Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Resurrection assures us that Christ conquers all evil – Easter 2016

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!


In the Maronite Rite, there is a beautiful prayer which the priest says as he leaves the altar at the end of the liturgy.  It is the “Farewell to the Altar” and it highlights the significance of the Eucharist we celebrate as well as the sense of sorrow and longing we would feel should we be forced to live without it. 


Remain in peace, O holy altar of God.

May the offering that I have received from you forgive my sins

and prepare me to stand blameless before the throne of Christ

I do not know if I will be able return and offer another sacrifice upon you.

Protect me, O Lord, and preserve your holy Church as the way to truth and salvation.



This same sentiment gives rise to the old adage in the Roman Rite:

O priest of God, say this Mass as if it were your first, your last, your only Mass.


The Mass and the gift of the Eucharist is a treasure we as Catholics hold so very dear.  If we were robbed of it we would feel the pain of spiritual malnourishment.  This is not a sentiment only for priests.  Every Catholic is given the opportunity to share in intimate union with Jesus in the Mass. 


This is the feeling that overwhelms the hearts of persecuted Christians throughout the world today – in Africa, Asia, the Middle East.  They do not know if they will be able to offer another Sacrifice of the Mass.  They might be murdered before they can return to church.  What we take for granted, or even skip sometimes when we would rather sleep or golf, is for many Christians a privilege so precious that they risk life and limb for it. 


This is the feeling of priests who are not free to pray the Mass, priests who are imprisoned.  It is the experience of priests like Fr. Tom, the priest captured by ISIS in Yemen several days ago when the four nuns were killed.  Allegedly, he is to be crucified by ISIS.  He knows not whether he will ever return to the altar. 


This was the experience of priests and Catholics in the concentration camps of the Third Reich.  They smuggled in the necessary elements, not only for Mass, but for priestly ordinations, for these sacraments were so important to them.  They risked torture and death in order to remain faithful to Jesus.  They knew not if they would ever return to an altar to offer Mass in public again. 


When we bid farewell to the altar at the end of Mass, we need to be keenly aware of the gift we have received and, therefore, filled with gratitude and expectation until we meet the Lord again in the Eucharist. 


For those persecuted Christians throughout the world, each farewell to the altar is not a casual event like it is for us as we depart to go back to our comparatively comfortable homes.  For persecuted Christians, bidding farewell to the altar involves a twinge of sadness, knowing that death may come before the next opportunity to receive the Lord. 


Persecution, also called genocide, is a reality for Christians in many places today.  There is something mysterious that encourages Christians throughout the world and down through the centuries to persevere in their faith and remain loyal to Christ no matter the odds. 


This “mysterious something” is the Risen Lord.  We Catholic Christians have faith, not in a philosophy or ideology or text but in a person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary.  The Risen Jesus walks with us and sustains us even in the most frightening times.  He is light when we are in darkness, peace when we are afraid, hope when we are gasping for breath.  We know we need Jesus so badly and we cannot live without Him. 


Christians everywhere draw strength from the love of the Risen Jesus.  Whatever trials or obstacles we face, the knowledge that Jesus Christ rose triumphant over the grave bolsters our faith so that nothing this world or the evil one throw at us will ultimately bring us down!  Even if we were tortured for our faith and robbed of the blessed opportunity to consume the Eucharist at the altar, we know He is real, He is alive and He loves us!


Saint Paul tells us that our faith would be in vain had Jesus not risen from the grave.  God did all He could do to achieve our salvation by giving His Son, who died on the Cross.  The Cross won the victory over sin.  Still, if there were no Resurrection, Calvary would just be another man’s tragic death.  Death would be the end.  The Resurrection confirms that all that Jesus did on the Cross, all that He accepted and endured – the thorns, the whip, the nails, the bleeding and suffocation – was not in vain and was not just the sad death of a pathetic criminal among so many crucified in those days.   The Resurrection affirms that Jesus is alive.  He is God, who alone can conquer death and, therefore, His death means everything.  His Passion is the self-sacrifice of the Son of God.  His death means victory over all evil. 


If Jesus has power over the grave, He has power over everything else – our sins, addictions, tragedies, sufferings, persecutions and trials.  Through the Eucharist, that power is poured into us.  As we worthily consume the Lord, we are filled with His grace.  All the things over which we feel powerless, we give to Jesus.  Jesus can destroy them. 


The Cross in ancient times would have been a ridiculous choice for a religious symbol, as if someone today took the image of a noose or an electric chair and held it high as a sign of victory.  The people of ancient Rome worshiped Caesar, crying out as they greeted each other on the streets “Caesar is lord!”  The cross was Caesar’s horrific instrument of torture and death.  Saint Paul turns the ancient routine on its head when he declares “Jesus is Lord!” and we glory in His Cross, for it is the instrument of our salvation!


By dying Christ has trampled death and by rising has restored life to all who grasp His hand as He reaches out to lift us up to new and abundant life. 


The Exsultet, sung at the Easter Vigil, declares that “this day sets Christians apart.”  The Resurrection indeed sets us apart, not just because we believe in Jesus but because of what He did for us.  As Christ’s flock, we have been restored to life by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord and are truly set apart from the world by Baptism – set apart to have deep faith in Jesus and remain close to Him, set apart to celebrate that faith in daily prayer and the sacraments, set apart to teach that faith to every person who has ears to hear us. 


