Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dec. 31, 2013: 7th Day of Octave of Christmas

Letting Go of Old Hurts
One of the hardest things in life is to let go of old hurts. We often say, or at least think: “What you did to me and my family, my ancestors, or my friends I cannot forget or forgive. … One day you will have to pay for it.” Sometimes our memories are decades, even centuries, old and keep asking for revenge.

Holding people’s faults against them often creates an impenetrable wall. But listen to Paul: “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see. It is all God’s work” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Indeed, we cannot let go of old hurts, but God can. Paul says: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s fault against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is God’s work, but we are God’s ministers, because the God who reconciled the world to God entrusted to us “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This message calls us to let go of old hurts in the Name of God. It is the message our world most needs to hear.
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Text excerpts taken from Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen , © 1997 HarperSanFrancisco.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dec. 29, 2013: The Feast of the Holy Family--Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Click to hear Audio Homily

Click to hear "Away in a Manger" 
At the Christmas Eve mass, we had a Kodak moment during the children’s Christmas program. A live, wiggly baby Jesus was brought from the pew and placed in the arms of a young Mary. Young Joseph knelt there with his hand folded in prayer. The angels walked in to the sanctuary with their fluffy wings as the choir sang beautiful Christmas hymns. Then the baby Jesus began to wiggle. Resourceful young Mary pulled out a binky and put it in Jesus’ mouth. He was calm for five seconds. Then Mary pulled out from her pocket what the Jewish mothers at the time of birth of Jesus would have deployed for fussy babies: a Ziploc full of Cheerios. The next thing Mary should have checked was whether his Huggies needed changing.

What comes to your mind if I ask you if the family you grew up in as a child was a holy family? Am I asking whether your family was peaceful, intact, well adjusted, psychologically balanced, happy, and full of mutual respect? Or am I asking whether your family was free of selfishness, jealousies, deception, competition, yelling, betrayals, and addictions? When you look back, do you ever wish that the family you grew up in was holier? Have you ever wished that your family was spared of tragedies that continue to burden the surviving family members with sadness?

This weekend we celebrate the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Why do we call them holy? It’s certainly not due to the circumstances and challenges they faced. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock, and for a time, was viewed as unfaithful by her husband Joseph. In turn, Joseph was not financially resourceful enough to provide a proper place for his wife to give birth. Their holiness was not based on their circumstances. Their holiness was based on their response to their circumstances.

How do our families, whether you are a family of one or of many, respond to challenging circumstances? Some families are always on the go and without quality time to themselves. They are busy about good and necessary things—sports, recreation, entertainment, and jobs; nevertheless, the things they are busy with have replaced the sacredness of family time, especially prayer time as a family. A former parishioner, for example, enjoys eating out, family vacations, and nice things. However, to maintain this lifestyle, both the husband and wife work long hours. With less time available for each other and the children, discontent and resentment settled in and arguing increased.

Some families, unfortunately are already separated or divorced. No one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves,  "How can I be selfish and difficult for everyone today?" We all are choosing something that seems to us to be good - perhaps good for me and not for you - but my choice is for something I see as good. Spouses are hurt, and children are deeply hurt. The only healing remedy is forgiveness. However, forgiveness is difficult, and genuine forgiveness from the heart takes a long time. And sometimes, this unforgiveness and hurt are passed to the next generation without reconciliation. There continues to be suffering in the world, beginning in our own families.

Jesus was born into this  suffering world, sent by His Father to heal the suffering. For this son of God, Joseph and Mary sacrificed much to protect him. Their hearts and minds were prepared through a life of prayer to hear the voice of God. Their holiness was based on their desire to listen, to trust, and to follow the direction God laid out for them.

How about each of us? It’s defeatist thinking to believe that the hurt will never go away and that our families will never reconcile. Granted, we will never achieve complete holiness or peace in our families in this world. But what will it take for us to begin today to listen to God? I want you to remember this acronym before getting impatient, angry, or frustrated with our loved ones or friends: W.A.I.T - Why Am I Talking? If we pause and think about whether what I’m upset over is worth fighting over with my loved one, then we are beginning to trust that God will show us a more loving way. And once we begin obeying the path God shows us, we will be instruments of His Peace.

O Holy Night & Ave Maria at Ascension Catholic Church, Donaldsonville, Dec. 24, 2013

"O Holy Night" Sung by Bonnie Marcantel and Fr. Paul Yi

 "Ave Maria" Sung by Amy Landry

Friday, December 27, 2013

Dec. 27, 2013 Friday: The Octave of Christmas, Pope Francis

Christmas Midnight Mass: Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness

“In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light.”
In his homily during Christmas Midnight Mass, Pope Francis reflected on “the mystery of walking and seeing.” Walking, he said, brings to mind the whole of salvation history, beginning with Abraham, our father in faith. “From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord!” And yet, the Pope said, “on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.”

Pope Francis said that in our own lives, too, “there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.”

But, he continued, “On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race.”

“The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God . . . He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light.”

The Gospel of the Mass tells how the shepherds were the first to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. “They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast,” the Pope said. “And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.” The Holy Father called on us to join the shepherds, to pause before the Child in silence, thanking God and praising His fidelity.

Pope Francis concluded his homily with the plea: “On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.”


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dec. 25, 2013: Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas)

Click to hear audio homily 

Click to hear "O Holy Night"
When you were a child, did you ever have a lemonade stand? Did you earn a lot of money? Where did you spend the money you earned? Recently, I heard news of a parishioner from my first parish assignment. A few years ago when I first met her, she wanted to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick because she was taking chemo treatment for her cancer. A year after that I saw her with a baby girl she had adopted.That baby girl is now 4 years old. A few days ago the little girl wanted set up a lemonade stand in front of her house. Although the little girl insisted that she wasn’t charging anything, people gave her money anyway. By the time she closed her stand, she had $8.00. When her dad, who is a physician, got home, he asked her how she was going to spend the money. Without any prompting, she said she was going to give it to the poor. The daddy, teasing with her, said, “you could give it to me, your daddy is poor.” She answered, “No, daddy. You are not poor because you have people who love you.”

When the Christ Child from the manger looks into your eyes, what does he see in you? Does he see your hopes, your joys, and your gratitude? Does he also see your sorrows, your fears, and your anxieties? You may think you have everything just right, but is there still a part of you that feels poor--not having enough, not appreciated, not loved. Despite our attempts to hide it, in truth, we all are poor in some way.

God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son. He saw our poverty. By coming in poverty, Jesus made us aware of our own riches. What are our own riches--how much we are loved by Heavenly Father. How does the Christ Child’s gaze penetrate our heart just as that 4 yr. old’s remark touched our hearts.  A traditional Welsh lullaby ("Suo Gan") tells this profound mystery in simple words:

Holy Savior, yet so tiny
mighty ruler, yet so small.

Infant lowly, born so humbly

yet redeemer, of us all.

Now the angels sing to greet thee
God is with us, here on earth.

With the shepherds and the wisemen
Come to see his Holy Birth.

Holy Jesus, in a manger 
little baby in a stall.

Infant holy, God's Messiah
Born to suffer, for us all

Angels bending o’er the cradle
God's anointed from on high

Blessed Mary watches o'er you
Singing sweetly lullaby.

Blessed Mary watches o'er you
Singing sweetly lullaby.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dec. 23, 2013 Monday: 4th Week of Advent A

Pope Francis: daily Mass at Casa Santa Marta

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. He focused his remarks after the readings of the day on the coming feast of the Nativity, and the threefold coming of Christ into history, at the end of time, and into our daily lives. Drawing on the lesson of St. Bernard, Pope Francis spoke of a “Third coming” of Christ – that which occurs every day in the life of the Church and of Christian faithful:

“There is a third coming of the Lord : that of every day. The Lord visits His Church every day! He visits each of us, and so our souls as well [experience something similar] : our soul resembles the Church , our soul resembles Mary. The desert fathers say that Mary, the Church and our souls are feminine, and that what is said about one can be said analogously of the others. Our soul is also in waiting, this waiting for the coming of the Lord – an open soul that calls out, ‘Come, Lord.’”

