Pastor’s Corner | Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

I want to share this article written by Dr. Lawrence Feingold. In February, March, and April, I will be increasing the opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration in our Parish as part of a growing movement in the Church to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and my desire to one day have Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament here at Our Lady.  There is also a real need to expose all of us to the Real Presence of Jesus if we are going to have a Real Future in our community and our diocese, especially since we have no one who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming May.    

WHY CATHOLICS NEED EUCHARISTIC ADORATION

Dr. Lawrence Feingold is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. He is the author of numerous scholarly books, including The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion, a comprehensive commentary on the mystery of the Eucharist drawing from Scripture, the Church Fathers, and magisterial teaching throughout the ages.

Since Christ is truly present in the Eucharist in His sacred humanity hypostatically united with the divine nature, the Eucharist should receive the adoration of latria that is given exclusively to God. Adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is a natural consequence of the Church’s faith in the real substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  

Adoration corresponds most directly to the first of the three principal purposes for which Christ instituted the Eucharist, which is that Christ wished to perpetuate His adorable human presence among us after ascending definitively into heaven. The Eucharist is the solution to this problem. The divinity of Christ is omnipresent, but, after His Ascension, His humanity is substantially present only in heaven and in the Eucharist. Since the Son of God became man for us and has devised a marvelous way to remain with us in the Eucharist in the substantial presence of His humanity, it follows that adoration of and intimate encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is not an afterthought, but rather an essential aspect of the Eucharist. As Israel adored the special presence of God (the shekhinah) in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, how could the Church not fittingly adore the substantial presence of Christ, who makes Himself present with much greater generosity in every tabernacle?  

Adoration is also intimately related to the other two ends of the Eucharist. Christ is adored in the Eucharist as the sacrificial Victim of Calvary whose body was given for us and whose blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). His presence cannot be separated from His sacrificial self-gift. Eucharistic adoration enables us to spend time intimately thanking Him for His sacrificial gift expressed in His Eucharistic words: “This is my body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). In the Eucharist we encounter Him as the Victim of merciful love, and it is the nature of love that it calls for a return in kind.  

At the same time, Christ is present in the tabernacle as the living Bread from heaven, the “medicine of immortality,” the “desire of the everlasting hills,” the perfect rest that fulfills every natural and supernatural desire. Eucharistic adoration helps us to nurture our desire so that we grow in hunger and thirst for the Bridegroom who feeds His Bride on His own Flesh and Blood so that she may share ever more in His divinity.  

Adoration also aids the faithful to be inserted more deeply into the communion of the Mystical Body. As the practice of pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the great festivals helped to consolidate the religious and social unity of Israel, so Eucharistic adoration brings the faithful of the New Covenant throughout the Catholic world together to adore the same Lord present in every tabernacle. No geographical boundary limits the unity of worship of the one Lord and His one Sacrifice. Furthermore, adoration of the Lord who has given Himself for the flock helps nurture the faithful in cultivating the attitude of self-gift, which is the heart of Catholic social doctrine.  

The growth of Eucharistic adoration over the past two millennia is a beautiful example of the organic development of doctrine and of Christian life and worship. Like Mary, who kept the words of the Lord in her heart and meditated on them day and night, the Church has reflected over the centuries on her greatest treasure and the fitting homage to give to it. The second millennium has witnessed the constant growth of the personal prayer of the faithful before the Blessed Sacrament.  

To help foster Eucharistic devotion, attention must be given to the architectural prominence of the tabernacle and its relationship with the altar. The altar, as the place of sacrifice and the symbol of its acceptance, should be the heart of every church. After the altar, to which it is intrinsically linked, the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament also pertains to the heart of the church and must be architecturally manifested as such. As Pius XII emphasizes, “it is one and the same Lord who is immolated on the altar and honored in the tabernacle, and who pours out his blessings from the tabernacle.” Containing the substantial presence of Jesus Christ, the tabernacle is the reality of which the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple was the glorious type or figure. Every tabernacle is not only the heart of the church building but also contains the head and heart of the Mystical Body; it is the dwelling of the Bridegroom with His Bride. 