Christ is risen and with Him rises all our hopes and the promise of everlasting life.  God is alive and well in our midst and we shall not be overcome by this world’s evils.  Jesus gives is a love, a peace, a comfort, a strength which only He can give – a love which the world cannot never take away.  Jesus is risen! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Holy Thursday: Christ, not Correctness

With the decree In Missa in Cena Domini, Pope Francis modified the rubrics regarding the ritual of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, a ritual which may take place within the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  The decree of the Holy Father extends the participation in the rite beyond the previously mandated "twelve men" (viri) to include a representation of the whole People of God: ordained, consecrated, lay, elderly and young people, healthy and sick persons, men and women.  His intention is to allow the rite to demonstrate the role of humble service shown by Jesus to the Apostles and taken up by His priests for the well-being and salvation of all people.  The priest is responsible on judgment day not only for his own soul but will answer for what he did to save those entrusted to his care.  Priesthood is a life lived for others - all others without prejudice. 

While this change might be conceived as a welcome inclusion and deeper symbolism, there is a wider context and deeper implication to be considered.  It is important to take note that Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments - the dicastery responsible for issuing the decree - clarified on February 26th that each pastor "has to decide in accord with his own conscience, and according to the purpose for which the Lord instituted this feast."  Cardinal Sarah's remarks further clarify the discrepancy between the original decree and the explanatory document issued by Archbishop Roche, secretary of the same congregation.  The decree allows for the possibility of washing the feet of a variety of persons, whereas the explanatory document makes it appear obligatory ("pastors may" vs. "it is for pastors to choose").  Selecting a group of "washees" that represents each part of the People of God is an option for pastors, as, in fact, is the entire foot washing ritual itself.  Permission is not obligation. 

As each pastor makes his choice, he is informed by conscience and by history, says the Cardinal.  What is the "purpose for which the Lord instituted the feast"?  Holy Thursday is the birth-day of the Priesthood, which precedes the birth of the Church from the side of Christ as He hung upon the Cross and the evangelizing mission of the Church sparked by the flame of the Spirit at Pentecost.  The ritual of feet-washing, along with the consecration of the Eucharist, is a priestly ritual.  Jesus commands His Apostles - the first bishops/priests - to memorialize Him in two important ways: by calling down the Spirit to make Him present through the words of consecration under the species of bread and wine ("Do this in memory of me.") and to humble themselves to serve His flock, entrusted to their care, in the person of the Good Shepherd ("As I have done for you, so you ought to do.").  Through the priesthood of the ordained, the perpetual institution of the Passover is celebrated in the Sacrifice of the Mass and the living image of the Good Shepherd is alive in our midst. 

Each pastor should feel totally free and open to choose twelve men or a more outwardly representative group of persons for the feet washing.  However, in his reflection deep within his heart, he must keep in mind the priestly character of the day, the event and its individual elements.  Holy Thursday celebrated the institution of the Eucharist and of the Priesthood.  The rituals of the Mass for that day are fundamentally priestly actions.  This is why the washing of feet - as with the confecting of the Eucharist - is reserved to the clergy.  As we see the priest washing the feet of parishioners, we see both a historical symbol of what Jesus actually did and a spiritual symbol of what Jesus and all His priests do for the Church.  In the priest we are meant to see the Lord serving His Bride, the Church. 

In conscience, each priest may have his own reasons for the decision he makes regarding this ritual, which might be valid if they are in accord with our Catholic tradition.  It could be argued, for example, that choosing twelve men maintains a clear representation of the precise historical action of Jesus and also manifests the humble service of the priest - who ministers in persona Christi capitis (Christ the head) of the Mystical Body, the Church, and father to his parish flock - toward the men of the parish, who are the heads of their families, the domestic churches.  The men, in turn, are called to "wash the feet" of their brides as Jesus cleanses His Bride the Church by His saving Passion. 

Some have argued that the Last Supper prototype restricts the meaning and obligation of foot washing to the fraternity of the priesthood.  Jesus commanded that the Apostles do what He had done "for one another" not for others outside the Twelve.  Christianity demands that every believer serve all other human persons.  Priestly fraternity demands that every priest serve his brothers.  Yet, the implication of the Last Supper washing of feet is that the priest, representing Jesus, will stoop to do even the most undesirable tasks for his flock, even to the point of smelling like the feet of sheep.  In conscience, a pastor may legitimately choose to maintain the previous discipline of washing the feet of men to emphasize the role of men as fathers of the domestic church and maintain the historical example of Jesus washing the feet of the male apostles. 

The recent papal decree provides a context for discussing a broader pair of inter-related issues, namely, the granting of permission following the violation of existing law, which gives the appearance of a concession to heteropraxis, and the interpretation of permissions as obligations. 

There are three notable examples of this trend in recent history. 

1. The 1964 Vatican document Inter Oecumenici directed that church buildings should be constructed with the altar away from the wall in order to accommodate Mass celebrated facing the people.  No change in orientation was required.  Mass facing the people was documented a decade before it was permitted.  This one sentence in one document was used as justification not only for a universal change in the direction of the liturgy but the destruction of countless pieces of irreplaceable sacred art.  The result: Catholics today in large measure do not know Whom and for what purpose they worship. 

