Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

The Saint Anthony Messenger answers questions about the origins of the next two days on the Christian calendar. The following are excerpts from the Saint Anthony Messenger report.

When you think of Halloween, what comes to mind? For a lot of people, Halloween has become synonymous with candy, costumes, scary stuff, witches, ghosts and pumpkins. But do you know the Christian connection to the holiday?

The true origins of Halloween lie with the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts, November 1 marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. 

The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, lord of the dead. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead, including ghosts, goblins and witches, returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider, traditions which may sound familiar to you. But where does the Christian aspect of the holiday come into play? In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints)from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallows' Even or holy evening. Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day.

The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the "communion of saints," which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that through the communion of saints "a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things" (CCC #1475).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Christian joy

Hey? Are you smiling now? Do you have a face that radiates your Christian belief. Many think Christians should be happy all the time. So, are you smiling yet?
There's a pop-Gospel song entitled, "If You're Happy, Notify Your Face." Not a well-known song among the contemporary Christian songs. The first stanza goes like this:

If you're happy, notify your face,

Take that frown off and put a smile in its place;

If you love Jesus, well, show it to the human race,

If you're happy, notify your face.

The song is catchy and cute, but, in reality, our facial expression is affected by the whole range of things we experience. Do you know people whose natural facial expressions when at rest looks like smiles? If projecting happiness is a Christian obligation, then those people have an edge on the rest of us because they don't need to think about notifying their faces. But, of course, their usual expressions are merely the result of how the muscles in the face function. These same people might tell us that their lives aren't happy at all. On varying occasions, we might even see their faces projecting pain, upset and anger. Most of us find it impossible to be happy all the time. Life is just too complicated for that.

Author Thomas Kelly tells of a well-known Christian of an earlier era, John Wilhelm Rowntree (1868-1905), who began to lose his sight, and went to a doctor. After examining Rowntree, the doctor told him that nothing could be done; he was soon going to go completely blind. Afterward, outside the office, Rowntree stood holding onto a railing to collect himself, when he suddenly felt the love of God wrap around him and he "was filled with a joy he had never known before." Under the circumstances, that was hardly happiness at all, but it was the powerful presence of God. And certainly that radiates a quality of joy!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Joy from the Holy Spirit

"with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers"

Acknowledging the joy referenced in today's second reading reveals the total picture of humanity. We are not half-empty, but half-full. While it is true that we are flawed and fractured and thus may never be able to remain filled and satisfied for very long, we can nevertheless return again and again and again to the well of God's love and joy and draw from it all that we need to refill our strength of will and soundness of heart.

Rejoicing in the Lord and proclaiming the glass half-full and the bucket fillable takes more than a sappy sense of well-being - it takes gutsy joy. Gutsy joy enables us to see the steady stream of God's love and fidelity flowing into our lives when we feel as though we are in the midst of a spiritual drought. Gutsy joy keeps us striving after obedience even when we realize we will always fall short of God's intentions for us.
One of the greatest examples of gutsy joy is Robert Louis Stevenson, someone who was devastatingly ill from childhood on and was in pain almost every day of his adult life.

One morning toward the end of his life, when he was hemorrhaging so badly he could not even whisper, Stevenson wrote his wife and daughter a little note which read: "Mr. Dumbleigh presents his compliments and praises God that he is sick so he has to be cared for ... Was ever a man so blest?"

In the closing days of his life, Stevenson wrote this prayer that has become somewhat of a classic: 

"We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies that make our lives delightful.... Give us courage, gaiety, and the quiet mind." 

