Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son"

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent we change our focus from John the Baptist to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

Joseph and Christmas

In the drama of the incarnation, Jesus is, of course, the star. The co-star, though, is definitely mom. Without her love and labor, the event could not have happened. But there is a best supporting actor in the drama as well. Joseph was the silent man of the New Testament. True, Joseph was not the biological father. He does not speak one word in the scriptures and yet, explains Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Joseph had a crucial role in the great mystery of the incarnation.

He spares Mary embarrassment, he names the child as his own, and he provides an accepted physical, social, and religious place for the child to be born and raised. Fr. Ron Rolheiser tells us that in essence what Joseph teaches us is how to live in loving fidelity to all that we cling to humanly and religiously - even as we are open to a mystery of God that takes us beyond all the categories of our religious practice and imagination. Isn't that one of the ongoing challenges of Christmas?

Fr. Alex McAllister expands our reflection on Joseph. He says perhaps in today's era of fused families and changing social dynamics, we need to look more at the role of Joseph as foster father and think about those who have accepted parental responsibilities in all kinds of circumstances. Anyone in this role needs support and good role models.

Mary is "ever-virgin"

We also reflect upon Mary in this Sunday's Scriptures. Father Cusick says the deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.'  So, yes, we do honor Mary. We do pay particular attention to her. We do make a big deal about her. Fr. Phil Bloom says it's because she was the closest to Jesus - and she suffered greatly with him.

Fear Not All You Josephs

Joseph was confused, as we often are. He heard an angel say, “Do not be afraid.” Fr. John Foley, S. J. says the angel's message fit right into the design of the saintly man's life with God. In this Gospel, we learn that God takes charge in really critical situations and that we are asked to acquiesce in His assertion of divine control.  Joseph trusted God's mysterious ways and found incredible blessing in what he had not planned. And so he followed, explains Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm.

College student Jimmy Starke says the message is not only trusting in God’s work at some time in the past or future, but the message is to trust in the work of God in our lives today. Can we love others as they deserve to be loved? Will we be hurt in return? Fr. Joseph Pellegrino says these are the questions that Joseph asked himself as he stirred in his sleep. And Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. asks us the same question of us today. Are we ready to believe in the promises of God, even when faced with perplexing circumstances and what seems like insurmountable problems?

So as we come to the end of Advent, Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB reminds us that each one of us are challenged to listen to God's Word and to understand how this word works in Scripture and in our personal lives. And know that we cannot respond to this challenge without a daily reading of some small portion of Scripture.

Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Scriptures

Our Burning Question this week challenges you to review the Chosen People's most glorious, and notorious, adventures that are experienced by Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the first two chapters of Matthew. Join our discussion: How does Matthew let us know that Jesus is "Special?"

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB actually provides some of the answers to our Burning Question. He points out that Matthew's entire Gospel is about the scriptures being fulfilled in Jesus. In the genealogy (1:1-17), Jesus is the culmination point toward which Israel's long covenant history has been leading. The birth of Christ brings the infinite God within reach of finite man. We must tell others of Jesus. But firstly, Fr. James Gilhooley urges us, allow Him to be born in you. He can't be born again, but we can.

It's the Season of Advent

As we enter the last few days before we rightly give our hearts over to the joy of Christmas, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. of Denver reminds us that we might take a few minutes in prayer over two brief passages from the past about the meaning of Advent. He points out this lesson for Advent: Christ comes so the world may be shaken.

From the Vatican, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said that a renewed faith in eternal life is one of the keys to the New Evangelization. The preacher of the Pontifical Household offered this suggestion during the second of three Advent sermons that he gav ethree years ago in the presence of the Pope and the Roman Curia.

Christmas is Upon Us

Christmas is in the air. But , do we really need Christmas? The answer is yes, says Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas. We need Christmas because we can’t see the invisible. Christmas is a sign of God’s immeasurable love for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16

And as the secular celebrations heighten, Santa Claus is back in the limelight. The real St. Nicholas was nothing close to the St. Nick (Santa Claus) of the modern age. He was a thin curmudgeonly man with a zeal for the Lord that caused flairs of anger. Compromise was unknown to him. The saint's slow transformation into “Jolly ole’ Saint Nicholas is a remarkable recasting of him centuries in the making.