2. Permission was given for lay "Eucharistic Ministers" to distribute the Sacred Host and Precious Blood in the absence of a sufficient number of priests.  An further indult was granted (and, thankfully, later rescinded - not that anyone noticed) in the USA permitting EMHCs to purify the sacred vessels, well after it was already being done in many parishes.  The permission given for lay distributers in cases of true necessity was turned into an obligation by those who believed that the Priesthood of the Baptized was most fully exercised by the laity filling multifarious roles in the sanctuary rather than evangelizing the marketplace.  So much so that, in some parishes, 12 ministers distribute Holy Communion to 500 blank stares in under 5 minutes.  The result: Catholics in large measure do not know the difference between the Bread of Life and Panera.

3. Permission was given by the Vatican several years ago for females to serve Mass, long after "altar girls" were common in many parishes.  The permission was again interpreted by the inclusion-oriented to be an obligation.  Altar girls further evolved into the scenario of a middle-aged woman flaunting inappropriate attire and presenting the Missal, which is resting on her bosom, to the priest inches from his face as he stands at the chair.  Of course, all the young people and some of the adults have the very best intentions.  But not everyone does.  When such decisions are made without careful consideration, to door is opened to a variety of problems.  The result: Catholic young men have no training ground in which to observe the priest and listen for the possible call to priesthood, without the distractions we all know young women provide. 

What do these three have in common?  We have them - Mass facing the people, altar girls, proliferation of lay distributers - not because they are fabulous ideas and essential elements of Catholicism but because someone believed we need to be more inclusive.  No one is more inclusive than Jesus Christ, who DIED for ALL.  Fidelity to all that fosters the deepest faith in Him need not be construed as exclusion of others. 
Our service of God needs to be thoughtful.  We do things in the Church for the right theological and spiritual reasons, not because people think we need to adapt to the world's standards.  Reverence, sanctity, deeper knowledge of Jesus - these are the reasons for what we do.  Liturgical discipline is to be informed by theology, otherwise improper discipline itself fosters bad theology.  Lex credendi, lex orandi.  Adoring the Almighty together, fostering vocations to the priesthood and guarding against abuse of the Holy Eucharist are priorities for priests and lay persons which help to form men and women into saints through an experience the richness of the Church's authentic tradition. 
How can the washing of the feet, and all other rituals of the Church, foster the same growth in holiness?  This is the question this discussion brings to the fore. 

More information:

Monday, March 21, 2016

Preparing to Commune with Jesus Christ

Other Christian rites have lengthy prayers immediately before Holy Communion, which center one's mind and heart on the sacred act about to take place, that is, our intimate union with the living person of Jesus Christ.  Roman Catholics, generally speaking, have become far too lax in their preparation for and meditation on the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Reflection on the following two prayers from the Anglican and Byzantine traditions will assist in awakening a sense of the sacred in us and cultivate amazement at the reality of the Eucharist. 

Jesus, the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, humbles Himself to enter into us under the form of bread and wine.  His Body and Blood are adored and received by the faithful, who are transformed by grace into living images of Jesus. 

Receiving Communion while in the state of mortal sin, without regular confession and firm purpose of amending one's sinful habits or actions contrary to the Church's teaching, without observing the fast (which includes chewing gum in the Communion line) - all these bring condemnation upon us for they mean we are receiving Christ unworthily. 

May we prepare ourselves well before every Mass we attend so that we may confidently access the treasury of grace with humility, professing that Christ is Lord and He is truly present in the Eucharist out of love for us poor sinners. 

These prayers can be memorized or written on a note card.  Then, we can say them as we approach the altar to receive the Lord.  Praying one of these prayers privately will enhance and deepen our communal recitation of the words "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  Only say the word and I shall be healed."  We can then cultivate a serious devotion to the precise moment when we commune with the Lord in the Mass.

Prayers of Preparation before Holy Communion

 Prayer of Humble Access – Anglican-Catholic Rite

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.

Prayer before Communion – Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life.

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.

Gratitude for Jesus Christ: Palm Sunday and Holy Week

As we begin Holy Week, this special time in which we focus on the redemptive work of Jesus, within this Year of Mercy, we commemorate His triumphant entry into Jerusalem together with His Passion and death.  Our meditation stirs in us a deep sense of gratitude. 

Saint Paul tells us that our faith is in vain if Jesus has not risen from the dead.  Indeed, the Resurrection is proof that Jesus is God and that He has power over death and the grave.

But first, and most significantly for all of us and for each of us, is the sacrifice of the Calvary.  The love of Jesus is revealed in the most profound way as He offers Himself to the Father in our place on the altar of the Cross to take away our sins.  At the realization that God emptied Himself to take on human flesh and further humbled Himself to death on a Cross, we are moved by the Spirit to express gratitude and praise. 

The Lord of all creation is handed over to His creatures.  The origin of all law is tortured by lawless men.  The foundation of truth is sentenced to death because of a lie.  All glory be to you, O incomprehensible and long-suffering Lord!

The crowds who welcome Jesus to Jerusalem with cries of  "Hosanna!" are the same crowds who, days later, are stirred into frenzy by the jealousy of the Pharisees, demand the crucifixion of their Savior.  Behold the contempt and ingratitude with which our Lord is treated. 

Remember what Has done for us, for you.  As He felt each thorn, each lash, each splinter, each nail, He had you in mind and He bled for you.  May we always be on guard, lest we fall into ingratitude as the crowds did.  We, who cry out "Hosanna!" before the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass, can so easily forget and turn against Jesus when we sin.  We are broken, wounded, weak human persons. 

