Sunday, January 31, 2021

Year B Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Deut 18:15-20; Ps 95:1-2.7-9; 1 Cor 7:32-25; Mark 1:21-28

If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.1 Well, my friends, today you have heard God’s voice. One of the four ways Christ is really present in the Eucharist is in the proclamation of the Scriptures According to the Second Vatican Council, Christ “is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are proclaimed.”2

So, the question is not whether you have heard Christ’s voice. The question is, “Are you listening?” It is possible to hear without listening. None of us needs look any further than our family life to verify this assertion.

Our responsorial for today is Psalm 95. For those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 95 is what is called the “Invitatory.” It so-called because, along with its antiphon, it is how the Church’s daily office of prayers begins.

Psalm 95 is about the Israelites during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. It refers to an episode from the Book of Numbers. In this instance, God’s people were complaining that they were led out of Egypt only to die of thirst in the desert. To quell the near rebellion, even when it meant defying God, Moses made water flow from a rock.3

Urging you not to harden your heart is just another way of saying open your ears and listen. Specifically, as the opening words of the Rule of Saint Benedict indicate, it means “Listen… to the precepts of your master, and incline the ear of your heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of your loving Father…”4

In our first reading, taken from Deuteronomy, Moses foretells that at some future and unspecified date God will “raise up for you” a “prophet like me” from among his chosen people.5 And when this prophet arises, what are they to do? Listen to him. Jesus is, of course, the prophet about whom Moses spoke.

Jesus, as even the demon in our Gospel recognized, is the Christ, “the Holy One of God.”6 Because he is the Christ, Jesus is the one who teaches with authority. His authority, as the man from whom the demon was cast out could surely attest, is derived from his unfailing love, care, and concern for those he came to save.

It should be noted that Jesus is authoritative, not authoritarian. Presumably, as God, he could have been born as the emperor of the Roman Empire. He could have established God’s reign using the full, coercive might of the Roman imperium. In reality, he did the exact opposite. Hence, the Lord does not impose, force, or coerce.

In today’s Gospel, it is clear that Jesus is said to have taught with authority even before his encounter with the demon. It may well be the case that it was Jesus’s teaching that provoked the demon to declare himself! The inspired author of Mark does not tell us what Jesus said in the synagogue. Jesus's teaching often provokes. Keep in mind the "provocation" is a compound word: pro, meaning "for," and vocation, meaning "calling."

Keep in mind, we’re still in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Mark. Six verses earlier, which was part of our Gospel reading last week, we perhaps find a clue to the content of Jesus’s preaching: the Kingdom of God. But then, this is the content of virtually all his teaching. As Mark’s Gospel relays when Jesus emerged from his forty days in the desert his message was: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”7

It has been noted that “the gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.” For a Christian, what is life but preparation for life in God’s Kingdom?

Living as a Christian is not merely about living the tension between the already and the not yet. It requires us to live the not yet as if it were the already. We live this way no matter what, regardless of where we live, what kind of government we might live under, no matter the consequences. If you want to provoke demons, try living in this way, after the manner taught by Jesus.

How do you live this way? Let the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are our guides: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison; encourage those who are lost, teach the faith (mainly by living it), counsel the doubtful, be patient with those in error, and bear wrongs patiently.

As our Gospel today tells us, Jesus comes to bring hope and wholeness. He comes to bring salvation. In the second chapter of the Letter of James, we read that faith without works is dead. To make this point emphatically, James points out: “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.”8

While the demon may tremble, belief does not alter his way of being. This shows that faith is more than merely believing. Your belief in Jesus Christ should cause you to repent. Repentance happens when you listen to the voice of the Lord and don’t harden your heart. Soften your heart: be consoled where you need consoling, be healed where you need healing, and be challenged where you need challenging. Let yourself be provoked.

Conversion is a life-long process, initiated and brought to completion by God’s grace. God doesn’t impose or coerce. God elicits our cooperation. As Saint John Henry Newman observed: “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”9

As recipients of Jesus’s healing, which is offered in and through the sacraments, we are called to help others experience this. The best way to do this is by demonstrating what Jesus has done for you through acts of service. Besides, it’s hard to throw stones when you’re busy washing feet. Doing this establishes your credibility as a Christian, forwards the Church's mission, and extends God’s Kingdom by making it present in the here and now.

1 Lectionary for the Mass, Responsorial, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, sec. 71.
2 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), sec. 7.
3 See Numbers 20:2-13.
4 Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue.
5 Deuteronomy 18:15.
6 Mark 1:24.
7 Mark 1:15.
8 James 2:19.
9 John Henry Newman, As Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Part I.

Friday, January 29, 2021

"I saw the rain, dirty valley You saw Brigadoon..."

Without a doubt, of the three theological virtues, hope is the most slippery. It is a mistake to think of any of the three in isolation. This is why I often link them by insisting that hope is the flower of faith and charity is their fruit. We also make a mistake by thinking of faith as belief. In reality, faith, to borrow Brennan Manning's phrase, is "ruthless trust." We make perhaps an even bigger mistake when we reduce hope to optimism, seeing it as a kind of hyper-optimism.

In reality, just as faith is not mere belief, hope is not optimism, let alone hyper-optimism. As I am also wont to note with some frequency: hope lies beyond optimism. Brother David Steindl-Rast, in his book Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, which is my daily spiritual reading right now, provides the best treatment of hope I have ever encountered.

Anemone Rosea

Brother David begins with this stark statement: "Hope is realistic." In the next sentence, he insists "The realism of hope is humility." From there he points out that both optimism and pessimism are unrealistic. He goes so far as to assert that "Optimism and pessimism pretend. But hope shows concern." He sees hope as that virtue that "integrates," helping to make us whole.

Hope, Brother David writes, is what "happens when the bottom drops out of our pessimism." Hope is when we have nothing or no one to turn to except God. Here he cites Saint Paul: "tribulation leads to patience; and patience to experience; and experience to hope" (Romans 5:3ff). Experience, which is still too little valued among Christians, is the fire in which the "dross" of pretense is burned away.

