Saturday, December 29, 2007
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” How many wives poked and prodded their husbands as that was read? How many husbands twisted uncomfortably in their seats? This is perhaps the most dangerous passage in all of Scripture to preach on. But, I feel a little dangerous today, so let’s give it a try.
I don’t know how many of you saw the movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? But, it is a really wonderful and funny movie about a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on that puts our reading from Colossians in perspective. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately turns her down. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, “Yes, the man is the head of the household, but the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”
The problem with this phrase from Colossians, “Wives be submissive to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage out and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling, but seen in the bigger picture, we find not a chauvinistic household, but one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is submissive to the other. On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Paul is giving us the key to holiness in our own families. The key to this letter of Paul is not the point he makes about wives, but the lesson he gives to us all a few lines earlier, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
This is a tough time for the family in our world. Families are struggling. Family life in many places is falling apart. Just look at the images that we get of families from the media today. Families are not portrayed as places of love, respect and safety; rather they are battle grounds. Television families often feature children who regularly outsmart their parents, or parents who are preoccupied with their own interests and neglect their children. These are not holy families.
Our opening prayer today said, “Father, help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love.” That seems like a tall order for us today, but it is one that we can achieve if we have the desire to live in holy families. And that is the challenge – throw out what the world tells you a family should be; and put on Christ and what God wants a family to be; one where love, respect, compassion, and humility prevail. Be subject to one another.
Yes, the Holy Family is a tough act to follow. The dad was a saint, the mom was the Mother of God; and the son was God Himself. But, that is not what made Jesus, Mary and Joseph a holy family. What made them holy was the way they loved. They were subject to one another. Joseph was faithful to Mary even though the child she carried was not his own. Mary was faithful to Jesus even to the foot of the cross. And one of the things that most concerned Jesus as he hung on the cross was to make sure that John would be there to care for his mother after he was gone. God brought the Holy Family together, but love and concern for one another kept them together and made them holy. They became holy as a family in the way that they loved each other.
The challenge of holiness for families today is to put the family first – before career, before wealth, before everything. Families need the support, understanding and love of every person in them. There is a great freedom that comes from family life. But, never let the freedom you enjoy in your own home become an excuse for failing to extend to the members of your family all of the love, respect, attention and compassion they deserve. Reserve your deepest kindness and love for your own family. Honor all of the members of your household; compete in holiness so that you may grow in your love of each other and the love of God.
Make St. Paul’s words your family’s mission statement: “Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
May God make your family a holy family; and may God give you peace.
Monday, December 24, 2007
On behalf of Fr. Mike and myself, again, let me wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Over the weekend, as I was greeting people at the end of Mass, I conducted a very informal poll asking lots of our parish kids what they were hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year. Some of the answers were: a Helix remote control helicopter, which actually look very cool, a Wii video game system, an iPod, Guitar Hero, an iPhone. I know my nephew wants an authentic Star Wars lightsaber (he was very specific that it be authentic), and my nieces are all about Elmo. I wish you all the best of luck in finding what you really wanted under your Christmas tree this year. When I think back on all the Christmases I have celebrated, and this is my 39th, I really can’t recall too many of the presents – even though I’m sure that each year the thing I wanted was something I was certain that I could not live without. I remember one year that we woke up to find two Huffy dirt bikes, one for me and one for my brother. I remember another year that I woke up to find an electronic keyboard under the tree – I had asked Santa for a grand piano, but he left a letter explaining it wouldn’t fit down the chimney and he hoped the keyboard would suffice.
But, of all my Christmases, it is not the gifts I remember, but it is the times with family. In my family, Christmas has always been celebrated at my parents house. Later tomorrow, we will have dinner for about 45 people. It is a mad house, but it is so much fun. Mom will be running around wearing one of her crazy Christmas hats that must have minimally blinking lights and some sort of noise, making sure that everyone has what they need. Aunt Mary will bring her string bean casserole, my cousin Peggy will bring the bread, Aunt Gail is in charge of pies. We’ll light the candles on Jesus’ birthday cake and sing him happy birthday before the smallest kids in the family get to blow out the candles. We will endure the mandatory Christmas sing-a-long before we get to the annual Christmas present swap. People will come and go all day and into the night and it will be a wonderful day of family.
