Bear the full weight of the sorrow

The following is taken from Michael Voris at Church Militant. It is a beautiful and powerful reminder of our call to join “Mother and Son” in the season of Lent.

As Lent gets fully underway now, faithful Catholics have one duty: prayer and fasting for Holy Mother Church.

The Church is undergoing a passion the likes of which She has never undergone in Her sacred history, and that is really saying something. Centuries of persecution at the hand of the Caesars, heresy from bishops, schism by large bodies of believers, apostasy by whole nations.

But those various wounds occurred at times largely mutually exclusive of each other, at least on a universal scale. Today, each of these blows is being inflicted on Our Lord’s mystical body at the same time.

And it is the hour of Judas, for this passion has been brought about directly by the hand of the Apostles’ successors.

When Our Blessed Lord miraculously changed the water into wine at Cana, at the petition of His Holy Mother, He could have simply just miraculously filled the jars with wine immediately — He did not need for water to be there first.

However, He desired that water first be brought. It was man’s effort He wanted. And it would have been a difficult undertaking because in the absence of plumbing, the servants had to go to the well in Cana multiple times and fill up and bring it back to the wedding feast. It would have been exhausting work.

Only then, after man had done all we could do, did Our Lord then crown the labor of man with the miraculous. God desires that we exhaust ourselves in preparation for His divine intervention. We work, we toil, we labor and we hand it over to our divine savior for Him to bring forth the grace.

When Our Blessed Mother stood at the foot of the Cross, She underwent a passion that no one else in history ever would, or would even be capable of.

Pain is not objective. Its severity is completely dependent on the bearer. As She stood and watched the effects of sin, the consequences of all our moral failings and vice and wickedness, She bore in Her Immaculate Soul the severest of agony.

Truly were Simeon’s words fulfilled: “And a sword thine own heart shall pierce.” Precisely because She was sinless and the model of all purity — precisely because of this — the ugliness and darkness of sin to Her would have been crushing.

She who was unaccustomed to the horror of sin now had to bear in Her soul the full weight of beholding Her own Son be crushed under its weight.

And since the unity shared between Her and Him — the New Adam and the New Eve, bone of the same bone and flesh of the same flesh — it is impossible that any could ever endure what She bore standing there.

And there in the midst of the agony, the passion of God, She submitted making the supreme sacrifice to Heaven, for what else could She ever offer that would surpass Her handing over of the Son to the Father? At that instant, She ceased to be just the mother of Jesus, and She became the mother of the Church.

This is why Our Lord, from His Cross, calls Her “Woman” in reference to St. John, but calls Her mother to St. John.

She is the woman of Genesis whose role in salvation history, ordained by God the Father from all eternity, was to first give birth to the physical body of Christ and then to give birth to His Mystical body — represented by St. John.

Saint John did not require an earthly mother. His own was standing right beside him on Calvary, as the gospels relate.

But he did require a heavenly mother, and as he stood there representing the Church, sharing in the passion, he was given a heavenly mother. Our Lord decreed from the Cross that Mary would be taken care of on earth by His beloved disciple, and He also decreed that the Church would be taken care of on earth by Her motherly love.

This is why He calls Her by two different references, both “Woman” and “Mother,” but John is at both references, son. This transfer of care, this entrusting of the Church into the hands of His holy mother sets the example for us.

She was given the exalted position of care for souls precisely because of Her agony and sacrifice. The greater the pain, the greater the gain.

This Lent, with the Church not just in passion, but complete agony, let us be like the servants filling the jars — exhausting ourselves. Let us hurt and sacrifice to the fullest extent we can as our mother did on Calvary and present our pains to Heaven.

Sunday will come. And as St. John was the first to reach the tomb, let us be active in preparing for the sprint. We — us, the Church — must endure this current agony. There is no way around it, over it or under it.

We must stand and endure it, suffer it; but the suffering is not in vain.

It is borne for the love of souls, for unity with Christ on the Cross, led by and comforted with the knowledge that our mother passed this way as well.

We are Her sons. She is our mother. Our shared passion is the path to the resurrection.

Bear the full weight of the sorrow

Does Genesis give us hope?