You also must be receiving cards the abbreviated "Xmas" instead of Christmas. But is this abbreviation really a secular slight of christmas? Msgr. Charles Pope advises us to avoid being too easily offended. In the end, perhaps a middle ground regarding the term “Xmas.” Avoid its use but do not easily take offense regarding it either. There are bigger battles.

And the gifts need to be wrapped. Paul Dion, STL offers thoughts about his Gifting Philisophy. "Shake it, shake it, shake it!," he said, " I have decided to give you my life long thought on gift giving." Question to be resolved: Is it a gift or a donation?

And what about the Christmas cards? It’s a multi-part process: writing the accompanying letter, ordering the cards, making sure we have enough stamps, actually stuffing and addressing the pile that seems to grow as we work. But for Arwen Mosher, by far the most daunting part is obtaining the dreaded Christmas Card Picture.

Spiritual Directors, Family Life & More

December 14th was the Feast of St. John of the Cross, the spiritual director of St. Theresa de Avila. She was 52 and he was only 25. Recognizing the importance of spiritual direction and the lofty qualities required of a director, what ought we do if we cannot find a spiritual director? This story gives you answers.

 Judith Costello, a member of the ParishWorld family of Catholic bloggers blogs about relationships, creativity, lessons from the barnyard animals and the power of prayer - with a hint of humor. Her column is titled "Mysteries of Parenting." And as the Advent season unfolds, her initial post looks to the Holy Family and the new challenges at her house - animal deaths and computer problems. Lots of ending and opportunities for new beginnings.

Meanwhile Bo Sanchez posts a blog he calls "What Award Do You Want To Receive?" He recalls the story of a close friend's dad who passed away. The man was 82 years old and he worked until he was 81 years old. Because of his dedication to his work, he was financially successful. But behind all this success, this man died with a deep regret. Because some years ago, his wife passed away. And they had lots of unaccomplished things in their Bucket List.

Let us all celebrate Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, with joyful hearts and let us renew our faith and hope in God and in his redeeming work.

Another eventful week in our Catholic World. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

BURNING QUESTION: How does Matthew show that the infant Jesus is "Special?"
FEATURED BLOG: Gifting Philisophy: Gift or Donation?
PASTORAL HISPANA: San Jose - El hombre justo del evangelio 

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

“What did you go out to the desert to see?"

This Sunday - the Third Sunday in Advent - is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. And it takes it's name from the opening antiphon: 'Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice, the Lord is near.' Our Discussion Questions will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

This week we also celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The readings show God transforming despair into joy. He did it when he "ransomed" the Israelites and crowned them with everlasting joy. He did it for John as he sat in the darkness of Herod's prison. Fr. Phil Bloom adds that God also did it for the Aztec people when he sent them a beautiful lady. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe brought them immense consolation and hope.

Gaudete Sunday - A cause for rejoicing

The readings, particularly the Gospel, express this theme of rejoicing at the imminent coming of the Lord. John's disciples ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come. 'Look around you', they are told. 'The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor and happy are those who believe.' These events really are a cause for rejoicing; the Lord has come and is working miracles among us. Our salvation is at hand.

The readings force us to ask ourselves: What makes us happy, really happy? What really makes for lasting happiness? Fr. Joseph Pellegrino tells us that happiness is found in relationship. And the greatest relationship we can possibly have is the one that brings us the greatest joy. Real happiness comes from the encounter with God.

Father Cusick points out how the disciples of John come to him to hear his testimony. Because they are open to the truth, they will hear and believe. They will know the power, peace and joy of the kingdom. They had faith, like John the Baptist had faith. And, Fr. Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B. reminds us, that only if we are able, like John, to be freed of our own expectations, will we be able to welcome the coming of the Lord and his way of love.

There would be no substitute for raw faith either for John or anyone else down through the centuries, Fr. James Gilhooley explains. Through our waiting we find that, tiny as we are, still, through gift, we have an openness to the real and consoling presence of God. Fr. John Foley, S. J. says there's no need to dress in fine clothing or live in royal palaces. Become yourself and be content. Be patient.