Experiencing joy, feeling the laughter of loved life well up in our spirits and burst out of our mouths is a divine gift. C. S. Lewis believed that the ability to laugh at ourselves is as close as we get to true repentance in life. Tears over our brokenness close us down, as we dwell on the empty portions of our lives. Laughter opens us up, allowing us to lift our faces to the Lord from the surface of our half-filled selves, acknowledging our incompleteness and awaiting the pouring out of God's spirit

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Sunday Word

We don't really know if Jesus ever put pen and ink to paper. No record exists that he ever wrote anything or kept a library of his own. We do know, however, that Jesus was immersed in Israel's Scriptures in a way that did not require him to carry a Torah scroll with him or keep a filing system. The text never disappeared from his memory, and the words that he spoke were so important that among tons of paper and gallons of ink ever used in history, they are the most important -- so much so that precious ink is still used to show them to the world. And perhaps none of those words are as important as those spoken by Jesus in this Sunday's text, known to history as "The Great Commandment."
The great commandment
In Matthew's Gospel, this passage appears in a series of rapid-fire questions from the religious authorities who are grilling Jesus in the temple. The Pharisees maintained huge libraries of commentaries about the Torah and believed themselves to be experts in the law as it appeared on ink and paper. When they heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, another religious literate group, they gathered together and had a lawyer among them ask Jesus a question designed to "test" him.

The test question, or "trick" question was: "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

Jesus answers with words that were familiar to every Jew, words that were recited every morning and evening as a prayer. The "Shema" was so important that pious Jews took the commandment to "bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" literally. Little scrolls containing the words of were worn on the foreheads of pious Jews in leather boxes called phylacteries and attached to doorposts in little containers called mezuzahs. It was a command to be carried, worn and touched.

But even more than that, it was a command to be lived. In a sense, the words on the scroll were unnecessary because they were prayed and recited daily. The irony of the "test" is that those standing in front of Jesus in their phylacteries had the text in paper and ink and yet they did not realize that in their desire for religious correctness they were allowing it to disappear.

Indeed, Jesus tells the crowds to listen to the teaching of the Pharisees but not to do as they do "for they do not practice what they teach." Of all the commandments in their scrolls, Jesus says, this commandment is "the first and greatest" -- not just to be taught, but to be lived. Even if the words on the scrolls disappeared, this commandment remains permanent.

The second commandment is "like" the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" . This commandment wasn't just to be worn on the forehead, but it was to be kept in the heart and obeyed through the hands. For Jesus, love of God naturally works its way outward in love for neighbor, and love for neighbor can be an expression of love for God. If you put these two commandments together, says Jesus, you will boil down all the words of "the law and the prophets."  The words printed by the water-jet printer may disappear every 24 hours, but the words of Jesus will never disappear.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It's all about you, Jesus!

"It's all about you" - the phrase can build us up or tear us down. 

But if truth be told, a more appropriate mantra for this generation is: "It's all about me." In fact, Web sites abound making that very claim. Type in "It's all about me" and you'll find thousands of self-declarative, self-proclaiming, self-expressing netizens professing "It's all about me" - whoever "me" might happen to be. 

Ebay, the online auction site, encourages "about me" pages because "Your About Me" page is a great way for people to understand who you are. You describe who you are - or if not who you are, then maybe how you see yourself, or wish yourself to be. You create a Web site which defiantly declares, "It's about me! It's all about me! Me, me, me, me! Notice me! See me! Here I am! I matter! Read about me! Know me!"

Jesus is well aware of the destructive nature of the "all-about-me" mentality. That's why he warns that his followers must be willing to deny themselves before they can be counted as true disciples. He understood that the only thing that stands between God and me, is me. I'm in my own way. Every time I try to walk alone I trip over myself.

This getting-out-of-the-way is what makes Peter's proclamation about Jesus so remarkable, so extraordinary, so inconceivable. For a moment, perhaps for the first time in his life, Peter gets out of his own way. For a moment Peter stops thinking about himself. He stops putting "me" first. In a flash of insight he understands, if only for that instant, that it isn't "about ME" - it never was and never will be. In effect, Peter proclaims, "It's all about you, Jesus!"

It's about Peter's becoming smaller inside himself and allowing Jesus to become bigger inside him. John the Baptist had the same insight when he said about Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Church as the Body of Christ

Pope Francis has delivered a message that, in light of recent events, might be seen not only as timely but also pointed:

The Church as the Body of Christ was the focus of Pope Francis general audience this Wednesday morning, attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists in an autumnal St. Peter’s Square.

Referring to the Apostle Paul’s advice to the quarreling community in Corinth the Pope noted that many of our Christian communities, our parishes are divided by envy, gossip, misunderstanding and marginalization.

