Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

There are some facts about the story of Juan Diego that are truly remarkable.  Juan Diego is the Aztec Native who in December of 1531, in the city of Tlatelolco, in present day Mexico, had an apparition of the Blessed Mother.  The first question that must be asked was how the name Guadalupe became associated with this apparition in the Americas.  Unlike the apparitions that have taken place in Fatima, Portugal or Lourdes, France, the name Guadalupe was a city in Spain and has Arabic roots.  Is this the name that Juan Diego or his sick uncle Juan Bernardino actually heard from the Blessed Mother?  Obviously, it was the one that has stuck through the centuries but many speculate that Our Lady actually used the Aztec word of “coatlaxopeuh” which, when it is pronounced, sounds much like the Spanish “Guadalupe”.  The Aztec word, when translated actually takes on the connotation of “the one who crushes the serpent”.  While the image of the Blessed Mother that Juan Diego received on his shawl does not have a snake on it, it does have the Blessed Mother standing on a crescent moon.  Going to the 12th chapter of the book of Revelation, there is a description of a pregnant woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” who is attacked by a dragon.  This image corresponds to a widespread myth throughout the ancient world that a goddess pregnant with a savior was pursued by a horrible monster; by miraculous intervention, she bore a son who then killed the monster.  While we as Catholics do not see Mary as a goddess, we do see her as our advocate and mother as well as the mother of Christ, our Savior.  We are told that she said to Juan Diego, “For I am your merciful Mother, to you and to all mankind who love me and trust in me and invoke my help.”  Just this past Monday we celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Mother, showing God’s action of preparing the world for the coming of Christ.  Today, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, and, as indeed she is, the one who crushes the serpent of the devil through the birth of her Son, Jesus Christ.  We also continue our journey through the second week of Advent, waiting for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ who we have the sure hope and joyful expectation in the fact that he will free us from all the snares and wickedness of the devil.  On this powerful Feast Day, let us acknowledge that God is actively working in and throughout the entire world and pouring Himself out for our Salvation.

 

December 12th, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

It is getting into this “most wonderful time of the year”.  The pressures of this time of year always seem to be extra high.  Whether you are a student preparing for final exams and writing papers, a teacher correcting many tests and papers, an employee in a store during the holiday chaos, a doctor taking care of the many illnesses that can arise during this time of year, a host trying to prepare the house for the visiting family, or someone who is just feeling the pressure of this season; this time of year can be overwhelming.

The opening prayer for today’s mass asks Almighty God to grant us in divine kindness “that no infirmity may weary us as we long for the comforting presence of our heavenly physician.”  Then, the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah is the prophet instructing the the people of Judah how to keep hope amidst the pressures of their time.  He says, “Do you not know or have you not heard?  The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faith or grow weary and His knowledge is beyond scrutiny.  He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes visor abound.  Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” (Is 40, 28-31)  Lastly, our Gospel today is Jesus speaking to the crowds… and to us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart;  and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
This is the Christ that we are waiting, longing, and preparing for in this chaotic season!  Today, in the midst of your many tasks, obligations, preparations, and concerns, just pause, take a breath, and know that in this season of Advent waiting and preparing, even in the midst of our extra-intense work, we are preparing for our great renewal, the coming of the source of all life.  In the midst of it all, let us turn to Christ, who can and will renew our strength.  Christ can refreshen our souls, bring needed healing, allow us to soar like eagles…. only if we first make the initiative to go to the Lord and then let the Lord renew us.
December 10th, 2014
Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent
Please pardon if I speak of my own life for today, but I think that it might be of interest to the readers of these reflections. This January I travel to Nairobi, Kenya to begin the final stage of Jesuit formation, which we call tertianship. This period of Jesuit life lasts six months to a year, and occurs a few years after ordination to the priesthood. In my own case tertianship is taking place four and a half years after ordination to the priesthood.
The reason that this stage of formation comes from the root of ‘three’ is that it is like a third year of novitiate. Jesuits begin their religious life with two years of novitiate, after which they profess three simple, perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. During this time they undergo a combination of prayer, work, and study. Prayer: the 30 day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; study: the Jesuit Constitutions; and work: a series of ‘experiments where a man works at different apostolic tasks.
Tertianship is like a third year of novitiate in that the Jesuit goes through the same regimens of prayer, work, and study before professing vows, this time solemn. Almost all Jesuits report that this second exposure to the journey of the Spiritual Exercises is a substantially more profound affair. The man has, of course fifteen or so more years of experience to bring to prayer. There is great wisdom in St Ignatius’s insight that in order to become a full member of the Society of Jesus, one must be tested in the crucible of the apostolic life–and tested we are. But what a great privilege to stop from work and devotee self to such a state of spiritual, religious, no personal advancement. If you yourself have not committed to finding time in your year to get away from the craziness of the world to find the Lord in a time of retreat, please do so. It is not a matter of obligation, but profound compulsion. You will be glad that you took the time to go away, because it is only there that you will meet the One who will direct the affairs of what comes after.
Please pray for me as I continue this journey.
December 9th, 2014

