How have you encountered Christ in your life?
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.
God said that it is not good for הָֽאָדָ֖ם (hā-’ā-ḏām) to be alone. That word, האדם, is often translated as “the man,” but the Hebrew meaning is really more like “the human.” God did not create humanity to be alone. He did not want us to be alone. He created us to be in relationship with him. He also recognized that we would need help in learning how to do this. God recognized that other humans, people like us, people made of the same flesh and bones that we are teach us relationship. How we relate with each other affects our relationship with God, and it directly impacts our happiness. The first relationships we encounter are within our families, and they form our understanding of relationships. The foundation of our families is the relationship between the husband and wife. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The love between a husband and wife is also an image, an example, of God’s faithful love for us.
Unfortunately, sin got into the mix. Men did not understand the dignity of women and treated them as property. Moses saw this hardness in the hearts of his people, so Moses tolerated divorce. Sin further corrupted men and hardened hearts. By Jesus’s time, the major debate was no longer, “How can we overcome sin?” but, “What is the minimum bar for divorce?” Many Jewish rabbis taught, essentially, that no-fault divorce was permissible. When the husband was tired of his wife, he could get rid of her. After Rome took over, the wife was permitted to do the same. Sin has a way of multiplying that.
This is the situation in which we find Jesus today. He gets right to the point. Hardness of hearts—sin—is why Moses tolerated divorce, but God did not create us this way. God created us to love and to be loved by him. Marriage is an image of the always faithful love of God. God loves us so much, he is so faithful to us, that he became one of us and entered into our fallen condition, into the muck of sin, and accepted the punishment that we deserve for our sins in order to repair the relationship between God and us. Jesus came to destroy sin. Divorce existed because of sin. Since Jesus came to destroy sin, he had to destroy divorce also.
Jesus teaches us that two people joined together by God in marriage can never be separated. The question cannot be, “What is the minimum standard for divorce?” but must instead be, “How can we help Jesus destroy sin?” To destroy sin, we must recognize that marriage must always be true and faithful, and that it lasts until death. When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other at marriage, they must mean it. They must remember that “yes” every day of their lives. To deny that “yes” through divorce and remarriage allows sin to win. There are certain situations in which separation and civil divorce is still tolerated, such as abuse, but even in those situations the marriage still exists. Unless we can prove that the marriage didn’t actually happen through what we call the annulment process, Catholics are not allowed to marry again. This prohibition against remarriage can cause deep pain and suffering. We all know someone who has been through a divorce, and we know the pain and suffering involved in the wake of such a tragedy. We might wonder why the Church insists that remarriage is not possible after divorce, why can’t we let someone “move on” with their life? Jesus made it very clear in today’s Gospel reading. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This is a hard teaching, but God is the one teaching us, so we must follow this teaching.
This teaching is hard to accept in our society. It seems unfair. How can we tell someone that they aren’t allowed to get married again? How can we prevent someone from loving someone new? Unfortunately, our society has a mistaken understanding of happiness. We no longer place Heaven and eternal life as our highest goal. Our society has placed “me” and “right now” as our highest goals. What makes me happy right now? What makes me feel good right now? We have forgotten that we are all in this together. We have forgotten how important relationships are to our happiness here and now, and how important relationships are at bringing us to eternal happiness. We have forgotten that sometimes God does allow us to go through pain and suffering, but I can also tell you that God knows our pain. God became one of us. God, who made us, became incarnate of the Virgin Mary: God became a human being who was named Jesus. For our sake, he suffered. He was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He died and was buried. Then, something amazing happened. He rose from the dead. Jesus showed us that suffering, pain, and, ultimately, death are passing things. Suffering, pain, and death lost. In the end, we can unite all of our pain and suffering with Jesus’s pain and suffering, and he will transform it into new life. The pain which we suffer because of the breakdown of marriages must be united with the pain Jesus felt when his disciples turned away from him and left him. We can take all of that pain and give it to Jesus, and he will transform us. Yes, Jesus asks us to do hard things, and he demands that marriage be faithful for life, but he does not leave us without hope.
At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must become like children to enter Heaven. When a child is hurt, who is the first person they run to? They run to someone who loves them unconditionally. Let us be like children. Let us run to the person who loves us more than anyone in the entire universe. Let us run to Jesus. When our relationships are struggling, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When someone hurts us, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When absolutely everything goes wrong, and the world crumbles around us, let us run into the arms of Jesus, who will always say to us, “I love you. I am glad that you are here.”
October 7, 2018
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. There is a prayer you may have never heard before, but it is said at every Mass by the deacon or the priest when he pours the wine and water into the chalice during the offertory. It goes, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The more I prayed with this prayer, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how deep and profound that this short prayer is.
So, let’s dig into this prayer together.