Now the memories I have about family times throughout the years are many. I remember my grandfather’s last Christmas before he passed. He had not been doing well and I think everyone was grateful for the time with him. I remember they year my first niece was born and how all of a sudden Christmas was reborn as a child’s experience in my family because of that beautiful little baby. I remember the year when I was a novice, my second year in religious life, I didn’t think I’d be home for Christmas that year, but my superior let us go home at the last minute. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming and it was a wonderful surprise. I treasure last year’s Christmas when just a month before my father found out he needed to have triple bypass surgery. At 69 year’s old, my Dad finally became a baptized Catholic. Imagine that Christmas present – a son who has the incredible honor of baptizing his father. The surgery went well and I think we were all aware that year of just what a gift Dad is.
And, I’ll never forget the year, when I was about 10 years old. It was a tough year for our family. My Dad was a truck driver and this was during the oil crisis of the 1970s and he had been out of work for two years. I’m sure my parents did all they could to scrape together enough for us to have a nice Christmas that year. But then, our neighbors a few doors down had a fire in their home and lost all of their Christmas presents. My Dad called us all together for a family meeting and suggested that we give all the presents under our tree to that family who had nothing – since we still had each other and our comfortable home. It must have been a Christmas miracle, because somehow my brother, sister and I all knew right away it was the right thing to do. We offered no protest and were all excited to be able to bring some joy into the life of this family. It was a reminder that there is always some one worse off than you, and that no matter how difficult things might be in your own family, there are also so many blessings. That is the one Christmas that always stands out in my mind more than the rest. And, that was the year without Christmas presents. It is also the year that I learned that as great as it is to receive presents; that doesn’t compare to the joy of giving presents.
As I share these memories with you, I hope your minds and hearts are filling with the joy of family memories at Christmastime too. After all, that is what we are all gathered here to celebrate. God, also knows the joy of giving presents. Our celebration today is a celebration of the greatest gift that God ever gave us – the gift of Himself. And, it is a gift of family. In the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the fact that Jesus, that God, enters our human family; and perhaps even more wondrously, He invites and adopts us as members of His family. Of all of the incredible titles for Jesus we hear at this time of year – Wonder Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Son of God – the most wondrous one is that Jesus let’s us call Him brother. Jesus is your brother, my brother. And He came to tell us that God is not a distant figure in our lives, remote and unapproachable, but God is our Father, and the term that Jesus uses is so personal. Abba means literally Daddy.
And we gather here today, not as strangers, not as members of a common organization, but as brothers and sisters. The person to your left and right, in front of you and in back – on the other side of the Church – is not a stranger. He is your brother. She is your sister. We are all family to one another. This is the great gift that God gives to us this year and every year.
As we celebrate this wondrous feast of Christmas, let us all be filled with warm thoughts of family. Our family at home, and our family of faith right here in this Church. The fulfillment of Christmas will come when there will be only one family united in perfect love and joy in Our Father’s house. Until then, let us anticipate that moment surrounded by our loved ones or those thoughts that bring them close to heart.
I pray that you have a wonderful, family-filled experience of Christmas.
My brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas and may God give you His Christmas peace.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
A kindergarten teacher told her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky. At the end of the story she asked them, “Now tell me, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we, as adults, miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is so simple and obvious.
We do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal things of life, such as pregnancy and birth. The child’s simple answer reminds us to take a second look at the ordinary things that we take so much for granted and see God’s hand in them, and this is a good message for us as we are just days away from celebrating Christmas. We can get so caught up in the complexities of gifts and travel and dinners, that we just might miss the simple and profound reality of the day – that God loves us and is with us.
Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” But for the average person of Jesus’ times this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born of a woman as a normal, average baby. Though the scribes and scholars were aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the average person held to the popular belief which held that the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was expected to drop suddenly from the skies, full-grown in all His divine power. He would arrive, of course, on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship.
People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born normally and raised in their midst. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary ways of God’s arrival, God’s presence and God’s action among His people too simple, to obvious, to possibly be true.
