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...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

"The last hour"

This term is repeated twice in today’s first reading (1 John 2:18-21).

It is also the last day of the calendar year: a time when people make resolutions for the year to come.

It is a time of decision.

May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ give us the strength, the courage, the fortitude, the wisdom, the knowledge, the joy, and the love to live the way He wants us to live at this hour and for whatever hours or years we have left.

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 Saint 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 a previous post)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Must have? Not really.

The way advertisers tell it, there are things that you simply MUST HAVE.

The way movies, songs, advice-givers, and stories tell it, there are pleasures and people that you simply MUST HAVE.

But deep down in our hearts, we know that none of that is true.

Deep down in our hearts we already know what Saint John says in today’s first reading (1 John 2:12-17):

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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"The darkness is passing away"

The last year or so has been very difficult for many.

Even now, for some, the future does not look bright.

In today’s first reading (1 John 2:3-11), there is an important message for all of us:

The darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.

No matter what terrible things may be happening in our lives, they are nothing in comparison to the glory, the joy, and the happiness God has prepared for us in Christ.

No matter how long terrible thing may have happened to us or how long they will continue to afflict us, these times of trouble are going to be just a blip in comparison to the eternity of beatitude Christ has prepared for us.

By the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as we go through all the good and bad of this world, may we be faithful to Him and persevere.

The darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.

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 a previous post)

Monday, December 28, 2009

"This is the message"

Some Scripture passages require much explanation.

Today's first reading (1 John 1:5—2:2) is not one of those. The less I say, the better.

The more you and I really take these words to heart, infinitely better still.

This is the message
that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light,
and in him
there is no darkness at all.

If we say,
“We have fellowship with him,”
while we continue to walk in darkness,
we lie
and do not act in truth.

But if we walk in the light
as he is in the light,
then we have fellowship with one another,
and the Blood of his Son Jesus
cleanses us from all sin.

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

If we acknowledge our sins,
he is faithful
and just
and will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.

If we say,
“We have not sinned,”
we make him a liar,
and his word is not in us.

My children,
I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.

But if anyone does sin,
we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ
the righteous one.

He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only
but for those of the whole world.

Project Rachel

"Project Rachel is the name of the Catholic Church's healing ministry to those who have been involved in abortion. Its name comes from Scripture:"

In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning,
of bitter weeping!
Rachel mourns her children,
she refuses to be consoled
because her children are no more.

Thus says the LORD:
Cease your cries of mourning,
wipe the tears from your eyes.
The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward...
There is hope for your future.

Jeremiah 31:15-1


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 a previous post)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Godly choices about family

There are layers of wisdom in the very beginning of the passage from Sirach provided as one of the options for today’s first reading (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14):

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.

On one level, this addresses the authority of parents over children.

There is a more fundamental level to this verse, however: not just that parents have authority but that it is God who establishes that authority.

Families are not simply a matter of human convention or individual whims: that is the way of confusion, selfishness, and a never-ending series of power games.

All of our choices with regard to family need to be rooted in God, not in the passing preferences of individuals or cultures.

All of our choices with regard to family – yours and mine, whether we are married, single, parents, children, or childless – must be rooted in God through discernment, prayer, and the seeking of His truth in revelation.

None of us are perfect as individuals. Likewise, our family situations may not be perfect either, because of circumstances beyond our control, bad choices we have made, or a combination of the two.

But God is perfect, God is love, and God reaches out to us with His grace, inviting us to follow the path of Truth as we continue through life in this world and to make choices about family based on Him: His love, His truth, and His grace.

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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 Saint Stephen, Deacon and first Martyr of the Christian faith.

(from a previous post)

Friday, December 25, 2009

A blessed Christmas to all

"They made known the message"

The world is sometimes a dark and scary place, where people delight to exercise power over others and at the expense of others.

In the midst of this dark and scary world, the Christian faith offers a message of beautiful light, undefeatable hope, perfect freedom, and eternal truth.

