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...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It is the last hour

What would you do if you only had six months to live?

When I am at my best in life, my answer has been simple: what I am doing now, because I am doing what God wants me to do.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Today’s first reading (1 John 2:18-21) repeatedly reminds us that “this is the last hour.”

May God help us to live the way He wants us to live NOW – at this hour.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

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)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What will last

Christmas in the world today has become a feast of materialism.

We should know better.

Even children should know, for some of their Christmas toys are already broken.

Adults this year should know, as financial and economic crisis take away so much that seemed secure.

Today’s first reading (1 John 2:12-17) reminds us:

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.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Which way are you walking?

Although the season of Christmas continues for several more days in the Church, many of us have turned our attention away from Christmas and have begun to focus on the approach of a new year.

It is at this time that people consider New Year’s Resolutions: how they will change their lives for the better in the year ahead.

Today’s first reading (1 John 2:3-11) gives us simple advice for our consideration: if we want to change our lives truly for the better, look again to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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.

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.

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)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Help them grow

The last verse of today’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40) on today’s Feast of the Holy Family gives us the briefest glimpse of our Lord’s childhood years.

The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

Ultimately, of course, it is God who enables growth, but no matter what role you and I may have in families or in the life of children, you and I each have given parts to play in facilitating the growth of others, most especially children.

On this Feast of the Holy Family and in the new year ahead, may you and I exercise those roles well, by the grace of God, and help them grow.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Share the experience

For some of us, this was a very special Christmas: a time when the familiar words, music, and celebrations gave us a new and special thrill as we realized afresh the great love and power of God’s gift to the world in the birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As Saint John exemplifies in today’s first reading (1 John 1:1-4), it is an experience for you and I to share with others.

We have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father
and was made visible to us
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

(If our experience of Christmas this year was not so special, we can pray that the seeds God has planted in us will very soon blossom with grace and joy.)

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 a 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.

(from a previous post)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Even in the best of families

Holidays are a wonderful time for families.

Holidays are a stressful time for families.

Even in the best of families, the year-end gatherings of Thanksgiving and Christmas can be occasions when various issues can surface and cause conflicts that may explode and then simmer for another year.

Usually, of course, these issues and conflicts are relatively petty in the great scheme of things.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:17-22), our Lord foretells times of truly horrific family conflict.

Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents
and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.

There are some societies in this world where this level of lethal persecution takes place today. Most of us, at present, are fortunate not to live in them.

Yet we need to be strong against the subtler forms of persecution and pressure that try to prevent our fully living out our Christian faith.

Even in the best of families.

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)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Because of His mercy

As each calendar year nears its end, people generally take a look back at the year to consider what has happened and what they have done.

This has been a difficult year for many: with economic and financial challenges for many people, family, and nations.

But as the calendar year draws to a close, we also celebrate the great solemnity of Christmas: a day that is more than just the unwrapping of presents and the sharing of a meal – it is the day when we celebrate the most powerful and wonderful gift ever to enter our world.

Saint Paul eloquently reminds us of this in the second reading for the Mass of Christmas at dawn (Titus 3:4-7).

When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

It’s not about us.

It’s not about what we have done.

And ultimately what is truly important and wonderful is not what we can force into existence by cleverness, exertion, or money.

What is truly important and wonderful is because of God’s mercy.

On this Christmas Day,
in the days of Christmas to follow,
and in the new year to come
may you and I be focused upon
and channels of
the mercy of God
in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

There will be a dawn

The economic news has been very dark lately and so has the financial situation of many people and families.

It is easy to wonder if the darkness will ever end.

Today’s Gospel (Luke 1:67-79) reminds us that Christ is coming: there will be a dawn.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those

who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Who shall stand?

Today, two days before Christmas, the first reading (Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24) gives us more prophecies of the Lord’s coming, but they do not sound like tidings of comfort and joy:

Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire...

It raises the question: how can we – imperfect and sinful – stand before God, who is perfect and all-seeing?

It is impossible for us but nothing is impossible for God.

God judges, but God also purifies by grace.

May we open ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ – in humility and contrition – and let ourselves be purified by his love and grace.

