Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christ Our Light

Nativity (detail), Correggio, 1530

Someone asked me recently what my favorite memory of Christmas was. I had to stop and think, because there’s so many to choose from – memories of Christmases with family and friends, memories of heading off bundled up for Midnight Mass, memories of all the special sounds and smells and tastes of the season, memories of the joy of being a kid on Christmas morning knowing that Santa had come.

As special as all of those are, however, I answered with a memory that is much more recent. A few years back, when I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land during the Christmas break. On a cold Christmas morning, we priests and seminarians celebrated the Mass at Dawn – the very Mass we are celebrating now – on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, close to the place where Jesus once multiplied the loaves and fishes. Just as we began Mass, the sky began to soften and brighten a bit, and as the Gospel was read – this same Gospel that the deacon just proclaimed – the first rays of the dawn appeared over the hills across the sea. Soon, the whole outdoor chapel where we were celebrating Mass was illuminated by the rising sun, and the warmth of its rays shone upon us.

I suppose the memory of that Mass has stayed with me because it helped make clear for me one of the important ideas about Christmas: that at Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the Light of the world. In fact, since the early days of the Church, Christians have used this image of light to help explain for themselves the mystery of this feast. For example, it’s the symbol of Christ as Light that permeates all of the ancient antiphons and chants, all of the old collects and hymns. The earliest Christians used light as the most fitting image of what Jesus meant for them – that in the newness of the Christ child, the light of God has shone forth in humanity. No longer are we just wretched sinners – our very nature has been redeemed by the fact that God has become one of us. In that sense, Jesus’s birth is a radiant dawn for all of us, because the splendor of eternal light is now something that we too can bask in.

The same thing can be seen in the great works of Christian art. If you look at the masters of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, whenever they painted the Christmas event, they didn’t use any external source of light, like a moon or a fire or a lamp. Rather, the light for the scene comes from Jesus himself. Mary and Joseph and the animals in the stable are all themselves illuminated by the babe in the manger, for he is the source of light.

If we recall this image, of Christ as Light, of his birth as the Dawn of our salvation, then I think we are able to remember two important things about Christmas Day:

1) If Jesus is the light, then he has come to illumine our darkness. Recall the words of Isaiah, a people in darkness have seen a great light. We are those people. We have seen the light, and yet, as we know, so often the darkness around us remains. Perhaps we feel distant from God, perhaps we have fallen out of the practice of prayer, perhaps we are dismayed at the terrible things we see in the news or in the loss of a loved one whose light has passed beyond this world. Into every darkness we have, Jesus the Light promises to light our way. Into every valley of shadow of death, the dawning of the Sun of Justice will shine forth. His coming once as a child in the manger of Bethlehem is but the promise of his final coming, in glory and majesty, when he will set all things right.

2) The light of Christ is manifold. It is meant to be shared. For us who have dwelt in darkness, and have now been illuminated by his light, we should shine forth to be light for others. Slowly, slowly, the darkness around us will fade the more that we seek to let the light of Christ shine forth through us. Like the shepherds, who heard from the angels the Good News of our salvation, the lives of others can be radically changed, radically saved, if only they be led by us to encounter that one who is our light, the Prince of Peace who awaits us.

It is that reason – that Jesus has come for us, to embrace us with his love – that Christmas is too important to be celebrated merely once a year. I think that is the heart of what I realized that morning in Galilee a few years ago. With each sunrise, we must again remind ourselves that Christ our Light has come into the world, to shine upon our path, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And with the dawning of every new day, we must again convince ourselves of the importance of not only remaining in his light but of guiding others to encounter it.

