March 22 -Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 25 is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, celebrating the visit of St. Gabriel to Our Lady who gave her full consent to become the Mother of God. It is also, therefore, the celebration of the Incarnation. The Son of God becomes a man and takes on a human nature. This tells us about how God works to save us. He saves us through his creation. By becoming a man the Son of God affirms his creation as good and works to save us through that very creation. He saves us through a body, not just by words. God uses material things to restore us to grace. This is the whole principle behind the sacraments. Sacraments are material things that become vehicles of grace. To be touched by the sacraments is to be touched by the hand of God through the humanity of Jesus.
The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.
March 8 – Second Sunday of Lent: History
Sunday’s first reading begins with the call of Abram. The Lord calls out to him and sends him away from his land and family to the place that would be the Land of Promise. With this call is the proper beginning of salvation history.
What do you think of when you think of history? Usually it is defined as the study of past events and people. Salvation history doesn’t just tell us that there was a man named Abram from Ur. Salvation history tells us that he was the first person to receive God’s revelation and so is the beginning of the redemption of us all. How God and man have interacted and how God has saved us despite ourselves is the true subject of history. We are not only discussing past events but are hearing the true story of the world and how we fit into it.
By obeying the voice of God Abram would embark on a journey that would ultimately lead to a multitude of heavenly blessings descending on the world. The nation of Israel, the birth of the Messiah and his rising from the dead would be the greatest blessings of all. This is the fruit of the “yes” of Abram.
February 23 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sacraments and Sacramentals
One of the most popular sacramentals is the ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday. Churches are usually filled with the faithful wishing to participate in this sign of penitence before God. It is a beautiful if sobering tradition to be reminded of our state. As a sacramental the ashes do not give us grace. They prepare us to devoutly receive grace in the sacraments. Sacramentals are really ways the Church provides for us to spiritually prepare for a fruitful reception of the sacraments, which is where the true action of God is.
By receiving ashes we remind ourselves that we have come from the dust of the earth and have received the gift of a soul and spirit from God. Our sinfulness is in many respects a return to dust. Living by the Spirit given to us as grace in the sacrament of baptism, we are filled with the life of God. Receiving ashes is really a preparation for holy communion. Our desire to receive ashes should be the first step in a greater desire to be reconciled to God in the sacrament of confession and then to receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Sacraments are ultimately what we should desire to receive more than anything, and sacramentals, like the ashes, are a great step toward preparing ourselves for receiving those graces that God has prepared for us.
February 16 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Choice
The first reading this week is from the wisdom book of Sirach. Sirach opens by explaining that the choice of keeping the commandment of the Lord, the choice for life and salvation belongs to us. We live in a world today that greatly emphasizes choice. Some people even call themselves “pro-choice.” Go to a coffee shop and you will find yourself awash in so many options to choose from that it can be overwhelming. For Sirach this kind of choice is not real freedom. It is not having the ability to choose something from an abundance of options that makes one free and filled with life. What makes a person free and full of life is choosing God’s ways.
Sirach finishes his wisdom piece by stating that “to none does [God] give license to sin.” Our ability to choose is not a license to choose evil. Our ability to choose is about love. When we choose to obey God’s commandments we have life and share in God’s glory. This really is the only choice, and it is the choice to love. That is why we must have choice, so that we can love. Choice is not so we can have license to do what we feel like in any given moment. How often do we feel like doing one thing but we know we must choose another. That is what makes wisdom and love possible.
February 9 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Honor vs Pride
In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus says that our light must shine before others. Yet, later in the same Gospel Jesus says that when giving alms we should not let the right hand know what the left is doing. Is this a contradiction? The difference is between the virtue of honor and the vice of pride.
Honor is what rightfully belongs to someone when they use their gifts, talents and treasures to benefit others. When goodness is spread it is right that the one who does the spreading should also share in the goodness. What makes honor a virtue is that the focus is not so much on the person as on the goodness. We rightly give honor, for example, to the mayor of a city because of the goodness of the office. Regardless of whether any particular mayor is someone with whom we agree or think effective as a politician. With honor, the light (the goodness) should shine brightly.
The vice of pride, on the other hand, takes the focus off of the goodness and puts it on the person. If I give alms not because I wish to spread goodness but because I want people to notice me, then I am not acting honorably but with pride. To avoid this, Jesus says do not let the right know what the left is doing.
February 2 – The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple: Candlemas
In our society February 2 typically elicits images of groundhogs. Of course we love our furry weather-predictor, but for Catholics February 2 should evoke something much more ancient and solemn. The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, traditionally known as Candlemas, the infant Christ’s procession into the Temple as the Light of the world.
