Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From Nov 28th 2010 Bulletin)

Latin, ad + venio = to come to

…stay awake…for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
- Matthew 24:42

The Lord is coming. St. Paul tells us that “…our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” This is true even in a literal sense. As Dr. Tom Curran shared with us last Saturday, Advent is a time when days are getting darker and colder as the winter solstice approaches. (‘Solstice’ “is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction.” From Wikipedia) The Church chose this time, the winter solstice, the turning of the tide, to celebrate the Birth of Christ, the birth of the One who called Himself the Light of the World.

There is a beautiful history of the dating of Christmas at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm. The best evidence that points to late December as the timing of Christ’s birth is related to the annunciation of John the Baptist’s conception to Zachariah, which occurred on the Day of Atonement, which falls in September. According to Scripture (Luke 1:36), the Annunciation of Christ’s conception comes 6 months later, which would be in March (celebrated March 25). Add nine months to this date and we have the date of Christmas. This does not mean that the Church depends on historical accuracy. The Church depends on mystical accuracy. In other words, when the Church enters into a mystery of Christ, such as His Nativity, it enters into a mystery that is primarily outside of time. The physical manifestation of a Divine reality is the tip of the iceberg, transcended by an infinitely large mystery under the surface.

In preparation for such Light coming into the world, the Church gradually developed a time of penance and prayer that helps one to appreciate the Incarnation. The goals of Advent for the faithful are:
 to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
 thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
 thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.
Let us prepare our souls today, even in this moment, to receive all the love that God has for us.

Preparing for Mass
There is no better way to grow in the grace of God than to worthily prepare for and pray the Mass. Here is a short prayer, written by Blessed Dom Marmion for priests, but adaptable for the laity who are called to exercise the priesthood of all believers by offering the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father for the sins of the whole world. Let us all become worthy worshipers, in spirit and in truth.

Lord, you have declared that sine me nihil potestis facere (Jn 15:5). I realize it; without You I can do nothing, and especially in this divine action of the Holy Sacrifice. I am quite incapable of being a worthy minister for You in this act of incomparable grandeur. Were I to pass my whole life in preparation I would not be fit for such a ministry. But as I have received, through Your Holy Spirit, a participation in Your priesthood, I ask in all humility, that You communicate to  me Your disposition as Pontiff and as Victim; the dispositions which were Yours at the Last Supper and those which You had on the Cross; graciously supply in Your mercy all that is wanting in me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From Nov 21st, 2010 Bulletin)

…today you will be with me in Paradise.

Lk 23:43

Our Feast today exalts the supremacy of Christ, not just over a nation, nor even our Church, but over all creation, from the beginning to the end. As Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” If this is the case, why does our world not follow the ways of Christ? One would expect a people to obey their king, or a king to enforce his will on the people. With God there is freedom, freedom to obey or disobey. This is displayed on the cross where we see two thieves, one who blasphemes Christ and another who recognizes Him and repenting, proclaims His kingship by saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We call this good thief St. Dismas. In three sentences, in the last minute of his life, Dismas is saved from the punishment due to sin. What mercy, what grace! A simple act of humility, honesty really, makes an eternal difference. Have we the same honesty? Are we able to admit our sinfulness? Do we have the knowledge of self necessary to be saved? Jacques Philippe writes in his book, Interior Freedom that “The person God loves with the tenderness of a Father, the person he wants to touch and to transform with His love, is not the person we’d have liked to be or ought to be. It’s the person we are. God doesn’t love ‘ideal persons’ or ‘virtual beings.’ He loves actual, real people.”

Let us follow Dismas by making a true confession of our own inadequacies and proclaim the authority of Christ over our lives. He will not coerce us. His dominion depends on our cooperation and acceptance of His reign. Our age tends to say “Question Authority”, but this is one authority we should never question. If we can accept Christ’s Kingship in our lives, all else will follow. As Jesus said in Matthew, “But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt 6:33)

Parish Expectations
What does it mean to be a member of St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church?

I will continue to elaborate on some basics that should be a part of every parishioner’s life here at St. Stephen’s. While respecting a just diversity in gifts and graces amongst God’s people, we ought to strive to be “…of one heart and mind” like our first apostles and the early Christians. These include some of the basics found in that first community following Pentecost. The Scriptures say that “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) I’ve already mentioned the ‘breaking of the bread’ as the first of our priorities.

John Paul II said in Ecclesia de Eucharistia that “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” Parishioners should participate in the Eucharist weekly, and more often than not, at St. Stephen’s. Some float from parish to parish based on Mass times and the length of homilies, etc., never committing to a particular community, never contributing gifts of time and talent beyond their 55 minutes of bodily presence in the building. This is a sad and selfish Christian life. Of course there are exceptions for health concerns, but in general, for those who can, Mass connects us in a way that includes an obligation to ‘the communal life’ mentioned in Acts. Gifts are given for the sake of the Body, the Church. Each believer has been given gifts for the building up of the community. When one receives the Precious Body of Our Lord, eternal life itself, yet refuses to become involved in the parish, what spiritual constipation has occurred?!