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Pope Benedict was famous for using the term “dictatorship of relativism” to identify a central cultural challenge to Christianity and society in the contemporary world. Lately, I have been wondering whether we could coin a new phrase to capture the present moment. While the “Dictatorship of Relativism” captures the danger of the intellectual conviction that all ways of life are relative, none claiming superiority to another, another danger follows in its wake.
Decades of living under the Dictatorship of Relativism has produced a generation wounded by its excesses. The wages of the sexual revolution are the millions of emotionally wounded young people who populate our high schools, colleges, and communities. These people live, not under the intellectual commitment of relativism, but rather the emotional burden of self-acceptance and self-affirmation. The present generation operates, not under an intellectual conviction, but rather an emotional need–and woe to the one who stands in the way of fulfilling it.
This “Dictatorship of Disfunction” manifests itself in the frantic attempt to look good, to be liked, and to be affirmed at all costs. It spreads through social media, through university culture, and even through family expectations. Its destructiveness lies in the way it keeps the self at the center of the world, all claims of truth or goodness finding their orientation in relation to it.
But it does not need to be this way. Today on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we see that God has prepared a different path. It leads through love of others and love of truth. It is lined with humility and simplicity. It is paved with trust, not frantic anxiety. Every step finds shade under the mantle of the Blessed Mother. And at the end of the journey lies the healing of what has been wounded and the sure foundation upon which to build a future.
December 8th, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Allow Advent to open your imagination. These classic and famous readings this week from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark are easy to imagine because of the descriptive imagery used by the authors. This is the blessing of this grace-filled season of Advent.  Let’s look at just one of the images in today’s readings. There is the highway.

We have to acknowledge that the prophet Isaiah is writing about this highway in the year 732 B.C..  Isaiah is not referring to I-95, four lanes, and cruising at 80 miles an hour.   Isaiah is writing to the Southern two tribes of Israel who were in what has become known as the Babalonian Exile.  The Babylonians had sacked Jerusalem, burnt the sacred Temple, and had taken the people of Judah into captivity. They were away from their homes and native land for over 70 years. They were scared and confused. “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat and wept.”  The Persians came into power and were able to defeat the Babylonians and actually allowed the people of Judah to return home.  This is where the text of Isaiah picks up.  We hear this famous line which Handel’s Messiah immortalized.  “COMFORT! Take Comfort O my people.” Basically, “let’s go home!” Let’s get back to our country of familiarity, of safety, of our own.”  But wait, to get back to Jerusalem, they have a long way to travel over mountains and through valleys and deserts. The ancestors of old, after coming out of Egypt and under the direction of Moses, were wondering around this same land for 40 years before they could find Jerusalem.  Now, these people have to do the same thing.  But, the trip will be worth it!  This the prophet speaks to his people. Take Comfort. God will be with us. We are going to get home. And when we get home, we will rebuild our temple. The sins we have committed have been washed away. We have done our penance, paid the price. Let’s go home. Do not let those great physical barriers keep us from our home. God will take care of us. He will fill those valleys, level those mountains, and we will have clear sailing back to Jerusalem as if we have a highway!

In this Advent Season, in midst of this wilderness of a world that we live in, let us take great Comfort in knowing that we have the home of our faith, our Church, our community, our God who we can go to for repentance, for strength, for hope, and who promises to come to us with great love.