Pastor’s Corner | Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Offered by Fr. Yokum and Creighton University Online Ministries

On the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, a beautiful reading from Isaiah promises vindication which will “shine forth like the dawn.” In the First Letter to the Corinthians, we are reassured that each of us has different gifts of the Spirit. “There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” The Wedding Feast of Cana is the centerpiece of John’s Gospel. His mother told the servants to follow his orders and Jesus performed his first public miracle “and so revealed his glory.”

During the week, we continue with the First Book of Samuel. We hear God’s rejection of Saul as king. Then Samuel anoints the youngest of Jesse’s sons, the shepherd boy David, as king. David kills the Philistine, winning victory for the people, in the name of the Lord. Saul becomes jealous of David and plans to kill him but Saul’s son, Jonathan, changes his mind. David does not kill Saul when he finds him alone in a cave but lets him go. Saul is killed in a battle and David grieves.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is asked why his disciples don’t fast. He challenges the religious leaders to have a completely open mind and heart to his teaching because “new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, bringing a new freedom. It is only chapter three in the Gospel, but because Jesus heals a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees already seek to kill him. Jesus withdraws and people from the surrounding regions come to him, and even the demons know who he is. Jesus names twelve Apostles to be with him, to preach and to drive out demons. Jesus’ relatives think he’s “out of his mind” because so many people are coming to him that he can’t even eat.

Ordinary Time is the longest Season of the Church year. There are seven and a half weeks of Ordinary Time this year before Lent begins on March 2nd. These weeks between the Christmas season and Lent are an important time to continue to work on our habits of focusing our desires early in the day and talking with the Lord throughout the day, in the background of our busy lives. This is how we become “contemplatives in action” and find intimacy with God without leaving the context of our real lives.

How do we do that with the hectic pace of our lives? We hear people say “I don’t have time to pray.” It isn’t about finding more time but more focus in our day with God. With this type of focusing and active consciousness, we find ourselves surprised at the time we really do have. There are dozens of times in all of our days during which our minds are occupied with something: a song, replaying the last event, practicing a conversation with someone, having an imaginary argument with someone, thinking through the “to do” list of the day. We can learn to fill these times with whatever we choose. If we choose to let it be about our relationship with our Lord, it transforms our lives.

It all begins with our mornings. This week, when we first get up and perhaps for a few moments in the shower or getting dressed, let’s tell the Lord that what we desire today is to be more conscious of how what we do this day is responding to his call to me to be his disciple. Then, during the day, in those moments while driving or shopping or walking down the hall to a meeting, we can talk about how we are living our call in this or that activity we are engaged in. That conversation may get more detailed and specific in this or that set of events.

If we add brief reflections of the Gospels this week, we will see a very attractive picture of Jesus emerge and we can talk with Jesus, in brief moments, about what draws us to him.

Each evening, for even a few moments, we can review our day’s momentary conversations, recognizing the moments of real connection and grace and giving thanks for them, and resolving to take even greater advantage of these opportunities the next day.

An Important Announcement from Father Joe

Exciting Updates for our Youth Ministry Program!

Dear Parish Family,

We are beginning a new adventure in our Youth Ministry Program. Our Lady of Perpetual Help will be joining forces with Saint Cecilia to create a multiple parish youth ministry program. With the diocesan Real Presence, Real Future initiative underway, the need for multi-parish ministry opportunities are growing. With Fr. Yokum and Fr. Ventura’s background and previous parish experience, they know the powerful impact that sharing resources can have on a parish. As we begin to help our youth understand the need to share resources, we believe, as was the case in Scioto and Jackson counties, the program becomes stronger when the young people have an opportunity for their own personal buy-in. 

