Reflection: Christmas is here! Oh wait…

 

First Sunday of Advent – 27 November 2016

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Are you ready? Or maybe you’re already done… Why not take a step back and breathe… And pray. Image Credit: Agape COC

We have officially entered the “Christmas Season”, full of gift buying, food preparation, and celebration. These next four weeks can be some of the busiest of the year, filled with family visits, last minute details, and all manner of hustle and bustle. This can be a time of great happiness, but at the same time, it can also be a time of great stress. The remedy? Remembering that we aren’t really in the “Christmas Season” at all; rather, we are in the “Advent Season”, a time of quiet prayer and reflection as we await the coming of the Lord.

Each Sunday of Advent has a specific “theme” that is reflected in that day’s readings and Mass prayers: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Reflecting on each of these themes, especially through our participation in the Sunday liturgies, we are called to “climb the Lord’s mountain…that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths” (Is. 2:3). The lessons of Advent teach us that even amidst our busy lives, we must keep our focus always on the Lord, so that we may “go up to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122) with hearts open to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Friends, this Advent let us cultivate an attitude of prayer and reflection, even amidst our hectic schedules and long to-do lists. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5) and use this time not only for preparing for the coming holidays, but preparing our hearts and souls to be more fervent followers of the humble child who will be born in the manager in just a few weeks time, for “so too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt. 24:44).

For reflection:

  • How can I include just 15 more minutes of prayer in my life each day?
  • How can I better witness to the truth and love of the Gospel through my busy schedule of the holiday season?

Reflection: Be the Tax Collector

Reflection for October 23, 2016 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

pharisee and tax collector.jpgIf last week’s readings showed us the importance of prayer, then this week’s readings demonstrate how we should pray: in humility, trusting God. In our society, how often do we see famous personalities exalting some good work they have done? While not everyone is like this of course, we often see celebrities and others praising their own virtues, showing off their good deeds to the world. The same attitude is seen with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, who shouts aloud his apparent virtues, going so far as to say to the Lord, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!” The Pharisee, like some famous individuals we see in modern times, was saying and doing all the “right things,” but did he have the right intent or disposition? After all, while our external actions carry great weight and consequence, in the end, it is the final disposition of our hearts that God examines.

Should we look to the Pharisee or the Tax Collector as an example of how we should pray? Is the Pharisee an example of the humble attitude we should take before God, when we enter into prayer? No, of course not! Instead, we need to be more like the Tax Collector, who recognized his unworthiness before the Lord, and yet still approached Him, saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This attitude of humility is important to remember as we approach the end of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: not only must we spread the message of God’s love and mercy to others, but we must embrace it ourselves. Trusting in divine mercy, turning to God and saying, “Let my soul glory in the Lord,” we can find true peace in our lives.

Question for reflection: What are some ways I can cultivate humility in my prayer life and my interactions with others? An example might be to do a good deed, make a sacrifice, or dedicate a Rosary or Mass to someone or some situation without telling anyone about it.


As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! You can read these and other types of reflections based on the readings at Mass by going here. Pax.

Aventuras: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Last Saturday, we saw Mary.

In Mexico City.

In person.

O.K., maybe I should explain myself a bit. We had the distinct privilege of visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and seeing Juan Diego’s tilma in person. For those who are not familiar with the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, take a few moments to read it here.

Trinity TilmaWhile I have often desired and prayed to see this wonderful piece of living history in person, I never knew that I would have a chance to actually come and see Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the tilma displayed in the Basilica, we see an imprint that can not be explained by human scientific reason. Analysis of the tilma has shown time and again that the origins of the image are unexplainable, but for one with the eyes of faith, there is certainly an explanation: the Holy Trinity. The tilma is full of imagery, bringing together Christian and Aztec symbolism. One of my favorite parts of the tilma are, surprise surprise – this is the Believing Astronomer after all, the stars painted on the brilliant field of blue. The arrangement of these stars corresponds to that of the Winter Solstice in 1531, when the Juan Diego unfurled the tilma in front of Bishop bishop Zumarraga.

Throughout the day, we received a behind-the-scenes view of the Basilica, as well as presentation and tour from one of the Basilica’s canons, Msgr. Jorge Palencia. Msgr. Palencia gave us a personal tour of the main sites on the Basilica’s grounds, including the site of the first church, Tepayac Hill, where Juan Diego saw the apparitions, the parish church that stands next to the Old Basilica, and the museum in the Old Basilica itself. Having Mgsr. Palencia with us was a great joy, as he gave us insights that only someone intimately connected with the site could give.

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The Tilma depicting the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (difficult to get a good picture from the viewing area)

The highlight of the day, however, was Mass. Shortly after arriving and seeing the tilma for the first time, we were escorted up to the sacristy where we vested for Mass. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so I (and I suspect quite a few others of us) received a bit of shock when we processed out to the main altar. The Basilica was full, probably around four to five thousand people, and there we were, some wayward seminarians from the United States, sitting up in the sanctuary, just feet from the tilma itself and having the honor to serve at Mass with at least 20 priests and (from what I could tell) one or two bishops. Here was one of the most well-known images of Christ’s mother, and then He became present on the altar during Mass. An awesome moment, in every sense of the word…

In Our Lady of Guadalupe we find a point of unification for all people of the American, no matter what their culture or skin color. My own relationship with her did not blossom until many years after my baptism, but it wasn’t until I gave myself completely to her Son, through her help and intercession, that everything in my life finally come into focus.

