Friday, December 30, 2016

No 'reform of the reform' | Pope Francis | AMERICA MAGAZINE

NOTE: This is such a welcomed clarification from Pope Francis. Now, if he would only state without exception that priests celebrating Mass with their back to the people is NOT a part of the ordinary rite. Leave it with the Extraordinary Rite. I have highlighted some key selections below. - FT

December 19-26, 2016 Issue | Gerard O'Connell | AMERICA MAGAZINE

For some years now there has been talk of a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy promulgated by Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council. Such talk became more vocal following Pope Benedict XVI’s decision in July 2007 to restore the “extraordinary” rite alongside the “ordinary” one. 

Moreover, more recently some prelates, including Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, have given credence to this possibility and advocated that priests return to celebrating Mass facing the altar rather than the congregation.

Antonio Spadaro, S.J., asked Pope Francis what he thinks of such proposals when he interviewed him on July 9, four days after Cardinal Sarah had given a lecture in London calling for priests to implement this change at the beginning of Advent and affirming that a “reform of the reform” is underway.

Francis’ answer appears in the preface to the 1,000-page book Nei Tuoi Occhi È La Mia Parola (In Your Eyes Is My Word), a collection of his main talks and homilies as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He began by affirming that Pope Benedict XVI (in his motu proprio of July 2007 “Summorum Pontificum,” on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970), “made a right and magnanimous gesture by going to meet some groups and persons with a certain mentality that had nostalgia [for the old liturgy] and were distancing themselves.”
He emphasized, however, that this was “an exception” and “for that reason it is referred to as ‘the extraordinary’ rite, but the ordinary rite of the church is not this.” Francis recognized the need “to go to meet with magnanimity the one who is attached to a certain way of praying,” but he stated clearly that “the ordinary rite is not this.”

He insisted that the Second Vatican Council and its “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”“must be carried forward as they are” and declared furthermore that “to speak of ‘the reform of the reform’ is an error!”

Probing further, Father Spadaro asked whether “apart from those who are sincere and ask for this possibility out of custom or devotion,” the desire for this rite “could also express something else.”

Francis responded: “I ask myself this. For example, I always try to understand what is behind persons who are too young to have experienced the preconciliar liturgy but who nevertheless want it. At times, I find myself in front of persons who are very rigid, an attitude of rigidity. And I ask myself: How come such rigidity?” And when one “digs” deeper, he said, one discovers that “this rigidity always hides something: insecurity, or at times something else…. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.”

Turning to the question of tradition, Father Spadaro noted that “some understand this also in a rigid way.” Francis responded, “But no: tradition blossoms!” Nevertheless, he said, “there’s a traditionalism that is a rigid fundamentalism; this is not good. Fidelity on the other hand implies growth. In transmitting the deposit of faith from one epoch to another, tradition grows and consolidates itself with the passing of time, as St. Vincent of Lerins said in his Commonitorium Primum.” And the Liturgy of the Hours, the pope pointed out, quotes St. Vincent: “The dogma of the Christian religion too must follow these laws. It progresses, consolidates itself with the years, developing itself with time, deepening itself with age.”

It is worth noting that on the day Pope Francis spoke with Father Spadaro, he also received in private audience Cardinal Sarah, who has emerged as the standard bearer of those who are pushing for a “reform of the reform.” Two days later, at the pope’s instruction, the Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, S.J., issued a declaration stating that the “ordinary” form of the celebration of the Mass is the one envisaged by the Missal promulgated by Paul VI, while the “extraordinary” rite approved by Benedict XVI is not to take its place. Father Lombardi denied that new liturgical directives would be introduced in Advent and asked that the expression “reform of the reform” be avoided in referring to the liturgy. He revealed that Cardinal Sarah “expressly agreed to all this” in his meeting with the pope.

In a word, Francis wants the Second Vatican Council’s directives on the liturgy to be more fully implemented, not rolled back. It seems clear that he feels this has not yet happened.