Fr. Ventura and Fr. Yokum will be posting the youth ministry job opening in January. One of the most important aspects of a successful Youth Ministry program and our new youth minister will be continued parent support. We have such a wonderful core team of parents who are dedicated to the success of the program at Our Lady, we pray that you will continue to support them and the new youth minister when they are hired.

Once a new youth minister is hired, we will be hosting a meet and greet for the youth and you, the parents. The new youth minister will spend the rest of this remaining school year preparing a program to begin next August. Therefore, we will be continuing the program that has been set in place through the rest of this academic year at Our Lady. The high school students from St. Cecilia are invited to join Our Lady of Perpetual Help in our activities as we move through the rest of this year. 

We look forward to all that God has in store for this new shared opportunity. Please keep us in prayer as we move forward in choosing the next leader for our young people in our parishes. 

Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Cecilia, Pray for Us!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | The Holy Family

The Sunday that follows Christmas is always the celebration of the Holy Family. There are wonderful readings from the Book of Sirach, the First Book of Samuel, and Paul’s letter to the Colossians or the First Letter of John. The Gospel is the story of the teenaged Jesus teaching in the temple while his parents could not find him. Jesus goes back home with his family. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

Continuing our special feasts in the days after Christmas, Monday is the Feast of St. John, the Apostle. Tuesday is the moving Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the infant martyrs of Herod’s jealous rage. Wednesday is the Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas. We have the story of the Purification in the temple and the powerful words of Simeon about Jesus and about Mary. Thursday, the Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas, is the story from Luke’s Gospel of Joseph and Mary meeting the prophetess, Anna in the Temple who gives thanks to God for the child, Jesus “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”  Friday is the Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas. The Gospel is the beginning of John’s Gospel.  Saturday, New Year’s Day is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. In addition, it is a celebration of World Day of Prayer for Peace.

On Sunday, January 2nd, the U.S. and some parts of the world will celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, although some countries will celebrate it on Thursday, January 6. The Epiphany celebrates the light that has come into the darkness of the world and that our salvation was made known to the Gentiles. Where the Epiphany is not celebrated, the Second Sunday of Christmas will have the beginning of John’s Gospel and its poetic images of light and the Word.

Each day after Christmas celebrates another aspect of the mystery of Jesus’ coming among us and opens us to his continuing to come to us now.  It helps to recognize this and let ourselves enter this part of the mystery of the Incarnation. We are living in the flesh each day of our lives. He came to enter this life and be with us in it. After Christmas, we have a few days to let the blessing of Christmas settle in.  Each one of us can begin our post-Christmas and the beginning of our New Year’s time by staying in touch with ourselves in the flesh – as people touched by Jesus’ coming. We can turn to our Lord throughout each day and have real conversations with our Savior. Over the kitchen sink, by the dishwasher, in front of the washing machine. While going to work, walking, going to a meeting, returning from one.

During our preparation for Christmas, we were asking the Lord to open our hearts, to let us wait with patient trust, and to come to us. Last week, we experienced joy and the mixed challenges of Christmas. This week, we have the opportunity to have ordinary conversations with our God who came to be with us. Thank you so much, Lord, for becoming flesh for me. And, thank you for being with me now, in the midst of each day’s joys and sorrows. I ask you to increase my trust in you, my desire for closeness with you and my commitment to turn to you all day long. Continue to be with me when I have to make difficult decisions, when I need extra patience and care when in challenging situations. Continue to let my heart experience the joy of Christmas this week as I see signs of your presence with me.

When these words take on our own voice and our details, it will feel very personal. And, when we speak about our fears, our needs, when we express our gratitude and our deep desires, we are living an intimate relationship with the one who became flesh that we might never need to feel alone again.