By the mystery… The Eucharist is, above all, a mystery. Jesus Christ is present in what appears to us as a piece of bread and some wine. We will never really understand how. The Church and the smartest theologians who ever lived have worked to try to figure it out. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of smartest of the smart guys, told us that the substance, the “what it is-ness,” of the bread and wine are replaced with Jesus Christ. While the appearance of bread and wine remain, we know by faith that Jesus is now present: the bread and wine are now Jesus. We know this because Jesus himself told us at the Last Supper that this is his Body and his Blood, and he commissioned his apostles to do this in memory of him. We relive this exact moment at every Mass. We don’t just remember the Last Supper at Mass. We bring the Last Supper into our minds and we live it, through the mysteries of the Eucharist and the Mass. We are participating in the Last Supper at every Mass.
of this water and wine… We use ordinary gifts in the Holy Mass: bread, wine, and water. We give them to God, for his glory, in the offertory. The offertory is a profound moment at the Mass, because it is when we give back to God those things which he has given us. The prayers that Father says at Offertory remind us that we received these gifts from him. “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you.” Now, we return them to him. In addition to the bread, wine, and water, we offer ourselves to God at Mass. During offertory, we offer our prayers, works, and sufferings to God in addition to the physical gifts. Many times, we are tempted to rush through the offertory and get it over with, but instead we should strive to recognize what is happening at the offertory. By our participation in the action of the offertory, we dedicate ourselves more and more to God during every Mass.
may we come to share… We are all here to witness the Eucharistic mystery which happens at Mass, in other words, to participate in the Mass. At Vatican II, the church asked for our full, conscious, and active participation in the Mass. Full, conscious, and active participation does not mean that we all need to be up on the altar with Father, but that we consciously unite ourselves in prayer with Father and everyone else here. We follow Father as he leads us into the most sacred mysteries of our faith. The Church calls us to pay attention, to respond, and to prayerfully keep in mind the mystery we are celebrating. United in this way, we are the one, unified, Body of Christ. As we unite ourselves in prayer at Mass, the Mass can more effectively transform our lives into the beautiful lives God has planned for each of us.
in the divinity of Christ… Jesus Christ is fully in the Eucharist. This includes his divinity. This means the Eucharist is God, and it is worthy of worship. That is why we have things like Eucharistic processions and Eucharistic adoration, because God is in the Eucharist. After Father says the Eucharistic prayer, we no longer have bread and wine; they have become God, who has entered the world for all to see in the form of a truly divine food, which God then invites us to eat. Honestly, it’s kind of weird if you think about it, because eating the Eucharist means eating God, but it is also an incredible gift. The Eucharist is different than any other food. Normal food nourishes our bodies by becoming a part of us. The Eucharist nourishes us too, but instead of becoming part of us it transforms us and brings us closer to God than we could ever get on our own! The Eucharist is the only food that makes us more like it—it makes us more like God!
who humbled himself… God challenges us all to be humble and to put him first. By doing so, we lead others to God. He tried to teach the Jewish people to do this, but they didn’t understand. So he showed true humility, and God himself became a human being.
And this brings us to the final portion of the prayer:
to share in our humanity… God, the creator of everything, not only humbled himself, but emptied himself, so that he could take on human flesh and blood. When God did this, he did not come down as a king or an emperor. He made himself a helpless child, who grew up the son of a carpenter. He experienced the loss of a parent when Joseph died. He experienced joy at the Wedding at Cana He experienced the death of a friend and relative when John the Baptist died. He experienced abandonment, torture, and death in his Passion. He experienced the full range of human emotions. There is nothing we experience that God has not also experienced, both as God and as human. Any pain we feel, God has felt with us, through us, and for us.
God became human so that he could be with us more closely, and he gave us the gift of the Eucharist so that we could become one with him in a very tangible and concrete way. God, the greatest mystery of the universe, loves us. He desires so much for us to be one with him that he took on human nature. He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood, so that when we consume it, we share in the divinity of Christ, and even while we are still on this earth, we may truly experience a taste of Heaven.
June 3, 2018
Corpus Christi [The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ]
Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Lauda Sion Sequence; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)
Christ was crucified for us. He died for us. He was buried for us. He descended into hell for us. He rose from the dead for us. He gave us the promise of eternal life. He also gave us a mission: to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name—starting in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the Earth.
We need repentance because we still must keep the commandments of the Lord and follow his will. Sadly, because of original sin, this is very hard. Repentance is our ability to recognize our failure to follow God and to turn ourselves back toward him. There are many ways which we can define sin, but one of the simplest is, “when we turn away from God.” Repentance, using that terminology, would be, “when we turn back to God.” Repentance is hard work! It is not easy! Paul preaches this to us, when he laments that his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak.
Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. As God forgives us our sins, so too must we forgive others. I think that for this teaching to really be understood, that we should try to understand what God is forgiving when he forgives our sins. God is the Infinite Good, who created us from nothing. When we commit an offense against him, we are not simply ignoring some governing official. We are turning away from the God who made us from nothing. We are committing an offense that grieves God.1 Ultimately, all our sins are against God—all of our sins grieve the all-powerful, all-loving, all-giving God. 2
To truly repent of our sins, we must be like God and imitate he does—we are, after all, created in his image and likeness. This process of conversion and forgiveness will cleanse our hearts. It will bring us closer to God.