At its core, Brother David believes each spiritual is an exercise in purgation. "Discipline," he notes, "is not so much a matter of doing this or that, but of holding still." Stillness "is not a shutting up. It is the stillness of the anemone wide open to the sunlight." The stillness called for by hope is one's "perfect focusing of energy on the task at hand."

Derived as it is from the word humus, which refers to earth, as in soil, humility, which is what makes hope what it is and not optimism, is also related to the words "humor" and "humanity." It is the essence of being human to obtain the kind of earthiness that enables me to laugh at myself, not in a jeering or demeaning way, but in a good-hearted manner. This makes me human.

Today's tradito is Fiona Apple's lovely cover of The Waterboys' "The Whole of the Moon." The song's lyrics are a kind of dialogue between optimism and pessimism, thus providing a glimpse of hope.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Anniversary reflections on being a deacon

On this day seventeen years ago, then-Bishop George Niederauer ordained me a deacon. It had been his intention to ordain my class on the anniversary of his ordination to the episcopacy, which is 25 January- the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. But back in 2004, 25 January was on a Sunday. And so, he ordained us on Saturday, 24 January 2004. I write "then-Bishop" because George Niederauer went on to serve as Archbishop of San Francisco from 2005 until his retirement in 2012. He died on 2 May 2017.

Since it is the anniversary of my ordination today, please permit me the indulgence of once again noting how quickly time passes. In January 2004, I was thirty-eight years old. Up until a few years ago, I remained the youngest permanent deacon in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. I am still on the younger side of the average age of permanent deacons in my diocese.

Like most permanent deacons, I simultaneously participate in the two sacraments at the service of communion, what my friend, teacher, and mentor Deacon Owen Cummings refers to as "the diaconal sacraments"- the sacraments of holy matrimony and holy orders. At least for Catholics, matrimony comes with the implied vocation to parenthood. Now, the "implied" vocation of parenthood may not be realized in marriage for a variety of reasons. In my case, it has been made real six times!

This simultaneous participation in the diaconal sacraments is but one of the very unique and indispensable aspects of the diaconate restored and renewed as a permanent order of ministry in the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council. Of course, there are unmarried deacons who vow celibacy. There are even permanent deacons in religious orders, who, along with their confreres, live the evangelical councils of chastity, poverty, and obedience. There are permanent deacons who are widowed. There are even deacons whose marriages, sadly, have ended and who still continue to minister as deacons. There is great strength in this diversity.

I was ordained with 23 other men. One of those was destined to go to another diocese and went through formation here in Utah. Seven of my classmates have died. Another eight are retired from active ministry. Not counting Roger (the one who was ordained for another diocese) there are eight of us still actively serving in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

I have been privileged, with the assistance of my local Church, to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Pastoral Ministry. I was also supported in my pursuit of the on-going education needed to obtain the equivalency of a Master of Divinity degree. This equivalency allowed me to go on to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree.

On the day of my ordination with my very dear friend, Fr. J.T. Lane, SSS, who vested me as a deacon

Both my master's thesis and my doctoral dissertation are on aspects of the permanent diaconate: Making Up for What Was Previously Lacking: The Importance for the Church of the Dual Sacramentality of Married Permanent Deacons and Diaconal Spirituality: A Systematic Exploration, respectively. With any luck, I hope to have both accepted for publication. Indications are good that this might happen.

On 1 March 2020, Bishop Solis, who currently serves as Bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, appointed me as the Director of the Office of Deacons. In that role, I oversee the formation of new deacons and the on-going formation of current deacons. I also have the responsibility of looking out for permanent deacons and their wives. While I still serve in a parish, these days the bulk of my service is to my fellow deacons on behalf of my bishop.

When I began diaconal formation, my wife and I were parents of two children and expecting our third. Along the way, we've been blessed with three more. While the conjugal life of married permanent deacons is, oddly, a source of canonical vexation, it is lived out in a healthy and human way by married deacons and their wives. In this way, the sacrament of holy matrimony is attenuated by the sacrament holy orders. I will leave it there, to pursue this more deeply, you'll have to wait for the book or find a way of obtaining and reading my master's thesis.

While pastoral ministry has its ups and downs, I am grateful to be chosen to serve the Church and the world as a deacon. Of course, the model deacon is Jesus Christ. To write about the diaconate without mentioning Christ would be a travesty.

As Jesus taught his disciples: "For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves" (Luke 22:27). The phrase "one who serves" is the translation of one Greek word: διακονῶν (i.e., diakonon), which translates as "deacon." "I am among you as a deacon." Serving after the manner of Jesus is what it means, to employ a phrase used by Archbishop Gomez in his Foreward to Deacon James Keating's book, The Heart of the Diaconate, for deacons to act in persona Christi servi- in the person of Christ the servant.

I hope, by the grace of God, to be worthy of ministry to which I have been called. I also hope to serve for many more years. When Jesus calls you, as he did Andrew, Peter, James, and John in today's Gospel (see Mark 1:14-20), it is to lead you not just on a journey, but to invite you on an adventure.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The suitability of words for Word of God Sunday

The question I pondered yesterday was the suitability of words to convey what really matters, or even to hand on anything at all. It just so happens, that this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, is for Roman Catholics throughout the world, Word of God Sunday. And so, it is appropriate to look at the usefulness of words from a different perspective, the perspective of the scriptures.

Christians call the collection of texts we believe to be inspired "the Bible." "Bible," of course, simply means "book." Referencing 2 Timothy 3:16, the scriptures are described as θεόπνευστος- theopneustos, that is, "God-breathed."

It is important to note that Christians don't read the Bible in the same way many Muslims read the Qu'ran or how many Jewish people read the Tor'ah. This is just to say that for Christians, the Bible is not a rulebook. This reminded me of a remark made by Reverend Lovejoy on a long-ago aired episode of The Simpsons. Picking up a Bible, he said something like, "According to this thing, we're not even supposed to go to the bathroom." Yes, this is funny. It is even funnier when taken as a satire of how many people, Christians and non-Christians, who think like this concerning the Bible. Oh, you might be relieved to know that nowhere in the Bible is the morality of relieving yourself called into question.

As the Second Vatican Council teaches in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, in order to discover the applicability of the sacred text for our lives, it is first necessary to understand the words not only in their context but in the milieux in which they written (see Dei Verbum, sec. 12). Failure to do this is catastrophic for faith and, therefore, for the Church.