Merry Christmas!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | Third Sunday of Advent

Hahn, Scott. Signs of Life, The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
Chapter 8, ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS 

Christmas is a day and a season that requires no introduction, right? From the day after Halloween, the media and the storefronts relentlessly remind us of the holiday’s imminence. The festival of Jesus’ birth is the reason for the peak sales season in a retailer’s year. Economists monitor it closely and analyze it endlessly as an indicator of the nation’s financial health. And I don’t want to begrudge them a penny of it. Let the Grinches and Scrooges mutter darkly about the commercialization of Christmas. I’ll take it (though not uncritically) as a tribute to Christ that society’s great season of giving is the feast of his birth, even if that giving must be preceded by a season of buying.

I do, however, grieve for the eclipse of Advent; for the Church’s season of spiritual preparation for Christmas has certainly been overwhelmed by the ever-expanding “Christmas shopping season.” Advent is a season we must recover, even if it takes heroic effort. In Advent the liturgy bids us to relive the period of expectation when the world awaited the Savior. We hear the words of the prophets, and we make them our own. The prophets longed for the conditions that Israel could only enjoy upon faithful fulfillment of the covenant. Instead, the people fell inexorably into sin, and so they lost the privileges God had given them: prosperity and happiness in a land flowing with milk and honey. The prophets ached for a messiah, ached for a redeemer, ached for a deliverer. With the birth of Jesus came the fulfillment of all the holy desires of all those many centuries. That is the joy we mark in Christmas, but it’s difficult for us to experience the joy unless we first undergo the longing. That is why the Church leads us first through a season not of shopping, but of longing. Advent is sometimes called “the little Lent,” because it is a season of preparatory fasting and self-denial. It is not as long as “Great Lent.” In fact, it can be as short as twenty-one days. Yet it still should be a time of some small, daily sacrifices. The apostles fasted to prepare for worship in the Lord’s presence (Acts 13:2). We should, too. That empty feeling should serve as a sensible sign of our spiritual need. It is good for us, at least once a year, to recall the pain and poverty of a world without Christ. For centuries now, we have lived in a world shaped by Christian assumptions—Christian notions of right and wrong, of decency, of justice, and of human dignity. Now, as the world forgets Christ, all these natural benefits of his advent are vanishing as well. In post-Christian states, we have seen the notion of human dignity fade to non-existence, followed soon by human rights, beginning with the right to life. In a post-Christian world, we have seen ethnic minorities emerging anew—and violently—to wage brutal separatist wars against their closest cousins. The world is rapidly losing any sense of the transnational family Christ came to inaugurate, the kingdom where Israel and the Gentiles can live together in peace. If we want to hold fast to the good things that came with Christ, then we must first keep a lively remembrance of the difference Christ made—the difference Christmas made. Advent calls us out of our cultural complacency. The Church echoes the prophets, who say: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Am 6:1), that is, those who have taken God’s extraordinary gifts for granted.

If we are tempted to grumble about a culture that has forgotten Christ, then perhaps we are beginning to sense the longing of the prophets. Christ has come, and yet we await him anew. He has saved us, and yet we still await a day when “he will wipe away every tear … and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Rev 21:4). Christ has come, and he continues to come to us in the Eucharist. But he will come again, at the consummation of history. For this day, even the souls of the just in heaven cry out, “How long?” as did the ancient prophets (see Rev 6:10). Advent reminds us that there are still two dimensions to our salvation: “already” and “not yet.” In Advent we sing the ancient songs of longing and expectation, the “O Antiphons,” because we await our Savior’s coming in fullness, his “plenary parousia,” as the theologians call it. When he comes at the end of time, he will have no more glory than he has now in the Eucharist, but then we’ll see him as he is. The difference will be not with him, but with us: “we know that when he appears … we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). Thus we hope for that day, and we fast through Advent, because, as we read in the very next line of St. John’s letter: “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” A blessed Advent, then, is the only true key to a merry Christmas. Christians should never be like the segments of affluent society that a social critic called “souls without longing.” We should know longing habitually, because we have practiced longing at least annually, during Advent. Advent is a time of vigilance, alertness, expectation. We are eager for the arrival of Christ, so we pay close attention to our life of prayer, our moral life, the way we treat others, and the way we express our love for God. We should not allow ourselves to experience “Xmas fatigue” long before December 25 rolls around. We should, if necessary, fast from the radio so that we don’t hear an endless round of misplaced seasonal carols beginning the day after Thanksgiving, or fast from television programming that anticipates Christmas fulfillment during Advent’s waiting. We should also show others that it is possible to buy for Christmas without bowing idolatrously to commercialism. The Church is a refuge from a premature nativity. Catholic churches feel different during Advent (or they should). In the Mass, we eliminate the Gloria, because that is a Christmas song, the chant of the angels at the birth in Bethlehem (Lk 2:14). In fact, choirs and musicians are supposed to refrain from using any Christmas music during Advent liturgies. Hope is the reason for the season, and Jesus Christ is certainly worth the wait. We could not reasonably expect a better Christmas present than Simeon and Anna received during that first octave of Christmas (Lk 2:25–38). They had waited long lives, not merely four weeks. Think, too, of the magi, who had scanned the skies in hope, looking for a sign. We know him “already,” but still “not yet.” So let’s keep our days as we should, looking for signs and then rejoicing in the mystery of the incarnation.