Today and throughout this Holy Week, we open our hearts and ask the Spirit to enter into us and fill us with gratitude and praise, with a sense mindfulness of all Jesus has done for us.  He died that we might live.  Because He died, life is with living!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dominus vobiscum

While I enjoy watching the seven Star Wars movies, and while they each contain something to chew on in spiritual reflection – themes such as good vs evil, justice, surrender to a power greater than oneself, the struggle inside us to discover our identity and remain true to what is good – there remains a fatal flaw in the films.  The power that governs the universe in Star Wars is an impersonal force.  The gift of Christianity to the world is the knowledge that the universe is created, redeemed and sanctified by a personal God who loves us – one God who is a communion of three divine persons in a loving relationship. 


When the priest says “The Lord be with you” at Mass, the Church intends a variety of meanings: that the Lord would bless you, guide you, show you the way to holiness, protect you, give you strength to meet the challenges of daily life and ultimately lead you to the glory of Heaven.  As Christians we desire for ourselves and for each other a deeply personal communion with God both now and in eternity.  We believe in a God who not only made us to be in His image but is personally involved in our lives daily helping us to become more like Him.  May we always be mindful of the significance of the words that we speak and hear at Holy Mass.  It is the Lord whose presence directs the course of the world and our individual paths to holiness.  Without Him we are nothing. 


In the Mass, there are four times when we pray the greeting “The Lord be with you” and its response “And with your spirit:” at the Introductory Rites, before the proclamation of the Gospel, in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer and at the Final Blessing.  These four instances correspond to and shine light upon the four modes of the presence of Christ in the liturgical celebration: in the person of the priest, in the gathered assembly, in the Word proclaimed and most especially the Eucharistic species.  (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10)  Even as we pray for Christ to be with us in the greetings of the liturgy, He is indeed among us in these four significant ways. 


1. The Introductory Rites.  As Mass begins, the priest and people together sign themselves with the sign of Christ's Cross – the instrument of our salvation and the mark of our identity as members of His Mystical Body.  The priest then extends the greeting “The Lord be with you” and the people respond “And with your spirit.”  This first instance of the liturgical greeting is most often heard in its expanded form, which includes mention of all three persons in the Trinity, whereas the terse form is used at the other times during the Mass.  We pray that the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the communion of the Spirit be with each member of Christ’s Body who is present for the sacred synaxis. 


Note carefully that we do not say “The Lord is with you” because this phrasing would neglect the desire for continuing conversion and would assume a deeper relationship with the Lord for each member of the congregation than any priest could know.  While the Lord is omnipresent, the meaning of the prayer is to ask the Lord to be with us in an ever-increasingly personal and intimate way.  It is that divine presence that bestows the peace and strength we all need to face life’s trials and appreciate its triumphs. 


Why do the people respond “And with your spirit” and not simply “you”?  Because there is far more present than meets the eye.  The priest is conformed to Christ in a unique way as alter Christus (another Christ) and in his ministry – despite his individual sinfulness – we see and hear Jesus.  Remember that the priest says the words of consecration (“This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”) and the words of absolution (“I absolve you…”) in the first person.  We hear the voice of Jesus in the liturgical words of the priest.  We experience the effects of Jesus’ saving actions in the ministry of the priest.  The priest stands before the people in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head [of the Mystical Body]) as the celebrant of the liturgical celebration, the shepherd of the parish community and the representative of Christ to God's people.  Christ remains the true celebrant of the sacraments, the Mediator before the Father’s throne and the judge of all.  Therefore, the use of the word “spirit” emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the human person – the soul – and in particular reminds us of the priest’s unique role and the grace of his ordination, which indelibly marks his soul.  The Fathers of the Church understood this well when they taught that “spirit” designates a unique characteristic of ordained ministers.  The Holy Spirit calls men to their vocations and is bestowed through the laying on of hands to bishops, priests and deacons at their ordination so that the act in the power of the Spirit when performing their sacred duties.  In the Mass especially, it is a divine work that is taking place: by the power of the Spirit descending like the dewfall the ordinary elements become the living Christ.  Therefore, when the people say “And with your spirit,” the Church intends that they are acknowledging the “priestly spirit” of their shepherd, praying for the priest to have an ever deeper experience of the Lord's presence in his unique role as a priest, as well as for him to minister faithfully through an increase of the grace of ordination within him.  In short, they are praying for him to be a holy priest.  (For more on this as well as the history and meaning of the other liturgical responses, see It Is Right and Just by Father John M. Cunningham, O.P.)  Thus, only the ordained can initiate the liturgical greeting. 


Considering the rich meaning of these uniquely liturgical words, how much more beautiful a greeting from the priest is this than something as trivial as pedestrian as “Good morning.”  In fact, in ancient times Christians greeted one another even in the streets with sacred language. While “Good morning” is a kind thing to say, they recognized that having Jesus with them was far better.  Praying for him to be with one's neighbor is a great act of kindness far surpassing the hope to simply have a nice day.  So, they would use a call and response in greeting one another or welcoming one another into their homes, for example, “Christ is Among Us!  He is now and always will be!”) 


This first instance of the greeting reveals two of the four modes of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist: in the gathered assembly and in the person of the priest.  Note an important distinction here.  Christ is present to all of us because of our Baptism and we are marked forever as His very own.  Yet, liturgically speaking, He is present as the assembly gathers in numbers – just as He promised that “where two or three” (or thousands) “are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” but the liturgical presence of Christ in the priest exists in the individual priest and not only when a group of priests are gathered or a congregation is present.  There is something unique about a priest.  God has chosen him to live and minster in the person of Christ – a humbling reality indeed. 


