Monday, January 31, 2011

Homily for Mark 5:1-20: The Gerasene Demoniac

The story of the Gerasene demoniac is certainly colorful and legendary. It is the first time in Mark's short Gospel that he took some time to tell a story. The story shifts from its focus on a possessed man, to the sacrificial herd of swine, to the people of the area, and back to the liberated man. Raw human emotions are swirling throughout each verse as sheer terror grips the onlooker. It comes after a series of parables describing the kingdom of God and it is the middle of three miracle stories in which Jesus shows his power over Satan - this time in a case of demonic possession. The tale is set within the tombs as the people connected 'death' with 'demonic possession.' Death touches each human heart uniquely.

We are to examine our responses to death. Perhaps we recall the experience of a deceased loved one or we have dealt with aging or illness that puts us one day closer to our own death. The thought of death unsettles us and we want to find meaning in it, and sometimes it is difficult to do, especially when it involves an innocent person. It is a mystery to behold and too often, we don't want to do it. We find clever ways to resist and even deny death. We anaesthetize ourselves to its presence and we don't want it to cheat us or take us too soon. Death shows we are powerless.

I call to mind a current film, The Rabbit Hole, that will not will any Academy Awards, but I honor it for its realistic portrayal of a couple's coping with the death of their four-year old son to a tragic accident. Their happy suburban world is turned upside down. Becca, the wife, and Howie, her husband are caught in a maze of memory, longing, guilt, recrimination, sarcasm and tightly controlled rage from which they cannot escape. Their ways of coping are diametrically opposed to one another. Becca finds pain in the familiar, Howie finds comfort in the familiar. Becca mocks the "grieving parents" support group while Howie finds solace, but both come in contact with a whole network of friends who are beset by loss. No one grieves the same way. No plan or timeframe exists for healing; memories will never fade; the search for meaning remains elusive. Death is final.

Shifts comes in abrupt, unforeseen moments. Becca hesitantly opens up to her opinionated, loving mother who is still dealing with her son's death to a drug overdose, and Becca secretly reaches out to the teenager involved in the accident that claimed her son's life. Howie lashes out and daydreams about the solace he will find with another woman, a kindred spirit who lost her daughter 8 years ago. Everyone's life is shattered. Yet, as divergent their paths are, the couple keeps trying to find their way back to a life that still holds the potential for beauty, meaning, laughter and happiness. They needed to take their own pathways, because not one way is clearly demarked. The same goes for us.

Becca and Howie must have felt like the Gerasene demoniac. No one could help them as no one could help the possessed man. These demons and our disordered attachments possess us. They define us and we cannot imagine life without them. They are our identity. Once these demons within us have life, they multiply and rule over us. Many times, we did not invite them in but they are part of the cycle of shame we inherited from our parents, our upbringing, and the events that happened to us. These are things beyond our control, and they may result from boundaries that were transgressed against us. It is unfortunate. I'm deeply sorry for what has happened to you.

Look at the chaos it creates within us: debilitating, paralyzing shame, sadness and loneliness, stifled anger, repressed memories, a life that is damaged. We are cut off from our true selves. We have fallen far from our dreams of the way our life ought to be. We don't want these demons to have power over us anymore. They kill our spirit and we desire to be liberated and happy. We want our life to have meaning. There is no sense of hiding these demons. We all have them and they will do their best to hook us. We present our best face instead of our reality for some reason. We are broken and we come to realize we need a savior, and only this savior's deeper affection, only his love can subdue our demons. After a struggle to keep control, we realize we have no control and we admit our powerlessness. We are not God. The possessed man did not save himself. We can't save ourselves.

The good news is these demons do not stand a chance in front of Jesus. When the possessed man catches sight of Jesus, he runs towards him crying at the top of his lungs. I know I have spent many prayer periods crying out to Jesus. What does he do? Jesus enters into my chaos. He doesn't move me. He stays with me in the stillness. He stands there among the tombs with me with all the shackles and chains binding me up, and looks at me with love.

He desires my liberation, and he asks me to name my demons, to which I reply, "there are so many of them. They are Legion. I want to be free of them." He wants me to cry out to him, but to notice that he is looking upon me with love. I, too, have to clearly name these demons and acknowledge their power over me, the power I gave them whether consciously or unconsciously, and I have to let Christ free me - even if the man is hanging on the cross near death, or already dead and buried in the tomb. The demons recognize Jesus as the Son of the Most High, God. Why can't I?

I have to let him free me. I have to let him take all my chains and shackles, anything that weighs me down, and give it to him on the cross or lay it inside his tomb. I have to do it even though it is going to weigh him down and cause him even more pain or break his back or even takes the dying breath from the man. We may further hurt from our doing this, but it is the reason he came to us. And if I cannot give it to him, he will understand. My prayer for you is that you will at least consent to let him take it from you so he can achieve the purpose for which he came. Give his death the meaning he desires.

Like Becca and Howie, you have to find your own way of doing that. It will be a way that you uniquely can do it, and it may take you great courage and energy. This man who hangs on the cross or lays in the tomb is the same man you held in your arms when he was an infant, the same boy who was swept away into Egypt, the teen you met in his hidden years, the man who cured and taught and revealed something precious about God to you. This is the guy who became your good friend. He remains steadfast to you, even though you deserted him or denied him or fell asleep on him in his time of need. He is still in front of you reaching out and saying, "I want to share my heart with you. Will you open yours to receive mine. It breaks my heart that these demons separate us." Christ took on our powerlessness because of our powerlessness.

Find Christ in this intimate moment of death. He wants to liberate you so your heart can be brought into his own and to his Father's.

Others may be seized with fear and astonishment when they see us like the man who was once possessed. When we allow Christ to liberate us, we too will go off and proclaim to others what Jesus has done for us. Our hearts will be amazed. Our hearts will remember the tender moment of salvation when Christ called our true selves forth and showed us the true power of God.

"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High?" asks the possessed man. "Everything," he replies. "I want your liberty, your memory, your will, your understanding, all that you have and possess. You are mine."

Poem: D.H. Lawrence from The Hands of God

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But it is a much more fearful thing to fall out of them …
Save me, O God, from falling into the ungodly knowledge of myself as I am without God.
Let me never know, O God
let me never know what I am or should be
when I have fallen out of your hands,
the hands of the living God …
Save me from that, O God!
Let me never know myself apart from the living God!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Const.: GC 34, Decree 4: “Our Mission and Culture”, par. 6

As Jesuits, we live a faith directed toward the kingdom, through which justice becomes a shaping reality in the world; we therefore bring the particular quality of that faith into dialogue with members of the religions and cultures of our contemporary world…. We [Jesuits] have insisted on the inseparability of justice, dialogue, and the evangelization of culture.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 30, 2011

The Beatitudes are one of the most beloved passages from the Gospels. It opens the famous Sermon on the Mount that was masterfully recorded by Matthew. Mountains are often places of revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus rightly is taking his place on the mountain in a way similar to an Oriental teacher. He address, as in concentric rings, first the disciples, next the crowds who gathered, and then all peoples, even the Gentiles, from the lands beyond Galilee. This is meant to show the shining power of Jesus who his mighty in both words and deeds.

The Beatitudes set a high standard of moral wisdom about life and are not meant to be exhaustive, but they also are not arbitrary. Most of the Jesus sayings are taken from the "Q" source that helped shaped the Gospels. Matthew probably took some of his expressions from the Psalms. Mark records no such speech and Luke provides four "blesseds" and four "woes" given on a plain instead of a hillside. Though we can never know for sure what Jesus actually said, it is very likely that he said something akin to these sayings. It carries through in the development of his thought.

These sayings represent a form of congratulations that recognize an existing state of happiness. Categories of people are rejoicing because the kingdom of heaven has been proclaimed to them. The poor, the mourners, and the hungry are recipients of Jesus' mission to the needy. His preaching ushers in the dawn of a new era of salvation history. Jesus is not saying the poor are happy because of their condition in life. Poverty was seen as an evil; wealth as a blessing. Jesus is telling the poor that they are happy because they receive God's special care for them, just as an Oriental king specially provides for his people.

Matthew emphasizes God's justice as it is a major theme of his Gospel, hence the concentration on one's persevering through terrible persecutions. The poor are the needy ones in Israel who prefer divine service to financial advantage and yet he adds "in spirit" to move the emphasis from social-economic to a personal-moral, voluntary poverty with highlights of humility and detachment from wealth. Wealth carries with it an inherent risk of neglecting God and others who are needy. The meek show a form of charity; some mourn to see evil reign on earth; the merciful pardon one's neighbors; the pure of heart stand close to justice; and peacemakers are no longer only mighty monarchs, but can be anyone. Hence, the Beatitudes become a program of life for the believer. God will stand by those who strive for these lofty virtues.

