Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Conscience?





The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' recent ruling on "conscience protections" (or better, the lack thereof) in private health plans has caused a lot of concerned chatter in American Catholic circles for the swipe it takes at both the First Amendment and our moral values as a Church.




You know that something pretty serious is up when you read similar reactions from commentators at both the Wall Street Journal and Crisis Magazine.  Each of these articles (neither of them too long) are well worth your time.

But if time is short, then just watch this brief clip from my friend, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, to get the lowdown.

And--whatever you do--call or email your elected representatives in Congress to let them know what you think.

Get informed...and involved!

St. John Bosco








"How much God has done through us!" the ever humble St. John Bosco (1815-1888) used to say.  "But how much more he would have done if my faith had been stronger."





Setting a high bar for himself (and the rest of us), this tireless priest and friend of youth was also of the opinion: "Let us work now; in heaven, we shall have rest.  How can I be idle while the devil is working?  I did not become a priest in order to take care of my health. Anyone who dies from overwork will attract hundreds to fill his place."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

For Goodness' Sake

Without a doubt, the first time I've cited Bart Simpson in a homily...

   Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

There are some catchphrases
that just seem to spread like wildfire—
or, better yet, to infect our way of speaking like a virus.
Slogans are picked up from advertisements, movies, music,
and once they take hold, they seem to hang on—
even if we forget where they came from.
 “Here’s looking at you, kid,” comes to us from…Casablanca.
 “I’ll be back,” from…the Terminator.
 “Good grief!” from…Charlie Brown.
 “Don’t have a cow, man!” from…Bart Simpson.


One catchphrase that I’ve heard quite a lot in recent years—
although no one seems to know where it came from—
is, “It’s all good.”
You hear it all over the place.
“It’s all good.”
It sounds nice—very encouraging and optimistic.
The sentiment aims to keep you smiling in the face of any difficulty.
“It’s all good.”

But the trouble is…it’s not.

You don’t have to look very long or very far
to see that it’s not all good.
Sickness and pain are not good.
Death and despair are not good.
Poverty and hunger are not good.
Selfishness and wrath are not good.
Oh, some good can be and often is drawn out from any of these…
…but, no—they aren’t good in and of themselves.
It’s not all good out there in the world,
and it’s not all good here in this sinner’s heart,
and it can be downright dangerous to try and fool ourselves
into thinking otherwise.

Ruins of the Synagogue in Capernaum

Jesus’ encounter with the unclean spirit
in the synagogue at Capernaum
is just one of many episodes in his life and ministry
where he confronts the not-goodness in the world.
And if driving out evil was such an essential part
of what Jesus came to do among us and for us,
then how do we propose to carry on that same battle today?

English author C. S. Lewis—
who returned to the Christian faith in middle age—put it this way:
Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is.
Christianity is the story 
of how the rightful king has landed,
you might say landed in disguise,
and is calling us all to take part 
in a great campaign of sabotage. 
When you go to church you are really listening-in
to the secret wireless [communications]* 
from our friends:
that is why the enemy is so anxious 
to prevent us from going.
He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness
and intellectual snobbery.
I know someone will ask me,
‘Do you really mean, at this time of day,
to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’
Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know.
And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns.
But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.
I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance.
If anybody really wants to know him better
I would say to that person. ‘Don’t worry.
If you really want to, you will.
Whether you’ll like it when you do
is another question.’  (Mere Christianity)



Now, to think of evil only in terms of devils and demons
does tend to keep the whole matter at a respectable distance.
And the evil, the not-goodness, with which we’re more familiar
is of a rather less-overtly-diabolical sort:
the personal evils of greed and of lust,
the societal evils of discrimination and of apathy,
of warfare and famine, addiction and disease.



