My second semester of third theology just started, and I will be spending 9 weeks on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, seeing all the holy sites. I will do my best to continue updating the site while here, but cannot guarantee it!
Rejoice! Christ is born!
We know these passages in the Bible. The Christmas Gospels are some of the best known literature in the entire world. Whose heart does not flutter, just a little, when they hear, “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” or “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled…” We know what comes next: we hear about the birth of a baby, Jesus, who is wrapped in swaddling clothes. We know that “[t]he shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place…” We know that “this [baby] was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
We’ve heard these stories so many times.
But do we really know them?
How has the Birth of Jesus Christ changed my life?
God came into this world as a baby to show us the way to the Himself. Jesus showed us how to live the most human life possible, by doing it himself. God showed us the dignity of human life by taking on human nature himself. Through the Incarnation, God provided humanity a path out of the darkness of sin and into the light of Heaven!
What does this look like in our lives? How have we let Jesus’s birth change us?
Has it helped us to love God with all our hearts, all our strength, and all our minds? Has it helped us to love our neighbor? Has it helped us to recognize that God loves us and sees us as precious jewels within his hands, jewels whom he calls “My Delight”?
This Christmas, let us ponder the gift that God gave us: the gift that excels far beyond any gift we can ever give. Let us ponder Jesus, the God-Man, the Wonder-Counselor, the God-Hero, the Father-Forever, the Prince of Peace. Let us prepare our souls so that they might, in silent stillness, receive him and allow him to transform us. Let us allow God to provide for us, and to transform our lives.
We do not know what wonders God has in store for us, if only we allow him to work within us!
Christ is born! Let us rejoice!
December 25, 2017
Four sets of readings are possible for Christmas. Scriptural quotes and references above come from Matthew 1, Luke 2, John 1, Isaiah 9 & 62.
This year, the fourth week of Advent is only even a day long—not even a day really! This might lead us to think it is an unimportant week—why would we cut it so short if it was important?
But it’s so important!
In the first reading, David wants to build a temple in which God may reside. He wants to provide for God, and Nathan the prophet gave him the go-ahead. God had other plans. He told Nathan to stop David. Why? Why would God stop David from honoring him in such a way? It is good to praise and worship God, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t David build him a house?
David hadn’t yet learned the most important thing God wants each of us to learn. He had not yet learned what Mary knew at the Annunciation. He had not yet learned that in all things, God will provide. At the Annunciation, an angel told Mary that she would be with child. Mary, confused, asked how this could happen, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” She was a virgin, and was planning to stay that way.1
Her question, if we were to ask it, would sound more like, “Yes, Lord, I will do it, but how can a virgin have a child?” She didn’t doubt God, but sought clarity from Gabriel. Gabriel’s response confirmed that God will provide what is needed for Mary to have a child—she need not to worry. Mary’s response was the most important yes in human history, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it done to me according to your word.” And God provided for Mary and all of us.
So too did God want to provide for David. He wanted David to end searching for God in places where he would not be found. He wanted David to find his rest in God, for our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. 2 God wanted to provide for David, so he told David that his Son would build the Temple, that his lineage would sit on the throne for all ages. David had to spend the rest of his life learning this lesson: God will provide.
Like with David and with Mary, God wants to provide for each of us. He calls each of us by name. To hear this call, we must open our hearts to him. We must silence the other influences in our life that shut out the voice of God. We must be still and allow God to enter our souls, to make the silence into a pregnant stillness. We must be like Mary, who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”3
December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Note: My apologies for the lateness of this post. Time simply got away from me. -Matt
Nearly everyone I know has at least a couple of Bible passages memorized. One of these is almost always 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
How can I pray without ceasing? That seems impossible.
That depends on how we understand prayer. If prayer is muttering some Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and going to Mass when we must, then of course unceasing prayer is impossible! If, however, prayer is how we stay in relationship with our God, where we lift up our hearts and minds to him, it’s a totally different story. We pray without ceasing when we are open to receiving God in his fullness. This openness comes only through one of the hardest things to learn: silence.
Through silence, we purify ourselves. By cutting ourselves off from the noise of the world, we slowly and painfully begin the work of introspection. We start to recognize those things to which we are attached, and in the silence, we are able to see if these things lead us toward or away from God. In this recognition of the good and the bad in our lives, we begin remove our attachments to those things around us which lead us away from God, all of them being things that eventually die. We silently remember our value, that God loves us. We remember our dignity, the importance of what we do, and we stop getting lost in a formalism where we just go through the motions.
Stillness is another word for silence. Where silence makes us think of quieting our minds and our words, stillness is a quieting of our bodies, of the motion around us. Praying very early or very late always gives me a sense of this stillness, and I think that Advent is the prime season for a stillness. Advent isn’t a time of empty silence, but of pregnant stillness.
It is in this silent and pregnant stillness that we become simple. Instead of demanding that things go “my way or the highway,” we stop quenching the Spirit and listen to what God tells us. Because it is God speaking to us, we can trust the message. We cast off the fear that prevents us from following God, from being simple, from being able to receive the Lord and his message for us. In the simplifying silence, we prepare ourselves by making straight the way of the Lord in our own lives.
When we are silent, when we are still, when we are simple, when we are prepared, only then may we join John the Baptist when he cries out from the desert. Only by entering the silent stillness ourselves, becoming simple ourselves, preparing the way of the Lord for ourselves, only when we have done all of this ourselves, only then may we cry out for others to do the same.
When we have done all of this, we will be ready to receive the gift God has prepared for us. God wishes to give us a gift far surpassing any diadem—that’s a crown with a lot of jewels, in case you were wondering what a diadem is—or jewels. He wishes to give us salvation and justice itself: Jesus Christ. To truly receive a gift, we must recognize the gift. We must be able to recognize the gift of Jesus Christ that has been given to us before we will be able to allow him to enter into our hearts and transform our lives.
What better relationship with God could we have then to allow him to enter into our hearts? This is how we pray without ceasing.
On these final days of Advent, let us enter the silence. Let us recognize the pregnant stillness around us, and join it. Let us become simple in the face of God. Let us prepare ourselves and make straight the way of the Lord. Jesus comes at Christmas! May we be able to recognize him and thus, to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: Our God become man—Jesus, the Christ.
December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
St. Peter tells us that we are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.”
He has just one question for us: “[W]hat sort of persons ought you to be?”
The stakes seem pretty high, so hopefully we get the answer right!
The answer is simple: if we conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion, St. Peter tells us, we will “await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Holiness… and devotion…
Well the answer may be simple, but it’s sure not easy!
Growing in holiness requires us to do uncomfortable things. We have to repent of our sins, but we first must acknowledge that we’ve sinned. How often have I turned away from God with my actions? How often have I done something I know to be wrong, simply because I wanted to? Have I educated myself so that I know right from wrong?
The Psalm today teaches us that in Heaven, “[k]indness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” If kindness and truth meet in Heaven, then they cannot oppose each other: to know and understand the truth is a kindness. Part of the truth is knowledge of right and wrong. It is knowing that not only is murder wrong, but so is abortion. It is knowing that prejudice against other races and nationalities wrong. It is knowing that all sex outside of marriage, and that even in marriage, unchaste activity is wrong. It is knowing that contraception violates the dignity of a spouse by holding back a part of the gift of self, given in the marital act. It is knowing that what we look at, what we watch—it matters! When we watch, look at, or even read about sinful behavior, it changes us! It is knowing that all people have value: the young and the old.
It is knowing that when we don’t understand or agree with one of these teachings, we must try to understand why the Church teaches us these things.
This knowledge is a kindness, because it helps us to live better lives. When we live better lives, it becomes easier to communicate to God in our prayer. It becomes easier to form the relationship with God that we so desperately need.
Knowing right from wrong is half the battle. Doing right and avoiding wrong, that’s even harder; however, it is possible. This is where prayer is so helpful, because God will help you if you ask him to help you. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” When we pray, we ask the Lord to enter into our hearts and make the path straight. In prayer, we beg the Lord to help us prepare for Heaven by straightening out our lives, by taking us out of the desert wasteland and allowing us to enter paradise with him. By this prayer to help us rectify our lives, we grow in devotion to God.
Kindness by knowing the truth.
Experiencing justice through the peace of heart that we receive from God in prayer.
Holiness and devotion.
So simple, but so hard.
December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?
Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!
We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?
We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?
The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3
How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.
Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”
Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!
Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.
Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
“[He] will say to them in reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me… what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The Golden Rule gets some teeth in today’s Gospel. A number of weeks ago, we heard that we must love God above all things, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Today’s Gospel reading makes it clear that to love our fellow man or woman is to love God. This standard—the standard of charity—is the measure by which we will be judged at the end of our days.
God sent his Son into this world to save us. God became human, and experienced humanity, just like you and I. He knows how hard it is to love our neighbor. Yet, Jesus tells us that this is how humanity will be judged.
This teaching is important simply by what it says, but its place in the Gospel also speaks to its important. Right after this parable, he is anointed on his head with expensive nard by a woman. This is similar to how kings were anointed in the Old Testament. He is betrayed, and condemned to death on false testimony. He experienced the absolute opposite of “love of neighbor” in every way: he was hated by the Jewish leaders and abandoned by his followers. His final teaching, “love your neighbor,” could have been lost forever, but in the midst of all his suffering, Jesus showed us that it is the only way we can live.
He refused to fight with the temple guard, and even healed the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him. He did not curse or argue with his false accusers, but proclaimed the truth when commanded to by the earthly authorities. He comforted the women while he was carrying a cross, after having been savagely beaten. He forgave his executioners. He even comforted and forgave one of the men being crucified with him: at the moment when he was most abandoned, most alone, most hater, he comforted the good thief. This is loving our neighbor.
Life can be hard. We won’t understand it. We won’t understand what others, including God, ask of us. Yet, we still must love our neighbors. Last week, when we read of the story of the talents, we learned this. God has loved each one of us, and he wants us to share this love with others. If we do not share our love with others, then we are burying it in the ground, and we will be judged for it. If we do share God’s love, God will welcome us into heaven and eternal happiness.
Christ destroyed death so that we might live with him forever, and all we must do is to have true charity in our hearts. True charity is not comfortable. It is hard, but the reward is so much sweeter. We will grow in our ability to love, and we will grow in our love for God. What a wonderful thing to gain!
How do we love? We love others when we care for them in their bodily needs: by helping at a soup kitchen; by donating to a clothing drive; by comforting those mourning the dead; by simply stopping to say hello to the beggar. We love others when we care for their spiritual needs: when we tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it; when we love our enemies; when we pray for our enemies; when we stand up to evil in the world and say “ENOUGH.”
Love is not passive. It is very active. Love goes out, like the good shepherd, searching for others. It strives to bring them to God, so that they might be healed. It is hard work, but it is how we will be known as Christians. This is the defining character of the Kingdom of God: love. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, has built a kingdom, and he built it on the firm rock of love.
November 26, 2017
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
“So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter?”
This line bothers me. Out of all the lines in the entire parable, this line bothers me. It makes the master sound like a crook. I’m not sure I would want to work for this guy either. But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? The master seems a bit off, but that doesn’t excuse the servant with one talent of silver for burying it.
The parable isn’t about the master, whether he stole other peoples’ crops, whether he was particularly honest. The parable is about the response of the servants. The first and the second servants, after receiving their silver or gold or whatever, took it and worked with it. Eventually, the master returns and they’ve made a nice return. The master entrusts them with more. The third servant, however, decides, “Hey, I don’t want to work for this guy,” so he takes his bucket of money and buries it.
Unlike the other servants who, despite some apparent illicit or odd activity of their masters, decide to make the best of it, this guy doesn’t. I imagine he probably complained about his master a lot, and generally was unpleasant to be around. He acts out of fear and mistrust of the master. He never asks the master to clarify what he’s doing, he just sees something and assumes the worst. Instead of taking the chance given to him by the master to do things his way, the “right” way, he just buries a bunch of metal in somebody’s yard.
Which servant are we?
God has bestowed many great gifts and abilities upon us. Sometimes, he acts in ways we don’t understand or that we really don’t like. But how do we respond to God when this happens? Do we stand firm in our faith, trusting that God knows what he’s doing? Or, do we start acting out of fear and mistrust, second-guessing God?
What about in our daily lives, and our daily struggles? When we are given what seems like an impossible schedule, with an excessive workload on top of it, how do we respond? Do we complain and moan and groan about it? Do we shut down and binge watch three seasons of “How I Met Your Mother?” Or, do we follow the example of the first two servants, and get to work? I’m not saying there’s no place for some leisure, but I’ve recently discovered how much I can get done when I’m not trying to stay current on 5 or 6 different TV shows, and how freeing it is.
This parable is telling us something pretty simple, really. Accept what you’re given, and do your best to make the most of it.
That is what we, as children of the light, are called to do.
That is how we make ourselves alert and soberly await the coming of the Lord.
That is how we remain in the Lord.
Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me bears much fruit. 1 For when we remain with the Lord, we are coming to him with our labors and our burdens, and we can lay them at his feet. There, we will find rest… For [his] yoke is easy, and [his] burden light.2
Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30
At our baptisms, our godparents lit a small candle from the light of the Easter candle. This candle was then presented to us, or our parents if we were not old enough. This candle was a visible symbol of the light of Christ that had now been lit within us. Jesus calls us to keep that light burning, not just for us, but for all those around us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 1 We must put the light within us on display so that others can see it, and so that our light can guide others to Christ.
To effectively guide others to Christ and his Heavenly Kingdom, we must ensure that our light shines as brightly as possible, and that it continues to burn. How are we to do this? How do we make the light of Christ within us burn ever more brightly? What must we do to ensure that the light of Christ within us continues to burn?
The light of Christ within us grows with our virtue. As we become better people, people who are more like Christ, the basket around our light is lifted. When we put sin behind us and dedicate ourselves to doing the work of God and his kingdom, we work to remove the basket that covers our light. In addition to the basket around our light being removed, the light itself can grow to hold more fuel and to burn brighter. This happens when we regularly receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Reconciliation trims the wick of our light. It may sting, and it may be painful, and we may really hate having to do it, but it is worth it. Just as when a wick is trimmed, the lamp glows brighter, so when our soul is healed by reconciliation God shines more clearly through us. The Eucharist grows the size of our lamp. By increasing our charity and love for others, the Eucharist gives our lamp the ability to hold more fuel. When the Eucharist increases our hope in God, it gives a purity to the flame, allowing it to shine even more brightly and beautifully. The Eucharist strengthens our faith, which makes the light within us stronger, so that it may withstand even the strongest gusts of wind that work in opposition to it.
Let us now turn our attention to the second question: how do we ensure that the light keeps burning? This is the question asked by today’s Gospel. The virgins are awaiting the return of the bridegroom. They do not know the hour at which he will come and call them into the wedding feast. The wise virgins ensure that they have strong lamps, and that they have plenty of fuel—even if the bridegroom comes at a very late hour. The foolish virgins do not take such precautions. Even when the bridegroom is delayed, these virgins do not go to find more fuel. They squander their time, waiting until the very last possible moment, when the bridegroom’s imminent arrival is announced, to search for more fuel. At this point, it is much too late to search for more fuel.
The wise virgins are unable to give them fuel. They can’t give them the fuel, for two reasons. Firstly, their fuel would be too strong for the foolish virgins’ lamps. The fuel of the wise virgins—the fuel that powers the light of Christ within each of us—is purified and strengthened and cleansed by our virtues. It will destroy a lamp not strengthened by the grace of God’s sacraments. Secondly, the fuel is not theirs to give. The virgins have a duty to light to path for the bridegroom. If they give their fuel away, they will be unable to complete the one task which they were called to do. Similarly, the fuel powering our lamps is given to us by God as a gift. This gift is called grace. While we can give some of these graces away for the betterment of others, we cannot give them all away. This grace, sanctifying grace, is necessary for us to enter into Heaven. Only God can give us these graces. Any other source simply cannot give us the graces we need for the light of Christ to burn within us. These graces are free gifts from God, but we must prepare ourselves to receive them, and we must be willing to receive them. We do this by living a virtuous life and by receiving the sacraments regularly.
Where do we get the fuel for our lights?
Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Just two weeks ago, Jesus called out the Pharisees as hypocrites for testing him. Last week, the Pharisees tried again. Today, Jesus preaches against the Pharisees. “They do not practice what they teach,” Jesus says, “they do all their deeds to be seen by others.” Jesus is not pulling his punches. Why is Jesus reacting so strongly to the scribes and the Pharisees?
Jesus condemns them because their observance of the law is merely external. They preach the law, but they do not live it. They may say, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself,” 1 but they love luxury and accolades more than God and neighbor. They have made idols of their phylacteries and their fringes. They have exalted themselves, and they shall be humbled if they do not repent of their ways—either in this life or the next.
The readings here are pointed at the priestly portion of society in Israel. Each reading speaks of the necessity for the priests to care for the children of God, and strongly condemns those who tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. The message to the priests and scribes and Pharisees in these readings is clear, and it is strong: practice what you preach, or you will answer to God.
But what does this have to do with everyone else? Why does the church give us all this reading?
The purpose of the priesthood is to sanctify. In the Church, there are two fundamental types of priesthood. There is the ministerial priesthood, conferred through ordination. Its goal is to sanctify the children of God. The priest exists to serve and sanctify the baptized. There is another type of priesthood in the church, on in which each of the baptized share: the common priesthood of the faithful. Through this common priesthood, the baptized are called to sanctify the entire world.
When we understand that all of God’s baptized children are a part of the common priesthood of the faithful, the readings take on a new meaning. We must all follow the way of God. We must care for all our brothers and sisters in this world. We must humble ourselves.
Malachi warns us that if we do not do this, our blessing will become a curse. Our baptism gives us a great blessing and great graces. Baptism transforms us into children of God, and God marks us as his beloved. With this blessing, with this covenant, however, we are given a missionary responsibility. God calls us to sanctify and convert the world: to teach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world through our words and actions. If we fail to do this, the we will not only lose what we had before our baptism, but we will also lose all the gifts we were given in baptism.
This duty is serious. It is a challenge to each of us. We must allow God to take control of our lives, to reflect him in everything we do. We must all humble ourselves and become servants of our neighbor. Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived, and in today’s Gospel, he tells us that the greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131:1, 2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12