2. Before the proclamation of the Gospel.  The Gospel is unique among the elements of the Liturgy of the Word because in it are found the words of Jesus Himself.  Therefore, liturgically it is treated in a special way: only the Book of the Gospels can be carried in procession, accompanied by candles, and incensed.  It is read or chanted only by an ordained minister who introduces it with the liturgical greeting. 


Christ is present in His Word as it is proclaimed, not in the static reality of the book containing the words but in the dynamic events of speaking the words, preaching on their meaning and application, and making them come alive in daily life.  It is the prayer of the Church that the Word of God would sink deeply into the minds and hearts of the faithful, so that the power of its lessons would take root in word and deed.  Wherever the Word is spoken, expounded and acted upon – there Christ lives.  Jesus is the Word incarnate.  Therefore, “the Word made flesh” is the person of Jesus, not simply the words He spoke.  May He always be with us as we do our best to live in accord with His holy Word. 


3. The Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.  Whichever of the nine Eucharistic Prayers are selected by the priest-celebrant, there is always a preface, which presents the theme of the season or of the day’s celebration.  The preface opens with a three-fold dialogue, beginning with the short liturgical greeting. 


In the Eucharistic Prayer, the Mass reaches its apex.  All that we have done before points to Jesus becoming present on the altar and all that happens after allows us to experience the fruits of what He has done.  This dynamic corresponds to the place of the Lord’s Passion in salvation history.  All of God’s work on behalf of His people before the Cross was a preparation for this most significant event and any experience of God thereafter is the fruit of His redeeming sacrifice.  As that sacrifice is re-presented on the altar, we long to consume our Lord as thirsty travelers yearn for an oasis in the desert. 


Here, in the consecration, the Lord is indeed with is in the most profound way possible this side of heaven.  In the Eucharist, Christ is truly present and this Real Presence remains as long as the consecrated species are present.  While the other modes of Christ’s presence in the liturgy – priest, assembly gathered, Word proclaimed – are “real,” that is, not artificial, the substance of the person of Jesus Christ is only present in the Blessed Sacrament.


It is the earnest prayer of the Church that, through a worthy reception of the Eucharist (the communicant having confessed mortal sin and fasted prior to Mass), the faithful would come to rejoice in having Jesus within them and would share that holy presence with all whom they encounter.


4. The Final Blessing.  The English word “Mass” is derived from the Latin verb missa, meaning “sent.”  The Mass is a dynamic reality, signified by the origin of the name in a verb.  We are sent forth to bear the fruits of the Mass to the world.  The faithful are called to sanctify the world in which they live through the faith they share and the example of holiness they provide.  Thus, before they are sent forth by God’s blessing, the priest greets them one final time to remind us all that we need to continually ask Christ to be with us in our Christian mission to transform the world by introducing each man and woman to Him.  Christ remains present as the assembly disperses unto their own “domestic churches.” 

Christ is among us!  He is now and always will be! 

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Harmony of Justice and Mercy

In today's well-known Gospel story (Year C), Jesus shows us by His example the beautiful results of a proper harmony between justice and mercy.  Justice means giving each person what is due to them - reward to the innocent and those who grow in virtue, punishment to the guilty and to every person all that is necessary for human flourishing.  Mercy means generous compassion, which, when appropriate, tempers the strict requirements of justice. 

Jesus is just.  He recognizes that the woman caught in adultery is a notorious and, thus far, unrepentant sinner.  She is deserving of the punishment according to the law of Moses.  Jesus is merciful.  He stoops down to be close to her, as she is no doubt cowering in fear on the ground, ready to protect her face and head from the stones about to be hurled at her.  He writes on the ground - Scripture records not what but it is reasonable to assume it was a message to the woman, a profession of love and a call to conversion written in the sand.   
Image result for love message written in sand
A statement of love can itself be a call to conversion.  When we feel loved, we desire to be our best. 

Jesus is merciful.  When none of the elders, standing before the Messiah and hearing His challenge "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," feel worthy to condemn the women, He looks at her and says "Neither do I condemn you."  Jesus is just.  He commands her: "No, go and do not sin any more."  He "meets her where she is at" - on the ground in fear - but He does not leave her there.  He both sets her mind at ease with His forgiveness and offers a challenge to greater holiness.  He knows that letting her off the hook for her sins is insufficient.  For her to truly flourish as a woman, she needs to seek virtue and avoid sin.  Jesus always has our very best interests at heart.  It has happened that women who have had an abortion and seek the healing grace of Christ find themselves in the confessional of a priest, who, because mercy outweighs justice in his approach to the sacraments, tells them not to worry because they did not sin or offers platitudes like "It's ok; Jesus loves you and He knows you didn't mean to do anything wrong."  I have heard women say that they would rather hear the priest acknowledge the sin that weighs so heavily on their conscience and give them the assurance the Jesus, the living font of mercy, has conquered it.  There are other such examples and each penitent is probably aware of several.  The human heart longs for a harmony of justice and mercy.  It is essential to the ministry of the priesthood that we provide such a beautiful gift to God's people. 

