Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent and the Communion of Saints

By now we are well into our observance of Lent and the penitential practices that come with them.  As I wrote in my last message, we do not walk alone in our journey with Christ, but are united with all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body the Church.  All the sacrifices and aggravations, big and small, that we endure in faith and cheerfulness have a positive effect on others.  We become imitators of St. Paul who wrote that his sufferings were “filling up what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24) This is not to suggest that Jesus’ redemptive death was not enough to save the world, but rather that in His plan God has made us active participants in the work of salvation.

The Church is a reality of earth, purgatory and heaven.  We on earth are pilgrims on the journey of faith.  Those in purgatory are experiencing the final purification before entering into the direct presence of God.  Those in heaven see our Lord face to face and are already rejoicing in His glory.  We should not think of these as “places” separated by walls.  These profound realities are interconnected mysteriously and are in communion with each other, all sharing the spiritual goods of the One Church.  The saints in heaven pray for us as one friend may pray for another, and we should not be afraid to ask for their help. We assist the souls in purgatory on their journey by our prayers and hardships offered for their cause.   Some spiritual writers have suggested that those in purgatory are already praying for us now out of gratitude. What is sure is that they will not forget us when they finally reach paradise.  Our efforts can also help to bring sinners back to Christ here on earth.  This relationship that I write of what we call the Communion of Saints that we profess at every Sunday Mass in the Creed.

So when we are faithful to our Lenten practices and when we endure the difficulties of daily life with joy we are doing more than helping ourselves on the road to heaven.  We are sharing with others a precious gift.  So be faithful! Don’t be discouraged into thinking that Lent is too long and our efforts are wasted!  With the Grace of Jesus Christ all is possible.  He is the one who takes our works and perfects them for the good of the entire Church, which is His Body.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Today we enter into the discipline of Lent.  We will, or have received our ashes and hopefully have decided on a Lenten penance, like giving up candy, soda or adult beverages.  Lent is also a time to give alms for the poor, so maybe we’ve chosen a worthy cause to donate to.  These are good things, but the readings from the Masses of Ash Wednesday and the days that follow warn us that these external religious observances are not the most important part of Lent.  The purpose of this holy season is repentance and conversion. 

Today we hear the Prophet Joel tell us that we are to return to the Lord eagerly and completely, but in doing so we are to rend our hearts, not our garments.  It was common in ancient Israel for a person doing penance to tear his cloths as an outward sign of repentance.  What the prophet is saying is that this outer expression means nothing if the conversion is not real.  We may be able to fool other people, we may even be able to fool ourselves, but we can never deceive God.  In the reading from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus warns his disciples not to fast, do penance or give alms so that others will see them.  God sees what others can not; only His judgment counts. 

On Saturday we will hear the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to follow him.  Tax collectors were hated during Jesus’ time because they worked for a foreign power, the Romans, and often extorted money from the people, money that went into their own pockets. Matthew leaves his old life behind, represented by his tax collector’s table that he abandons.  Lent is not just a time to observe rules and regulations but it is an opportunity to change our lives.  God wants us to abandon our sins and be better disciples of His Son.  This is the Lenten penance most pleasing to Him.

So by all means, let us follow the discipline of this sacred time.  But let us also remember that the sacrifices we make and penances we observe are to remind us of the internal purification that we need.  This work can only be done by God.  May our hearts be open to Our Lord’s call to conversion.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lent is on the Way

This Wednesday we will be beginning the holy season of Lent.  It is a time associated with fasting and sacrifice. Often we try to give up something we like, such as sweets or a favorite food.  We may even try to do some extra acts of charity, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing drive for the poor.  All these things are good, but we should never forget that Lent is primarily a celebration of the Church community, not of our selves as individuals.  Any sacrifice we make is for the building up of the Body of Christ, which is the Church.

It is with this focus in mind, the Church, that I am beginning this series of letters.  We will be looking at this great mystery from the stand point of Don Bosco.  Our patron was a fiercely independent person who had a firm vision of how he wanted the Salesian mission to proceed.  At the same time he was always a man of the Church who respected and promoted the initiatives of his bishop, and especially the Pope.  This was not always easy.  He and his bishop didn’t always see eye to eye, but the spirit of obedience led him in all he did.