An easy example can be found in our Gospel for this Sunday, taken from the first chapter of Saint Mark's Gospel. It is Mark's account of the beginning of Jesus's public ministry. In a mere twenty verses, the inspired author takes us through John the Baptist's ministry, Jesus's baptism by John and subsequent forty days in the desert, he Baptist's arrest by Herod, the beginning of the Lord's public ministry in his native Galilee, and the calling of one-third of the Twelve. The author of Mark captures Jesus of Nazareth's message in a mere fifteen Greek words: Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ (Mark 15, Nestle 1904 New Testament Greek New Testament).

Those Greek words and, backing up to the beginning of Mark 1:15, three more words, translate into English as something like: "The proper time has been fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has drawn near; change your hearts and have faith in the good tidings" (David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation, 64). Perhaps a more literal translation of the phrase "in the good tidings," or "in the good news," is "in the well-message." Jesus brings and is the message of well-being, of wholeness, of communion.

But the aspect I want to focus on is that of repentance. "Repent" in Mark 1:15 is the Greek word πιστεύετε, which transliterates into English as metanoeite. It comes from the Greek word metanoia. While it may certainly include forsaking your sins, more accurately it means to completely transform your outlook in light of the arrival of God's Kingdom in the person of Jesus Christ. It means to see others, yourself, the world, and even God in a new light. It means to view reality according to all the factors that constitute it. This means to see things how they really are.

In the text, both repenting and believing are used in the continuous sense: "be repenting and be believing." It is also worth noting that repenting comes before believing. I think it is important to point this out because we tend to be so risk averse. We want to know, to believe, before we act. This is demonstrated in our Gospel by Peter and Andrew as well as James and John who dropped everything and followed him at his call.

Jesus is autobaselia, the Kingdom of God in person. Wherever Christ is, there is God's Kingdom. Of course, the Holy Spirit is Christ's resurrection mode of being present among, in, and through those who receive the Gospel. But God's Kingdom is never limited by boundaries human beings try to create. This was what Jesus fought very hard against in the disputations in which he engaged throughout his public ministry. This why Jesus could point to those considered to be the worst sinners in his society (i.e., prostitutes and tax collectors) and say they were closer to God's Kingdom than those who considered themselves righteous, especially those who sought to be arbiters of God's law, the ones who sought reduce God to their own measure by establishing boundaries.

In a letter to a woman who asked him if the Bible was "infallible," C.S. Lewis replied:
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read without attention to the whole nature & purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons

Friday, January 22, 2021

Words, do they suit the purpose?

It's nearly 6 PM and still no traditio! My, how the days fly by! Frankly, it worries me sometimes how quickly time passes. Obviously, dealing with the death of someone you know, who was part of your life, for whom you cared, puts this reality in bold relief.

Before this week, I was starting once again to feel like writing was becoming easier. Words seemed to be flowing, capturing thoughts at least well enough, if not perfectly. But starting late last weekend, that kind of changed again. I've gone back to wondering, "What are words for?"

Well, that question is also the title of a song by Missing Persons. As you might've guessed, depending on your '80s cultural aptitude, that "What Are Words For?" Is our Friday traditio for this penultimate Friday of 2021's premiere month.

I almost did a coffee spit-take when a group of friends was lamenting the fact that up until this week 2021 seemed like 2020 extended and someone said something like, "Today is like December 48, 2020." It dawns on me that the past few years the theme of time's seeming acceleration is a fairly persistent theme of mine on Fridays. As Ferris Bueller observed: "I've said it before and I'll say it again: life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

Anyway, enjoy this song and, moreover, enjoy your weekend. Stop and look around a bit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Homily for the Funeral Vigil of Father Reynato Rodillas

A week ago last Friday I received a text from the Chancellor of my diocese that my former pastor, Fr. Rene Rodillas, died from what seem to be respiratory complications related to COVID-19. The past week-and-a-half, I have been shell-shocked by this news. January is always a difficult month. Last Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of my Dad's death.

I was extended the privilege of preaching at Father Rene's Funeral Vigil. The homily at a priest's funeral Mass is usually reserved to his bishop. Below is my homily for this evening's service.

You may watch the Vigil on The Cathedral of the Madeleine's YouTube Channel here. My homily, which contains a few spontaneous remarks, begins at exactly the 23 minute point. __________________________________________________

Readings: Romans 6:3-4.8-9; Ps 27; John 11:21-27

Even as Christians, death stings. Death stings all the more when it comes suddenly and unbidden. Perhaps nothing causes us to face our own mortality more starkly than the sudden death of someone we know and love. Learning about the sudden and unexpected death of anyone evokes these words from a poem by John Donne:
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee1
Do not despair, there is hope! Saint Paul’s point in our reading from his Letter to the Romans, which soothes on one level and provokes us on another, is that because we have died, been buried, and rose with Christ to new life through the waters of baptism, we need not fear death. Certainly, Father Rene died, was buried, and rose with Christ to new life.

Reynato Rodillas, whose fifty-ninth birthday is next week, on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, lived the new life Christ graciously died and rose to give him as a priest. Leaving a promising career as a civil engineer, a beautiful fiancée, who did not know he’d gone to the seminary until he’d been there a year (Father assured me they remained friends), and, going against the wishes of his Dad, he pursued ordination to the priesthood. His decade or so ministering in our diocese constituted less than half of his priestly life.

Until he was incardinated into the Diocese of Salt Lake City- one of then-Bishop Wester’s last official acts here- Father Rene was a member of the Society of the Divine Word. The SVDs, as they’re popularly known, is a missionary order of priests. After serving in Germany and before coming to the United States, he served as the pastor of a very poor mountain village in the Philippines. The people of this village were too poor to support the parish. And so, Father Rene supported them.

It was at this point that, drawing on his family's farming roots, he began to raise food in earnest. The food he raised was largely given to the people of the parish. To earn money needed to build a simple Church, Father Rene presided at many funerals throughout Manila and the surrounding areas. As a good pastor, rather than having it built for them, Father Rene insisted that the people of the parish take ownership of their church by building it themselves. In response, parishioners would bring whatever they had to offer for the construction of this sacred place. He helped several young people from that village with their education, enabling them to rise from poverty.