Pope Francis went on to say that the Holy Spirit moves each of us in these days to make this prayer his own, and recalled how all throughout the Advent season the Church has described herself as being in vigilant expectation – the attitude that is the hallmark of the pilgrim. “We are pilgrims,” he said:

“Are we expectant, or are we [indifferent]? Are we vigilant, or are we closed up ‘safely’ in an nn along the way, without desire to go forward. Are we pilgrims, or are we vagabonds? For this reason, the Church invites us to pray, ‘Come! ‘, in order to open our soul and in order that that our soul be, these days, vigilant and expectant. Keep vigil! Be mindful of the difference the Lord’s coming (or not) makes in us. Is there a place for the Lord, or only for parties, for shopping , for revelry ... Is our soul open , as is Holy Mother Church and as was the Virgin Mary? Or is our soul rather closed, with a “Do Not Disturb!” sign hung on the door to it?”

“The world,” warned Pope Francis, “does not end with us,” but with the Lord, with Our Lady and with Mother Church. “So,” he said, “we do well to repeat [the invocation”: ‘O Wisdom , O Key of David, O King of the nations, come!”:

“Now, repeat [the call] many times, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ and look to see our soul be not one of those souls that say, “Do not disturb!” No! Let ours be great souls – souls open to receive the Lord in these days and that begin to feel that, which tomorrow the Church will speak to us in the antiphon: ‘Know that today the Lord will come, and in the morning you will see his glory!’


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dec. 22, 2013: 4th Sunday of Advent A

Do you remember the last time you asked for a sign from God? What was going on in your life or in someone’s life at that time? When you ask for a sign from God, usually the situation is serious. Is it okay to ask God for a sign? We usually end up not asking God because we feel we are testing Him. Isn’t it a sign of not trusting God to ask for a sign, we say to ourselves.

That’s what King Ahaz did when he was in a serious situation. Ahaz was overcome by fear as his city Jerusalem was surrounded by two invading armies. Through Prophet Isaiah God spoke words of assurance, “Take care you remain calm and do not fear; do not let your courage fail.” (Isa 7:4) But that wasn’t enough for Ahaz. So the Lord urged Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as Sheol, or high as the sky!” Up to that point, Ahaz had not been faithful to God. His solution to a situation that he could not control was to ally with the much powerful king of Assyria. In order to find favor with the king of Assyria, Ahaz introduced to Jerusalem idolatrous worship of Assyrian deities. Falling on his knees to call upon God was not the first resort for Ahaz. Perhaps ashamed of his lapsed faith Ahaz replied, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Then, the Lord proceeded to give him the sign anyway and the sign was, “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Little did Ahaz know, but through the child whose name means ‘God is with us,’ the threat from the enemy kings would end before the child grew up.

I wonder if we see ourselves in Ahaz. Like him, are we tempted not to ask God’s help due to our pride? At the end of an outcome, do we want the satisfaction that we solved our situation on our own? In the end do we want to hear, “I did it” or “Look at me, at what I accomplished”? Or is there room for humility, where all we want to hear at the end is, “I had nothing to do with this; all the glory belongs to God alone”? God wants to help us and guide us, but often times, our first solution is reliance on ourselves. As the saying goes, in this world the only person that I can trust is ‘myself.’ God wants His people to depend on Him for deliverance. Our question is often how can the Christ Child practically help us? Isn’t there a popular saying which says, “God helps those who help themselves?” Unfortunately this saying has as its foundation pride--self-reliance and self-determination--the very attitude that got King Ahaz in his mess. What is EGO other than an acronym for “Edging God Out.”

In the Gospel, God showed us two persons who modeled for us a very different way to approach our lives here on earth -- that is, living our lives trusting God completely, sometimes not knowing what the outcome will be. It had never been heard of before that a child could be born without a natural father. Mary was asked to accept this miraculous exception to the laws of nature. Mary was not yet married. Pregnancy outside of wedlock was not tolerated in those days. Mary was only engaged to Joseph, and such an engagement had to last for a whole year. She was asked to assume a great risk. She could have been rejected by Joseph, by her family, by all her own people. Mary knew that Joseph and her family would not understand without revelation from God. She nonetheless believed and trusted in God's promises.

Likewise, Joseph had to face a challenge to his faith and put his trust in God. Joseph, a just and God-fearing man, did not wish to embarrass or punish his engaged wife, Mary, when he discovered that she was pregnant.  To all appearances she had broken their solemn pledge to be faithful and chaste to one another. Joseph, no doubt took this troubling matter to God in prayer.  He was not hasty to judge or to react with hurt and anger.  God rewarded him not only with guidance and consolation, but with the divine assurance that he had indeed called Joseph to be the husband of Mary and to assume a mission that would require faith, confidence, and trust in Almighty God.  Joseph believed in the divine message to take Mary as his wife and to accept the child in her womb as the promised Messiah. Like Mary, Joseph is a model of faith for us.

Accepting the child was an act of faith and trust in God, but this faith and trust in God was not a singular event. They had to entrust the rest of their lives to God -- all of their lives. This is how it should be with us. Our baptism and reception of Eucharist are not events that change us for a moment, but something that should change and permeate all of our lives. If we are not loving and caring, even after reception of sacraments, then we have not changed. We must look deep in our hearts and change the behaviors, thoughts, and actions that keep us from being Our Lord’s love in this world. Without prayer, without searching our hearts, we cannot know what separates us from Our Lord’s heart. It is an understatement that the next few days will be a very busy one for all of us. We will be busy buying, decorating, and celebrating Christmas, but we do not open the most important gift that’s been given to us. Let us keep in mind that we must allow the birth of the Christ Child change our lives.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dec. 20, 2013 Friday: 3rd Week of Advent A

How does Mary respond to the word of God delivered by the angel Gabriel? She knows she is hearing something beyond human capability. It will surely take a miracle which surpasses all that God has done previously. Her question, “how shall this be, since I have no husband” is not prompted by doubt or skepticism, but by wonderment! She is a true hearer of the Word and she immediately responds with faith and trust. Mary's prompt response of "yes" to the divine message is a model of faith for all believers. Mary believed God's promises even when they seemed impossible. She was full of grace because she trusted that what God said was true and would be fulfilled. She was willing and eager to do God's will, even if it seemed difficult or costly. Mary is the “mother of God” because God becomes incarnate when he takes on flesh in her womb. When we pray the Nicene Creed we state our confession of faith in this great mystery: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man”. God gives us grace and he expects us to respond with the same willingness, obedience, and heartfelt trust as Mary did. When God commands he also gives the help, strength, and means to respond. We can either yield to his grace or resist and go our own way. Do you believe in God's promises and do you yield to his grace?

"Heavenly Father, you offer us abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness through your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to live a grace-filled life as Mary did by believing in your promises and by giving you my unqualified 'yes' to your will and plan for my life."

Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dec. 19, 2013 Thursday: 3rd Week of Advent A

Pope Francis: Humility necessary for fruitfulness

“Humility is necessary for fruitfulness,” Pope Francis said at Mass this morning in the Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father said that the intervention of God overcomes the sterility of our life and makes it fruitful. Then he put us on guard against the attitude of pride that makes us sterile.