What would Don Bosco say to us today about Lent?  It is true that Don Bosco was very strict with himself, and was known for his self sacrifice, which included fasting.  He advised the boys in the Oratory to fast when the Church fasts, but that they shouldn’t give themselves over to harsh penances, and be mindful of their health.  The Saint taught that best penance is not the one that we choose for ourselves, but rather the one that God gives us, like having to put up cheerfully with annoying situations or people.  He taught his benefactors to mindful of the poor, especially those who are young.  Be in all things be joyful, even when it is not easy.  In these things we will be fulfilling our Lenten observance and building up the Church.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The New Roman Missal - Introducion

Here's the letter I prepared for my parish bulletin for this Sunday.  It's the first in a series I'll be doing leading up to the implementation of the New Roman Missal in November 2011.

It’s hard to believe that 2011 is already a month old.  January flew by, in spite of the nasty weather that could make the days seem long.  Before too much of the year gets behind us I wanted to take this opportunity to begin talking with you about the changes that will be happening in the Mass once Advent rolls around in November.  Some of you may already be aware that a new translation of the prayers used during the Eucharist have been prepared and will be put into use starting November 27, 2011. Over the next several months I will be dedicating time and space to prepare us for the upcoming changes, and to explain why they are taking place.

After the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960’s, the Mass was permitted to be said in the vernacular, or common language of the people, instead of the traditional Latin.  Translations were prepared for the various language groups around the world, but all were based on the official Latin text.  As with any translation, various approaches can be taken.  Some translators try to be more literal, others try instead to capture the spirit of original.  The English translation made in the 1960’s, and then revised in the early 70’s, used this more dynamic style, looking to capture the spirit of the prayers rather than trying to render a word for word translation.  In the 1990’s the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican office that oversees the liturgical life of the Church, called for a revision of the various translations so that they may be more faithful to the original Latin text.  The new translation, recently approved by Rome, is both more faithful to the original and clearer in showing the Scriptural roots of the prayers. 

The new liturgical book is called The Roman Missal, and it will take the place of the Sacramentary we use now.  There will be small, but important, changes to the prayers the priest says and responses of the people.  The most obvious for us will be that when the priest says “The Lord be with you,” we will respond, “And with your spirit.”  Why this and other changes are being made will be explained in the months ahead. 

Change can be difficult, especially when our life of prayer is involved.  We become use to the words we have always used, and the new prayers can seem strange.  But if we prepare well, learning the new responses, and more importantly, coming to understand what they mean, the transition will be smooth and our liturgical experience even richer than before.  

Next time I’ll use this space to go over some basic terms that are probably familiar to you, like liturgy and Eucharist, but whose meanings may be vague, as well as reviewing the parts of the Mass so that the following reflections will be easier to understand.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Deus Caritas Est 2

Last time we began to take a look at the Holy Father’s first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est.  We began by reflecting on the concept of love as found in Greek philosophy.  We continue this reflection by examining the Biblical vision of love.

Unlike the god of Greek philosophy, who was distant, unknown and unloving, the true God revealed to the people of Israel was close, knowable and passionately in love with his people.  He gave life, not because he had to, but because he wanted to, out of deep love.  He chose a particular nation to reveal himself to, the people of Israel, and loved them in a special way.  Israel was invited into a Covenant with God, and was constantly reminded by the prophets to be faithful to the Lord.  The prophets Hosea and Ezekiel, in particular, described the love God had for Israel as that of a husband for his wife.  They also described  infidelity to the Covenant as adultery, and wrote of God’s forgiveness in very passionate, unconditional terms.

In the creation of the human race God made this capacity for love essential to our being.  Adam could only find a true helper in Eve.  Before the creation of woman, man was truly alone in the world in spite of the presence of all the animals of the field and birds of the air.  We were made for community and for communion, and this truth finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s love that had been working in the life of Israel.  He came to draw the lost sheep back to the Father and to show the deep love of God by his self sacrifice on the cross.  It is this love that we are called to imitate. We are to love our neighbor as Christ loves us—totally.   