In the nearly five years I was privileged to serve alongside Father Rene, I never saw him happier than in the heat of an August afternoon working in his amazingly fruitful garden. When I had a meeting or was teaching a class at that time of the year, I always went out back to see him working. He would stop, tilt his big, floppy hat back, wipe the sweat from his brow, and flash his big smile at me. It helped me immensely to see someone so happy with what they were doing. Of course, there were a few times when I arrived at the parish of an evening and had to usher his chickens, including two very non-cooperative roosters, back into the fenced yard.

Father Reynato Rodillas- 25 January 1962 - 8 January 2021

For those who know Father Rene, you know he was quite introverted and retiring, even shy. He was a meek and gentle but very determined man. I know firsthand that the struggles of being a pastor really got to him at times. Many of us here know how painful and draining pastoral ministry is on occasion. This is why closeness to Christ through prayer is absolutely vital. Father Rene had a deep prayer life.

While at Saint Olaf, he loved to sit silently in the chapel next to his rectory before the Blessed Sacrament. He told me this place was his refuge. This echoes the words of the psalmist: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”2

His manner of presiding at the Eucharist was wonderful and came to him so naturally, there was nothing forced or affected about it. Celebrating Mass with and on behalf of God’s holy people was the center of his life. The only thing that rivaled celebrating the Eucharist was perhaps his love of singing.

Everyone who spent any time at all with Father Rene has a memory of him breaking into song. Despite life’s trials, he was a joyful person. The apex, then, was when, as he did his last several years at Saint Olaf, he would sing the Sacred Liturgy. He did it very beautifully.

Father Rene loved Our Lady. He prayed the Rosary daily. At his instigation, Saint Olaf parish prayed a communal Rosary each Sunday before one of the Masses on a rotating basis. Different groups from the parish, including the deacon, took turns leading the Rosary. Father Rene didn’t just mandate the Rosary and absent himself. He sat at the back of the Church in his alb, Rosary in hand, praying along with everybody. This was another time he was truly at peace.

The first time I saw Father Rene after he was made pastor of Saint James the Just was at the Bishop’s Dinner about a month after his move. Seeing me, he broke into that big smile, made a b-line to me, and gave me one of the biggest hugs I’ve ever received. He might not like me to say this, but we were both a little teary-eyed. After all, we’d been through a lot together. Like a good Father, at that and other moments, he made me feel loved. To my mind, this is the essence of priestly ministry.

Too often, we think of life in Christ, which is nothing other than life in the Spirit, as a big, noisy, glitzy affair. Most of the time, my friends, it isn’t. As the Apostle Paul laid them out in his Letter to the Galatians, the Spirit’s fruits are faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, patience, joy, kindness, peace, and love.3

As the late Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, who also died an untimely, sudden death, once said: “I think there can't be any greater joy in life than knowing that someone else's life is richer because you lived.”4 There are many of us here tonight whose lives are richer because Rene Rodillas lived.

Endeavoring in weakness during the rapidly-passing time of mortality to live as a new creation, with the help of God’s grace, is what it means to be alive in Christ. As Jesus said to Lazarus’s grieving sister, Martha:
I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die5
Characteristically, Jesus ends his pronouncement to Martha, his revelation, with a question: “Do you believe this?”6 It’s not a question one can answer with words, at least not convincingly. This question can only really be answered by the way you live your life. The day is coming when Christ will ask you this question.

Father Rene believed with every fiber of his being that Jesus is the resurrection and life. The joys and sorrows of his priestly ministry only deepened his faith. By making the LORD his light and his salvation, Father Rene could face death, even an untimely death, without fear.

Tonight, as we keep Vigil with Father Rene’s earthly remains, entrusting him to the unfailing intercession of our Blessed Mother, let’s open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence among and in us. It is the Spirit that animates us, making us, the Church, Christ's mystical Body. It is by living life in the Spirit that Christ is made present through us, just as he made himself present through the life and priestly ministry of our brother, Rene.

1 John Donne, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
2 Psalm 32:7 (New International Version).
3 Galatians 5:22-23.
4 Rich Mullins, Heart to Heart Interview with Sheila Walsh on Christian Broadcasting Network, 20 May 1992. Accessed 18 January 2021
5 John 11:25-26.
6 John 11:25.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Way: Following Jesus

Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b-10.19; Ps 40:2.4.7-10; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a.17-20; John 1:35-42

What Jesus says to Andrew and the other disciple of the Baptist in today's Gospel he says to all who would follow him: "Come and you will see." Being a Christian means being a follower of a way. As Christians, we insist on being followers of the Way inasmuch as we have experienced Christ as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Following Jesus is dynamic and moving, not static and stationary. To point out something obvious, he didn't summon the two followers of the Baptist to the nearest rock and urge them to sit down.

Our readings today follow last Sunday's celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Front-to-back and side-to-side, these readings are about vocation. A vocation is a calling. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ calls you to follow him. At root, there is only one call: follow Christ. You received this call at your baptism. It was strengthened by a special sacramental outpouring of the Holy Spirit when you were confirmed. Following Christ is the primary vocation of every Christian.

You must discern how to follow Christ by considering what state of life he calls you to live. What is meant by "state of life"? Well, do you have a vocation to marriage, with its implicit call to parenthood? Are you called to live a single life, allowing you to devote yourself to God in this way? Are you called to participate in the charism of a particular religious order and fully live the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience? Both ordained and laypeople can belong to religious orders. Most of the ordained belong to the "secular" clergy, meaning they do not belong to a religious order but are called to serve the local Church under the authority of the bishop.

Finally, how you earn your living, support yourself and, if married, your family is also something you should prayerfully consider. If your state of life as described above is your secondary vocation, this might be called your tertiary vocation. The manner in which you live your life should not only be directed toward bringing others to Christ but, by the Spirit's power, bringing Christ to others. The best way to bring Christ to others is through service, what in the New Testament is called diakonia. It gets back to that oft-used quote, probably not uttered by Saint Francis but certainly smacking of the Franciscan charism: Today preach the Gospel and if you have to use words."