He said this “dismembers us” and moreover is the beginning of war. “War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other”.

No one is superior in the community of the Church, and when we feel tempted to think of ourselves as superior “especially to those who perform the most humble and hidden services” the Pope said we should “remember our sins” in shame before God.

The only way to counter such division is to appreciate the individual qualities and gifts of others and give thanks to God for them.

The Church understood as the Body of Christ – he concluded – is a profound communion of love, its deepest and most beautiful distinguishing feature.

From the official text:

In Paul’s time, the community of Corinth experienced a lot of difficulties in this sense, experiencing, as we too often do, divisions, jealousies, misunderstandings and marginalization. All of these things are not good, because rather than building and helping the Church to grow as the Body of Christ, they shatter it into many pieces, they dismember it. And this also happens in our day. Just think of our Christian communities, our parishes, think of how many divisions there are in our neighborhoods, how much envy, gossip, how much misunderstanding and marginalization. And what does it do? It dismembers us. It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other. And the community of Corinth was just like this, they were champions in this! And the Apostle, then, gave some practical advice to the Corinthians that can apply to us: Do not be jealous, but appreciate the gifts and the quality of our brothers and sisters in our communities. Jealousy: “But … he bought a car,” and I am jealous; “This one won the lotto”, and I am jealous; “And he’s good at this,” and another jealousy. And that dismembers, it hurts, it should not be done! Because jealousy grows, grows and fills the heart. And a jealous heart is a bitter heart, a heart that instead of blood seems to have vinegar, eh! It is a heart that is never happy, it is a heart that disrupts the community. But what should I do? Appreciate the gifts and the quality of others in our communities, of our brothers. But, when I am jealous – because it happens to us all no? All of us, we are all sinners eh! – When I am jealous, I must say to the Lord: “Thank you, Lord, for you have given this to that person”.

Appreciating the qualities and countering division; drawing close and participating in the suffering of the poorest and the most needy; expressing gratitude for everything – saying thank you, the heart that knows how to say thank you, is a good heart, a noble heart, a heart that is happy because it knows how to say thank you. I ask you: do we all know to say thank you? No? Not always? Because envy, jealousy holds us back a bit? Everyone, and especially those who perform the most humble and hidden services; and, finally, this is the advice that the apostle Paul gives the Corinthians and we to should give one another: never consider yourself superior to others – how many people feel superior to others! We too, often sound like the Pharisee in the parable: “Thank you Lord that I am not like that person, that I am superior”. But this is bad, do not do that! When you are tempted to this, remember your sins, those no one knows, shame yourself before God and say, “You, Lord, you know who is superior, I close my mouth”. And this is good. And always, in charity consider yourself as members who belong to one another and who live and give yourselves for the benefit of all (cf. 1 Cor 12-14).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Francis on Paul: “This great pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle…”

“For the gift of this Synod and for the constructive spirit which everyone has shown, in union with the Apostle Paul “we give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Th 1:2). May the Holy Spirit, who during these busy days has enabled us to work generously, in true freedom and humble creativity, continue to guide the journey which, in the Churches throughout the world, is bringing us to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015. We have sown and we continued to sow, patiently and perseveringly, in the certainty that it is the Lord who gives growth to what we have sown (cf. 1 Cor 3:6).

On this day of the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, I think of the words with which he established the Synod of Bishops: “by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods… to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society” (Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo).

When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!

In his personal notes, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour” (P. Macchi, Paolo VI nella sua parola, Brescia, 2001, pp. 120-121). In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.”

                                       —From the homily of Pope Francis for the Beatification of Pope Paul VI.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Marianist Monday

The Marianists of the Province of Meribah are very excited about our Holy Father's announcement that 2015 is to be the year of Consecrated life. The Marianists have served in our Diocese over the years and are still a viable presence.

Present in this meeting is Marianist Brother Michael McAward from the Province of Meribah who works in the General Administration.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blessed Paul VI

Look upon him
In the crown with which his mother has crowned him
on the day of his marriage,
on the day of the joy of his heart.
Songs 3:11

In praise and thanksgiving for the life and heroic virtues of Blessed Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini).

