Monthly Archives: November 2009

First Sunday of Advent

This Sunday begins the Season of Advent, leading to Christmas.

Advent is more about the future than about the past. Yes, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, but we celebrate his birth because Jesus Christ changes the way we look ahead. He brings us hope.

The Jewish scriptures we read during Advent tell us the kind of hope Jesus brings.  This Sunday’s first reading is from the Prophet Jeremiah. God says to him:

I will raise up for David a just shoot ;

he shall do what is right and just in the land.

In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The LORD our justice.”

Now, God spoke to Jeremiah as Jerusalem and Judea were being laid waste by a powerful Babylonian army that came from the north to level cities and towns, destroy crops, confiscate valuables and round up able-bodied Jews to bring them to Babylon as slaves. They spared nothing, brutally crushing everything.

So Jeremiah sees nothing but wasteland before him. The land he loved, life as he knew it was gone; everything has been uprooted.

However, God points to a shoot, a tiny sliver of life pushing up amidst the ruins. It’s a sign of life, and through it God will made Judah safe and Jerusalem secure. God will bless his land again.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by some great loss, some defeat, some bad situation that seems to take away all we know and love. Our world today, with all its many problems, can look like a wasteland.

The time of advent says, “Signs of hope, small though they be, are there in the midst of it all. God promises life not death in Jesus, whom he has sent. Look for those signs of hope.”

Macarius, the Desert Monk

Saints from the past still speak to our time, I think. By their simple words they still proclaim the Word.  Here’s Macarius, a monk from 4th century Egypt, telling us why God sent Jesus, his Son, into a world that had become a desert, an empty house, an unused path. One reason monks like him preferred to live in the desert was their belief that a redeeming God could make a desert  flower again.

“When a farmer prepares to till the soil he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable. So Christ, our heavenly king, came to till the soil of humanity devastated by sin. He assumed a body and, using the cross as his ploughshare, cultivated the barren human soul. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin. Into the fire he cast the straw of wickedness. And when he had ploughed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the Spirit, that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.”

Artists, like the one who painted Macarius (above),  clothed the desert monks in the finest, brightest clothes, though in real life they were surely quite shabbily dressed. Because they were God’s redeemed they were robed in fine cloths, no matter  how their neighbors saw them. They walked in a “lovely garden of the Spirit that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.”

They were signs of a redeemed world.

National Catholic Youth Conference

25,000 Catholic young people from all over the United States met in Kansas City, Kansas from November 19-21, 2009, for the National Catholic Youth Conference. A group of about 30 were there from St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, NJ.

I think I was the oldest youth at the conference, which is an offshoot of the world youth days begun under Pope John Paul II. It was a lively, spirited event, combining traditional Catholic things, like preaching,sacraments and devotions with modern technology the young use to communicate today. I missed a day because I visited one of our priests who lived nearby, but I was impressed by what I saw.

A workshop for parents by Chris Weber explaining how young people use technology today–Twitter, text messaging, Facebook, Internet– was especially helpful.

If you want to communicate with your kids, he said, get to know as much as you can about the new media. True, also, for priests and others who want to communicate with the next generation.

He recommended a book by Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen entitled Escaping the Endless Adolescence, (Random House, October, 2009).

He quoted someone saying that adolescents inhabit a subterranean world where adults are unwelcome. All you can do is sit at the top of the stairs and wait for them to talk to you as they go down or come up.

The best speakers at the event, in my opinion, were some teenagers who spoke to the young people at Sprint Center on Saturday morning about their own spiritual searching in simple fresh words.  Is God sending young people to speak to that subterranean world?

Bishops and priests were there, but the main speakers for many of the events were laypeople. Maybe that says something too about who is going to speak to the next generation.

Honestly, some of the music was hard on my ears, but if these young people are the face of the future, I have hope for the days ahead.

Blessed Grimoaldo

Blessed Grimoaldo Santamaria was born in Pontecorvo, Italy. May 4, 1883 and died in the Passionist monastery at Ceccano, Italy, on November 18, 1902. Today’s his feastday.

Like another young Passionist saint, St. Gabriel Possenti, it’s hard to discover anything spectacular about Grimoaldo. He died a Passionist student, preparing for ordination, immersed in the ordinary routine of study and prayer usual for that period of life. It’s true he died of meningitis, which prevented him from reaching the priesthood and the ministry it might have opened for him, but dying from a sickness alone doesn’t make someone holy, does it?

