Fair as the Moon, Bright as the Sun

Joan_de_Joanes_-_The_Immaculate_Conception_-_Google_Art_Project-1As beloved as the works of Tolkien are, it is impossible to fully appreciate them without an understanding of his deep Catholic faith, particularly his devotion to Our Lady.

To Our Lady… upon which all my own small perception of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity, is founded.

–JRR Tolkien

Today’s solemnity of the Immaculate Conception brings so many thoughts to mind. Firstly, it’s astounding to think that from our own microscopic beginnings at the first moment of life, when we are too small to be visible, God has already created us with a purpose, with a Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.39.29 PMplan, with a destiny. Our own free choices determine how closely we cooperate with His plan for our lives, but the possibilities and the graces are all available to us. As clichéd as it sounds, God creates us with greatness in mind – not necessarily in the worldly sense of being a noteworthy person, or making a name for oneself, but spiritual greatness. And what could be greater than being called into relationship with the Trinity, being adopted into God’s Family by our baptism? Our Lady was conceived without sin because of God’s purpose for her. He created her to become the Mother of His Only Son.

Catholic fans of The Lord of the Rings know that Galadriel reflected Our Lady – which is why we took such issue with Peter Jackson’s depiction of her in the movies (the Continue reading

Christ the King

 

Pilate said to Jesus,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?”
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

-Today’s Gospel Reading from JN 18:33B-37

 

 On this beautiful feast of Christ the King, let us think about the King Whom we are called to serve.  What does it really mean to be a servant of this King? Pope Benedict says “Participation in Jesus’ lordship is verified concretely only in sharing in his abasement, with the Cross.”

See emerge now clearly, dear Brothers, the first and fundamental message that the Word of God says to us today: to me, Successor of Peter, and to you, cardinals. It calls us to be with Jesus, like Mary, and not to ask him to come down from the cross, but to stay there with Him. And this, in regard to our ministry, we must do not only for ourselves, but for the whole Church, for all the People of God. We know from the Gospels that the cross was the critical point of the faith of Simon Peter and of the other Apostles. It is clear and it could not be otherwise: they were men and they thought “as men”: they could not tolerate the idea of a crucified Messiah. Peter’s conversion was realized fully when he gave up trying to “save” Jesus and accepted being saved by Him. He gave up wanting to save Jesus from the cross and accepted being saved by his cross. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32), says the Lord. Peter’s ministry consists altogether in his faith, a faith that Jesus recognizes immediately, from the beginning, as genuine, as a gift from the heavenly Father; but a faith that must go through the scandal of the cross, to become authentic, truly “Christian,” to become “rock” on which Jesus can build his Church. Participation in Jesus’ lordship is verified concretely only in sharing in his abasement, with the Cross. My ministry also, dear Brothers, and, consequently, also yours, consists altogether in faith. Jesus can build his Church on us the more he finds in us that true, paschal faith, that faith that does not want to make Jesus come down from the Cross, but entrusts itself to Him on the Cross. In this connection the authentic place of the Vicar of Christ is on the Cross, to persist in the obedience of the Cross.

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI on the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 23, 2010

The Holy Father was speaking to the newly created cardinals, but his message applies to each one of us, who are called, in love, to become joyful servants of Christ the King, Lord of the Universe.  He is Lord of all, and while everyone and everything is subject to Him, we are gifted with free will to embrace His Kingship or to reject it.

Listening to Jesus

A+Prayer+for+those+at+seaWe are happy to share with you today’s homily from our friend Fr. Matthew Furgiuele, priest of the Diocese of Gaylord.  Today’s Mass readings can be found here.

There is a very important lesson for us in today’s readings, especially in light of the ongoing Synod on the Family, as well as the upcoming changes to the process for a declaration of nullity. If you get your information about the Church from the media, and even if you listen to some priests, bishops and cardinals, you might get the impression that things are in flux, and that great changes are upon us. This is not the case and it cannot be the case. As Benedict XVI said, and as Pope Francis himself has repeated numerous times, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Christianity is not a theory, it is not an ideology, it is a way of life, but it is one which is based on a concrete, living, breathing model: Jesus Christ. As we were reminded during the great Jubilee of 2000, Jesus Christ is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever’. The truth cannot change because it is not an abstraction, it is a person. For our faith to have meaning, both for ourselves and for our society, we need to return always to the source: Jesus.