So whatever we do this Christmas – whatever gifts we receive, whatever delicacies we eat, and more importantly whatever joys we are glorying in and whatever pains and sorrows we are enduring – let’s make this Christmas truly memorable – memorable not because of those things, but because of who it is that we welcome once again. Let us strive to encounter again today, and every new day, whatever our daily circumstances, the radiance of the light of the newborn Christ. Let us allow him, today and every day, to illumine again our minds and hearts, to let his light shine forth in our deeds, so that the Son of God on high, the radiant dawn, the morning star, the splendor of light eternal, will make known his salvation to all the world.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jesus Our King

Hans Memling, Christ Surrounded by Musician Angels (detail), 1480s

Here is my homily for the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Today the Church celebrates its last feast of the liturgical year – the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe. Kingship and kingly imagery is perhaps not something that we’re very familiar with in this day and age and in this part of the world – perhaps it feels to us as though it belongs more to another place and time, faraway from 21st century America. 
And yet, it is for that reason that this idea of the kingship of Christ is all the more important for us. In the medieval mindset, the king was much more than a ruler or a monarch. He was – or was intended to be – an image of the ideal man, the one chosen by God to rule in his own place, the one who was divinely appointed to be the very definition of life for his subjects. The king was the everyman, the advocate of all, the servant of all.
And yet, as we know, earthly kings very often fell far short of such a standard. Earthly kingship came to be corrupted by self-interest, greed, and ultimately exploitation and subjugation of the very people the king had been charged to serve. Kings and monarchical rule are precisely what our founding fathers sought to flee, because their image of them had been so corrupted as to become nothing other than a negative one. 
In Jesus, however, we see a different image of kingship – indeed, in the Gospel reading today, we see the image of the true king of the universe. Christianity, as you know, is full of paradoxes, and perhaps there is none greater than to claim that a man who is broken, bleeding, and suffering a humiliatingly public death is our king, the king of our hearts and the king of the universe.
And yet that’s precisely what we do say. We make that claim with conviction and with pride and with faith, because we know that for our king, the Cross is not a defeat, it is indeed the battlefield of his greatest victory, it is his very throne. On the Cross, our king reveals for us just how far removed he is from earthly kings – from self-interest, greed, exploitation and subjugation. This Jesus – who Paul tells us is the very image of the invisible God, the one through whom and for whom all things were created, through whom all things hold together – now suffers for us the ignoble death that is the result of our sins. He proves with the very shedding of his blood how he is our advocate, how he has come to fulfill the divine purpose of saving us from our mortal enemy of sin.
“He saved others, let him save himself”, sneered the crowd. With the eyes of faith, we know that Jesus could have come down from that cross; he could have chosen to show all who were watching in that moment the fullness of his glory. And yet Jesus chose not to save himself, because his work of saving others was not yet complete. He saves the repentant thief, to whom he gives the promise of paradise. And he saves the whole world, you and I and all who believe in him by faith, we who would have no salvation if not for that bloody Cross. Jesus suffered death that we might share the glory that he now has, the glorious Resurrection that lasts forever. 
Jesus is indeed our king, and now he reigns forever in glory. His kingdom is not of this world, as we know, and so his kingship does not mean we will not avoid sufferings and pains in the here and now; yet, on the Cross he shows us how we can bear those with hope, with the firm faith that we are working out our own salvation, that we are drawing ever closer to sharing in his glorious kingdom. 
Jesus, our King, on the throne of his Cross, knew the name of each and every one of us, and he died for us purposefully, willingly, with great love. Now he reigns forever in glory, inviting by name each of us to share in his kingly majesty. In a few moments, he will humble himself again, coming before us in the form of bread and wine, nourishing us with his very life so that we might endure the present and march onward to our final victory. Let us choose again today, in a purposeful way, to answer the call of our king, to respond to the grace he gives to us by choosing to be again his loyal subject. Let us strive to live out now the defining marks of his kingship, his Cross and his Resurrection, now so that when he returns in glory we might have a share in his final victory, “to be with our king forever in Paradise.”

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Solemnity of All Saints

It's coincidence, I guess, that the subject of this post is very similar to that of the one immediately prior to it. Or maybe not -- maybe it's Providence. Below is my homily for All Saints' Day:

When you hear the word “saint”, who comes to mind? Maybe someone who lived a long time ago, like Augustine or Athanasius. Maybe someone who founded a religious order, like Benedict or Francis. Maybe someone who lived a life of intense prayer, like Catherine or Teresa. Maybe someone who did amazing, even heroic things like Mother Theresa or John Paul II or Maximilian Kolbe. In short, when we hear the word “saint,” we think of all sorts of people – everyone, that is, but ourselves.