Candlemas is an abbreviation of Candle Mass, or the Mass of Candles. It is called such due to the tradition of blessing candles and processing
into Mass with lighted candles. This practice dates back centuries and is a celebration of the day the Holy Family brought baby Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord and redeemed by a sacrifice of two turtle doves in accord with the Law of Moses. After the birth of a son, a mother had to stay away from the Temple for a period of time. She returned to the Temple on day 40 after the birth to be purified and to offer a sacrifice for the newborn. Our Lady kept this law. On day 40 after the birth of Jesus she and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple. Neither did Our Lady need purification, nor did Jesus need redemption. By obeying the law they perfected it and purified these activities so that now all the disciples of Christ might sacramentally follow in their footsteps and be redeemed and purified through our spiritual participation.
January 26 – Sunday of the Word of God: The Meaning of the Cross
In his Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul discusses division that has arisen in the community. The division is based on whom the disciples claim to be their master. Some say Paul, some say Cephas, some Apollos, and others say Christ. The people are making their claims based on who is their favorite priest. Their preferences are based on who preaches the best or who celebrates baptism in the most solemn way. Paul admonishes the community for these divisions. He reminds the Corinthians and us that we are not saved by our favorite ministers, we are saved by Christ, that salvation does not come in the form of human eloquence, it comes through the power of Christ’s cross. If salvation is reduced to liking one minister’s preaching over another, then the cross of Christ is emptied of its meaning.
Paul says that human eloquence distorts the meaning and power of the cross if the faithful become attached to the minister. We are supposed to be drawn to the power of God’s love and his way of accomplishing salvation. If the faithful become attached to the preaching style of a minister, then it is not faith in the love of God that brings them to join the Church, it is faith in a human being, the minister. Paul urges us to be aware of this temptation and to avoid it.
January 19 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Lamb of God
At every Mass after the sign of peace we cry out, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” We echo the proclamation of John the Baptist from today’s Gospel. Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away all sin and grants peace. What does it mean for Jesus to be this lamb?
To most modern people the idea of a lamb is of something soft, cuddly, white and fluffy. To the ears of those who heard John the Baptist this was farthest from the truth. To the Jews of the first century lamb of God referred to sacrifice. It was a lamb that was sacrificed and eaten for the Passover. John does not simply refer to Jesus as a lamb but as the Lamb of God. This title means that Jesus is the one, true sacrificial lamb of the Passover. This is how Jesus will have mercy on us. He will be our paschal sacrifice and by following him and partaking of his sacrificial meal (the Eucharist) we shall pass over the curse of everlasting death. This is the perfection of the Passover of the Exodus at the time of Moses, which was a foreshadowing of Christ.
Participation in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God at the Mass is the means by which we may come to final and everlasting peace.
January 12 – The Baptism of the Lord: Administering Baptism
The first sacrament is of course baptism. Without it no other sacrament may be received. In baptism we are marked by God’s hand as his child, freed from original sin and given the ability to worship him and walk in his ways. We must be marked by God in order to live in his kingdom and receive the gifts of that kingdom, namely, the other sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.
In normal circumstances a baptism must be celebrated in a parish church by either a bishop, priest or deacon. That parish will forever be the place of record for the person baptized. In the future when a baptismal certificate is needed the person must ask the parish where he or she was baptized for the certificate. If the parish has been closed for some reason, then you must call the archives of the diocese where that parish used to be.
Sometimes, unfortunately, there are emergency situations where someone is in serious danger of death. Only in those circumstances is it legitimate for any person to administer baptism. If you ever find yourself in that terrible circumstance you legitimately baptize someone if you pour water over the head three times and say, “(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
January 5 – Epiphany of the Lord: Manifestation
The great mystery we celebrate on Christmas is that God has become human in his Son Jesus Christ. Miraculous and stupendous is the birth of the Son of God in his humanity. Many songs and poems have been written to celebrate that God, who cannot be contained by the whole universe, has been contained in and born from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Epiphany celebrates the “other side” of that mystery. If Christmas celebrates that God was born as a man, then Epiphany celebrates that a baby is in fact the King of the Universe.
The Wise Men from the East sought out the new born king of the Jews. By discovering Jesus the Three Kings were the first from the gentile world to see and worship the Son of God and King of Kings. God has come to fulfill his promises not just to the Jewish people but indeed to the whole world. Epiphany commemorates the event that manifested the glory of God to the whole world. The glory of God is seen on the face of the baby born in the manger. The glory of God is the fact that he has not left his people to die in their sins but has come among us to save us and elevate us to a new dignity, namely, that as God has become man we too may become as gods.
