Sunday, December 30, 2012

Still In There

So, I've used this joke before--and even on this feast--but it works so well and still gets laughs!

Blessings on all of your families...

   The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph   

A Sunday school teacher wanted to make sure
that her young class understood
that Jesus wasn’t just a made-up story,
but is real and living even now.
So she asked her students, “Where is Jesus today?”
Stevie raised his little hand and said, “He’s up in heaven.”
Maggie was next called upon and answered, “Jesus lives in my heart.”
Jake was waiving his hand furiously in the back of the room.
“I know!  I know!” he blurted out.  “Jesus is in our bathroom!”
The whole class got very quiet.
His teacher gathered her wits, swallowed hard, 
and asked Jake how he knew such a thing.
“Well,” he said, “every morning my father gets up,
bangs on the bathroom door, and yells,
‘Good Lord, are you still in there?’”

A few years ago,
the childhood home 
of Pope Benedict XVI
was turned into a small museum 
in his native Bavaria.
During the course of renovations,
a Christmas letter was discovered,
handwritten by a seven-year-old boy 
back in 1934.

The letter was just put on public display 
for the first time;
translated, it reads:
Dear Christ Child!
Come quickly down to earth.
You will bring joy to children.
You also will bring joy to me.
I would like a prayer book for Mass,
a green Mass vestment,
—he and his brother, Georg, 
liked to "play church"—
and [an image of] the heart of Jesus.
I will always be good.
Greetings from 
Joseph Ratzinger.

Clearly, the Catholic faith
had a central place in the Ratzinger household.

As that Sunday school teacher asked:
Where is Jesus today?
What place does the good Lord have in your family’s life?

Parents have an essential role
in shaping the religious imagination and identity of their children.
That’s an amazing power and an awesome responsibility. (cf. R. Smith)
(And while I say it belongs to “parents,”
I’m thinking of grandparents and godparents, older siblings,
aunts and uncles, teachers and neighbors, too.)As we can see from their annual Passover pilgrimage,
Mary and Joseph were diligent
in passing on their most deeply held values—
especially their religious tradition—to their Son.
Likewise, regularly coming here, to the Lord’s temple,
as a family for Mass
is at the heart of Catholic family life;
for it, there can be absolutely no substitute.
But things mustn’t stop even there.
Jesus went down with them to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.
It takes real discipline to raise disciples:
to not only instruct them in the truths of our faith,
but to also inspire them to lovingly and faithfully
live out God’s commandments.
Nothing teaches children more
than the example—good or bad—of their parents.

It’s fairly safe to say most parents here today
don’t have to worry about raising a future Pope…
…but we should all be trying to raise future saints.
Headlines these days can make us wonder
how well we’re doing in this arena.
Yet I was touched and encouraged by a small scrap of paper
I found on the church floor after Mass late on Christmas Eve.
First, in the clear handwriting of an adult, it reads:
Dear Jesus
I Love you
God I Love you
And then in the large, shaky letters
of a child imitating Mom or Dad, it says,
GOd I LovE

It really is that simple!
And that’s what it’s all about.

Using all the means at our disposable,
we must constantly strive to make sure our youngsters
never lose sight of Jesus,
as did Mary and Joseph those three anxious days in Jerusalem.
Let’s instead make sure that our children know
that God’s Only Begotten Son,
who came down from heaven to earth at Christmas,
dwells with us still.
They can always find him here:
in the church, in the Eucharist.
May they also learn from us
how to find the good Lord at home,
in all the twists and turns of family life—
maybe even in the morning wait for the bathroom.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Very Merry

Being a priest, you have to wear many hats...

From our home to yours, 


I never post my homilies before I'm through delivering them...but in the spirit of Christmas I guess I'll make this one exception.  And wherever you see [RING], well, you can just imagine what that stage direction means...