Now, to be sure, we are not saints – not as we are currently. We are not in heaven, we are not experiencing the glorious beatific vision, of beholding God face to face. But we are called to be saints, as our readings today tell us very clearly. The first reading from Revelation speaks of “a great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue”. So, if they were from all types of backgrounds, what was the common link between them? We hear “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress, and have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

If we think that’s intended to describe someone other than you and me, we’re mistaken. Yes, it means the martyrs and the bishops and the nuns, all those holy men and women. But we too hope to share in their company. All of us, by virtue of our baptism, have a share in the death of Christ – we have been washed in his blood. By that fact, so too are we called to share in his inheritance, to take, by the grace of God, our place in the Communion of Saints.

Today we celebrate all of our brothers and sisters who have attained that goal. We ask for their spiritual assistance and intercession, and we look to them as models and inspirations to holiness. But we should also see in them a promise of what we ourselves can be, indeed are called to be, if we endure the time of trial and distress, if we cling to the grace we have in Christ. As St. Augustine said, “Why could we not be so holy?”

So, the next time you think of the saints in heaven, imagine yourself as one of them – and then live here on earth so that you can make it a reality.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Jerome and Therese: the Vocation to Holiness

I'm a big fan of fall. The trees change color, the weather gets cooler and crisper, and football season returns, albeit with sometimes unhappy results. (Am I right, Hog fans?)

In the liturgical year, I find that fall also brings the feast days of many of my favorite saints, including St. Francis of Assisi (October 4), the North American Martyrs (October 19), St. Albert the Great (November 15), and St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30). Two of the most interesting saints of this season have their feast days back to back: St. Jerome on September 30 and St. Therese of the Child Jesus on October 1. I always find it fascinating that these two saints are found next to each other on the calendar, because you probably could not find two saints who were more different.

 Caravaggio, St. Jerome Writing (c. 1605)

St. Jerome was a 4th century scholar and priest, known principally to the wider world for his masterful translation of the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament into Latin, which we call the Vulgate. He's the patron saint of archaeologists, Biblical scholars and students. Disillusioned by the opulence and temptations of Rome, he became a hermit and lived in a cave in Bethlehem near where Christ was born. He was also a bit of a curmudgeon, know for his brusque temperament and famous arguments with leading contemporaries of his day, including other saints. His wrote extensively, commenting on the Scriptures and warning of the dangers of the modern world (i.e. in the 4th century), and is honored as both a Church Father and a Doctor of the Church.

St. Therese, in contrast, was a young woman from rural France who lived, to eyes of the world, a fairly unremarkable life. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux and served her community in various capacities. At 24, she died of tuberculosis. However, the plainness of Therese's external life concealed the amazing richness of a deep interior spirituality. Her desire to love profoundly, especially through sacrifice and simplicity of life, gave rise to "the little way" of holiness, which has inspired millions. She is arguably the most popular saint of the last two centuries, and in 1997, was named only the 33rd Doctor of the Church.

Photograph of Therese in the summer of 1896

What can we learn from these two great saints? They were very different in nearly every way, except one: they chose to prefer the love of Christ to everything else. The proximity of the feast days of Jerome and Therese on the Church's calendar reminds us that there is not just one way to holiness. Whether scholarly or simplistic, passionate or mystical, curmudgeonly or compassionate, all of us without exception are called to holiness. This necessarily entails suffering, because through suffering, we are able to be purified of what keeps us far from God, and so grow closer to him. Jerome and Therese both suffered greatly in their lives, in very different ways; but rather shirk from these sufferings, they saw them as the primary way they were being prepared for heaven.

The vastly different lives of Jerome and Therese remind us that the Body of Christ has room for every kind of background, personality, and talent, if we use them for a singular purpose: to glorify God and love our fellow man. I have had the fortune to visit both the small town in France where Therese is interred and the cave in Bethlehem where Jerome wrote. I continue to draw great inspiration from both of them, and I ask them for their intercession to help me to live a life of holiness. We are all called to holiness: something that is never outdated, never impossible, and -- true enough -- never easy. But it is what our Lord calls us to, and it is very much worth it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Greatness of the Cross

The Cross as the Tree of Life (detail of the Apse of the Basilica of Saint Clement, Rome)

Many people who do not share our faith in Jesus marvel at how Christians honor the cross. Why, they think, would we honor such a terrible reminder of our history? The cross is a symbol of that horrific means of execution used for both Jesus and countless others. Some modern comedians have even made jokes to this effect: Surely Jesus is not pleased that his followers honor him with the very thing used to put him to death?