December 29, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph: The True Marriage of Mary and Joseph
It has been sometimes asked whether we can say that Mary and Joseph truly had a marriage due to the fact that Our Lady remained a virgin. Even St. Jerome speculated that it may be more fitting to call Joseph the guardian of Mary rather than her husband. St. Thomas Aquinas answered this question in his estimable treatise the Summa Theologiae (Part III, Question 29).
Though Mary and Joseph never had conjugal relations, they did give their complete consent to the Divine Will by entering into the bond of matrimony in a very unique way as the family of the Son of God. Their union with each other was secured not conjugally but by a perfect acceptance of God’s will. Secondly, every true marriage has for it’s perfection not just the union of man and woman for each other’s sake but for the sake of children. Mary and Joseph were perfectly united in fulfilling the needs of Jesus who was conceived not through human conjugal activity but by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Their full cooperation with God and with each other achieved the end of rearing Jesus and in firmly establishing him for his mission to the world.
December 22, Fourth Sunday of Advent: Images of God
The images associated with the season are universally recognized and have been for centuries. Images of the manger and nativity scenes, the star of Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men, the infant Jesus and others all speak God’s momentous entrance into the world through the birth of Christ. As part of our final preparations for the Mass of Christ (December 25), we should be attentive to the effects these images have on us interiorly.
The images of God we hold within us are vitally important to our spiritual state. Examining the images we hold of God should be a regular practice as these images influence how we receive grace. If our image of God, for example, is one of a very stern and unfeeling father, it would certainly elicit a different prayer response from us than an image of a father who remains warmly engaged with his family. The Father knew the image of his Son wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger would touch the human heart in a way unimaginable prior to that first Christmas. As we proceed through these last days of Advent, notice your interior responses to the different images of the season and how they inform you of the internal images of God you hold.
December 15, Third Sunday of Advent: Dryness in Prayer (Part II)
We continue now with the catechesis on dryness in the spiritual life begun last week. There were four common causes of dryness that were named last week. One final cause to mention is the possibility that dryness is the result of unconfessed sin. If we avoid facing our sinfulness and humbly acknowledging it before God in the confessional then it is possible we are blocking the grace of God. When we are in sin the grace of God would generate sorrow within us. This sorrow, when consecrated in the sacrament of confession, can be a deeply transforming experience. It would be similar to a person who delays by distracting him or herself from facing the grief of the loss of someone special. Dryness may result due to the delay in facing our sin and allowing proper sorrow to be experienced.
This purification process is an opportunity to develop new spiritual attitudes and a deeper friendship with Christ. As we mature through the process by fidelity to our duties and vocation to prayer, we develop new forms of trust in God and resilience in the face of spiritual obstacles. As a river cuts a canyon through a mountain, dryness in prayer, when aided by grace, “carves” new spiritual pathways through the soul.
December 8, Second Sunday of Advent: Dryness in Prayer (Part I)
The expectation and the desire for spiritual highs or consolations in prayer is fairly normal. We naturally tend to move toward pleasure and away from pain or lack of pleasure The great masters of prayer warn about becoming attached to consolations. We are to seek and love the God of consolations, not the consolations of God.
When we find ourselves in dry periods of prayer there are several
spiritual tactics we can use to persevere through those times and deepen our love of God.
1. Dryness affords us the chance to call upon God for help. It is a
reminder that we are totally dependent upon him for spiritual growth and that all is a gift.
2. Perhaps we are called to change our type of prayer. Dependency on the same method for long periods could lead to stale prayer.
3. Examine whether your prayer is connected to your real life, what you think and feel, what is really happening with you. Sometimes we make our prayer entirely abstract.
4. Purification from attachments often comes in the form of dryness. These dry periods are opportunities for growth in honest love.
December 1, First Sunday of Advent: Advent
Advent is the first season of the Church year. We prepare for the coming of Christ in three ways: The first part of Advent is a focus on the second coming of Jesus at the end of time to usher in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. This is the goal of all of history — to be with God forever. It constitutes the first part of Advent because as the goal of history, it shapes everything else in the calendar.
The next way prepare for the coming of Christ is by grace. He comes to us in the sacraments and in the whole life of the Church throughout the calendar in the feast days and seasons of the year.
The final part of Advent (beginning December 18th) is the preparation for the coming of Christ in nature at his birth. Christmas is an entire season of the Church year where we celebrate the beginning of grace in our world due to the birth of Jesus.
It is important to fully embrace Advent as a time of renewal, penance and deep longing for God. We are meant to wait for God, not leap ahead. It’s not Christmas yet.