Jesus is not asking the people to change their status in life, only their attitudes. These actions will influence their hope-filled future and will make them able to notice God's steadfast presence in their life today - a presence that reaches everyone, especially the neediest in society. Following the way of Jesus is sure to bring us happiness today because we are in right relations with others and with God. We can see ourselves as blessed because our saving God stands by us. This changes our attitudes and we learn to see others as God does. Everyone wants to be happy. We are to realize it is within our grasp today - and always. It really is.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Hebrews tells of our ancestor's sacrifices in the face of adversity. God approved their good efforts as they lived according to God's promise. When you offer worship, you approach Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and of his angels and spirits. You also approach Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, whose sacrifice was far greater than that of Abel. Because of the Christ event, we are to let fraternal love continue while we are mindful of those whose lives are vulnerable. The Lord will never forsake them. Through Jesus, we are to continually offer God a sacrifice of praise. God is pleased with our good actions towards one another.

Gospel: Jesus enters the 10 Gentile cities of the Decapolis where he meets a strong man possessed by demons named Legion. After exorcising them from him, Jesus sends the spirits into the swine who are impelled to jump into the sea and drown. Jesus crosses back into Galilee where he is met by a synagogue official whose daughter is near death. Jesus heals her from afar. He also heals the woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years. He then calls the Twelve together and sends them forth with instructions for preaching and healing. Herod wonders about Jesus, but at a banquet he foolishly grants his daughter a wish, which she misuses as she asks for the head of John the Baptist. Jesus withdraws with his disciples to a quiet place so they can rest and tell their stories of preaching. The crowds arrive and Jesus' heart is moved with pity for them.

Saints of the Week

Monday: John Bosco, priest, (1815-1888) grew up in Turin, Piedmont in the northwest corner of Italy. As a priest, he surveyed the fate of children in prison and formed a religious order to help them build better lives for themselves. He educated working class boys in the evenings and in factories or fields or wherever he could reach them. He was noted for his charity in finding the goodness in these boys.

Wednesday: The Presentation of the Lord is celebrated 40 days after Christmas. Often called the Purification of Mary, it remembers her fulfillment of Mosaic law that demands new mothers to present themselves to the priest who will adjudge their cleanness. She and Joseph brought the child to the Temple with an offering so as to be cleansed by prayers. During this time, Mary and Joseph met the elders, Simeon and Anna, who represented the passing of the old covenant of God.

Thursday: Blaise, bisop and martyr (c.316) was from Armenia was died under the persecution of Licinius. He received fame for curing a boy who nearly choked to death by a fishbone that was lodged in his throat. He has been invoked for many throat afflictions. The rite for blessing throats is done on this day in commemoration of his legendary miracle.

Ansgar, bishop (801-865) was a French bishop who became a monk to preach to pagans. He preached in Denmark and Sweden and met great success and became archbishop of Hamburg. He is known as the Apostle of the North.

Friday: John de Brito, priest, martyr, and Carlos Spinola, Rudolph Acquaviva, and companions, martyrs of the missions, are celebrated for giving their lives for the build up of the faith in foreign missions. John de Brito was a Portuguese who ministered in India; Spinola, an Italian, went to Japan, and Acquaviva, from Naples, was killed with companions near Goa, India.

Saturday: Agatha, martyr, (d.251) was a martyr in the Decian persecution. When she was forced into a brothel to give up her faith, she was tortured and killed. Agatha's intercession is attributed for the stilling of Mount Etna's eruption the year after her burial. The faithful began to invoke her protection against fire. She is mentioned in the first Eucharistic prayer.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan 30, 1633. At Avignon, Fr. John Pujol, a famous master of novices, died. He ordered one of them to water a dry stick, which miraculously sprouted.
• Jan 31, 1774. Fr. General Laurence Ricci, a prisoner in Castel S Angelo, claimed his liberty, since his innocence had been fully vindicated. He received from the Papal Congregation the reply that they would think about it. Pope Clement XIV was said at this time to be mentally afflicted.
• Feb 1, 1549. The first Jesuit missionaries to go to Brazil set sail from Lisbon, Portugal, under Fr. Emmanuel de Nobrega.
• Feb 2, 1528. Ignatius arrived in Paris to begin his program of studies at the University of Paris.
• Feb 3, 1571. In Florida, the martyrdom of Fr. Louis Quiros and two novices, shot with arrows by an apostate Indian.
• Feb 4, 1617. An imperial edict banished all missionaries from China.
• Feb 5, 1833. The first provincial of Maryland, Fr. William McSherry, was appointed.

Groundhog Day

Spring is seven weeks from February 2nd, Groundhog Day. If the groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and sees his shadow, it will return to its burrow and wait out the winter. If the day is cloudy and he does not return, an early spring and moderate weather is predicted. Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous of the groundhogs where crowds of over 40,000 have been known to gather on February 2nd to find out if spring will come early.

The tradition arises from German folklore that was brought to the United States. This poem was proclaimed on Candlemas, which is also the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas. The priest will bless candles that will be used throughout the liturgical year during Mass on this day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Video: Ignatius and the Green Olive

The life of Ignatius as told by the Green Olive

The Spanish Olive.

Prayer: Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance. Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp your Words correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express your Words with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prayer: Teilhard de Chardin

Someday,
after-mastering
the winds,
the waves,
the tides and gravity,
we shall harness...
the energies of love.

And then,
for the second time
in the history of the world,
we will have discovered fire.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Prayer: Elizabeth Johnson – Consider Jesus p. 115

When human beings whom God loves suffer, God is present with them, compassionately loving them through the suffering, desiring life for them, and acting to bring it about when human forces have played themselves out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Homily: The Conversion of Paul

The story of Saul’s call to discipleship is an enviable one. Many of us wish for that brilliant 'flash of lightning' event that gives us an unmistakably clear picture of the way the Lord is calling us to deeper love and intimacy. It doesn’t work that way for us. Our call typically comes from invitations that encourage our freedom rather than from an earth-shaking event like Saul's.

We meet Saul as an infamous persecutor of the People of the Way, as Christians were called. His road to Damascus experience makes him a believer and gives him a mission as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul did not just go on his merry way to start his ministry. We seldom think about the trauma Paul experienced during the transition. He is a zealous man who believes in the supremacy of the Torah, as any devout Jew believes. He works tirelessly to bring about conditions to fulfill the Law, and he is intent on wiping out any impediments to that goal – and to Saul, the People of the Way are upsetting the hopes of the Jews. To be a faithful servant who hastens God’s plan for salvation, Saul seeks to correct the conditions to bring about the Day of the Lord. His mind is bewildered and boggled to realize that this man, Jesus, whose mission apparently failed, now replaces the Law as his symbol of worship.

Saul cannot comprehend Jesus through his cognition. His head gets in the way. His duty, strict adherence to his belief in the laws, his cultural conditioning does not allow his heart to be moved. Somehow it has to be moved aside. We have parallels in our church today when bishops teach the faithful ones to obediently fulfill church teaching by rigid adherence through its documents, it's teaching of idealized Platonic and classical ideals, rather than through one's own heart that is taught from one's lived experiences of faith. Faith in God comes about only when it becomes personal.

This is what happens to Saul. With Saul, it gets personal. Jesus cries out to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" No human runs to his or her catechism, or General Instruction on the Roman Missal, or puts on a cassock or biretta, to answer this question. Our heart and emotions engage. We deal with our human response as we contemplate the pain our Risen Lord is feeling. How many times have we uttered a cry like this, "why are you picking on me?," "why don't you leave me alone," or "don't you realize you are hurting me?" This is real pain. Christ feels vulnerable. Christ feels real pain. Saul causes it. We also cause it. The Lord's words erupt after experiencing prolonged abuse, and he seeks relief. Saul can only ask, "Who are you that I am hurting?" Yes, this is personal. He no longer wants to hurt Christ Jesus anymore. His heart becomes aware; now his mind has to comprehend the consequences of his actions. The heart informs the head. The heart leads the head.

Saul goes off to Damascus and becomes Paul. We pay little regard for the wrestling that Paul goes through to piece his life together. His world is shattered - completely splattered - and he no longer has a compass to orient his life. His entire worldview has to be rebuilt. Without a doubt, Christ does not leave him, and without a doubt, Paul relies upon the graciousness of his one-time enemies. We cannot contemplate Paul's call without looking at Ananias who becomes a critical player and his metanoia is more along the lines of our own call.