St. Andrew of Crete provides us with the answer to these kinds of questions in a sermon used in today's Office of Readings. On this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, as he explains, we remember that Jesus knowingly and willingly accepted the cross not just as his means of death but as our way to eternal life. With him, and with Christians throughout history, let us say, "Hail to the Cross, our only hope ... grant increase of grace to believers, and remove the sins of the guilty."

We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.
Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross,life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, There would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.
Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honorable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation - very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.
The cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as his his triumph. We recognize it as the cup he longed to drink and the climax of the sufferings he endured for our sake. As to the cross being Christ’s glory, listen to his words: Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified, and God will glorify him at once. And again: Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world came to be. And once more: “Father, glorify your name”. Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again”. Here he speaks of the glory that would accrue to him through the cross. And if you would understand that the cross is Christ’s triumph, hear what he himself also said: When I am lifted up, then I will draw all men to myself. Now you can see that the cross is Christ’s glory and triumph.
- St. Andrew of Crete (Oratio 10 in Exaltatione sanctae crucis: PG 97, 1018-1019, 1022-23)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day Messages

Trussing Hay (1850), Jean-François Millet

There are few things in our lives as Catholics that are not colored by our faith in Christ. Indeed, one could argue that the whole idea of faith, as a theological virtue, is that it helps us see everything in a different way than the person without faith.

One example of this that we sometimes overlook is the value of human work. On this Labor Day, when much of our country is just glad to get some time off, the Church also encourages us to reflect upon what significance and meaning our work has. Yes, work can at times be burdensome or boring, but the very act of work itself reflects our dignity as creatures of God. Those who are out of work, or who could use more work, know how vital work is for our self-fulfillment as individuals. By giving us the ability to work, God enables us to continue the perfection of his work, creation. Through our labors, we can work for peace and justice and strive to build the kingdom of God for the world as a whole and for every individual. This is especially true when we consider our work as broader than simply a job or means of employment but as all of the things we spend our time doing.

As disciples of Christ, our work can also have a salvific quality. By accepting our labors as a participation in the labors (and, at times, sufferings) of Christ, and living them out in prophetic witness to the Good News we have received, work can be a way to greater holiness. Work becomes not just what we do, but part of who we are, part of the mission God has given to each of us. St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei and 20th century saint, wrote often about this idea. For your reflection on this Labor Day, here are some passages from his book Furrow which might be helpful for you. Happy Labor Day, everyone!

For those who think their work is too humble and not prestigious enough:  
"Before God, no occupation is in itself great or small. Everything gains the value of the Love with which it is done" (Furrow, 487).
For those working in the home: 
"You are writing to me in the kitchen, by the stove. . . . By your side, your younger sister--the last one to discover the divine folly of living her Christian vocation to the full--is peeling potatoes. To all appearances--you think--her work is the same as before. And yet, what a difference there is! It is true: before she only peeled potatoes, now, she is sanctifying herself peeling potatoes" (498; original italics). 
For those who need a push:  
"Obstacles? Sometimes they may be present, but at times you just invent them out of cowardice or love of comfort. How cleverly the devil makes those excuses for not working look plausible! He knows full well that sloth is the mother of all vices" (505). 
"You are put off by difficulties, and you shrink back. Do you know what characterizes your behavior? Nothing but comfort, comfort, and more comfort. You had said that you were ready to wear yourself out, unstintingly, yet you still seem to be at the level of an apprentice to heroism. It is time to act with more maturity" (521). 
For those of us taking time off this weekend:  
"Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals, and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job" (514, in part). 
For students: 
"It is easier to bustle about than to study, but it is also less effective" (524). 
"If you know that study is apostolate, but limit yourself to studying just enough to get by, it is clear that your interior life is going badly" (525). 
"One has to study--to gain the world and conquer it for God. Then we can raise the level of our efforts: we can try to turn the work we do into an encounter with the Lord and the foundation to support those who will follow our way in the future. In this way, study will become prayer" (526, in part).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why Is Mary Important? The Meaning of the Assumption

The Assumption of the Virgin (1476), Francesco Botticini

On August 15 of every year, Catholics commemorate the Solemnity of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation and one of the great Marian feasts of the year. The following is my homily for the Masses this year:

As part of my summer reading this year, I’ve recently been making my way through a history of the Second Vatican Council. As you may know, it’s been 50 years since Vatican II, and I’ve been interested to learn more about the deliberations that led to the documents we now have.