   The Nativity of the Lord - Christmas   

At St. Helen’s Church 
up in Chasm Falls,
there’s a full wrap-around gallery—
much as there is here at Notre Dame,
except on a much smaller scale 
in that tiny country church.
I have several “little friends”—
ages five and under, I’d guess—
who regularly sit upstairs with their families…
…and who regularly 
make not-so-whispered comments
for the rest of us to enjoy.

Just over a year ago,
at the same time as the new Roman Missal was implemented,
we reintroduced the custom of ringing bells [RING]
at the moment of the consecration in the Mass.
In a tradition going all the way back to the thirteenth century,
bells have been rung to elicit both joy and attention
as bread and wine—in a very real yet hidden way—
become the Body and Blood of Christ.
It’s at the very heart of the Mass,
and at the very heart of our Catholic faith.

Needless to say, it’s an especially solemn moment.

So you can imagine the reaction in the pews
when, on that first Sunday of Advent 
that the bells were back,
as I was elevating the Sacred Host above the altar,
and a server was ringing the bells 
from his kneeler [RING]
just as we’d practiced—
a high-pitched voice from the loft intones,

So much for solemn!

And then, not two weeks ago:
same church, same moment in the Mass, same bells,
and—I presume—my same little friend upstairs,
gleefully declaring [RING] : “Jingle bells!”

Bells are not nearly as much a part of daily life
as they once were here in the Western world.
Nowadays, out telephones have MP3 ringtones,
our alarm clocks buzz,
and schools send out an electronic signal over the intercom
when it’s time for classes to change…
but they don’t have actual bells anymore.
Bells are pretty much left for just two things that I can think of:
churches and Christmas.

At Christmas, there’s a lot of talk of bells.
There are Jingle Bells and Silver Bells.
There are Salvation Army bells at the doors of the stores.
And there’s that memorable line 
from the end of, It’s a Wonderful Life:
“Every time a bell rings [RING] an angel gets his wings.”

The famed American author 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
once wrote a poem called, “Christmas Bells.”
(It’s been turned into a Christmas song,
but they usually leave out a couple of the verses.)
Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas Day 1864.
In the summer of 1861, 
Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, had burned to death,
and he himself was injured and permanently scarred
while trying to save her.
That same year, 
the first shots of the American Civil War were fired,
leaving the entire country in turmoil and fear.
Tragedy struck again when Longfellow’s son, Charles,
a lieutenant in the Union army,
was shot on the battlefield in November 1863 
and left crippled for life.
In the face of both national unrest and great personal loss,
Longfellow didn’t feel much like celebrating Christmas.
He wrote in his journal, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children,
but that is no more for me.”  (December 25, 1862)

But then, on that particular Christmas Day,
in the depths of grief and gloom,
Longfellow heard church bells ringing—
and he was inspired to write these hope-filled words:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and mild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

When bells first rang at the heart of the Mass
more than eight-hundred years ago,
it wasn’t a small set tinkling in the hand of an altar server [RING]
no, it was the great bells pealing up in the church tower.
Those bells weren’t ringing to wake up a sleepy congregation,
refocusing their attention at the highpoint of the Eucharist
(although that’s a pretty handy side effect);
they were sending a message far and wide,
to those who could not or would not get to the church—
to the homebound sick and the poor bound to their labors,
to those locked in prison and those guarding the city gates.
Like the angels who appeared to Bethlehem’s shepherds,
they announced good news of great joy for all the people:
heaven was again being born on the earth;
the Son of God, according to his promise,
was once more appearing in human flesh and blood—
not laid in a manger where cattle feed,
but laid upon the altar to feed his own flock.

We need church bells—we need Christmas bells—
now as much a Longfellow did, don’t we?
2012 has been a difficult year for so many people.
We’ve all had our disappointments.
Many of us have suffered the loss of loved ones.
As a nation, just in these last months,
we’ve continued to bring home the dead and the wounded
from conflicts in foreign lands;
we’ve weathered a violent “superstorm”;
we’ve wept at the brutal death of innocent school children;
and we’ve braced ourselves for continued fiscal woes.
Yet in our darkness, a light has shone;
and right here—where we laugh and cry,
where we rejoice and grieve,
where we despair and hope—
the grace and glory of our great God and savior continues to appear,
just as he did before the eyes of Joseph and Mary.