Ananias offers Paul hospitality. He feeds him, nurses him, spends time with him, and lays hands upon him. He respectfully relates his own story to Paul and patiently gets him back on his feet. He cares for him in his trauma and soothes his soul-searched wounds. He does not proselytize, but gives him freedom and space and time to be healed. Ananias has fears and doubts for sure. Against the fragile community's wishes, he takes in his most-feared adversary who now professes 'Jesus is Lord.' Surely he doubts Paul's integrity, but he hangs on. He just remains with him rather than trying to do something for him. His patient pacing and persevering pays off.

Ananias was called to greater love and trust in Christ which makes him risk his life and the life of the fledgling, persecuted community. He wasn't called to a specific vocation, or to a new position, or to a new identity. He was called to a new way of being. Ananias' call was to be a person who extended mercy and hospitality, compassionate care, and a tender invitation for Paul to rebuild his life around the Lord in his Damascus home. It was not a call to a "what" but to a "how." It was a shift from head to heart. The early church needed the example of Ananias, and we need this example in our church today. "How are we going to be?" is more important than "what or who are we going to be?"

We come here to focus upon our friendship with Christ. As we consider our own call, perhaps it is helpful for us to remember the people who invited us along the way to see Jesus more clearly. We cherish them and uphold them and we want what they have. They are like Ananias to us and they befriend us when we find ourselves in a bad way. And in a loving way, they hold up for us a giant STOP sign to indicate that we may need to take a breath and get our life on track with the Lord once again. They help us look deeply into the eyes of Christ so we may once again be in right relations with him.

Only Christ can help us remove the impediments to seeing him more clearly. We can't do it. We can't will it to happen. Only his mercy will take away that which keeps us from getting closer. He helps us see that we try to control him, that we see him as we would like not as he really is, that we look at the narcissistic part of ourselves that keeps us looking at our navel instead of looking at him. In many ways, he is trying to knock us off our high horse with a blinding light so we can stop to pay attention to him, just as he did with Saul. He is crying out, "John, John, why are you neglecting me? I want you to come closer to me. Why don't you let go? Think of what you will gain rather than what you will lose. I can't reach you if you hold onto yourself. Please, John, let go. I want you to be with me." When we stop and learn to see him with our heart, we feel his pain, we feel his vulnerabilities. We feel with him as he feels. Everything changes. Everything looks different when we allow his heart to touch our own.

Christ wants to give himself to us because that is all he can do. He knows how much we need forgiveness and healing in a world that is systemically broken. He knows the extent that each of us is hurt and battered, and he wants us to actualize his dream for us. He wants our hearts to be so alive each day that it nearly explodes with his presence, just because he desires us so much.

Watch him over these next few days. Just be with him now - not working hard, not praying hard. He wants us to be with him now, to see him fully, so we can also see the great act of love he does for us. The cross looms on the horizon and while it is horrific to gaze upon, we can't escape it. We cannot separate him from his Cross. He wants us to know just how far he will go to give himself over for us. We need him to do this for us. You can't save yourself. In the meantime, give whatever you can to him. Give him your heart. Give him all your worries and fears. Give him anything you can. And if you still can't do that, let him take it from you. Let him do what he came to us to do. His heart will be consoled.

Song: God of Australia

This song can be sung to the tune of Waltzing Matilda. It was composed by Jesuit Father Joseph Sobb in 1988.Since today is Australia Day, it is a good day to remember the people of the Down Under country

God of Australia

God of Australia, you have loved this ancient land,
God of all peoples and God of the earth.
In the dreaming we find you, Lord of life and holiness,
Spirit among us creating new birth:

Chorus:
Praise God Australia!, Praise God, Australia!
Desert and seacoast and mountains give praise!
In the city, the workplace, bush and farm and home be praise!
Blest be the God who gives life to us all!

Chorus:

God of Australia, you have known us all by name,
God in our present and God of our past.
You have called us to walk with
justice and integrity, vision of hope for the first and the last.

Chorus:

God of Australa, you have loved us all our days,
God of the inland and God of the sea.
Guide us all in your mercy, as we hold your gifts in trust,
building a nation united and free.

Prayer: Simplified Examen

We pray a prayer like this twice a day. After we ask God to behold us, we simply ask God to review with us where God was present in our day. We only do it for the current segment of our day. No need to return to previous days. Simply let God tell you about God's presence this morning or a later segment of the day.

Where were you, O God, this (morning) (afternoon) of my life?

The review of this period is like giving the TV clicker (remote control) over to God. God (Christ) has it and is in control. Give God some time to tell you about his presence. The grace is to see God's presence to you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Question: Addictions

Severe addictions are devastating to a person and his or her social systems. Our co-dependencies are destructive to us as well. We contain our addictions and they seldom consciously rise in our prayer. The classic addictions are to alcohol, narcotics and other drugs, including cigarette smoking. Much research has recently been done of addictions to sex and love. Within the past two decades we have also seen great addictions to technology, which includes addictions to email and more insidiously to internet pornography. In what ways are you doing your own research so you can help yourself and others understand the nature of addictions better?

Poem: Confessions by Kathleen Raine

Wanting to know all
I overlooked each particle
Containing the whole
Unknowable.

Intent on one great love, perfect,
Requited and for ever,
I missed love's everywhere
Small presence, thousand-guised.

And lifelong have been reading
Book after book, searching
For wisdom, but bringing
Only my own understanding.

Forgive me, forgiver,
Whether you be infinite omniscient
Or some unnoticed other
My existence has hurt.

Being what I am
What could I do but wrong?
Yet love can bring
To heart healing
To chaos meaning.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prayer: Petition to God to Behold Me (Before Prayer Period)

Part I:

Before every prayer, I petition that God behold me. I pray, "that you, O God, see me, feel me, hear me, and know what I am feeling." or "You, O Lord, know what is going on with me. I'm in your presence. Know what has happened with me today." I let God gaze upon me - in wonder and honor.

This is not that I perceive or feel God, but simply that God sees me, feels me, beholds me. It is like Psalm 139.

At this time: I present my feelings (positive and negative, the whole gamut of feelings) and just ask God to see me as I am.

Part 2:

If you, O God, behold me, give me the grace to behold you. Let me see you. Give me that grace.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 23, 2011

Jesus begins his Galilean ministry soon after John the Baptist has been handed over to prison and execution. Jesus makes a surprising move to take up his mission at an unsafe time. He plays it safe by moving to the outskirts. Success would be greater in the traditional places of Jerusalem or the desert, but as he is near Capernaum, he can escape by boat to the Decapolis if need be. Several distinct political jurisdictions offered the possibility of sanctuary.

The gospel arrives in a specific time and place. The geographic reference points refer to lands surrounded by Gentiles. Isaiah's promise of the liberation of these areas is fulfilled by Jesus' arrival. "The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light" are both the oppressed Israelites and the Gentile people who are to be included in the kingdom. The preaching of Jesus is a light of consolation to the suffering people.

In his preaching of the immanence of God's kingdom on heaven and on earth, he calls his circle of intimate friends together. Simon Peter and his brother Andrew are first, while James and John, sons of Zebedee are next. He calls brothers because he is interested in community life. Following Jesus means discipleship will sometimes disrupt family ties while he also hold the support of parents in their old age is essential.

Jesus may have expected a prompt, radical response from his followers in joining him, but this part of the story was probably compressed by the authors. In all likelihood, a follower would have had an opportunity to make such an important decision over time. Jesus would have respected the psychological development of the would-be follower. This is especially important with the fisher-disciples who left a quite prosperous fishing industry at the Galilean Sea. The lucrative family trade needed some careful planning to sustain the livelihood.

We would find it more helpful if we saw the disciples' calls as a development of a relationship with Jesus. Relationships take time to develop a level of trust. Relationships invite a person to a new possibility while respecting where the person is in life. Good friendships don't try to change the person. If we use this lens to view the disciples' call, we see that Jesus called upon them to use their already existing skills for a greater purpose. He capitalized upon who they already were rather than who he wanted them to be. He wanted them to be themselves. Their manner of being was not essentially changed.

In many regards, the call was more about a "how" than a "what." They were to preach the kingdom of God and to bring others into the catch. How they did this determined whether they were attractive enough to others to join their mission. When we stand open before Christ Jesus, he will honor and respect our gifts, but may tweak the way we use them. For if they are not used to glorify God, they are not used for their proper end. If we don't use them in love, then they don't satisfy. It is good for us to look at the way the relationship with Jesus transformed the way the disciples used their gifts. From all accounts, they were successful in bringing others to Jesus to hear his good news.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Hebrews asserts that Christ, who offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time to those who eagerly await him. In the face of the world's challenges, we are to hold unwavering to our confession that gives us hope. We are to consider how to raise one another to love. Do not throw away your confidence. It will have a great reward to hold onto it. Christ himself was looking forward to the city whose architect and creator was God.