The Council considered a whole variety of topics – the liturgy, the Church, the priesthood, bishops, the laity, relations between Christians and non-Christians, religious freedom, the modern world, and many more. One of the topics considered was Mary. In fact, during the second session of the Council, there was a big debate between the cardinals and bishops about whether they should craft a separate document just about Mary, or whether she should be treated in a special chapter within the document about the Church.

What they ultimately decided – they went with the second option – is not as important as the fact that they had the discussion. As Catholics, we place great importance on Mary, just like the Orthodox and some Protestants do. But why is that? Why was a young Jewish woman who lived in a backwoods town two millennia ago the subject of debate and discussion by hundreds cardinals and bishops in the modern day? Why is Mary so important for us?

Of course, it has to do with who her Son was, who Jesus is. As our Savior, Jesus has forged a New Covenant between mankind and God. As his Mother, Mary is the instrument by which God chose to bring his Son into the world. In the first reading we heard about the ark of the Lord, that great vessel which the Israelites carried, which bore the Ten Commandments and Moses’ staff and some manna. The Israelites revered it greatly, because they saw it to be the symbol of God’s abiding presence in their midst. Mary is sometimes called the ark of the new covenant, for it is she who bore God into the world, so that in Jesus, God would be not merely in the midst of his people but one of them, like us in all things but sin.

Just as the Israelites honored the ark of the Lord because of what it contained, we honor Mary because of who she gave us. She welcomed Jesus at the Annunciation, she gave birth to him at Christmas, she raised and formed him. But on the Solemnity of the Assumption every year, we honor Mary not only for what she did for Jesus, but for what Jesus did for her. We recall that it is our firm belief as Catholics that at the close of her life, God assumed Mary to himself – he took her to heaven, soul AND body. Because she was without sin, because she had been the vessel by which God had given us our salvation, God preserved her from any stain of corruption or decay and welcomed her wholly to heaven.

As the bishops and the cardinals who were at the Vatican Council knew, Mary is indeed important for all of us who are in the Church – not merely for what she once did, as great as that was, but for what she still can do and does for us who wish to follow Jesus. By the faith and virtue of her life, and by the power of her intercession, Mary always points us to Jesus. Today, though we also see how, in the Solemnity of the Assumption, Jesus points us to Mary. In what he did for Mary at the close of her life, Jesus gives a preview and a promise of what he will do for all who live their lives in communion with God’s will. Our Savior has given us a powerful ally in our struggles for holiness, a friend and a mother who will not fail to be there for us. Let us turn to her in all of our needs, that she will be our guide and companion on our journey through this life, so that at the close of our days, we might share in the same glory that she now enjoys.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Real "Miracle" of the Miraculous Priest Story

Have you been following this story? Over the last week or so, first among Catholic news services, and then in the national media as well, people have been speculating as to the identity of the mystery priest in Missouri. As described here, apparently a woman was in a serious car accident in that state and was trapped in the wreckage. Rescue workers attended to her, attempting to extricate her, but without much success. Soon, her vital signs began to fail. Around the same time, a priest appeared who prayed with the woman, anointed her, and then left. The emergency personnel were subsequently able to free the woman, and when they turned around to thank the priest, he was not to be found.

Several things about the incident seemed to suggest a supernatural explanation. For one, the highway was blocked for a quarter mile or so in both directions, and no one rememebered walking up or walking away. Descriptions of the priest's words and of his appearance varied from person to person, and despite the dozens of photographs that were taken at the scene, none contained a picture of him. Beginning with the woman and her family, words like "angel" began to be tossed around. Days passed and the speculation increased. Some believed that it was a holy priest who was able to bilocate from some other location to be present in the moment of need. Others thought it could have been an apparition of a long-dead priest who was invoked through prayer. Some even said there was no priest at all, but merely some spiritual (or hysterical) experience shared by all present.