December 7th, 2014

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

One of the great privileges of the priesthood is the honor of witnessing the vows of couples in the sacrament of matrimony. The rite itself is fairly simple. Quite unlike the great fever expended upon the flowers, dresses, tuxedos, and decorations, the vows are notable for their lack of pretension. How powerful they are, and yet how fragile. Simple words uttered by each spouse for the other to hear. At that moment, these words are received in utter trust that what the other says is true. Each trusts the fidelity of the other, and they declare that they will change the entire course of their lives based upon this fidelity.

So it is with the Word of God. Like the marriage vows, it does not compel, but rather elicits trust, invites a response. We receive this word, not as a law of nature always available for our testing, but as a promise for the future, that God will be faithful to the good work He is accomplishing. This loving trust, as St. Ignatius points out, should show itself in deeds more than further words. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.”

October 11th, 2014

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

“Digitus Dei est hic.”

The first Jesuits, when considering their apostolic activity in the world, were convinced of the sentiment reportedly expressed by Paul III when he first encountered the blueprint for the budding order: Digitus Dei est hic—The finger of God is here. The “finger of God,” mentioned today in our readings, symbolizes God’s action in the world, an action that can accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine. God acts with sovereign freedom, but throughout Christian history it has been evident that God shows forth his power when human beings are obedient to His commands and inspirations. When this power is present, fruit is borne far beyond what our own finite power can produce.

It was the incongruity between the effects of their labors compared to their own human capacities that convinced the early Jesuits and the Church of the Catholic Reformation that the power of God lay behind their efforts. In our own lives we should strive first for fidelity to the commands and inspirations of God, and allow this grace to fructify all our efforts in the world.

October 10th, 2014

Memorial of St. Denis

As the tradition goes, St. Denis, upon having his head lopped off by his persecutors, promptly picked up his severed member and ran for the hill of Montmartre, the whole while preaching a sermon on repentance. I assume it was for such level-headedness amid turmoil that he is the patron saint against frenzy.

One can forgive the hagiography of the third century for embellishing a few details about their heroes. If nothing else, it makes their stories difficult to forget. And a society in all-out decline, where threats lurked on every side, probably needed its stories to hold onto. And what better story to remember than that of a Christian bishop who spurned the esteem of men and the worldly success they promised, and who clung to the Lord and his promises. At the precise moment when the larger society was crumbling, seeds of new life were being planted in the ravaged soil.

October 9th, 2014

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

The plea has never been so relevant: Thy kingdom come.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed our world become once more a place of horror. After the boiling bloodshed of the first half of the Twentieth Century, we entered into a low simmering as the Soviet Union gradually imploded. Now, the horror has returned in the human form of terrorism and the microscopic form of disease. Once again we are reminded that our world is not an earthly paradise where sufficient human planning will produce comfort and well-being for all. No, we live in a world which violently boils over the safe containers we construct to control it.

Amid this chaos, we understand the great hope which lay behind that plea of the Our Father. Please, Lord, let Thy Kingdom come. Come down upon this earth, yes, but first let it come into my own heart. And let my own heart be a place of calm in this storm.

October 8th, 2014

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

What a happy coincidence that this year the reading of Martha and Mary falls on the same day as the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. The two are perfectly suited.

It has become fashionable recently to try to rehabilitate Martha, saying that we should not overlook the importance of activity in the Christian life. But this line of thought does violence to the express purpose of the story. Mary is approved because she has chosen the better part. She has chosen to focus upon the person of Jesus and listen to Him. Mary is approved and Martha is reprimanded. Why? Rather than applying these two figures to the contemplative and active lives, let’s seek our solution elsewhere. The division between Martha and Mary is the difference between self-generated plans of life and lives which are directed by Jesus. Mary represents the person who allows Jesus to guide her activity through the inspiration of His love instead of the person who comes up with her own plans and subsequently offers them to God.

For generations the rosary has been an indispensible means to focus our attention on Jesus through Mother Mary in order to allow His life to become the pattern of our lives. Springing from the prayers of our youth, it initiates us into the quiet meditation which becomes the food of committed Catholic life. In this way we learn with Mary to sit at His feet, to listen to Him, and to choose the better part.

October 7th, 2014
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