Like the people of Jesus time, we are also waiting for the coming of God among us, for our Emmanuel. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, how do we expect God to come among us? How does God work among us? This is critical because sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that we do not recognize the ways of God’s presence and action among us. Just think of how often we treat the Eucharist as commonplace, as ordinary, as nothing special. And yet, as St. Francis of Assisi said of the Eucharist, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”
The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the King of kings and the desire of nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-months pregnancy of a country girl, through 30 years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes in ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the people we see around us being born, growing up, growing old and dying – an in His simple presence in the form of bread and wine become Body and Blood. It is often hardest to see God in the people who are familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is to see God in ourselves. But if we see the birth of Jesus, the Son of God as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we will begin to discern the presence and action of God more and more in our daily lives. When God did the most spectacular thing ever – becoming one of us – He did it in a very ordinary way. Why should we expect Him to act any differently with us?
There is a proverb that says, “Listen closely, and you will hear the footsteps of the ants.” Today we are challenged to listen closely and hear the footsteps of God who comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through the people to our left and to our right and at the normal moments of our lives.
God is with us. Do you see what I see?
May God give you peace.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Catholics can receive a plenary indulgence for taking part in any public or private devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, said U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court dealing with indulgences and matters of conscience.
As Christians strive to become more holy, they can look to Mary who "calls the faithful to her son and his sacrifice and to the love of the Father," said the cardinal, quoting from "Lumen Gentium," the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
The Vatican published the cardinal's statement announcing the indulgence and outlining the requirements for receiving it Dec. 5.An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due for sins committed. A plenary indulgence is the remission of all punishment.Cardinal Stafford said the indulgence can also be applied to the souls of the faithful in purgatory.Catholics can receive the indulgence during two time frames.
Pilgrims visiting the Massabielle grotto, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, can receive the indulgence during the Lourdes jubilee year, which runs from Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, until Dec. 8, 2008.Pilgrims who visit any public sanctuary, shrine or other worthy place dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes may receive the indulgence Feb. 2-11. Feb. 11 is the day the first of 18 apparitions occurred and is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Feb. 2 is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Cardinal Stafford said that to obtain the special indulgence one must fulfill the normal requirements set by the church for all plenary indulgences; these include the person going to confession within a reasonably short period of time, receiving the Eucharist and praying for the intentions of the pope, all in a spirit of total detachment from the attraction of sin.
Those who make a pilgrimage to Lourdes must visit the following sites, preferably in this order:
-- The parish where St. Bernadette was baptized.
-- The Soubirous family home.
-- The Massabielle grotto.
-- The chapel where St. Bernadette received her first Communion.
At each location the faithful should end their meditation by praying the Lord's Prayer, the creed and the special jubilee prayer or a prayer to Mary.
Those visiting a holy place dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in another part of the world Feb. 2-11 also should pray the Lord's Prayer, the creed and the special jubilee prayer or a prayer to Mary.
Catholics who cannot visit Lourdes or join a communal service dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes because of illness or other serious reason could still earn the indulgence "in their own home or wherever they are" Feb. 2-11, Cardinal Stafford said.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Back in the 1930s, the legendary Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn thought movies should be entertaining, not preachy or heavy-handed. He once said, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” This thought came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on our Advent Scriptures so far. Throughout these weeks of Advent, God has been sending us a message, and of course, He hasn’t used Western Union. Instead, He’s used John the Baptist.
The first week of Advent, the message was “Stay awake!” Be alert. Change is in the air. Last week, the message was “Repent!” Make yourself ready. Prepare the way of the Lord. This week, we find John the Baptist in prison, but he sends his followers with a message. They ask Jesus: Are you the one who is to come? Or should we wait for another?
Every Sunday these last weeks, scripture has drawn us closer and closer to Christ – until this week, we meet Him face-to-face and finally hear His own words. And they are words full of another recurring message of Advent – hope. Jesus tells us: The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised. Yes. This is the one we have been waiting for.
It’s a breakthrough moment in the gospels – among other things, it’s the first time that Jesus tells a group of people directly to go and spread the good news: “Go and tell what you see and hear.” They do – and it’s never stopped. His followers have been spreading that good news ever since and 2,000 years later, we are their beneficiaries.