Gerard O’Connell is America’s Vatican correspondent. America’s Vatican coverage is sponsored in part by the Jesuit communities of the United States. Twitter: @gerryorome.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our churches as sanctuaries | Fr. Ron Rolheiser

NOTE: This appeared on Angelus News
Whenever we have been at our best as Christians, we have opened our churches as sanctuaries to the poor and the endangered. We have a long, proud history wherein refugees, homeless persons, immigrants facing deportation and others who are endangered take shelter inside our churches. If we believe what Jesus tells us about the Last Judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, this should serve us well when we stand before God at the end.
Unfortunately, our churches have not always provided that same kind of sanctuary (safety and shelter) to those who are refugees, immigrants and homeless in their relationship to God and our churches. There are millions of persons, today perhaps the majority within our nations, who are looking for a safe harbor in terms of sorting out their faith and their relationship to the Church.
Sadly, too often our rigid paradigms of orthodoxy, ecclesiology, ecumenism, liturgy, sacramental practice and canon law, however well-intentioned, have made our churches places where no such sanctuary is offered and where the wide embrace practiced by Jesus is not mirrored. Instead, our churches are often harbors only for persons who are already safe, already comforted, already church-observing, already solid ecclesial citizens.
That was hardly the situation within Jesus’ own ministry. He was a safe sanctuary for everyone, religious and nonreligious alike. While he didn’t ignore the committed religious persons around him, the Scribes and Pharisees, his ministry always reached out and included those whose religious practice was weak or nonexistent. Moreover, he reached out especially to those whose moral lives were not in formal harmony with the religious practices of the time, those deemed as sinners.
Significantly, too, he did not ask for repentance from those deemed as sinners before he sat down at table with them. He set out no moral or ecclesial conditions as a prerequisite to meet or dine with him. Many repented after meeting and dining with him, but that repentance was never a precondition. In his person and in his ministry, Jesus did not discriminate. He offered a safe sanctuary for everyone.
We need today in our churches to challenge ourselves on this. From pastors to parish councils — and from pastoral teams to diocesan regulators to bishops’ conferences, to those responsible for applying canon and church law, to our own personal attitudes — we all need to ask: Are our churches places of sanctuary for those who are refugees, homeless and poor ecclesially? Do our pastoral practices mirror Jesus? Is our embrace as wide as that of Jesus?
These are not fanciful ideals. This is the Gospel, which we can easily lose sight of, for seemingly all the right reasons. I remember a diocesan synod where I participated some 20 years ago. At one stage in the process we were divided into small groups and each group was given the question: What, before all else, should the Church be saying to the world today?
The groups returned with their answers and everyone, every single group, proposed as its first-priority apposite what the Church should be saying to the world as some moral or ecclesial challenge: We need to challenge the world in terms of justice! We need to challenge people to pray more! We need to speak again of sin! We need to challenge people about the importance of going to church! We need to stop the evil of abortion! All of these suggestions are good and important. But none of the groups dared say: We need to comfort the world!
Handel’s “Messiah” begins with that wonderful line from Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” That, I believe, is the first task of religion. Challenge follows after that, but may not precede it. A mother first comforts her child by assuring it of her love and stilling its chaos. Only after that, in the safe shelter produced by that comfort, can she begin to offer it some hard challenges to grow beyond its own instinctual struggles.
People are swayed a lot by the perception they have of things. Within our churches today we can protest that we are being perceived unfairly by our culture, that is, as narrow, judgmental, hypocritical and hateful. No doubt this is unfair, but we must have the courage to ask ourselves why this perception abounds, in the academy, in the media and in the popular culture. Why aren’t we being perceived more as “a field hospital” for the wounded, as is the ideal of Pope Francis?
Why are we not flinging our church doors open much more widely? What lies at the root of our reticence? Fear of being too generous with God’s grace? Fear of contamination? Of scandal?
One wonders whether more people, especially the young and the estranged, would grace our churches today if we were perceived in the popular mind precisely as being sanctuaries for searchers, for the confused, the wounded, the broken and the nonreligious, rather than as places only for those who are already religiously solid and whose religious search is already completed.
Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is

Friday, December 23, 2016

Do not be afraid!