Gospel: Scribes from Jerusalem say Jesus is possessed by Satan, but he responds by saying that Satan cannot act against himself. Jesus heads out to teach by the sea. Crowds come and he tells them a parable of a sower who goes out to plant seeds. Jesus is strengthening his disciples to withstand great pressures. He tells them to be a lamp lifted high on a lamp stand for all to see. The standards by which we measure will be the ones to which we are held accountable. Jesus returns to the parable to explain its significance to the Twelve. As the day comes to a close, Jesus crosses the sea to the other side. A terrible sea squall comes up and threatens their safety, but Jesus shows that he has power over nature and quells the storm. All are filled with awe.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor (1567-1622) was a brilliant scholar of canon and civil law who became the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland. He was an organizer of the Catholic Reformation by setting up new structures in the diocese, beginning a seminary, religious education units, and several schools. His "Introduction to the Devout Life" focused on human kindness as a way of seeing God's love. He co-founded the Sisters of the Visitation with Jane Frances de Chantal.

Tuesday: Conversion of Paul, apostle, was more of a call than a conversion, but it was one of the most significant turning points in history. He moved from a persecutor of Christians to become its greatest missionary to the Gentiles. Without Paul, Christianity may have remained a small sect within Palestine.

Wednesday: Timothy and Titus, bishops (first century), were Paul's devoted disciples. Paul writes to them in letters that are included in the New Testament canon. Timothy because the leader of Ephesus while Titus went to Crete. Both helped Paul form new churches in Asia Minor.

Thursday: Angelic Merici (1474-1540) founded the Ursuline order of nuns to educate the poor. Her order invoked the name of Ursula, patron of medieval universities. They began as a loose federation of lay women who did not live in community, take vows or wear a habit. They met to devote themselves to learn techniques to better educated the poor.

Friday: Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor (1225-1274) was educated in a Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino and eventually joined the newly-formed Dominican Order. He wrote great books on theology with his Summa Theologiae as his most complete summary of the faith. He also wrote liturgical hymns that conveyed his theology: Adoro Te Devote, Tantum Ergo, Pange Linqua. Much of the church's thought was shaped by the cogent arguments of Aquinas.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan 23, 1789. John Carroll gained the deed of land for the site that was to become Georgetown University.
• Jan 24, 1645. Fr. Henry Morse was led as a prisoner from Durham to Newgate, London. On hearing his execution was fixed for February 1, he exclaimed: "Welcome ropes, hurdles, gibbets, knives, butchery of an infamous death! Welcome for the love of Jesus, my Savior."
• Jan 25, 1707. Cardinal Tournon, Apostolic Visitor of the missions in China, forbade the use of the words 'Tien' or 'Xant' for God and ordered the discontinuance by the Christians of the Chinese Rites.
• Jan 26, 1611. The first Jesuit missionaries sailed from Europe for New France (Canada).
• Jan 27, 1870. The Austrian government endeavored to suppress the annual grant of 8,000 florins to the theological faculty of Innsbruck and to drive the Jesuit professors from the university, because of their support of the Papal Syllabus.
• Jan 28, 1853. Fr. General John Roothaan, wishing to resign his office, summoned a General Congregation, but died on May 8, before it assembled.
• Jan 29, 1923. Woodstock scholastics kept a fire vigil for several months to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from setting the college on fire.

Flood Donations in Australia

The Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have been devastated by flooding over the last month, with many parts of the country still bracing themselves. Brisbane was the biggest urban centre hit by the floods, with many houses in riverside suburbs swamped with water. In Queensland, an area larger than Texas has been under water during the past month. A massive clean-up task awaits these communities.

To make a donation to ease the burdens of the flood victims, refer to the online sites below:

St Vincent de Paul: http://www.vinnies.org.au/qldfloodappeal

Queensland Premier’s Appeal: http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html

Friday, January 21, 2011

Spirituality: One's Beliefs by Anthony de Mello, S.J.

The Master had quoted Aristotle: "In the quest of truth, it would seem better and indeed necessary to give up what is dearest to us." And he substituted the word "God" for "truth."

Later a disciple said to him, "I am ready, in the quest for God, to give up anything: wealth, friends, family, country, life itself. What else can a person give up?"

The Master calmly replied, "One's beliefs about God."

The disciple went away sad, for he clung to his convictions. He feared "ignorance" more than death.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Homily for Mark 3:7-12

After yesterday's shocking opposition to the healing actions of Jesus so early in the Gospel, Mark pauses in his Gospel so we can grasp hold of what is happening around Jesus. Up to this point, Jesus is enthusiastically received as a healer and as one who teaches powerfully. Very many are responding well to him. Mark sets this general summary in place to let the hearer appreciate its importance: people from many areas are converging on Jesus as the center of attraction. They want to meet him. In fact, they are coming from all directions.

Word of him has spread beyond Galilee and Judea. With great significance, Jews from Jerusalem, the capital, the holy city, are seeking him. Notice that the place to encounter God is no longer temple-centered, it is kingdom-centered. People come from Idumea in the south, beyond the Jordan River in the east, and Tyre and Sidon in the north and west - all lands that fall outside of Israel. These are the people who will first hear parables and witness exorcisms in the next few chapters. These people recognize something in this man as the Son of God. It does not stop there. Even the unclean spirits recognize him shouting out, "You are the Son of God."

Now is a good time for us to pause to examine what we know of Jesus. It might sound like a silly exercise, but we suffer from information-deficit-disorder. Let us examine how we know what we know of Jesus. We may find our knowledge of him is not as secure as we would like. We have built up illusions about his identity. Take for instance the many movies and plays about his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, or even of his nativity. These images of Jesus are often a product of a conflation of the four Gospels into one portrait. When we hold these conflated images, we lose the portrait of the man the Evangelist sought to portray. These are four distinct stories that highlight a certain aspect of Jesus with an intended message for a specific audience.

Then we have the dilemma of reading accounts of his historical life decades after his death and resurrection. The authors transferred their experience of the Risen Lord onto the life of the historical man. We lose the radical identity of the man when we perceive him as more God than man. In fact, those heretical views were condemned by the early church. In many conversations with faithful churchgoers, a large majority still believe that Jesus possessed greater divine nature than human nature. They conclude that Jesus had almost perfect knowledge of what would happen to him in his Passion. We've lost the man in our theological imagination.

Our faith is meaningful when we look at the historical man rather than the God-man. We are to look at the real person because it is his life and teachings that drew so many to him. It was his human faith in God that saved us. We are not saved because of our faith in him, but because of his utter fidelity to God - even a God he felt was absent in his greatest need. He needed to be completely human to make his work possible. Since he was steadfast to God, he gave us a way of life to emulate. Because he was fully human, not partly God while being human, we place our hope in him. His nature and identity are quite a mystery to behold.

During retreats, we petition God for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who became human for us, that we may love him more and follow him more closely. We have to discover the truth of his identity in light of all the other data we have been taught. In some cases, we are to deconstruct what we think we know so we can come to a fuller understanding of who he really is. After all, this is what we do in prayer. We present to Christ who we are, our true selves, genuinely, authentically, while Christ responds to us and reveals more about his life to us. We grow in friendship with him and he places us with the Father through the Spirit.

We are here because we are like the people from Idumea, or Tyre or Sidon. We want to know Jesus, just as they desired. We have come from all directions to meet him again or to learn about him for the first time. We've heard about his words of life, his healings, the way he extends new boundaries of freedom, and that he radically cares for each person he meets and liberates us from our deep, dark, muckiness. He wants us to come to know the God he calls Abba so we can know the steadfast care of God.

He yearns to bring us into a new family that not only welcomes everyone and treats them with respect and dignity, but rejoices that they are here. He wants us to care for one another with a mercy that is befuddling curious to those who don't believe. They will find it attractive and will be led to our way of life. He wants us to be in a world where others remark, "See how they love one another. They should be natural enemies, but anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord is treated with mercy."

Come to Jesus today. Waste time with him. Don't force your prayer as if it is work. It is not therapy. Prayer doesn't have to be profound each day. Prayer can just be sitting next to your friend in silence, or in very frivolous conversation. It can be light-hearted and fun and gentle. Just be who you are with the one you want to be with. That's all. It's all so simple. Just relax and be who you are. Your true identity will help see his true identity. He is worth coming to know.

I'll shut up now, but I'll leave you with a story about a Trinidadian woman I met in Jamaica. She taught me great stuff about how to enter into prayer by a simple beholding exercise. Every day, this mother would send her daughter, Marissa, off to school with a simple ritual. Each night she would make her daughter a lunch before sending her off to school. They would have a simple breakfast and then it was time to part. The mother gave her child her lunch pail and would give her a huge hug. This woman could give a substantial hug. She would utter into her Marissa's ear, "I will miss you, and I love you." The girl would head towards the door and the mother would stop her and gasp, "Marissa, wait. Let me look at you one last time. You are so beautiful to behold. I just want to see your face one more time." The woman would savor the sweet image of her daughter while Marissa walked tall and straight towards school.