The gospel reading for today may give us a clue to his holiness. It’s Luke’s account of the nobleman who goes on a journey and entrusts one of his servants with ten gold coins, another five, and finally another with one. Returning, he upbraids the servant who hides his one coin.

Why so severe with the one who chose to be safe? Is it a warning not to take small gifts for granted, not to keep out of life’s marketplace because we’re afraid we wont make a difference.

God sees small gifts as important, the ordinary tools of human love and service. If you wait for something “big” to happen, you miss out on most of living. So throw yourself bravely and generously into life.

Did Grimoaldo understand that?

Father Edward Beck, CP

Father James Martin, SJ, on the blog for the Jesuit magazine AMERICA had some nice words to say about Father Edward Beck, CP:

“Edward Beck, a Passionist priest,  and author of several books on spirituality (including his compelling memoir God Underneath) is a talented writer and explicator of the faith, who regularly appears on ABC Now and “Good Morning America.”  He is intelligent, moderate and helpful on the subject of religion–a rarity these days.  Just recently ABC News pulled together its faith and spirituality content in one place.   Check it out here.”

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/spirituality

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, honoring those who fought in our country’s wars. It was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of fighting between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States lost 116,516 troops in the 1st World War; other countries lost millions more. The wars that followed added to that count.

Our church calendar today celebrates the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, the great 5th century saint, who is remembered especially as the soldier who gave a beggar half of his cloak on a freezing day at the gate of that city. Son of a Roman officer, Martin chose to become a monk, a man of peace, instead of a soldier. He died on a peace-making visit to a squabbling church in the diocese where he had become bishop.

As a bishop, Martin lived a noticeably poor life; he lived and dressed as a poor man, his biographers say.  Poor in spirit, he identified with the poor. Evidently, the beggar he met at the gate of Tours had a lasting effect on him. In a dream that night, Christ told him he was the beggar Martin clothed that day.

It was customary in Europe for farmers to put away meat for the winter on St. Martin’s feast. They were also urged to put away a portion for the poor this day too.

In Martin’s time as bishop, a group of Christians were following a teacher named Priscillian, who was convinced that the evil in the world was so ingrained in life that only severe ascetical practices could root it out. Other bishops convinced the imperial authorities that the leaders of this heretical group should be executed. Their execution marked the first attempt by Christian leaders to stop heresy by killing those suspected of it.

Martin was against the execution. He believed you didn’t deal with people with wrong ideas by killing them; you had to live with them. You need to have a soldier’s heart to do that.

Pope John XXIII was an admirer of Martin of Tours. I think he wrote a thesis about him. After he was elected pope he wanted to go and pray at his shrine. Another soldier of a sort.

The Pope’s Blessing

On weekdays I don’t usually need an alarm clock to get me up in the morning. A red van pulls up outside my window about 6:30 to pick up some workers from the neighborhood who are going off to work. José, who’s been here in our building long before that, comes out to say a jovial hello to them all, and then reaches into the van to give them a blessing.

Today we’re reading a sermon by St. Leo the Great, an early pope, which he gave on the anniversary of his consecration. It’s his feastday today. Though he’s pope, he says, the blessings he’s been given are shared with the whole community. All of us, from top to bottom, are meant to give to others the blessing we have received.

“In the unity of faith and baptism, therefore, our community is undivided. There is a common dignity, as the apostle Peter says in these words: And you are built up as living stones into spiritual houses, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And again: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.”

The pope isn’t the only one who blesses. As usual, José gave his blessing this morning, “Urbi et orbi.”

Bread and Wine

After the homily at every Sunday Mass, we pray the Creed, that sweeping summary of what we believe as Christians.  We say it before we bring the bread and wine to the altar because it helps us understand what we’re doing. It begins:

We believe in God the Father Almighty,

creator of heaven and earth,

of all that is seen and unseen.

Bread and wine are symbols of the heavens and the earth– the world God has made. They represent the totality of God’s gifts found in creation which we acknowledge as we bring them to their Creator:

“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of many hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”

These simple gifts stand for all the gifts that come from an almighty God, a kind Father, the generous One who made the heavens and earth, the Maker “of all that is seen and unseen.” They point to a God, beyond our minds grasp, a good God, who is with us always; a loving God who is our friend.