Not a day goes by that there is not some mention of global warming or climate change. Some refer to it in derision or jest while others accept it as “gospel” truth. Honestly, I don’t know one way or the other. I’m certain there are fluctuations in temperatures over a period of time, but I’m not on the “let’s build an ark” as the seas are rising team. For my Millennial and younger readers, if you’re still with me, I grew up in a period of “global cooling!” Yes, especially after two dangerously destructive winters in 1977 and 1978, the science said we were headed for a new glacial age. If you doubt me here is the first paragraph from Wikipedia on the subject of “global cooling.”

Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth‘s surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciationPress reports at the time did not accurately reflect the full scope of the debate in the scientific literature.[1] The current scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth underwent global warming throughout the 20th century and continues to warm.[2]

My steady response to anything posted in the news or even from the scientific community is a definitive “Well, we’ll see!” Yesterday they forecast snow for today. I said “Well, we’ll see!” Today it’s snowing! A true forecast now gives them slightly above 50 percent accuracy over the long haul.

Other conjectures are still waiting confirmation. But this morning I served as lector at the 6:45 Mass and the first reading was from Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22. This is the account of Noah in the ark waiting for the water from the flood to recede and allow him and his family to escape from their floating zoo. You may be familiar with the story: Noah releases a raven, then a dove, that returns because there is no place to land, then again and the dove returns with a plucked-off olive leaf, and finally a third time and the dove does not return. Noah and his family and all the animals leave the ark. Noah rejoices that he can escape the stench of the ark and put his feet on solid ground. He offers a sacrifice that pleases the Lord and the Lord makes a promise, a promise that I read this morning in a new way.

When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, he said to himself:
“Never again will I doom the earth because of man
since the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start;
nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done.
As long as the earth lasts,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
and day and night
shall not cease.”

Whether “global warming” is a thing or not; whether it’s caused by man or not; God says that he will never again doom the earth because of man. That’s a message of hope right out of Genesis.

Does that mean we can be irresponsible? No, not at all! But what is responsible is to major on the majors and minor on the minors. The major issue facing mankind is our need to reconcile with our Maker, the Lord of heaven and earth. Once reconciled through our Lord Jesus Christ his only Son, how we treat each other and the earth he has given us to steward will have more impact than all the uncertain science we pretend to affirm. And please read much more into that statement on scientific facts than I am saying here for now! I want to hear more about the good news of reconciliation with God and man in homilies and if such is the case I expect God to keep his word!

 

Does Genesis give us hope?

Excommunication or not

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Earlier this month an Irish priest, Fr. John Hogan, parish priest of Multyfarnham in County Westmeath, refused to give communion to Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, a member of the lower house of the Irish parliament. Mr. Troy was attending a requiem Mass celebrated by Fr. Hogan at St Nicholas’s parish church. The reason for the refusal of communion was due to the fact that TD Troy had supported the introduction of legalized abortion services in Ireland. Mr. Troy had previously identified himself as pro-life, but revealed that he had voted in favor of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment that protected unborn babies. TD Robert Troy is a Catholic.

Across the pond just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, signed a bill that he had lobbied for that would make it state law to permit abortion up until the minute before a baby would be born, that would allow other health practitioners beside doctors to perform abortions, and would remove all criminality for taking the life of an unborn child in any case. Governor Cuomo ordered that the lights of the tower on the World Trade Center be lit in pink to celebrate the victory. Andrew Cuomo is a Catholic.

What is the difference in these two scenarios? Two politicians, two actions in favor of abortion. One is refused communion; the other has not. That isn’t to say that Governor Cuomo may still be refused communion, but Cardinal Timothy Dolan has stated that “excommunication” is not “an appropriate response.” But is that the best response? What is the purpose of refusing communion or imposing canonical excommunication?

For the purpose of reference it should be noted that senior Illinois senator Dick Durbin has been excommunicated for his pro-abortion stance and voting record. In a recent letter Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield stated: “Senator Durbin was informed several years ago by his Pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Springfield that he was not permitted to receive Holy Communion per canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. My predecessor upheld that decision and it remains in effect. It is my understanding that the Senator is complying with that decision here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”

Canon Law 915 reads as follows: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.

On September 22 of last year I wrote a blog entitled “In Silence No More” that dealt with St. Ambrose, then bishop of Milan, and his action of excommunication against emperor Theodosius after a massacre he had ordered upon the citizens of Thessalonica. The emperor complied with the order and fulfilled his penance before being restored to communion.