Where justice and mercy blend in harmony, God is at work for the conversion and salvation of all.  As priests, we are privileged to observe the Father's handiwork as He heals a wounded soul in the Sacrament of Penance.  The gift of confession is at once spiritual and psychological.  Acknowledging sin and doing the work of reconciliation - confession, penance, and firm purpose of amendment - makes for healthier lives.  The grace of the Lord restores us to a right relationship with Him and with the Church.  Having confessed our sins, we can leave them in the past, for Christ is "doing something new" in us with each encounter we have with Him in the confessional.  May we never lose sight of the value of this blessed opportunity.  Our richest gains we count but loss if only we can know Jesus intimately and be conformed, however slowly and painfully at times, to His divine image. 


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent: The Truth is Obnoxious to Modern Man

Excerpts from today's readings at Holy Mass:

Book of Wisdom:
The wicked said among themselves,
thinking not aright:
“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.

These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

Gospel of John:
Jesus moved about within Galilee;
he did not wish to travel in Judea,
because the Jews were trying to kill him.
Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said,
“Is he not the one they are trying to kill?
And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him.
Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?
But we know where he is from.
When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”

So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said,
“You know me and also know where I am from.
Yet I did not come on my own,
but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.
I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”


The inhabitants of Jerusalem think they have Jesus all figured out, even pigeonholed.  They know where He is from; he is the son of Joseph the carpenter; the son of Mary and the cousin of James and Joses.  They believe they know all there is to know about Him and, because He does not fit into the confines of their expectations, they conclude He cannot be the Messiah. 

How well do we know Jesus?  The people of His time knew Him very well in His humanity.  However, they did not understand who He really was.  He challenges them: "You know me and also where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true."  They know Jesus' earthly origins but they do not know the Father and, therefore, they do not understand Jesus' full identity as Son of God, co-equal with God and Anointed One.  How might we have let our humanity and short-sightedness interfere with our truly knowing Jesus? 

Thanks be to God, Jesus is one whom we know in His humanity, for He has revealed Himself in the flesh; and He is also one who is God and, therefore, a mystery that is constantly being unfolded before us.  We are always learning more about Jesus, always deepening our relationship with Him, like peeling back the many layers of an onion, as we open our hearts to Him.  We need to ask the Lord to give us the grace of openness to deeper knowledge of Jesus.

As people who know Jesus and desire to know Him more fully, we are obnoxious to the world around us, which has drifted from any reasonable spiritual or moral moorings.  Therefore, the wicked around us - the promoters of the culture of death, and anti-marriage lobby, the creators of the sexual revolution and others - desire to beset us.  Faithful Catholics are the only ones who have the courage and the historical/cultural/religious tradition necessary to oppose the onslaught of evil we face today.  If we know Jesus and want to remain in relationship with Him in His Church, we must be willing to be obnoxious.   

Faithful Catholics are a "new minority" - a minority that faces exclusion in the world and even within the Church.  Don't take my word for it.  No less than the Cardinal of the Big Apple made this prophetic statement.  Men and women who want to be chaste, virtuous and faithful to Jesus Christ are obnoxious even to fellow Catholics.  Why?  Because their joyful fidelity to Christ is annoying to those who want to believe that Catholic doctrine is a burden for modern man.  Dare I say, some would even rejoice at the failure or mistakes of those who have a passion for the true faith.  Inclusion should not be a double standard in which a spirit of welcome applies only to those predisposed to heterodoxy. 

The last laugh - so to speak - is on those who transgress the law of God and violate their training in the faith, so says the Book of Wisdom, because they "do not count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent soul's reward."  The "wicked" - those who act contrary to the law of the Lord and the doctrines of our faith - cannot conceive of the holiness of the virtuous or the fact that fidelity will be rewarded with eternal life.  They believe themselves to be right because of their education, experience or superior intelligence.  However, even when we believe we know better or feel that compassion trumps revelation, we need to find deep inside ourselves the courage and humility to say "Yes!" to Jesus and His Church.  We are all sinners.  Fidelity to doctrine is not the only aspect of Christian life.  But it is an indispensable foundation.  How valuable it is to pray for the conversion of all who live contrary to the Gospel, in order that we might be all united in glory forever. 

Interestingly, "conservative" Catholics feel marginalized even by the Pope, if you believe surveys published by Reuters. This claim demands exploration.    

First of all, I do not call myself a "conservative Catholic."  "Conservative" and "liberal" (N.B. The latter of the two has been corrupted from it's classical meaning, that is, an philosophy grounded in natural law, the rule of law, economic and religious freedom, private property and the free market economy and hijacked by the promoters of anti-establishment radical individualism.  The classical liberal does what is good for all; the modern liberal serves his/her personal gratification.) are political terms, not religious vocabulary.  My hope, with God's grace, is to remain a faithful Catholic - faithful to doctrine but also to prayer, acts of charity and worthy celebration of the sacraments.  From Baptism, this is who I am.  Whatever is Catholic, I'm all in 100%.  Political agendas and mere human opinions need not apply for my support. 
That having been said, why is it that people who identify as "conservative" (according to their understanding thereof) feel marginalized by the Holy Father?  From the Reuters article, I glean the understanding that Pope Francis is to "conservative Catholics" (1) disappointing because he does not thunder against immorality, (2) makes statements and poses questions that are confusing and (3) is suspect because he is supported by the main-stream (read: "drive-by") media.  To which I respond: authentically orthodox faith - proclaiming the truth with love - should not be built on such weak foundations that is has to cower in fear for any reason.  The faith is true no matter who questions it or fails to speak it clearly.  Even the Pope cannot change Divine Revelation. 

