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A Thousand Bottles of Wine

Dear Parishioners,

There is so much to reflect upon with the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This is our Gospel reading this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Yes, we are officially back in Ordinary Time.  We will climb all the way up to the 8th week in Ordinary Time before switching to Lent at the beginning of March.

The water is symbolic of the Old Covenant.  Notice the water is specifically mentioned to be in "six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings." The relationship of the Jews to God in the Old Testament was not as vibrant as it could be.  Jesus transforms the water into wine; he transforms the faith.  Our relationship with God in the New Covenant is now something totally exhilarating and fulfilling.  This is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice our second reading is a description of all the gifts or charisms of the Holy Spirit. 

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The Gates of the Netherworld

The Holy Spirit moved mysteriously over the "waters" of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy over several decades in the 19th Century.  This was a tumultuous time for the church.  The pope had been imprisoned, the Papal States were confiscated by the new king of Italy, and the rise of nationalism led to the outright persecution of the clergy, parishes, and Catholic schools.  This was particularly the case in Germany with Otto von Bismarck.  The heresy of Jansenism had a negative impact on people, and there were still lingering anti-Catholic sentiments from the French Revolution.  The general population was skeptical of Catholicism.  God thus responded, producing a number of saints.  Never has there been so many saints from one area (around Turin) during one period of time.  Pope Francis has referred to them as the 'social saints.'  We have Saints John Bosco, Joseph Cafasso, Leonardo Murialdo, Luigi Orione, and Joseph Cottolengo.  There are others on their way to sainthood, such as Bruno Lanteri, Francis Faa di Bruno, and the 24-year-old Pier Giorgio Frassati..

Saint John Bosco, the "apostle to the youth" and founder of the Salesian Order was known for his great smile and exceptional love for all people.  Saint Joseph Cafasso was Bosco's close friend and the one who inspired Bosco with his pastoral visits to the suffering.  Saint Murialdo founded the Society of Saint Joseph, which looked after delinquent children, and Saint Orione, who was an apprentice to Bosco, founded the Hermits of Divine Providence, which tended to the poor and sick.  Saint Cottolengo likewise opened a home for the sick and orphans.   These holy priests won back the people's hearts to Catholicism and proved true Christ's claim that "the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail against the Church."

What's the Significance of the Dove?

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 13, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

"And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" (Lk 3:22).  What's the significance of the dove?

We know now that the dove is one of the forms or images of the Holy Spirit. But for the crowd witnessing Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, they would not have picked up on this.  They simply would have seen a bird flying in the sky that happened to hover above this young adult.  The Old Testament made no mention of God being a bird.  But there are, however, some Old Testament references to the dove, and I'd like to use these to unpack the dove's significance in the Baptism of our Lord.

Noah releases a dove during the flood to determine if dry land has appeared; if the flood waters have begun to recede (cf. Gen 8:8).  It first returns with an olive branch and then, at last, it never returns, indicating to Noah that the land is once again habitable, as the dove is able to settle on it.    

Christ is the new man, representative of the new creation.  He emerges from the waters, just as that new land upon which Noah's dove settled emerged from the flood waters.  Jesus is the new people of God, emerging from water as Moses and the Israelites emerged from the Red Sea waters free from sin.

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Christ's Heart Beats Loudly

Adapted from the homily delivered this past Christmas...

When Christ was born, a drumbeat entered into existence.  Beforehand, there was silence; no beat to give people a cadence and to excite them.  For that is the twofold purpose of a drum sound.  An army marching will often do so to the rhythm of a drummer.  This keeps the soldiers in line.  If the pace of the beat rises, the army charges.  The drumbeat not only quickens the feet, it also quickens the heart.  There is something primordial about a drum that produces adrenaline and energizes us.  See a football team coming out of the locker room to the drummer of the marching band.  Listen to a rock song with a great drum solo or sequence, like Happy Jack by The Who.  Or, if you want to stick to Christmas music, The Little Drummer Boy.  Originally known as 'The Carol of the Drums' this song is all about the poor shepherd boy pleasing the Holy Family with his drumming, since he has nothing else to offer.  Bob Seger has a great version of this Christmas carol.  If rock is not to your taste, you could listen to 'The Hallelujah Chorus' in Handel's Messiah, which utilizes the timpani masterfully.  This is not a sad or dull piece.