They  represent God’s promise of life everlasting.

The prayers at Mass address God, the Creator. “All life, all holiness comes from you,” (3rd Eucharistic Prayer) “All things are of your making, all times and seasons obey your laws,” (P33) “In you we live and move and have our being. Each day you show us a Father’s love.(P34)

At Mass we approach God, Maker of all.

As Creator, God doesn’t act alone, but shares power with his creation. Our prayers at Mass recognize that: “You formed us in your own likeness, and set us over the whole world in all its wonder. You made us the stewards of creation to serve you our creator and to rule over all creatures.” (P33)

As “stewards of creation” we have an important role in the world, but we’re not the only power in our universe.  Creation itself has rights and a role in God’s plan. As we come to know the story of our own universe, we’re amazed at its mysterious development, its complexity and its beauty. It’s charged with the glory of God, and so for all our importance, we’re  meant to be respectful participants in its story.

That’s the vision of faith our Mass offers. But is it true? Our experience of life can sometimes tempt us to doubt it. Is God really the creator of us all? Does God really care? Why do bad things happen? Why do people do what they do? Why do we die? Why is there suffering? Why is there injustice. Questions like that raise doubts. Then too, preoccupation with ourselves also can weaken our vision of faith. We think we are the creators of the world and its gods.

The Mass tells the story of creation, but also the story of salvation. The Creed reminds us that God sent his only Son to be our Savior. In the mystery of the Mass, Jesus Christ is sent into the world. He comes into the bread and wine, just as he came into the womb of Mary.  Listen to the words of one of our prayers.

“Father, you so loved the world,

that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior.

He was conceived through the Holy Spirit,

and born of the Virgin Mary,

one like us in all things but sin.

To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation,

to prisoners, freedom,

to those in sorrow, joy.

In fulfillment of your will

he gave himself up to death,

but by rising from the dead,

he destroyed death and restored life.

And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him,

he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father,

as his first gift to those who believe,

to complete his work on earth

and bring us the fulness of grace.”

The prayer goes on to ask God, the Father, to send his Holy Spirit upon the bread and the wine, as he did on Mary.

“Father, send your Holy Spirit to sanctify these offerings,

Let them become the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord

as we celebrate the great mystery

which he left us as an everlasting covenant.” (4th Eucharistic Prayer)

Our Mass is a creation story and a story of salvation.

Compasssion Magazine

The current issue of COMPASSION MAGAZINE, a publication of St. Paul of the Cross Province, is online. It began in print, but like most print magazines today COMPASSION is making a transition to the Internet. So many newspapers and magazines are negotiating the tricky road of change in the way we communicate, and I think COMPASSION is doing as well as any of them. If you take a look at it, I’m sure you’ll agree that its newly designed online face is beautifully done.

This issue, entitled Listening, has stories about the ministries of various members of our community. The first article is about  some priests from our Pittsburgh community who listen to those who come to our monastery on top of a hill overlooking that city. It’s a wonderful reminder of the spiritual direction offered by many of our members that goes unnoticed, for the most part.

There’s an article on Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical, which I wrote.

Listening to Young Catholics is a perceptive look at the young from Fr. Robin Ryan, CP, who leads a program for young Catholics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

A young Passionist volunteer tells about her experiences in Jamaica, WI. It’s a charming story of interaction between two people of different cultures and ages.

Fr. Paul Zilonka, a former missionary in Jamaica and editor of COMPASSION, talks about some of his friends who once ministered there. They’re some of my friends too. One of them is at death’s door now, so please pray for him.

There’s more to read there too.

Holy Souls

Before the altar in our chapel in this month of the Holy Souls, there’s a large stack of names sent in to be remembered at Mass. Just names written on paper. No eulogies, no lengthy description of who they are, what they did, or anything else about them.

In one sense, they represent us poor mortals as we are in death. We have nothing, except hope in the mercy of God. We are in God’s hands.

We place the names of our dead before the altar and great crucifix that hangs over it because of  the promise of Jesus Christ:

“And this is the will of the one who sent me,

that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,

but that I should raise it on the last day.”

Our prayers at Mass say the same thing; we don’t earn eternal life, it is a gift to us. “All life, all holiness comes from you, through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.”

God blesses the bread and wine with the presence of his Son, and he blesses the world he loves so much.

“Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ, and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.”

Even though others forget, a merciful God remembers.