Real reception of gifts depends on a giving of gifts as well. A vessel never emptied stagnates and pours out the excess as waste. So what does this ‘communal life’ entail? It entails going beyond ourselves and our natural families to connect outside of Mass in the ministries that help the parish function and fulfill her mission. We have about 88 ministries here at St. Stephen’s. They all contribute to the mission of Christ that we have been given, a mission to make His Kingship known. Together we can make this happen. More than I depend on you, Christ depends on you, to make Him known to ‘the Dismases’ in our own area who do not know the way of Christ: to youths, mothers at risk, to homebound and homeless. The harvest is ripe, grab a sickle and join us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From Nov 14th, 2010 Bulletin)

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
- Lk 21:19

As we enter the last two weeks of the Church year and begin Advent on November 28th
our readings speak of the end of time and the coming of Christ. In today’s Gospel (Lk 21:5-19) Jesus
speaks of trials that will come at the end of the world as we know it, including war, famine,
earthquakes, and plagues. There will also be signs and wonders that “will come from the sky.”
This would be enough to distract just about anyone from the daily duty that we have as Christians,
that is, to keep our eyes fixed on Christ in all that we do. But as it says in the ritual for
Anointing of the Sick, “Our weakness lays claim to Your strength.”
We must be deeply grounded as Christians to endure the challenges of our day. I believe it was Fulton
Sheen who said that in the last part of the 20th century Catholics would either become saints or fall away. Though
that time has passed, it seems to be more relevant each day and touches on our call to become saints. How do we do
that? Isn’t that for heroic people? Don’t I need to be in a convent to achieve that? No, sainthood is meant in a special
way for the kitchen table, the workplace, and the narthex. While we are transformed in the holy actions of the
Church, real sanctity is worked out in our daily lives fulfilling our daily duties in a simple and loving way.
Someone remarked, “But I don’t want to be a saint!” Do you want to love? Do you want to love fully, increasing
your joy and happiness to the greatest extent possible? If ‘yes’, then you want to be a saint. Maybe what
needs to change is our conception of what ‘saint’ means. Many saints live and die without a statue being erected in
their honor; the simple people in our constellation of friends who humbly walk by faith. What do they do that’s different?
Let’s look at some of these characteristics, which make for sainthood that anyone of us can attain, beginning
with a basic attitude.

Thomas Aquinas was asked how one could become a saint. He said, “Will it.” Simple, an act that we are capable
of; using our will to cooperate with the action of the Holy Spirit. The will, according to St. John of the Cross, is
the seat (home) of the supernatural virtue of love. More simply said, love is in the will. This contradicts the modern
association of love being in the emotions or in the libido. Remember ‘Love Story’s sentimental journey? While genuine
love can certainly stir the emotions, true love always includes an act of the will whereby we voluntarily assent,
say ‘yes’ to, the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. We have been sealed and filled with this Spirit of love.
The willingness, the desire, to become a saint, is equivalent to the willingness to love. If we want to become
a saint, all we have to do is love. It is likewise the one thing we have control of. Many things can happen around us
that are evil, yet we can always, if we are willing, respond in a loving way. This of course takes a strong union with
that love which resides in our hearts and minds. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel, there will be challenges that shake
our foundations and can distract us from the gift of love.

As I begin my first term as Pastor (six years), it is a good time to continue developing a list of ‘parish precepts’,
principles and duties to live by, here at St. Stephens. These will help us ‘live in love’. They include, but aren’t
exhausted by, prayer, study, fellowship, and service. I wrote earlier about the Eucharist, the ‘Sacrament of Charity’.
It remains as the primary font of love at the heart of our Church. In many parts of the world the water well or fountain
is at the heart of a village or building. The well is a source of life, essential for a healthy life. One of the first
things we do in developing property is to check on the availability of water. So, as Catholics, we have to check on
the availability of Mass and Holy Communion, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation. An attitude of
love is possible with the Eucharist, Infinite Love consecrated and received. May we continue to be transformed by
the loving will of God who makes Himself Incarnate through the Eucharist.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From Nov 7th, 2010 Bulletin)

…he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.
Lk 20:38

Our Gospel this week reveals God’s vision of humanity, and that this humanity, whether deceased in body or not, is alive in spirit. During this month of All Souls, where we remember, in a special way, those who have died, it’s good to recall the three branches of our Church, the ‘Triumphant’, the ‘Suffering’ (from Latin passio = to suffer, to endure) , and the ‘Militant’. We on earth are the Church Militant (= ‘one engaged in fighting, war or strife’) and we often forget the other two because our vision can be so focused on this particular world in time and space. But we have great friends in the other two branches, especially if we take time to pray for the Church that exists in Purgatory, where souls ‘suffer’ a transition, from some punishment or purgation due to sin, to the pure loving state of Heaven with the saints and angels.
“I thought Vatican II got rid of Purgatory” you might be thinking. Not at all. We did change some details of the Indulgences for prayers said to relieve the sufferings of Purgatory, but nothing the Church could say or do would eliminate Purgatory itself. It exists and there is plenty of evidence that reveals it. First off, how many of us are saints this precious moment? How many of us are pure, ready to worship and praise Our Lord for all eternity? It’s hard to get some people to sing on a given Sunday, much less for all eternity. Our disposition in this given moment is a sample of the state of mind and heart that we could die in. One seminary professor used to say, “As we die, so shall we live for all eternity.” If that is in an imperfect state, then we shall need a transformation to become perfect, ‘…as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
Here are some excellent scriptures that point to the existence of Purgatory:

Some soldiers had sinned and died, so Judas Maccabeus took up a collection and “… sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead). And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (2 Maccabees 12:43-46)

St. Paul also writes about a person and their works being tested: "For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

Jesus Himself said, “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." (Matthew 12:32) This suggests, obviously, that some words (that are not sins against the Holy Spirit) can be forgiven in the world to come, after one’s death. For more information on the teaching of the Church on Purgatory, see the Catechism, Articles 1030 – 1032 at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2N.HTM or the Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm.

Next week, I hope to continue my discussion of what is expected of a parishioner at St. Stephen’s and my new role as pastor. Thank you for your prayers.