“The devil made me do it”
can seem a rather too convenient excuse for these or any other ill.
But I don’t suspect the Son of God
would have wasted so much time and effort
facing off with a mere figment of our imaginations.
As was once so wisely observed:
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled
was convincing the world he didn’t exist.  (cf. C. Baudelaire)

Much like certain catchphrases eventually spread far and wide,
we human beings have long understood
that contact with the bad can infect the good—
that one rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch.  (cf. B. Stoffregen)
A fear of uncleanness, of becoming spiritually defiled,
preoccupied the Jewish religious leadership of Jesus’ times.
But it clearly didn’t preoccupy Jesus.
Notice how he reacts in this Sunday’s gospel.
In the synagogue—a holy place—
and on the Sabbath—a holy day—
an unclean spirit dares to enter and to speak.
But Jesus does not flee—just as he won’t flee
from the lepers or the prostitutes or the caskets of the dead.
Jesus isn’t worried that he’ll catch a fatal case of evil.
No—Jesus knows that his goodness is even more contagious.
He is the Holy One of God, and his holiness rubs off.
The miracles and exorcisms of Jesus
not only challenge the laws of nature, but the laws of society
which tend to keep the sick and the sinner safely at arm’s length.
Jesus, instead, keeps reaching out to the outcast, the untaouchables,
and pulling them back in.

The people of Capernaum recognized
a particular power, a particular authority in Jesus:
his words matched his actions;
what he said came to pass.
He would not be controlled or intimidated by the unclean spirit—
or anything else, for that matter.
It should be likewise for us who follow him.
We do not have to be controlled by the forces of evil—
whether they emerge from within us or without.
Like Jesus, we can—we must—take firm command,
for he has shared his power, his authority, with his Church.
Before ascending to the Father, Jesus tells the Eleven:
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mk 16:17-18)
Do we really believe this?
Are we ready to rely totally on Christ’s divine authority
rather than any human power?
Do we trust that, by staying in close contact with Jesus,
we can catch a strong case of the all-goodness of the Holy One of God?
Yes, the devil is real…
…but that should be no cause for anxiety.
By his own dying and rising,
Christ has conquered him once and for all…
…it’s just that evil has a terrible time admitting defeat.

It’s claimed that Helen Keller once wrote,
It is wonderful how much time
good people spend fighting the devil.
If they would only expend the same amount of energy
loving their fellow men,
the devil would die in his own tracks of [boredom].**
How true!
If, then, in Jesus, God was sneaking behind enemy lines
(behind the lines, I might add, of a particularly sneaky enemy),
then maybe our best plan of attack is not to charge in head on.
Is not the work of sabotage best accomplished through the back door?
So let us combat the evil found around and within us
by increasing the amount of goodness there
until that day when, at last, we can truthfully say,
“It’s all good.”

*I added "communications " to the Lewis passage 
since "wireless" means something rather different now 
than it did when written back in 1952.

**The quote credited to Keller actually says "ennui,"
which is a really great word...just not used much in these parts.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Goldiblogger

Earlier this week, without any fanfare, this not quite 7-month-old blog passed its 5,000th visit.  (Not too bad for a small town priest sharing a few scattered ideas, if I do say so myself.)  To mark the milestone, I put on a lovely new T-shirt I got for Christmas...


...only to discover it contained a secret message, revealed when I saw it reflected in the mirror:


I think this blogging business suits me just right!

Thanks for visiting...and come back soon!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Outdoors, In God


I'm pretty sure I was 18 when I first read Walden and entered into my most fervent "outdoorsy" phase...so I was both chuckling and deeply touched when I read this during my morning meditation:

Only the person who contemplates the beauty of nature in God and is accustomed to regard it as his voice, his sphere, the mirror of his countenance, can, even in his mature years, experience nature as naïvely and ecstatically as in his eighteenth year, without a drop of melancholy.
--Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar

I think I hear the woods calling...

I heard it on NPR

This seems particularly appropriate on today's feast of the patron saint of journalists...but let me just warn you: if you're not a total NPR junkie (like me), then don't even bother, because you probably won't find it the least bit funny.  I--on the other hand--think this is absolutely hysterical!  (Please don't be alarmed by the title.)

St. Francis de Sales







Ever both practical and wise, 
the gentle bishop St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
once advised: 
"Each Christian needs 
half an hour of prayer each day, 
except when we are busy; 
then we need an hour."

The Power of Words

This may be an advertisement...but it still shares an important truth.



Choose your words wisely.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Widow's Weeds

How cold was it?