Wisdom is very much linked to prayer, as we see in our first reading, the sacred author prays for wisdom and receives it as a gift. Prayer is necessary for wisdom because Christ is the source of wisdom, and so, we obtain wisdom not by great learning, and not even by experience, but through a relationship. Prayer at its core is dialogue with God, and, most especially with the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. The more we know Jesus, the wiser we become, for it is in knowing Him that we grow in wisdom. As we grow closer to Christ, we see more clearly how everything else pales in comparison, and we see that He alone can satisfy the longing of our hearts. All of creation is good, but nothing created can compare to the Creator. It is not that things lose their value, it is that we value them in the proper perspective: can this or that bring me closer to Christ?  If so, it is not merely good, but good for me.  If it cannot, then, while it may retain its inherent goodness, it is not good for me. There are very few things that are bad in and of themselves; it is usually not the thing itself which is bad, but the inappropriate use of it. Jesus is the One who can teach us how to make proper use of the goods He has provided us in creation.

Deep down we all know that we cannot fool God, but, instinctively, we also know that we cannot fool ourselves. The author of Hebrews knew this so well, and he warned his audience not to play games. This reminds me a lot of the Sheryl Crow song “If It Makes You Happy” in which she says, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. If it makes you happy, then why are you so sad.” I also think of a poster that one of my co-workers has in her cubicle in Gaylord: “People be like, ‘Only God can judge me.’  I be like, ‘That should scare you.’” There is a great crisis facing the Church, the family and the world, and it is a crisis of listening. We are all so afraid to listen, because deep down we know what God has to say to us. Again, it comes back to the need for prayer: if you don’t spend time with Jesus, then you cannot hear what He is saying, or, if you hear it, you distort it. God is not like we are, He is able to reconcile opposites: in Jesus Justice and Mercy come together: the Cross was the Justice of God, but Christ suffering it became the Mercy of God. In Christ Paul was able to say that when he was weak, then he was strong. One of the most consoling things of all time are the words of today’s Gospel: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.

All things are possible for God.” Nothing is impossible for God, so, if it does not happen, it means that we are getting in the way. It is amazing how difficult it is for us to let go and to trust in God, instead of ourselves. I see this in confession all the time, people who struggle and struggle and never seem to make any progress, because they continue to try to do it alone, and so experience over and over the sad reality that, by their own strength, holiness is impossible.

In our Gospel today we see a wonderful example of someone who talks to Jesus but is not able to listen to Him. The rich young man is a good man, he does keep the commandments, and he even recognizes that avoiding sin is necessary, but not enough, and so, he approaches Jesus and he asks Him what must he do to have eternal life. Jesus knows that the man speaks truthfully, and so He looks lovingly upon him, and He tells him “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” We have a tendency to think that this was something extraordinary on the part of Jesus, that it is not meant for everyone, but that is not true. Each and every one of you, if you truly speak to Jesus, will hear Him tell you exactly the same thing. Riches are not necessarily material goods, each and every one of us has riches, because we have so many graces and talents from Jesus. The point is not that we have to get rid of our gifts and talents, that would be absurd; rather, the point is that we are all, each and every one of us, called to listen to Jesus and to make sure that every thought word and deed of ours flows from our relationship with Him, and so is according to His desire for us. This is different for each and every one of us, because we are all unique; however, what is common is that we are all called to be disciples of Christ, and to make sure that nothing we do is contrary to that. This is where change is not possible: because Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, it cannot be the case that something which was Christ-like two hundred years ago is no longer so; neither could it be the case that something which was once an obstacle to being a disciple is now a means of fidelity to the Gospel.