Christ has provided the drumbeat for us.  If we are to receive genuine excitement and joy and not fall astray in life, we ought to listen and march to this beat.  Henri Nouwen writes, "Discernment is a life of listening to a deeper sound and marching to a different beat, a life in which we become 'all ears'."  Prayer is one way we listen to the drums.  The Mass is another.  Christ's heart beats loudly in the Eucharist. 

For 2,000 years God has been drumming.  It is not only for us to this Christmas to be attuned and 'rock out', but also our Church, founded on a rock

 

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 6, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.  We celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as a divine person, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.  There are three scenes from the life of Christ that are traditionally used for the Epiphany: the adoration of the three Magi, Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This week we read about the Magi.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and will read about that event. In two weeks, on January 20th (the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time) we will read about the Wedding Feast at Cana. 

Every moment in Christ's life was significant.  There is not just a lesson to be had, but also some change in the natural order.  If Christ did something, then that 'thing' is holy.  For example, the fact that Jesus labored as a carpenter sanctifies work.  When we work honestly to make a living, we are doing something holy, for Jesus did it. 

Let's take that lesson and apply it to the three manifestations.  We'll go in reverse order, starting with the Wedding Feast of Cana. 

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With God, All Things Are Possible Even Time Travel

In discussing the Eucharist, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, "This sacrament has a threefold significance: with regard to the past...with regard to the present...with regard to the future..." (ST III, 73.4). The movie Back to the Future comes to mind.

If you have never seen the 1980s cult classic movie trilogy, time travel is the subject.  A high school student travels to the 1950s and interferes with the events, thus altering the future.  When he returns back to the present, it is no longer the present as he left it.  Some terrible events have also happened in the future, and so the main character and his sidekick must travel back to the past and then back to the future to correct the situation.  It is easier to watch than describe.

"With God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26) and God makes 'time travel', in a sense, possible with the Eucharist (not the flux capacitor).  When we celebrate Mass on Sunday, three time periods are being invoked and affected.  With regard to the past, Mass is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary 2,000 years ago.  His sacrifice that led to our redemption is placed anew upon the altar at Catholic parishes around the world.  With regard to the present, Mass is communion.  We are united to Jesus right now and to the church, both members here on earth and those in Heaven. With regard to the future, the Mass is the participation in a banquet occurring in Heaven.  It will draw us to Heaven, which is why we sometimes refer to the Eucharist as viaticum

When we go to Mass we are, as theologian Peter Kreeft puts it, "bilocating, not just in space but in time."  I hope you enjoy the presentation.

Theotokos of Vladimir

The Theotokos of Vladimir is an icon written (icons are technically 'written' not 'painted') in the year 1130 in Constantinople and is currently in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Theotokos means 'bearer of God,' and there are series of Theotokos icons, of which our present study is a part, called the Eleusa icons.  Eleusa means tenderness.  And so this image is sometimes referred to as 'The Virgin of Tenderness.'

Mary is holding Jesus delicately, while staring, if you notice, directly at us.  Mary wants a relationship with us.  We will be fulfilled if we do.  It is also as if Mary wants us to have the same desire for her as her Son does.  There is a lot of significance in those eyes.  Mary's tender and penetrating eyes are always upon us.  This is a beautiful thing.  We never want a mother and a lady's gaze to drift elsewhere.  We are possessive of the feminine attention.  Mary satisfies our need.      