Often in the Bible we find women who are sterile, to whom the Lord gives the gift of life. That was the starting point of Pope Francis’ homily on the day’s readings, particularly the Gospel, which tells the story of Elizabeth, who was sterile but who had a son – John. “From the impossibility of giving life,” the Pope said, “comes life.” And this, he continued, happened not only for sterile women but to those “who had no hope of life,” such as Naomi who eventually had a grandson:

“The Lord intervened in the life of this woman to tell us: ‘I am capable of giving life.’ In the Prophets too there is the image of the desert, the desert land that cannot grow a tree, a fruit, to bring forth anything. ‘But the desert will be like a forest,’ the Prophets say, “it will be huge, it will flower.” But can the desert flower? Yes. Can the sterile woman give life? Yes. The promise of the Lord: ‘I can!’ From dryness, from your dryness I can make life, salvation grow. From aridity I can make fruit grow!”
And that salvation, Pope Francis said, is this: “The intervention of God who makes us fruitful, who gives us the capacity to give life.” He warned that we cannot do it by ourselves. And yet, the Pope said, many people have tried to imagine that we are capable of saving ourselves:

“Even Christians, eh? We think of the Pelagians for example. All is grace. And it is the intervention of God that brings us salvation. It is the intervention of God that helps us along the path of sanctity. Only He can do it. But what are we to do on our part? First, recognize our dryness, our incapacity to give life. Recognize this. Second, ask: ‘Lord, I want to be fruitful.’ I desire that my life should give life, that my faith should be fruitful and go forward and be able to give it to others. Lord, I am sterile, I can’t do it. You can. I am a desert: I can’t do it. You can.”

And this, he added, could be our prayer during these days before Christmas. “We think about how the proud, those who think they can do it all by themselves, are struck.” The Pope turned his thoughts to Michal, the daughter of Saul. She was a woman, he said, “who was not sterile, but was proud, and was not able to understand what it was to praise God,” and in fact laughed at the praise that David gave to the Lord. And she was punished with sterility:

“Humility is necessary for fruitfulness. How many people imagine they are just, like Michal, but who are really [sorry souls (poveracce)]. The humility to say to the Lord: ‘Lord, I am sterile, I am a desert’ and to repeat in these days this beautiful antiphon that the Church makes us pray: O Son of David, O Adonai, O Wisdom – today! – O Root of Jesse, O Emmanuel, come and give us life, come and save us, because only You can, by myself I cannot!’ And with this humility, this humility of the desert, this humility of a sterile soul, receive grace, the grace to flourish, to give fruit, and to give life.”


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dec. 18, 2013 Wednesday: 3rd Week of Advent A

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him…

Good Saint Joseph,
Matthew gives so few details
of what you went through
as your life was turned upside down.

Your ancestor Joseph
had years to think through
and come to terms
with the event that changed
his life forever.
How long had he seethed with
anger against his brothers?
Had he truly forgiven them
before the trick
he played on them in return?

You too had the help of your dreams,
But even with them, you didn’t have years
but days—at most a few weeks—
to adjust and move on.

Saint Joseph, I fear that, like many people,
I am not that good at adjusting and moving on,
Little changes annoy me,
And unexpected life-altering ones
can leave me resisting and wailing “why?”

Did you ever get frustrated?
Did you ever look at Mary
on the road to Egypt and just blurt out:
“You know, I never asked for this…”?
I would have.

Saint Joseph, help me to deal with
life openly and honestly.
When my world turns upside down,
help me to grieve what is lost,
to be open to new blessings in whatever comes,
and to be gentle to those around me.

And through it all,
help me to feel God’s
presence, and the strength
only God can bring.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dec. 17, 2013 Tuesday: 3rd Week of Advent A

Today’s reading was centered on the genealogy of Jesus and the Pope used this in his homily to reflect on God’s enduring presence in our lives throughout history. He said “God wished to live out his life alongside us” and “took his surname from each of us.”

“God,” the Pope continued, “has always walked alongside his people,” beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He did not want to come to redeem us without coming to live among us and share our lives. The Pope said this long list of God’s people included “saints and sinners.” The latter included “high level sinners who committed serious sins and who didn’t listen” to God’s plans for them.

Pope Francis said in addition to accompanying us in our lives our God follows us and in this way, he displays His humility, His patience and His love for us. He concluded his homily with “a Christmas wish” for all of us “to allow God to write our lives for us.”

Do you know who your ancestors were, where they came from, and what they passed on from their generation to the next? Genealogies are very important. They give us our roots and help us to understand our heritage. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus traces his lineage from Abraham, the father of God's chosen people, through the line of David, King of Israel. Jesus the Messiah is the direct descent of Abraham and David, and the rightful heir to David's throne. God in his mercy fulfilled his promises to Abraham and to David that he would send a Savior and a King to rule over the house of Israel and to deliver them from their enemies.

When Jacob blessed his sons he foretold that Judah would receive the promise of royalty which we see fulfilled in David (Genesis 49:10). We can also see in this blessing a foreshadowing of God's fulfillment in raising up his annointed King, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God's promises. He is the hope not only for the people of the Old Covenant but for all nations as well. He is the Savior of the world who redeems us from slavery to sin and Satan and makes us citizens of the kingdom of God. In him we receive adoption into a royal priesthood and holy nation as sons and daughters of the living God (see 1 Peter 1:9). Do you recognize your spiritual genealogy and do you accept God as your Father and Jesus as the sovereign King and Lord of your life?

"Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Messiah and Savior of the world, the hope of Israel and the hope of the nations. Be the ruler of my heart and the king of my home. May there be nothing in my life that is not under your wise rule and care."
Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dec. 16, 2013 Monday: 3rd Week of Advent A

Are you willing to take a stand for the truth, even when it might cost you personally because of opposition or disapproval from others? When we fear the disapproval or rejection of our friends we are tempted to be evasive and to bluff our way to avoid confrontation or trouble. Jesus told his disciples that the truth would make them free - free to think and act according to what they know is right, honest, and good, rather than yield to deception, lies, and evil (John 8:32).

When the Israelites began to enter the promised land, after their wilderness sojourn of forty years, they met stiff resistance and opposition from the people around them. Balak, one of the local rulers in Canaan, employed the services of Balaam, a prophet of Baal, to put a curse upon the Israelites. Balak wanted to scare the Israelites away through fear and ill omen. Balaam, however, prophesied blessing and protection to the Israelites rather than cursing and destruction. He yielded to the Spirit of truth rather than to the spirit of falsehood. He spoke the word of God contrary to the words which King Balak wanted him to speak. Balaam even prophesied that a star would one day announce the coming of the Messiah King from the house of Jacob. This king would destroy all the enemies of God's people and establish a kingdom of peace (Numbers 24:17).

When the prophet John the Baptist began to preach a message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the religious leaders and rulers in Palestine resisted his word and persecuted him as well. Jesus met resistance, opposition, and fierce hostility from the religious rulers as well. Why did the religious leaders oppose Jesus and reject his claim to divine authority? Their view of religion did not match with God's word because their hearts were set on personal gain rather than truth and submission to God's plan and design for their lives. They openly questioned Jesus to discredit his claim to be the Messiah. If Jesus says his authority is divine they will charge him with blasphemy. If he has done this on his own authority they might well arrest him as a mad zealot before he could do more damage. Jesus, seeing through their trap, poses a question to them and makes their answer a condition for his answer. Did they accept the work of John the Baptist as divine or human? If they accepted John's work as divine, they would be compelled to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They dodged the question because they were unwilling to face the truth. They did not accept the Baptist and they would not accept Jesus as their Messiah.

The coming of God's kingdom or reign on the earth inevitably leads to conflict – a conflict of allegiance to God's will or my will, God's justice or the world's way of playing fair, God's standard of absolute moral truth or truth relative to what I want to believe is good and useful for the time being. How do you respond to Jesus' claim to be not only the Messiah, but the source of everlasting life and truth as well? Do you submit to his word and stake your life on the coming of his kingdom? Jesus promises that those who seek to live according to God's truth will find true joy, freedom, and happiness both now and forever.

"Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let your light shine in my heart and in my mind that I may grow in understanding the truth of your word and find joy and freedom in living according to it."

Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dec. 15, 2013: 3rd Sunday of Advent (A)

Do you consider yourself a patient person? Suppose you’re in the grocery checkout line. How many minutes do you typically stand in the same line before you switch over to another line? Would you agree that we are culturally conditioned not to wait? For example, when did you start noticing Christmas decorations in stores? Was it right after Halloween? This year, I noticed at Walmart that one aisle was already stocked with Christmas trees while another aisle was stocked with Halloween candies. When did you start hearing Christmas music in the stores? Doesn’t it seem like we are encouraged to fast forward and not wait?
So what’s wrong with wanting something now rather than later? I used to drive miles to order an item that was not in stock and have to wait a week for it to arrive at the store. Now, I just click a button on Amazon, and it arrives at my door a couple of days later. The question is, can growth of relationship between persons be expedited or over-nited? Can love between persons be rushed and fast forwarded like Christmas music in October?