It was so cold in Chasm Falls this morning (still -1º F when I got there a little after 8:00am), that when I picked up the Book of the Gospels from the altar, it felt noticeably frosty in my hands...and when I'd finished reading the Gospel, I was worried my lips might stick as I kissed the page.












Stay warm!

Ordinary?

What we consider to be "ordinary" has a tendency to change with the times, doesn't it?

Once upon a time, the ordinary way to get around was on foot, maybe on horseback. Nowadays, we think nothing of getting in the car to go to the other end of the block. Once upon a time, the ordinary way to make a call was to use the telephone down at the corner store--the one the whole neighborhood used. Now most of us carry a cellphone in our pocket. (Sometimes, one in each pocket!)

39 years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision which legalized abortion in this country. Since then, it's become a fairly commonplace procedure--one which has resulted in more than 50 million innocent human lives ended before even having a chance to be born. But let us never, ever come to think of this as something "ordinary." Let us recommit ourselves to working and praying together for an end to abortion and all its tragic causes.

   Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

Pondering the greatness of God, a man once asked,
“What is a thousand years like for you, God?”
“Oh,” said God, “for me a thousand years is like…one second.”
“Hmm,” thought the man.
“So, God, what’s a million dollars like for you?”
“Well,” said God, “for me a million dollars is like…a penny.”
Hmm,” thought the man
“Then, God, could you spare a penny?”
“Sure,” said God.  “In just a second.” 

Time.
It’s certainly a central theme of our readings this Sunday:
Forty days, says Jonah, and Nineveh shall be destroyed;
I tell you, writes Paul, the time is running out;
This, announces Jesus, is the time of fulfillment.

It’s long been a human hobby
to mark and record time.
Various cultures have developed calendars
based on the natural cycles
of the sun and the moon.
We measure time with units
from millennia down to milliseconds.
And as careful as we are to keep track of time,
we nonetheless relish
breaking the regular rhythm of things
both with public holidays
and private anniversaries.

It should come as no surprise, then,
that the Church has a calendar of her own.
At its center is Sunday—the Lord’s Day—
a day to be kept holy,
according to the Third Commandment.
Early Christians adopted the Jewish week of seven days,
transferring their Sabbath rest to the week’s first day—
gathering for Eucharist on the day of Christ’s resurrection.
(In case you didn’t know,
in the Jewish tradition
a new day doesn’t begin at midnight,
but at sunset;
that’s why you can go to Sunday Mass 
late on Saturday afternoon!)

Not only does every week
begin with a special observance,
but two principal annual feasts
arose rather quickly:
first Easter and then Christmas,
each one growing to include 
a season of preparation beforehand
and a season of ongoing celebration to follow.

That covers 18-19 weeks.
But what distinguishes the rest of the year?

Once upon a time, the period we’re in right now
was known as the Sundays after Epiphany.
Before Lent begins, we keep basking in the light of Christmas
as its great mystery continues to unfold:
the Word became flesh and dwells among us still,
even as we await his return in glory.
And also once upon a time, the summer and autumn months
were known as the Sundays after Pentecost.
Until the start of Advent, we keep attending to the work of the Spirit
and looking forward to our own resurrection—
all the while, the risen Christ remaining with us,
as he promised, to the end of the age.

But since 1970, these in-between times have been renamed:
in Latin, the tempus per annum—literally, “time through the year,”
and in English usually rendered as Ordinary Time.

That word, ordinary, can be a little problematic.
In popular usage, to describe something as ordinary
means that it’s regular or plain, uninteresting—
maybe even tedious and dull.
(Just try telling a lady, “You look very ordinary today,”
and you’ll see what I mean.)
That could give the impression
that these 33-34 weeks—the bulk of the year—
are basically unimportant:
a boring lull between the fasting and feasting of other seasons.

As you might well guess:
nothing could be farther from the truth.

The “ordinary” in Ordinary Time
doesn’t mean “common” time,
but “numbered” or “counted” time;
we might do better to call it Well-Ordered Time.
This may not be a period for focusing in
on a particular episode from the life of Jesus
or a certain aspect of the mystery of our salvation,
but this is time for looking at the big picture
and making sure everything is progressing as it should.

