of God’s true Kingdom in our hopes, in our words, and in our deeds.

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 so he 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 (also known as St. John Damascene), 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)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blasts from the past and future

In today’s readings we hear about some blasts from the past – as well as a blast in the future.

The blast in the future is described in today’s first reading (Isaiah4:2-6): “a blast of searing judgment.”

As frightful as this sounds, this “blast” is a blast of purification: purifying away filth and injury.

What follows this blast is a blast from Israel’s past: that after the blast of purification, the people of God will see again the presence of the Lord as the smoking cloud and the flaming fire, as they did in the days of Moses in the desert.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 8:5-11), we hear the familiar account of the Centurion and that famous expression of unworthiness whose paraphrase is used at Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

God, who is eternal, is never old, and as finite human beings we can and will always experience “new” in our experience of God, yet God Eternal has also accompanied mankind throughout our linear history and “blasts from the past” help remind us of God’s constant companionship with us, his constant action among us throughout the millennia, and his love for us that never leaves or fails.

They were college buddies

and bonded together for life, even if they ended up on different sides of the world.

It was more than just the shared experience of being far away from home. It was even more than just the normal excitement and adventures of a university environment.

What bonded these seven guys together was Jesus and a deep desire to do great and brave things.

That bond persisted even when one of them lay dying in a makeshift hut on a small island off the coast of China.

The dying man was disappointed that he had taken ill just before what had promised to be the biggest opportunity of his life (in China) and yet he was content, because his soul was in the hands of the Lord.

In truth, he had already accomplished great and brave things for Jesus: performing awesome miracles as well as personally converting and baptizing over forty thousand people in the farthest reaches of the world, including India and Japan.

St. Francis Xavier, Apostle to the Far East and one of the original seven Jesuits, died 455 years ago yesterday and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Coming in Judgment

The Season of Advent, of course, is a preparation for celebrating the coming of Christ at Christmas, but it is also a season to remember our need to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world.

Indeed, in today’s Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44) on the First Sunday of Advent, our Lord warns us of this coming:

You also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.

This is something we need to remember, even though we affirm this truth at least once a week in our recitation of the Creed at Mass.

For many of us (if not nearly all of us), the prospect of Judgment is fearful.

But our faith in Christ teaches us that the prospect of the Last Judgment is also full of hope. Pope Benedict has eloquently reminded us of this in his encyclical Spe Salvi, which he released two days ago:

"At the conclusion of the central section of the Church's great Credo—the part that recounts the mystery of Christ, from his eternal birth of the Father and his temporal birth of the Virgin Mary, through his Cross and Resurrection to the second coming—we find the phrase: 'he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead'.

"From the earliest times, the prospect of the Judgment has influenced Christians in their daily living as a criterion by which to order their present life, as a summons to their conscience, and at the same time as hope in God's justice.

"Faith in Christ has never looked merely backwards or merely upwards, but always also forwards to the hour of justice that the Lord repeatedly proclaimed. This looking ahead has given Christianity its importance for the present moment." (from Spe Salvi, 41)

"Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright.

"For this reason, faith in the Last Judgment is first and foremost hope..." (Ibid, 43)

"The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope.

"Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love.

"God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope.

"And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ.

"Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. ... Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.” (Ibid, 44)

"The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace.

"If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—Details from The Last Judgement by Pieter Pourbus, 1551the crucial question that we ask of history and of God.

"If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all.

"The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgment and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation 'with fear and trembling' (Phil 2:12).

Details from The Last Judgement by Pieter Pourbus, 1551"Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our 'advocate', or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).” (Ibid, 47)


Come Lord Jesus!

Come with justice.

Come with mercy.