Christians follow a person, not a set of ideas or rules let alone a ready-made ideology be it of the right or the left. If you truly follow Jesus, he will challenge your preconceptions, disabuse you of your smug certainties, and invite you to engage reality with love and intense desire. Even though Andrew, Peter's brother, and the other disciple (usually considered to be John) seem to recognize Jesus as the Christ right-away and set out to follow him, they have no idea of the journey on which they're about to embark. Following Jesus is nothing if not an adventure.

God, as Pope Francis has noted more than once, is "the God of surprises." This is so, the Holy Father insists, "because he is a living God, a God who abides in us, a God who moves our heart, a God who is in the Church and walks with us; and he always surprises us on this path" (from Homily for Daily Mass 8 May 2017). If you don't believe this, ask your pastor to tell you the story of his vocation, or a religious sister of your acquaintance why she decided for foresake all and follow Jesus more closely, or ask a Christian couple you know and hold in high regard how they met and decided to marry each other. You'll hear about a lot of surprises!

When the disciples of the Baptist ask Jesus where he is staying, the Lord invites them to come and see. Yet, despite conveying that they spent the rest of the day with him, the inspired author never indicates a specific place. In other words, just where Jesus was staying is never disclosed. Nowhere can be separated into now here. It seems that after he left Nazareth, Jesus had no fixed location, no home to speak of. The point, it seems to me, is that to follow Jesus is to be on the way. The Second Vatican Council described the Church as a Pilgrim People, a people on the way (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], Chapter VII).

Jesus keeps us from settling for less than that for which we are made. In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis put it like this:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Once you are baptized, confirmed, and come into communion, you are incorporated into Christ's very Body, the Church. Hence, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of ancient Corinth, "you are not your own" (1 Cor 6:19). This doesn't mean that you give up your agency, your freedom, your ability to chose. It means that your encounter with Jesus has changed your life. This change of life is called "repentance," in Greek metanoia. The way of Jesus is the path of true freedom.

Friday, January 15, 2021

"I'm a little divided..."

Oh, wow! It's Friday once again. I've been learning the hard way the past few weeks that there is nothing magic about the start of a new year. Time, while perhaps not totally so, is a fairly arbitrary marker. On the good side, in a very real sense, every day is New Year's Day. This time next year it will be 15 January 2022. You can make a resolution today!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'll take all the new beginnings I can get. Since the new year, it has become clear to me that I need a bit of a course correction. I don't need a 180° correction, or even a 90° turn. I think need something in the 45° range, which is still a pretty significant vector change.

At root, I just want and need to be happier. Understandably, last year things were very serious with the pandemic and everything else going on. I am glad I dealt with many of those issues directly, even if my doing so sat the wrong way with some people. Looking back, I am not full of regrets.

This is not to say that, like virtually everyone else, I can always find better ways to say/write what I am thinking and feeling. But I don't have any regrets. It's been observed that if you don't have enemies it's probably because you haven't stood for anything. As a Christian, it's important to love those who set themselves against you, to pray for them, to do good to them. This, of course, is far easier to write than to do.

My need to stop undercutting my own happiness (i.e., a choice to focus on negative things) became apparent to me well before the end of the last year. To remedy this, I obtained a copy of Max Lucado's book How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations. As I write this, I have only one chapter left before I finish it. It was a good investment.

When I finish How Happiness Happens, I plan to read Brother David Steindhl-Rast's Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer : An Approach to Life in Fullness. I've concluded that at present there are plenty of critics. I am grateful for those who have the gift of doing this directly and charitably. But, at least for now, I feel the need to fly a slightly different course.

Last weekend I had the chance to spend some time listening to music. It's been awhile. I listened to Foo Fighters sing "Times Like These" live on SNL last November. It was a great show with Dave Chappelle as guest host. Dave's monologue was superb, watch it. It's the kind of thing we need to hear. Dave deals with the complexity and humanity of our current moment while making us laugh, especially at ourselves, which is invaluable. If you want to cut to the chase, go to 14:23 and watch until the end.

Peace and blessings. Hang in there. God is good. Because God is good, there is hope. Easter is always happening.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Year B Baptism of the Lord

Readings: Isa 42:1-4.6-7; Ps 29:1-4.9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

Today we mark the end of the Christmas season. This is unique to the United States. For most Catholics throughout the world, Christmas ended last Wednesday, 6 January, the traditional observance of Epiphany. Roman Catholics in the U.S. observe Epiphany on the second Sunday after Christmas. But rather than shorten the season, Christmas in our country extends until today’s feast.

An “epiphany” is a sudden revelation. On Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation of Jesus’s Lordship to the nations, that is, to the Gentiles. Not being Jewish, the magi represent the nations. Our reading from Acts connects today’s feast with Epiphany. What we heard proclaimed is a section from Acts 10 known as “the Pentecost of the Gentiles.”

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles, as described in the second chapter of Acts, occurred on Pentecost. Pentecost is a major Jewish feast. In the Second Temple period- the period during which Jesus lived, along with Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths), Pentecost (in Hebrew Shavuot) was one of the major pilgrimage festivals.

During the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, Jews came from all over the known world to Jerusalem to celebrate. Pentecost means “Fifty Days.” Shavuot is also called “Pentecost” because it occurs fifty days after Passover. During this festival, Jews celebrate God’s giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christians call our celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, which we revere as the birth of the Church, “Pentecost” because we observe it fifty days after Easter, our Passover.

In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’s frightened followers as “tongues of fire while they were in hiding during this festival for fear of their lives.1 Their response was to be so emboldened as to leave their hiding place and start proclaiming the Good News that is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, and now present in this new and powerful way.

Jews from many nations, who spoke many different languages, were able to understand what these Spirit-filled Christians preached in their own language.2 The Holy Spirit is how the risen Lord remains present among us, in us, and through us. Being present to us through the Holy Spirit is more a powerful and intimate presence than if Jesus had not ascended. One way Christ is really present in the Eucharist is in the gathering of the baptized.

In response to Peter’s preaching, the inspired author relays that all “who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.”3 And so, from the Church’s beginning, the way a person becomes a Christian is by being baptized.