Doing Our Part

00.159.134_PS1Here is a great homily our priest friend, Fr. Matthew, preached on today’s Gospel (John 6:1-15):

I am sure that you have all heard the story of the man who for years prayed to God asking that he might win the lottery, and, when nothing came of it, he complained bitterly, only to hear a voice from Heaven say ‘John, you have to meet me half way, at least buy a ticket.’ While fictional, it does demonstrate the theme of today’s readings: God works, God loves, God performs miracles, but, we have to do our part for that to happen. As a saint once said ‘pray as though it all depends on God, but work as though it all depends on you.’ Although we might be tempted to think that this is strange or wrong, it is actually quite beautiful. There has always been in the Church this tension between grace and free will. There have always been errors on both sides. In the early Church we had Pelagianism, which held that we could save ourselves through our own efforts, and then, as time went by, we had the opposite view in many different forms, culminating in the many forms of Protestantism, namely that we were so corrupted by original sin that absolutely no good whatsoever could come from us. Both of these views are tempting, and both are wrong. We cannot save ourselves, but, neither are we so corrupt as to be incapable of doing good. As St. Augustine said ‘God who created you without you will not save you without you.’

Our Gospel is amazing because it shows us the way in which Jesus’ love and concern is for the whole of the person, not only the soul. Of course he wants to save us, that is the whole reason that he came and lived amongst us; however, in taking on our human nature, really and truly, not merely as a costume that an actor might wear, he experiences in his own person, the limitations of humanity. Jesus knew what it was like to feel hunger, thirst and exhaustion. That is how he understood that the crowds who had journeyed so far to meet him were starving, not only starving for the Word of God, but also for bodily food. Then we have the next beautiful element of the Gospel: Jesus does not just go ahead and feed them, he asks for co-operation from the Apostles and from the crowd. Even though they are clueless and lacking in faith, remarking that they have not enough money to buy food for all, Jesus still works a miracle, because, the little they are able to do, they in fact do. This is always the way with Jesus: what we have is nothing compared to what he has, and yet, he expects us to do our part, in order that he might do his part.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has proclaimed an extraordinary Jubilee Year, the Year of Mercy, which will begin on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, who also happens to be the Patroness of these United States. We should all be grateful to our Holy Father, who is so concerned for our salvation, just like Jesus, whose representative he is, and do all that we can to prepare for this. The Pope has won hearts with his simplicity and his care and concern for the poor and the outcasts, like Jesus, he knows that salvation involves the whole person, not only the soul, but he is just as concerned for the spiritual health and well-being as he is the material well-being, even though, if you limit your knowledge of Francis to what the media says, you would never know that. The Church has long had a list of 14 Works of Mercy: seven corporal and seven spiritual. They are as follows:

The seven corporal works of mercy:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To shelter the homeless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

The seven spiritual works of mercy:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

Both of these lists are important, because, as an Italian Bishop who was formerly the Superior General of his religious order that took care of the orphaned and the sick once said to me, remarking on today’s Gospel ‘Matthew, you cannot save a soul with an empty stomach, even Jesus feeds the crowds before he preaches to them.’ The corporal works of mercy are like the role of John the Baptist: they remove the obstacles to receiving Jesus, they prepare the way of the Lord. Here and now, on Beaver Island, there are those who are hungry and those who thirst, those who have not got the proper clothes, or shelter, those who are sick and have so many more needs. I ask you in the name of Jesus, please do not turn your backs on those who are less fortunate than you are, sometimes God has the face of a beggar. Remember that we are all sons and daughters of God the Father, but some of us have to live in conditions that are unworthy of our Royal status. Do not be afraid to deny yourself a bit so that someone else can have more.