In our Second reading today, what St. James wrote slaps in the face of modern marketing strategies. He wrote, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.  See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it...You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Why should we be patient? Patience helps one to encounter frustrations, disappointments, contradictions, privations, sickness, hardships (all of which cause pain) without losing his serenity, without becoming irritated or despondent. It helps one not to be upset by trivial incidents however unpleasant in our daily lives and thus not lose peace of soul. Patience is a virtue that everyone is called upon to exercise frequently.

On the other hand, impatience is the lack of self-control, and leads to other faults. Impatience can easily grow into anger, irritability, harsh words, unpleasantness towards others, etc. Many a serious quarrel starts with impatience over little annoyances or inconveniences. What does impatience look like? The First Reading provides several images of impatience--dry and parched desert, weakened knees, feeble hands, frightened hearts. In Today’s Gospel, John the Baptist displays impatience.

Earlier on at the Jordan River, John heard the voice from heaven attesting to Jesus. Yet after being locked up in a dark dungeon with the threat of death hanging over him, John’s faith was severely tested. He was growing impatient. Was Jesus the Messiah? He needed reassurance and comforting.
Something similar can happen to us. We might be going along happily in our little world, but then a storm hits us: unemployment, a serious illness, everyday life events not going the way we expected. These unexpected occurrences shatter our faith and our trust in God. We feel let down by God. We doubt his love for us and perhaps even his existence.

Our relationship with God is a love story which involves patience and trust. To grow in love for God means to become patient and learn how to wait. To practice patience requires that everything we experience, we do so in the light of faith. Our faith tells us that everything in this life is permitted by God, and for our own good. Whether life’s trials and suffering come from human causes or natural causes, it is foreseen by God and allowed for our spiritual purification and growth. St. James reminds us, “Consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you, for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2)

We will imitate Blessed Mother if we become aware of the opportunity that each little trial presents (some little delay, setback, humiliation, disappointment). Like her, if we try to patiently ponder what God’s infinite wisdom and love has provided, it would contribute much to our spiritual growth, and we would experience peace.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dec. 13, 2013 Friday: 2nd Week of Advent A

Jesus’ parable about disappointed playmates challenge us to examine whether we are selective to only hear what we want to hear. The children in Jesus' parable react with dismay because they cannot get anyone to follow their instruction. They complain that if they play their music at weddings, no one will dance or sing; and if they play at funerals, it is the same. This refrain echoes the words of Ecclesiastes 3:4 – "there is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." Are you in tune with the message of God's kingdom? And do you obey it without reservation? Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is good news to those who will listen and it produces true joy and spiritual freedom for them; but it is also a warning for those who refuse to obey.

-Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we played a dirge but you did not mourn.

Jesus, I know just whom you’re talking about.
There’s a lot of them in my parish.
I work with a lot of them,
and sometimes I work for them.

No matter what you do, they’re never happy.
There’s always a “yeah, but…”
attached to any statement.

Jesus, you sound a little frustrated
in today’s gospel.
I understand.
They frustrate me too.

Please help me to gain the wisdom
and the patience to deal with the

Help me to take valid criticism well,
but not let the “yeah, but…” crowd
pull me down.

And Jesus, if I can be honest with you,
I suspect I can sometimes be like this too.

Help me to see when I am like that.
Forgive me, and help me do better.

When called to offer a critique,
let me do so with kindness.
But make me think at least twice
when I feel like complaining.
Help me spend more time building up
than tearing down.
Let me never be naïve,
but it wouldn’t hurt me to focus more
on the good in people.

And with your help, Jesus,
I will try to do that today.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dec. 12, 2013 Thursday: Our Lady of Guadalupe

"My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard." -Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, 1531

Listening to our Lady requires deep faith in her involvement in my life, in her
concrete plan for me. I must listen to her voice, the voice of Wisdom, daily, not just once a year on a retreat, or in those occasional moments when I am so moved. If I accept her love for me, if I accept the fact that she has chosen me, then she and the grace of God will do "great things for me" (Luke 1:49 - RSV).

Though both Juan Diego and Mother Teresa first said "No, not me," to Our Lady, insisting that they were not good enough or strong enough, in the end they chose to trust in her intercession and in God's power, and miracles of grace began to take place in their lives. We, too, need an awareness, both of our nothingness and also of the fact that she loves us and chooses us in God's name. Instead of looking at ourselves, we can gaze upon her at our side and can say: "Here I am . . . send me!" (Is 6:8 - NAB). Nothing in us surprises or repels her. Instead, she wraps us in her love and sends us out to build our corner of the kingdom.

The same God who loves us as we are also loves us to much to leave us as we are. Perhpas because we tend to hold to ideas about God that reflect our own suppositions and fears, more than God's self-revelation. We reduce God to our own dimensions, ascribing to him our own reactions and responses, especially our own petty and conditional kind of love, and so end up believing in a God cast in our own image and likeness.

But the true God, the living God, is entirely "other":. Precisely from this radical otherness derives the inscrutable and transcendent nature of divine love-- for which our limited human love is but a distant metaphor. God's love is much more than our human love simply multiplied and expanded. God's love for us will ever be mystery; unfathomable, awesome, entirely beyond human expectation.

Precisely because God's love is something "no eyes has seen, nor ear heard nor the heart of man conceived" (1 Cor 2:9), Mother Teresa meditated on it continuously, and encouraged us to do the same, to continue plumbing this mystery more deeply. To this end she invites us: "Try to deepen your understanding of these two words, 'Thirst of God.;”
― Fr. Joseph Langford

Dec. 11, 2013 Wednesday: 2nd Week of Advent A

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 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. 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."

Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dec. 10, 2013 Tuesday: 2nd Week of Advent A

Do you know what it's like to lose your bearings and to be hopelessly adrift in a sea of uncertainty? To be alone, lost, and disoriented without a sense of direction is one of the worst fears we can encounter. What we would give to have a guide who would show us the way to safety and security, the way to home and family. Scripture comforts us with the assurance that God will not rest until we find our way home to him. The scriptures use the image of a shepherd who cares for his sheep to describe what God is like. God promised that he would personally shepherd his people and lead them to safety (Isaiah 40:11). That is why God sent his only begotten son as the Messiah King who would not only restore peace and righteousness to the land, but who would also shepherd and care for his people with love and compassion. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11).

What can we learn from the lesson of Jesus' parable about a lost sheep? This parable gives us a glimpse of the heart of a true shepherd, and the joy of a community reunited with its lost members. Shepherds not only had to watch over their sheep by day and by night; they also had to protect them from wolves and lions who preyed upon them, and from dangerous terrain and storms. Shepherds often had large flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands. It was common to inspect and count the sheep at the end of the day. You can imagine the surprise and grief of the shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing! Does he wait until the next day to go looking for it? Or does he ask a neighboring shepherd if he might have seen the stray sheep? No, he goes immediately in search of this lost sheep. Delay for even one night could mean disaster leading to death. Sheep by nature are very social creatures. An isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered, disoriented, and even neurotic. Easy prey for wolves and lions!

The shepherd's grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. The shepherd searches until what he has lost is found. His persistence pays off. What was new in Jesus' teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out time and time again. How easy to forget and be distracted with other matters while the lost become prey for devouring wolves of the soul. The Apostle Peter reminds us that the "devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that we be saved and restored to friendship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. God is on a rescue mission today to save us from the destructive forces of sin and evil. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over every step we take. Do you listen to his voice and heed his wise counsel? Do you follow the path he has set for you – a path that leads to life rather than death?

"Lord Jesus, nothing escapes your watchful gaze and care. May I always walk in the light of your truth and never stray from your loving presence."

Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dec. 9, 2013 Monday: Immaculate Conception / St. Juan Diego

Why pray to Mary?

“The Hail Mary…is the most perfect compliment you can offer to Mary, because it is the compliment which the Most High God Himself made to her, through an Archangel, in order to win her heart.” The motivation behind our affection is identical to that of God: “We do not love the Blessed Virgin specifically because of what we obtain, or hope to obtain, from her; but we love her because she is worthy of our love.” In fact, God’s heart is so given over in love for Mary that we would miss out on something of God’s love if we did not share his predilection for her. As Louis de Montfort expresses it: “I do not believe that any person can achieve intimate union with Our Lord…unless he has established a very deep union with the Blessed Virgin and a great dependence on her help.”

The best reason for practicing Marian devotion is obedience. Our Lord Jesus Christ from the cross commanded, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27). The need to esteem Mary as our Mother is a tenet of revelation. Thus St. Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153) exhorts us, “Let us venerate Mary with every fiber of our being, from the deepest part of our heart, because this is the will of him who wanted us to receive everything through Mary. St. Louis de Montfort echoes this: “It is the most decided wish of her Son that we should come to him through his Blessed Mother.”

To rescue us from the ever-present threat of self-reliance and self-contentment so dominant in us as a result of original sin, God gives us Mary to be the “dispenser” of graces. The age-old chorus of accord on this point is awesome:   St. Ildephonsus: “O Mary, God has decided on committing all good gifts that He has provided for people to your hands, and therefore He has entrusted all treasures and riches of grace to you.”

Immaculate Conception
One way to understand the mystery of the Immaculate Conception is to think back to the Beijing Summer Olympics, to the day swimmer Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal. It was August 17, 2008, and the event was the four-hundred-meter medley relay. If Phelps finished first he would break the world record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics, set by Mark Spitz in 1972.

Phelps’s victory was our victory; his triumph was our triumph; his glory, our glory. Somehow we were personally involved—implicated—in his history-making event. His breakthrough established a heretofore unknown degree of human greatness. We could say with pride: “We are the people from whom came the greatest Olympic champion of all time, Michael Phelps!” The “miraculous” gold medal he brandished in some way belongs to us as well.

This dynamic is at the heart of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The solemnity celebrates the supernatural fact that when the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother Anne, she was conceived without original sin. At the moment of her biological conception (and ever after), Mary’s human existence was endowed with an absolutely immaculate purity. And God worked that miracle of holiness in Mary for us.

God ingeniously restores what was lost through the sin of Adam and Eve by employing the very method through which it became lost. He invites us back to the original friendship with him by way of a conception: Mary, the Immaculate Conception. The conception that leads us back to paradise is a human person! God offers us, again and again unfailingly, what our first parents were so ready to throw away: a relationship with him, that is, our happiness. And to be certain that we will never again misconceive or deprecate that relationship, he offers it to us by means of a mother. The eighth-century Benedictine abbot Ambrose Autpert exclaims, “[I]t is right that we extol [Mary] as blessed in a unique proclamation, since she brought the world a unique relationship [with God].” Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is herself the living, breathing conception of God’s ineffable goodness, truth, beauty, fidelity, compassion, justice, mercy, peace, and love.

Mary the Immaculate Conception is the means by which God communicates how he conceives of his own holiness. Through our relationship with Mary, we can recognize that there is no greater paradise than what the Lord offers us through her. St. John of Damascus (+749), speaking of Mary, says, “The serpent never had any access to this paradise.”
Mary, the New Eve, undoes the deception that drastically duped Eve of Eden. The Catechism speaks of Adam and Eve becoming afraid of God, “of whom they have conceived a distorted image” (CCC, 399, emphasis added). In Mary the Immaculate Conception we are given a corrected conception of the image of God: The Mother takes away all our fear in the way that only a mother can. The desire so deep in us to be like God is fulfilled when we remain obedient to God, united with the Immaculate Conception. The privilege of doing this in a way surpasses the prospect of our being “immaculately conceived,” precisely because it leads us to do what Adam and Eve refused to do: to depend on God in total self-donation. In Mary the Immaculate Conception
we cannot help but be reminded of what Adam and Eve forgot: God wants us to be like him; God himself is the one who planted that desire for divinization in our hearts!

Cameron O.P., Peter John. Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady's Graces (pp. 16-17). St. Anthony Messenger Press, Servant Books.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dec. 8, 2013: 2nd Sunday of Advent (A)

Have you ever been in the spotlight? The kind of spotlight that we may be familiar with is the limelight -- such as actors are in the limelight all the time.  There has probably been a time when you have been in the spotlight when your not-so-graceful moments were repeatedly pointed out to others. It’s so easy to show someone in a negative light; and these days, you can spread this darkness instantaneously on Twitter or Facebook.

This past weekend, the senior class of Ascension Catholic School put on a different kind of spotlight at their retreat. One student would volunteer to sit in the midst of their peers, and then one by one the other students said what was positive about that student. It was a transforming experience for each student. Don’t we tend to be critical and harsh of others, but particularly much more with ourselves? So to hear someone praise who we are can be a moment that makes us blush. We are surprised by the goodness that is observed by others in us. One sadness from this experience is the realization that we don’t do this enough.

St. Paul speaks about this in the Second Reading. He says, “Brothers and sisters, may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  

Do you ever have the desire to be appreciated and welcomed? Of course! Something in our soul elevates when we are showered with praise and gratitude. Yet at the same time, something in our soul is drawn to hear the truth, not just compliments or nice things said about us.

Why did people flock to hear John the Baptist? He didn’t say anything that would please anyone. He put everyone in a spotlight that was uncomfortable; he urged everyone, without exception, to turn their lives around. Sin was ruining their lives, he said. He even singled out religious people as being presumptuous. Unless we turn our lives around and begin to seek and obey God’s will, saying the right things and doing the religious things are not enough. How many times have we said to ourselves, ‘I’m not perfect and I make mistakes here and there, but I really don’t need to change my life drastically. I really don’t need Jesus.’ Isn’t this presumption?

This kind of presumption was demonstrated to me personally when someone told me that she was oppressed by the evil spirits. She said sprinkling holy water and wearing medals had some effects but did not improve her situation. Upon listening to the person, she was not living an awful life. Whenever she thought she sinned, she prayed the Our Father, Hail Mary, and said her Act of Contrition. Why was there no improvement? She was falling into the trap of listening to the serpent who said nice things about her; he convinced her that she didn’t need Jesus or to humble herself to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The serpent convinced her that she was living a decent life, even though she was disobeying God’s will.  She didn’t realize that she had severed her relationship with God through her sins. When she did humble herself to ask forgiveness from Jesus and received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, she experienced a dramatic transformation. It was a reminder that we need to be vigilant and stay awake as our own pride and self-indulgence can deceive us from seeking Jesus and obeying Heavenly Father’s will.

What are we doing during this Advent to change our hearts? If we are not careful during this hectic season, we will become so absorbed in our own little world of shopping, wrapping gifts, Christmas parties, and vacations. Then we will forget why this season is given to us. God desires an intimate relationship with us by giving His Son Jesus to us, yet what a tragedy when we want Christmas without wanting Christ. And without Christ, we cannot have a relationship with the Heavenly Father. Like Blessed Mother, let us long for the long-expected Savior. Like her, let us say “yes” to God during this Advent. In our “yes” to God, Jesus will come into our hearts just as he was born in Blessed Mother’s.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dec. 6, 2013 Friday: 1st Week of Advent A

Pope Francis at Mass: Praying is a bit like “annoying” God

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke on the theme of prayer on Thursday, saying when we pray it’s a bit like annoying God so that he listens to us. His remarks came during his homily at the morning mass in the Santa Marta guesthouse.