The scene of our second reading is the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Along with members of his household, Cornelius had come to faith in Christ. Peter went there to catechize these Gentiles. Our reading is Peter’s teaching the group, a primitive version of RCIA. It bears more than a passing resemblance to his preaching at the Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Where Peter’s preaching in this passage differs from what he said in Jerusalem is the recognition that they are Gentiles: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”4 In his message, Peter alludes to John’s baptismal ministry in the River Jordan and Christ’s anointing with the Holy Spirit.5

If we follow the story a little farther, in response to Peter’s preaching, the Holy Spirit “fell upon” Cornelius and his household.6 As a result, they were baptized. Hence, this is the Pentecost of the Gentiles, the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, expanding God’s one covenant with humanity to all people everywhere.

What is God’s covenant? It is captured well by the prophet Jeremiah, to whom God said: “Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.”7 What does God say? In today’s Gospel, he says to and about Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”8

Later in Mark’s Gospel, at the Transfiguration when Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, indicating that he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, God says, again, “This is my beloved Son” before telling the awe-struck disciples, “Listen to him.”9

What does Jesus say that we should listen to? Quoting the Law, he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” and “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”10

As Paul forcefully reminded the Christians of ancient Galatia, it is baptism, not circumcision, that is the mark of God’s new and everlasting covenant. Unlike circumcision, everyone can be baptized, which is why the apostle insists:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus11
Christianity is universal or it is nothing.

Apart from your birth, your baptism is the most important thing that has ever happened to you. It is wonderful that our Catechumens, who are preparing for baptism at Easter are with us this morning. It bears reminding ourselves that baptism, not holy orders, or any other sacrament, is the fundamental sacrament of Christian life.

Through the waters of baptism, you are reborn as God’s child. In baptism, you die, are buried and rise with Christ to new life. This means eternal life is not the life that begins after mortal death but starts now.

Just as Jesus’s identity as God’s only begotten Son was confirmed by the Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of the Father calling him his “beloved Son,” your identity as God’s beloved son/daughter is confirmed when you receive the sacrament of confirmation.12

After being baptized by John and spending forty days and nights in the desert fasting, praying, and being tempted by the devil, Jesus began his proclamation of God’s Kingdom: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”13 When translated literally from Greek, Jesus's exhortation is “Be repenting and be believing,” it is continuous. For Christians, now is always the time of fulfillment. One of the statements made on Ash Wednesday as you receive ashes is “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”14

In light of our collective loss with Father Rene's passing, it is important to note that the Mass of Christian Burial begins with the rite of reception of the body. As the casket is brought into the church, a white pall is placed over it. The pall is a baptismal garment. Between this ritual act and the sprinkling with holy water, these words are said: “In the waters of baptism [our brother/sister] died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory.”15

As God’s beloved child, eternal glory with Christ is your destiny. Live in light of your destiny: “Be repenting and be believing.”

1 Acts 2:3.
2 Acts 2:5-6.
3 Acts 2:41.
4 Acts 10:34-35.
5 Acts 10:37-38.
6 Acts 10:44.
7 Jeremiah 7:23.
8 Mark 1:11.
9 Mark 9:7.
10 Mark 12:30-31; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18.
11 Galatians 3:27-28.
12 Mark 1:11.
13 Mark 1:15.
14 Roman Missal, Ash Wednesday, Blessing and Distribution of Ashes.
15 Order of Christian Funerals, The Funeral Mass, Introductory Rites, sec. 160.

Friday, January 8, 2021

On being yeast

I think I can safely say that the first week of 2021, at least for those of us in the United States, has been tumultuous. Don't worry, this post is not a dissection of the events of this past week. I will just say that my hope is this past week put into bold relief the need citizen of the United States have to come together. This does not require everyone to agree on everything.

Healthy democracies require disagreement, debate, and, yes, compromise. It does require us to agree on some fundamental things. I hope more than a slight majority of my fellow citizens now grasp this. I also hope that we now collectively see why keeping political discourse civil is so important.

Because I posted the first Friday traditio of this still-new year on New Year's Day, this is the second of 2021. A thought occurred to me this week that what precedes the so-called Kenotic Hymn in the second chapter of Saint Paul's Letter to Philippians is important and often neglected. The hymn, which begins in verse with verse 6- "Who though he was in the form of God..."- is precisely that, a hymn. This means it was sung by early Christians and subsequently used by the apostle to highlight an important point he was trying to make. The first five verses provide the context for the hymn, give you the reason why Paul used it.

What is that point? The answer to this question lies in the first five verses of this chapter:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus...
The heart of this passage seems to be the exhortation to "humbly regard others as more important than yourselves." Doing this is how you imitate Jesus, who, even though he was God, did not lord his divinity over the world but rather served the world like a slave, not a master. Yes, it is very difficult because, at a very deep level, we are programmed, to use a technological metaphor, to act out of selfishness, putting our own interests first.

To be clear, this is a Christian thing, not a secular thing. Paul addressed his letter to the Church in ancient Philippi, not to everyone. This is one more lesson, too, that the Church is not to seek worldly power and dominion. What many Christians in the U.S. today mistake as persecution is merely the loss of political power, of cultural hegemony, of having sway and having it their way. In reality, these losses should be celebrated, not lamented. The lowest ebbs in Church history have been when the Church has sought and attained political power.

You see, Christianity, like Kierkegaard noted in virtually all his works, is not only something that should not be imposed, Christianity that is Christianity cannot be imposed. Christendom is a perversion of Christianity. Rather than lament, Christians should see our present circumstances as an opportunity to follow Jesus more faithfully, which means putting ourselves at the service of others. As Pope Francis often notes, too often the Church has become self-serving, too worried about preserving itself, its institutions, and, therefore, not focused on serving others, especially those most in need. This is the only way to regain the Church's lost credibility.

This is not to say that Christians should hole up, separate ourselves, refuse to participate in the political and cultural aspects of the societies in which we live, including running for and holding elected offices. Far from it! It is about how we participate and how we serve the common good, not whether or not we ought to do so. We are to do so but in a way consistent with the teachings of Christ, who said: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed [in] with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened” (Luke 13:20-21). While I fully embrace preaching the Gospel and making disciples of all nations, I sometimes think the Church does better where Christians are in the minority.