Come to Jesus today. Waste time with him. Behold him the way this Trinidadian mother would hold Marissa in her memory. Through beholding his humanity, we can say of him, like the unclean spirits did, "wow." "Wow!" "You truly are the Son of God." My best guess says that Jesus will behold you too and will praise and honor you. He wants you to know that you have a beautiful face. He wants to savor the good person that you are and hold you in his memory. Watch him as he gazes upon you so tenderly that your presence takes his breath away.

Prayer: Benedict XVI

We can thus be certain that the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in his whole hidden life in Nazareth, always found a ‘hearth’ that was always burning with prayer and constant attention to the Holy Spirit in Mary’s Immaculate Heart.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Song: Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant

I have traveled many moonless nights
cold and weary with a babe inside,
and I wonder what I've done.
Holy Father, you have come
and chosen may now to carry your son.

I am waiting in a silent prayer.
I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone
must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now. Be with me now.

Do you wonder as you watch my face
if a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
for the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong. Help me be. Help me.

Chorus:
Breath of Heaven, hold me together.
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness.
Pour over me your holiness,
for you are holy, Breath of Heaven.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Prayer: Acts of the Apostles 16:8-10

Paul responds to the call to help others.

Paul and his companions passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Acts 16:8-10

Monday, January 17, 2011

Question: Your Physical Self

Prayer is helpful when it represents the whole self. Prayer is not only a pious endeavor. It also brings our emotional, pyschological, and physical self before God. Sexuality is something that many people are afraid to bring up in polite conversation and for some, it has no place within a prayer context. Are you able to bring your sexual self before God?

Prayer: Catherine De Hueck Doherty


The hunger for God can only be satisfied by a love that is face to face, person to person. It is only in the eyes of another that we can find the icon of Christ.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Const.: GC 34, Decree 4: “Our Mission and Culture”, par. 3


Inculturation can also be related to the Paschal Mystery: cultures, under the impact of the liberating power of the Gospel, rid themselves of their negative features and enter the freedom on God’s kingdom. The Gospel brings a prophetic  challenge to every culture to remove all those things which inhibit the justice of the Kingdom….

Evangelization is not possible without inculturation, which is the existential dialogue between a living people and the living Gospel.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 16, 2011

Taking a backseat to someone who is more influential is not easy, especially when you have been the head honcho. Last week, we watched John baptize Jesus of Nazareth so Scripture could be fulfilled. Matthew reported John to say "He must increase; I must decrease." John' ministry was more substantial than was Jesus and he now had the challenge of disbanding his followers and pointing them to the promised One.

You can bet John's followers were reluctant to stray from the one who gave them so much hope and courage and urged them to prepare for the coming of the kingdom. It is one thing to dream for something to come true, but many times we don't know what to do when the dream stands right before us within reach. The dream can be more enticing than the reality. Many are disillusioned that the dream is not realized in the way they imagined it to be.

Today, John says his role was to make Jesus known. He points to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John is evoking the image of the Passover lamb who will protect his people and will lead them out of their slavery to sin and death into a new state of freedom. Jesus will be for the people both the Good Shepherd and the perfect lamb who is sacrificed for the sins of many.

By pointing out Jesus to his own disciples, he is asking them to behold him. When we behold someone, we spend time contemplating the person. We ad-mire (look to) the person in honor and reverence and by doing so, we bless the person. We notice the special qualities in the other. We sanctify what we bless. God blesses his special servant in Isaiah's 49th chapter through whom God's glory is shown. Something of the one who beholds is able to shine through the beheld one.

I find the prayer is more fruitful when we preface it with a brief beholding exercise. Just as we may gaze upon an icon, we ask God to gaze upon us as we begin our prayer. We ask God to hold us, see us, feel us, hear us, and know what we are feeling. When God does that, he honors us. This is a beautifully confident way to begin. We can then more easily share what we feel when we know God listens to us.

After God beholds us, we then ask for the grace to behold God as God beholds us. Though it is circular, it is quite a consoling image for us to see God gazing upon us - in amazement, wonder, and care. At this moment, we are only concerned about our present situation and we pay attention to God's immediate presence to us. It is simple and streamlined and it answers many of the deep questions we have, like does God personally care about me? If God is present to us as we begin, the question takes care of itself.

John's act of beholding allows his disciples to wonder more fully about Jesus. They are able to contemplate him while also holding John is wonder. We are much happier, much freer when we appreciate the goodness we encounter in others. This goodness far outweighs any criticisms we may find. Live your week honoring, blessing, beholding others and you will find that you possess much more joy than you imagined.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Hebrews continues its statement that Christ is the high priest in the lineage of Melchizedek of old. His priesthood is a human one who knows our every weakness. He is able to offer himself to God with prayer and supplications. We know God hears him for he learned obedience for what he suffered. God knows of our work and love and for our eagerness for the fulfillment of hope. We can be sure that God wants to make us heirs of the promise. Melchizedek, priest and king of Salem (peace), was made to resemble God. He remains forever. Jesus suffered a sacrifice for all when he offered himself. By becoming our new high priests, he has established a new covenant that makes the old one obsolete. He entered once for all into the sanctuary with his own blood.

Gospel: As we follow Mark's Gospel this year, we resume with people asking Jesus about his fasting practices. Even John's disciples fasted. Jesus also ate the grain on a Sabbath and was questioned again. In the synagogue, a man with a withered hand was brought to Jesus as a test. Regardless of the Sabbath observance, Jesus heals the man because he was suffering. Jesus withdrew towards the sea with his people and all the regions of Palestine and beyond were swarming to him to be cured and to listen to his teachings. The unclean spirits recognized him as the Son of God. He then went up to a mountain and called those he wanted and appointed them as the Twelve. They were to go forth to preach and have authority over demons. When he returned home, his relatives said that he is out of his mind and they set out to seize him and talk some sense into him.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Anthony, Abbot (251-356) was a wealthy Egyptian who gave his inheritance away to become a hermit. Many sought him out for his wisdom and holiness. After leading an ascetic life of solitude, he gathered his followers and founded the first monastic community.

Thursday: Fabian, pope and martyr (d. 250) was elected as Pope as a layman and a foreigner to Rome. A dove landed on his head and the crowds were excited because it reminded them of the dove's descent upon the head of Jesus after his baptism. He was martyred in a persecution after being the pope for 14 years.

Sebastian, martyr (d. 300) is a popular saint among artists who will paint him with arrows piercing his body. His life is the stuff of legends and fiction. He was killed in Rom and buried in the catacombs. Ambrose wrote that Sebastian hailed from Milan.

Friday: Agnes, martyr (d. 305) was a Roman martyr who was married at age 12 during a Roman persecution. Since her name is similar to angus, lamb, she is always pictured with a lamb. She became a symbol of innocence during her sacrifice.

Saturday: Vincent, deacon (d.304) preached in Saragossa, Spain and spearheaded the almsgiving and charitable works. His organized relief efforts gained notice of the Romans who arrested and tortured him. He was killed when he refused to worship the pagan Roman gods.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan 16, 1656. At Meliapore, the death of Fr. Robert de Nobili, nephew of Cardinal Bellarmine. Sent to the Madura mission, he learned to speak three languages and for 45 years labored among the high caste Brahmins.
• Jan 17, 1890. Benedict Sestini died. He was an astronomer, editor, architect, mathematician, and teacher at Woodstock College.
• Jan 18, 1615. The French Jesuits began a mission in Danang, Vietnam.
• Jan 19, 1561. In South Africa, the baptism of the powerful King of Monomotapa, the king's mother, and 300 chiefs by Fr. Goncalvo de Silveira.
• Jan 20, 1703. At Paris, the death of Fr. Francis de la Chaise, confessor to Louis XIV and a protector of the French Church against the Jansenists.
• Jan 21, 1764. Christophe de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris, wrote a pastoral defending the Jesuits against the attacks of Parliament. It was ordered to be burned by the public executioner.
• Jan 22, 1561. Pius IV abrogated the decree of Paul II and kept the life term of Father General.

Where did the First Sunday go?

The Baptism of the Lord is celebrated as the last day of Christmas while the day that follows is the first Monday in Ordinary Time. At the end of the week, we celebrate the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time without every celebrating the First Sunday. Isn't that odd?

Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered on this day for his great advancement of civil rights for those African-Americans who were deprived of basic civil liberties. His dream inspired many to work for justice. His civil actions led to a social revolution for the U.S. and beyond. His work paved the way for other minorities to claim their voice and demand basic civil rights against a majority that has the capability to squash their concerns. We continue to pray for greater social equality throughout our nation and we honor those leaders who put their lives in danger to stand up for the rights of others.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Question: Absence

Sometimes during the Christmas holidays it is difficult for us to have an experience of God. Family systems move to the forefront of our consciousness and God seems remote and distant. This distance from God lingers for far too long. It takes boldness and courage to admit to oneself that God feels absent. No one wants that condition and yet it is far too common. What do you do when you feel God's absence?

Prayer: Anthony de Mello, S.J. - Acting on Love

There were rules in the monastery, but the Master always warned against the tyranny of the law. "Obedience keeps the rules," he would say. "Love knows when to break them."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Prayer: Contemplatio by Ignatius of Loyola

First Point

I will call back to memory the gifts I have received – my creation, redemption, and other gifts particular to myself. I ponder with deep affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much he has given me of what he possesses, and consequently how he, the same Lord, desires to give me even his  very self, in accordance with his divine design.

Then I will reflect on myself, and consider what I on my part ought in all reason and justice to offer and give to the Divine Majesty, namely, all my possessions, and myself along with them.
I will speak as one making an offering with deep affection, and say:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will – all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me love of yourself along with your grace, for that is enough for me.

Second Point

I will consider how God dwells in creatures; in the elements, giving them existence; in the plants, giving them life; in the animals, giving them sensation; in human beings, giving them intelligence; and finally, how in this way he dwells also in myself, giving me existence, life, sensation, and intelligence; and even further, making me his temple, since I am created as a likeness and image of the Divine Majesty. Then once again I will reflect on myself, in the manner described in the first point, or in any other way I feel to be better. This same procedure will be used in each of the following points.

Third Point

I will consider how God labours and works for me in all the creatures on the face of the earth; that is, he acts in the manner of one who is laboring. For example, he is working in the heavens, elements, plants, fruits, cattle, and all the rest – giving them existence, conserving them, concurring with their vegetative and sensitive activities, and so forth. Then I will reflect on myself.

Fourth Point

I will consider how all good things and gifts descend from above; for example, my limited power from the Supreme and Infinite Power above; and so of justice, goodness, piety, mercy, and so forth – just as the rays come down from the sun or the rains from their source. Then I will finish by reflecting on myself, as has been explained. I will conclude with a colloquy and an Our Father.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

General Congregation 35, Decree 3, number 14

In proclaiming God’s message of love and compassion Jesus crossed over physical and socio-religious frontiers. His message of reconciliation was preached both to the people of Israel and to those living outside its physical and spiritual frontiers: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and persons of all kinds who were marginalised and excluded. His ministry of reconciliation with God and with one another knew no boundaries. He spoke to the powerful, challenging them to a change of heart. He showed special love for the sinner, the poor widow, and the lost sheep. The kingdom of God, which he constantly preached, became a vision for a world where all relationships are reconciled in God. Jesus confronted the powers that oppose this kingdom, and that opposition led him to death on the cross, a death which he freely accepted in keeping with his mission. On the cross we see all his words and actions revealed as expressions of the final reconciliation effected by the Crucified and Risen Lord, through whom comes the new creation in which all relationships will be set right in God.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prayers for sailors and Fisher-Folk

Almighty God, who hast given the sea Thy decree, and whose dominion is over the sea and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea, grant thy blessing, we beseech thee, to all who go down to the sea in ships and do business in the great waters. Preserve us in times of storm; guide us in all our courses and ventures, and prosper us in all things.

From William Blackwood and Sons, 1903

Monday, January 10, 2011

Prayer: Prayer to Recite on your Birthday "On My Birthday"

I post this prayer early in the calendar year so you may have a prayer to say for yourself upon your birthday this year.

Thank you, Father, for the gift of life, for this undeserved grace I received constantly.
Thank you for this marvelous secret, this most precious of gifts which I take for granted.
You call me into being every passing instant, and I would not exist except by your grace.

Thank you for thinking of me, creating me, placing me in your great world in the company of good and loving people.
Thank you for my parents, my family, and those who have loved me and taught me how to love.

Bless all those who have cared for my health and well-being, all those who have helped me to love life.
Bless everyone who remembers me on this birthday.

Thank you for the unique gifts you have given me, for my health and strength, senses and memory, for the power to think, to love and to understand.

Thank you for the year of life I have had and for the years or moments that you will still give me on this earth.

All the beauty I have seen, all the love I have received and given, all the things I have been able to do, were your gifts - gifts that came to me unasked, undeserved, totally without pay.

What more has your love prepared for me?
What marvels of your tender mercy are still hidden from my sight?
You invite me to trust you in the future, and to expect still greater gifts from you.
I will look forward, then, to the time that still remains, with hope, with excitement, with peace.

My birthdays remind me of the greatness of your love, the goodness of my dear ones, and the fleeting pace of life.

As I enjoy this life and the love I give and receive, prepare my heart for my Eternal Birthday, when you will welcome me to my true and endless life, with gifts far beyong my widest fantasies.

May that birthday be the best of all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homily for Baptism of the Lord during Retreat

The baptism of Jesus is an important theological moment as all four Evangelists record the event. Mark's account is the most straightforward but it presents an embarrassing problem for the early church. It struggles with the incongruity of the sinless Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist for his sins. Matthew remedies this point by removing that baptism is done "for the forgiveness of sins" and adding "let it be so for now" emphasizing the fulfillment of Scripture.

Matthew's main theme is kingdom of God is breaking into our world where justice and righteousness are essential qualities of living in this kingdom. One is to act justly because one is obedient to the will of God. By receiving baptism, Jesus identifies with the common person and shows his solidarity with us, even though in theological terms he did not need to do so.

As Jesus comes up from the water, the heavens are opened for him and he receives power, wisdom, and holiness to become the special anointed servant of God. In Matthew's mind, the mysterious suffering servant who, though innocent, suffers for the people is Jesus. God has a special relationship to this servant. God delights in him who is obedient to the divine will even if it involves terrible suffering. This servant will establish God's justice on the earth and will be a great teacher of God's mercy. Through his suffering God will be able to bring light to the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and release prisoners from their dungeon. This is where the story gets interesting.

Through suffering, God will bring about divine justice as a saving God. It is quite difficult to wrap one's mind around this concept. What kind of love, what kind of justice is this? What kind of God uses suffering as a means to bring about justice? I think of loved ones who suffer overbearing heartaches that never cease. It breaks my heart to hear their stories and there are so many of them. I think of:

• My cousin who is searching for answers for her 16 year old son taking his own life in August just when the promise of his life was to be launched,
• A woman in Australia whose niece asked her to be the godmother of one of her twins, the one who has special needs, because her own daughter was born disabled, with cerebral palsy. She wonders why she cannot be the godmother of the normal one.
• A friend who has been caught up in a family cycle of dysfunction that debilitates her and keeps her paralyzed. She doesn't think she is strong enough to withstand the constant family pressures to keep the silence, the skeletons in the closet. The psychological, emotional abuse continues and she shuts down all the options that would allow her to experience joy and freedom.
• A friend who is gay who longs to enjoy love and affection, is repeatedly, crushingly told by the church he loves that he is "fundamentally flawed " and is wholly not welcome.

My friends, I can go on and on. You have your own stories of interior chaos to add to all this heartache. You can add to the exhaustive list that has not yet been spoken but is held by God, a God who uses suffering as a means of divine justice. This is still hard to grasp.

I have learned in life to be real. I have learned that it is important for me to express my desires and feelings to God in the rawest way I can do it. I have learned to see that anger is good. It is very healthy to express it well. I have shouted at God with tremendous anger. I have been so angry with God I would not even talk to him. I have poured out my heart far from the kindest of ways because I wanted to let God know of my supreme frustration and my utter doubt in God's care of me and my loved ones. How could God treat me this way if God is all loving and all powerful and all just. I let him have it good.

I watched my sister die an excruciating death. She was born with mental retardation and had a difficult life physically and emotionally and it had an enormous psychological effect upon our family. We cared for he well and early in my life I got so angry with God for doing this to an innocent little girl. Poor girl. Her illness in life was undeserved.

At the end of her life she stayed at home and had seven long years of pain and suffering - the worst I've ever seen. Jesus had only been on the cross for three hours. Wheelchair bound and constricted, a tube to feed her and a tube to catch her waster, we would hold her in our arms and look into her catatonic eyes wondering if she knew we were there. She would cry herself to sleep and would immediately wake up from her ceaseless pain. Our fear and psychic pain would arise and we would try to reach her to let her know we were there for her, and we knew we were unable to help her. We were inexhaustibly powerless.