Speaking at Mass, Pope Francis said "prayer has two attitudes: it’s needy and at the same time it’s certain of the fact that God, in his own way and his own time, will answer our need." A person who prays, he continued, "doesn’t fear disturbing God and nourishes a blind faith in His love." The Pope recalled how Jesus himself taught us to pray like the annoying friend who begs for food at midnight or like the widow with the corrupt judge. Another example he quoted was the gospel account of how the lepers approached Jesus, saying to him, “if you want, you can cure us.”

“Maybe this sounds strange,” the Pope said, “but praying is a bit like annoying God so that he listens to us. He stressed the importance of praying with insistence and not giving up after the first few attempts. “Jesus said “ask” but he also said to us, “Knock at the door” and he or she who knocks at the door makes a noise, disturbs or annoys.”

Therefore, Pope Francis continued, “prayer is insisting to the point of annoyance but also with an unshakeable certainty.” Just like the blind people in the Gospel who asked Jesus to be healed and when he asked them if they believed he could cure them, they assured him they did. The Pope concluding by saying that Jesus feels our need when we pray and also feels that we are certain of his help and that we’re speaking the truth about ourselves.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dec. 5, 2013 Thursday: 1st Week of Advent A

Pope Francis: Put Christian words
In Action

(Vatican Radio) Anyone who utters Christian words without putting them into practice hurts oneself and others, because they are based on pride and cause division in the Church. Those were the Pope’s words during his homily at Mass this Thursday morning at the Casa Santa Martha.

Taking his cue from Thursday’s liturgy, Pope Francis explained that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for knowing the commandments, but not implementing them in their lives.They are " good words," he said, but if they are not put into practice "not only do they not serve us, but they hurt : they deceive us , they make us believe that we have a beautiful home, but without a foundation” .

The Holy Father went on to say that the Lord is our foundation. Our rock is Jesus Christ.Continuing on this theme Pope Francis underlined that “a Christian word without Christ at its centre leads to vanity, to pride, power for the sake of power.” The Lord, said the Pope, breaks down these people who believe themselves to be the Rock.

The Holy Father affirmed during his Homily that we would " do well to examine our own consciences” to see whether our Christian words are indeed Christ centred because when they are not, he said, they divide us from ourselves and divide the Church. Pope Francis concluded his Homily by saying “let us ask the Lord to help in this humility, to speak words rooted in Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dec. 4, 2013 Wednesday: St. John of Damacene

Pope: we meet Jesus when we do good

Pope Francis on Sunday evening told the faithful that our meeting with Jesus takes place when we do good to others.

Celebrating Mass in the Rome Parish of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the Pope said that life is a journey and the most beautiful gift we can receive is our encounter with Jesus.
Before celebrating Mass the Pope met with some sick people and with children preparing for Holy Communion, and he heard the Confessions of some parishioners.

Sunday’s was Pope Francis’ second visit to a Rome Parish, and speaking off the cuff, the Pope reminded those present that Jesus loves us. During the ceremony the Pope confirmed nine young boys in their faith, and he pointed out that we meet Jesus in the Sacraments, but we also meet Him - he said - "when we do good deeds, when we visit the sick, when we help the poor, when we think of others, when we are not selfish…"

During this journey – Pope Francis said – sins may hold us up and discourage us, but he said the people Jesus wanted most to meet were sinners, and many righteous people criticized Him for this reason and criticized the company he held.
But Jesus said – the Pope added - “I came for those who need healing, and Jesus heals our sins”.

Francis explained that Jesus forgives us during the Sacrament of Confession, and he invited the faithful to be courageous…

Finally, to the delight of those present for the Pope’s visit, Francis thanked all for their cheerfulness and asked for prayers. On a last note as he prepared to travel back to the Vatican he apologized for what he called an excess of security: “if something in the organization of this visit has disturbed you, perhaps an excess of security or fear, I want you to know" - he said - "that I do not agree with that kind of thing: I am with you!”


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dec. 3, 2013 Tuesday: St Francis Xavier

I love You, not because You have power to give heaven or hell, but simply because You are You…my king and my God. -St. Francis Xavier

Pope Francis: A Church without joy is unthinkable

The Church must always be joyful like Christ. That was the message of Pope Francis at Mass this morning at the Casa Santa Marta. The Pope emphasized that the Church is called to transmit the joy of the Lord to her children—a joy that gives true peace.

Peace and joy. Pope Francis’ homily dwelt on these two themes. In the reading from the book of Isaiah, he noted, we see the desire for peace that we all have. It is the peace, says Isaiah, that the Messiah brings to us. In the Gospel, on the other hand, “we are able to see a little into the soul of Jesus, the heart of Jesus: a joyful heart”:
“We always think of Jesus when He preaches, when He heals, when He travels, walks along the street, even during the Last Supper. . . But we aren’t used to thinking about Jesus smiling, joyful. Jesus was full of joy, full of joy. In that intimacy with His Father: ‘I rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and I praised the Father.’ It is precisely the internal mystery of Jesus, that relationship with the Father in the Spirit. It is His internal joy, the interior joy that He gives to us.”

“And this joy,” he said, “is true peace: not a static peace, quiet, tranquil” no, “Christian peace is a joyful peace, because our Lord is joyful.” And, too, He is joyful “when He speaks about the Father: He loves the Father so much that He can’t talk about Him without joy.” Our God, the Pope said, “is joyful.” And Jesus has willed that His spouse, the Church, should also be joyful”:

“You can’t imagine a Church without joy; and the joy of the Church lies precisely in this: to proclaim the name of Jesus. To say: ‘He is the Lord. My spouse is the Lord. He is God. He saves us, He walks with us.’ And that is the joy of the Church, that in this joy of being a bride becomes a mother. Paul VI said: the joy of the Church is precisely to evangelize, to go forth and to speak about her Spouse. And also to transmit that joy to the children that she bears, that she raises.”

And so, he said, let us consider that the peace of which Isaiah speaks “is a peace that is so moving, it is a peace of joy, a peace of praise,” it is a peace that we could say is “noisy, in praise, a peace that bears fruit in becoming a mother of new children.” It is a peace, Pope Francis said, “that comes precisely in the joy of praise for the Trinity, and of evangelization, of going to the people to tell them who Jesus is.” Peace and joy, he repeated. And he pointed to the words of Jesus, “a dogmatic declaration,” when He affirms, “You decided to reveal Yourself not to the wise, but to the little ones”:

“Even in so many serious things, such as this, Jesus is joyful, the Church is joyful. She must be joyful. Even in her widowhood—because the Church has something of the widow who waits for her spouse to come back—even in her widowhood, the Church is joyful in hope. The Lord gives this joy to all of us, this joy of Jesus, praising the Father in the Spirit. This joy of our mother Church in evangelizing, in announcing her Spouse.


Dec. 2, 2013 Monday: 1st Week of Advent A

Pope: allow Lord to encounter us in preparation for Christmas

Preparing for Christmas through prayer, charity and exhaltation. With this hope, Pope Francis called on the faithful Monday to open their hearts and allow themselves to encounter the Lord who renews all.

In his homily at the Santa Marta guesthouse on this, the first Monday of Advent, Pope Francis recalled that as we proceed towards Christmas, we embark on a journey of faith and prayer in preparation for our encounter with the Lord. “Because Christmas,” he said, isn’t just a temporal celebration or the memory of a beautiful (event).”

“Christmas is something more,” he said, “Christmas is an encounter” with the Lord. And as we make our way towards Him, we must go with open heart and faith, even though this is not always easy.

Speaking of today’s reading about the Roman centurion, who with great faith begs the Lord to heal his slave, the Pope said we are like this centurion on a pilgrimage of faith “to encounter the Lord and most of all, to allow ourselves to be encountered by Him.”