Then, this morning, the flesh-and-blood priest who was at the scene came forward. He was born in Ireland, is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, and was returning from celebrating Mass in a nearby town, filling in for another priest. While certainly the priest was doing the Lord's work -- his presence brought calm to the situation, he administered the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing to the young woman, and his prayers very likely aided her rescue -- the true story seems fairly commonplace, even plain, when compared to the hypotheses of ghosts and guardian angels.

Viktor Vasnetsov, Eucharist (1911)

And yet, for precisely that reason, this story is even more important for us. Why? Because this kind of thing happens every day. Every hour of every day people are in dire situations -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- and it is to them that Jesus the Savior comes. In and through his priests, he meets them sacramentally, forgiving their sins, comforting them in their pain and fear, or feeding them with his own Body and Blood. Miraculous stories of mysterious priests catch our attention, but how attentive are we to the true miraculous mysteries that are present among us each and every day? What greater miracles do we have or do we need than the sacraments, where we encounter Christ and his grace in a real and unmistakable way?

The mystery priest may no longer be a mystery, but in a sense, we should be all the more grateful at the way the story turned out. Nothing overly miraculous or amazing happened -- but, precisely for that reason, we were reminded again of the amazing miracles that God performs among us each and every day and to which we are so often blind. Through prayer, through the guidance of his ministers, and especially in and through the transformative power of the sacraments, God is working real miracles. Are we paying attention?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Eyewitnesses of His Majesty"

The Transfiguration (1594) by Lodovico Carracci

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration, the memorial of when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a high mountain to show them the reality of his divinity. This event is not only recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels, but is also explicitly mentioned by Peter in his Second Letter. The Church uses the following excerpt as its Second Reading for today's liturgy:

We did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you
the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received honor and glory from God the Father
when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory,
"This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven
while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.
You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Pt 1:16-19)

Note the change Peter has undergone: from the disciple who had been "overcome by sleep" (Lk 9:32) and who "did not know what he was saying" (Lk 9:33) to the Prince of the Apostles who unmistakably declares his faith in Christ's divinity and declares himself to be an "eyewitness" of the event which proved it. It's almost hard to believe it's the same man! And yet, that's what the gift of faith does. It changes and transforms us. It enables us to apprehend mysteries which are beyond human understanding and to glimpse glories which we will only truly grasp in heaven. Indeed, faith gives us a preview, a foretaste of heaven itself, an "assurance of things hoped for" (Heb 11:1) not from our own reason or experience but from the inner certainty given by the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

For Peter, the Transfiguration event was a first glimpse of that glory which imbued this Jesus whom he followed. The glorious events to come -- the passion, death, and resurrection -- would be all the more remarkable for their contrast. And yet, as Peter would come to understand, such was the depth of God's love to allow him (and us) a partaking in Jesus's divine glory, a share in his inheritance, a participation in his Son-ship.

Today's feast is yet another opportunity to ask ourselves: How have I been changed by my faith? Does it guide and illumine my path in such a way that I declare myself to be an "eyewitness of his majesty" for others? Do I trust in God's Providence even when times are troubled and my path is darkened? The gift of faith comes from above yet it is one to which we must "be attentive... as to a lamp shining in a dark place," until that last and final Day dawns and we see the Morning Star rising and returning to us.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My First Anniversary

On Sunday, July 21st, I celebrated my first anniversary of priestly ordination. Obviously, such an occasion brings opportunity for much reflection and thanksgiving. As is often the case on a priest's first anniversary, it occurred on a Sunday, and so it was special to spend the day with the people whom I serve, celebrating four Masses over the weekend at I.C. My parents, Robert and Evelyn, also joined me for a few hours and it was great to see and spend some time with them.

When asked if I have any advice on my first anniversary, I'm not sure that I do. It's been a year of many wonderful blessings, as well as a few challenges. I find myself recalling and praying again a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas that I put on the back of my ordination holy card: Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, perseverance in faithfully waiting for you, and a confidence of finally embracing you. 