Join me in a little sing-a-long: “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. ” Is there any hymn that captures the quiet, the holiness, the hopes and the peace of Christmas than Silent Night? Just singing that song fills me with the peace of Christmas – and I hope you too.

There is a wonderful Christmas edition of the Family Circus comic that I always think of this time of year. In it, the young girl, Dolly, shares the story of Christmas with her two young brothers. Here’s how she told it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleigh and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” Dolly then scolds her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!” Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – pay attention or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!

I am such a big fan of all the traditions that surround this time of year. I particularly remember as a child all of the Christmas TV specials. During that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas we were so excited when any of them would come on. After dinner, we would hurriedly take our bath, put on our PJs and sit in front of the TV to watch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmastime without watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and my all-time favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I recently saw something online that made the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas even more profound. At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is the scene were young Linus reminds every one of the true meaning of Christmas as he recites the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It is the same passage we just heard proclaimed tonight. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”

But, for as many times as I have seen that special, there was one small but important detail that I had never noticed before until now. Charlie Brown is best known for his striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all are always trying to separate Linus from his blanket. And they always fail. Even though his security blanket is a source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he refuses to give it up. It makes him feel safe and secure.

Until this moment. As Linus is sharing the story of Christ’s birth, he drops his blanket. In that climactic scene when Linus shares what Christmas is all about, he drops his security blanket, and most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, "fear not" or in our translation “Do not be afraid.”

This cannot be a coincidence or something unintentional. It seems instead that Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was telling us something so simple, so important, so brilliant. The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and instead to trust and cling to Jesus.

We all know that 2016 has been a fairly terrible year for our nation, for our world. So much of the struggle of this last year has been based on fear. Fear of the other, fear of the immigrant, fear of the refugee, fear of the poor and the homeless and the addict. Fear of war, fear of terror. Fear seemingly everywhere. We may be among those who find ourselves grasping at something – anything – that offers a sense of security, whatever that might mean.
But, in the midst of it all, Jesus comes once again to remind us of something profound and deeply meaningful – “Do not be afraid…For today a savior has been born for you.” My friends, we are reminded so especially today of this eternal truth: We were not created for fear. We were created for hope. We are the “light of the world”. We are the “salt of the earth”. We are called to be the leaven in our society, lifting the world out of its fear and anger and negativity into the joy, love, compassion, forgiveness and healing of Jesus. We have been created for hope. Do not be afraid.

A local church was conducting a Christmas pageant one year. The grand finale came as a class of six-year-old’s rose to sing the song, "Christmas Love." As they sang, the children in the front row held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As each letter was presented, the children would sing "C is for Christmas," or "H is for Happy," and so on, until each child holding up their portion had presented the message "Christmas Love." Everything was going smoothly, until everyone noticed a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter appeared as a "W".

The audience lightly chuckled at the little girl’s mistake. She had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W". Although the teachers tried to quiet the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised. And when it was, a hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, they understood the true message of that day, and that perhaps God had a plan in the little girl’s “W”. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear: "CHRIST WAS LOVE”. And, I believe, He still is.

My friends, “Do not be afraid”. Instead be the light, be the salt, be the leaven, be the hope and love that Christ created you to be. And then our world will be a better place.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace. Let's sing again, Silent Night…

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Biggest Catholic Stories of 2016 | America Magazine