No tengo palabras para describir lo que sentí en mi corazón el sábado pasado, pero sé que la experiencia hablará mi alma. Oremos por la intercesión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, guiándonos siempre a su Hijo, Jesucristo. I do not have the words to describe what was on my heart last Saturday, but I know that the experience continues to speak to my soul. Let us pray for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, always guiding us to her son, Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke and continues to speak to my heart, and she continues to do so to all peoples, ultimately drawing everyone, if they are willing, toward Jesus Christ. In Christ that we find the ultimate meaning of our lives: to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life and to be with Him in the next.

While at the Basilica, we prayed for you all, and I prayed especially for those intentions that were sent to me. Thank you very much, and please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Pax.

Some Pictures from the day (use the navigation arrows below to advance of move back):

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On the Journey: How have you used your gifts?

Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 17-18

This very day you are ready to rescue from this fearsome abyss any soul that searches for you, any man who says from the depths of his heart, I have eyes only for you; I long Lord, for your presence. -Confessions I.18

We all have gifts. Some of us are writers. Others are singers. Still others are skilled at working with people, while others have an innate ability to solve complex mathematical problems. Some peoples’ gifts reside in the area of interpersonal relations, others are gifted academics, and still others have gifts in their spiritual life and practice. We have all met people with an abundance of gifts, and yet we often overlook our own. We all, however, have our own special unique gifts, given to us by God. How do we use those gifts though?

If I was pressed to give an answer, I would probably consider one of my own gifts being

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One of my favorite pastimes – writing. I just wish I had more time to do it (and more opportunities to do it by hand). Own work, copyright 2014.

that of writing. I don’t have any great talent in it, but I enjoy it and it brings contentment, whether I am writing in my own journal, working on an academic paper, or crafting a letter to a close friend. But like most of us who are struggling on this path of holiness, seeking to grow closer to Him, there have certainly been times when I haven’t cherished this gift as I should.

One example comes from my pre-conversion days in high school. I was in the library at lunch with my then-girlfriend and we weren’t doing anything in particular, just hanging out. I then remembered that I had a paper due in English the very next period. I immediately went over to the computer and started typing away. My girlfriend was a bit incredulous I suppose, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I then continued on, finishing up the paper just as the bell was ringing. I looked it over once, corrected a couple of things, and prepared to turn it in.

I got an A on the assignment. In fact, it was one of the few I actually turned in – I wasn’t the best student in high school.

My girlfriend was upset and gave me a bad time about the assignment – I basically just popped the paper out right there without really spending time on it.. What’s worse is that I knew I would get an A on it. I don’t even remember what the topic of the paper was, but boy was I arrogant and prideful!

Saint Augustine experiences the same sort of pride in his childhood too: “Let me tell you, my God, how I squandered the brains you gave me on foolish delusions” (I.17). Now granted, the great saint was a much better student than I was, but he still experienced the same issue, an issue that I experienced and that we all experience at one time or another: he was “so much smoke without the fire” (I.17), squandering his gifts, rather than using them to give glory to the Lord.

So what are we to do with these gifts? How do we keep from letting them fall to the wayside, or worse yet, how do we keep from using them for unworthy purposes? After all, too often in our world, we are taught to “get ahead” and “be successful.” This is usually done when we utilize one or another of the gifts God has given us. Why not turn the focus from ourselves and towards God? This doesn’t necessarily mean that every other word out of your mouth has to be religious; it just means that everything we say and do can be oriented toward His glory, whether implicitly or explicitly, so that we do not “waste in dissipation all the wealth” which the Father has given us. This orientation toward the Lord can be as simple as saying a short prayer before undertaking a task,  or as involved as explicitly reflecting on how our actions serve the Lord and serve others. Remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So whether your are a singer or a teacher, an administrator or a writer, an astronomer or a florist, a business executive or a stay at home parent, seek out how you can use your gifts to glorify Him.

As Augustine notes in this week’s reading, the Father, the one who gave us these gifts, is there waiting for us, just as the father of the prodigal son waited. All we have to do is turn around and return to Him.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What gifts has God given me whether material, intellectual, relational, or spiritual?
  2. How can I better utilize those gifts to serve Him and those people around me?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

Pope Francis: Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria on Saturday

On Sunday during his Angelus address, Pope Francis announced a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, to occur Saturday, September 7:

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

Later on, he references Pacem in Terris, written by Pope John XIII:

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.

Finally, the details surrounding the day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria:

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00 [1-6pm Eastern, 10am-1pm Pacific], we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

My friends, there is no denying that the situation in Syria is grave. Action must be taken. But our action must be informed by the Gospel; we need to be instruments of justice and love. This Saturday, pray for peace in Syria, and let us always remember to pray for peace throughout the whole world.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Pax et bonum.

PS: H/t to to Rocco Palmo. For a full transcript of Pope Francis’ talk, as well as video of the address (you’ll need to brush up on your Italian), head on over to the original post.