Advent invites us to ask about salvation over and over. Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB reminds us that sometimes we are so caught up in religious words that we overlook the simple reality: salvation is to share in God's life and not be imprisoned in our own. Jesus came to give hope to all people whose lives were thought to be permanently tainted by illness, injury, sin and sadness. College student Caroline Seroka highlights the fact that God has already come to save us and will come to save us again so that, as the first reading says, “they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”

Fr. Ron Rolheiser expresses the meaning of Advent as preparing for the sublime. But for something to be sublime there must first be sublimation; fasting is the necessary prelude to feasting; greatness of soul is contingent on first nobly carrying tension; great joy is not experienced if one is not first properly prepared; and what’s truly divine can only appear after a certain kind of gestation. Advent is about proper waiting.

No room for compromise

There is no room for compromise. Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. tells us that we are either for Jesus and his kingdom or against it. We either give him our full allegiance and submission or we hold on to the reigns of running life as we want it to go.

So this week let us carve out some spiritual space in our lives where we can strip away the false things that cling to us and breathe new life into our dreams and begin again. In the midst of the desert, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB assures us, we hear what God will do if we open our hearts to him and allow him to make our own deserts bloom. What God does to the southern desert of Israel, God will do for us: transform our barrenness into life, and trace a highway and a holy way in places we believed to be lifeless and hopeless.

Are we on the Highway of Holiness? Are we making progress on it? Are we enjoying the travel? Are we inviting others to join us on the way?

Meditations on Advent

Here is the Advent reflection delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, for Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. The talk was titled: "The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientistism."

And you must have noticed that “It’s Getting Late Very Early These Days.” It's also the title of another stirring Advent meditation from Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington DC.

Immaculate Conception & Vatican II

On December 8, our Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It was also the anniversary of the most important event in the history of Christianity since the Reformation and the Council of Trent. Forty-eight years ago on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Paul VI closed the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica along with 2,300 bishops gathered from the entire world.

Pope Benedict said three years ago on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that the day honoring Mary should give Christians “comfort” and remind them that God's mercy “is more powerful than evil.” In this Feast, then, we celebrate three things: the glory given to Mary, the free choice of God to save us, the divine being of Jesus – like all those originally connected with this event, we rejoice and are thankful, and reflect in wonder.

The word “Immaculate” doesn’t simply mean “perfectly clean,” as we tend to think from its use in real estate ads, but “unstained.” Catholic blogger David Mills says the doctrine emphasizes Mary’s freedom from moral corruptionnot, and this is the crucial point, what she is in herself but what she is by the grace of God.

And allow us to add a twist to the converastion with our Burning Question this week: Was the Blessed Virgin Mary a Virgin Forever? Did Jesus have brothers as some Evangelicals often point out in their interpretation of the Bible? Join the discussion.

Also three years ago this week, the Church officially recognized the 1859 Marian apparition at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion, WI. Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay announced the decision this week. Our Lady of Good Help at Champion becomes the first and only site in the United States of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Baptism, Prayers & More

Reflecting on this Sunday's Readings, Fr. Alex McAllister says we realise with hindsight just how fitting it was that Jesus himself was Baptised. He entered into our lives so fully and shows us so clearly the way to go. We must be Baptised as he was Baptised, we must undergo a Passion just as he underwent a Passion; and we will rise to new life like him, the new life he won for us.

Now let's turn ourt attention to Prayer. How do you think of prayer? Is it another thing you “have to do” among many other things on your list? Or is prayer a time where you refrain from doing? Is prayer a requirement you regret or a rest that you relish? What is prayer for you? Msgr. Charles Pope offers answers to these pointed questions. And offers sound advice.

And as schools face many final exams starting this week, here are some "Prayers for Students and Tests." St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron of students, so it is a common practice to ask for his intercession and use prayers that he wrote. Plus a few other meditative ones.

Anglican Conversion, Finding Molly & More

In recent years, many Anglican priests and bishops converted to the Catholic faith. Here's an intensely touching detail from the final Anglican sermon of the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, delivered last week at St John the Evangelist, New Hinksey, Oxford. At the end of the service, Bishop Burnham – who will be ordained into the Ordinariate as a Catholic priest – “laid aside his crozier and mitre at the feet of Our Lady”. Here is his sermon.