So we need to ring our bells!
We need to ring them not just near our altars, [RING]
and not just in our church towers,
and not just at Christmas, either.
We need to ring out the good news of God-with-us
in our lives each and every day.
It’s not exactly a compliment to tell somebody
that they have “a face that could ring a bell”…
…but each one of us gathered here tonight
needs to have a living faith that rings a bell:
eliciting in those around us both attention and joy
that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh—
in a real though hidden way—
continues to dwell among us.

My little friend upstairs at St. Helen’s 
knew that “jingle bells”
announce the coming
of a certain jolly man 
in a bright red suit.
May the bells of our churches [RING]
both inside and out—
always announce the coming of him
who is both the Son of God 
and Son of Mary:
once wrapped in swaddling clothes 
and adored by shepherds;
later wrapped in a shroud 
and laid in a tomb;
now wrapped in glory 
and reigning forever.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


Merry Christmas!

Keeping Watch

"I'm just keeping an eye on these till Santa arrives. Really.
Why are you looking at me like that?"

Away in a Manger

Don't even think about it, FideliCat...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Christmas Story

One of the cutest retellings I've heard (or seen):

I'm not sure which I enjoyed more: the donkey, the angry innkeepers, the oh-so-adorable sheep, that third wise man...

In Haste

Fr. Stitt has given me a really swell late Advent/pre-Christmas gift: he's preaching in my stead this weekend...

   Fourth Sunday of Advent   C 

"Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth."
Luke 1:39-40

Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness.  They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else.

The Mother of God considered no such thing.  Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary's own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth's need—almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.…

If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it he is forming himself; if we go with eager wills, in haste, to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that he desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of his love.

And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.…

We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of his love, carrying him to wherever he longs to be: and those who recognize his presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth, with new life.  They will know his presence, not by any special beauty or power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by the unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty.

Caryll Houselander (1902-1954)

Saturday, December 22, 2012


"What good does it do me 
if Christ was born in Bethlehem once 
if he is not born again in my heart 
through faith?"
Origen (184-254)

"What keeps you from projecting His birth 
into times that are in the process of becoming, 
and living your life 
like a painful and beautiful day 
in the history of a great gestation?"
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Christmas Backstage

The rectory dining room, after the poinsettias for Notre Dame Church arrived this morning:

FideliCat is attentively standing guard, making sure that none of them wander over to church before we've properly observed the Fourth Sunday of Advent...

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End?

I know some people think today will be the end of the world...

...but (quite remarkably) I'm feeling perfectly fine!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Stuff of Joy

   Third Sunday of Advent   C 
I was driving alone Friday evening
when I had to turn off the radio:
I couldn’t stand to listen to any more talk
about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
It’s not that I’d grown indifferent or uncaring;
it’s just that my mind and my heart couldn’t bear
to hear the sad news repeated again.

So I popped in a new Christmas CD
that just arrived in the mail that morning.
Before I knew it, I was belting out Frosty the Snowman
with surprising gusto:
“…with a corncob pipe and a button nose…”

And then I stopped.

How could I suddenly be so holly-jolly
when twenty innocent children had just been robbed
of this Christmas and all Christmases to come?

On the Church’s calendar,
this is known as Gaudete Sunday:
out of Advent’s somber purple tones,
this streak of rose breaks through to remind us to rejoice.
That this ancient tradition of encouraging joy
should today be aligned with the terrible tragedy of current events
can seem a rather cruel twist.

But maybe—just maybe—
the combination isn’t quite as inappropriate
as it first appears.

We hear Zephaniah declare:
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Be glad and exult with all your heart!
We can forget that the prophet
is speaking to people emerging from hard times,
brought on by their own repeated infidelities.
The source of their joy?
Be not discouraged! 
The Lord is in your midst.