So the Church wears green during this well-ordered time.
The color of orchards and forests, of gardens and grass,
green is the color of growth,
the color of hope—especially for us living here with cold and snow.
Ordinary Time is a time for us to mature—
to come out of the deserts of Advent and Lent,
to come down from the mountains of Christmas and Easter,
and to graze heartily in the level, green pastures of the Lord.


You can lead a horse to water,
but you can’t make it drink.
And God can put us in lush meadows,
but he can’t make us eat.
As a member of the Lord’s flock,
what am I doing to feed my faith
during these weeks of Ordinary Time?
Are my heart and mind already filled up with junk food?
Or are they starving for lack of nourishment?
As with our bodies, so with our souls:
they can’t grow or be strong without a regular, healthy diet—
not to mention the exercise of putting our faith into daily practice.

As he did with the fishermen Simon and Andrew, James and John:
Jesus calls us away from what the world considers “ordinary.”
This is the time of fulfillment, he says.
Repent and believe in the gospel.
We mustn’t wait
for some extraordinary occasion—
to find some “greener pasture.”
Jesus echoes the prophet Jonah:
now is the time to repent,
to change the things in our lives
that most need changing.
And now is the time to believe:
not as some sort of mental exercise
or purely emotional affair
but, as St. Paul encourages,
to make faith spring into action—
yes, in how we think and how we feel,
but even more in our words and our deeds.
If we choose to follow Jesus,
then we no longer belong
to this passing world;
we belong to the eternal Kingdom of God,
and that Kingdom challenges us
to leave the old behind
and live in an entirely new way.

I suspect that we human beings
are so careful about measuring time
because we know it’s a limited resource:
we can never be sure just how much of it we’ve got,
and yet we know that, with every moment, we have less.
With the strength this Eucharist gives,
let’s make sure our time is well-ordered.
With Christ, none of it can ever—really—be ordinary…
…and we haven’t a second to spare.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Model Child

What a cute kid...and inspiring story...

                                   
                                         

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St. Anthony of Egypt

The St. Anthony commemorated today isn't the one who helps us find our lost things.  That St. Anthony (of Padua) is most generally depicted holding a lily in one hand and the Child Jesus in the other; this St. Anthony...well...depictions of him tend to be a bit more colorful.  We generally either see him being "tempted" (attacked?) by a motley crew of rather fantastical demons...


...or with...a pig.


Yup: he's usually got a little piggy peeking out from under his robes or hot on his heels.  Whence his constant porcine companion?  Well, that's a little complicated...

Around the age of 20, Anthony (251-356) sold his property and gave away his inheritance, opting for the life of a hermit in the desert wilderness.  In this solitude he wrestled with the devil (hence the first picture), attracted numerous admirers and disciples (earning him the title "Father of Monks"), and gained a reputation for healing the sick...which leads us to porky.


It seems that Anthony--even from heaven--proved particularly adept at healing those with skin diseases.  And, once upon a time, certain skin diseases were treated with--are you ready?--applications of pork fat to reduce itching and inflammation.  (Maybe Lady Gag was onto something with that--yuck!--infamous meat dress.)






Anyway...this connection between cures and cured meat began to be depicted in art by means of a little porker snuggled up close to good St. Anthony.  Of course, they could have just shown him with a box of this very creative addition to your medicine cabinet...

Who knew?  Bacon has its very own patron saint.  And being a poor, (likely vegetarian) desert hermit, he probably never even touched the stuff.


Making Tracks



A belated Christmas visit from my dear friend Michelle got me out XC skiing in the new snow midday yesterday.  What a treat!

We checked out the trails at the Malone Fish And Game Club, which were wonderfully groomed and well marked.

It was much warmer than the -12 degrees F of the night before...but the wind was a bit more brisk than I had bargained for, hence my red ears.

As to the red on my chin: that's just my "winter coat."  (For those who only generally see me online, I started that little project on Christmas Day.)

Thanks to Michelle for sending me these photos!  (I'm still amazed how you can take such good shots without ever loosing your stride.)


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Come & See

Wherever Jesus is staying, I hope it's warm. Brrrrrr...it's sure cold out there!

   Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

“What would you like?”
That’s a common enough question, isn’t it?
In fact, I find that I ask it fairly often of Fr. Stitt around the rectory—
usually in the kitchen.
“What would you like?”
His frequent answer: “World peace and Christian unity.”
And I was expecting something simple like,
“A cup of coffee,” or, “A little more meatloaf”!

What would you like?
Lots and lots of people are expressing
their big-picture, long-range desires at this time of year.
Turns out that Fr. Stitt isn’t the only one looking for Christian unity;
next Wednesday is the start
of the 104th annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Also quite dear to Fr. Stitt’s heart,
that’s hot on the heals of the National Vocations Awareness Week.
Which directly coincided this year with National Migration Week.
Of course, tomorrow we have a holiday
commemorating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
challenging us all to work for an end to racism and bigotry.
Then a week from Monday, on the sad anniversary
of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade,
we’re asked to pray and do penance for an end to abortion.
And in the midst of all these important January observances,
a quick look through my email inbox
reveals messages drawing my attention  
to the dangers of “fracking” for natural gas,
to clergy sexual abuse, to bullying, to homelessness,
and to the tragedy human trafficking.
So very many causes worthy of our time and attention!

What would you like?
A dangerous question, indeed!
Beyond wanting just another glass of orange juice,
the list goes on and on and on…


In the gospel,
two disciples who heard John the Baptist
begin to follow Jesus.
So Jesus turns and asks them,
“What are you looking for?”
Or, to put it another way,
What do you want?  What would you like?
A deceptively simple question!
And they give a deceptively simple reply:
“Rabbi, where are you staying?”
They wouldn’t be following if they believed Jesus
to just be one more teacher like all the rest…
…so they’re probably not looking
for a private tour of his accommodations.
Show us—they’re asking—the place where you dwell,
show us where you can be found—
where we can get near to you,
where we can remain and abide with you.
“Come,” Jesus responds, “and you will see.”
Which could, I suppose, mean, “Come and check out my really cool pad!”
But it more likely means,
Come to where I dwell—come to dwell with me—
and I’ll open your eyes so that you can truly see—
see me and see everything else in my light.

Especially during the current, seemingly endless presidential campaign,
when the candidates’ religious convictions—along with so much else—
are carefully scrutinized and repeatedly picked apart,
we can begin to think that being a person of faith
is essentially about espousing a long list of important causes.
But notice that the invitation extended by Jesus
is not to come and sign a petition,
not to come and join a movement,
not to come and rally for change.
No, Jesus says, “Come and see. 
Come and stay awhile. 
Come and get close to me.”

The late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador—
who was himself, in fact, killed for his efforts
in defense of human rights—
once said in a sermon,

How I would like to engrave this great idea 
on each one’s heart: 
Christianity is not a collection 
of truths to be believed,
of laws to be obeyed, 
or prohibitions. 
That makes it very distasteful. 
Christianity is a person, 
one who loved us so much,
one who calls for our love. 
Christianity is Christ.  (November 6, 1977)

That our Catholic faith is centered on a person—
not an idea, not on a moral code, not even on a sacred book—
makes our approach to everything else so very different.
To be pro-life, or to be concerned about the environment,
or to build bridges between people of different cultures
is virtuous and noble in and of itself.
But it’s not enough for us to be good humanitarians;
our motivation must be truly Christian.
We must look at things through the eyes of faith—
and, seen through the eyes of faith,
the sweatshop worker, the unborn child,
the family without clean water, the immigrant without health care:
these are not problems to be solved, but people to be loved;
they’re not “issues” deserving of our attention,
but Jesus…in disguise.  (cf. Catholic Relief Services)

When we’re ready to right a wrong we’ve perceived
and climb atop our soapbox,
it’s wise of us to ask, Is this what God wants?
The answer is something best discovered sooner than later.  (cf. P. Cameron)
But we must not forget that, in Christ, God has also asked us,
What do you want?  What would you like? 
What are you looking for?
Certainly, we keep answering with our personal needs.
And certainly, we keep rattling off that long list of requests
on behalf of the whole human race.
But before we express our desire for world peace and Christian unity,
let’s take a cue from those very first disciples and remember to ask,
Where, Lord, are you staying?
Where can I get near to you?
Where can I find you in the midst of the world?
in the midst of my daily life?