It was kind of difficult coming up with the song for our traditio today but Lauren Daigle's acoustic cover of Matt Maher's "Lord, I Need You" strikes me as a good one:

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Not being afraid because God is with us

He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, saith the Lord.1 These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.

His teaching surpasseth all teaching of holy men, and such as have His Spirit find therein the hidden manna.2 But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel but little longing after it, because they have not the mind of Christ. He, therefore, that will fully and with true wisdom understand the words of Christ, let him strive to conform his whole life to that mind of Christ.

What doth it profit thee to enter into deep discussion concerning the Holy Trinity, if thou lack humility, and be thus displeasing to the Trinity? For verily it is not deep words that make a man holy and upright; it is a good life which maketh a man dear to God. I had rather feel contrition than be skilful in the definition thereof. If thou knewest the whole Bible, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what should all this profit thee without the love and grace of God? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, save to love God, and Him only to serve. That is the highest wisdom, to cast the world behind us, and to reach forward to the heavenly kingdom.

It is vanity then to seek after, and to trust in, the riches that shall perish. It is vanity, too, to covet honours, and to lift up ourselves on high. It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh and be led by them, for this shall bring misery at the last. It is vanity to desire a long life, and to have little care for a good life. It is vanity to take thought only for the life which now is, and not to look forward to the things which shall be hereafter. It is vanity to love that which quickly passeth away, and not to hasten where eternal joy abideth.

Jesus Walks on the Water, by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1888

Be ofttimes mindful of the saying, The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.3 Strive, therefore, to turn away thy heart from the love of the things that are seen, and to set it upon the things that are not seen. For they who follow after their own fleshly lusts, defile the conscience, and destroy the grace of God.
Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Book I, chap 1)

1 John 8:12.
2 Revelation 2:17.
3 Ecclesiastes 1:8.


Three years ago I was up late because it was my last night off for the holidays. The thought of returning to my regular routine on 4 January 2018 had me feeling anxious. I can't even remember how I ran across a website that featured Thomas á Kempis's classic spiritual text The Imitation of Christ. Therefore, I can remember why I cited the passage I did on that snowy night three years ago.

Especially in light of the year just past, like a lot of people, I suppose, tonight I feel anxious about what lies ahead as 2021 begins in earnest tomorrow morning. It was this feeling of anxiety that caused me to remember the snowy late night Wednesday, 3 January 2018. I don't mind admitting that "I have not [yet] the mind of Christ. Each year my New Year's resolutions boil down to striving to conform my whole "to that mind of Christ."

And so, this Sunday night, I pray for the humility necessary to fully understand with true wisdom Christ's words. I begin with the words he spoke to his frightened disciples who were in a boat as Jesus walked across the water: "Do not be afraid" (see Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21).

Peace to all who read this as you embark on the first full week of the new year. Remember, at Christmas we celebrate Emmanuel, God-with-us. Remembering that God is with us is how you keep Christmas alive all year.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Epiphany: the journey of wisdom

For Roman Catholics in the United States, today is Epiphany. Traditionally, and even now among most Western Christians who follow the liturgical calendar, Epiphany is on 6 January- the Twelfth Day of Christmas. "Twelfth Night" celebrations still happen among Christians in other countries. But for Roman Catholics in the U.S., Epiphany falls on the second Sunday after Christmas. We observe the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday immediately following Christmas Day.

Rather than the liturgical season of Christmas ending earlier for Catholics in the U.S., it ends later. For us, the Christmas season extends to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which this year is next Sunday, 10 January.

In English, the traditional translation of magi is "wise men" (magus=wise man). This is the source of bumper stickers and the like that insist "Wise men follow him still." A wise person, of course, is one who possesses wisdom.

First thing this morning, I read R.S. Thomas's short poem about the Epiphany, "The first king."
The first king was on horseback.
The second a pillion rider. [a "pillion" is a motorbike]
The third came by plane.

Where was the god-child?
He was in the manger
with the beasts, all looking

the other way where the fourth
was a slow dawning because
wisdom must come on foot
(from Carys Walsh Frequencies of God: Walking Through Advent with R.S. Thomas, 165)
Wisdom is not just a journey. It is a slow journey, a pilgrimage. After all, what sense would it make to travel the Camino de Santiago on horseback, by motorcycle, or helicopter?

In this context, "Wisdom" is a translation of the Greek word Sophia, who is the subject of the Book of Wisdom. Despite being in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom was originally composed in Greek, not Hebrew. Sophia can be said to be something like the twin of Logos. The recently deceased John P. Mackey, in his one-volume systematic theology Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future Among the Religions, wrote wonderfully about Wisdom/Sophia. Sophia. Mackey asserted that Sophia "refers to a learning of the truth by walking a way, by living a life" (43).

Because Wisdom is infinite and we are finite (all too finite), it is not a fixed destination. It is not a journey to Wisdom but a journey of Wisdom. In his classic novella The Other Wiseman, Henry Van Dyke describes this journey very well.

In Van Dyke's story, Artaban (the fourth wise man) sets out to pay homage to the royal infant. He brings exquisite jewels, including "the pearl of great price," to present to the King. En route he is repeatedly waylaid by people who need his help. Like the Good Samaritan, by helping those in need whom he encounters he incurs costs. So many costs, in fact, that eventually he even gives up "the pearl of great price." He does not encounter the King until arrives in Jerusalem in time for this King's crucifixion. Artaban dies after a lifetime of following the way of wisdom, even if he does so more or less does do unknowingly, all while having horizon always extend before him.

As Carys Walsh describes it, Artaban's "is a slow journey, of a slow wise man, who never reaches his 'goal' but is forever caught up in the gradual shaping of faith and following" (Frequencies of God, 167). For Artaban it is as Thomas describes it- "a slow dawning/because wisdom must come on foot."

"Simply I learned about Wisdom, and ungrudgingly do I share - her riches I do not hide away; for to people she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them" (Wisdom 7:13-14- more or less my own translation). This passage from the Book of Wisdom seems relevant to Van Dyke's story about Artaban, the wisest of the wise men.