And the first human beings to make known that message, as we hear in this morning's Gospel (Luke 2:15-20) were a handful of poor people from the outskirts of society: shepherds in a small land.

They went in haste
and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.

When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.

All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.

On this Christmas Day, throughout the Christmas season, and all during the new year may you and I make known the message.

Christ is born.

God is with us.

Hope is ours.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The bottom line

There are many traditions around Christmas.

There are many preparation and many activities.

There are many songs and many celebrations.

The Gospel for the Vigil Mass of Christmas (Matthew 1:1-25) reminds us of the bottom line of Christmas:

All this took place
to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
the virgin shall conceive
and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us."

Beyond everything - good, bad, and empty - the bottom line os Christmas is this:

Christ is born.

God is with us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Turn the hearts

Not all of us have the greatest relationships with our parents. This can be the occasion of no little stress and turmoil during the holidays.

The last words of today’s first reading (Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24) seem to speak directly to such situations: words of warning, but also words of hope.

Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

In these holy days and in the new year to come, may the grace of God, through prophetic words and actions, bring about the healing and courage (if not miracles) to make new and holy the relationships in our lives that may have been strained or even broken.

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

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.

Saint John of Kanty (also known as Saint 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.

(from a previous post)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comfort, affliction, and true hope

I once heard a journalist say that his mission was to "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

This journalist was a multimillionaire with one or two mansions and a ranch. Comfortable indeed.

Once one gets past the breathtaking hypocrisy of the statement, one might wonder what the real point was. If you comfort the afflicted, they become the comfortable who must now be afflicted, etc. etc. etc. What is the advantage of this never-ending cycle of upheaval to anyone?

It depends on who is doing the comforting and afflicting.

If it is a pretentious journalist, a grandiose politician, a brilliant philanthropist, or any human being or agency doing the comforting and afflicting, there are few advantages to anyone (except perhaps temporary selfish benefits for those exercising this power at the center of it all).

Even if the person or agency is thoroughly virtuous and as wise as human beings can be, the results are doomed to fall short.

Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable only succeeds when God is at the center of it all.

Only God acts from pure love.

Only God acts with perfect wisdom.

Many among us consider only the short term. Far-sighted humans work for the long-term good.

God acts from Eternity toward Eternity.

Thus, no matter what our condition in life may be, whether we are afflicted or comfortable or somewhere in between, the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:46-56) are words of true hope.

The Almighty.... 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.

Whether God lets us be afflicted or God comforts us, we will be the better and the happier for it.

Thus, with the help of God’s grace, like Mary we may say

I am the servant of the Lord.

Be it done to me according to His word.

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


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

and a previous post
on Toward Contemplation

Monday, December 21, 2009

Love is on the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

With this same love he calls to us

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

May we speak to the Lord from our hearts.

May we let his grace make us lovely, so that when the Lord calls we may sing with the doves in the eternal morning of heaven.

(from a previous post)

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 a previous post)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wonder and awe

These words have been very much overused and misused in our modern world of hype and twisted meanings.

Yet these words perfectly describe what is at the heart of today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45)


Elizabeth realizes that she is in the presence of the Lord Himself, incarnate in the womb of her cousin Mary.


Elizabeth is amazed in mind and soul at what has happened and what is before her.

In a few days we will celebrate Christmas.

It is a day most of us have celebrated many times before.

It is a day truly for wonder and awe, just as was the day Mary visited Elizabeth – if not more so.

Consider what we celebrate, as described so simply and eloquently by Saint John (John 1:1,14a):

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God....

...and the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us...

Prepare well for this Christmas.

Prepare to look into the manger, prepare to look into the eyes of the newborn Christ...

...with wonder and awe.

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 19, 2009

A teenager who hung out in coffee shops

“Chiara loved to hang out in coffee shops. She was great at tennis, swimming and mountain climbing.”

This is from a recent article in the Denver Catholic Register about an Italian teenager who died in 1990 of bone cancer at the age of 18: Chiara Luce Badano.

A normal teenager living in the last quarter of the 20th Century, she lived a holy life and died the same way.

