Monday, December 31, 2012

so now many antichrists have appeared

On this last day of the year St. John describes not some terrifying supernatural being as seen in the movies, but members of the community who broke away, because they wanted to alter the message, these he calls the antichrists.

It is choice we all face. Will we be conformed to Christ (and his Church) or will we attempt to conform Christ (and his Church) to us?

Today's gospel is the prologue to John's gospel which includes:

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

Grace and Truth

We like the grace but often we do not like the truth, especially when the truth sets limits on us: when the truth sets limits on our right to own things, and reminds us of our obligation to the poor, when the truth limits the way we use or bodies, when the truth reminds us that sin is still sin.

If we have been baptized then the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is each of us. That Spirit has the power to transform us from the inside out, if we but let it.

Perhaps as we prepare to begin a new year, it is a good time for us to call to minds those pieces of the teaching of the Church we find most difficult, those parts where we may even think the Church is wrong and needs to change, and in 2013 truly open our minds and hearts.

We think of obedience as action, doing what some else tells us. At its root to obey means "to listen to". We live in a noise filled world; we hear sounds all the time, but how often do we actively listen particularly to the other side, to those who disagree with us.

On this last day of 2012, St. John puts before us another binary choice: to be christs or anitchrists. There is no middle position, no comfortable quasi-christ. We may never achieve the goal, in this life, but we should at least go for it. It begins with one easy step, in the words from Luke 9 "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." Listen with our hearts, listen most closely to that which we find least comfortable, and be transformed.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Love or Hate

Light and Darkness are central images in the readings during the Christmas season. In today's first reading St. John offers a simple binary choice. The one who loves walk in light; the one who hates walks in darkness. Sometimes it is helpful to be forced into these kinds of binary choices. We have all grown up hearing in church that we are to love everyone, including loving our enemies. But how far are we prepared to take this?
Can we love the men who killed in Connecticut or Upstate New York? The Spanish word for forgive is "disculpa." The root "culpa" means guilt or blame. To forgive literally means to take away (dis-) the blame(culpa). Jesus does this from the cross when he says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
St. John did not understand modern psychology, but in the reading today hie goes on to talk about the effects of hatred, and the same can be said of anger which leads to hatred, "Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." Like Jesus, he attributes a kind of ignorance to the person. According to our theology, one who is ignorant cannot commit mortal sin. Moral sin require knowledge and full consent of the will.
This does not mean we do nothing. If we truly love others we keep them from harming themselves or others. What right thinking person would give a blind man a gun? And if we could, would we not do all that is possible to restore their sight.
What we do not do, at least if we follow the example of Jesus, is respond with anger and hate. In both recent cases these mentally ill men killed themselves as well. As we have prayed for the victims, have we gone the extra mile, and prayed for them as well. Can we find it in ourselves pray for them and all those who are blinded by hatred, anger, or mental illness?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yes, Red is a Christmas color

As a matter of fact the first four days of the Christmas Season, the vestments alternate white,red,white, red. Today we use red because we celebrate St Stephen, the first martyr.

It may at first seem odd that on the second day of Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the Lord, we jump to the other end of the spectrum, and celebrate a gruesome death.

It all makes sense when we remember that for us death isn't death, at least, not in the sense of "the end." Early Christians used the phrase dies nalatis, literally birthday, not for the day you were born into this life, but the day you entered eternal life.

We celebrate the Birth of Jesus followed by the Birth (into eternal life) of St. Stephen. Something to ponder as we think of all those who have had or will have loved ones pass into eternal life during the Christmas Season.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A single act of selflessness

Most people rarely go to mass on the morning of the 24th, but the readings are an interesting choice. The gospel is the Canticle of Zachariah, but the first reading goes back to a single moment in the life of David.

Rather than thinking of God when things are going wrong in his life. David is in the best place he has been in a while. In a moment of wisdom David recognizes that what has been accomplished was not all his own doing but was accomplished with the health of God. He then looks at how he is living and realizes that God has no dwelling place. David then makes THE promise, to build a dwelling place for God.

It is then that God makes the promise to David that it will be a descendent from his line who will the king. Even David could never have imagined how God's promise would be fulfilled.

As the sun goes down today, churches around the world will begin our celebration of Christmas. To prepare ourselves, perhaps it is time for us to imitate David, to look at our lives and see all the blessings we have received from God.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Help is on the way

We have crossed the winter solstice and each day is now just bit brighter than the day before. The son is on the way. In the liturgical calendar we make the steady climb, from the Birth of Jesus, through the Ressurection, to the Birth of the Church at Pentecost.