But it is a moment also of relief, and joy. Everything that we have been waiting for and hoping for is about to be realized. This is a Sunday to rejoice. The introductory rite for today says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!” The Latin for rejoice is “Gaudete,” which is why we call this “Gaudete Sunday.” And we mark today with the bright rose color to signify that our journey is nearing its end.
This is a season of journeying. I found myself on a journey this time last week to Maine for a family funeral. During my four and a half hour trip north, I was listening to a lot of Christmas music – which I love. I thought I knew all the Christmas songs out there, but I heard one I’ve never heard before. It was a beautiful song that described Mary and Joseph’s journey before Jesus was born. It was called “Not That Far From Bethlehem.”
Well, today, my brothers and sisters, on this Third Sunday of Advent, we’re not that far from Bethlehem – and I’m not talking about Bethlehem, CT. We are almost there. In geographic terms, Bethlehem is about 70 miles from Nazareth. To put that in context, it’s about the same distance from New Milford to New York City. If Mary and Joseph had taken a train, they’d have been there in about 90 minutes. But they weren’t so lucky. It may have taken them up to a week to get there, traveling on foot and donkey. We can only imagine their relief as they got closer and closer to their destination, and they realized the trip was almost over.
And that’s what the song is about -- Joseph encouraging Mary, and reassuring her. We’re almost there. “We’re Not That Far From Bethlehem.” But for us today, I think, the sentiment behind the song is about more than just geography, more than a date on the calendar. Bethlehem is not just as a point on the map, or a place in history. It is where Jesus Christ comes into our world; God enters our reality. It is the crossroads of the human heart. It is where hope is born. It is a place of eternal possibility. And we’re closer to it than we may realize.
In these last weeks of Advent, we need to remember that. These are weeks that will be crazy, with parties to attend and gifts to wrap and cards to send, snow to shovel. There will be decorations to hang and notes to write and meals to prepare and cookies to bake and bags to pack and planes to catch. But take time to pause, and to give thanks. Take stock. Take heed of all the messages God has sent us this Advent – to stay awake, to repent, to prepare the way of the Lord, to seek Him in the quiet.
And take time to pinpoint the Bethlehem of your own heart. That place that calls to each of us. Bethlehem is waiting for us – even as we are waiting for it. Even as we are waiting for Christ. It is the destination at the end of our Advent wanderings – where we were always meant to be. Spend these weeks quietly, hopefully, joyfully anticipating it. Because we will be there before we know it.
The lyrics of the song I mentioned put it so simply, and so beautifully. The words of Joseph to Mary are also God’s words to us …as He accompanies us on our journey:
Though it seems the road is long,
We’re not that far from Bethlehem,
Where all our hope and joy begins.
For in our arms we’ll cherish him.
We’re not that far from Bethlehem.
May God give you peace.
(Adapted from http://deacbench.blogspot.com/)
Friday, December 14, 2007
By TOM HESTER Jr., Associated Press Writer
TRENTON, N.J. - With New Jersey poised to become the first state in four decades to abolish the death penalty, opponents of the practice declared a historic victory and hoped other states would follow suit.
The Assembly voted 44-36 on Thursday to approve the legislation, which passed the Senate on Monday by a 21-16 vote. Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he will sign it within a week.
Supporters hoped New Jersey's move would start a wave of similar legislation. Thirty-seven states have the death penalty, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.
"New Jersey stands to embolden lawmakers who were as fearful of eliminating capital punishment as they were of keeping it," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "This is a harbinger of things to come."
Bills to abolish the death penalty were recently approved by a Colorado House committee, the Montana Senate and the New Mexico House. But none have advanced further.
The nation's most recent execution was Sept. 25 in Texas. Since then, executions have been delayed pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether execution by lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions, but nobody has been executed in the Garden State since 1963.
New Jersey has been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that declared invalid the state's lethal injection procedures.
A special state commission found in January that the death penalty was a more expensive sentence than life in prison, hasn't deterred murder, and could kill innocent people.
The measure would spare eight men on the state's death row, including Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994.