The infant appears as if he is trying to climb Mary, to get as close to her as possible. A sandal of Jesus has even fallen off (see the right foot) in his haste to fly unto his Mother.  Mary is cooperative with this effort.  Her left hand seems to be pushing Jesus upwards. You will also notice Jesus' right hand on the face of Mary.  He has wrapped his arm around her neck--another sign of affection.  Our Lord embraces Mary.  The faces of mother and son are touching as well.  Great intimacy is present in that physical connection.  And Jesus, of course, is looking directly into the eyes of his mother. 

If there are times in our life we do not believe Jesus is looking at us, chances are he is looking at us through the eyes of his tender Mother. 

 

Pop Quiz - Who Was The First Saint?

Dear Parishioners,

Pop quiz! Who was the first saint?

  1. a) St. Joseph
  2. b) St. John the Baptist
  3. c) St. Michael the Archangel
  4. d) St. Stephen the Martyr
  5. e) The Holy Innocents

Okay, I know it's Christmas Break and you weren't prepared, so I'll be merciful. No need to call the Cardinal to complain and ask for a redo.  I'll accept any of your answers.  For one could make a theological and historical argument for each of the above. 

But, if we had to choose, (and the answer I usually tell the students in school), I would say: e) The Holy Innocents.

We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents this past week on December 28.  If you are not familiar with the Holy Innocents, these are the children in Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod as a result of Jesus' birth.  "When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi (Matt 2:16)."

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Behold! I Make All Things New

On October 21st, 1892, the United States celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the new world.  The year-long celebration, declared by President Benjamin Harrison, was highlighted by the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, which ran from May 1 until October 30, 1893.  The monumental fair, which drew more than 27 million visitors, was a symbol of America's industry, innovation, and exceptionalism.  And so it was fitting that Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, considered one of the world's greatest musicians, performed at the fair.  Conducting the Chicago Symphony in front of a crowd of 8,000, Dvorak received a two-minute ovation.

Dvorak had recently composed his Symphony No.9 in E Minor. 'The New World Symphony' is a uniquely American symphony.  Dvorak made it for the United States and based it off of American melodies, also having been inspired by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The United States at the time was still considered 'the new world.' It no longer is.  We might be the 'first world,' but we are not new.  Catholicism, which has been around far longer than the United States, is, paradoxically, the 'new world.'  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1).

We are the new world, and we always will be.  "Behold, I make all things new," says our Lord (Rev 21:5).  This is because our 'old worlds' constantly end.  When an individual Catholic turns away from a particular sin, deepens his prayer life, learns about a mystery of the faith, or matures morally, his apocalypse has come and he enters a new world.  Something similar happens for the Church at large each era. 

We likely will not hear the famous final movement of the New World Symphony this Christmas.  But this feast can, indeed, be the ushering in of a new world.

A Christmas Tree Blessing

Dear Parishioners,

I have discussed the meaning of the Christmas Tree before.  Its origins go back to St. Boniface, who chopped down a giant oak tree that pagans in Germany were worshiping.  He proved to them that the Christian God was more powerful than the fake, pagan gods confined to a tree.  If the local people needed a tree to facilitate their worship of the one, true God, then they should look to an evergreen tree.  Triangular in shape, like an image of the Trinity, the tree points upward to heaven and its evergreen leaves, which are everlasting, represent the eternity of God. 

I'm sure most of your Christmas trees are up already in your homes.  Traditionally, however, the tree was put up right before Christmas and remained in place until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. 

Your tree may be up, but have you blessed it yet?  No, this isn't a ploy to invite myself over to your house for dinner.  You don't need a priest to bless it.  Anyone in the family can do the blessing.  Doing the blessing on Christmas Eve, perhaps before you have your dinner, could be the perfect family activity! 

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Virgin with Porridge

I could not help but chuckle when I came across Gerard David's 1520 painting, bizarrely titled, "Virgin with Porridge." I wonder if Mary and Joseph taught our Lord the fable of the three bears.  I am sure they told him about the story of Esau in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen 25: 27-34). Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a plate of porridge (or lentils, as some translators have it). 