We must allow ourselves to be encountered by Him, the Pope repeated, to allow Him to enter us. “It is He who makes all new….Christ renews the heart, the soul , life, hope…”

The Lord does not always say to us what we want to hear, noted the Pope, but: He will tell me what is meant for me “because the Lord does not look at us all together, en masse.” “He looks each one of us in the face , in the eyes.” His is not an abstract love; "it is concrete," the Pope said. The Lord looks at me in a personal way. And "letting ourselves be encountered by God means just this: letting ourselves be loved by God!”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dec. 1, 2013: 1st Sunday of Advent A

This past week I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I took an over-the- counter pain reliever with ingredients to help me sleep. The direction said to take two pills, so I did. When the alarm clock rang in the morning, my eyes were opened, but my brain felt like I was sloshing through a foggy and muddy marsh, with my feet getting caught in the mud with each step. Have you ever felt that way when you woke up? I was half awake, and my bed beckoned me to return. I wished instead I was waking up like the actor in the coffee commercial where the line in the jingle goes like this, “Oh the best part of waking up, is (coffee) in your cup.”

All of today’s readings sound much like a children’s song that goes like this, “Wake up! You sleepyhead. Get up! Get out of bed.”  In the First Reading, Prophet Isaiah describes to us the vision that the Lord had shown him. Isaiah saw a future time in which people from all nations would stream to the Lord’s mountain--Mount Zion on which the temple was built. In that time, people would no longer hurt or harm one another. There would be no more war or preparing for war. People would be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and would walk in his ways. Is this just a wild dreaming? If you were to look at the Old City Jerusalem today where Mount Zion is, you would see it is a city divided into Muslim Quarter, Jewish Quarter, and Christian Quarter. The tension is there, and the peace is tenuous, but we don’t even have to look far. We look at our own town or even within our own family, and there is tension. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see the very things St. Paul spoke about--rivalry, jealousy, lust, over-indulgence. We come to realize that peace just doesn’t fall out of the sky.

So what does Jesus mean when he tells us, “Stay awake!” Jesus is trying to open our eyes to Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. This plan is centered in Christ and realized through him. We may not realize it, but each of us  has a responsibility to bear Jesus in this world, not in name only, but in living out Jesus’ mission. We love to receive gifts from the Heavenly Father, but without wanting to know the Father, to love Him, or to serve Him. Isn’t it a tragedy that we do not realize that Heavenly Father longs for us, that He thirsts for us, that there will be great rejoicing when we turn to the Father.  

Heavenly Father offers each of us a personal invitation to accept his kingdom or to reject it. There is really no middle ground. We are either for the Heavenly Father or against Him, for His kingdom of righteousness or against it. The choice is ours. The Father’s grace is available to those who are willing to believe in Him and obey his word. Pope Francis recently urged us to ponder the following questions:  ‘Do I worship the Lord? Do I adore Jesus Christ the Lord? Do I in some measure play the game of the prince of this world?’ He urged all of us to worship the Lord to end with trust and fidelity. He said this is the grace that we must ask for this week.

Advent issues a spiritual wake-up call to us, and has an awakening power. Unless we are spiritually awake we are only half living. To be awake spiritually means to be open and receptive, vigilant and active. One excellent way to awaken your spiritual life is to use the daily Advent booklet that we handed out these past few weeks to go deeper into the Word of God as you go about each day.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent Music Concert at Ascension Catholic Church, Dec. 5, 2013, 6:30PM

Nov. 29, 2013 Friday: 34th Week in Ordinary C ("Black Friday")

My wife Christina and I always get up early to shop the day after Thanksgiving. This year we drove to a hotel that evening so that we could get up at 3:00 A.M. to get in line at Toys ‘R’ us to catch the door buster sales that morning.

This is something that we started doing years ago when we lived in Arizona and we have made it a sort of tradition in our family. In fact, one year Christina and I were on the news in Minneapolis because we were at the very front of the line at the KB Toy Store at the Mall of America. 

In case you were unaware, something like that is a big deal to the more ardent Black Friday shopper!

That morning at Toys ‘R’ us I watched the most ridiculous scene unfold. There were a lot of people in line that morning. I was near the front of the line as I waited in the cold just to get in and I was behind at least 100 people.

The store had encouraged people to make a line that wrapped like a coil all the way through the store. Several people had grown weary of waiting in the very long line and had started forming their own line much to the dismay of one particular man.

The man and a couple of other people in the line pointed out to the manager that people were forming their own line. They did so in the kindest manner possible, I assure you! When they felt that their complaint was not being addressed with as much zeal as it required the man made it very clear how he felt about the slow to action store manager.

With his fist clinched high in the air he said, “You’re stupid!” The store manage apologized to the unhappy patron of Toys ‘R’ us and the man again said in the same tone and again with his fist held high, “You’re stupid!” 

Another patron spoke up and assured the store manage that he was doing a good job. This displeased the man and he once again told the store manager what kind of job he thought the manager was doing.

As all of this was going on I was standing just a few feet away waiting to check out enjoying the spectacle of it all. 

The woman standing between the man and myself said – very loudly – “maybe some of us have forgotten why we are here at the toy store this morning!” The good news is that it all ended quietly and nothing serious occurred.

But the words of the woman standing in line behind me have reverberated my thinking for the past couple of weeks – “Have we forgotten why we are here?”
- Chris Surber

Do you recognize the signs of God's presence and action among us today? Jesus used the image of a fig tree to teach his disciples an important lesson about reading the "signs of the times." The fig tree was a common and important source of food for the Jews. It bore fruit twice a year, in the autumn and in the early spring. The Talmud said that the first fruit came the day after Passover. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would usher in the kingdom of God at Passover time. The early signs of a changing season, such as springtime, summer, or autumn, are evident for all who can see and observe the changes. Just so are the signs of God's kingdom and his return in glory on the day of judgment. The "budding" of God's kingdom begins first in the hearts of those who are receptive to God's word. Those who trust in God's word will bear the fruits of his kingdom. And what are the fruits of that kingdom? "The kingdom of God ..is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The Lord gives the firstfruits of his kingdom to those who open their hearts to him with expectant faith and trust in his word.

We do not know the day nor the hour when the Lord Jesus will return again in glory. But the Lord does give us signs, not only to "wake us up" as a warning, but also to "rouse our spirits" to be ready and eager to receive his kingdom when he comes in all his power and glory. The "Day of the Lord" will strike terror in those who have ignored or rejected God, but it will be a day of joy and rejoicing for those who long to see the Lord face-to-face. The Lord Jesus wants us to be filled with joyful anticipation for his coming again. While we wait for the Lord's physical return in glory, we can know his presence with us through the work and action of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts. The Lord Jesus comes daily and frequently to those who long for him and he speaks tenderly to our hearts like a lover who whispers in the ear of the beloved.

Don Schwager, www.dailyscripture.net

Nov. 28, 2013 Thursday: Thanksgiving Day (USA)

From www.seeingtheeveryday.com

With all the traditions, travel, and food preparation that occur around Thanksgiving Day, much attention is given to make sure our celebrations go well. We want the experience to bring families and friends closer together, and it may be that the smallest gestures of our time and thoughts will be most productive in forming our desired bonds with one another.

Adena Duffy, a contributing author to Seeing the Everyday Issue 23, shares the influence of a simple Thanksgiving Day ritual her mother started. With all the smells, foods, wonders, and comforts of Thanksgiving Day, the simple tradition of miniature pies stands apart in her mind as a tradition that bound her and her sisters to their mother.

“At some point in my youth Mother decided that even on this notable day she would create a space and ritual to unite with each of her daughters by helping us to make our own individual pie. To look back at this now, as an adult, I find it intriguing and very inspiring. Thanksgiving Day in the kitchen is not necessarily one that holds any extra time or counter space and with a large family—the idea of taking time with each child to make their own individual pie was no small feat.

“Mom would save the tiny pie tins that came from frozen potpies (a rare treat in and of themselves) so that we would have the perfect size to make this little dessert. Helping in the kitchen, I felt so big and important. I remember putting on my apron, trying to look just like Mom. I remember the weight of her hands on top of mine as we rolled the dough into a circle, and her fingers as they carefully transferred the dough and helped fix the cracks when I pulled too hard or too fast.

“Deciding which pie to make was difficult, but as I promised to trade bites and slices with my sisters and their pies, I was assured a little taste of everything. I sat in front of the oven door with the mitts on my hands, feeling anxious as I watched it bake, hoping it would turn out alright—all the while having the mouthwatering smell of pie wafting through the kitchen.