On this last full day of advent let us, not ignore the pain and darkness, but simply begin to shift our focus. In the words of the Rite of Baptism, let us"walk always as children of the light." And on this 4th Sunday of Advent, we turn to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Moment of Prayer

This morning at 9:30 AM Gov. Bob McDonnell asks us as Virginians to join the people of Connecticut in a moment of prayer.

O Oriens

Today we mark the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. It is no coincidence that the O Antiphon, for today addresses Jesus by a word that translated as "dayspring" or "radiant dawn." The antiphon continues "splendor lucis ætérnæ et sol iustítiæ"(splendor of eternal light and sun of justice).

This weekend we saw horrible darkness in the murders of 27 people. We look at other parts of the world and the news can seem hopeless, situations where our tendency is to throw up our hands and say, "It will never change."

As Christians, we cannot give in to this idea; we cannot surrender to the darkness. We must be people who believe that there is a greater light, that justice prevails.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

O Key of David

Today the O antiphon recalls the image of a key. The key is a key opens a jail cell. The jail cell it opens is the jail in which humanity was imprisoned, not sin, but he punishment for sin. This key is said to open the prison of "darkness and the shadow of death."

Once more today's antiphon links Christmas and Easter. It reminds us that, for the Christian, the arc of human existence is not from birth to death, not womb to tomb, but from conception to eternal life. God does not create human life to see it die, but wills that each of us should live forever.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

O Root of Jesse

Today's O antiphon invoke Jesus under the tittle Root of Jesse. It takes us back to the First Book of Samuel and the choice of Jesse's youngest son David as king for Israel. In a world of immediacy it reminds us of the truly long view that is God's view. More than 9 centuries separate the choice of David and the birth of Jesus.

The fiscal cliff, the murders in Connecticut — we want answers NOW!

Perhaps this antiphon calls us today to remember the virtue of patience, and the concept of deliberation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

God with us

In today's gospel we get Matthew's nativity and the proclamation of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. This same gospel ends with the promise, " I am with you always until the end of the world."

Do we call God and his teaching into our current debates? There does not seem to be one thing but an unholy trinity at the center of the debate: ease of access to assault weapons, lack of access to mental health services, and glorification of violence.

What would Jesus say about the modern first person shooter video "game"? Given the reality of the graphics what Christian would consider these entertainment? We condemn pornography for the way it dehumanizes and objectifies persons. How are these so-called games more respectful of human life?

What would Jesus say about the assault weapon whose sole purpose is to destroy human life? Unlike the hunting rifle or pistol which have other, moral purposes, I can find no moral purpose for non-military and law enforcement persons to have access to these.

What does a parent do with their problem child, in a society where the minute the child turns 18 unless they are an immediate danger to self or others you have no say in their life? And even when they are younger, unless you have exceptional insurance, mental health care is expensive and difficult to access.

Christianity has always understood the importance of freedom, and human rights, but we have always recognized that none of these are absolute and all come with responsibility.

The human right is the right to life.

Perhaps these children will cause us to find the proper equilibrium.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Praying for Wisdom

Tonight the Church begins the praying of the O Antiphons, best known as the basis for hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Each day we pray for the coming of Christ by different title

This first day the antiphon reads:

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet gentle care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

As we move through this week, we will find ourselves feeling a variety of emotions including sorrow, anger and fear. We want to do something. But what? Before we charge forward, perhaps this petition for the Wisdom of God may be the best first step.

May the Lord show us the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord Always, again I say rejoice. The entrance antiphon that gives this Sunday its name.

But how do we rejoice on this particular Sunday in the face of such tragedy?

As I listened to psychological professionals on television address the question of what do we tell our children to allay their fears, all of their answers, helpful though they were, for me, they came up short.

This Advent Season is precisely that time of year when each day the world is growing darker and darker, and we as Christians face the confront the darkness with light.

We face this tragedy with the hope of eternal life. We entrust all the victims into the loving merciful hands of God, and Christ who conquered death.

I do not believe that any human being can end my life. He or she may kill me, they may murder me, but they cannot end my life. Nor can death forever separate me from the ones I love.

This is our faith and at times like this we must hold on it ever more tightly.