To the glory of God most holy and of our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, for the profit and edification of the Church, in the name of all the pastors and all the faithful, we now pronounce this profession of faith, in full spiritual communion with you all, beloved brothers and sons.

We believe in one only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, creator of things visible such as this world in which our transient life passes, of things invisible such as the pure spirits which are also called angels, and creator in each man of his spiritual and immortal soul. - Credo of Paul VI

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Prayerful Pause

In the middle of it all, Lord,
whatever "all" might be...

In the thick of what confounds me
and hijacks my attention...

Apart from all the nonsense
that clutters up my day...

Regardless of my problems,
my anxieties and fears...

In spite of doubt that simmers
in my mind and in my heart...

Aside from what distracts me
and disturbs my concentration...

Please, Lord...

Help me make some quiet time
and find a place where I can spend it...

Help me share with you the whole
of what my soul holds deep inside...

Help me lay aside the burdens
and the troubles of my day...

Help me rest with you beside me
in the Spirit of your peace...

Help me find in you the hope I need
to face the day ahead...

In the middle of it all,
whatever "all" might be,
be everything I need, Lord,
be all my heart desires...


H/T A Concord Pastor Comments

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Sunday Word

If you are racing around doing a million things, it's not to late to pause and take a look atthe readings for the twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The Pharisees in the Gospel are convinced they can trick Jesus into making a statement that isn't "politically correct" -- that is, denying the emperor's right to levy taxes. But already the Pharisees betray their ignorance -- for their political question assumes Jesus had a political agenda. Since they were always trying to find ways to maneuver within and around Roman authority to their best advantage, the Pharisees naturally assumed that Jesus must also have an outline of politically motivated moves guiding his ministry.

But Jesus was not concerned with politics -- he was concerned with justice. He didn't just want to bring the kingdom of God into Roman-ruled Palestine. He wanted Roman-ruled Palestine to help bring in the kingdom of God. Jesus' vision was not just another version of political and cultural organization -- supplanting the Roman state with a Jewish state, or even 1800 years later, a United States.

Jesus weaned people away from the spirit of power and awakened them to the power of Spirit. Jesus wanted to wake people up to the possibility that there was so much more available to them -- more love, more joy, more justice, more power -- through salvation and a right relationship with God. "Give to God what is God's" does not imply a separation of "church" and "state" -- it is a radical mandate for a re-evaluated life and a renewed creation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

“Those who love the barque of Peter ought to stay out of the engine room!”

Here is Fr. Robert Barron quoting Cardinal Newman. Fr. Barron brings to all the hand-wringing and garment-rending over the the synod a bracing blast of common sense.

Here we go, Fr. Barron:

One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges. If you want evidence of this, simply look at the accounts of the deliberations of the major councils of the Church, beginning with the so-called Council of Jerusalem in the first century right through to the Second Vatican Council of the twentieth century. In every such gathering, argument was front and center, and consensus evolved only after lengthy and often acrimonious debate among the interested parties. Read John Henry Newman’s colorful history of the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, and you’ll find stories of riots in the streets and the mutually pulling of beards among the disputants. Or pick up Yves Congar’s very entertaining diary of his years at Vatican II, and you’ll learn of his own withering critiques of the interventions of prominent Cardinals and rival theologians. Or peruse John O'Malley’s history of the Council of Trent, and you’ll see that early draft statements on the key doctrines of original sin and justification were presented, debated, and dismissed—long before final versions were approved.