And, by the way, he has not.  He poses questions that make all of us think and, therefore, be better prepared to give a reason for our hope, faith and love.  He is obnoxious, that is, challenging to the point of being prickly, in his own way and, I believe, intentionally so.  Be not afraid!

Whoever is in the majority or minority in a given demographic or municipality that is surveyed does not matter.  "The truth is the truth even if no one believes it.  A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it." 

I, personally, would wash the feet of men on Holy Thursday because the Church in America today benefits from efforts to include men in parish life and promote their role as spiritual leaders in the home.  But the fact that some other priest washes women's feet, or even that the current Pope thinks it's a good idea, does not erode my faith in the Gospel.  Once again, the importance of balance is clear: justice and mercy always go together.  Being "pastoral" does not exclude fidelity to truth.  Fidelity does not excuse having a hardened heart.  Whatever is true is also good and beautiful and, therefore, what we believe in our hearts as revealed by God must be proclaimed from the housetops.  We do the world a disservice if we pretend to have a better idea than the Spirit, who speaks through Scripture and Tradition.  We also do a disservice if we do not have love, for then we have nothing at all. 

I must admit I would prefer unmitigated defense of the faith and more thoughtful statements from the Holy Father.  The real issue in all of this is not intentional heterodoxy but poor communication.  We are accustomed to hearing well-thought-out, grammatically pure, philosophically and theologically sound proclamations of faith in the context of modern questions.  With Pope Francis, we are hearing off-the-cuff remarks, spontaneous homilies and colloquial quips which, coupled with issues of translation and the pit-falls of spontaneity, lead to confusion.  Idioms and rhetorical questions do not always translate well.  I do not believe the Pope supports the anti-life, promiscuous, pro-homosexual marriage agenda of the deceived and deceiving.  But the problem lies in the fact that what is published as coming from his mouth makes it difficult to know who the man really is.  Attention to detail and concern for the sensitivities of various people throughout the universal Church are areas of needed growth for the Vatican press office.  In the end, greater clarity and consistency would be a welcome relief.  Even without it, though, three realities remain unchanging: the truth revealed by God, my rational belief in it and my duty to proclaim it. 

One more aside: the authors of the Reuters article launched a wild pitch below the belt when they wrote "Francis is due to issue a document called an Apostolic Exhortation after two years of debate and two major meetings of bishops to discuss the family - the Vatican's way of referring to its policies concerning sex."  The questionnaire, two synods and world meeting were about so much more than sex.  The course of the world's future will be plotted by how well the Catholic Church responds to the need to help families become holy families. 

We are no doubt in a spiritual battle to preserve and defend the truth about life, marriage and morality.  Therefore:  Be faithful.  Be confident.  Be smart.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent: the Compassionate Father

This most famous story of the New Testament is known colloquially as The Prodigal Son but since he is only half the story it ought to be known as The Compassionate Father. Both brothers fail to honor their father's generous love-the younger one by squandering his inheritance and the older by showing jealousy and contempt for his brother. We are at times both of them. Sometimes we wallow in the mud of selfishness and squander the good things God has given us in the darkest places. We stray from God and take advantage of all sorts of evils in order to feed are selfish appetites. And other times we are jealous, filled with contempt, even hateful or angry. In our own insecurity we hate to see others receiving anything good. In the end pride drives us to commit the sins of both brothers.

But in all things, whether we are stirred to conversion and plead for mercy, or whether our hearts are still hardened and our self righteousness prevents us from humbling ourselves to beg for the Lord's forgiveness, God still comes out to greet us, to welcome us, to celebrate our conversion or to invite us to take the next step back to His table. The compassionate father is never far away and his love always surrounds us.

As a Church we need to have the courage to speak the truth in love and proclaim both the justice and the mercy of God. For those who are separated from the sacraments because of an irregular marriage we need to love them enough to share with them the truth of what the Church believes about marriage and her process of an annulment. The Lord is inviting them to take steps which seem difficult but which in the end is a process that brings healing and closure. Having received an annulment the individual can then come to Jesus in communion with freedom of conscience and joy of heart. Through the ministers and the faithful of the Church the compassionate Father reaches out to those who have been separated from the table of the Eucharistic celebration and invites them to begin the process of return. The compassionate father wants all of his children around his table and through the canonical ministry of the Church He offers a means of healing and reconciliation. The annulment process is not something to be feared but to be embraced as a path to spiritual health and unity with the church. May the Lord continue to guide us to a greater understanding of Himself and give us the courage to do what is good holy and just.

May we never forget the ocean of mercy that is available to us in Jesus Christ there is always hope for a fresh start through the Sacrament of Penance. There is always hope of eternal life.

A Homily at a Funeral? What a great idea!

Refreshing are the rare occasions when we are treated to a homily at a Funeral Mass (Mass of Christian Burial) rather than a eulogy or worse yet a canonization decree. Father Paul Scalia honored his father Justice Antonin Scalia by preaching rather than eulogizing or canonizing. In so doing he also offered for priests a model funeral homily structure.

The homily hung its content on the skeleton of the declaration that Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. It thus took the listeners' meditation in three directions-to the past and Christ's passion; to the present and our prayer for the deceased; to tomorrow and our own conversion and impending judgment. The three important foci of a funeral message were included-the paschal mystery of Jesus, the life of the deceased and the mourners left behind.

