Saint Lucy, Virgin Martyr

Today’s readings

In every age, young people have the difficult task of remaining pure. Some ignore the task, but some take it up at great personal cost. This was true of Saint Lucy, who desired to remain pure because of her commitment to Christ. She was born of noble parents in Sicily around the year 283. Her father died early in her life, and so she was dependent on her mother. She consecrated her virginity to God and sought to renounce worldly possessions in favor of caring for the poor. Her mother, after suffering from a hemorrhage for several years, decided to make a pilgrimage to Catania, to see the relics of St. Agatha. She was indeed cured of her disease, and in her joy consented to Lucy’s desire to give greatly to the poor.

But that generosity, probably mixed with frustration over her commitment to virginity before marriage, was viewed with great skepticism by her unworthy suitor, who denounced her as a Christian to the Governor of Sicily. She was condemned to a life of prostitution, but prayer rendered her immovable and she could not be dragged off to the house of ill repute! At that point, logs were piled around her and a fire was set, which had no effect on her at all. She was finally put to death with a sword and suffered martyrdom for her dedication to Christ.

As one of the prominent figures of Advent, St. Lucy points the way to the coming Christ. The details of her story have been disputed, however the point of the story is not to provide a historical record, but rather a spiritual record. Her commitment to Christ provided a rich and unobstructed pathway for the entrance of her Lord into her heart.

We too have challenges along the way to Christ. We might not be called to give our lives rather than forsake our virginity or even our belief in Christ, but we are called to lay down our lives to cover the rough places in the road so that others can come to find Him. Along the way, we are encouraged by great saints like Agatha and Lucy. Every single one of them points us in the right direction: to Christ our God who comes to be incarnate among us in every age.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today’s readings

Appropriately enough, I think, we celebrate a second of Mary’s feasts in the space of just four days.  During Advent, we naturally turn our hearts in gratitude to Mary for her fiat that made possible our world’s salvation.  Last week we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary; today we celebrate a quite different feast, Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe in part because she is the patroness of all the Americas, and so once again, a special patron for us.

A Native American author of the sixteenth century describes the story of our Lady of Guadalupe in today’s Office of Readings.  He tells us of another Native American named Juan Diego, who was on his way from his home to worship on the hill of Tepeyac.  There he heard someone calling to him from the top of the hill.  When he got to the top of the hill, he saw a woman whose clothing shone like the sun.  She told him that it was her desire that a church be erected on the hill so that all could worship her son Jesus.  She sent him to the local bishop to plead that cause.

The bishop didn’t believe Juan Diego’s story and sent him away.  He returned to the hilltop to find the radiant Lady once again, and she told him to tell the bishop that she, the ever virgin holy Mary, Mother of God, sent him.  Again the bishop did not believe, telling him that unless he had a miraculous sign, he would not believe the story.

At that point Juan Diego’s uncle became quite ill.  Juan then set out for the local church to have a priest come to anoint his uncle.  He purposely took a route around the hill at Tepeyac to avoid seeing the Lady and being detained, since the need for a priest was urgent.  But of course, she met him at the side of the hill and spoke to him again.  She assured him that his uncle had already been cured and sent him up the hilltop to find flowers of various kinds.  He got to the top of the hill to find many Castilian roses growing there, which was odd for that time of the winter.  He cut them and carried them down the hill in his tilma, a kind of mantle that he wore for warmth.  She sent him to the bishop bearing the miraculous flowers as proof.

He went confidently to the bishop and informed him that the Lady had fulfilled his request for a sign.  He opened up his tilma, the flowers fell to the ground, but the great miracle was that the inside of the tilma revealed the image of the ever virgin Mary, mother of God, in the same manner as Juan had seen her on the hill.   The bishop built the church, and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, as she had referred to herself, has grown ever since.  You can still see the tilma, still bearing the image of Mary, at the shrine in Guadalupe today.