Until Vatican II, these preliminary arguments and conversations were known only to the participants themselves and to certain specialist historians who eventually sifted through the records. The great teachings of the Councils became widely known and celebrated, but the process that produced them was, happily enough, consigned to the shadows. If I might quote the great Newman, who had a rather unsatisfying experience of official ecclesial life in Rome: “those who love the barque of Peter ought to stay out of the engine room!” This is a somewhat more refined version of “those who enjoy sausage ought never to watch how it is made.” The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn't pretty. Two more weeks of discussion will follow; then a full year during which the findings of the Synod will be further refined, argued about, and clarified; then the Ordinary Synod on the Family will take place (the one going on now is the Extraordinary Synod), and many more arguments and counter-arguments will be made; finally, some months, perhaps even a year or so, after that, the Pope will write a post-Synodal exhortation summing up the entire process and offering a definitive take on the matter. At that point, I would suggest, something resembling edible sausage will be available for our consumption; until then, we should all be patient and refrain from bloviating.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On The Synod: Caution, Change, Surprise

There's a fair amount of excitement today in the Catholic blogosphere and social media regards the report released this morning from the Synod of Bishops taking place in Rome.

While the report includes some great and surprising material, it's important to note that what we have now is the English translation from the Vatican Press Office and that an official translation will follow.

It's also important to note that this report comes mid-way in this Extraordinary Synod which, itself, is preparatory to a General Synod of Bishops to be held a year from now and from which more conclusive resolutions will emanate. Today's report is not legislative in any way and it's certainly not the last word we're going to hear on these issues.

I don't want to mute any joy taken in the document released today, I only want to keep the matter in perspective.

Personally, I did not dream that in my lifetime I'd see a pope like Francis or be reading what I read online this morning. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

So IS there any really big change here? Yes, there is - it's a change in methodology. Read on - this is not as dry as it sounds!

What Francis and his Synod have undertaken here is the work of doing theology from a new beginning point. Consider these comments from Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, participating in the Synod(reported by NCR, emphasis added):

Unlike in the past, when bishops or theologians would deduce theology from general, sometimes idealized notions of God or humanity, the prelates at the Synod of Bishops on the family are using inductive reasoning to instead examine theology in the reality of families today, Archbishop Durocher said. 
"What's happening within the synod is we're seeing a more inductive way of reflecting, starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out what's going on here," said Durocher, who leads the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The prelates, the archbishop said, are "finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source -- what we call a theological source, a place of theological reflection..." 
"And we're only, in a sense, starting to learn how to do this as church leaders," he said. "And this is going to take time for us, to learn to do this and together to come -- as we reflect on this -- to find what is the way that God is showing."

It strikes me that in some ways, this is how parish ministers "do theology" in their pastoral work all the time. Fully cognizant of what the Church teaches, they begin with the lived experience of their people as the starting point of their ministry. This starting point and an appreciation of the gradualism the Synod has also embraced, are hallmarks of parish ministry.

Pope Francis echoed this same theme in his homily this morning(reported by CNS on 10/13, emphasis added) when he was speaking of the religious leaders of Jesus' day:

The scholars were safeguarding the law "out of love, to be faithful to God," the pope said, but "they were closed up right there," and forgot all the ways God has acted in history.

"They forgot that God is the God of the law, but is also the God of surprises," he said.

"God is always new; he never denies himself, he never says that what he had said is wrong, but he always surprises us," the pope said.
The scholars of the law had forgotten how many times God surprised his people, like when he freed them from slavery in Egypt, he said. They were too wrapped up in their perfect system of laws -- "a masterpiece" where everyone knew exactly what he or she was supposed to do; "it was all settled. And they felt very secure there," he said.
They couldn't see beyond "this system made with lots of good will," and they could not read the "signs of the times," the pope said… 
The scholars of the law also forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, "and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before," he said. But the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; they are a path, "a pedagogy," toward "the ultimate manifestation of the Lord. Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when he will come again."

Please pray for the pope and bishops whose work at the Synod continues this week and pray for the work of the General Synod to be held in October 2015.

-H/T A Concord Pastor Comments

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Tunes

Like the runner in a marathon, keep your eyes on the prize...on Jesus, your only hope, your only goal, your only God.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Not on where you've been or what’s around you, not on what somebody’s saying or doing, not on the gossipers and the doomsayers. No. Keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, your hope and your prize.

For only then can we win the race. That’s the lesson of today’s tune for each of us who seek the truth. Don’t let the darkness distract you, or the politics gets you down: keep your eyes on the prize...on Jesus.