After further pouring out my to God while caressing my sister's face, it was then that I could penetrate deeply into my sister's eyes. She could not fully see me back but I had to continue to look. I gazed into this dark infinity through her eyes. Exhausted, I was drawn in to see the sad eyes of Jesus looking back at me. He was there on the cross, weeping, weeping so deeply for my sister, that I could finally come to a place of stillness and silence. He was with her in her suffering and with me in mine. He was so sad for us. My sister's pain continued a few more months before she died, but I solidly knew that Jesus was with her and she was consoled by that. It was only by looking deeply into that dark pit of suffering that Jesus was able to gently reach me and show me his heart.

I encountered a gentle God - a God who can't act violently. The mission of Jesus as the suffering servant will bring about a victory of justice. He will show the greatest justice of all - by being in such vulnerable solidarity with his people. As the description of the servant says, "he will not cry out, not shout, nor make his voice heard in the street, a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." If we look deeply into our suffering, we will undoubtedly find the broken, disabled, disfigured Christ, imprisoned on his Cross, and he will gently be present to us. No greater justice exists.

Notice that after the baptism, the symbol of a gentle dove is seen. Doves evoke peacefulness and hopes for new beginnings. Doves are signs of new life and they cause our delight. God's reach is as gentle as the dove. Nothing is as powerful as gentleness. In the baptism of Jesus, God's mighty arm is extended to Jesus to bring him new life as the anointed one in whom he is well pleased. We also have been baptized and God reaches out to all of us to grasp us by the hand to save us from our chaos and suffering. We pass through the waters to die with Christ so we can be raised to new life.

Listen to his words again from Isaiah: "I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness."

Extend your hand to God's reach that God may grasp it firmly and find much pleasure in you. Be sure of this, God will never let go.

Prayer: Unknown

...for the hint of the morning sun,
this daily reminder that
nights end,
tears dry,
hope is reborn,
days begin
again.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Baptism of the Lord

January 9, 2011

The baptism of Jesus is an important theological event for the four Evangelists because it appears in each of the Gospels. Mark's account is straightforward but it presented an embarrassing problem for the early church. It struggled with the incongruity of the sinless Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist for his sins. Matthew remedies this point by removing that baptism is done "for the forgiveness of sins" and adding "let it be so for now." Matthew emphasizes fulfillment of Scripture as a completion of God's work through Christ.

Matthews first main theme in his Gospel is the nearness of the kingdom of God. His second concern is that justice and righteousness comes from living in this kingdom. One is to do whatever is just because one is obedient to the will of God. Jesus identifies with the common person and shows his solidarity by submitting to John's baptism, even though in theological terms he did not need to do so.

As he comes up from the water, Matthew tells us that the heavens were opened for him. He becomes the anointed one and receives power, wisdom, and holiness to become the special servant of God. Matthew has in mind the mysterious suffering servant who, though innocent, suffers for the people. We have to remember that the Gospels were written well after the earthly life of Jesus and symbolic meaning was often attached to his life's events.

The suffering servant is introduced in the first reading from Isaiah. We notice that God has a special relationship to this servant whom God blesses. God delights in him who is obedient to the divine will even if it involves terrible suffering. This servant will establish God's justice on the earth and will be a great teacher of God's mercy. Through his suffering God will be able to bring light to the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and release prisoners from their dungeon.

Peter, in the second reading, introduces baptism as a way of being included into the family of believes. The people of every nation can be received into God's favor for God shows no partiality if the people reverence God and acts justly. Through baptism, God's Spirit rests upon the faithful ones and receives spiritual aids to help them lead righteous lives.

It is an appropriate time to return to our own baptism. Most of us cannot remember our infant baptism but we can consider the community of faith that surrounded us as we were brought into Christ's life. Sponsors and Godparents, friends and family joined together to attend this happy event. As a communion of saints, they prayed over us and for us. Perhaps it is a day when we can renew our baptismal promises as we profess our faith. Perhaps we can try to understand the deeper implications of our faith, especially a faith that begets God's justice. Regardless, it is a day in which we can return to God's affirmation of us through the Spirit when he speaks to us the words he spoke to Jesus and the suffering servant: "This is my beloved with whom I am well pleased." We can do marvelous deeds when we know God affirms our identity.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Ordinary time begins with Hebrews in Cycle A, Year 1. The author begins by telling us that God has spoken to us through his Son, who is creator of the universe and the glory of the Father. God exalted humans so that he made his Son one of them and subjected all things to him. He would be the one to make salvation perfect through suffering. As a human, Jesus shared in the life and death for us so he might, in his mercy, destroy death and evil. After positing his points, the author exhorts Christians to encourage themselves daily so they may understand the significance of Christ's actions and to be open to the grace he extends. We are to strive to enter into the kingdom and to conform our actions according to our belief. We can confidently approach the throne of grace because the word of God is living and effective and penetrates between soul and spirit.

Gospel: After the baptism of Jesus, John was arrested and Jesus began to proclaim the Gospel of God. He calls Simon and Andrew and then James and John as his first disciples to make them fishers of people. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus shows he is powerful in words having authority of demons and spirits. He demonstrates authority not witnessed beforehand. After leaving the synagogue, Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law. Others come to be healed. After curing them, he retires to a deserted place to pray. A leper comes to Jesus and wonders if Jesus wishes for him to be cured. He does and cures him telling him to fulfill the Mosaic custom of presenting himself to a priest for inclusion into the community. A paralytics is lowered into a home by his four friends. Jesus heals him and forgives his sins telling him to rise and walk. Jesus then calls Levi Alphaeus, a tax collector, into his inner circle, which raises the eyebrows of his friends and adversaries.

Saints of the Week

Thursday: Hilary, bishop and doctor (315-367) was a Gaul who became bishop of Poitiers and defended the faith against the Arians. The emperor banished Hilary due to the influence of the Arians, but he was returned to Gaul because he created additional problems in the East because he would not compromise on his orthodox views.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan. 9, 1574: Fr. Jasper Haywood died at Naples. He was superior of the English mission. As a boy he was one of the pages of honor to the Princess Elizabeth. After a brilliant career at Oxford, he renounced his fellowship and entered the Society in Rome in 1570. An able Hebrew scholar and theologians, he was for two years professor in the Roman College.
• Jan. 10, 1581: Queen Elizabeth signed the fifth Penal Statute in England inflicting heavy fines and imprisonment on all who harbored Jesuits and Seminary priests.
• Jan 10, 1567. Two Jesuits arrived in Havana, Cuba, as a base for evangelization.
• Jan 11, 1573. At Milan, St Charles Borromeo founded a college (the Brera) and placed it under the care of the Society.
• Jan 12, 1544. Xavier wrote a long letter on his apostolic labors, saying he wished to visit all the universities of Europe in search of laborers for our Lord's vineyard. The letter was widely circulated and very influential.
• Jan 13, 1547. At the Council of Trent, Fr. James Laynez, as a papal theologian, defended the Catholic doctrine on the sacraments in a learned three-hour discourse.
• Jan 14, 1989. The death of John Ford SJ, moral theologian and teacher at Weston College and Boston College. He served on the papal commission on birth control.
• Jan 15, 1955. The death of Daniel Lord SJ, popular writer, national director of the Sodality, founder of the Summer School of Catholic Action, and editor of The Queen's Work.

Ordinary Time Begins

Ordinary Time begins on January 10th, the day after the Baptism of the Lord, and continues for nine weeks until Ash Wednesday on March 9th. Lent begins late and Easter Sunday in April 24th. We enter an extended Carnival season where we can eat meat. Vale (goodbye) means to wave goodbye to Carne (meat) and the last day of Carnival is Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday, the day that precedes Ash Wednesday.

Ordinary time is not ho-hum time. Ordinal numbers are used to number the weeks of the life of Christ in between the special seasons of Lent, Advent, Christmas, and Easter.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Prayer: Cyril of Jerusalem

The power of faith is enormous. It is so great that it not only saves the believer: thanks to one person’s faith, others are saved also.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Poem: The Magi, William Butler Yeats, 1914

Now as at all time I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Question: Forgetting

Sometimes I find that I have a lot going on when I come to Mass. I bring concerns, prayers for others, prayers for myself, and good thoughts to Mass. I always try to respect what the preacher has to say because I know much time and planning went into the homily. Do you find sometimes you can sit down, try to pay attention, and you find out that the Gospel was proclaimed and you can't remember a single word?

Song: Pilgrimage (tune: Columba, lyrics: Carol Dixon)

We draw apart from busy life
to set aside some space
and see afresh with open eyes
the beauty of this place.

We glimpse each separate grain of sand,
gold glistening one the shore,
and hear the haunting seagull's cry
above the breakers' roar.

Each quivering blade of grass reveals
the glory of God's earth;
in laughter's lilt, compassion's tear,
the Spirit brings new birth.