Below are some of the biggest Catholic stories of 2016. What stories do you think should have made the list? Leave your comments below.
1. Catholics from the pope on down played a role in U.S. presidential politics
Catholic angles to major political stories were easy to find in 2016, when the U.S. presidential election dominated the news.
Perhaps the most obvious example dates back to February, when Pope Francis and then-G.O.P. presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump verbally sparred over Mr. Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. During a visit to the Mexican side of the border, the pope faced the United States, where dozens of undocumented migrants sat behind a border fence, and prayed for those who died making the journey north.
Though the rift appeared to soften after the Vatican said the pope was not speaking about any particular politician, a group of Catholic intellectuals urged their fellow believers in March not to back Mr. Trump, saying he was unfit for the presidency. When Mr. Trump wrapped up the nomination, a group of Catholics came out in support of him, pointing to the candidate’s promise to appoint to the Supreme Court someone in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic jurist who died in February.
Intense campaigning between Mr. Trump and Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton was put on hold for a single evening in October, when the pair traded jokes at the Al Smith Dinner, a New York fundraiser for Catholic charitable organizations hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
But just days before the election, Pope Francis delivered a passionate speech in Rome in which he urged individuals not to succumb to the politics of fear, which some U.S. Catholics interpreted as a shot at Mr. Trump’s campaign. Come Election Day, however, Catholic voters nonetheless backed the Republican real estate mogul.
2. From gun violence to minimum wage, Catholics were part of the conversation
The year wasn’t marked solely by presidential politics.
Catholic bishops, for example, urged lawmakers to support modest gun control proposals championed by Mr. Obama in January. Then following a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando in June, which left close to 50 people dead, several bishops repeated the call to regulate firearms more effectively, though just a handful of bishops noted that the attack specifically targeted the L.G.B.T. community.
Protests continued across the nation to raise the federal minimum wage, an issue to which Cardinal Dolan lent his support in February.
In May, the University of Notre Dame sought to diffuse the intense partisanship plaguing U.S. elections by honoring Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner, two Catholic politicians whose careers came to an end this year (we think...#Biden2020?).
On the religious liberty front, the U.S. Supreme Court in May kicked a challenge from the Little Sisters of the Poor against certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act back down to a lower court, prompting the sisters to declare victory. Earlier in the year, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had invited some of the sisters to hear President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address.
3. A crop of new leaders for the church in the United States emerged
There was also plenty of church news involving American Catholics as well.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago was given two major nods by Pope Francis, who named him to the powerful Congregation for Bishops in July and then made him a cardinal in November. In addition to Cardinal Cupich, the pope also gave red hats to two other American bishops: Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, who will soon head off to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, and Bishop Kevin Farrell, who was the bishop of Dallas before being appointed by the pope to run a new Vatican office that deals with family life in August.
The pope also launched a commission to study the history of women deacons in the church, and appointed to it American scholar Phyllis Zagano.
Georgetown University in August announced that it would apologize to the descendants of 238 slaves it had sold in 1838 and permanently rename two campus buildings honoring the Jesuits who signed off on the sale.
American bishops elected new leaders in November, sticking to custom and elevating Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston from vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to president. They selected as his number two Archbishop JoséGómez of Los Angeles, the first Mexican-American to hold a top leadership post in the conference, a fitting milestone as bishops also learned at that meeting that the future of U.S. Catholicism lies with younger, Latino Catholics.
They also announced that a new pastoral letter condemning racism was in the works, and Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta called on bishops to condemn post-election hate crimes.
4. Protecting immigrants was once again a priority for bishops
Circling back to the new president, U.S. bishops expressed optimism in working with Mr. Trump on abortion, but they also voiced support for undocumented Americans in light of the president-elect’s suggestions that he would seek to deport the nearly 11 million people living illegally in the United States.
In response to that campaign promise, the heads of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States signed a statement pledging to protect undocumented students.
5. And Pope Francis showed no signs of slowing down
Finally, Pope Francis turned 80 in December, and he marked the day by celebrating with some of Rome’s homeless. But that’s not all he did in 2016. Read more about the biggest pope stories of the year later this week.
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

“Resistance” in the Curia and the risk of “functionalism” | Vatican Insider

NOTE: This appeared in the Vatican Insider today and is an issue that I'm so glad to see the Holy Father continuing to push forward on. Reform of the Curia remains perhaps the most important aspect necessary for a broader reform of the Church. - FT


In his speech to the Roman Curia on the morning of Thursday 22nd, it is important to note the passages in which the Pope states that the purpose of the Curia “is to collaborate in the Successor of Peter’s ministry”, supporting him “in the exercise of his unique, ordinary, full, supreme, immediate and universal authority”. The Pope documents his statement with a substantial number of footnotes. From St Gregory the Great to the First Vatican Council’s “Pastor Aeternus” constitution, from the Second Vatican Council’s “Christus Dominus” decree to Paul VI’s speeches and the introduction of John Paul II’s “Pastor Bonus” constitution, it is significant that the current Successor of Peter wished to recall the nature and essence of the Curia. Not a central body governing local Churches. Not a bureaucratic authority with ministers and ministries that ends up complicating the life of Christian communities across the world but a body that serves the Pope and his mission, that always and only acts in the name and with the authority of the Bishop of Rome, helping him concretely in his ministry.