Come—Jesus still says—
come to me in the Sacraments and the Scriptures;
come to me in the life of my Church;
come to me in its outreach to hurting, troubled people;
come and you will find me;
come and you will see.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Memory Lane




Blogging to you from a snowy Plattsburgh today, were an afternoon walk through the back fields and woods of Dad's farm took me right through some childhood haunts.  Just me, the falling snow, and a flock of fat turkeys (who were too shy to appear on camera).





Monday, January 9, 2012

He Doth Protest

I received this email from a parishioner yesterday:
Hope this finds you well. I wanted to share with you a dinner conversation we had tonight. My parents were over and they told us a cute story about my nephew. He was one of your "protesters" at Christmas Eve Mass. (The tall blonde holding the sign to stop fleecing our shepards). Sorry we missed it, we went to Mass Sunday morning. He was very interested and influenced by what you had to say in your homily. Afterwards, he asked my brother and sister-in-law a lot of questions about protests and why people participate in them. Over his vacation, he decided that he needed to start a protest at his school. Apparently, the lunch room monitor doesn't let the children talk while they are having lunch and he didn't think this was fair. He discussed it with a few of his friends and they agreed. So, he started a petition and got four pages of signatures. (He had wanted to picket outside of school, but his parents advised against it.) He took the petition to his principal and she agreed with him. They are now able to have conversations during lunch. (This is basically how the story goes--hopefully my parents have all the details correct.) Anyway, life's lessons learned by a nine-year-old.
What a hoot!  Maybe it's easier to start a revolution than I thought...

Refreshing

Not quite the same as getting out there yourself, but a mighty fine substitute for those times you need to get out but can't leave your desk.



What a beautiful corner of the world God has given me to live in!

Arachis Classicis

...at least that's the best I could come up with for "Classic Peanuts" in lingua Latina.  (Just don't call my old Latin professor!)


For Latin lovers out there, the comments have been amusing.

Speaking of language issues...I'm realizing "Latin lovers" can mean more than one thing without even being translated...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

This Little Light

And now, back to un-Christmasing the rectory.  Sigh...

   The Epiphany of the Lord   

Malone Catholic Parishes Priests' Residence
Notre Dame Rectory, Malone
It’s been a Christmas custom for some time—
a tradition, I guess you could call it—
to have candles in the windows 
of the priests’ residence in Malone.
That’s a whole lot of windows,
which means a whole lot of candles.
And since we don’t have a butler
to go around and light 
all those wicks each evening,
for years that’s also meant 
a whole lot of extension cords
and a whole lot of timers.
What looked so lovely to all those passing by
was kind of scary looking 
to those of us who called the place home.


The "Over-Achiever"
So this year, I decided to take advantage
of the wonders of modern technology:
battery operated candles with built-in timers.
They’re the best!
They come on for six hours at the same time each night.
So promptly at 4:00 one Friday in mid-December,
we turned them on and set them on the window sills.
Then we got up on Saturday morning,
and out of the sixty candles
scattered all over the three floors of that big, old house,
there was this one…
I’ve named it “The Over-Achiever.”
Further testing proved: it won’t shut off—ever!

Today’s feast of the Lord’s Epiphany is a feast of light.
What we celebrate is the radiance,
not of a candle, not even of a star,
but a light of revelation:
that God’s love for both the poor and the powerful,
for the people of Israel and Gentiles alike,
has been made manifest in Jesus Christ.
We see this in the visit of the magi:
these star-led strangers from the East who,
unlike the (presumably) Jewish shepherds
we encountered back at Christmas,
were not from among God’s chosen people.
But we also see it in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River,
when the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends,
and the voice of the Father is heard.
We see it at Cana, at a wedding feast,
when—as his first public miracle—Jesus changes water into wine.
We see it, in fact, throughout his ministry.
We see it in Jesus’ Passion and Cross.
We see it—above all—in his Resurrection from the dead.
And we continue to see it in the Scriptures,
in the Sacraments, and in the life of his Church.
Over and over again, God’s love for us is revealed,
his presence is made manifest,
shining out like a beacon in the night.

