Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dec. 14, 2017: St. John of the Cross

Dec. 14, 2017: St. John of the Cross

Selected excerpts from St. John of the Cross’ writings

(The Spiritual Canticle) Stanza 1. #3. You are a hidden God. Neither is the sublime communication nor the senstible awareness of His nearness a sure testimony of His gracious presence, nor is dryness and a lack of these a reflection of His absence. #6. A person who wants to find Him should leave all things through affection and will, enter within himself in deepest recollection, and regard things as though they were nonexistence. God is hidden in the soul. #7. You yourself are His dwelling and His secret chamber and hiding place. #8. God is never absent. #9. In order to find Him you should forget all your possessions and all creatures and hide in the interior, secret chamber of your spirit. And there, closing the door behind you, you should pray to your Father in secret. Remaining hidden with Him, you will experience Him in hiding, and love and enjoy Him in hiding. #10. God is the substance and concept of faith, and fiath is the secret and the mystery. #11. Faith and love are like the blind man’s guides. They will lead you along a path unknown to you, to the place where God is hidden. #12. Pay no attention to anything which your faculties can grasp. You should never desire satisfaction in what you understand about God, but in what you do not understand about Him Never stop with loving and delighting in your understanding and experience of God, but love and delight in what is neither understandable nor perceptible of Him. #19. Spiritual wounds of love are very delightful and desirable. The soul would desire to be ever dying a thousand deaths from the thrusts of the lance, for they make her go out of herself and enter into God. #20. The wounded soul, strengthened from the fire caused by the wound, went out after her Beloved Who wounded her, calling for Him, that He might heal her. One goes out from oneself through self-forgetfulness.

(The Ascent of Mount Carmel) Bk. 3. Ch. 2. #2. All these sensory means and exercises of the faculties must be left behind and in silence so that God Himslef may effect the divine union of the soul. As a result one has to follow this method of disencumbering, emptying, and depriving the faculties of their natural rights and operations to make room for the inflow and illumination of the supernatural. If a person does not turn his eyes from his natural capacity, he will not attain to so lofty a communication; rather he will hinder it. #3. If it is true that the soul must journey by knowing God through what He is not, rather than through what He is, it must journey, insofar as possible, by way of the denial and rejection of natural and supernatural apprehensions. This is our task now with the memory. We must draw it away from its natural props and capacities and raise it above itself (above all distinct knowledge and apprehensible possession) to supreme hope in the incomprehensible God. #4. The annihilation of the memory in regard to all forms (including the five senses) is an absolute requirement for union with God. This union cannot be wrought without a complete separation of the memory from all forms that are not God. In great forgetfulness it is absorbed in a supreme good. #8. Once he has the habit of union he no longer experiences these lapses of memory in matters concerning his moral and natural life. All the operations of the memory and other faculties in this state are divine.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dec. 13, 2017: St. Lucy

Dec. 13, 2017: St. Lucy

What kind of yoke does the Lord Jesus have in mind for each one of us? And how can it be good for us? The Jewish people used the image of a yoke to express their submission to God. They spoke of the yoke of the law, the yoke of the commandments, the yoke of the kingdom, the yoke of God. Jesus says his yoke is "easy". The Greek word for "easy" can also mean "well-fitting". Yokes were tailor-made to fit the oxen well for labor. We are commanded to put on the "sweet yoke of Jesus" and to live the "heavenly way of life and happiness". Oxen were yoked two by two. Jesus invites each one of us to be yoked with him, to unite our life with him, our will with his will, our heart with his heart.
Jesus carries our burdens with us
Jesus also says his "burden is light". There's a story of a man who once met a boy carrying a smaller crippled lad on his back. "That's a heavy load you are carrying there," exclaimed the man. "He ain't heavy; he's my brother!" responded the boy. No burden is too heavy when it's given in love and carried in love. When we yoke our lives with Jesus, he also carries our burdens with us and gives us his strength to follow in his way of love. Do you know the joy of resting in Jesus' presence and walking daily with him along the path he has for you?

In the Advent season we celebrate the coming of the Messiah King who ushers in the reign of God. The prophets foretold that the Messiah would establish God's kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. Those who put their trust in God and in the coming of his kingdom receive the blessings of that kingdom - peace with God and strength for living his way of love, truth, and holiness (Isaiah 40). Jesus fulfills all the Messianic hopes and promises of God's kingdom. That is why he taught his disciples to pray, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). In his kingdom sins are not only forgiven but removed, and eternal life is poured out for all its citizens. This is not a political kingdom, but a spiritual one.