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 of Kanty (also known as 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-professor: one who would become the great Pope John Paul II.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, December 22, 2008


Et Maria dixit,

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,
quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.

And Mary said,

Great does my soul declare the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my Savior
for he has regarded the humility of his handmaid.

Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,
quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen eius,

Behold, from now on all generations shall call me blessed,
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;

et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies
timentibus eum.

and His mercy is from generation to generation
to those who fear Him.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,
dispersit superbos mente cordi sui;
deposuit potentes de sede
et exaltavit humiles;

He has shown the strength of his arm;
He has scattered the superior in their own minds;
He has unseated the mighty
And has lifted up the humble;

esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes.

The hungry he has filled with good things
and the rich He has sent away empty.

Suscepit Israel puerum suum,
recordatus misericordiae,
sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini eius in saecula.

He has received Israel His servant,
remembering His mercy,
just as he said to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Luke 1:46-55
from today's Gospel

(previously posted on my other blog Toward Contemplation)

The world upside down

The Magnificat, spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:46-56), tells of how God turns the order of the world upside down.

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 world has been turned upside down for many in recent days.

The Magnificat has much to teach us in these days, not the least of which is that no one is too rich or too poor to escape the hand of God: a hand that brings justice, a hand that brings mercy.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"It was I..."

The “self-made man” (or woman) is an icon in our culture.

To be sure, people should be commended and rewarded for their effort, skill, and initiative, but no one is truly “self-made”.

To varying extents, we all depend upon others for our successes and, as today’s first reading reminds us (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16), we all depend on God.

In today’s first reading, David was settled in his palace, relishing the feelings of success, but Nathan the prophet reminds him of the secret of his success:

Thus says the LORD...

It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.

The Lord goes on to tell David how he will continue to be the one making things possible and successful for David.

(Finally, the Lord hints at the coming of someone who will be both son of David and Son of God: a prophecy fulfilled in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.)

In these difficult and somewhat frightening times, it is good to hear the Lord’s message to David: it is I who gave you success and it is I who will give you success.

This message is echoed in today’s second reading (Romans 16:25-27) as Saint Paul speaks of “Him who can strengthen you”.

But true and lasting strength and success is not given for our selfish enjoyment, but rather for God’s purposes and for God’s glory.

To him who can strengthen you,
according to my gospel
and the proclamation of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation
of the mystery kept secret for long ages
but now manifested
through the prophetic writings and,
according to the command of the eternal God,
made known to all nations
to bring about the obedience of faith,
to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ
be glory forever and ever. Amen.

All the more reason for us, in this time of worry, to focus less on the material things of this holiday season and to focus more on the purposes and glory, the power and the wonder, of what we are about to celebrate: foretold most immediately as we hear in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38):

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great
and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him
the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”

And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month
for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”

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

Let this Christmas be blessed.

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 20, 2008

"Must you also weary my God?"

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), God offers someone something and the person turns God down.

In exasperation, the prophet cries out,

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary men,
must you also weary my God?

In today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), the Lord offers someone something and the person says,

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

How often do we turn God down, choosing instead our own paths?

How often do we try to weary God?

May God Himself help us to be more like Mary and to say

May it be done to me according to Your word.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, me merciful to me – a sinner.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Prepare a people fit for the Lord

As we hear in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:5-25), the task appointed to Saint John the Baptist – even before his conception – is fundamentally this: “to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

He will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him
in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

This task belongs to us as well: to help the disobedient understand what the righteous do, to help turn the hearts of many to the Lord their God, to help parents and family members embrace wholeheartedly their spiritual and moral responsibilities, and in whatever way we can to help "prepare a people fit for the Lord."

All this may we do through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

He shall reign and govern wisely

The words of today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:5-8) are perfectly fulfilled in Christ: the One who will truly "reign and govern wisely".

Until our Lord comes again, of course, we – as citizens of democracies – are called to be wise and to "do what is just and right in the land".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A different generation

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) presents us with a genealogy of Christ: a different and very personal way of recounting the history of God’s people that led up to the coming of the Messiah.

Matthew notes a rhythm of 14 generations in this history – from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian Captivity and from the Babylonian Captivity to Christ – but some have counted only thirteen generations in the list leading up to Christ.