In the Eucharist Christ gives us the memorial this sacrifice so that we may remember what he did for us, and that we may be united with him and so be nourished with the Bread of Life.  In the Eucharist we are mystically united with Christ and to all who receive his Body and Blood.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a member of a community.  We are bound to one another and called to a life of radical sacrifice.  This total commitment is lived by the life of Charity that is essential to the life of the Church.  The second half of the Holy Father’s letter is dedicated to how we live the love described in the first half.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Deus Caritas Est

January 25, 2005 saw the publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).  An encyclical is a letter from the pope to the entire universal Church, and represents the highest form of papal teaching.  The first encyclical from a new pope is usually seen as setting the agenda for the things he wants to do for the rest of his pontificate.  The new letter takes as it’s theme love.  The first part is more intellectual, and focuses in on what love means.  The second is more concrete and discusses ways in which love is lived out in the life of the Church.  This week we’ll deal with the first part, with a letter to follow on the second.

The Holy Father explains that throughout history love has been defined in three ways.  Eros, meaning physical or romantic love, agape, meaning unconditional, self sacrificing love and philia meaning brotherly love.  Christian teaching has focused more on agape and philia as the ideal way that disciples of Christ express their love for one another.  Some have accused the Church of undervaluing or even trying to destroy eros by making it appear sinful. Pope Benedict argues quite the opposite, that physical love between husband and wife is essential. Conjugal relations represent an image of the divine life we will all share in eternity, as well as a participation in the creative action of God.  The key is that eros must be purified of selfishness and lust.  It can only do this when it is unified with agape which, by it’s nature, seeks the good of the other without worrying about itself.

Eros and agape separated from each other are incomplete. It is only together that they can fully express the reality of love.  This does not mean all love must be expressed romantic terms. Christ gave himself totally on the cross for the life of the world (agape) but also had a deep, passionate love for the people he was sent to save (eros). It is only because Jesus loved us in this “human” way that he was able to give him self so completely to forgive our sins. The priest or religious is called to this same kind of passionate self giving while remaining chaste.

In the future we’ll delve a little deeper into the Pope’s message of love, as well as looking at the practical ways that we live this love as Christians.  Until then I invite you to take a look at the Pope’s own words at the Vatican web site.

Monday, January 3, 2011

January and the Saleisan Family

The month of January is very important for the Salesian Family. January 24th is the feast of St. Francis de Sales and the 31st is the feast of St. John Bosco. Over the next few weeks our reflections will center on Don Bosco and Salesian spirituality. We begin by taking a brief look at Don Bosco’s life and the legacy he has left behind in the form of the Salesian Family.

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was born near the city of Turino, Italy, in a small farming community. His father, Francis died when John was only two years old, and left his mother Margaret alone to raise him, his brother Joseph and step brother Anthony. It was there, at the family farm in the village of Becci, that young John learned the value of prayer and hard work. He also grew in the knowledge of God’s call to the priesthood, and pursued the education he needed. It was not easy. His older step brother Anthony, the “man” of the house, thought that study was not real work, and tried to stop him from spending time reading and learning. Things were so tense that John had to leave the house to live with relatives in a neighboring village. While still a teenager he left home for good and lived in the city of Chieri where he went to school during the day and worked at night to pay for school (there was no free public education then).

John was ordained to the priesthood in 1841. He worked tirelessly for the salvation of the young. Don Bosco’s first permanent work was called the Oratory, where he worked with poor and abandoned boys. He eventually founded the Salesian Society to continue this work into the future. All the time he remembered the lessons he learned at his home, at the feet of his mother Margaret; the need to make Jesus the center of his life, to be kind to all, and to be present in the lives of the young whom he served. Don Bosco wanted the schools, youth centers and parishes that his Salesians worked at to be homes where all felt welcome, Churches that evangelized to the faith, schools that prepared for life and a playground where lasting friendships were formed. We call this today the “Oratorian Criteria,” that all Salesian works aspire to follow.