Freed from the burden of sin and guilt
The yoke of Christ's kingdom, his kingly rule and way of life, liberates us from the burden of guilt and disobedience. Only the Lord Jesus can lift the burden of sin and the weight of hopelessness from us. Jesus used the analogy of a yoke to explain how we can exchange the burden of sin and despair for a yoke of glory, freedom, and joy with him. The yoke which the Lord Jesus invites us to embrace is his way of power and freedom to live in love, peace, and joy as God's sons and daughters. Do you trust in God's love and truth and submit to his will for your life?

"Lord Jesus, inflame my heart with love for you and for your ways and help me to exchange the yoke of rebellion for the sweet yoke of submission to your holy and loving word. Set me free from the folly of my own sinful ignorance and rebellious pride that I may wholly desire what is good and in accord with your will."

Reflection by Don Schwager © 2017.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dec. 12, 2017: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Dec. 12, 2017: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Written by Katie Cassady

Truth be told, I am still getting to know Mary. I grew up in Protestant circles that revered Mary in the manger and then moved quickly on to her son. We landed on the common ground that was our shared faith in Jesus and I didn’t question it much. However, the more I learn about Mary the more I like her.

The story of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary from today’s Gospel reading is well-known. It is both simple and profound. Mary is approached by an angel and a conversation of utmost importance takes place. Gabriel delivers God’s message, Mary is troubled and asks questions, Gabriel responds to her questions and Mary responds with her fiat regarding the mystery that is to come. (There is a very similar conversation between Elizabeth’s spouse, Zechariah, and an angel, though in his case, his disbelief caused him to be struck dumb until the birth of John the Baptist.)

It is clear from the beginning that Mary is set apart and that she is going to have an active role in our Savior’s life.

I am inspired by her strength, humility, vulnerability and her trust in the mysterious movement of God in her life and her body for that matter. So often she is depicted as this serene, contemplative and beautiful woman we have come to recognize and honor. I cannot help but feel like that is only a portion of her identity. As I begin to teach my children about who Mary is, it feels remiss to leave out the details of the variety of ways she worked and works in the world.

Case in point, today’s feast day.

The apparition of the Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego at Tepeyac was a bit baffling to Juan Diego himself. He felt someone more esteemed than he might be fit for the role of relaying Our Lady’s message to the bishop. Yet she chose a humble and faith-filled individual to be the bearer of her important request. The details of her apparition are significant. She is depicted simultaneously as a woman of the people, and of royalty, sending a message that she is for us all. “Am I not here, who am your Mother?”

Mary was instrumental in Jesus’ first miracle. She seems to have a deep awareness of Jesus’ ministry. And I think that can be said for us, too. Mary meets all of us exactly where we are—unwed mothers, young mothers, surprised mothers, overwhelmed mothers, grieving mothers, worried mothers, compassionate mothers, widowed mothers, Spirit-filled mothers, wise mothers, strong mothers, kind mothers, humble mothers, loving mothers.

“Am I not here, who am your Mother?”

So as I continue to learn from and about the Blessed Mother, I want to honor and pass on both the peaceful, contemplative Mary depicted in statues and nativities, along with the side of her that she communicated by her apparition to Juan Diego—familiar, maternal, humble, royal, persistent, active, loving and always pointing toward the love of her son, Jesus.

(Link) Live video feed from Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Dec. 10, 2017: 2nd Sunday of Advent B

Dec. 10, 2017: 2nd Sunday of Advent B

How do you typically spend your time in your car when you have some distance to drive to your destination? Do you turn on the radio or CD? This week when planning a funeral, I spoke with three of the children whose mother had died earlier in the week. They said as children, when they got in the car with their mom, the first thing they did was to pray the Rosary. The  siblings went on to say that even as adults they still pray the Rosary when they get in their car. That tradition of praying the Rosary is a beautiful example of how the faith of parents can shape and make straight the path of their children.  Parents spend the best years of their lives preparing the way for their children, in the sense of opening them to life. There is no other worthwhile effort than to show a person a straight path to Jesus, which is the path to life.

John the Baptist dedicated his short earthly life to showing people a straight path to Jesus. John cried out to the people in the wilderness, “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” This ‘way’ or the path represents a person’s manner of life and conduct. The straight road stands for right living and the crooked road stands for wrong living. The path to Jesus that John pointed out involves repentance, a conscious turning away from sin and a full- hearted turning toward God. We all have to admit that figuratively speaking we may have wandered out to the wilderness where we feel disconnected from God.  Perhaps we devoted so much time and energy to something so superficial that we gradually became insensitive to God’s presence. We feel the aching dissatisfaction that calls us from within to set things right.