Marcel from Aggie Catholics Blog talks about the past death of his sister. Like many who suffer pain and grief, he found himself asking many questions on faith. Have you ever felt that God just wasn't interested in your problems? Have you ever felt God was distant and unaccessible? Have you ever thought maybe God is just a myth, because He just doesn't seem to care? He talks about his pain and his loss in "Where Are You God?"

Finally, let us all praise God on this Gaudete Sunday. We thank him for all he has done for us. We rejoice that through the coming of his Son Jesus we have been saved. We do what we can to imitate his life, to follow his Gospel of love. We join together to celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread that is his body and the wine that is his blood. We take seriously his plea to the Father: 'May they be one, Father, even as you and I are one.'

Another eventful week in our Catholic World. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

Featured Blog: Drudgery or Delight?
Burning Question: Was the Blessed Virgin Mary a Virgin Forever?

Pastoral Hispana: La Fiesta de Maria de Guadalupe es para todos los Latino Americanos

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Prepare the way of the Lord"

“Stay awake,” we heard last week. “Prepare,” we hear this week. Stay awake for the opportunities to serve the Lord. Prepare to find Him. The words of John the Baptist in this Sunday's Readings for Dec. 8, 2013 (2AdvA) warn us against sleeping our lives away, against spiritual laziness. Our Discussion Questions for Dec. 5, 2010 - Second Sunday of Advent - will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

Fruits of Love

God's mysterious goodness is around us and in us. He gives it all out of pure generosity and love. But, Fr. John Foley, S. J. notes, you and I do very little to “deserve” it. In fact, we definitely are not worthy of it. Fr. James Gilhooley offers the observation that many Catholics no longer buy into the concept of personal sin. We live our lives in an era which has dry cleaned sin away.

So John the Baptist makes it clear this Sunday. Our prayers and our running to God will do us no good at all unless we produce the fruits of our repentance. Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB says these fruits are those that bring about peace, harmony and seeking the good of others above our own good. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB calls it the gift of love, the fruit of love, that fruit which "befits repentance." College student Colleen Corcoran reflects on this "Good Fruit" and how it manifests in on-campus student life.

Repentance and Change

Notice that these two things are inseparable, repentance and change. It was the Pharisees reluctance to change that brought about John's indignation. John’s message directed to the Pharisees and Sadducees was a message of judgment. To call the most influential religious leaders of the time, "offspring of snakes" was not designed to bring popularity.

He then challenged them to demonstrate actions worthy of repentance. It was a call for a genuine turning to God instead of regular religiosity. Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. wonders whether John would issue a similar call to religious leaders today. Fr. Alex McAllister SDS agrees. He says this is something that finds a clear parallel today. So often we have questions about why people bring their children for baptism when they plainly have no intention of bringing the child up in the faith. When we refuse to live our faith, we are treating our baptism as a mere ritual act.

It seems then that we have three distinct groups; one, those who had already given up and did not respond to John's call; two, those who heard him but whose hearts were hardened and were reluctant to change, just like the Pharisees; and the third group who came to John full of hope and with a real preparedness to change. We must ask ourselves: to which group do we belong?

What is called for is repentance and we must be careful not to confuse that with remorse. Remorse is simply a temporary regret about our unworthy behavior. It usually lasts a very short time and then we return to our old habits. By contrast, repentance means that we have found something better and more promising than our sinfulness. This discovery is the love and goodness of God, Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. tells us. If we realize that the stakes are eternal, Fr. John Foley, S. J. adds, then the words of Christ will not be lost upon us. We will take His words and teachings to heart, as spirit and life.

To the Desert - Prepare!

Father Steve Grunow reflects on the great Advent figure of John the Baptist and expounds upon his role as not only prophet, but as temple priest in the era of Herod "the Great." This imposing figure chose to spread the Good News in the desert. In the desert, Fr. Joseph Pellegrino points out, John the Baptist confronted people who thought they were entitled - the Pharisees and the Saducees. “Stop making presumptions,” the Baptist warns them....and us.

This Sunday, Fr. Phil Bloom says God also invites us to go to the desert. Not the desert of Judea, but one much closer: the desert of the human heart. The desert is a place free from distractions, a place where a person can be alone with God. In silence we meet God. And by meeting him, we find our true selves.