We search for explanations, in the hope that if we can explain it, we can prevent it. The hard truth is that while we can and should do better, we will never be able to prevent every act of either sin or mental illness.

We rejoice today, however, because for us death is not the end. To quote the old Rite of Funerals, "when the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven."

Now more than ever we must embrace this truth.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Power of Prayer

This morning my mind could not but turn to the fourth day of the Christmas Season, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, whose gospel ends

A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.

There are no words that can console a parent at the lose of a child. It is a wound that never heals, not in this life. All we can do now is envelope these families in our prayers, and not just our prayers but intercession of all the saints...

And we ask the Holy Innocents to welcome these children into their company.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let there be light

Today, as We move deeper into winter and the days grow darker the church celebrates the feast of St. Lucy.
The story of Saint Lucy goes back to the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. She had consecrated herself to God and was denounced by her betrothed as a Christian.
The two symbols associated with Saint Lucy are the crown of candles and her eyes on a plate. On the most basic level, the eyes on the plate represent part of the way she was tortured.
On a deeper level the eyes and the candles both linked to the original meaning of her name. Her name is derived from the Latin word Lux, which means light. In the Ancient understanding a vision, light came from the eyes.
Christ is the light that scatters the darkness and so we celebrate Saint Lucy as we prepare for the coming of the great light of Christ.
This feast is a reminder to us that we are all supposed to be bearers of light.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Walter F Sullivan requiescat in pace

Yesterday afternoon the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan passed from this earthly life. Born June 10,1928 he was ordained a priest May 9, 1953 for the Diocese of Richmond, Ordained auxiliary bishop December 1, 1970, he appointed diocesan bishop June 4, 1974 and remained in office until his retirement September 16, 2003.

It seems most appropriate that he passed from this life on vigil when we began our celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. While his more than 50 years of ministry remained rooted in the diocese of Richmond, it was always carried out with a care for those most in need throughout the world, especially in Latin America.

The first place he assigned me was as a seminarian to care for migrant farm workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia back in 1985, Hispanic ministry was migrant ministry. As the ministry grew he established our first office for Hispanic Ministry, and encouraged masses in Spanish throughout the Diocese.

We commend him to God Father, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Madre de América.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

God's will or ours

There was great consternation when the translation words of institution were changed from "for all" to "for the many." Preceding from the fact that the Latin was always "pro multis", there is a great theological issue at hand.

Can the will of God be thwarted?

In today's gospel we hear "it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” In 1 Timothy 2 we read, "This is good and pleasing to God our savior,who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth."

In the history of Christianity there have been those who have argued, based on this text, that in the end the will of God must triumph and everyone will ultimately end up in heaven. The Catholic Church teaches that while we should hope and pray for all to be saved, it would be wrong to say that it must be.

On the surface this may seem harsh, but in reality it is grounded in Love. Because the relationship God wants with us is one of mutual love (God loved us first, and we should love him in return), it must be freely given.

To say that because God wills the salvation of all, all must go to heaven would take away our freedom. God loves every person he created, and wills that all be saved, but because God loves us so, we have the ultimate freedom. God has put our freedom above his will. God does not will that any person be lost, but the choice is ours.

We hope all will be saved, and the church has yet to declare anyone to be in hell, unlike canonization where we declare them to be in heaven. But the free choice to accept or reject God's love is ours, and we make the choice not once but every day in the hundreds of little choices that we make.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Saint not the Justice

While movies and television like to glorify the period of the Tudors and Stuarts, we can forget the terrors for anyone who happened to want to hold on to their Catholic Faith.

On October 25th, 1970 Pope Paul VI canonized in one group 40 of the martyrs of England and Wales. Among these men and women was one with a now famous name, John Roberts.

Born to a protestant family in Wales, he too was a student of law, but at the influence of a friend converted to the Catholic faith, at a time when such conversion was, to say the least, dangerous. He went on to be ordained and served as a Benedictine missionary. After slipping back into England, being arrested, and banished. He refused to give up.

Eventually he re-entered the country, was rearrested and on December 10, 1610 was hanged, then drawn, and quartered. For those unfamiliar with the term, you were hanged almost to the point of death, then emasculated, disembowled, beheaded and the body was cut into four pieces. Such was the rule of James I for Catholic priests.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Childish fairness or Adult Justice

How old were we the first time we uttered the famous phrase, "it's not fair."On the one hand, this is a positive thing, because it points to an innate sense of justice in the human person. On the other hand, it must mature.