Some might consider these points of emphasis to be obvious, superfluous even. But a look back through the recent history of the Church and of the current pontificate, shows that this is not the case. Many Popes during the 20th century faced “resistance” from the Curia. One need only think of the so-called “Roman party” that formed against John XXIII and some of his initiatives or the attempts to prevent the implementation of conciliar reform under Paul VI. Naturally, it would be illogical and even ideological to brand any dialectical position, difference in opinion or views or disagreement over how to achieve certain results as “resistance”. Or fears of a possible misunderstanding of certain steps the Pope intends to take. In his speech, Francis explains that resistance, even that which is considered “malicious” – because they are not motivated by a sincere willingness to understand, ask real questions or respectfully make known one’s own objections – is nevertheless a sign of vitality and “is worth listening to, accepting and its expression encouraged”.

Something else has changed and is becoming increasingly evident in modern times. In the past, differences were in most cases kept personal, between the Pope and his collaborators, those who act on his behalf and under his authority. Either that, or they were addressed in consistories and interdicasterial meetings, without them ever becoming public. In other words, there was a shared way of understanding and experiencing service to the Pope within the Roman Curia. For instance, it is common knowledge that on some rare occasions, the most loyal and experienced of Wojtyla’s collaborators, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had ideas that did not quite coincide with the Pope’s. It is no longer a secret, for example, that Ratzinger feared possible misunderstandings of the interreligious gathering in Assisi in October 1986, John Paul II’s prophetic gesture. Nowhere, however will you find any interviews, books or essays (online newspapers and blogs did not exist yet) by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that may even remotely give the impression that Ratzinger was dissociating himself from the Pope, whom he always faithfully served.

Of course, one could point to a possible precedent in 2000, when Australian cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, made critical statements with regard to the style of the declaration “Dominus Iesus”, which was signed by Ratzinger and published by the former Holy Office. Cassidy pointed out that this text had not been signed by the Pope. Even the dicastery’s then secretary and future president, Walter Kapser, spoke of a “communication problem”. John Paul II intervened, publicly explaining that it was he who had come up with the idea for the document and that he had asked for it and approved it. Regarding Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, which liberalised pre-conciliar mass, public criticisms came from a number of bishops – the former Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, also respectfully expressed a difference in opinion – but there is no recollection of any public criticisms being made by collaborators in the Curia.

In any case, this does not all that easily fit with what has happened over the past three and a half years. In a recent interview with Vatican Insider, the Substitute for General Affairs to the Secretary of State, Angelo Becciu, spoke of “principles I have always been taught by the healthy tradition of the Church: as the Pope's humble collaborator, I feel I have a duty to loyally tell him what I think when a decision is being taken. Once it is taken, I obey the Holy Father fully. The unity of the Church, for which Jesus sweated blood and gave his life, comes before my own ideas, however good they may be. Ideas that have involved disobedience have ruined the Church."

There is also another significant passage in Francis’ speech, that emphasises positive and negative aspects of a reform process that is constantly at risk of spiralling into “functionalism”, which can be seen as an even more underhand form of resistance and an example of “gattopardismo” as the Pope put it in Italian, making superficial changes to keep things as they are. “A permanent formation is not sufficient,” the Pope explained, “what is needed also and above all, is conversion and permanent purification”. Without a change of mentality, without a genuinely evangelical attitude, structural reform is reduced to mere slogans and even Francis’ message can be reduced to new orders which simply replace old ones, without actually changing anything. The period of reform the Vatican is currently undergoing, is in no way free from the real risks of functionalism and efficientism

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What's in a name?