Don’t let the temporary triumphs of the Culture of death distract you from the race: keep your eyes on the prize...on Jesus. Don’t let media struggles and ideological battles frighten you or slow you down: keep your eyes on the prize...on Jesus. For he is the only way, the only truth, and the source life. He is the light which no darkness can overcome, the truth no lie can destroy, and the life which defeats even death itself!

For, in the end, this is really not our battle. It is the latest chapter in the primordial struggle between light and darkness, goodness and hate, life and death. And each of us, unworthy servants that we are, but play our role. And the victory of the Gospel of Life, when it comes (and it surely will) will not be ours. It will be his.

Monday, October 13, 2014


November 2014

Dear friends in college . . . and beyond,

I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits!

Are you enjoying the splendor of autumn? I know I am. Fall is a beautiful time of the year and brings with it a spirit of renewal and refreshment, felt in the cool, crisp, fresh autumn air.

Two great beauties of the autumn season, in my opinion, are the Church’s celebration of Christ the King and our country’s celebration of Thanksgiving. In a certain sense, we celebrate these feasts differently, but in another sense, we celebrate them in similar ways.

The Church’s Feast of Christ the King – Sunday, Novemeber 23 – is centered on a chief and foundational truth of our faith, namely, that Christ is the King of Heaven and Earth. Pope Pius XI declared this truth in his encyclical Quas Primas, as he saw a deep permeation of secularism throughout many national governments during his pontificate. Saint Josemaría Escrivá spoke of Christ as King so beautifully;

He is our king. He desires ardently to rule our hearts, because we are children of God. But we should not try to imagine a human sort of rule – Christ does not dominate or seek to impose Himself, because He “has not come to be served, but to serve.”

How grateful I am for this feast day!

As Thanksgiving draws near, I find myself reflecting on a couple of things. I am grateful for my life as a Marianist Brother. It is a life filled with many blessings. I am grateful for my vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability, all of which have allowed me to draw closer to Christ Our Lord and strengthen my ministry as a teacher and guide for young people. I am grateful for my Brothers in the Marianist Community. I am privileged to pray with them daily; they are a continual source of hope and support. I am grateful for all the wonderful young men and women I have had the opportunity to teach and get to know over the years at Chaminade and Kellenberg Memorial. To share in the lives of these young men, to journey with them in their joys and struggles, has been a grace in and of itself.

We live in a world that is often hostile to our faith and looks upon the way in which you and I seek to live our lives as something outdated, irrational, and oppressive. If our skeptics and detractors only knew the beauty of a life in Christ, then they could truly share in the gratitude I express.

Never lose sight of the hope we have in Christ, King of Heaven and Earth, and be grateful for the life God has given you.

A blessed Thanksgiving and Feast Day of Christ the King to all of you. On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers, be assured of our continued prayers for you, and never hesitate to call in time of need.

And know that we are all looking forward to seeing you at the annual day-before-Thanksgiving Mass and luncheon.

Yours in Christ,

Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Sunday Word II

Of all the remarkable moments that marked Derek Jeter’s last home game Thursday night, there is one that really struck me.

You might call it a home run.

Before leaving the field for the last time, as the crowd roared, Jeter walked to his spot where he played shortstop, crouched down, bowed his head, and made the sign of the cross.

Derek Jeter wanted to pray. For a moment, that great cathedral of baseball, Yankee Stadium, became a small chapel, a place for a private devotion.

Later, he told a reporter:

“I say a little prayer before every game and I basically just said thank you.”

This grandson of a Catholic school custodian remembered where it all began.

In a moment that was both very public and very personal, he reminded us all of what matters.

Now, I’m not going to canonize Derek Jeter this morning. But I think what he did showed grace, and class, and humility, the kind Paul wrote about in his letter to the Philippians. In our secular age, it was an act of faith. And it served, too, as a kind of challenge to a cynical world—the same challenge Jesus posed in the gospel.

Jesus essentially told the chief priests and elders:If you think you have it figured out, think again. Take another look at what you think is important.

You can change your minds—and change your hearts.

“Change,” in fact, is a significant word in this gospel. It pops up twice: describing the son who does change, and describing the chief priests and elders who don’t.