Various explanations are given for this, but above all it is important to remember that although our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is part of this history and is a man like us in all things but sin, He is also Son of God: begotten from eternity.

This may or may not account for the apparent discrepancy in the count of generations, but the reality of Jesus Christ – one Person, two natures, true God, true man – is a matter of life and death for us all.

Because of Christ, we too can rise above our own histories and backgrounds and can live as children of God.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A remnant

Today’s first reading (Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13) speaks of “a remnant”: a concept that resonates well in these days.

“A remnant” can describe the people who survive rounds of layoffs at work.

“A remnant” can describe the future state of once large companies cut low by economic troubles.

But no matter who we are – laid off or holding on, devastated or merely troubles – all of us can find hope in today’s prophecy of “a remnant”: we can survive and find peace in God.

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.

They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and couch their flocks
with none to disturb them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Question Authority

There is a bumper sticker on some cars that says “Question authority”.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 21:23-27), the authority of Christ Himself is questioned by dissembling men, many of whom would soon seek his death.

Each of these questioning men considered himself an authority.

And of course, generally-speaking, so do people with “Question Authority” bumper stickers (and on at least some levels they consider their own authority as being beyond question).

The one true authority is God and He, of course, is beyond question.

There is reason to question authority in this world, but there is also good reason to question ourselves.

We must be guided, of course, by our consciences, but we must always let our consciences be questioned, formed, and built up by the grace and revelation of God - through the ministry of His Church and the light of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The message

Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete Sunday: a day in which the Church invites us to rejoice.

There has been little to rejoice about lately, as financial crises and unemployment shatter the economies of nations, families, and individuals.

But today’s first reading, from the beginning of Isaiah 61 (vv. 1-2a, 10-11) reminds us of that fundamental message of faith which would be spoken by our Lord Himself in the synagogue at Nazareth:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.

(continuing a verse or so – vv. 3-4c – further in the chapter)

To place on those who mourn in Zion
a diadem instead of ashes,
To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning,
a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.

They will be called oaks of justice,
planted by the LORD to show his glory.

They shall rebuild the ancient ruins,
the former wastes they shall raise up
And restore the ruined cities...

This is our message as a Church,
as followers and instruments
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
a message of hope for ourselves
and a mandate for us
to share that message
to a world that desperately needs it.

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 13, 2008

Elijah has already come

Today’s readings (Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Matthew 17:9a, 10-13) speak of Elijah entering human history at more than one point in time: obviously in the ministry of the ancient prophet himself, but also in the person of John the Baptist and in “time to come” when he will “restore all things”.

None of this is to say that Elijah is being reincarnated multiple times.

Rather, what is entering human history at more than one point in time is the special action and power of God associated with the prophet Elijah.

In the uncertain days in which we now live, it is important for us to remember that, in different ways and at different times, you and I and all of humankind are blessed by the power of God associated with his angels, saints, and holy men and women.

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)

Friday, December 12, 2008


Today is a celebration of recognition.

On today’s feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, we celebrate (among other things) how Saint Juan Diego recognized that the Blessed Virgin Mary was a woman not unlike his own people.

In one of the Gospels provided for today’s feast (Luke 1:39-47), Saint Elizabeth and even the unborn Saint John the Baptist recognize that, still in his mother’s womb, the Son of God is in their midst.

May you and I recognize the presence and the path of God in our lives, by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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 the Feast of Our Lady of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 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)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fear not

In a world of dread and uncertainty, the opening words of today’s first reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) speak to us powerfully:

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you,

“Fear not,
I will help you.”

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)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


They say the United States has been in a recession for a year and some say that the current economic troubles are not going away soon.

For some of us, the struggle seems particularly long and hard.

It is easy to grow weary and there is a very real risk that some of us might fall.

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:25-31), God offers his faithful ones the promise of unstoppable endurance

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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rough places

Twists and turns.

Ups and downs.

Emptiness and dryness.

These words describe much of the landscape east of Jerusalem: full of twisting, dry valleys and rugged mountains.

These words can also describe many of our lives.

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:1-11), we hear the well-known prophecy (set gloriously to music by Handel): a prophecy for our world and for our lives.

Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

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)

Monday, December 08, 2008


In today’s first reading (Genesis 3:9-15, 20), Eve makes a choice: she and Adam choose to violate God’s law and thus all humanity becomes afflicted by sin.

In the eternity of His will, God makes a choice: he chooses Mary to be the mother of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who preserves her from sin.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), Mary makes a choice: she chooses to accept God’s will and be His instrument in the Incarnation of the Son of God, who will die and rise so that all may be freed from sin.

What will our choices be today?

"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
154 years ago
today the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Beaten down by seemingly unending war.

Economically devastated.

Hijacked and enslaved.

So felt the people of God in the days of the prophecy which we hear in today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11) and which begins with those words set so wonderfully to music as the first words of Handel’s Messiah:

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

As it was then, so in many ways is it now: as war and terror and hardship threaten us and beat so many of us down.

But God’s power is greater than any threat and can heal any harm.

Can we escape suffering? It is hard to say that we can, when the way of salvation is the way of the cross, and yet our hope is unassailable and no matter what happens, God’s comfort for his faithful ones - described so beautifully in today’s Responsorial Psalm (85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14) - is certain and will be infinite.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

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 06, 2008

Hope amid emptiness and sorrow

Yesterday it was said that nearly two million people have lost jobs this year and that one in ten are behind on their mortgages.

It is a worrisome time and it can be hard to see a way forward.

The opening words of today’s first reading (Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26) give us assurance and hope as we strive to keep walking forward in this world, faithful to our loving God.

Thus says the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.

No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind,

a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.

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

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)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Finding fault

The last line of today’s first reading (Isaiah 29:17-24) may strike some a little strangely.

Those who find fault shall receive instruction.

Ironically, one can find fault with this translation, for the expression translated here as “find fault” is more commonly and more safely translated as “murmur”.

To be sure, as our Lord says (Matthew 7:1), we should not judge, lest we be judged. We need to help each other overcome our faults and grow in holiness as much as we can, but ultimately only the Lord knows perfectly, judges perfectly, and gives instruction perfectly.

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

Those who murmur will accept instruction.

There may be much in our lives about which we might be able to murmur, find fault, complain, or grumble, but in these things and in all things the most important and necessary activity is for us to learn: to learn the plan, the purpose, and the path of God.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Words and deeds

Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel (Matthew 7:21, 24-27) are clear:

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.

Are we really doing God’s will?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

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.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

After the tears

Life may not be going well right now.

There may be much to fear and there may be much to regret.

There may also be much to mourn.

Today’s readings – our Lord’s feeding of the multitude (Matthew 15:29-37) and the messianic prophecy of Isaiah (25:6-10a) – remind us that after the tears and troubles we suffer in this world God is preparing infinite comfort for those who remain faithful:

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!”

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 members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), died 456 years ago yesterday and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

100% peace

Many dangers afflict us.

Many conflicts surround us and embroil us.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 11:1-10) offers us a prophecy of 100% peace: no conflict, no dangers.

This is a goal toward which we must all work, but it is 100% a gift from God.

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.

Monday, December 01, 2008

“Nor shall they train for war again”

Nearly thirty years ago, three men – a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim – leaders of three different nations, signed a peace treaty while each independently quoting at least part of a verse we hear in today’s first reading (Isaiah 2:1-5):

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.

While that particular peace treaty has remained generally intact, none of those three nations stopped training for war: nor could they have, for the world is a deadly and dangerous place and the governments of these three nations have an obligation to protect their people (which is not to say that every warlike or defensive action they have undertaken has necessarily been just or unjust).

We should do what we can to eliminate war in our world, yet we must also be prudent.

This prophecy of peace, of course, is messianic: it will be fulfilled when Christ returns and all nations recognize his liberating and live-giving reign.

“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”

Come, Lord Jesus, and have mercy.

What shall we pray for this month?

Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for December is for a Culture of Life:

"That, faced with the growing expansion of the culture of violence and death, the Church may courageously promote the culture of life through all her apostolic and missionary activities."

His missionary prayer intention is for Fraternal Witness:

"That, especially in mission countries, Christians may show through gestures of kindness that the Child born in Bethlehem is the Hope of the world."