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 28, 2016:

Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting things, and they usually come with a story. Let me give you an example. I have a beautiful black and white cat named Lucky. I have had lucky for almost 16 years, and he was originally a rescue after he had been injured as a kitten. The local vet was looking for someone to adopt him or they’d have to put him down. So, being a good Franciscan, I took him. I asked my then 6 year old niece to give him a name and she came up with Lucky because as she said then, “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Names have something to say about who we are and where we come from. For example, a few years ago, I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland. I am of Irish-American descent, so this trip also gave me a chance to connect with the roots of my family and our origins. During the journey, we traveled to some of the places that my family originally came from in Ireland which gave me a real sense of my roots. When I came back, I did some additional research on my genealogy and was amazed when I looked up my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland, whose name I share. I never knew him, he returned to the Lord before I was born, but you feel a connection when you share a family name. Well, as I was doing the research and l came across a baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879. My birthday is also September 1, 89 years later. For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened the connection to this relative whose name I share.

So, names usually have something to tell us about who we are. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family too. I was thinking about the importance of names as I was reflecting on our Scriptures for today. We heard today two very familiar names that we always associate with Christmastime. The first is from the prophet Isaiah where we hear the familiar, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel.” And, the second name comes in our Gospel passage where the angel says to Joseph in a dream, “[Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus.”

Have you ever wondered why we have these two names? Why the Son born of Mary is named Jesus and not Emmanuel and what it all might mean? Well, of course, these name too have deep meaning for us. Remember that names do a few things: first they are possessive (Who are you? To whom do you belong? Of the house of Washburn or Mitchell? Of the house of Oliveira or Macedo?). Secondly, names say something about us, something about who we are, what we can do, what we are to mean to our people.

The first name we heard today is Emmanuel, and this name tells us something very important about the birth of this child. This is no ordinary child. When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. Our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes; our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. God is with us!

And then, in the Gospel, the angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus, a name that tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means literally, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that His presence in our midst will also do something so important, so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear today, the power of the proclamation of this birth: God is with us and is our salvation!

As we enter these final days of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, our lives, our struggles and our joys. That our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever.

And let us all remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – Christian, a name that means “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us. God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. Come, let us adore Him!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent Identity Crisis

HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Gaudete Sunday), December 11, 2016:

An “identity crisis” is defined as “a period of distress when a person seeks a clearer sense of self and an acceptable role in society.” Now, although this term didn’t become part of our vocabulary until the 1950s, it’s apparent that today’s Gospel focuses precisely on an identity crisis.

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John the Baptist is having an identity crisis, but not about himself, instead it is about Jesus. John wants to know just who Jesus is. John has heard about the works that Jesus has done and wants to find out His true identity. John’s confusion comes because he was expecting something very different in Jesus. We heard it in last week’s where John identified Jesus in very severe and strict terms. John painted a picture of Jesus with a “winnowing fan in his hand,” cleaning up the threshing floor after the harvest, gathering the good wheat into his barn but burning the useless chaff with unquenchable fire. John’s preconceived idea of Jesus was that of a threatening judge and a fiery prophet whose aim is to clean house, shelter the good and get rid of the bad and useless.

But then John starts to hear about Jesus’ actions, what Jesus was doing, what His mission and His message were. And suddenly John had an identity crisis. So he asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus promptly sets the record straight. Jesus had come into the world not to destroy but to save, not to burn but to bless, not to condemn but to commend, not to hurt but to heal – to heal the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and even the dead. And best of all, Jesus came to give good news to the poor, the very people who only knew the bad, the worse and the worst news.

My friends, with the Advent Season more than half over, with Christmas ever closer, it is time for us to deal with our identity crisis. And like John the Baptist, our identity crisis is focused not on ourselves, not on who we are but rather on Jesus and who He is. Who is this Jesus whose birth we will all too soon celebrate? What do we expect Jesus to be? How do we identify Him? Is He mysterious, unapproachable, judgmental and fearsome, still carrying a winnowing fan and is ready to clean up and clear out the useless, powerless, helpless chaff that we think we are?