Today, the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints declared authentic a miracle attributed to her intercession.

Expect an announcement of her beatification shortly.

"Consecrated to God from the womb"

Today’s readings present us with the miraculous conceptions of two men who would be especially dedicated to God “from the womb”: Samson, the famous defender of Israel (Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).

There are many lessons for us to take from these readings.

One is that conception is a gift from God: not a medical condition.

Another is that children in the womb are sacred to God.

A third is the value of dedicating children to God from the womb, especially in the sense of raising them in an environment of Christian love, devotion, and truth from the very beginning.

Parents or not, may you and I always pray to God that we may contribute to an environment of Christian love, devotion, and truth at all times and in all places, for the sake of the world and for the sake of the children among us.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A good place, a place we belong

Why is homeownership desired by so many? Why is foreclosure so especially heart-wrenching?

One reason is because as human beings we feel the deep need to belong and owning one’s own home gives a feeling of being in the place where one belongs.

In today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:5-8), the Lord makes a promise to His people:

They shall again live on their own land.

The people were indeed restored to their land, although that did not turn out to be permanent.

Ultimately, of course, we will truly have “our own land” in the Kingdom of Heaven: a place of eternal happiness where, only by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will truly belong.

Until then, whether we own our own homes or feel forever rootless, we continue our pilgrimage faithfully through this life: resting our souls in the Lord in whom we eternally belong.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The contributions of ordinary lives

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) is a genealogy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: not always the most exciting reading to hear (especially while standing).

It is long, repetitious and full of unfamiliar names that are sometimes difficult to pronounce.

But the genealogy is also full of meaning, not the least of which is a lesson about history and ordinary people, for while the genealogy includes a number of famous people, it also includes many people who were never famous: people with ordinary names (ordinary in that culture) and who lived ordinary lives.

But these ordinary lives meant something: to their children and to others who knew them.

Moreover, through the mystery of God’s will, each generation in different ways made a contribution that would continue down the generations, culminating in the Incarnation and the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

While you and I do not have the opportunity to be ancestors of Christ, still we have a contribution to make, each of us in our own generation, that will pass down all the generations that may come and, by the grace of God, on into eternity.

With God’s grace, may you and I make the best contribution we can.

(adapted from a previous post)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"I am the LORD, there is no other"

The words are simple and clear: set at the very beginning of today’s first reading (Isaiah 45:6b-8, 18, 21b-25) and repeated with even greater power.

For thus says the LORD,
The creator of the heavens,
who is God,
The designer and maker of the earth
who established it,
Not creating it to be a waste,
but designing it be lived in:
I am the LORD, and there is no other.

No other God exists: no other “Force” or mysterious principle of self-creation – nothing. The LORD is the Creator.

Who announced this from the beginning
and foretold it from of old?
Was it not I, the LORD,
besides whom there is no other God?
There is no just and saving God but me.

Human beings, of course, are finite in their knowledge, limited in their perceptions, and in many ways confused by the effects of sin in the world and in ourselves.

Thus different human beings may look at the world differently, with or without culpability: misreading the evidence of God’s existence and of God’s nature and misunderstanding God’s own self revelation (even His most perfect revelation in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ).

But this ignorance will not last forever.

Turn to me and be safe,
all you ends of the earth,
for I am God; there is no other!

By myself I swear,
uttering my just decree
and my unalterable word:
To me every knee shall bend;
by me every tongue shall swear,
Saying, “Only in the LORD
are just deeds and power.”

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The proud braggarts

Those commentators and talk show hosts.

Those “experts” and authorities.

Those politicians and bureaucrats.

Those celebrities and entertainers.

Even some of us, even perhaps you and I.

Proud braggarts.

She hears no voice,
accepts no correction;
In the LORD she has not trusted,
to her God she has not drawn near.

In today’s first reading (Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13), the Lord says He will remove proud braggarts from our midst.

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.

May God give us the grace to be repentant and humble, to draw ever nearer to the Lord, and to take refuge in the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"By what authority...?"