Then St. Paul writes to the Christians of Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always! 
I say it again: rejoice!
We can forget that the Apostle
is writing to a community suffering
because of persecution from without and dissention within,
while Paul himself lay deathly ill in prison.
So why the rejoicing?
The Lord is near.

It would be easy enough to feel guilty right now
for getting into the Christmas spirit—
as I experienced while in the car on Friday night.
But as I began to realize even then,
we really need Advent and Christmas joy now
as much—maybe more—than ever.
As we grieve the senseless death of so many little ones,
it is still right for us to rejoice in the birthday of a child
who came to teach us a way through life
other than the paths of violence and revenge.
As our time in this world is spent so often
passing though a vale of tears,
it is good for us to be glad
that we are only passing through—
to celebrate that heaven took flesh on earth
so that our earthly flesh might enjoy eternal life in heaven.
Such joy is not about glossing over the heartbreak;
it’s about recognizing that God is with us—
has come oh-so-close to us,
is bearing the hurt right along with us—
here in the midst of it all.

We’re like the crowds, the tax collectors, the soldiers
that came to John the Baptist:
we find ourselves asking, “What should we do?”

For one thing, we should pray:
pray for the souls of those whose lives have been lost;
pray for the loved ones left behind in sorrow;
pray for the marginalized,
for those who suffer with mental illness,
for those who themselves have been victimized
and so conceive of causing pain to others.
Prayer is more powerful and effective
than we often stop to realize.

And we should take action:
not with the grandiose promises of changing laws and society
which always follow on the heals of such cruelty,
but by making changes in our own sinful lives—
much as John the Baptist prescribed.
The workings of evil in the world
are conquered one heart at a time.

We should fervently pray.
We should repent, changing what needs to be changed.
And we should rejoice…without feeling too guilty about it.

The French Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac once wrote:
Suffering is the thread
from which the stuff of joy is woven.
Never will the optimist know joy.
Commenting on this profound insight
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said:
Those seem like strange words,
especially for Americans.
We Americans take progress as an article of faith.
And faith in progress demands a spirit of optimism.
But Father de Lubac knew
that optimism and hope are very different creatures.
In real life, bad things happen.
Progress is not assured,
and things that claim to be “progress”
can sometimes be wicked and murderous instead.
We can slip backward as a nation
just as easily as we can advance.
This is why optimism—
and all the political slogans that go with it—
are so often a cheat.
Real hope and real joy are precious.
They have a price.
They emerge from the experience of suffering,
which is made noble and given meaning
by faith in a loving God.

Joy—it has been said—
is the infallible sign of the presence of God.  (cf. L. Bloy)
It’s that divine presence
which we seek in moments of suffering and sorrow.
It’s that divine presence
which we’ll celebrate at Christmas.
It’s that divine presence
which is the miracle of this Eucharist.
In the face of tragedy,
may it yet give us cause for rejoicing.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


"Last Sunday, John the Baptist appeared, barreling down like a spiritual steamroller: 'Prepare the way of the Lord!  Make straight his paths!'  One week later, we might ask ourselves how well we have heeded his warning, how well our inner road crew has done.  Have we leveled the mountains of our pride?  Have we filled up the low places where love has started to sag?  Have we knocked down our forest of superfluous commitments or burned the brush and scrub of our thousand entangling distractions?  In a word, have we managed to clear a space in our lives for Christ to come and abide?  Probably not too well.  What a strange surprise, then, on this Gaudete Sunday when the Church insists that we rejoice.  'The Lord is near!' the antiphon says, and the prophet Zephaniah calls out, 'Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!  The Lord, your God, is in your midst!'  We rejoice today that Christ does not wait until we're ready--if he did, he'd surely never come.  The baptism of John was only water, a garden hose against our hearts of stone.  But Jesus happily comes as one mightier than John.  He comes in burning fire, blazing his path and blasting us open to place his Holy Spirit within our melted hearts."
                                                                                    Anthony Giambrone, OP