Enjoy the reading and have a great week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Guide: The Use of Incense

From Scott Hahn’s, Signs of Life: Forty Catholic Customs and their Biblical Roots, Chapter 23

Catholicism is sometimes called the religion of “bells and smells.” Our tradition engages the whole person. God created us as a unity of body and soul, and we return ourselves entirely to him in worship. We worship him in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24); and in our “spiritual worship” we “present our bodies” too “as a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1). Thus, the Church’s worship engages all that we are, including our bodily and spiritual senses. In the liturgy, we contemplate the Gospel, but that’s not all. We hear it, see it, feel it, taste it, and smell it as well. We ring bells to herald the Lord’s appearance. We burn fragrant incense before his altar.

I remember the first time I attended a Catholic liturgical event, a vespers service at a Byzantine seminary. My Calvinist background had not prepared me for the experience—the incense and icons, the prostrations and bows, the chant and the bells. All my senses were engaged. Afterward a seminarian asked me, “What do you think?” All I could say was “Now I know why God gave me a body: to worship the Lord with his people in liturgy.” Our worship is not merely good and true. It is beautiful. We make it beautiful because it is for God. A generation or two ago, incense was used much more commonly in the Mass. I am not the first convert to confess that he was enchanted by his initial experience of incense. It was a pleasant experience, an aesthetic experience. There is good reason why non-Catholics came to associate us with bells and smells. They make a powerful impression.

So powerful, in fact, that some people worried whether incense was a distraction from true worship. They worried that it might reduce liturgy to a merely aesthetic experience, a religion of externals rather than true interior life. God had warned the Israelites against such pomp; and, through the prophet Isaiah, he even went so far as to tell them: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me” (Is 13:1). Yet God was not abolishing external forms of worship. He wanted his people to cease neglecting their interior dispositions. In fact, through the prophet Malachi, he foretold a day when “from the rising of the sun to its setting … in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering” (Mal 1:11). Indeed, incense was an important part of biblical religion—and it remains so—because God himself took care to make it so. The offering of incense was an essential duty of the priests of the Old Covenant, and the ancient law took special care to prescribe its fragrances, vessels, and rites (see, for example, Exodus, chapter 30). Of the high priest Aaron, God said: “I chose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense” (1 Sam 2:28). 

And so the priests did, from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus, and beyond. Jesus’ kinsman Zechariah was performing his priestly duty, burning incense in the Temple, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. It was apparently customary for a “whole multitude of the people” to pray nearby “at the hour of incense” every day (see Lk 1:9–11). 