But we cannot stop with just forgiving those who wrong us! We must preach this message to the ends of the earth! Jesus himself told us that this must happen. The apostles did this, leaving Jerusalem and reaching as far as Spain and India, before they were ultimately martyred. The Churches founded by the apostles continued this work, bringing the faith to every corner of the world—Africa, Asia, Russia, the Americas. We are all called, as members of the Body of Christ, to continue this work.
We must forgive others, but we cannot only speak with our actions. Actions are critical for any sharing of faith, but they are not enough. Paul spoke at any synagogue that would let him. Peter spoke at Pentecost, and with his words influenced thousands We, too, must speak the truth of repentance and forgiveness. We must speak the truth of God’s love and generosity. We establish relationships through our actions. After building a relationship, we can lead people to God with our words, through our preaching.
Only words can explain the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist. Only the words of a priest, “I absolve you of you sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” can take away sins. 3
Let’s lead lives of repentance and forgiveness. Let’s live our lives following God’s commandments—which will ultimately lead us to happiness. Let’s live lives where we preach the Good News of the Gospel with our actions and our words, so that the Joy of Easter can be shared all around the world!
April 15, 2018
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48
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
In Exodus today, we heard the story of the burning bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. This seeming contradiction is fascinating. Why was the bush on fire, and how was it not consumed?
In a very real way, the burning bush is a symbol of our souls. When God is present within our souls, when we allow Him to love us and work through us, our souls are lit afire with His presence much as the burning bush was. God, however, will never hurt us. He will not allow us to “fizzle out,” or going back to the burning bush: He will not allow us to be fully consumed.
Let us strive to live in the presence of God, so that he may light us on fire with his love.
Today’s Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12; Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7; Mt 11:25-27
In the Gospel today, Jesus warns us that we must make peace with our opponents before we bring our gifts to the altar. He tells us that while we are on the journey, we must settle with our opponent. If we do not, we will be thrown into jail until the full debt is repaid.
Our lives are a journey, during which we grow in our ability to love. St. Paul tells us that there is neither faith nor hope in Heaven: we can see God, therefore we do not need either; however, love remains. If we do not always work to grow in our capacity to love during our time on Earth, then in Heaven we will not reach the heights God planned for us.
On this journey, we have a traveling companion: God. God is always with us. Sadly, through original sin and our own sins, we have turned God into our opponent. He always loves us, and he always desires to be with us; however, we have turned him into an enemy in our minds. God is the one with whom we must settle. If we do not, and we reach the end of our earthly existence seeing God as our opponent, we will be handed to the judge. This judge—Jesus told us that the Father has given him this authority—will separate those going to Heaven, and those going to “fiery Gahenna.”
The full debt, however, must be repaid if we have made God into our opponent. The Gospel says that we will be handed over to the guard until this occurs. For those going to hell, this can never be repaid, as those going to hell have made God into their enemy forever. Those going to Heaven, however, have only partially made God their enemy. They have struggled to reconcile with God, but have done so imperfectly. This passage may also refer to the time spent in purgatory, where the soul is cleansed before it enters into eternal bliss with God.
This passage, ultimately, reminds us of our need to receive the sacrament of confession regularly. God has given us an easy way to reconcile ourselves with him. Confession may not be fun, because we have to admit we were wrong and that is often painful, but it reconciles us with God. It is how we can be sure we’ve reconciled with God. Sadly, our human condition will cause us to need this sacrament over and over again, but God will give it to us with great joy. God desires to give us mercy. As the scriptures tell us, God and his Angels rejoice greatly in Heaven over one repentant sinner.
Today’s Readings: 2 Cor 3:15-4:1, 3-6; Ps 85:9ab & 10, 11-12, 13-14; Mt 5:20-26
I’ve always liked this section of the Acts of the Apostles, because it gives us such a good template for how to engage those in the culture around us. Paul sees that the Athenians have many altars to various deities, including one for an unknown god. He takes this as a starting point for his preaching, and I think it is a truly brilliant. The Athenians recognize that there is something missing, that they do not know. Paul tells them that he knows what this missing thing is: it is God.
This God, Paul preaches, created all things and rules all things, but that is not all. This God lives in us, and he created humanity in his own image. This God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ and has ushered in a time for repentance, so that we may turn to him and know him and love him. This Jesus will “judge the world with justice,” so we must get busy with our work of conforming our lives to God.
The Athenians are listening intently to Paul until the very last line in his preaching, where he tells them that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That is too much for them. Some were straightforward in their disbelief, scoffing. Others said, “let’s talk about this later.” Paul recognized that he would make no progress and left.
It is fascinating to me how well this depicts modern engagement with the culture. The culture is in dire need of something meaningful. People will even listen to religion to try and fill the hole, but there is always some point where they decide, “nope, too much.” It is often the moral standards inherent in religion, but even now—2000 years later—the Resurrection is a point of difficulty for many. Even Christians don’t really know what the Resurrection means, and some—if pressed—don’t truly believe that it happened.
Paul wasn’t discouraged by this. He took those who followed him, and moved on to the next town. In our efforts to be lights to the world, we must do the same. When someone truly wants to know and love God, we should help them. When they brush us off, we must not be discouraged. No, we must take heart and move to the next person, continuing to live the true Christian life.
Today’s Readings: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1; Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Jn 16:12-15