The case inspired Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.
"There is no doubt whatsoever that those criminals now sitting on death row are guilty," said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, a Republican. "Yet their lives are being spared in the name of justice. Tell me then, where is the justice for Megan Kanka and her family?"
Corzine said life in prison without parole offers a more certain outcome than death penalty sentences that come with years of appeals.
"This is an issue of conscience and the responsible administration of justice," he said.
The bill gives the state's death row inmates 60 days to decide whether to waive appeals and be sentenced to life in prison without parole. If such a motion isn't made, the inmates would remain under the death sentence but would likely never be executed.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Going to a very large church, he began taking photographs making notes. He spotted a golden telephone on the vestibule wall and was intrigued with a sign, which read "Calls: $10,000 a minute".
Seeking out the pastor, he asked about the phone and the sign. The pastor answered that this golden phone is, in fact, a direct line to heaven and if he pays the price he can talk directly to God.
The man thanked the pastor and continued on his way. As he continued to visit churches in Seattle , Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and around the United States, he found more phones, with the same sign, and the same answer from each pastor.
Finally, he arrived in Massachusetts.
Upon entering a church in Boston, MA...Behold - he saw the usual golden telephone. But THIS time, the sign read "Calls: .35 cents."
Fascinated, he asked to talk to the pastor, "Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I have found this golden telephone and have been told it is a direct line to Heaven and that I could talk to God, but in the other churches the cost was $10,000 a minute. Your sign reads only .35 cents a call. Why?"
The pastor, smiling benignly, replied : "Son, you're in Boston, Massachusetts now, home of the Boston Red Sox, the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Boston College! You're in God's Country, It's a local call."
Sunday, December 9, 2007
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, DEC. 6, 2007 - With the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic Church affirms that Mary, on account of a singular privilege bestowed by God and in view of the merits of Christ's death, was preserved from contracting the stain of original sin and came into existence already completely holy.
Four years after being defined by Pope Pius IX, this truth was confirmed by the Madonna herself at Lourdes in an apparition to Bernadette with the words: "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The feast of Mary Immaculate reminds humanity that there is only one thing that truly lowers man -- sin. It is a very urgent message to repeat. The world has lost the sense of sin. We joke as if it were the most harmless thing in the world. The world presents its products and spectacles as sinful to make them more attractive. It talks about sin, even the gravest sins, in terms of endearment: peccadilloes, little vices, etc. The expression "original sin" is used in the advertising world to indicate something very different from the Bible: A sin that confers a bit of originality on the one who commits it!
The world is afraid of everything but sin. It is afraid of pollution, the obscure maladies of the body, nuclear war, terrorism; but it is not afraid of the war against God, who is the eternal; the all-powerful; love. Jesus says, however, not to be afraid of those who kill the body, but only of him who after he has killed has the power to cast into Gehenna (cf. Luke 12:4-5).
This way of thinking exercises a tremendous influence even on believers who want to live according to the Gospel. It produces a sleep of conscience in them, a kind of spiritual anesthesia. There is a drug that skews our understanding of sin. The Christian people no longer recognize its true enemy, the master that enslaves it; this is because what we have is a gilded slavery.
Many who speak of sin no longer have an entirely adequate idea of it. Sin becomes depersonalized and is projected only onto institutions; we end up identifying sin with the position of our own political and ideological adversaries. An investigation about what people think sin is would probably have frightening results.
Instead of liberation from sin, all efforts today are focused on liberation from regret over sin; instead of fighting against sin we fight against the idea of sin, replacing it with something very different, namely, "guilt feelings." We do precisely that which in every other sphere is considered the worst thing of all, that is, we deny the problem rather than resolve it, we push back and bury evil in the unconscious instead of removing it.
It is similar to believing that we can eliminate death by eliminating the thought of death, or worrying about bringing down the fever rather than curing the sickness when the fever is only a providential revelatory symptom of the sickness. St. John says that if we claim to be without sin, then we deceive ourselves and we make God a liar (cf. 1 John 1:8-10); God, in fact, says the contrary, he says that we have sinned.
