Overhead in the Office, Part 2

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I was sitting in the common space of my company enjoying my lunch when I realized that one of the other departments was going to have a potluck. Before they began to eat, the leader of the department stood and, this being a Christian company, announced that he would say a “quick prayer” before they ate. That’s not the first time I have heard prayer preceded by the adjective “quick.” I’ve even heard pastors and priests qualify the kind of prayer they would pray as “quick” and it’s almost always before eating.

What does that say about prayer, about us, and about how we view prayer before we eat? It reminds of those days when I was in public school and knew I should pray before I ate my lunch, but felt embarrassed, so I would feign dropping something and would pray on the way down and back up. Even now, working in a largely other-Christian than Catholic company, I am hesitant to make the sign of the Cross before I return thanks for my food.

Many years ago I was part of a newish church plant that had just merged with another church and we were learning the “older” church’s ways of doing things. That particular Sunday I was asked to read Scripture. Before the service the worship planner was walking us through the order and he announced that after I read the Scripture, he would pray a “quick” prayer so I could get off the stage and the preacher could take his place. That day prayer served as a scenery change!

So, when it comes down to it, the quick prayer could be for several reasons: 1) we’re really hungry, but we know that it wouldn’t be right to dig in without at least mouthing some gratitude; 2) It’s a carry over from those days of embarrassment of returning thanks in public, so we’ll get it done as quickly as possible; or 3) It’s nothing more than a perfunctory ritual that we do in order to stay in God’s good graces; and maybe most likely 4) We have so much to eat that we have lost the deep sense of gratefulness for what we have been given.

I love to see what our spiritual forebears have said about prayer in these situations. I found a good source of their wisdom in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I highly recommend it to you. In the section entitled “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” in paragraph 2828 we read:

“Give us”: The trust of children who look to their Father for everything is beautiful. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). He gives to all the living “their food in due season.” (Psalm 104:27). Jesus teaches us this petition, because it glorifies our Father by acknowledging how good he is, beyond all goodness.

Paragraph 2829 continues:

“Give us” also expresses the covenant. We are his and he is ours, for our sake. But this “us” also recognizes him as the Father of all men and we pray to him for them all, in solidarity with their needs and sufferings.

And finally in paragraph 2830 we read:

“Our bread”: The Father who gives us life cannot but give us the nourishment life requires—all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father’s providence (cf. Matthew 6:25–34). He is not inviting us to idleness (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13), but wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation. Such is the filial surrender of the children of God:

To those who seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he has promised to give all else besides. Since everything indeed belongs to God, he who possesses God wants for nothing, if he himself is not found wanting before God (St. Cyprian).

Mealtime Prayer:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bless us Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

We give thanks for all your benefits, almighty God, who lives and reigns forever.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Overhead in the Office, Part 2

Happy Epiphany!

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It was a cold winter day forty-five years ago today in Jonesboro, Indiana. I donned a white robe and headed to the baptistry located behind the choir loft just below the stained-glass window at Westview Wesleyan Church. I was 17 years old and I was finally going to be baptized!

Reverend Carlos Fletcher became my pastor during those critical high school years and asked me if I had ever been baptized. I told him that I hadn’t and true to his conviction and nature said, “We have to take care of that!” So at the beginning of the second semester of my senior year in high school I was baptized into the Christian faith.

Looking back I recognize that this was not just a ceremony, but an true incorporation into the life of Christ. A few months later I responded to a definite call on my life to pursue a missionary vocation. I shared this recently when my wife and I were interviewed on “The Journey Home” and I consider this a turning point in my spiritual life. You can see that interview here.

Historically, Epiphany celebrated four things: Jesus’ nativity, the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Each of these events is a special manifestation of Jesus Christ to humanity. In the Latin Church we typically focus on the visit of the Three Kings which symbolizes the revelation of Jesus Christ as a light to the Gentile nations and as the Savior born for all of mankind.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light

We Three Kings, verse 5, written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857.

Collect for the Epiphany of the Lord
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

 

Happy Epiphany!