During Advent we are blessed to have the saints point the way to Jesus.  None of them does this more faithfully than his very own mother, and so we are blessed to celebrate her feast today.  May Mary our mother and the mother of God, lead us one day to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Third Sunday of Advent: The Anointing of the Sick at Mass

Today’s readings
#adventnd #anointingofthesick #healing #mercy

Today’s readings and liturgy call us to rejoice.  That’s the reason for the rose-colored vestments and the more joyful tone of today’s readings.  This is called Gaudete Sunday: gaudete being Latin for “rejoice,” the first word of today’s introit or proper entrance antiphon which says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed the Lord is near.” The Church takes that antiphon from the words of the second reading today.

We can especially rejoice in the healing presence of our God. Healing is, in fact, a sure way that we know that Christ is present. Jesus said as much in our Gospel today when he addressed the followers of Saint John the Baptist:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

Those who lived in and around Jesus in those days had to be amazed at all they were seeing. Indeed, many of them were moved to conversion of heart and rejoiced in all they were seeing.

I think, though, that it can be hard to rejoice when we are suffering from illness or injury. Sometimes when we’re sick, it can even be hard to pray or find God in anything. A wise person once told me that you have to make sure that you’re praying when you’re well, because when you’re sick, it can be hard to pray. But it those times of illness or injury, that’s when you need to rely on God the most. If you have been praying when you’re well, then that relationship is going to be something you can lean on when you need healing.

Indeed sometimes, for us, healing is a little harder to see. We may have been dealing with a persistent, chronic, or even terminal health condition for years. Or maybe we have been at the side of a loved one who has been ill and for whom we have prayed long and hard, but have seen no healing. If that’s where we are right now, Jesus’ words are still our hope. Because healing comes in all sorts of ways, according to what Jesus sees that we need most. That might come in the form of something other than physical healing: perhaps the healing of relationships, or the conversion of our hearts. In every case, though, Christ promises to be with us through it all if we turn to him in our hearts. And he keeps his promises, giving us grace that sees us through whatever stormy waters we are wading.

And so we gather in faith today to express the prayers of our hearts, asking for God’s mercy, praying prayers, perhaps, that we haven’t been able to utter for some reason or another.  We gather today to place ourselves in God’s hands and experience his healing, in whatever way is best for us.  The Apostle Saint James tells us that we should turn to the Church in time of illness, calling on the priests to anoint the sick in the name of the Lord, knowing that God desires healing, and that the prayer of faith will save the sick and raise them up, forgiving them their sins.

The Church has the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick because of who Jesus was and because of what he came to do among us.  Jesus was that suffering servant from the book of Isaiah’s prophecy, the One who took on our illnesses and bore our infirmities.  He was spurned and avoided, oppressed and condemned, all the while giving his life as an offering for sin, justifying many, and bearing their guilt.  God always knew the frailty of human flesh, but when he decided to come to his people, he did not avoid that frailty; instead he took it on and assumed all of its effects.  This is why we treat the sick with dignity: our frailty was good enough for our God, and we know that the sick are very close to our Lord in their suffering, because he suffered too.

So today if you are sick in any way – body, mind, or spirit, – if you suffer from addiction, chronic pain, or emotional anguish – I invite you to approach the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick after this homily. The Church teaches that this sacrament is not to be saved only for the moment of death. No, we are to approach it when we are seriously ill, or before surgery, and yes, in the hour of death. If we have been anointed before, we can be anointed again if necessary, even in the same illness, if it has been some time or especially if the illness has progressed. In this sacrament, we pray for healing in body, mind, or spirit, in whatever way God judges to be best for us, and we trust in his sacramental grace and presence with us in our suffering.

Just a procedural note: During the ritual of anointing we will ask those who are to be anointed to stand, and I will impose hands over all of you at one time for a few moments in silence. Then, when it comes time for the anointing, we will come to those who are not ambulatory and are seated in the front of church. Those of you not seated in front will come forward as for Holy Communion, and we will anoint you in the center aisle.

Today we rejoice because our Lord is near.  We light that third, rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath and we see there’s not many candles left until the feast of the reason for our rejoicing.  We rejoice, too, that we can come to him for help and sustenance and companionship on the journey to healing. We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation, perhaps the greatest and best of the mysteries of faith.  That God himself, who is higher than the heavens and greater than all the stars of the universe, would humble himself to be born among us, robing himself with our frail flesh, in order to save us from our sins, heal our brokenness, and make his home among us for all eternity – that is a mystery so great it cannot fail to cause us to rejoice!  Indeed that very presence of God gives hope even in our most difficult moments – THE LORD IS NEAR!

