Easter Homily 2019 (summary!)

Alleluia, He is Risen!

Today I think of an experience that we probably all have had as a child – what I call the “reassuring glance.” I can remember times as a kid of being nervous about an at bat in baseball, or jumping off the high dive in the pool, or having to speak in public, and then looking over and seeing my mom, dad, a coach, or a friend. In seeing them present, I was given courage to face the situation before me. When we see a child in one of these nervous situations make a reassuring glance like that, we can see their whole mood and expression change. They become more confident. Their fear is overcome and they can deal with the challenge.

For us as Christians, our ultimate source of assurance can be found in the Resurrected Christ. He has conquered death! Death no longer has power over Him, as St Paul says. As Christ drew all of our sufferings and failures to Himself in His death, He now includes all of our victories in His resurrection. This is what transformed the Apostles. As a saint said, if they were afraid to follow Him publicly while He was alive, what makes them rise up courageous and unconquerable after His death? It is their encounter with Jesus in His resurrection. For this reason St Paul can say that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

However, this change didn’t reach its fulfillment in one day. Jesus spent forty days after His resurrection with them before His ascension, strengthening them and letting this reassurance deepen. They spent the next ten days in prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit, and on the fiftieth day – Pentecost – they were ready. No matter how many Easters we have celebrated, we are invited in these next fifty days to return to this meditation on victory! When we face challenges – whether the every-day sort or the types that shake us to the core – let us repeat those words, “Jesus, you are risen. You are victorious. You are with me. I can face this situation in the light of your victory over death.” May we arrive at the end of this Easter season more deeply connected with our Risen Lord. Amen, alleluia!

Lent 2019

I thought I’d post a few thoughts about Lenten goals for this year, based around the three classic works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Many of these suggestions are similar to what I’ve written in past years, but there’s always a little something new!

1. Prayer

A. Sacraments

The sacraments are our baseline for prayer. Sunday Mass gives the core to our week. We should find a time to make a good sacramental Confession/Reconciliation at some point during the season. Daily Masses are a great way to keep the season holy, too.

B. Personal Prayer

Personal prayer and other devotions deepen our sacramental prayer. Scripture reading, books of reflection, the rosary, or the Stations of the Cross are all great aids to prayer. At its root, personal prayer develops a conversation between us and God.

C. Spiritual Reading

I’m going to add a separate category here because I think spiritual reading is so important! This is a little different than prayer, but nourishes our growth in faith. Search for great books or guides for reflection. If you are a member of St Malachy/St Elizabeth, Formed is a tremendous resource. You can gain access through stmalachyrantoul.formed.org. It includes not just books, but videos, talks, podcasts, and movies. Matthew Kelly organizes another daily option called “Best Lent Ever” (https://dynamiccatholic.com/best-lent-ever). I also provide resources on my website (if you’re reading this in another format, the address is borrowedlore.com).

2. Fasting

A. The basic regulations for Catholics are that all those 14 years of age or older are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. Those 18-59 are required to limit their food to one main meal (with two smaller meals/snacks) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In case of medical necessity this requirement doesn’t bind.

B. In addition, we may personally choose to give something up for Lent. Screen time is always a recommendation that I give. I think it’s important to connect this to prayer and almsgiving. Our sacrifice could give us extra time to pray. Feeling the absence of something could be a reminder to pray. Money saved could be given to charitable causes.

3. Almsgiving
This can include any of the works of mercy. It is often the most neglected of the three works, and to be honest will be the shortest of my points here. However, that is because I plan to make this the focus of my reflections during this Lent- so, more to come on this area!

I encourage you to take some time in these next few days to discern what goals you are being called to set. Some might be daily goals, or weekly, or even once per Lent. Please pray for me, and be assured of my prayers for your Lenten season. God bless!

The Christmas Octave

The Catholic Church celebrates Christmas as an “octave.” What does this mean? It refers to extending the feast from a single day into an eight day celebration because there is just too much to fit into twenty-four hours! Octaves have a long tradition, and in the past many other feasts received this treatment (Easter is the only other Octave in the Church right now). The practice flows from a number of Old Testament feasts that celebrated the “eighth day,” as well as the eight-day dedication of the Temple. Here are some highlights from the Christmas Octave – these days help to extend the grace of the 25th, and draw out more aspects of its meaning!