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 21:23-27), the religious authorities of the People of God question the authority of Christ and are agnostic about the authority of the most famous prophet of the time.

In today’s first reading (Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a), a key prophecy about Christ is uttered by a man who is not even a member of the People of God.

Lawful authority must always be given due respect and official authority within the People of God must always be respected (see Matthew 23:2-3).

But in this world of many voices and many temptations, it is always critical for us to pray for the gift of discernment and to discern carefully what we hear and what we feel.

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.

Saint John of the Cross, cofounder with Saint 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 a previous post)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Choose joy

Joy feels hard sometimes, especially in these times of financial challenges.

Yet we are constantly reminded that financial success is no guarantee of happiness: far from it. From rich and alcoholic movie stars to lottery winners whose lives subsequently implode to zillionaire athletes who make wrecks of their personal lives (and more), we see this lesson played out day after day.

Neither money nor fame nor love guarantee joy, yet joy can be had without any of these things.

I am reminded of the wonderful words of Friedrich von Schiller set to glorious music by Beethoven in the Ode to Joy.

"Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Ecstasy is granted even to the worm

Und der Cherub steht vor Gott
And the cherub stands before God!"

Joy is ultimately a choice. It is also a gift: a gift from God for which we should pray, as Saint Paul remind us in today’s second reading (Philippians 4:4-7):

Rejoice in the Lord always.

I shall say it again: rejoice!

Your kindness should be known to all.

The Lord is near.

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

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

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 a previous post)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Silence! Rejoice!

One of the passages available for the first reading today (Zechariah 2:14-17) recalls famous music.

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 fourth or 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.

(adapted from a previous post)

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 middle eastern 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.

(from a previous post)

Friday, December 11, 2009

"The way of the wicked vanishes"

The last verse of today’s Responsorial (Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, and 6) offers an intriguing comparison:

For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.

The way of the wicked leads to nothingness.

The way of the wicked is like being in the middle of an empty desert with no path.

The way of the wicked is meaningless.

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

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.

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

(from a previous post)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Feeling lower than low

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) continues a series of prophecies of hope.

We need prophecies of hope: sometimes desperately.

Sometimes we feel hopeless.

Sometimes we feel lower than low.

Sometimes we feel like a worm or even worse.

This prophecy of hope is for 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.

No matter how low we may feel, God is right there with us, ready to grasp us by the hand and to enable us to endure and find hope as we continue our journey in this world by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Life is hard

Sometimes it feels REALLY hard.

Sometimes it feels impossible.

But with God all things are possible.

Today’s readings – a glorious prophecy (Isaiah 40:25-31), a simple Psalm (103:1-2, 3-4, 8 and 10), and the wonderful words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:28-30) – give us beautiful and powerful reminders of how God can give us what we need within ourselves to persevere in a sometimes very hard world.

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.


Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.

Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.


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

Take My yoke upon you
and learn from Me,
for I am meek
and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.

For My yoke is easy,
and My burden light.

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 own 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, Mother of the Lord Jesus, 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.

Saint 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)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The right choice

In today’s first reading (Genesis 3:9-15, 20), someone makes a very bad choice.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), someone makes a very good choice.

After the bad choice came many bad things.

After the good choice came the very best thing: the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

By the grace of God, who makes all good choices possible, may we make only the very best choices and by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may we be saved from the eternal effects of the bad choices we have made.

"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
155 years ago
today the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Monday, December 07, 2009

Dreading Monday

Not everyone is happy about their day-to-day life.

Not everyone is happy about their work.

Not everyone begins the day or begins the week with joyful anticipation.

Sometimes people begin the day or begin a week with fear and dread.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 35:1-10) has a message for us:

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.

He wasn't even baptized

He was a lawyer.

He worked for the government.

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, 1635 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 Saint Augustine.

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

(from a previous post)

"And this is my prayer..."

"... that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless
for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God."

(1 Philippians 1:9-11 - from yesterday's 2nd reading)

Second Sunday of Advent

(yesterday - sorry for not posting)

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 05, 2009


Human beings are deserving of care.

