Tag Archives: Liturgy

The Calendar on the Kitchen Door


About this time every year when I was a boy, my mother would put up on the kitchen door the calendar we got from church. She marked down the anniversaries of family deaths and birthdays and other celebrations coming along, and she added other dates as the days passed. The pictures on the calendar interested me most then. When we put up the calendar, we were ready for the days ahead.

The calendar’s still a good way to get ready for the days ahead. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart,” one of the psalms says.

Our calendars today may be on our computers instead of the kitchen door. They’ve also changed in a number of ways since the Second Vatican Council. For one thing, our church calendars today list the scripture readings read at Mass for the weekdays and Sundays throughout the year. They open the treasures of our faith for us.

Our calendars alert us to the main feasts and seasons, Christmas and Easter, advent and lent, celebrated by the whole church throughout the year. The general calendar also lists the days for celebrating saints honored the world over, such as Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the apostles, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Theresa of Avila and others.

The council left countries and regions to decide on some celebrations of their own. In our particular calendar here in the United States, for example, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day and American saints like St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Elizabeth Cabrini and St. John Neumann.

The calendar’s still a good way to keep our lives in order, not only doctors’ and social appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, but our spiritual lives as well. They go together. We’re meant to live from day to day, from feast to feast, and be formed by the mysteries of Christ, his saints and the scriptures.

Every Sunday evening I try to publish the week’s calendar on my blog: http://www.vhoagland.com

It’s my kitchen door. Through the week I reflect on the feasts and seasons and saints on that blog. The calendar’s a teacher helping us to “number our days aright.” It’s our daily catechism.

December 23: Birth of John the Baptist

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Luke’s gospel today recalls in detail the birth of John the Baptist before the birth Jesus and his later mission. “The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)

Just as Luke recognizes the role of Mary and Joseph in the birth and raising of Jesus, he recognizes the role of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the birth and raising of John. Each help John grow and become strong in spirit. However lonely and independent he appears later in the gospels, John was influenced by them and the extended family that surrounded him from his birth.

Luke’s gospel often see one person’s fidelity influencing another. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” Luke writes, but human hands were on him as well.

John had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant relation Mary visiting from Nazareth. John later would point out the Lamb of God among all those who came to the Jordan River for baptism.

He had faith like his father Zechariah who devoutly celebrated the mysteries of God in the temple of Jerusalem as a priest. At his birth, Zechariah signs away the gift of his name– and probably his hope that his son would follow in his steps. John would have a different calling. At the Jordan River, John called pilgrims to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts as they made their way to the temple and the Holy City, Jerusalem.

Undoubtedly, John was a unique figure, a messenger from God, a voice in the desert preparing the Lord’s way. But there were faithful people behind him, as they are behind us.

Don’t forget either his relative, Mary of Nazareth. At the end of his account of her visit with Elizabeth, Luke mentions “Mary stayed with her for three months, then returned to her home.” (Luke 1:56) That would mean she stayed on till the birth of John, wouldn’t it?

I don’t see Mary in the icon of John’s birth (above), but she must have been there. Were there other times too these families met? Artists portray the children playing together later. They could be right. We influence one another more than we think.

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). It’s also eight days after Mary’s birth (September 7). So this feast, we should remember, recalls Mary’s sorrows, her lifelong sorrows. 

When Jesus was born, the old man Simeon  told Mary a sword would pierce her heart. Today’s readings and prayers recall her final experience of that sword, when she stood beneath the Cross of her Son. But Mary experienced sorrow all her life. She is Our Lady of Sorrows. An earlier feast, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, made her lifelong sorrows more explicit.   

What were Mary’s lifelong sorrows? She was a human being and a believer. She experienced what all human beings experience- we’re contingent beings. An infant cries as it enters this world. “Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain.” (Psalm 90) You hear that complaint often in the psalms. It’s a human complaint.

Faith doesn’t inoculate us against sorrow. We don’t see clearly the promises of God. Mary, like every believer, experienced the sorrow that comes from not knowing. Her life, like ours, was not immune to sorrow.

The sword of sorrow struck Mary most deeply at the death of her Son. Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion: There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.” They were looking on from a distance, not emotionally distanced. They were deeply engaged in the sorrow before them.  (Mark 15, 40-41) 

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus stands at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

Mary stands by the Cross of Jesus, close by, not at a distance. She’s not absorbed in her own suffering, not afraid to see. Her standing by the Cross is significant. She enters the mystery of her Son’s suffering through compassion. 

She stood by him. Compassion doesn’t experience another’s suffering exactly, and it may not lead to taking another’s suffering away. Compassion enters suffering to break the isolation suffering causes. It helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, the sorrow, pierces both hearts, in different ways.

Our prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering. “Grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection.

Where is the Passion of Lord? It’s in the human lives of each one of us. It’s in the poor. It’s in the earth we’re destroying. Sometimes we can do something to relieve that suffering. Like Mary, we’re always called to stand close by as she did, and see. 

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

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A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

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“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

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Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

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Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

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A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

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Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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Praying in Jesus Christ

Farewell Discourse of Jesus. Duccio

“I pray for them,” Jesus says in Tuesday’s gospel as he looks to his disciples in the supper room and also to us who are his own today.

We who are so conscious of how poorly we pray need to remember Jesus praying for us and in us.  Is it possible to speak to God, we ask ourselves? We’re so easily distracted, so weak in faith, so bound to life as it is. How can we to go to God in prayer?

“Let the Son who lives in our hearts, be also on our lips,” St. Cyprian says in his commentary on the Our Father. Jesus joins our weak and stumbling prayers to his own. He prays in and for us and gives us the assurance we will be welcomed and heard.