December 26th commemorates St Stephen, the first martyr (see Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6). This is referenced in one of my favorite Christmas carols, Good King Wenceslas, which is set “on the feast of Stephen!” Stephen shows the strength of the Gospel being put into practice, as well as a powerful symbol of forgiveness. St Paul (before he was St Paul) was present at the stoning of Stephen, and the Office of Readings on this day reflects on this in light of Paul’s later conversion. It quotes a sermon by St Fulgentius, who wrote, “Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.” (You can find the full text here towards the end of the page: http://www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/loh/christmas/stephen/officeofreadings.htm).

December 27th marks the feast St John, the Apostle and Gospel-writer. His books of scripture give a special insight into the heart of Christ, and emphasize that Jesus is the Word made flesh (born to save us and offer us the opportunity for encounter with Him). He alone among the Apostles stood faithful at the Cross, and was entrusted with/to the care of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As Stephen represents those who give their life by martyrdom, John represents those who give their life by fidelity to the end of natural life.

December 28th remembers the “Holy Innocents,” the children killed by Herod in his attempt to kill the Christ-child.  In a way they represent all of those that gave their life before the arrival of the Messiah, as well as all those that suffer unjustly. This event required Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt with Jesus for a time. So, although Christmas is a joyful time, this day invites us to remember those who suffer and wait for the full peace of the Kingdom (As an interesting cultural note, in Mexico this is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day. The idea is that everyone wants to be seen as a “holy innocent” even while pulling the pranks!)

The Sunday after Christmas (or, December 30th if Christmas is a Sunday) is the feast of the Holy Family. We focus on the dynamics of the relationship of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In their home at Nazareth they began to embody and live the Gospel. I always appreciate this feast as a day of gratitude for my family, and to pray for all those that are in particular need at this time. It is also a time to reflect on what I can do to support my family and those around me.

Finally, I want to say a little about the “octave day” (January 1st). It is celebrated as the feast of Mary, the Mother of God (this day has a history of many names, which may be its own blog post at some point!). The title “Mother of God” was strongly promoted after the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) in contrast to the preaching of Nestorius (who denied the unity of Jesus as one Person, true God and true Man). We believe Mary gave birth to a Person, Jesus – who was the Son of God from all eternity, and took to himself a human nature in his birth in time from Mary. This is a key point because the whole work of redemption was to reunite fallen human nature with the abundance of the divine nature. Jesus realizes this in His person. Therefore, this feast brings us back to the beginning by reinforcing the full impact of what happened on Christmas Day; not just the birth of a good human child, but the birth of Salvation itself!

Starting a New Liturgical Year

The Catholic phrase “liturgical year” refers to the schedule of celebrations, seasons, and feast days that we commemorate throughout the year (the most famous being Christmas and Easter). It actually gives a tremendous way to bring the Gospel into every-day life and to experience the scope of salvation history.

The “liturgical new year” begins with the first Sunday of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas). This time sets the stage of waiting and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, the birth of the Christ child. It gives a chance to begin again our reflection on the life of Jesus. We then celebrate the season of Christmas for about three weeks, which covers Jesus’ “hidden” life—from His birth to baptism. There is a period of “Ordinary Time” that leads up to Lent, which gives a more general reflection on His earthly ministry. With Ash Wednesday we start the forty days of special preparation for Easter Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter Season lasts for fifty days until the feast of Pentecost, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit and went out to begin preaching. Finally, the Church returns to Ordinary Time to meditate on our Christian life until the end of the year. The final Sunday of the year commemorates Christ the King—giving us a chance to reflect on the everlasting kingdom.

That is a very brief sketch, but hopefully shows the way that the whole of salvation history is summarized in each year! Why go over it again and again? I think the best reason is because we need that to really let things sink into our understanding. Every time we walk through this path we have the opportunity for deeper insight and better application. May the Lord bless the new liturgical year, and may it bear much fruit. God bless!

What is the Pentecost Novena?