While you are thinking about the way in which salvation embraces the whole human person, even the basic bodily needs, never forget that we are not only our bodies, we are also our souls, and so, as Pope Francis has so often stated ‘the Church is not a Non-Governmental Organization, or a Charity, it is so much more.’ Do look after the material needs of those around you, because they are important, but don’t stop there. There are plenty of people and organizations that minister to the body, as Catholics we have a particular calling to minister to the soul as well. The spiritual works of mercy are in many ways tougher than the corporal, because you could be a bad person and still do charitable things, but, unless your faith is strong, and you are well-formed, you cannot instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, or admonish sinners in a way that is not harsh and judgmental. Also, unless you are very united to Jesus, you cannot possibly bear wrongs patiently or forgive offenses willingly. Fear not, you don’t have to do this alone. Jesus himself will feed you with the bread of life, his flesh and blood, which we will be reflecting on over the next several weeks.

“Do not fear, only believe.”

Gabriel_Max,_La_Résurrection_de_la_fille_de_Jaïre_(1878)This has been a hard week for our nation. Followers of Christ may be tempted to lose hope, despair even, as the death knell of Western civilization tolls loudly throughout the land.  What are we to do, living in a time when Truth is turned on its head, when men call good evil, and evil good?  We know that God is unchanging, His Truth is unchanging, but we live in a culture that believes truth is about as stable as shifting sand, that’s more like quicksand under our feet.  Our task is to keep our feet planted firmly on the Rock, Who is Christ, and remain faithful in all things, especially remaining faithful to the teaching of the Church, and faithful to His Vicar, the Pope, and the Bishops in union with him.   Continue reading

Shroud of Turin Expert in SA this Saturday

Shroud of TurinThis Saturday you will have the opportunity to meet Dr John P. Jackson, the world’s foremost expert on the Shroud of Turin.  In 1978 Dr. Jackson, a PhD in physics, led the team of NASA scientists which was given unprecedented access to the Shroud in order to perform studies and extract data for a week.  Since that time he has continued to study the Shroud and speak about it all over the world.  This is a rare opportunity to hear Dr. Jackson speak about his up close and personal experience studying the burial cloth of Jesus.

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Dr. Jackson will be speaking at the San Antonio Convention Center this Saturday, May 2, from 10:30-12:30.  Seating is limited, so don’t wait to get your tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime event.  Tickets are available online here for $16, which includes the conference with Dr. Jackson on Saturday and admission to the Shroud Expo on Dolorosa St. (This is a great deal, as Saturday tickets to the Expo itself are normally $18)  If you are planning a visit to the Expo before Saturday you can buy tickets there for $5.00.  Tickets will also be available at the door Saturday for $7.00, but seating is limited, so get your tickets now.

This is a perfect time to learn more about this amazing relic, which scientists are still unlocking even today.  In Turin, Italy the Holy Shroud is on exposition through June 24, an unusualsindone2015sm event since it is normally only exposed every 25 years.  This year the extraordinary exposition is being held to coincide with the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of St. John Bosco, who lived in Turin.  Pope Francis himself will be traveling to Turin in June to venerate the Shroud. We can’t get to Italy to venerate the Shroud, but you can bet we will be at Dr. Jackson’s talk this Saturday.  And after you attend his talk, make a visit to 416 Dolorosa St. and experience more of the history and science behind the Shroud at the Shroud Expo.  It’s an amazing experience which lays out the story of this mysterious cloth, including many ancient artifacts from the time of Our Lord.  Originally the Shroud Expo was scheduled to end April 12, but it has been extended until July 12, so don’t miss this great opportunity.

Through These Wounds

Quote

manofsorrows-memling-ca1490 copyThrough these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire mystery of Christ and of God: his Passion, his earthly life – filled with compassion for the weak and the sick – his incarnation in the womb of Mary.  And we can retrace the whole history of salvation: the prophecies – especially about the Servant of the Lord, the Psalms, the Law and the Covenant; to the liberation from Egypt, to the first Passover and to the blood of the slaughtered lambs; and again from the Patriarchs to Abraham, and then all the way back to Abel, whose blood cried out from the earth.  All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen; with Mary, in her Magnificat, we can perceive that, “His mercy extends from generation to generation” (cf. Lk 1:50).

-Pope Francis, homily for Divine Mercy Sunday 2015