“I pray for them,” Jesus said in the supper room. Then, he prayed for his disciples when they left the supper room and entered the Garden of Gethsemani. They fell asleep, forgetful of everything. A stone’s throw away, Jesus prayed and his prayer was not only for himself but to strengthen them as well.

“I pray for them,’ Jesus says in our liturgical prayers. We speak to God the Father “through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.”

Whenever we pray, whether with others in public prayer or praying alone, he enters our prayer. “Let us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Savior gave us,” we say as we begin the Our Father at Mass.

Our confidence in prayer comes, not from our own wisdom, or holiness or faith, but from Jesus who says “I pray for them.”


Putting in the Seed

J.Tissot, The Sower, Brooklyn Museum

In one of his poems, “Putting in the Seed,” Robert Frost describes a farmer’s love affair with the earth. It’s getting dark and someone from the house tries fetching him to come in. Supper’s on the table, yet he’s a

“Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

Can’t you see that farmer zestfully casting seed on the waiting earth, eagerly watching it to grow? Jesus sees the Sower as an image of God, casting saving grace onto the world in season and out, because he loves it so much.

 If you have ever been to Galilee and seen the lake and the surrounding lands abundant with crops, you know this is a blessed place. It was in Jesus’ time too. Here, the sower scatters his seed with abandon, hardly caring where it goes: on rocky ground, or amid thorns, or on the soil that gives a good return.

God the Sower sows blessed seed, no matter how badly our human world appears, or how badly it receives. In his parables Jesus acknowledges rejection as well as acceptance, but the sower still sows. Grace is never withheld, and that makes us hope.

And is it just the  human world God loves? Doesn’t his love extend to all the earth God calls “good” in the Book of Genesis? We worry about our planet earth, and with reason.  How fragile it has become, what damage we careless humans do! We are concerned rightly for its future.

The nature parables we are reading in Mark’s gospel tell us to hope for our earth too. Though it is not immune from the threat of destruction and degradation, God loves it still. He’s a Sower at work. Blessed be the Lord God of all creation, may you sow your blessings on all.

Ordinary Time and Daily Prayer

The Christmas Season draws to a close after the Baptism of Jesus, which we celebrate this Sunday. The Christmas celebrations are over. Ordinary time begins. Does that mean there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?

Sure there is. Ordinary Time is a time for daily prayer, and daily prayer is never over. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy said that daily prayer is at the heart of the Christian life and created a daily lectionary of scripture readings so “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)

The daily lectionary is a treasure for praying with the scriptures, but don’t take it for granted. Treasures, Jesus said, are usually hidden and you have to dig for them. That’s what we do in daily prayer. The liturgy is always a “work”, our daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re always at the beginning, not at the end.

We begin Monday to read the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary. There are feasts of the Lord and his saints to celebrate in the days ahead. It’s a lifelong learning we’re into, a school God provides,  and we learn day by day.

Psalms Say It All

I like the way psalms say it all. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!” one of the psalms says. No need to make a prayer up on your own or think hard about saying something to God the right way. Let the psalms help you pray. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!”

“Let the earth rejoice in God, our king.” Why not join the earth praying? The “many isles are glad.” Be glad with them.

The psalms have a way of stilling our souls and calling them into the quiet grace of God’s presence. We think everything depends on us. No, it doesn’t. God “melts the mountains like wax” and “guards the lives of his faithful ones.” We think we have to know everything. No, we don’t.  But God does.

We pray, not to know more and more, but to be drawn closer to God. The psalms feed our minds and hearts, little by little. Their special grace is their simplicity as they tell us, for example,  “rest in God as a child in a mother’s arms.”

Most of the psalms in our liturgy are songs of praise. “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.” Other psalms cry for help. Just a cry is enough, they say. “I cry to the Lord that he may hear me.”

The psalms call us to a simple, deep prayer. Keep your eye on them in the liturgy of the Mass, Use them in your daily prayer. They’re wonderful basic prayers for everyone.

“Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms.” (St. Ambrose)

Every day the church meets the morning praying the psalms; every evening we end the day with these great prayers. A good way to pray always, as Jesus asks us to do.

The Passion of John the Baptist

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August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

Learning in Bad Times

I find myself turning away from the news on television these days. I don’t think I’m the only one. The pandemic only seems to be getting worse, and we’re getting worse with it.

So we turn to the Good News.

I’m finding the Gospel of Matthew, which we’re reading these weekdays and on Sundays, helpful. It was written for people struggling with bad times.

The bad times were around the year AD 90 when the followers of Jesus in Galilee were reeling from the attacks of a resurgent Judaism. Those attacks are described in Chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s gospel.

Instead of closing their eyes and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because there’s something for them to learn. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it”  (Matthew 13:16-17). He says that as he teaches them in parables.

Bad times can be the best times to learn. Some of the best things we know; some of the best insights we have;  some of the most creative thoughts may come in bad times. God doesn’t stop speaking or teaching in bad times; God sows seeds and opens new avenues. New treasures, new pearls are there to be discovered in the ground we walk over and the jumble of things that seem to overwhelm us.

We will be reading soon the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price and the net that pulls up a bewildering variety of things from the sea.  It’s a message continued in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus. The disciples saw only death and failure there at first, but then they saw treasures in the wounds, the blood and water that flowed from his side, the words he said.

We don’t have to turn away from bad times. They’re times to keep your eyes and ears open, Jesus says. Like his first disciples, we should pray, not for blinders, but for “understanding hearts.”