Incense became the most emblematic form of worship. Grains of incense, once dropped into a thurible with hot coals, rise heavenward as fragrant smoke. It’s meant to be an outward sign of the inner mystery that is true prayer. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,” said the Psalmist (Ps 141:2). The metaphor still worked for St. Paul (see Phil 4:18). A Jewish theologian of the first century, Philo of Alexandria, saw the freedom of the censer’s smoke rising heavenward as a symbol of mankind’s spiritual and rational qualities, fashioned after the divine image. When incense was offered with animal sacrifice, he said, it symbolized the entirety of human nature, body and soul, given to God. So closely was incense associated with worship that, for the prophets, the very image of infidelity was to burn incense to idols. “I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands” (Jer 1:16). That image, too, worked just as well in the early centuries of Christianity, when Roman law required all citizens to burn incense before the emperor’s protector deity. In offering the pinch of incense, some Christians saved their lives (temporarily),(temporarily), but committed the mortal sin of apostasy. They abandoned true worship for false; and, in doing so, they excommunicated themselves from the Church. The Christian who remained true referred to the traitors as “thurifers”—incense burners. Thus, for all the ancients, to burn incense was to offer a richly symbolic act of worship. When St. John the Seer wanted words to depict the worship of the angels in heaven, he described it as attended by the rising smoke of much incense (see Rev 5:8). The prayers of the saints on earth, he says, rise as incense to heaven (see Rev 8:3–4). Incense belongs with worship. It is not necessary, but it is beautiful and expressive, and worthy of divine worship. God prescribed it in the Law, not for his sake, but for ours, so that we might see, through this sign, the beauty of worship.

In the time of Jesus, incense was burned not only in the Temple, but also in the “communion” meal, the chaburah we discussed in chapter 4. The rabbis debated, at great length, the proper use of incense in this ritual of hearth and home. How much more should we take care to incorporate this aromatic sign in the Mass—the meal of our New Covenant fellowship. The earliest Christian documents—the Didache, St. Justin, St. Irenaeus—applied the prophecy of Malachi 1:11 to the Eucharist. The Holy Mass, they said, was the pure offering, the always-and-everywhere offering of incense to the God of Israel. St. Paul said it well: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved … a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:14–16).

Enjoy the reading and have a great week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | First Sunday of Advent

Today is the beginning of a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah offers a comforting promise of safety to beleaguered Israel: “Those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” Luke’s gospel offers us a repeat of several of the daily gospels, advising us to be alert and vigilant, watching for signs. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

During the first part of Advent—until December 17—we focus on the first reading. This week it is from the Prophet Isaiah. These readings are about promises. Isaiah is consoling, building up and preparing his people to have hope. “In the days to come,” he says over and over. When the day of promise comes, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” Even though King David’s line, and that of his father, Jesse, are almost wiped out, Isaiah proclaims hope: “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Who would believe even a peace in nature – lion lying down with the lamb? “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.” God’s unique ways of favoring the poor, which Mary comes to know and proclaims in her Magnificat, are seen when Isaiah says, “He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust.” Even Jesus’ own statement about his mission is seen in the powerful images Isaiah uses to give us courage and hope: “On that day the deaf shall hear… the eyes of the blind shall see… the lowly will ever find joy in the LORD… ” “On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people.”

The gospels for this first part of Advent are chosen from several gospels. They are meant to match the first readings and to show that the promises are fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus brings healing. He raises up the childlike. And Jesus calls and sends the twelve apostles to continue his ministry.

“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” Those words from Baruch are in the first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent. Luke’s gospel offers us a first look at the promise of John the Baptist as he cries out, “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Despite all of the distractions at this time of year, we really can focus on Advent during these weeks. We seem to get very busy, and at times have to go to a number of social events or wrestle with budgets and shopping, but the heart of this season is all about expectant hope. So, we begin our Advent journey by giving ourselves some time – just a few minutes each day – to reflect on how much God promises us.

Each morning this week, while we are first coming to consciousness, we can name a desire, name an emptiness or feeling of anxiety or worry that we can feel. It is into the raw places in our lives such as these, that our Lord came to be with us. So, this week, we can begin to invite our Lord to be Incarnate in our lives, in the places we need him the most.