Some commentators have compared this passage in Matthew to the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke; both stories revolve around two sons, and a choice, and change.

It is clearly a theme that Jesus wanted to drive home again and again to his listeners. It is one that has echoed down through history as the Christian faith has been passed on: the notion that there is another way, a better way.

The Father’s way. The Father’s will. He is calling. Are we listening?

The fact is, he has something in mind for each of us.

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman put it beautifully:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service,” he wrote. “He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.”

It isn’t always easy. But if we listen to what God is trying to tell us, follow the direction he’s trying to take us and trust in his will for our lives, we may be amazed at where he leads us.

Twenty-five years ago, a young man named Peter Day was embarking on a career as sportswriter in Australia. “Sports,” he once said, “was my religion.” He didn’t pay much attention to his faith. “I had your standard boring Catholic upbringing,” he said, “and usually went to Mass just at Christmas and Easter.” As he was climbing up the career ladder, he got a job working for Australian radio. One Sunday, with nothing else to do, he wandered into a church. He found a seat near the back. Mass was underway. But it was unlike any he’d ever experienced before.

It was a Mass for the homeless. All the people around him had no place to live, no place to call home.

“I remember sitting there among all these poor homeless people,” he said, “And the gospel just came alive for me.” That moment was transformative. He knew he couldn’t keep doing what he’d been doing. He’d found another religion besides sports.

A year later, he entered the seminary.

During his formation, he asked the archbishop for a special assignment: he wanted to live and work among the homeless. The archbishop agreed.

For eight months, Peter Day lived at the bottom of a stairwell with nothing but a mattress. He showered in a public toilet. He lived among the lonely, the fearful, the depressed, the mentally ill. When he was ordained a deacon, the ordination took place where he often volunteered: at a Matt Talbot center for recovering alcoholics.

A few months after that, he was ordained a priest.

Today, Fr. Peter Day runs a charity for the homeless in Australia. A guy who once seemed destined to have everything he wanted serves those who have nothing. He has never felt more fulfilled.

“This is why I was ordained,” he says today, “to walk alongside those who are most vulnerable.”

It’s a far cry from what he was doing 25 years ago.

But at a critical moment in his life, like the son in the gospel, Peter Day changed his mind.

Now, working with the homeless, he is himself an agent of change.

Changing lives.

Changing circumstances.

Changing minds.

Are we open to change ourselves? Are we open to changing ourselves?

Are we open to God’s work in our lives? His will for us?

This gospel today is nothing less than a call to change, a call to conversion. It asks us to reconsider the choices we have made.

It asks us to remember, as Derek Jeter did, what matters and where it all began.

If we haven’t taken our faith seriously, take another look.

If we’ve thought, “I go to Mass a couple times a year, that’s enough,” think again.

If we have said “No” to God, pray for the wisdom to change that choice, and ask for the courage to say “Yes.”

God is summoning us, calling us, challenging us—just like the father did with the two sons. He is asking us to do his labor in the vineyard, to do his work in the world.

What is our answer?

Remember the words of Cardinal Newman—words that offer each of us consolation, and clarity, and purpose:

“God has created me to do him some definite service…He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.”
H/T The Deacons Bench

Saturday, October 11, 2014


While millions across the world remember John Paul II affectionately, John XXIII -- known as "The Good Pope" -- may not be as familiar. Here are five things you need to know about the much-loved pontiff whose feast we celebrate today.

1. He was born in poverty -- and proud of it

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the man who would become Pope John XXIII, was the third of 13 surviving children born to a family of farmers in the tiny village of Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo, northern Italy in November 1881.

Roncalli left home to study for the priesthood at the age of 11, but even after he became Pope in 1958 at the age of 76 he eschewed the trappings of his position, and refused to take advantage of it either for himself or his family.

In his last will and testament, Pope John XXIII wrote: "Born poor, but of humble and respected folk, I am particularly happy to die poor.

"I thank God for this grace of poverty to which I vowed fidelity in my youth... which has strengthened me in my resolve never to ask for anything -- positions, money or favors -- never either for myself of for my relations and friends."