These final days of Advent call us to prepare more intensely for the Lord’s birth.  They call us to clamor for his Incarnation, waiting with hope and expectation in a world that can sometimes be dark and scary.  These days call us to be people of hope, courageously rejoicing that the Lord is near!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly and do not delay!

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

One of the great obstacles to the spiritual life is when we come to believe that we ourselves have all the answers. When that happens, we may often hold to relative truth, even if we wouldn’t say that we do.   Or perhaps we insist on acting according to our opinions, instead of acting on consciences formed by Truth. You’ve heard it before, when having a conversation about a moral issue. People might say, “well I think…” whatever, as if that were the gold standard of morality and truth.

It’s cold comfort to see, in our gospel reading this morning, that we aren’t alone. Jesus’ generation was much the same. John the Baptist came across too strict, and Jesus came across like a drunkard and a partier. But the real problem was that they both proclaimed the truth; Jesus, obviously even stronger than John. But the crowds dismissed them both, because both required them to change their lives and their ways of thinking. If John and Jesus were right, then they weren’t, and that was unsettling.

It’s unsettling for us too, but we have the benefit of centuries of Church teaching to help us. And so we are called to leave behind our own opinions and think with the grace of Truth. It’s time that we considered that perhaps our own point of view isn’t the be-all and end-all of wisdom. Advent is about dispersing the darkness with the light of Christ, and the light of his Truth. The psalmist said it best: “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.”

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

#adventnd #blessedvirginmary #advent
Today’s readings

Blessed Pope Pius IX instituted the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8, 1854, when he proclaimed as truth the dogma that our Lady was conceived free from the stain of original sin. This had been a traditional belief since about the eighth century, and had been celebrated as a feast first in the East, and later in the West.

This feast celebrates the belief that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to be our Savior, and gave to him a human mother who was chosen before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. This feast is a sign for us of the nearness of our salvation; that the plan God had for us before the world ever took shape was finally coming to fruition. How appropriate it is, then, that we celebrate the Immaculate Conception during Advent, when we recount the unfolding of salvation through the Incarnation of Christ.

The readings chosen for this day paint the picture. In the reading from Genesis, we have the story of the fall. The man and the woman had eaten of the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat. Because of this, they were ashamed and covered over their nakedness. God noticed that, and asked about it. He found they had discovered the forbidden tree because otherwise they would not have the idea that their natural state was shameful.

Thus begins the pattern of sin and deliverance that cycles all through the scriptures. God extends a way to salvation to his people, the people reject it and go their own way. God forgives, and extends a new way to salvation. Thank God he never gets tired of pursuing humankind and offering salvation, or we would be in dire straits. It all comes to perfection in the event we celebrate today. Salvation was always God’s plan for us and he won’t rest until that plan comes to perfection. That is why St. Paul tells the Ephesians, and us, today: “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…”

And so, in these Advent days, we await the unfolding of the plan for salvation that began at the very dawn of the world in all its wonder. God always intended to provide an incredible way for his people to return to him, and that was by taking flesh and walking among us as a man. He began this by preparing for his birth through the Immaculate Virgin Mary – never stained by sin, because the one who conquered sin and death had already delivered her from sin. He was then ready to be born into our midst and to take on our form. With Mary’s fiat in today’s Gospel, God enters our world in the most intimate way possible, by becoming vulnerable, taking our flesh as one like us. Mary’s lived faith – possible because of her Immaculate Conception – makes possible our own lives of faith and our journeys to God.

Our celebration today has special meaning for us. Because Mary was conceived without sin, we can see that sin was never intended to rule us. Because God selected Mary from the beginning, we can see that we were chosen before we were ever in our mother’s womb. Because Mary received salvific grace from the moment of her conception, we can catch a glimpse of what is to come for all of us one day. Mary’s deliverance from sin and death was made possible by the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, who deeply desires that we all be delivered in that way too.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

School Mass
#adventnd #blessedvirginmary #advent
Today’s readings

I think we’re so blessed that we get to come to church and celebrate so many of Mary’s feasts. Today is a very special feast because Mary, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of the United States of America, and so she is very special to us.