We join with all creation's choir
and sing of God's domain,
the love of Christ in empty hearts
now raised to life again.

Refreshed in body, mind, and soul,
we return to daily round,
our eyes and ears attuned to God
to serve with love new found.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Prayer: "From Presence" by Joan Metzner

Some people enter our lives like deer,
slipping in and out of the woods.
They touch our earth and as we steop
to look at them they disappear
as quietly as they came.
But you feel blessed
for having experienced
their gentle presence.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Prayer: Thomas Merton

The more I see of it, the more I realize the absolute primacy and necessity of silent, hidden, poor, apparently fruitless prayer.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Poem: The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe

WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth ,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.

So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.

Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Epiphany of the Lord

January 2, 2011

Epiphany marks a pivotal event in the consciousness of Jews who followed the way of Jesus. Epiphany is the moment when God's plan of salvation was revealed to the Gentiles to signal their inclusion and welcome. God's plan is available to anyone who would like to receive it. From our Scriptures, we notice that obstacles and dangers line our journey.

In Matthew's Gospel, the magi come from the East to behold the newborn. Some call them astrologers, wise men, or kings. Their significance is as highly regarded Gentiles who recognize that God is revealing God's own self to a foreign people who were otherwise excluded by Jewish scripture and customs. They adore the infant and present him with gifts befitting a king. Scripture is being fulfilled as all nations come to worship the God of Israel. The magi, a symbolic representation of the Gentile people, recognize the one true king of the universe and come to realize Herod, the false king, has destructive intentions.

While the magi's journey is storybook in character, its retelling over the generations has lost its unsettling edge. In the first century, tensions arose in Christianity over Gentile converts to the faith. Every group sets its own policies on admission and exclusion. The Jews were horrified that Gentiles wanted to worship Jesus and adopt their customs and laws. The Gentiles seemed barbaric and uncouth in their behavior to adopt Jewish practices. The Jews feared their faith would become diluted with distorted interpretations. It was not easy for Christian Jews to offer warm, friendly hospitality.

These Jews suddenly had to realize the meaning that their Scriptures were being fulfilled. Isaiah calls Israel to rejoice because all the nations will walk by God's light and all peoples will come from afar to be gathered in holy Jerusalem. Paul in Ephesians tells us God's revelation is a mystery and that the Spirit is revealing God to the Gentiles through the apostles and prophets. He asserts that the Gentiles are coheirs in the promise and members of the same body of Christ.

This feast reminds us that we are to constantly interpret our Scriptures in light of our life experiences. We are to search for what God is revealing to us today. Scripture is a story of God's steadfastness towards us. It contains many stories that we relate to because Scripture is alive for us and contains deeper meaning.

We have our own struggles with hospitality and inclusion. Some in the church want to make it smaller with a purer, more faithful group of believers who rigidly adhere to curial teachings. Hospitality becomes a key virtue of God's mercy. Conservatives and progressives are to recognize that each finds God manifested in different ways. Those who made difficult life-changing decisions that cause them to risk rejection from a church they call home need a welcoming gesture. Women, gays, straights, and anyone else along the gender/orientation spectrum will benefit from inclusion and listening to each other's stories of God's revelation to them. Christians in different lands who are persecuted need to know they have a larger community of faith supporting them in prayer and with financial assistance. People from other races, immigrants, those from differing classes and economic background will do well to pause and consider what they need from others to be welcomed. The list goes on.

God's presence is manifested through love. We struggle like the Jews of old to realize God is present to others and is revealing God's self in meaningful ways. Let's extend a hand of hospitality to our unlikely brothers and sisters so they know we honor and respect God's revelation to them.

Quote for the Week

From verse 3 of "As with Gladness Men of Old" for Epiphany:

As they offered gifts most rare at that manger crude and bare; So may we this holy day, drawn to you without delay, All our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to you, our heavenly king.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John's first letter continues by asking the faithful ones to test the spirits to find out whether a person really belongs to God or to one of the many false prophets. The way we know whether someone is of God is shown through the love we have for one another. If our love mirrors God's, the person belongs to God. If we love one another, God remains in us. We are to have integrity with our actions. We can't profess that we have love and then act contrary to our brothers and sisters. Believing in God means believing in God's Son. Three witnesses will testify to this: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. We are to possess these things in order to profess our faith in God. We can have confidence that God hears us. God hears us in regard to everything we ask as we belong to God.

Gospel: After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus left Nazareth to begin his preaching on the Kingdom of heaven. He taught in all the synagogues and cured people of every disease and illness. Jesus felt compassion on the people who gathered to listen to him. Since they had come from great distances, he made them sit down so he could feed them as a good shepherd cares of his flock. After they had eaten, Jesus departs by boat to the other side of the lake with his disciples. He showed his disciples his mastery over the natural world as he walked on the water. News about Jesus spread through Galilee. He went to the synagogue, chose a reading from Isaiah, and declared in their hearing of the passage, Scripture has been fulfilled. He then cures a man of leprosy showing that he is speaking authoritatively for God's will and following the law of Moses. As his fame spread, the crowds wondered who they are to follow: the Baptist or Jesus. Jesus submits to baptism and John declares that he himself is not the anointed one. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God and he is to increase while John decreases.

Saints of the Week

Monday: The Holy Name of Jesus falls on a Christmas weekday. It marks the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant boy of Mary and Joseph and the day of circumcision. The name "Jesus" means "God Saves." Jesuits celebrate January 1st in commemoration of the naming of Jesus as our titular feast day.

Tuesday: Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious, (1774-1821) was originally an Episcopalian who was married to a wealthy merchant. After her husband's death, she converted to Catholicism and founded a girl's school. She later set up the Sisters of Charity, which was the first active group of women religious in the U.S.

Wednesday: John Neumann, (1811-1860), was a missionary to the U.S. within the Redemptorist Order. He settled in Pittsburgh and was named bishop of Philadelphia. He built many churches and Catholic schools. His educational model served as the model for parishes across the U.S.

Thursday: Andre Bessette, religious, (1845-1937) was canonized in October 2010. He established Notre Dame College in Montreal, Canada and established St. Joseph's Oratory. This basilica is visited by many pilgrims for cures and healings because of Bessette's reputation for working miracles.

Friday: Raymond of Penafort, priest, (1175-1275) was a Catalonian who taught philosophy and law. He preached to Moors and Christians as part of his Dominican ministry. He organized papal degrees into a form of canon law and he set guidelines for the penance. He became the Master of the Dominican Order.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan. 2, 1619: At Rome, John Berchmans and Bartholomew Penneman, his companion scholastic from Belgium, entered the Roman College.
• Jan. 3, 1816: Fr. General Brzozowski and 25 members of the Society, guarded by soldiers, left St. Petersburg, Russia, having been banished by the civil government.
• Jan. 4, 1619: The English mission is raised to the status of a province.
• Jan. 5, 1548: Francis Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the church, was born at Granada.
• Jan. 6, 1829: Publication of Pope Leo XII's rescript, declaring the Society to be canonically restored in England.
• Jan. 7, 1566: Cardinal Ghislieri was elected pope as Pius V. He was a great friend of the Francis Borgia and appointed Salmeron and Toletus as apostolic preachers at the Vatican. He desired to impose the office of choir on the Society and even ordered it. He was canonized as St. Pius V.
• Jan. 8, 1601: Balthazar Gracian was born. A Spanish Jesuit, he wrote on courtly matters. He is the author of The Compleat Gentleman and The Art of Worldly Wisdom.

An Abbreviated Christmas Season

The Christmas season was especially short this year. The Feast of the Holy Family fell the day after Christmas Day, which means that Epiphany fell on the Second Sunday of Christmas. Therefore, the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas was not observed fully. We are in an 'in between' time. The days of this week are called the days after Epiphany, which lasts to next Sunday's feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which ushers in Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time begins on January 10th and continues for nine weeks until Ash Wednesday on March 9th. Lent begins late and Easter Sunday in April 24th.

The Date of Epiphany

The feast of Epiphany in the Catholic Church is traditionally celebrated on January 6th. Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas, hence the origins of the song, "Twelve Days of Christmas."

Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God as a human. The Roman church commemorates the visitation of the Magi (three kings or wise sages) to the infant Jesus. This is the day of recognition that the whole world, beyond the Jewish people, would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.

The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to the child, Jesus. In the Western Church some households celebrate this feast by getting water, gold, frankincense and chalk blessed at church. The chalk is used to write the initials of the three magi over the doors of churches and homes. The letters, CMB, stand for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the three magi, but also Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as "may Christ bless the house."

Finally the ancient custom on solemnly announcing the date of Easter and the church year occurs on the feast of Epiphany. This was done in a time when reading and writing was not widespread. It set the celebrations of the liturgical years once the priests determined the date of Easter.