Confession at the Shrine

I’m standing in line for confession at the Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia. John Neumann was Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852-1860 and is the first American Bishop to be canonized (1977).

As I prepare for my first confession in five weeks I sense the need for the graces I will receive through this sacrament. I am thankful that I can leave my sins in the confessional and receive the absolution from the priest in persona Christi.

At the beginning of 2019 I feel like I am carrying not only the weight of my own sins, but of those who seem to be struggling to offer the faithful guidance we need in a time unlike any we have ever lived. It’s easy for me to cry “foul” as I observe key church leaders, but fail to hold myself accountable for my failure to love and live in truth.

The priest heard my confession, absolved my sins in the person of Christ, and for my penance told me to reflect on Psalm 51.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:15, 17 RSV).

Prayer to Saint John Neumann:

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I will offer my services to my sisters and brothers. Every time I meet one of them I will treat as I would the Lord Himself! St. John Neumann, help me to see my need for conversion all the days of my life, through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.

Confession at the Shrine

What’s in a Name?

Several years ago I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in a department store in midtown Manhattan. I was “on line” to check out. The cashiers were doing their best is accommodate the customers and get them on their way. Suddenly, one of the cashiers on seeing her manager approach cried out: “O Jesus, we’ve been waiting for you! I’m so glad you came!”

I stood there somewhat surprised by what I had heard. It sounded like an Advent/Christmas message wrapped up in two sentences. I quickly realized that Jesus had probably been born Jesús and that the English pronunciation of his name instead of Spanish sounded out of place in the retail setting. Yet Jesus, Jesús, Jésus, Gesú, Иисус, 耶穌, Ιησούς or אלוהים is not just any name, but as Christians declare that “name above all names!” (Philippians 2:9). There really is a lot in this name!

The angel told Mary, “And behold. you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31 RSV). And then in a dream the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b–21 RSV).

Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus would have been officially named on the eighth day after his birth at the time of his circumcision. His name, Jesus, means “God saves.” This is what the angel told Joseph: “for he will save his people from their sins.” Again and again in the New Testament we see salvation tied to the name of Jesus.

  • Acts 2:38—And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Acts 3:6—But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.”
  • Acts 4:12—”And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • Philippians 2:9–11—Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Collect for The Most Holy Name of Jesus

O God, who founded the salvation of the human race
on the Incarnation of your Word,
give your peoples the mercy they implore,
so that all may know there is no other name to be invoked
but the Name of your Only Begotten Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What’s in a Name?

And Yes! It’s Still Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Yes! It’s still Christmas—the sixth day of Christmas! There has been Christmas chatter since before Halloween if you think commercially, or since the day after Thanksgiving if you think musically on secular and pop Christian radio stations. But for me and my house (Charlotte and I), Christmas began at midnight going from December 24 to 25 with the procession of the midnight Mass. And we continue to celebrate especially during the Christmas Octave that goes from December 25 through January 1.

What a liturgical lineup the Church has given us in this Christmas season!

December 25: The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 26: The Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr
December 27: The Feast of Saint John, apostle and evangelist
December 28: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
December 29: The Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr
December 30: The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
December 31: The Feast of Saint Sylvester I, pope (314–335)
January 1: The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

All of this came together for me as I was reading the final entries in A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living, compiled by Mike Aquilina. (If you were given any Amazon gift cards this would be a great addition to your library, especially if you’ve only dabbled in the Church Fathers.) The reading I refer to came from Day 359 and is entitled “Honoring the saints goes back to the Apostles.” It is written by Saint Basil and is taken from Letter 360.

According to the blameless Christian faith which comes to us from God, I confess and hold that I believe in one God, the Father almighty: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I adore and worship one God, the Trinity.

I confess the incarnation of the Son in the flesh, and that St. Mary, who gave birth of him according to the flesh, was Mother of God.

I also acknowledge the holy Apostles, prophets, and martyrs, and I invoke them to pray to God, so that through them—that is, through their mediation—God who is merciful may show me favor, and a ransom may be made and given to me for my sins.