Human beings must take care of themselves.

Human beings must take care of each other.

These are the fundamental truths that underlie many debates nowadays, as people from various political and philosophical backgrounds debate how much care should be given by whom and by what means.

Sadly , these debates are too often crippled by political positioning and the favorite “easy answers” of the various parties in these debates.

We must care for ourselves and we must care for each other, but today’s readings remind us that God also cares for us.

The first reading (Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26) and the Responsorial (Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6) are messianic prophecies of God caring for his people.

The Gospel (Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8) shows the care the Messiah Himself had in the days when He walked this earth.

We must care for ourselves and we must care for each other, but we also must continually pray to the Lord for the care and the love and the grace that only He can provide.

Friday, December 04, 2009

"The loveliness of the LORD"

Beauty captures us:
beauty in creation,
beauty in human beings,
beauty in art.

How much more beautiful God must be:
the One from whom all beauty derives.

Thus says the Psalmist in today’s Responsorial
(Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14):

One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD...

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.

Saint 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 a previouspost)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Better than trusting in princes

This verse from today’s Responsorial Psalm (118:1 &8-9, 19-21, 25-27a) sounds lovely but out of date.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

Very few of us have any involvement with princes nowadays. Not many countries in today’s world have princes and very, very few princes have any power at all.

However, when we understand the word “princes” as meaning “people with power”, then we understand that the world is full of princes, even though they are rarely called such, and that many of us trust in them.

We trust in our government leaders, we trust in journalists and commentators, we trust in academicians and scientists, we trust in leaders of corporations and of nonprofit organizations.

These are the princes of today's world.

Certainly we need to work within a world of powerful people, make discerning decisions and take prudent actions, but we also need to remember

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

They were college buddies

and they were 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.

Saint Francis Xavier, Apostle to the Far East and one of the original seven members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), died 457 years ago yesterday and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(from a previous post)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The LORD is my shepherd

I shall not want

he makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff,

they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

thou anointest my head with oil,

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

for ever.

Psalm 23
The Responsorial Psalm for today's Mass

(originally posted on Toward Contemplation)

The Lord will destroy the web...

On this mountain He will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations...

Actually, the English word “web” used in the Lectionary translation is not the most common choice for the original Hebrew word in this verse from today’s first reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a), although it is within the bounds of acceptability.

The sense is of a covering that drapes over the head, almost like something poured or melted, yet also something woven.

This covering or veil is not just the fear and the grief of death (the subject of the verse that follows): it is something created or woven by the accumulation and the interweaving of sinful action upon sinful action in our lives and in the world.

Sin piles on top of sin so much that the world seems to hesitate less and less before embracing yet another level of sinfulness and abomination.

Society and culture weave a web that blinds us to the truth, making us believe the sophisticated tapestry of what the world thinks and says rather than the eternal truth that exists beyond.

May we always pray for the grace to see beyond what the world covers us with and to know the Truth through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A world without dangers

The news is full of heart-wrenching tragedies that occur when parents take their eyes off their small children “just for a second.”

In that context, this familiar verse of messianic prophecy from today’s first reading (Isaiah 11:1-10) can really get people’s attention (if not terrify them):

The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.

By the grace of God, we can work toward some messianic prophecies, but this is not one of them.

A world without dangers is totally beyond the reach of humankind.

A world without dangers – a world of total and true peace and of freedom from pain or fear – will come only in Eternity and when Christ comes again.

In the meantime, with the help of God, we must do our best to keep our children from snakes and all the dangers of this world so we may all together live on this sometimes scary planet as the light of Christ and as ambassadors of the true peace that only Christ can give.

What shall we pray for this month?

Pope Benedict XVI's general prayer intention for December is dedicated to children:

"That children may be respected, loved, and never exploited. "

The theme of his missionary prayer intention is Christ, Light of the World:

"That during Christmas the peoples of the earth may recognize the Incarnate Word as the light that illuminates every person, and that every nation may open its doors to Christ, the Savior of the world. "