The three shining co-stars of this morning's Epiphany Pageant
at St. John Bosco Church in Malone
Which makes me think of this candle.
The mystery we celebrate at Christmas—
that God has come in human flesh to dwell right here among us—
is not something limited to a few weeks around the turn of the year.
Like this candle, it’s something we should never shut off.
We are to continually make God’s presence manifest
like that star over Bethlehem:
to keep leading people to Jesus.
And not just the obvious ones, either;
we need to reach out to those from outside the usual circle.
You see, the gift that Jesus most desires
is not a coffer rich with gold,
not a temple filled with clouds of incense,
not a funeral fragrant with myrrh,
but that which these precious offerings represent:
what Jesus wants are hearts that are bowed in homage,
a great number of souls laid prostrate at his feet—
the gift Jesus most wants is you and me.
Like the magi gathered before the child cradled in Mary’s arms,
we who gather at the altar Sunday after Sunday, season after season,
should be overjoyed at seeing his light and finding him.
Just think: how much joy it must bring to Christ
when we lead others to seek and find him here, too!

In the next few days,
I’ll carefully label this candle as “The Over-Achiever,”
and then pack it away with all the others,
their nightly glow shut off till next December.
But let’s be sure not to tuck away the heart of this holy season
right along with our Christmas decorations.
All year long, we are called to give flesh
to the great mystery of God born as man in Bethlehem,
of heaven’s light and love made manifest on the earth.

               
                Crèche at St. Helen's Church in Chasm Falls


As good stewards of God’s grace,
strive to make your whole life 
an epiphany of the Lord—
a revelation of his continuing presence among us.
Let your light shine!  
Let it always shine!
Let it shine during the winter, 
and during the summer, too.
Let it shine in the night, 
and all throughout the day.
Let it shine close to Jesus, 
giving glory to God,
and so lead others 
to seek, find, and adore him.




Saturday, January 7, 2012

Twelfth Night

On the 12th Day of Christmas the parish staff gave to me...a really big pile of dirty dishes!



Some shrapnel (now all cleaned up) from last night's staff Christmas Party.  Only four courses...just 23 of us for dinner...and, clearly, a good time was had by all.  (Sadly, I didn't take a single shot of the tables before we sat down to eat.  They were lovely!)  Many, many thanks to my Mom and Mother Stitt for coming to help!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Feeling Elfish

So...last night--thanks to the generosity of my brother and sister-in-law and the persistence of Fr. Stitt--I finally watched the Christmas movie "classic" Elf.  (Now you know how I spent my New Years Eve.)  And, yes, I very much enjoyed it!

But I didn't ever suspect it would have this sort of effect on me...leave alone on the Bishop.  I didn't know he could move like that!  (He, he, he...  Thanks, Eileen!)

Again: Happy New Year!

Substantial

It's much, much funnier coming straight from Mr. Colbert, so be sure to watch the clip.
Happy New Year, everybody!

   The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God   

In the very first hours of this New Year,
it seems only appropriate to invoke the wisdom
of one of America’s most well-respected thinkers: Stephen Colbert.

For those of you who don’t stay up that late,
Mr. Colbert hosts a satirical news program
on the Comedy Central TV network.
In the midst of his many antics,
he makes no secret of the fact that he’s a practicing Roman Catholic.
In fact, given his Catholic faith,
he claims that viewers look up to him as the “Pope of Basic Cable.”

So it should come as no surprise
that Colbert has had some rather humorous commentary
on the new English translation of the Mass.
On his show just about a month ago,
he had this to say about the changes he’d seen in church on Sunday:
Get a load of these so-called improvements.
The new Nicene Creed,
the seventeen-hundred-year-old profession
of what all Catholics must believe,
has been tweaked. 
It no longer describes Jesus
as the—understandable—“one in being with the Father,”
but as, “consubstantial with the Father.” 
Really?  Consubstantial?  What the [heck] does that mean?
We’re trying to get into heaven here, not take the SATs. 
And for the record: Consubstantial is now Istanbul.
Consubstantial.
If there’s one word that sticks in the craw of American Catholics—
even those who have otherwise been quite accepting
of the changes in the Mass—
it seems to be that one.
I’ve watched many of you make funny faces
during the Profession of Faith,
and not a few of you have asked me the very same question
raised on The Colbert Report: What the heck does that mean?