Our goal this week is to let ourselves feel like those to whom the promises of our God are made. We want to get in touch with ourselves, especially those parts of ourselves that are in need of a Savior. We do this by keeping our focus on the places that feel like a desert, the places that feel like we’ve been through a war, the places that feel like a lifeless stump. When we have a hard time seeing, we ask for the grace to be able to believe the promise that we shall see. When we seem deaf, we place our trust in the One who assures us that we will hear. And when we feel beaten down and awfully lowly, we turn to the One who promises that we will “find joy in the Lord.” And, who among us doesn’t have days on which we are aware of various kinds of wounds? On the day of promise, “the Lord binds up the wounds of his people.”

As we let these deep realities of our daily, busy lives come into focus and interact with the readings, something wonderful happens. We become more and more aware of our need for God. Very naturally and quite spontaneously, a prayer comes forth from deep within us, which we can say in the smallest moments of our busiest days. “Come, Lord.” “Come and save me.” “Come and be with me in all of these messy, empty, dry and disordered places in my life.” “Come, Lord. I feel my longing for you grow. I feel my hope grow. And, as I place my hope in your promises, Advent begins to come alive in me.”

All of this preparation can happen in the simplest way, before the first Christmas decoration goes up. And, for each moment of each day that we encounter a place that we desire, that we long for our Lord’s coming, we can express our thanksgiving. Each night we might pray:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” (Ps. 27)

Happy Advent!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Collect for the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.

On the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark’s Gospel has us listen to Jesus contrast a scribe (the professional interpreters of the law in his day) who enjoys honors for himself, with a poor widow who donates to the temple poor box the little she has. The woman’s generous heart must have moved him deeply.

As we draw toward the end of the liturgical year, our first reading this week is taken from Wisdom, a book written to encourage a downtrodden Jewish community. The vivid imagery offers us a view of the glory and justice of the Lord. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus turns his focus away from the Pharisees and back to his followers. “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” He tells them the duties of discipleship, asking if a master should be grateful to a servant who does what is commanded. “So should it be with you.” We read of the curing of the ten lepers – yet only one returns to give thanks. “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” He also tells us that we should not spend our lives looking for the coming of the Kingdom “for behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” The Kingdom of God is coming, when we least expect it and, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.” We must “pray always without becoming weary.”

As disciples living in the midst of the world, we are called to be “Contemplatives in Action ‘’ by finding intimacy with God in the background of our everyday busy lives. As contemplatives in action, we are able to see more and more clearly that Prayer is not really “saying prayers” but is a relationship that needs to be nourished in an ongoing way. No matter how hectic our week is, it is easy to think about our daily relationship with Our Father, with Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

As we look ahead to the landscape of our week – with a few big things coming up, a host of ordinary responsibilities, and perhaps several bruised or difficult relationships that trouble us – we can begin to locate and formulate into words, the desires in our hearts for our Lord’s help along the way. We may only have time to have a general sense of the Word of God addressed to us – from last Sunday and what is coming up this coming Sunday. That Word will further inform and shape how we will be in an ongoing dialogue with our Lord this week.

The rest is about developing the habit of focusing more intentionally on our relationship with our Lord, anticipating the events of our day, preparing for them, and letting our Lord be there with us. This is what helps us to be grateful servants. This is what it is to know that the presence of God is in our midst. This is what it takes to be good stewards of all that our Lord has entrusted to us.

So, we ask for what we need and desire, each morning, as soon as we can. We return to that desire, in brief moments, throughout the day. At day’s end, we give thanks for this gifted relationship that sustained us and allowed us to be his disciples this day.