Denying communion is not an expulsion from a political party or a social club. It is actually a mercy given to the baptized to help him or her recognize grave sin and the accompanying discipline that has the purpose of bringing him or her to spiritual restoration and communion with God and man. The biblical basis for this is found in Matthew 18:15–20.

“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (NABRE).

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes that excommunication serves “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NABRE). It is noteworthy that Paul did not leave the man dangling, forever separated from the life and sacraments of the Church as in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11 he instructs on how to bring about the reconciliation of this same sinner.

So excommunication is a mercy to show us the grave error of our unconfessed sin and to hopefully drive us back into the loving arms of the Father. Hebrews 12:11 tells us: “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for gain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The bottom line is that if our priests and bishops truly care for the souls of their sheep, they will not seek to embarrass them in a public or recriminatory way, or even worse, cower in the face of public opinion and do nothing. The issue is the spiritual health and destiny of each sheep. Is it worth currying political favor or protecting one’s own hind parts, and thus put in peril the eternal soul of the parishioner, no matter how exalted or esteemed he or she is? St. Ambrose didn’t think so. Emperor Theodosius was glad in the long run that he didn’t.

 

 

 

Excommunication or not

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?

The Holy Innocents

Massacre_of_the_Innocents_(Cogniet)

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

Your Prayer Is Heard! Say What?

I love the Advent season, something I have mentioned here before. I love how Scripture introduces us to the main characters of the story that culminates with the birth of our Savior Jesus the Christ. How different that story is from the mind-numbing songs and stories that are paraded out right after Thanksgiving. What more can you tell me about Rudolph or Frosty or the Grinch or even Santa Claus?

But the ancient story is ever new. I never tire of hearing the Old Testament prophecies and reliving the anticipation that Israel must have felt as the people awaited their Messiah. The angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and to Mary leave me with wonder. The hurried visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the intrauterine celebration of John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit when he hears the voice of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of our Lord.

And just as certainly as we relive the “old favorites,” as is always the case with Scripture, there is always something new to discover. That happened to me today. The Gospel reading is found in Luke 1:5-25. It is the story of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple. Now just a quick backstory: Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been getting their Denny’s discount for many years. They were certainly senior citizens. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren all those many years. Then suddenly, while Zechariah was offering prayers in the form of incense on behalf of the multitude of people who were waiting outside, the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared.

You know the story: Zechariah is afraid; Gabriel tells him he will have a son; Zechariah is incredulous; and Zechariah is told that because of his unbelief he will not speak until the baby is born. Most of us know the way the story plays out. But today I saw something I had never seen before. I almost wonder if it was there before. Okay, I know it was, but I hadn’t noticed it until today.

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:11-13 RSV)

Say what? Gabriel’s appearance and announcement to Zechariah was in direct response to Zechariah’s prayer. He had prayed that his wife would bear him a son. God had delayed the answer until the right time. Zechariah, Elizabeth and their son would become part of the great developing story of the coming of God’s salvation to the world in God’s time.

I tend to wonder why Zechariah reacted as he did, especially after the angel laid out all the particulars about this son that would be theirs:

“And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother’s womb.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:14-17 RSV)

What do I do when God assures me he has heard my prayer? I usually keep praying and wondering and sometimes doubting and looking for backup plans. Sound familiar? How does God assure me he has heard my prayer? I can only answer in one way. If God lays a prayer burden on my heart and makes it clear that he wants me to spend time in intercession, then I can be assured that he will also answer. You and I both know that it may not look exactly like what we imagine, but God will answer and it will be something he will use for his glory.

Zechariah expected a child from Elizabeth when they first married and for many years afterward. Yet the answer came when Zechariah was more fit to be a grandfather or even a great-grandfather. But the son did come and Jesus said of him, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11 RSV). By that time, no doubt, Zechariah had passed from the scene. He would not see John be used by God to announce the coming of Jesus. Mercifully he would also not witness his son’s martyrdom, but his prayer was answered.

That gives me great hope for the deep prayers that God has placed on my heart. With Zechariah I sing:

“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
    by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
    to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 NABRE)

 

Your Prayer Is Heard! Say What?