When John XXIII died in June 1963 he was mourned around the world as "Il Papa Buono" ("The Good Pope"). He left his personal "fortune" to the surviving members of his family -- they each received less than $20.

2. He saved the lives of Jews fleeing the Nazis
Roncalli broke off from his religious training during the First World War to serve as a medical orderly and later as a military chaplain.

During the Second World War Roncalli, by then an archbishop, was serving as head of the Vatican's diplomatic mission to Turkey, and as a Vatican diplomat in Greece.

While there, he helped saved the lives of many Jews fleeing the Holocaust, providing them with transit visas and other vital paperwork which allowed them to leave Europe.

In recognition of his efforts, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has petitioned Yad Vashem, the official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to name John XXIII as one of the "Righteous Among Nations," non-Jews formally recognized for risking their lives to save Jews.

Once he became Pope, John XXIII worked to improve relations between Roman Catholics and other faiths; one of his reforms was to have the phrase "perfidious Jews" removed from the traditional Good Friday prayer.

3. Strictly speaking, he wasn't the first Pope John XXIII

That honor belongs to Cardinal Baldassare Cossa, one of a series of claimants to the papal throne during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, when the Roman Catholic church was bitterly divided by the Western Schism.

The split, which lasted from 1378 till 1418, saw rival Popes elected by separate factions of the church. Cossa was named Pope John XXIII in 1410, but he was forced to abdicate -- alongside Popes Gregory XII and Benedict XIII -- five years later to heal the divide.

Today, Pope Gregory XII is considered the only true pontiff from that period: Benedict XIII, John XXIII and his predecessor Alexander V are all regarded as "Antipopes," which is why Roncalli became John XXIII, and not JohnXXIV when he was elected pope.

4. Pope John XXIII played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis

In October 1962, with the U.S. and Russia teetering on the brink of nuclear war, Pope John XXIII helped to bring both countries back from the edge, urging President John F. Kennedy and Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev to exercise restraint.

During a message broadcast on Vatican Radio at the height of the crisis, the pontiff pleaded: "We beg heads of state not to remain deaf to the cry of humanity: 'Peace, peace!'"

"I've heard that it [the message] got to Khrushchev," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, told CNN. "The Pope is looking for peace, and why don't you be the man of peace? And he said 'OK, I'll be the man of peace.'"

Days after the Pope's address, Khrushchev began withdrawing Russian missiles from Cuba, defusing the crisis. Months later, John XXIII published the encyclical "Pacem in Terris" ("Peace on Earth"), addressed "to all men of good will" and calling on the world's populations to coexist in harmony.

5. Unlike other saints, Pope John XXIII only performed one miracle

Under the normal beatification and canonization process, a person who has lived a holy and virtuous life is first declared "venerable," then "blessed" and finally named as a saint. Candidates for sainthood must be shown to have performed two miracles.

Pope John Paul II, who is to be canonized at the same time as John XXIII, is said to have cured a French nun of Parkinson's disease, and a Costa Rican woman of a cerebral aneurism.

However, John XXIII has only been credited with one miracle. Instead, the decision to canonize him is based on his huge popularity, and on his role as the "founder" of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), according to experts.

"There already was one miracle certified for his beatification in 2000," Vatican analyst John Allen explained to CNN in September 2013. "Pope Francis has decided he doesn't have to pass go, doesn't have to collect $200, he can go directly to sainthood."

Indeed, some would say that his canonization is already long overdue.

In its entry on "the roly-poly pontiff... [who] became a kind of father figure for the world," the Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that "had the ancient custom of popular canonization still been in effect in 1963... that favour would probably have been given to him immediately by the tearful crowd who were gathered in St Peter's Square when his death was announced."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Apple Picking

It's apple-picking season and our Latin School is off picking this year's crop today.

Apple picking comes at summer's end, as fall begins and nature prepares for her great winter sleep. Children of all ages love to pick, collect and take home the apples for baking and cooking and just plain good eating. Of course, there are shadows of meaning in this season that the truly young might miss as the days grow short.

Robert Frost wrote of the mysteries of this season. His words follow here and then a fine reading of his verse.

After Apple Picking
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, let down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

- Robert Frost