Scripture says that Christ "died for our sins" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3). If you take away sin, then Christ's redemption itself is made futile, you have destroyed the meaning of his death. Christ would then have been tilting at windmills, he would have spilled his blood for nothing.
But the dogma of Mary Immaculate also tells us something very positive: God is stronger than sin and where sin abounds grace abounds even more (cf. Romans 5:20).
Mary is the sign and guarantee of this. The whole Church, after her, is called to become "glorious, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, that she might be holy and immaculate" (Ephesians 5:27). A text of the Second Vatican Council says: "But while in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle, the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues" ("Lumen Gentium," 65).
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
* * *
Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception are Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
He paused, took a deep breath, got in touch with his feelings, and experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned. He told his buddies to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived at their home destination and explain his taking a later flight. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the terminal floor. He was glad he did. The 16 year old girl was totally blind!
She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her, no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.
The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket.
When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, "Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?" She nodded through her tears. He continued on with, "I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly."
As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, "Mister...." He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, "Are you Jesus?"
He stopped in mid-stride, and he wondered. Then slowly he made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: "Are you Jesus?" Do people mistake you for Jesus?
That's our destiny, is it not? To be so much like Jesus that people cannot tell the difference as we live and interact with a world that is blind to His love, life and grace. If we claim to know Him, we should live, walk and act as He would.
Knowing Him is more than simply quoting Scripture and going to church. It's actually living the Word as life unfolds day to day.
You are the apple of His eye even though we, too, have been bruised by a fall. He stopped what He was doing and picked you and me up on a hill called Calvary and paid in full for our damaged fruit.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
When the eyes grow dim,
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Our hope was dying-- we'd given up on the search.
It wasn't so much that Christ wasn't invited,
But after 2,000 plus years we were no longer excited.
Oh, we knew what was coming-- no doubt about that.
And that was the trouble-- it was all "old hat."
November brought the first of an unending series of pains
With carefully orchestrated advertising campaigns.
There were gadgets and dolls and all sorts of toys.
Enough to seduce even the most devout girls and boys.
Unfortunately, it seemed, no one was completely exempt
From this seasonal virus that did all of us tempt.
It was rare, if at all, that you'd hear of the reason
For the origin of this holy season.
A baby, it seems, once had been born
In the mid-east somewhere on that first Christmas morn.
But what does that mean for folks like us,
Who've lost ourselves in the hoopla and fuss?
Can we re-learn the art of wondering and waiting,
Of hoping and praying, and anticipating?
Can we let go of all the things and the stuff?
Can we open our hands and our hearts long enough?
Can we open our eyes and open our ears?
Can we find him again after all of these years?
Will this year be different from all the rest?
Will we be able to offer him all of our best?
Where do we begin-- how do we start
To make for the child a place in our heart?
Perhaps we begin by letting go
Of our limits on hope, and of the stuff that we know.
Let go of the shopping, of the chaos and fuss,
Let go of the searching, let Christmas find us.
With him he brings wholeness and newness of life
For brother and sister, for husband and wife.
The Christ-child comes not by our skill,
But rather he comes by his own Father's will.
We can't make him come with parties and bright trees,
But only by getting down on our knees.
His coming will happen-- of this there's no doubt.
The question is whether we'll be in or out.
A basket on your porch, a child in your reach.
A baby to love, to feed and to teach.
He'll grow in wisdom as God's only Son.
How far will we follow this radical one?
He'll lead us to challenge the way that things are.
He'll lead us to follow a single bright star.
Can we block out commercials, the hype, the malls?
Can we find solitude in our holy halls?
Can we keep alert, keep hope, stay awake?
Can we receive the child for ours and God's sake?
From on high with the caroling host as He sees us,
He yearns to read on our lips the prayer: Come, Lord Jesus!
As Advent begins all these questions make plea.
The only true answer: We will see, we will see.
May God grant you a blessed, a holy and a hope-filled Advent.