Novenas are a popular form of Catholic prayer. It refers to spending nine days in a row praying for a particular intention. They may have a set prayer, a set of reflections, or another practice along with it (eg, giving up something for the time period or doing some work of mercy each day during the novena). Usually a novena is prayed in preparation for some specific feast day. It’s almost like a little mini-Lent. I personally have gained a lot of fruit from this devotion and have certain novenas that I pray every year.

However, I think that often people do not know that the origin for the practice is very Biblical! – not just some crazy thing Catholics made up :). It comes from the days of prayer that the disciples spent in preparation for Pentecost. Jesus spent forty days with his disciples after the Resurrection speaking to them about the Kingdom of God, and then before ascending into heaven gave the Great Commission for them to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. But, Jesus did not instruct them to immediately begin the work. First, he told them to wait and pray in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father” (see Acts of the Apostles 1:3-4). This promise was fulfilled just over a week later when the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (a word that means “fiftieth day”). This meant there had been nine days of prayer between the Thursday of the Ascension and Pentecost.

A novena can be as simple or involved as you desire. May the Lord create within us the space to receive the gift he desires to give!

A Famous Quote from St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena (feast day April 29th) lived in the late 1300’s and is considered one of the masters of the spiritual life despite her simple life and training. She also worked vigorously to correct the disunity and dysfunction of the Church at her time. This letter was written to her friend Stefano Maconi, who she believed was resisting God’s call to enter monastic life. She saw this as emblematic of the problems of the time, and wished his help in the work she had undertaken. After her death Stefano did become a Carthusian, eventually being named General of the Order. A quote from the end of this letter has become somewhat famous, and I think knowing this context makes it even more powerful! If we are what we ought to be (i.e., if we follow the call God has for us), we will set the world on fire! God bless-

From a Letter of St Catherine Sienna to Stefano Maconi

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest son in Christ Jesus: I Catherine, servant of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you with desire to see you arise from the lukewarmness of your heart…  For in truth, if we did see [the utter love of Christ], our heart would burn with the flame of love, and we should be famished for time, using it with great zeal for the honor of God and the salvation of souls. To this zeal I summon you, dearest son, that now we begin to work anew…

Be fervent and not tepid in this activity, and in encouraging your brothers and elders of the Company to do all they may in the affair of which I write. If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy, and not only yonder. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God….

What is Divine Mercy Sunday?

The second Sunday of Easter (i.e., one week after Easter Sunday) is celebrated in the Catholic Church as Divine Mercy Sunday. The day has had a long history as a special occasion since it is the “octave” (eighth day) of the great feast, including celebration for the newly baptized. Also, it corresponds to one of the Biblical apparitions. The Gospel read at Mass is always John 20:19-31, which recounts Jesus’ appearance to the Apostles after His resurrection. It includes Jesus’ initial words of “Peace be with you,” and when He breathes the Holy Spirit on the Apostles to commission them for the forgiveness of sins. Another important part is the absence of Thomas and his statement that he will not believe the resurrection until he sees the wounds. Jesus appears the following Sunday to make this revelation, which corresponds to this second Sunday of Easter.

The specific Divine Mercy devotion comes from St Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun that lived from 1905-1938. She received many messages in prayer of Jesus’ desire to spread the truth of His mercy throughout the world. She recorded these in her diary, but was always very cautious about discerning to make sure this was truly the will of God. Over time her writings were approved, and have borne great fruit! Considering the World War that occurred during her life and the second that came just as she was passing, there certainly was a great awareness of this need for mercy. She wrote many beautiful prayers and reflections which have helped many (including myself!) to gain a great awareness of the greatness of Divine Mercy. She commissioned an artist to draw an image of Christ with rays of blood and water coming forth from His heart (as happened when He was pierced on the Cross) as a symbol of this mercy, with the phrase “Jesus, I trust in You” written at the bottom. In particular, her message was very dear to Pope John Paul II, who officially introduced the title into the liturgy.

To return to the Gospel of the day, we see the way that Jesus pours out His mercy on the Apostles (who were well aware of their lack of faithfulness during His suffering and death), and at the same time commissions them to go forth and spread this mercy. I think this is such an important truth—the awareness of God’s mercy in our own life is a powerful foundation for our mission in the world. I encourage you to learn more about her if this message is of interest to you. May we continue to open ourselves to the mercy of God, and to spread this to the ends of the earth!