Father Scalia's family is a model for us as priests in preaching funerals for three important reasons. First it was a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He preached Christ to the world in that televised Mass. Every funeral today is an opportunity for evangelization because the majority of people attending are Catholics who do not know their faith or non Catholics who have never been introduced to it. Secondly it is a model for preachers because it maintained a balance between cheerful vignettes from the life of the deceased and a focus on the act of charity we give to the deceased by our prayers for his or her soul. Third it is an example to us because it offered a challenge to conversion for all who were listening.

It is my hope that the beautiful homily at this important event in our country's history, as we laid to rest a great legal scholar and man of deep faith, will inspire priests to return to the core of what funeral preaching ought to be-a proclamation of the gospel of Christ, a call to prayer for the deceased that God's mercy would be available to sinners who have died and a reminder that we will all face death and judgment and so must avail ourselves of every opportunity for conversion.

We do a disservice to the congregation if we fail to challenge the faithful in our preaching. We offer a great gift to the Church if we proclaim the Church's beliefs about the merciful work of praying for the dead, preach Scripture rather than trivialities and keep the focus always on the Lord.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent: Justice, not Vengeance

Editor's note: we are known for being interesting if not punctual.  Better a week late than never a'tall.

Today's Gospel is an aid in avoiding what some scholars refer to as "ambush theology" - the notion that God is somehow lurking behind the nearest shrubbery, waiting for us to sin or fail in something so that He can heap devastation on us.  Jesus is clear - and Jesus is worth listening to - when He tells questions the Apostles rhetorically: Do you think that the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with the blood of their sacrifices were greater sinners than all other Galileans?  Do you think that the eighteen people at Siloam on whom a tower fell were more guilty that everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?  By no means!  Violence inflicted by others, accidents, disease and natural disasters are not signs of God's direct revenge because the victims are more guilty of greater sin than the survivors or those to whom no disaster falls.  In fact, we have seen the worst forms of violence befall the objectively more saintly among us.  (Rabbi Harold Kushner has an excellent message on "Why do bad things happen to good people?")  God is not perched on a wall waiting for an excuse to pour boiling oil upon our heads. 

At the same time, Jesus tells us that the evil we perceive around us should stand as a warning to us - a warning of an even greater evil that may befall us, that is, the loss of our souls.  Complacency is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life.  If we are lured into believing that we are done growing in the spiritual life, precisely then the Evil One can make his presence known in destructive ways.  "Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall."  Therefore, we need to be aware at every moment of our relationship with God and how what we do and what surrounds us affects that relationship.  The shocking tragedies of Jesus' time, as well as those in the daily news today, remind us that life is short and the Lord could call us home at any moment.  Therefore, repent, or perish!  The greater tragedy, with far reaching consequences, would be to remain spiritually lax and lose the gift of eternal life.  Jesus clarifies that the Galileans and Siloamites did not die a tragic death because they were greater sinners and yet the tragedies can serve as a wake-up call to greater repentance and conversion.  Sin can indeed result in calamity. 

God is the Lord of Justice and Mercy.  If we as individuals or as a nation continue to stray from the mind, heart and will of our Creator, how can we expect to also enjoy His protection?  Justice demands that each human person what is due to him.  To the obstinate and unrepentant sinner is due a just punishment.  To the repentant sinner is due - after a time of blessed purgation - the joy of eternal beatitude.  As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us, God, through the exercise of His permissive will, allows the consequences of nature and of our human behavior to unfold.  All that God does and makes is good.  While He cannot create evil, which is the privation of good, He does allow it to happen that we might learn from it, find greater good in it and ultimately grow in deeper relationship with Him.  In times of trial we focus on doing the most good we possibly can, for God desires us to bring about the increase of goodness in the human family. 

God is the gardener who issues the just sentence against one who has chosen not to repent.  Remember that He does not predestine to condemn us to hell.  We put ourselves there when we choose ourselves over Him and others.  God is also the master who desires us to flourish and gives all we need to do so - His Word, the Sacraments, which are instruments of mercy and nourishment, and the protective mantle of Mary.  He cultivates, feeds and nurtures us so that we can bear fruit for his glory.  This is ultimately what God desires - for us to be in eternally joyful in union with Him.  The Lord is kind and merciful.  Justice and mercy always dovetail and a harmony of the two is always better than the overemphasis of one or the other.  God judges because He cannot tolerate unrepentant sin.  He desires our purification and holiness.  Through the fire of His love, we, like the sons of Levi, are refined into God's pure image. 

The story of Moses and the Israelites, Saint Paul tells us, is a further example and warning to us.  The Israelites were not made to suffer centuries of hard labor under the oppression of Pharaoh because they had incurred the wrath of God.  In fact, God was faithful to them when they were not faithful to Him - even when they were ready to abandon Moses and return to Egypt.  God nourished them with manna and water from the rock.  Christ, the true spiritual Rock, was with them on every step of their long journey through the desert.  Sometimes God was not pleased with them.  They suffered the consequences of their own choices to desire evil rather than union with Him. 

God is with us always as well.  Christ nourishes us with His Body and Blood.  Rather than desiring evil things, may we cling to the gifts the Lord gives us in the life of our Church, which are for us the means of salvation.  May we perceive in every moment the opportunity to be holy and to bear fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind.