Online Examen Prayer Retreat now posted!

Since the coronavirus has stopped most (all?) public gatherings, it forced my parish into cancelling my in-person Examen Prayer Retreat that was supposed to be today. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like being in-person get in the way of the retreat, though! I’ve recorded my retreat talks and put together a page for the retreat. It includes a schedule for watching the videos, reflection, and prayer. It also includes information on other resources where you can go deeper into the Examen Prayer.

The retreat takes about two hours long, and is available by clicking here.

Urbi et Orbi Blessing Today & Interesting Reading

The Pope gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) blessing today. As part of this hour of prayer, Pope Francis preached a wonderful homily. The text of it is available on the Vatican’s website. Click here to read it.

Vatican News has a video with English commentary, which I have included here:

L’Annonciation (The Annunciation) by Philippe de Champaigne, 1644.

In other news, I recently stumbled on an interesting little article by Philip Kosloski about the development of the Hail Mary prayer. The first half of the prayer is quite ancient; however, the second half seems to have developed during the dark times of the Black Death. If that is the case, than we should not hesitate to pray to Mary to ask for relief from this plague!
Click here to read the article on Aleteia.

The Seven Penitential Psalms

All sorts of things are shut down right now, and many of us are left trying to fill the time. One excellent thing to do during this time is to regularize our prayer lives. If we aren’t happy with our current practices of prayer, change them! That doesn’t mean we should be fickle and change our way of praying every single day; however, it can be good to have a little variety from season to season.

One good practice we can take up during Lent is the ancient practice of praying the Seven Penitential Psalms. For many centuries, they were a part of priests’ daily prayers during Lent. These were prayed kneeling and with an antiphon at the beginning and end.

I’ve begun praying these psalms recently, partially because I have a bit more free time due to the Coronavirus cancelling many of my meetings, but also because it is also helpful to remember where we stand before God. The penitential psalms help us to recognize that we all struggle to follow God in our daily life.

I have included links to the Penitential Psalms in English. I am unable to include them directly due to copyright concerns. I have also put together a page for both the English and the Latin version of these psalms. Click here to visit that page.

The Penitential Psalms

Note: the words in italics are instructions to assist in praying these psalms.

Begin with the first antiphon: Do not remember, O Lord, our offenses, or those of our parents. Do not take vengeance for our sins.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 6
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 32
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 38
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 51
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 102
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 130
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 143
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Repeat the initial antiphon: Do not remember, O Lord, our offenses, or those of our parents. Do not take vengeance for our sins.

Daily Mass for St. Patrick’s Day

Because of the coronavirus, at Blessed Sacrament we’re doing our best to allow people to pray the Mass even if they cannot physically be there. One of the way’s we’re doing that is by streaming as often as possible on our parish Facebook page. I’ve included today’s Mass, which I celebrated, in this post. The Mass begins at time 3:30 in the video.

Daily Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving lead to Joy!

During Lent, we intensify our efforts to grow closer to God. We fast, pray and give alms, just as Jesus taught us in today’s Gospel. These are things we must do. Humanity has turned away from God. We all have sinned and turned from God—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Psalm 51 speaks to all of these types of sin. It uses three different Hebrew words: פשׁע (pesha), חטאה (chatta’ah), עוון (‘ă·wōn). Each of these expresses a different type of sin. I wasn’t able to find my notes from 4 years ago, but if I remember correctly: עוון refers to a general condition of sin within humanity, חטאה refers to sin committed unintentionally—sort of a side effect of human nature, and פשׁע refers to sin committed intentionally. (I’m fairly sure the words and the definitions are right, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they line up, but I’m not 100% sure!) These are all different ways we get turned around and separated from God. We need help turning back to God. The prophet Joel tells us all—the children, the elderly, those literally just married, even infants—to cry out, “Spare, O Lord, your people!” If the Lord does not forget the cry of the poor, neither will he forget the cry of his children who, poor in spirit, turn back to him.

Jesus today tells us how to make that turn back to him prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. And he tells us how to do each of these things. We are supposed to do all of these things in private, so that others cannot see them. In fact, Jesus takes it one step further: when we fast, we are supposed to anoint our head, wash our face, and no appear to be fasting. It’s as if he wants us to undertake these penances joyfully.

It may seem odd, but there is, actually, a logic to it. Let me explain. Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving clear space out of hearts, getting rid of all the cruft that has been building up: attachments to material things, over-concern about our bodies (see Matthew 6:25-34), or things we have allowed to take God’s place. We clear out all those things that get in between us and God. When we empty out that space, though, we need to fill it up with something. If we fill it up with the praise and adulation of those around us, what good would any penance do? What good would all this work do? We’d be no better off than the hypocrites Jesus talks about in the Gospel today. Instead, we do these things in secret, and offer them to God, so that He can fill up our heart. In addition to the great practice of giving things up, we should add additional time for prayer and the Sacraments during Lent, so that we are filling that space we spent all that energy to clear with God. God is the source of all our joy, and if we are full of him, how can we help but be joyful? Fasting, prayer, alms-giving—these things are not easy, but they clean out our hearts and open them to God, they give us more room for God to work in our lives: of course we’ll be more joyful, because God lives within us!

This is, in fact, what we must do to fulfill what God has asked us to do. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that we are to be ambassadors for Christ. We must allow God to appeal to others through us. We must be lights, shining brightly with God’s love and his joy and his mercy. What better way is there to do that then to clear out all the junk from our hearts and let God fill it?

Now is an acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. This Lent, let’s do something a bit hard, to truly open up our hearts to God. The collect today was so excellent, it said “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” (Emphasis is mine.) This is our campaign of Christian service, by which Christ sends us to do battle with evil. We pray, fast, and give alms, so we get everything between us and God out of the way and go forth as joyful witnesses and ambassadors for God.

Today’s Readings
February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 & 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

He was sent to bear witness to the light

A man appeared, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might learn to believe. He was not the Light; he was sent to bear witness to the light.

John 1:6-8 (Knox Translation)

To whom was John testifying?

I’ve always assumed it is a crowd, but if you look at the verses around today’s Gospel, the crowds were there the day before today’s reading. It doesn’t tell us if the crowd was still there. Maybe there were, but it’s possible they weren’t. Either way, John is testifying. He is possibly testifying to the crowds, but there are two other potential witnesses to his testimony. Before we talk about them, though, let’s talk about that word: testify.

When we hear that word, it evokes the image of a courtroom. Our human system is not always perfect, but let’s imagine how an ideal courtroom would work. Ideally, a courtroom is a place where the truth is discovered. Uncovering the truth is vital in a courtroom, because justice can only be served when the truth is known. To discover the truth, a court asks for—or perhaps compels—witnesses to come forward. The witnesses then recount their experience of an event. There are two things to note about what a witness says. First: they recount an event. An event is something that happened in history. It is an objective fact. The second thing to note: the witness recounts their experience. While the event objectively happened, each person experiences that event differently. Perhaps one witness saw one thing, another witness saw another, and a third witness hear yet another thing. If we want to understand what happened, we must take these statements together, resolve their potential differences, and piece them together into one account. To do this, we have to trust the accounts of the witnesses, because we were not there. We must rely on their testimony; we must trust them. (Remember, this is an ideal courtroom, where we are all seeking the truth, so the witnesses aren’t trying to mislead us!)

So when we talk about testimony, at least in the Bible, we are talking about a person’s experience of an event that happened. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist gives his testimony of the event that revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God. He testifies that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky and rest upon Jesus. This was the event that caused John the Baptist to know the Jesus was the Christ. John then tells us why. John had been told previously by the Lord that one would come, that the Spirit would rest on this person and remain on them, and that this person would baptize with the Spirit. God had appointed John as the watchman for his Son. The job of the watchman was to constantly be looking for any hint of news from afar, and to bring that news to those awaiting it. When John recognized these signs of the Messiah, he could not keep quiet: his life’s entire purpose was to proclaim that the Son of God had come.

And so, John testifies. He gives testimony that the event everyone had been waiting for had happened: God had become Man. The Son of God had come. He told them who it was, how he knew, and why he knew.

Now, back to our original question: to whom was John testifying?

The answer? John testifies to anyone awaiting the news that God has become man and that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. John’s job was to watch for this event and to proclaim it to all once he spotted it. He proclaimed it to anyone with him that day. He proclaimed it to himself, for sometimes even the watchman is startled. He proclaimed it to us, via the evangelists.

We are, in a way, judges of John’s testimony. The judge presides over the trial and determines the action that follows as a result of the trial, the investigation of the truth.  John has testified to us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is the light to the nation foretold by Isaiah. Do we judge his testimony to be true? If John’s testimony is true, then what actions must we now take in response to it?

Today’s Readings:
January 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

Jesus Redeems our Baptism

Note: this homily was preached on January 12, 2020. It was posted online on January 17, 2020.

Why did Jesus insist on being baptized?

Battesimo di Cristo (Baptism of Christ) – Andrea Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci

It was not even the same as the sacramental baptism we now receive. Strictly speaking, it had no power of law over the people. Jesus had no need of John’s baptism. John knew this. He protested Jesus’s request. Jesus replied to these protests, saying, “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean, though? How would Jesus receiving John’s baptism fulfill righteousness?

John’s baptism was one of repentance. It had no sacrament power to forgive sins, but it allowed people to show God that they recognized their sinfulness and that they desired to repent and be closer to him. In receiving John’s baptism, Jesus showed solidarity with us. He had no need to repent. It is quite impossible for God himself to sin, but Jesus was also fully human. He knew that we need to repent. He wanted to be with us in every way possible. There is an ancient principle within Christianity, it goes back to at least St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century. In the fourth century, we, as a church, still had a lot to figure out. Many heresies attacked the idea that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. People were scandalized that God would demean himself so much that he would become a human being. In fact, some say that this scandal goes back to before the creation of the universe itself—that Satan’s refusal to follow God was based on the fact that God was going to become human. Anyway, the principle St. Gregory Nazianzus articulated was the idea that anything which is not assumed is not redeemed. If Jesus had not been fully human, if he had not lived a fully human experience, then we could not be healed of our sins and saved. Jesus allowed a baptism of repentance so that he could experience the very human experience of repentance. He experienced human repentance and purified it, he healed it, he made our repentance holy.