As to the gifts wrought by discipline, let us not forget that the spiritual disciplines, particularly the fundamental ones taught us by the Lord himself- prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, are but means to the end of loving God fully by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. As the story of Artaban and the Parable of Good Samaritan both demonstrate, your neighbor is the person whom you encounter who needs your help. Hence, Wisdom lies in making yourself a neighbor, a companion on the way, to avoid mixing metaphors.

In terms of our own journeys as Christians, given that whatever wisdom we might possess at any given time is broken and incomplete, perhaps part of the difficulty we have evangelizing is we offer answers that are too certain and/or facile. Our answers are often abstract and delicate, easily crushed by the weight of experience. Perhaps evangelizing consists of telling those who express interest in it about your own journey and inviting them along. Wisdom, then, is not one big epiphany but consists of many epiphanies, some may negate previous ones. Only those who wander are not lost. Truth is a journey because truth is an experience.

Friday, January 1, 2021

"I will begin again..."

Well, today is the first Friday of 2021. Why wait until next week for the first traditio of 2021?

I've been thinking a lot about how arbitrary time is. Across the world, there are many different calendars used by people belonging to different cultures. I was even thinking about the Catholic liturgical calendar, which offsets the calendar year by about a month. But there's Lent, which is a time t begin again, etc. Even going to confession marks a new beginning.

I don't know about you, but I'll take all the fresh starts I can get! If there's one thing Christians believe in, it's new beginnings.

With New Year's Day falling on a Friday, it is nice to be able to post U2's song "New Year's Day" as the first traditio of the year. It's hard to believe that the album on which "New Year's Day" is the third track, War, was released nearly thirty-eight years ago in 1983. The song is personal, musical, and political at its origins. The political bit was inspired by the Polish Solidarity movement.

Indeed, not much has changed this New Year's Day from the day, or even the year, before. We're still amid the pandemic. We're facing what will likely be a disastrous January in terms of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Beyond that, many people who are taking the pandemic seriously and isolating. This makes the long expressed in the song very relevant. It also has a leitmotif of anti-racism.

It's also fun to post videos from the early-to-mid eighties when music videos were something of a serious art form. While we Gen Xers don't discuss it much, we used to watch MTV, which was almost all these kinds of music videos.

Once again, Happy New Year. I will restate what I urged in my post from last year when the clouds of the pandemic were rolling in from the horizon: "Don't panic. Be prudent and pray."

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

Readings: Num 6:22-27; Ps 67:2-3.5-6.8; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

When praying and thinking about what I might preach on this Solemnity that marks the beginning of the New Year, the thought crossed my mind to simply say, “Happy New Year! As Saint Teresa of Kolkata once said to a fellow Christian who questioned her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘No Mary, no Jesus.’ This can also be stated Know Mary (k-n-o-w), know Jesus. Pray the Rosary!” One friend responded to this with “Good enough!” Well, I am not going to let you off the hook that easily.

Because Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Mary is the Queen of Peace. In addition to being the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, since Pope Saint Paul VI celebrated the first one fifty-four years ago in 1967, New Year’s Day has also been, at least for Catholics, the World Day of Peace.

I am always struck by the opening verses of the Beatles song “Let It Be” -
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be1
As the opening words of the well-known hymn has it: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Of necessity, peace starts as an interior movement, one that is born in stillness and silence. Peace of mind is the fruit of contemplating the mystery of God-made-man-for us, as the heart of the Mother of God reflecting on the event of Incarnation of God’s Only Begotten Son shows us in today’s Gospel.2 As Saint Paul notes in our reading from his Letter to the Galatians, it is because Jesus is Son of God and Son of Mary that he is our brother, this is what enables us to call God, “Abba, Father.”3

This cosmic event was no doubt awe-inspiring, even for her through whom God became man. It was by the Virgin Mary that Jesus was made consubstantial with us. It was on the cross that Jesus gave Mary as a mother to all who follow him, when he said to the beloved disciple: “Behold your mother.”4

The most accessible means we have at our disposal for contemplating the mystery of God-made-man-for-us is the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As you pray it, you contemplate the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries. I urge you to pray the Rosary every day, three hundred and sixty-five times between today on New Year’s Day 2022.

Our Lady, Mother of Providence, by Stephen Whatley, 2013

By “Pray the Rosary daily,” I mean one full set of mysteries each day. You can pray the Rosary while sitting quietly or you can pray it while walking, which, I don't mind telling you, is my preferred method. You can pray it while waiting at the dentist’s or doctor’s office, or while having your oil changed. You can even pray it while driving, but only if your vehicle has an automatic transmission.

As the late English Dominican Fr. Vincent McNabb urged in a homily for Rosary Sunday way back in 1936:
The Incarnation is the centre of all our spiritual life. One of the means by which it is made so is the Holy Rosary. There is hardly any way of arriving at some realisation of this great mystery equal to that of saying the Rosary. Nothing will impress it so much on your mind as going apart to dwell in thought, a little space each day, in Bethlehem, on Golgotha, on the Mount of the Ascension5
Today I urge you to make praying the Rosary daily a New Year’s Resolution. As you take the time to pray the Rosary each day, bring your prayer intentions before your Mother. Pray for peace, peace in your heart, in your home, in your place of work, in our parish, our diocese, the Church, in our community, state, country, and pray for the peace announced to the shepherds by the angels on the night of our Lord’s birth to prevail throughout the world.

Our Blessed Mother will hear and intercede for you. She will help you, strengthen you, comfort and console you. Sometimes, being the good Mother she is, she will challenge you to follow her Son more closely. She will urge you to have the faith to step out of the safety of the boat.

At the beginning of this New Year, Our Lady says to you what she said to the humble peasant Juan Diego centuries ago: ¿No estoy yo aqui, que soy tu madre? "Am I not here, I who am your mother?"

My friends in Christ, Happy New Year! Know Mary, know Jesus. Pray the Rosary!

1 The Beatles, “Let It Be,” written and sung by Paul McCartney.
2 Luke 2:19.
3 Galatians 4:6.
4 John 19:27.
5 Michael Hennessy, “Fr. Vincent McNabb: A Voice of Contradiction,” Seattle Catholic, 29 April 2005.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...