“As I reflect back, I am sure the dinner was delicious—somehow that memory is a little unclear—but I do remember how it felt to enjoy the prize of our labors. I felt like a queen as I got to cut and serve my own tiny pie and share it with my sisters, who felt equally pleased with their own creations. Dad was the best to share with as he pronounced each one a success and the most delicious of its kind.

“I love the smell of fall. The smell brings memories of working together, laughing, and creating interactions that have shaped my life as an adult. I have carried on this practice in my own home— even the making of tiny pies with my children. Could mother have known how her selfless actions—in making time and space for each of us, even on a bustling Thanksgiving morning—would build our souls and bind us to her? This bounteous gift of giving oneself is annually relived as we make these tiny, thoughtful pies.”

We see from Adena’s thoughts and from many other experiences shared in issue no. 23 how intentional traditions have connected parents and children to one another. Participating side by side, knowing the outcome and purpose of our labors are for the good of the whole, can allow honest investment through conversation with the one right next to us.

Nov. 27, 2013 Wednesday: General Audience, Pope Francis

Pope Francis Promotes Year of Faith ‘Spiritual Medicine’
At the end of the Holy Father’s Angelus address, volunteers distributed small boxes containing rosaries and Divine Mercy prayer cards to the assembled pilgrims.

At the close of his Angelus address today, Pope Francis encouraged those in St. Peter’s Square to pick up a little box of spiritual medicine on their way out.

“I would like, now, for all of you to consider a medicine. But some may think, ‘The Pope is being a pharmacist now?’ It is a special medicine to make the fruit of the Year of Faith that is coming to a close more concrete,” said Pope Francis Nov. 17, as he raised a little box for the crowd to see.
The boxes, packaged to resemble actual medication, contained rosaries and Divine Mercy prayer cards.
“This little box contains the medicine, and some volunteers will distribute it to you as you leave the square. Take it! It’s a rosary with which one can pray also the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, spiritual help for our souls and for spreading love, forgiveness and brotherhood everywhere.”
“Don’t forget to take it,” he repeated as the crowds cheered. “Because it does good, eh?  It does good for the heart, for the soul, for all of life.”

Pope Francis had earlier emphasized the need for faith and trust in God in the face of life’s difficulties.
Like the apostles in Sunday’s Gospel, many people find themselves worried about losing faith in the last days. But Jesus reminds his followers, “First: Don’t let yourselves be deceived by false messiahs, and don’t let yourselves be paralyzed by fear. Second: Live the time of waiting as a time of witness and of perseverance,” recounted Pope Francis.

“This discourse of Jesus is always current, even for those of us who live in the 21st century,” the Holy Father reflected.  “We are in a time of waiting, of waiting for the coming of the Lord.”
“We remember that we are totally in the hands of the Lord!”
“The adversities that we meet for our faith and our adherence to the Gospel are occasions for witness; they must not distance us from the Lord, but push us to abandon ourselves again and more to him, to the power of his Spirit and his grace,” he encouraged.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Nov. 25, 2013 Monday: Pope Francis, Daily Mass, 34th Week in Ordinary C

Christians are called to trust in the Lord, even in the most extreme situations. These were the words of Pope Francis at Mass on Monday morning in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta.

Pope Francis focused his homily on those characters from the daily readings who testify to the importance of trusting in God, even in extreme situations. In the Book of Daniel, the young Jewish men living as slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar remain faithful to the Lord, even at risk of their own lives. In the Gospel of Luke, the impoverished widow who puts two small coins into the offering box is praised by Jesus, who says: “Those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood”.

The Lord, Pope Francis says, is everything, and they trusted in the Lord. They didn’t do so because of some fanatical force, but because they knew that the Lord is faithful. They trusted in that faith which is always there, the Pope said, because the Lord cannot be unfaithful, cannot deny Himself.

Choosing to be faithful to the Lord, Pope Francis continued, is equally important in the little things and in the most difficult situations. He remembered the men, women, elderly and young people who every day choose to be faithful to the Lord, who live as martyrs, and as an example to us all. When we read in the newspapers about Christians who are persecuted in our own times, the Pope explained, we must take their lives as an encouragement to offer the Church everything we have, our whole livelihood.

Let us think, Pope Francis said, about the brothers and sisters who have made courageous, definitive choices throughout history, and continue to do so today. But let us also think about the many mothers and fathers who make small but definitive choices of faith every day, with their families and with their children. Let us ask the Lord, Pope Francis concluded, for the grace of courage, the courage to go on with our Christian lives, in everyday life and in the most extreme situations.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nov. 24, 2013: Solemnity of Christ the King

What percentage of people in America do you think believes in God? Since the 1940’s, Gallup organization has been asking Americans, “Do you believe in God,” and consistently more than 9 in 10 Americans still say “yes” to this question. So it is popular in America to say that “I believe in God.” But I wonder if the same percentage of people would still say “yes” if they were asked, “Do you believe in God who asks you to abandon your name, your reputation, your health, your possessions, those you love, and remain faithful to Him? Do you profess this God to be your Lord and your King?”

A few days ago, I spoke with Kitty Cleveland, a beautiful singer from Mandeville, about coming to our parish and sing one of the Divine Mercy masses during Lent. Her spiritual songs are inspired particularly by her late father, Carl Cleveland who was a well-known attorney in New Orleans and an ordained Catholic deacon. He was arrested and convicted of a federal crime and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was removed from serving as a deacon and disbarred. Kitty wrote a song titled, “Surrender,” about his ordeal and what her family went through.

I had it all: fortune, power, acclaim,
Worldly success, a respectable name;
But then they vanished, illusions of safety,
My spirit was crushed, nothing worldly could save me.

How could this happen? They’ve taken my life.
No justice found, hope barely alive.
My heart was broken, my spirit despairing,
I cried out, My God, why have You forsaken me?

On this feast day of Christ the King, the Church asks us to place ourselves at Calvary. Here Jesus is stripped of all earthly reputations and even his life. On each side of Jesus is crucified two thieves who in reality represent each of us.
At the end of our lives, we are stripped of everything that we worked so hard for--our name, our reputation, our possessions, our health, our loved ones. We come face to face with the stark truth; although we call ourselves Christian or Catholic, we lived all of our lives for ourselves and not for God. We may be like the unrepentant thief and say, “I attended mass every day, I gave my money to the church, I gave money to the poor, I tried to be nice to others...I deserve to be saved. I deserve Heaven.” But the repentant thief on the other side of Jesus says, “I have done all those things, but I can’t fool God! I know who I lived for… myself! I don’t deserve Heaven. Jesus, it’s only your mercy that can save me. Forgive me of all my sins. Look kindly upon me.”

It is in our nature to want a kind of God who who will always be on our side--to come to bless our projects, bless our dreams, and miraculously heal us whenever we are sick. We forget the image of God that Prophet Jeremiah saw, where a potter took a lump of clay and shaped it into a vessel. The potter then collapsed the vessel and reshaped it to something else. St. Paul reiterates this when he says, “A potter has the right to do what he wants to with his clay, doesn't he? He can make something for a special occasion or something for ordinary use from the same lump of clay.” (Rom. 9:21) We have the tendency to refuse to be mastered by anyone. The stark truth is that we are not the potter -- Heavenly Father is. Whatever the Father does with us, is for His greater glory and not for ours. There is a Catholic hymn about the potter and his clay and the lyrics to the first verse are:

Abba, Father.
You are the potter; we are the clay, the work of your hands.
Mold us, mold us and fashion us
into the image of Jesus, your Son, of Jesus, your Son.

Kitty Cleveland’s father also came to that understanding before he died with cancer. Kitty finished her song, “Surrender” with the following words:

Then came the peace touched so deeply by Your mercy,
I lost my pride and found
You’re all I need.
You rescued me, felt Your love in my surrender,
I reached my greatest height down on my knees.