If there is anything that needs to be realigned in our lives, be it a lack of spiritual fervor, selfishness, a unhealthy relationship, lack of integrity at the workplace, this season of Advent is the right time to set ourselves on the right path to Jesus. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a perfect way to set things right with God and ourselves. Take time to examine your conscience before heading in to see a priest. A good place to start for such review is to start with Ten Commandments. We can also help set others on the right path during this Advent season. There may be some who recently lost a loved one, and this will be the first Christmas without them.  There may be someone who cannot afford to give basic Christmas gifts to their children. What a joy it is for them to receive a small act of love from caring persons. Such kindness reaffirms that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and heirs to heaven. To prepare the way of the Lord then it is to help others come to know Jesus’ love and mercy through us.

In these short couple of weeks before we celebrate the arrival of Our Lord at Christmas, let us take time to reflect on our shortcomings and ask Him to help us to overcome them. Let us reach out and help those who may long to experience God’s care and concern.
 Ponder these words this week:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Dec. 9, 2017: St. Juan Diego

Dec. 9, 2017: St. Juan Diego

Saint Juan Diego and Our Lady

The story begins in the early morning hours of December 9, 1531, when a 57-year-old Indian peasant named Juan Diego was walking along the path of Tepayec Hill on the outskirts of Mexico City.

 Keep in mind that only 10 years earlier, Hernando Cortez had conquered Mexico City. In 1523, Franciscan missionaries came evangelizing the Indian people. They were so successful that the Diocese of Mexico City was established in 1528. (Remember too that Jamestown, the first permanent English colony, was not established until 1607.) Juan Diego and many of his family members were among these early converts to the faith. He was baptized "Juan Diego" in 1525 along with his wife, Maria Lucia, and his uncle Juan Bernardino.

One must also not forget that Juan Diego had grown up under Aztec oppression. The Aztec religious practices, which included human sacrifice, play an interesting and integral role in this story. Every major Aztec city had a temple pyramid, about 100 feet high, on top of which was erected an altar. Upon this altar, the Aztec priests offered human sacrifice to their god Huitzilopochtli, called the "Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood," by cutting out the beating hearts of their victims, usually adult men but often children. Considering that the Aztecs controlled 371 towns and the law required 1,000 human sacrifices for each town with a temple pyramid, over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Moreover, the early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children fell victim to this bloodthirsty religion.

In 1487, when Juan Diego was just 13 years old, he would have witnessed the most horrible event: Tlacaellel, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler, dedicated the new temple pyramid of the sun, dedicated to the two chief gods of the Aztec pantheon Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, (the god of hell and darkness) in the center of Tenochtitlan (later Mexico City). The temple pyramid was 100 feet high with 114 steps to reach the top. More than 80,000 men were sacrificed over a period of four days and four nights. While this number of sacrifices seems incredible, evidence indicates it took only 15 seconds to cut the heart out of each victim. (For more information, see Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness by Dr. Warren Carroll.)

Nevertheless, in 1520, Hernando Cortes outlawed human sacrifice. He stripped the temple pyramid of its two idols, cleansed the stone of its blood and erected a new altar. Cortez, his soldiers and Father Olmedo then ascended the stairs with the Holy Cross and images of the Blessed Mother and St. Christopher. Upon this new altar, Father Olmedo offered the sacrifice of the Mass. Upon what had been the place of evil pagan sacrifice, now the unbloody, eternal and true sacrifice of our Lord was offered. Such an action, however, sparked the all-out war with the Aztecs, whom Cortez finally subdued in August 1521.

Now back to our story. That morning Juan Diego was headed to Mass. As he walked along Tepeyac Hill, he began to hear beautiful strains of music, and he saw a beautiful lady, who called his name: "Juanito, Juan Dieguito." He approached, and she said, "Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, the true God, through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of Heaven and earth. It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will manifest, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, and of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities, and misfortunes."

She told Juan Diego to go tell Bishop Zumarraga of her desire for a church to be built at the site. Tradition holds that Juan Diego asked our Blessed Mother her name. She responded in his native language of Nahuatl, "Tlecuatlecupe," which means "the one who crushes the head of the serpent" (a clear reference to Genesis 3:15 and perhaps to the prominent symbol of the Aztec religion). "Tlecuatlecupe" when correctly pronounced, sounds remarkably similar to "Guadalupe." Consequently, when Juan Diego told Bishop Zumarraga her name in his native tongue, he probably confused it with the familiar Spanish name "Guadalupe," a city with a prominent Marian shrine.