Monday, December 3, 2007
by Harry Mount
AT first glance, it doesn’t seem tragic that our leaders don’t study Latin anymore. But it is no coincidence that the professionalization of politics — which encourages budding politicians to think of education as mere career preparation — has occurred during an age of weak rhetoric, shifting moral values, clumsy grammar and a terror of historical references and eternal values that the Romans could teach us a thing or two about. As they themselves might have said, “Roma urbs aeterna; Latina lingua aeterna.”*
None of the leading presidential candidates majored in Latin. Hillary Clinton studied political science at Wellesley, as did Barack Obama at Columbia. Rudy Giuliani had a minor brush with the language during four years of theology at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn when he toyed with becoming a priest. But then he went on to major in guess what? Political science.
How things have changed since the founding fathers.
Of the 7,000 books originally in Thomas Jefferson’s library, only a couple of dozen are still at Monticello. The rest were sold off by his descendants, and eventually bought back by the Library of Congress. The best-thumbed of those remaining — on a glassed-in shelf in Jefferson’s study — is a copy of Virgil’s “Aeneid.”
Jefferson started learning Latin and Greek at age 9 at a school in Virginia run by a Scottish clergyman. When he was at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, a Greek grammar book was always by his side. Tacitus and Homer were his favorites.
High school, Jefferson thought, should center on Latin, Greek and French, with grammar and reading exercises, translations into English and the memorizing of famous passages. In 1819, when Jefferson opened the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (built according to classical rules of architecture), he employed only classically trained professors to teach Greek and Roman history.
This pattern of Latin learning continued for more than 150 years. Of the 40 presidents since Jefferson, 31 have studied Latin, many at a high level. James Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina, in 1818, with top honors in math and classics. James Garfield taught Greek and Latin from 1856 to 1857 at what is now Hiram College in Ohio. Teddy Roosevelt studied classics at Harvard.
John F. Kennedy had Latin instruction at not one, but three prep schools. Richard Nixon showed a great aptitude for the language, coming second in the subject at Whittier High School in California in 1930. And George H. W. Bush, a Latin student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was a member of the fraternity Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas (Authority, Unity, Truth).
A particular favorite for Bill Clinton during his four years of Latin at Hot Springs High School in Arkansas was Caesar’s “Gallic War.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush studied Latin at Phillips Academy (the school’s mottoes: “Non Sibi” or not for self, and “Finis Origine Pendet,” the end depends on the beginning).
But then President Bush was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the American classical tradition. Soon after he left Andover in 1964, the study of Latin in America collapsed. In 1905, 56 percent of American high school students studied Latin. By 1977, a mere 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam.
Recently there have been signs of a revival. The number taking the National Latin Exam in 2005, for instance, shot up to 134,873.
Why is this a good thing? Not all Romans were models of virtue — Caligula’s Latin was pretty good. And not all 134,873 of those Latin students are going to turn into Jeffersons.
But what they gain is a glimpse into the past that provides a fuller, richer view of the present. Know Latin and you discern the Roman layer that lies beneath the skin of the Western world. And you open up 500 years of Western literature (plus an additional thousand years of Latin prose and poetry).
Why not just study all this in English? What do you get from reading the “Aeneid” in the original that you wouldn’t get from Robert Fagles’s fine translation, which came out just last year?
Well, no translation, however fine, can ever sound the way Latin was written to sound. To hear Latin poetry spoken smoothly and quickly is to hear a mellifluous, rat-a-tat-tat language, the rich, distilled, romantic, pure, heady blueprint of its close descendant, Italian.
But also, learning to translate Latin into English and vice versa is a tremendous way to train the mind. I think of translating concise, precise Latin into more expansive, discursive English as like opening up a concertina; you are allowed to inject all sorts of original thought and interpretation.
As much as opening the concertina enlarges your imagination, squeezing it shut — translating English into Latin — sharpens your prose. Because Latin is a dead language, not in a constant state of flux as living languages are, there’s no wriggle room in translating. If you haven’t understood exactly what a particular word means or how a grammatical rule works, you are likely to be, not off, but just plain wrong. There’s nothing like this challenge to teach you how to navigate the reefs and whirlpools of English prose.
With a little Roman history and Latin under your belt, you end up seeing more everywhere, not only in literature and language, but in the classical roots of Federal architecture; the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe and, in turn, America; and in the American system of senatorial government. The novelist Alan Hollinghurst describes people who know history’s turning points as being able to look at the world as a sequence of rooms: Greece gives way to Rome, Rome to the Byzantine Empire, to the Renaissance, to the British Empire, to America.
You can gain this advantage at any age. Alfred the Great, the ninth-century king of England, who knew how crucial it was to learn Latin to become a civilized leader, took it up in his 30s. Here’s hoping that a new generation of students — and presidents — will likewise recognize that *“if Rome is the eternal city, Latin is the eternal language.”
Harry Mount is the author of “Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life.”
Click this link for this entire article in Latin: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/03/opinion/03mount-latin.html?ref=opinion
Saturday, December 1, 2007
“Stay awake!” Those are not exactly the words you want to hear at the beginning of a homily. And yet, these are the words of Our Lord as we begin today the season of Advent; our annual pilgrimage toward the celebration of Christmas.
Typically when we hear the word pilgrim, we immediately think of Thanksgiving. We talk a lot about pilgrims and Puritans this time of year. What’s often lost in our culture is the religious meaning of the word pilgrim. We don’t have a strong tradition of making pilgrimages in the U.S. But many people regularly embark on religious pilgrimages to places like Rome, the shrines of Mary throughout the world, perhaps the Holy Land. And 40 years ago, the Second Vatican Council reminded us that we, the Church, are a pilgrim people. So, what does this mean for us?
As we begin our new Church year with the season of Advent, pilgrimage is good image for the journey that we begin today. We are on an Advent journey toward the feast of Christmas. In the bigger picture of our liturgical year, we are beginning anew the journey to eternal fulfillment; we are beginning our yearly re-enactment of the drama of our salvation, beginning with the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, to the great gift of Resurrection at Easter, and culminating next year in the celebration of Christ’s ultimate victory in the feast of Christ the King. But, today, we take our first steps on the way.
We take these steps as pilgrims. And, we hear specific instructions for pilgrims in our readings today. In our reading from Isaiah, we hear the image of pilgrimage to describe the great gathering of the future. He announces that all nations will stream toward the mountain of God. There they will all be instructed in His ways, and in response they will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” What a glorious image! What a needed promise for our world!
Then in our responsorial psalm we again here the language of pilgrimage. Our refrain, “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord,” is a joyful hymn originally meant to be sung as pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God on earth. Jesus likely sang this hymn as he journeyed there. We too find ourselves singing it as pilgrims today. This psalm encourages us to set our sights on our own salvation and the salvation of our world, when Christ will bring to fulfillment His long awaited promise of peace.
In our reading from Paul, we are told what we must do to help bring about this vision of peace. He exhorts us, “Conduct yourselves properly.” He warns us against lives of self-indulgence and self-centeredness of any kind. More than that, he condemns the “rivalry and jealousy” that can lead to division. If we are genuine pilgrims on the way to salvation, we must act as pilgrims and enter wholeheartedly into the pilgrimage, leaving behind whatever might hinder our progress, accepting whatever hardship our journey might entail.
Today’s Gospel seems, at first, to paint a dire picture. It describes how the disaster of the flood took the people of the time of Noah by surprise, and it speaks of not knowing when the thief is coming during the night; and that some will be taken and some will be left. But, the point of Jesus’ teaching is the unpreparedness of the people in each case, not the tragedy itself. Had they been prepared, there would have been no tragedy. It also presumes that had they known when misfortune was going to occur, they would have been prepared. And that is the point for us today. They did not know, and neither do we. And so Jesus admonishes us: “Stay awake! Be prepared at all times!”
So, on this first Sunday of Advent, I invite you to take out your good, spiritual walking shoes – we’re going on a journey. And this journey, this pilgrimage, doesn’t merely lead to Christmas presents; it will lead us to the fulfillment of God’s promises and plans for our salvation. We have before us a vision of universal peace and reconciliation among nations and among people. In just a few weeks, we will celebrate the birth of the Son of God, who will help make this peace a reality. But, we must take the first step. There must be a great anticipation in our step, urgency in our preparedness. This is what is placed before us today. It is up to us to decide whether or not we wish to join the pilgrimage. This is our wake up call.
“Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
May God give you peace.
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