For that reason I also honor and kiss the faces of their images, since they have been handed down from the holy Apostles, and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.—St. Basil, Letter 360, (A.D. 329–379).

St. Basil is honored as a saint by all expressions of Christianity and he is considered a doctor of the Church. He was writing his letters at the same time that the New Testament canon was being determined by the Catholic Church.

In this Christmastide, give thanks for the Incarnation, give thanks for the Apostles, prophets and martyrs and join with the historic Church and St. Basil in invoking them to pray to God for us.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

And Yes! It’s Still Christmas!

The Holy Innocents

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One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible comes to us during the Octave of Christmas. Jesus is born in Bethlehem during the reign of Herod the Great. He is not a legitimate heir to the Jewish throne; he’s not even fully Jewish. He has been placed on the throne by the Roman emperor as payback for his support of Rome. And with all that he is very possessive of his throne and will do anything to keep himself in power, including killing his favorite wife and his son, his heir apparent.

So when magi come from the east and ask about the newborn King of the Jews, Herod and all his palace are obviously upset. Herod will do anything to wipe out this rival to his power. A little palace intrigue has him declaring his desire to pay homage to the infant king and asking the magi to report back to him so he can do just that. Whether they were wise to Herod before or totally relied on the dream from God, they didn’t return to Herod, so Herod had to take drastic measures. Drastic for us, but not for him, it actually fit right into his “modus operandi.” He ordered all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two to be slaughtered, determining the age of the new king by when the magi saw the star announcing his birth.

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi” (Matthew 2:16 NABRE).

The work of art by Leon Cogniet depicted above captures the agony of one mother who will surely lose her son to Herod’s marauding henchmen. It’s hard to say how many baby boys lost their lives, but many place the number around 20 based on the size of Bethlehem at that time. For each son and his family this was a tragic loss. Down through history these baby boys have been considered martyrs for the cause of Christ. Today’s collect in the Mass has us praying this way:

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in you which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The plan to exterminate the Christ Child was bigger than something hatched up by Herod. It was a diabolical plan from the pits of hell to squash the eternal plan of salvation by taking out the One who was born to be Savior. Jesus found refuge in Egypt and at the appointed time willingly gave His life for our redemption. Thanks be to God!

The Holy Innocents

Stepping back into the Sepia of Nostalgia

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I spent the final days of Advent, Christmas, and the first two days in Christmastide in my old stomping grounds. It was familiar territory, but it had the feeling of stepping out of life in “living color” into a portrait of sepia tones.

Stepping back into an old familiar place tends to do that. You never truly can go back. Going back 35 years means that more than landmarks have changed; people have passed on (as I discovered in the local cemetery); and most importantly I have changed. When I left with my young family, young myself (26), I had no real clue what I was doing and where it would all lead.

Our life thereafter took us to another state, two foreign countries, New York City, and finally, South Jersey. Now our children are grown, there are nine grandchildren, and my wife and I are truly enjoying this stage of our life together.

On top of the usual changes that a married couple experiences over 40 years, a major change came into our lives about three years ago. As meaningful as our lives had been and as fulfilling as our ministry had been, we found ourselves following God’s leading into a new expression and dimension of faith. The sepia tones of faith and experience that occasionally flashed with color, shifted dramatically to the multi-colored tones of historic Christianity.

Even daily existence is punctuated with the joy of partaking of the Holy Eucharist early before the day begins. The prayers of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours join me to the men and women who have gone before and who now join me in prayer from heaven. Advent is more than a time of Christmas preparation, but a time to prepare my heart to celebrate the birth of our King and my soul for His Second Coming in glory.

I’m heading home today—back to the routine of life—but with the certainty that a little baby came and our lives are forever changed. Today’s Gospel reading on this feast day of St. John the Beloved reminds us of his encounter with the truth that brings us life.

Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed. (John 20:8 NABRE)

Christmas is more than a nostalgic trip, something I tried to make it for many years. Today it is a glorious reality. We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.

Stepping back into the Sepia of Nostalgia