At some point in our life, some well-meaning adult also said to us, "Who told you life was fair?" In fact the message of today's gospel is precisely that life is fair.

Every time we pray the our father we say those words "thy kingdom come"we pray them in both hope and faith.

Once more, the readings today, prepare us for the second coming of Christ when we will see absolute fairness, or better said, absolute Justice.

Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth

God has instilled in each of us a sense of justice. As Christians we are called to make the world as just a place as we possibly can. At the same time, we recognize that there are limits to what we can accomplish. Rather than responding with the anger of a child, we respond with the faith of an adult.

While we may not see justice at the moment we wanted, we have absolute faith that in the end justice will prevail. And we can be at peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Will the real Santa Claus please intercede for us

The first time I walked in to St Peter's Basilica when we got to the tomb of Pope Innocent XI a friend I was with quipped,"Santa under glass". Indeed he was laid out in a red suit with white trim that any American child would associate with Santa including a red hat with white trim (no black belt or boots). As a matter of fact Pope Benedict XVI brought back the hat called a camauro.

It strikes me, however, that as we celebrate this first week of Advent, focused on the second coming of Christ, the most important part of the story that the Santa Claus narrative has right is that the real St. Nicholas is still alive. It's why we canonized him because we believe he participates even now in external life. And in terms of going to him and asking for presents, what greater gift can we have than intercessory prayer. St. Nicholas and all the saints care about the rest of us and continue to pray for us, just as we are called to pray for others now.

To deny the intercession of the saints would be to suggest that they die, go to heaven, and once there say,"I got my reward. To heck with all of you down there."

You may not be able to sit on Santa's lap, but we can all turn in our needs to St. Nicholas today, and ask for his intercession.

St. Nicholas, pray for us.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Four little words

The Eucharist as we celebrate it today did develop of time. The vestments, vessels, chants, prayers, and gestures all develop and in some ways continue to develop.

Today's gospel reminds us, however, that the Eucharist itself is not some creation of the Catholic Church. By the time the gospel was written, it is clear that the basic formula for consecration was firmly established in the hearts and minds of the Church. In Matthew's telling of the loaves and fishes, there are 7 loaves, the perfect number. "Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks(eucharistos), broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples."

Again and again we hear the four verbs of the formula repeated in the scriptures: took, blessed, broke, gave. For two millennia we Christians have gathered in faith to be spiritually nourished by Christ, with his very body and blood.

Perhaps it is worth thinking about makings the reception of this gift a more than once a week event. Make time for one mass during the week and melt yourself be renewed.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doing a better immitation

As Christians we Are called to constantly improve our imitation of Christ. This simple concept captured in the "what would Jesus do?" phenomenon, Is not always so easy to live.

The advent readings from Isaiah are understood by us Christians to be prophecies about Jesus. In today's reading we hear,"Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide."

Imagine if this year we could just stop these two behaviors.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hope against hope

The first reading from Isaiah takes on a particular significance as we look at Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the neighboring countries like Syria. Do we even dare to hope that
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. ?

The gospel gives us the true, but difficult, Christian response:
Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed, the statement of absolute faith by the centurion in Matthew's gospel.

We are the people who, grounded in faith, never loose hope. Even we faced with situations with few or no visible signs of hope, we trust in the power and promise of God.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Often when we think the second coming of Christ, we think of judgment. Today's first reading, however, uses a different word. The word is fulfillment. The second coming of Christ which we celebrate in the first half of Advent is the celebration of the fulfillment of the promise.

The gospel gives us the keyword if we want to participate in that fulfillment. The Greek command prosechete, literally to hold your mind.

We think of being a saint as an almost impossible task. We forget that in order to sin it requires an act of the will; we must choose. In the same way, we are equally free to choose not to sin, to be holy, to do the right thing.

This advent is a time for us to take hold of the lives that God has given us, and live each day deliberately. We may find that sainthood is easier than we think.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent is upon us

In only a few hours in churches around the world the first vigil masses for Advent will begin. While the second half of the season is a preparation for Christmas, we begin with a look at our preparation for the second coming of Christ.

How ready am I to stand before my God? What things can I rightly be proud of? What things in my life would be embarrassing to acknowledge?

We are all human, and therefore in constant need of conversion. Perhaps the se hours are a time to make some decisions about simple ways we can change or perhaps let God change us in this new liturgical year.