Have a Great Week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

This coming Monday is the Solemnity of All Saints and Tuesday is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls).  During the regular readings this week, we conclude a four-week series of first readings from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He reminds us, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”

In the Gospel according to Luke we see Jesus living out his daily life with challenging honesty. He calls us to extend an invitation out of our hearts, not with an eye on an invitation in return: “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Then Jesus tells the parable of the invited guests who made excuses to decline the invitation. He sends his servants to invite everyone. Jesus tells a crowd that they have to renounce their possessions to be his disciple and that to do something really important, we have to prepare and be ready. When the religious leaders complain, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” Jesus tells parables of the man who finds his lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin, both of whom rejoice in finding what was lost. A steward protects himself by pardoning those who owe his master. We end the week with Jesus asking which is more important, God or money? “No servant can serve two masters.”

With the Solemnity of All Saints, we are reminded of all the women and men whose faithful living of the Gospel is so clear that we are sure we can imitate their lives. These are all the named saints. It would be great to name the saints whose example we desire to shape our lives. All Souls day gives us the opportunity to remember and pray for all our brothers and sisters who have died. We confidently hope and pray that they may be embraced by the love and mercy of God, poured forth in the life giving death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a wonderful day to name all those we want to pray for, and to include in our prayer those who have no one to pray for them.

As we go about our very busy lives this week, we can continue to practice focusing our attention on an ongoing conversation with our Lord throughout the day. Our desires – for union with our Lord, to know God’s love for us, to become more aware of our failings, to become more generous with our family and friends, to be more patient and forgiving, to love as we have been loved – can be expressed in these simple expressions. These expressed desires will naturally interact with the real events of our day.

The gospels this week will draw us into desiring to be more merciful and to not let money or pride dominate our behavior. We won’t be “unprepared” if we keep making openings for our Lord to enter the ordinary moments of our days. In repeated moments, we can simply open our hearts and ask God for the desire to have our lives focus on God’s desires for us, rather than what our culture wants us to focus on so constantly.

Each night, let’s look back over the day briefly, and give thanks for a God who listens to our desires.

Have a Great Week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 A vision of comfort and healing is offered for the Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time. In Jeremiah, we see the Lord gathering “his people” – the blind, the lame and the helpless innocents, bringing them together to console and guide them. In Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar has the courage to beg for healing from Jesus. He is hushed by the crowd but continues to call loudly for Jesus, who hears him and heals him. “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

The Gospel of Luke offers a glimpse of Jesus healing and teaching the people, even as he continues to clash with religious leaders. He cures the “bent woman” on a Sabbath and tells of the tiny mustard seed which develops to become a full grown bush. He repeats that it will not be easy to enter the Kingdom: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” He defies those who bring word of threats on his life and defies the silent Pharisees who watch as he cures a man on the Sabbath. Jesus encourages us to be humble: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Please, Lord, anything but humility! Our instinctive reaction to humility might be the result of a culture that exalts riches, honors and pride. Yet all this week Jesus teaches that the way to salvation is through humility.

The first step might be simply asking for the desire to be humble. As we move through the simplest of moments in our everyday lives, we can stop and ask God to help us want to be humble. As we sit on the edge of the bed in the morning, as we head to work, sort laundry or do our errands, we can keep a running prayer in the background of our consciousness: “Lord, help me to desire the humility that will make me more aware of your saving grace.”

These same background moments offer ways for us to recognize opportunities to practice humility as we go through our days. Perhaps I can stop myself from correcting my spouse. In a disagreement, I might make an extra effort to listen to the other person’s side rather than planning my rebuttal as they speak. I can let a person in line in front of me, hold the door for someone or make an extra effort to recognize and thank those who serve me. Maybe I can even admit that I may not fully understand the opinions of others and that there may be some legitimate points to them. Even these tiny gestures, when done in the spirit of Jesus’ teachings this week, offer us a special grace.

All week we can continue to speak to the Lord as we would to a loving friend who listens to us. And always, we can end our day in gratitude, for the merciful God who loves us so compassionately and longs to be in our hearts.

Have a Great Week!
-Fr. Joe