The coming of the Messiah as prophesied by John the Baptist obviously has something to do with the advent of peace. Dr. Marcellino d'Ambrosio says we need to examine the biblical notion of peace. For it is not quite the peace that some have in mind. It is not niceness or political correctness. It is not just the absence of armed conflict or “peaceful co-existence.” It is rather right relationship between people that flows from right relationship with God.

And just like John the Baptist, our impatience for truth and justice makes us want and expect a messiah who comes in earthly terms, all talent and muscle. But that’s not the Christmas story, nor the power revealed in it. An infant lying in the straw in Bethlehem didn’t outgun anyone. He just lay there, waiting for anyone, good or bad, to come to him, see his helplessness, feel a tug at his or her heart strings, and then gently try to coax a smile or a word out of him. Fr. Ron Rolheiser reminds us that it is still how God meets us.

Spreading the Faith

We are called to spread the Good News of God's love for each one of us. But it's not always easy. Those who have encountered the beauty and power of faith want to give that gift to their children. The question is, how? Well, explains Jake Frost, the good news is that the best way to pass faith on to our children is easy. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in theology. It’s as simple as living the faith ourselves, day in and day out. Kids see, they absorb, and through that, they learn.

But what about evangelizing to people you don't even know - or haven't seen? Over the years, Catholic blogger David Mills has learned many things about the sort of people who write strangers on the internet to ask religious questions. Here are ten rules he developed from his experiences when writing people he didn't know. It's a very good guide to follow. We highly suggest you read it.

And Eric Sammons makes us aware of something we've all been guilty of at one time or another. He calls it "Every Catholic jerk’s motto." He explains that one of the dangers of being knowledgeable about Church history and the lives of the saints is that you can cherry-pick just about any action or words used by some saint at some time in history to justify your own actions. There's much to be learned about our own actions from this eye-opening piece.

Fr. Longenecker relates this story: "All you need to do," said the Mormon missionary at the door, "Is to pray to the Holy Spirit before you sit down to read the Book of Mormon. Say, 'Open my eyes, my mind, my heart, and if what I read is true, make me realize it in my heart of hearts.'" Then guess what? The new convert says, "I prayed that prayer and as I read my eyes really were opened and I realized that the whole thing was true!!" Gawrsh! Amazing!! Well, the good father warns us, it's really not quite that simple. He goes on to explain the important role the Church plays in helping you discern what the Holy Spirit is really telling you when you read Scripture.

Advent in Full Swing

The local radio stations are already playing Christmas music and everyone is already talking about the "Christmas" season--but it's not yet Christmas. It's the Advent Season, the season for preparing for Christmas. So what is Advent and why is it important? Taylor Marshall offers some answers with his "Top 10 Facts About Advent."

It is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It has a quasi-penitential theme, and this can be a strong antidote against the consumerism of our nation and time. So in honor of the Holy Trinity, Dr. Jeff Mirus, presents the three most important things you can do to make your Advent more successful this year. While Lynn Wehner asks us during these early days of Advent to focus on Mary’s Yes that changed the world forever. And what better time can there be than now to recommit ourselves to the Yes that God is asking of us in our own lives each and every day.

People Are Nicer Than You Think

Danielle Bean had the enlightening experience once of having a surprise “in-real-life” social meeting with someone (she will call her Jane) whom she had previously known only online. Before their in-real-life meeting, she did not like Jane. At least she thought she didn't. They met - and was she surprised. Danielle talks about lessons learned on the internet. People are nicer than you think.

Anna Eicher survived a highway pileup that killed her father and two others and left more than a dozen people injured, a crash triggered by a trucker who was distracted by his cell phone. After four days in a hospital recovering from her injuries in the 2008 crash, Eicher returned to this Amish community in northeast Missouri to bury her father, then did what any good woman of her faith would do. She forgave the trucker and refused to sue. People are nicer than you think.

It's another eventful week in our Catholic world. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

BURNING QUESTION: Did John the Baptist go straight to heaven after he died?
FEATURED BLOG: Please Hold the Applause - at Mass
PASTORAL HISPANA: Conversion es parte del mensaje de Adviento

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