Bishop Zumarraga was a saintly man, very just and compassionate. He built the first hospital, library and university in the Americas. He also was the Protector of the Indians, entrusted by Emperor Charles V to enforce his decree issued in August 1530, stating, "No person shall dare to make a single Indian a slave whether in war or in peace. Whether by barter, by purchase, by trade, or on any other pretext or cause whatever." (Note that in 1537 Pope Paul III condemned and forbade the enslavement of the Native American Indian.) However, Bishop Zumarraga listened patiently to Juan Diego, and said he would reflect on the matter, understandably doubting such a story.

Juan Diego went back to Tepayac and reported the bishop's response. Mary instructed him to try again. So the next day, he did. Although this time it was more difficult to see the bishop, Juan Diego prevailed, and the bishop once more listened patiently. However, the bishop asked him to bring back a sign from Mary to prove the story. Again, Juan Diego reported the matter to our Blessed Mother, who told him to return the next day to receive "the sign" for the bishop.

On December 11, Juan Diego spent the day caring for his very sick uncle, Juan Bernardino. He asked Juan Diego to go and bring a priest who would hear his confession and administer the last rites. On December 12, Juan Diego set out again, but avoided Tepeyac Hill because he was ashamed that he had not returned the previous day as our Blessed Mother had requested. While making his detour, the Blessed Mother stopped him and said, "Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?" Mary reassured Juan Diego that his uncle would not die; in fact, his health had been restored.

As for the sign for the bishop, Mary told Juan Diego to go to the top of the mountain and pick some flowers. He went up to the hill which was dry and barren a place for cactus and found roses like those grown in Castille, but foreign to Mexico. He gathered them in his tilma, a garment like a poncho. He brought them to Mary who arranged them and said to take them to the bishop.

Juan Diego proceeded again to Bishop Zumarraga's house. After waiting a while for an audience, he repeated the message to the bishop and opened his tilma to present the roses. The bishop saw not only the beautiful flowers but also the beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bishop Zumarraga wept at the sight of the Blessed Mother and asked forgiveness for doubting. He took the tilma and laid it at the altar in his chapel. By Christmas of that year, an adobe structure was built atop Tepeyac Hill in honor of our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was dedicated on December 26, 1531, the feast of St. Stephen the Martyr.

December 9 marks the feast day of Saint Juan Diego and December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

(Video: 2002 Canonization mass for St. Juan Diego with Pope John Paul II in Mexico City - Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Dec. 8, 2017: Immaculate Conception

Dec 8, 2017: Immaculate Conception

Whether we play sports, apply for college, or apply for jobs, we go through a process of being chosen. A company looking to fill a highly selective position may look for a candidate who is intellectually gifted, multi-talented, efficient, and experienced. Have you ever wondered how God goes about choosing a person for a role? By what basis or criteria does God use to choose His disciples? St. Paul describes it this way, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” (1 Cor 1:27-29)

St. Paul also wrote, “he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 1:4). God chose Blessed Mother in a unique way even before her conception to save her from any stain of sin so that she would be holy and without blemish before him. Blessed Mother responded to God with great humility: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." She was chosen to bring God into the world to reconcile the hurting and confused world which was shrouded in darkness.  

Like Blessed Mother, we too are chosen to bring Christ into the world through our daily lives.  Why do we want to bear Christ? It’s because we want to continue the mission of mercy and compassion that he entrusted to his disciples. We received special grace from God to be holy and without blemish through our baptism and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As adopted brothers and sisters of Christ, we too respond to God’s generous mercy by being humble servants of mercy. Like Blessed Mother, let us strive to overcome our selfishness and become instruments of joy for others, helping to gladden the lives of our sisters and brothers by becoming bearers of Christ and witnesses of his love. Through the intercession of Immaculate Mary, may mercy take possession of our hearts and transform our whole life.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Solemnity of Immaculate Conception Mass Schedule in Donaldsonville, Louisiana (Friday, Dec. 8, 2017)

Solemnity of Immaculate Conception Mass Schedule in Donaldsonville, Louisiana (Friday, Dec. 8, 2017)
7:00AM St. Francis of Assisi
6:00PM Ascension of Our Lord 
Bishop Robert Muench has removed the obligation to attend mass for the Diocese of Baton Rouge due to inclement weather. For those of you who can safely travel, we will still have 7AM and 6PM masses on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. Please check the road conditions before heading out.