While the word “consubstantial” is not found in the Bible,
the belief which underlies it most certainly is.
And while it may seem new to us, it’s anything but:
the word has been used by Christians since the year 325
when the original text of the Nicene Creed was adopted.
The big question at the time was,
Who is Jesus, really?  How is he related to the Father?
What does it mean to call Jesus the Son of God?
This may seem like a very theoretical question—
something best left to be hashed out by the experts.
But believers at large began to take sides,
and the debate moved into the streets—
where it went from being just heated to genuinely violent.
With not only of the unity of the Church
but the stability of the empire at stake,
the emperor Constantine stepped in
and called together all the bishops of the realm to settle the matter.
Even after the final decision of the Council of Nicea,
the battles—fought with both words and weapons—
raged on for decades.


You see, some had been teaching that Jesus the Son
was only similar to the Father—
and, therefore, not exactly equal to God.
Just this past Friday, a well-intentioned young man—
taking note of my age, I can only presume—
asked, “So…are you a full-fledged priest?”
As if I could somehow be one by halves!
But neither can Jesus be God by halves.
If Jesus isn’t really and truly and fully divine,
well—there are a number of serious consequences.
Not only would it make this and every Mass
a complete waste of time,
but if Jesus is not God, and only God can save me,
then I am not saved—I remain stuck in my sin:
destined for death, destined for hell.
It’s hard to think of a much bigger deal than that!

So the Fathers of the Church saw the need to be very precise
in speaking about the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Unlike human fathers and sons,
we’re not dealing with two separate beings
who share a common gene pool, or are very much likeminded,
or are even united by strong bonds of love.
The Father and the Son—and the Holy Spirit, too—
share the same substance.
They are more than “similar,” more than “practically alike.”
They have a common essence—
that deepest, truest part of something which makes it what it is.
God the Father is eternal, all-holy, and almighty…and so is the Son.
The Greek word for this idea is homoousios.
(And you thought “consubstantial” was bad!)
The Latin text of the Creed states that Jesus is consubstantiálem Patri.
To profess that Christ is consubstantial with the Father—
that the Son is of the same substance as the Father—
is to say that he, too, is God—
not merely God-like,
and not a second God, but one and the same.
The Father and the Son are not simply “one in being,” but one Being.

As Stephen Colbert went on to point out,
[W]ith these weird new changes [at Mass],
now when I’m sitting in the pew,
I have to stop and actually think about what I’m saying
instead of mindlessly reciting words
while playing [games] on my iPhone.
Belief in one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
in three persons in one divine Being—
is the central, foundational mystery of the Christian faith.

Continuing in this holy season of Christmas,
today we celebrate the motherhood of Mary.
Saint Paul reminds us that
when the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman,…
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
And thus we realize that one newly translated word in the Creed
does not only make us more attentive at Mass,
nor just encourage us to get better educated about our Catholic faith.
What we say about Jesus affects what we believe about Jesus,
and what we believe about Jesus
affects what we believe about ourselves.
Note that we do not simply refer to Mary
as the “mother of Jesus”—the mother of a man.
According to ancient tradition,
we call her—and rightly so—the Mother of God.
Likewise, affirming that the child
who was incarnate of the Virgin Mary
is indeed true God from true God
means that we, too, can rightly call God, “Abba, Father!”
What Jesus is by nature, we have become by adoption:
children of God and heirs of his kingdom.
From all eternity, the Only Begotten Son
has been consubstantial with God the Father;
but from the moment he was conceived in Mary’s womb,
that divine Son has also been consubstantial with us.


So…is “consubstantial” a technical term?  You betcha.
A tongue twister?  Without a doubt.
Tricky both to spell and to understand?  Absolutely.
Consubstantial is clearly an unusual word—
one we don’t use for anything else.
But as it attempts to describe Someone
who is not like anyone or anything else,
it provides us with a small (if imperfect) window
into the very nature of God
and the promise of salvation held out to us
in that infant found lying in a manger
who is Son of God and Son of Mary.