Or is this Jesus the loving, forgiving, compassionate, gentle one who still is willing and able to heal the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and raise the dead, all those whom society considers as so much chaff; who is willing to heal us? Most of all, do we see ourselves as among those Jesus still proclaims the good news that says we are good because God loves us and not that God loves us only when we are good?

During these remaining days of Advent, I encourage you to consider seriously how you identify Jesus. Who exactly is Jesus to you and for you? Is He angry, judge, mystery man, a model impossible to imitate, a faint figure far away and long ago? Or is He your best friend, sharer of all your ups and downs, inspirer to better and greater deeds, healer of heart and mind, immensely compassionate, intensely lovable and loving?

As we clearly identify Jesus once again in our lives, we are also solving any personal identity crisis we may have. For when we know who Jesus is, then we know who we are most clearly. For we become what we receive! We are His body; His is our head. We are His presence in the world today. If the blind are to see, the lame walk, lepers cleansed, the deaf to hear, and the dead raised, it will be because we continue to participate in doing His work in the world with Him! If the poor are to hear and experience the good news then we must be part of bringing it to them. After all, if we don’t bring them the good news, who will?

Let our prayers these Advent days convince us that indeed Jesus is the one who is to come, there is no other. Jesus is the one we earnestly desire to be closer to us, dwell with us and within us, feed us with His own body and blood, lead us to the glory he has prepared and reserved just for us!

Because Jesus is coming and is in fact already here in our midst at this Eucharistic table, we know for sure that we don’t have to look for another Savior, as John the Baptist asked. Jesus is enough for us. Jesus is all we need. Jesus is the good news that we need to hear; He is the good news that we need to proclaim over and over again – Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Changing darkness into light

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 4, 2016:

A number of years ago, I watched a documentary called Untattoo You. It told the remarkable story of a program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people – their focus was helping young people escape from gang life and remove the tattoos that were associated with that way of life; tattoos that had literally physically marked them as part of these destructive groups. The film is told from the perspective of these young people; about how their lives got into these difficult places and about how difficult it had been leave gang life, not to mention the challenge of removing the actual tattoos.

Although dramatic, the story behind this film gets at an important point in all of our lives – the reality that all of us have probably done something in our lives that we regret and would like to erase. Usually these things aren’t as visible as a tattoo or as dramatic as joining a gang, but we all make mistakes or poor decisions; we all say things we wish we could take back or have broken friendships or relationships that we wish we could repair. It is part of being human and sometimes we just wish we could make these mistakes disappear; that they could be erased. We’re looking for that program that will help us undo the things that we wish we could change.

If we take a moment to slow down this Advent Season, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of the hustle and bustle of the season, we might discover that this is in fact the message of Advent. That it is the message of Jesus. It is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around the altar for the Eucharist. Jesus is reminding us to welcome Him again. He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy. I’m here to make all things new for you.”

We hear the dramatic description of John the Baptist today: a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Those words are being spoken to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts once again that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in.

Pope Francis has been a similar voice to the church and the world crying out inviting us to prepare. He has reminded us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness. And The Joy of the Gospel he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”

So, as we hear the words of Scripture today, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand”, “The one who will come after me is greater than I”, what are we to do? Well, these words are not historic, they are present and alive, meant for each one of us today as much as they were meant for the men and women who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago. These words, here today, are an invitation to you and me to become new again in Jesus. To leave behind whatever tattoos, whatever marks, there are on our souls that we regret – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them. As St. Francis of Assisi said, you should “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.” So, don’t let this Sunday at Mass be like every other, any other Sunday. Today, look into your heart and leave it all here. Today, let God have all those things you want to change. Let Him have the words you wish you never said, the things you wish you never did. Today, prepare the way, make some room, let Jesus in the Eucharist fill you completely.

Pope Francis said, “I have this certainty: God is in every person's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.” My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in them more and more. That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming. Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, in us.

So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him. Hold back nothing of yourselves. Put all that you are – even and especially the parts you want to change – spiritually on the altar along with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes them into something miraculous, let Him change you too into something miraculous – let Him make you everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be. Prepare the way today, once more.

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...