While John’s baptism could not change Jesus, Jesus did change baptism. By being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus communicated his holiness to those waters. By submitting to John’s baptism of water, he made the waters of baptism holy. His holiness was contagious. That water communicated the holiness to all the rest of the water on the planet, by virtue of the water cycle and all that science stuff we learned about in grade school, and so now all water has been made holy for baptism. When we entered into these now holy waters of repentance in our baptisms, they put to death all that is sinful within us. Then this same sanctified water is used when the Holy Spirit raises us back to life, instilling the fire of Christ in our hearts, as the words that change us and open us up to a new life of grace are pronounced: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to my final point. Jesus’s Baptism is also an epiphany. We used to celebrate it as a part of Epiphany, and the Eastern Church still celebrates this feast primarily on Epiphany. God reveals himself to us in a couple of critically important ways on this occasion. It is, perhaps, the first time when God the Father, in the voice, God the Holy Spirit, in the dove, and God the Son, as receiving the baptism, are all together and manifesting themselves to the people at the same time. God reveals himself to be a Trinity at Jesus’s baptism. Furthermore, when the Father calls Jesus his Son, it reveals that this person standing before them, Jesus, is truly God, truly divine. God fully reveals himself at the Baptism of Jesus: He shows that Jesus, the Messiah, is truly and fully God and truly and fully man, and God reveals that he is a communion—a community—of persons.

Today, we thank God for the gift of his Baptism, through which he revealed so much of himself to us. We also thank him for the gift of our own baptisms, through which he opens our hearts and our souls to his holy grace which, if we allow it, will lead us back to him in Heaven.

Today’s Readings:
January 12, 2020
Baptism of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The Manifestation of Christ

Note: this homily was prepared on January 5, 2020. It was published online on January 17, 2020. Sorry about the delay.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. We all just heard again the story we know so well. Three magi, guided by a star, come to Israel in search of a newborn king. They find Jesus with Mary and Joseph, prostrate themselves, and offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Warned in a dream against Herod, they depart from Bethlehem a different way. But why do we call this Epiphany? You used to have to look these things up in a very thick and fancy book about Bible things, but now Wikipedia tells you right away that “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia), which means something like manifestation or appearance. They used it to refer to the appearance of a God to worshippers. What occurs during the visit of these three wise men from the East, these three astrologers, these three Gentiles, that reveals Jesus to his followers—to us?

We can actually learn a lot from the three wise men from the East. These men were watching the sky closely enough to recognize a new star being born in the sky. They were constantly on the lookout for a manifestation of deity from the Heavens. As the magi watched the sky for signs from heaven, we are called to watch for the Lord. We must live with open eyes, because the Lord will come at a time we do not expect. We might not even recognize him at first—his own Apostles did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus! We do not know the day or the hour that we will meet our Lord; however, we must always be prepared to meet Him.

After traveling for quite some time, the magi went to Jerusalem to inquire about where the new king had been born. The star, the light and guide for their journey, seems to have become hidden from their view. We too can lose sight of our Lord. We too can become lost along the way. There are many responses we could have when this happens, but the wise men show us what we must do. They consulted the scholars of the law and the chief priests for guidance. If anybody knew where the King of the Jews would be born, it was them. When we become lost, when we struggle to find God in our lives, we can turn to our Church and our priests for guidance. Sometimes this can be an incredible challenge, especially when our Church finds itself mired in all the muck that she finds herself in today. How can we trust the Church and her ministers lead us to Christ? The simple answer is that we trust God to make it happen. Look at who the magi consulted: Herod the Great was known to be a paranoid, homicidal despot. The Jewish religious authorities had a bad history of killing every prophet they came across. Despite all that, the wise men consulted them and received the truth.

When the wise men arrive, finally, in Bethlehem, the prostrate themselves—a gesture of worship—and give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts each symbolize and reveal something about the child Jesus. Gold shows Jesus’s kingship, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh his humanity. The wise men, who were not even Jewish, recognized in the mystery of the Christ Child something greater than themselves, so they prostrate themselves in worship to him. They offered him lavish gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not easy to come by in the ancient world. We too are called to worship God and offer him good gifts. We worship him most perfectly when we attend Mass and witness the re-presentation of salvation to us. We are called to offer him gifts every moment of our lives, because God wants much more then our treasures: he wants to be on our mind constantly. When we go to work, to school, to the gym, to our sporting events, God is there, waiting for us to acknowledge that he is with us even there.

On this feast, Jesus’s kingship, divinity, and humanity are made manifest by the magi, let us learn from these wise men. Let us ask the Lord for assistance in following him every moment of our lives, so that our eyes may be open to see his work even in the most mundane moments of our lives. Let us ask the Lord for the courage to ask for help when we can’t see him. Let us ask the Lord for the resolve to always be attentive to his worship and in recognition of the many gifts he has given us, to offer some of those gifts back to him.

Adoración do los Reyes (Adoration of the Kings) – Diego Velázquez

Today’s Readings:
January 5, 2020
Epiphany of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12