Whether or not Jesus actually ate porridge is beside the point. The lesson from the painting is about Mary.  Just as Mary nourished her Son, so too are individuals to be fed and comforted by the Blessed Mother.  The Church likewise needs the presence of the Blessed Mother, lest we become too bureaucratic or preoccupied with our own self-preservation.  We cannot feed ourselves.  Only Mary can help us grow the right way. 

Jesus sits on Mary's knee while holding a wooden spoon (carved, perhaps, by Joseph?).  Both Mary and Jesus have spoons.  Mary is the instrument of the grace that comes from our Lord.

There are some other noteworthy aspects of the painting.  The bread near the bowl and the pitcher on the cupboard are Eucharistic.  There is an apple next to the bread, a reference to the sin of Adam and the undoing of that sin.  We also have a glimpse into the world outside through the window in the background.  There is a melding of both the spiritual and world realms, the internal and external.  We are to be both Martha and Mary—active and contemplative.  

There is nothing overtly religious about the piece. This could be any mother and child.  And therein lays the final message.  Holiness is to be found in each one of us in the mundane on goings of life. 

 

The Three Comings of Christ

Dear Parishioners,

Advent, as I'm sure you are well aware, means 'coming.'  There are three 'comings' of Christ that we recognize during this Liturgical season.  Cistercian monk and (recently deceased) spiritual writer Thomas Keating writes, "The first is his historical coming in human weakness and the manifestation of his divinity to the world; the second is his spiritual coming in our inmost being through the liturgical celebration of the Christmas-Epiphany Mystery; the third is his final coming at the end of time in his glorified humanity."

In other words, there is a past, present, and future coming.  The past is the memorial-aspect of Christ's coming 2,000 years ago.  The future is the apocalyptic-aspect when he will come again at the end of time to bring the earth to final glory.  The present is the grace-aspect of our Lord into our hearts right now.

A good image for Advent, particularly the "present" coming, is light.  By the way, the major liturgical seasons of the year each have an attribution.  Advent/Christmas/Epiphany is light; Lent/Easter/Ascension is life; Pentecost/Ordinary Time is love.

Light is pretty obvious for this present season.  We have Christmas lights and, of course, the candles on the Advent wreath.  The rose-colored candle we light this Sunday, being Gaudete Sunday when we rejoice looking ahead to Christmas. 

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I Do!

Dear Parishioners,

When a man is ordained a priest, he kneels before the bishop and promises obedience.  The bishop encloses his hands around the candidate's folded hands and asks him, "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?"  The candidate responds, "I do."  The bishop then says, "May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment." 

The bishop's line is taken from Paul's letter to the Philippians, the segment of which we have in our second reading this weekend.  "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).

It's a great line.  We could meditate and reflect on just this one line for an hour.  God began some project in each one of us, and the project is fundamentally good.  Each one of us is here for a purpose.  Remember that when you're feeling down, depressed, alone, and without meaning.  As bad as things might seem or be, it does not erase the fact that God began a good work in you. 

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Blessed Santia Szymkowiak

Many know of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), but there are many other female saints who were martyrs during WWII.

Blessed Santia Szymkowiak was a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Sorrows, also known as the Seraphic Sisters.  The Nazis overran her convent in Poznan in Poland in 1939 and Santia was conscripted as translator for the Germans.  She had a chance to escape, but chose instead to stay with her community, where she made her solemn vows on July 6, 1942. She would die the following month, having contracted tuberculosis in the prison camp.  She wrote in her diary, "Jesus wants me to be a holy religious and He will not be happy with me until I use all my strength for Him and become a saint...I have to become a saint at all costs. This is my constant preoccupation." Santia was beatified in 2002.

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Catholic Schools Week 2019

Catholic Schools Week 2019

January 28–February 1

Open House

Sunday, January 27

Family Mass · 11:00am

Bake Sale - 8:00am - 2:00pm

School Open · 12:00pm–2:00pm