Sometimes folks ask me if priesthood is what I expected it to be, and I have to say yes, because my expectations were pretty straightforward. I expected to work hard and to be of service in all kinds of ways that I would not have imagined nor have felt prepared for in advance. And that has proved to be true! What I had not expected, and what I am very grateful for, is that the meaning and fulfillment that I have found in that service is greater than I could have imagined it would be, as is the outpouring of kindness and love from the faithful. As such, I'm very grateful for what God has given me this first year and what he has allowed me to give to others, despite my own faults and shortcomings. Please pray that I may be of faithful service for many more years to come!

Here are pictures of some of the highlights from my first year as a priest. It's not an exhaustive list, by any means.

The 2012 Class of the Pontifical North American College. (May 2012)

The Laying on of Hands during my ordination. (July 21, 2012)

Being vested in the stole and chasuble by Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, my former pastor and the priest who baptized me.

After the ordination, with the seminarians from my home parish of Christ the King Church 
in Little Rock.

Before my first Mass, with concelebrating priests, at Christ the King. (July 22, 2012)

During my language study in Mexico, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. (September 2012)

Visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan. (October 2012)

Sampling a local Mexican delicacy chapulines, grasshoppers grilled with spices and chili powder. (October 2012)

With my teacher Elvia on the last day of class. (October 2012)

The family at Thanksgiving (minus my brother, who's taking the picture).

Celebrating the wedding Mass of some dear friends in Baltimore. (December 2012)

Celebrating my first Easter Vigil, in Spanish nonetheless. (March 2013)

Celebrating with my brother his graduation from philosophy studies. (May 2012)

With my parents on my first anniversary.

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has chosen this week as Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, with this year's theme being "Pro-Woman, Pro-Man, Pro-Child: Natural Family Planning." This annual effort is a chance for Catholics (and all persons) to consider the positive benefits of NFP in comparison to the harmful effects of many contraceptives.

For those unfamiliar, the Catholic Church teaches that couples should plan their families naturally, whether they are seeking to achieve pregnancy or avoid it for the present. Artificial means of family planning, whether contraception or IVF, are morally wrong because they disrupt the natural and essential (and divinely given) bond between sexual intercourse and the possibility of new life. And that's not even to mention the extremely damaging side effects that many chemical and hormonal contraceptives can have on a woman's body and on the environment in general. Many persons from varying religions are finding that NFP is a safe, green, and extremely effective way of achieving or avoiding pregnancy. There are various methods and various groups which teach them, but the point of all of them is to observe and track the natural indicators of a woman's fertility. With advances in modern science, it's far removed from the old "rhythm method" -- and indeed, if practiced correctly, NFP is as effective if not more so than the most effective contraception. And perhaps best of all, many married couples are finding that the increased communication and (short) periods of abstinence that NFP entails strengthen their relationship, increase mutual cooperation, and enhance their own love for each other.

For more information, check out the USCCB's website for the week. There you can find some good articles, testimonials from couples who use NFP and their reasons why, as well as more on the reasons for the Church's teaching on family planning. If you're interested in learning NFP, check out this website. And if you want to learn more about why contraception is harmful, go here and here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

And We're Back!

It's been two and a half years since I let this blog lapse, and obviously a lot has happened in the meantime. Recently, our parish's Communications Director approached me and said, "Listen, we're thinking about having the pastor and you keep a blog..." And I said, "Hey, I know a little about those..."

So, rather than create something completely new, I thought it'd be wise to bring this baby back from the dead. I had to let it lapse for a variety of reasons, mostly time constraints, and for my old readers, much has changed in my personal life. I finished seminary and am now a priest for the Diocese of Little Rock, ordained last summer and currently assigned in Fort Smith, AR. I'm happy to be the parochial vicar (associate pastor) of Immaculate Conception Church as well as the administrator and chaplain of Trinity Junior High School.

For my new friends, note that this blog was originally started to keep friends and family up-to-date on my experiences while living and studying in Rome. Hopefully you'll agree that this brings a nice sense of continuity (albeit delayed and with lacunae) between time past and time present. Old friends can see what I'm up to now, and new friends can see some of what I used to do in seminary. And who knows? Maybe I can even find some time to fill in some of the gaps.

That's it for now. Time will tell what this space is used for, but certainly I welcome (as a high school teacher used to say) any "questions, comments, or cries of anguish." God bless!