I think today’s readings can be a little confusing. The Gospel makes it sound like this day is about the conception of Jesus, but it isn’t. We celebrate the conception of Jesus nine months before he was born, so that would be March 25th. We call that day the Annunciation, because that was the day the Angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would have a baby, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute. Today we celebrate the conception of Mary, nine months before her birthday, so if you do the math on that one, her birthday is September 8th, just a few months ago. This day celebrates that Mary was free from sin from the very beginning, the only person other than Jesus to be born without sin.
The other confusing reading is the first one. Why do we go all the way to the beginning of creation when we’re talking about Mary today? Well, I think the reason is that Mary solved a problem that began all the way at the beginning. And that problem was sin. From the very beginning, we human beings have been tempted to sin. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, and people have been committing sin ever since. Again and again, God broke in to history, leading people back to him, giving them prophets to show them the way, and again and again, people turned away from God. And we continue that today. Again and again, we are tempted and we sin and we turn away from God. Eve represented our fall into sin.
But God didn’t want that to be the way things ended up for us. So he sent his Son to become one of us. God knew that in order for Jesus to be born among us, his mother was going to have to be pretty special. So before Mary was ever in her mother’s womb, God chose her to be his Son’s mother. He made her free from sin so that no stain of sin would ever touch his Son.
Because Mary was so special, she loved God very much. So when the angel came and told her she would have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit, she said yes to God’s plan. I don’t know if she really understood what was going to happen, I don’t know if she really knew how this wonderful event would take place, and she probably didn’t fully understood what would happen to Jesus in his life, but she said yes anyway. We call that her fiat, her “yes” to God’s plan for her. She took a big leap of faith that day, and we have been blessed ever since.
This is all very good news. But there is even more good news: because Mary was so special to God, she shows us how special we are to God. As we celebrate God’s love for Mary today, we also celebrate his love for us. Mary got to hold her Savior – the One God promised us – in her own arms. When those of us who are old enough come to Communion today, we will be able to hold our Savior – the One God promised us – in the palm of our hand. Mary’s life was brightened when Jesus was born. Our lives will be brightened too, this coming Christmas, and every time we make room in our hearts for Jesus.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

The Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings
#advent #adventnd

Have you ever had the feeling hat things were just not right? I don’t mean not right like you got the wrong order at Portillo’s, or your postal delivery person gave you the neighbor’s mail. I mean, really not right, in a fundamental sense, like the world was off its axis in some way. I think these days we’ve gotten a sense of that after having been through a particularly contentious and almost ridiculous election campaign, and in view of the violence in our cities and all around the world. It seems in some way that we are more adrift than ever.

And perhaps even a bit closer to home, we could all probably think of times in our lives when things just haven’t been right: times of transition, times dealing with the illness of a loved one, or family difficulty, times when we have been looking for new work or trying to discern a path in life. These are unsettling times that we all have to experience every now and then.

So in view of the craziness in our world, and the sadness that sometimes happens in our own life, it’s easy to get to feeling like things are just not right.

And God knows it isn’t right. He’s known that for a long time. The whole Old Testament is filled with God’s lament of how things went wrong, and his attempts to bring it back. The fourth Eucharistic Prayer sums it up by saying to God, “Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.” But, as we well know from our studies of the Scriptures and its proclamation in the Liturgy, again and again humankind turned away from the covenant and away from the God of our salvation. Ever since the fall, things just haven’t been right.

So what is it going to take for all of this to turn around? What is going to get things whipped back into shape? Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Nothing ever changes if nothing ever changes. Things don’t suddenly become right by continuing to do the wrong thing. I really think the only way things will ever change is by starting over. And that’s what I believe God is doing, in our time, throughout all time, and particularly in this Advent time.

Today’s first reading speaks of this new creation: a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. It’s quite a visual, and when I think about it, I remember a young woman in a previous parish who once visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz. She saw the horrible death chambers and holding cells. But she also noticed, that growing up through the cracks in the asphalt, were some beautiful little wild flowers. Her tour guide commented that that was nature’s way of healing what had gone on there. It was a new creation, breaking up through the horrible devastation of the murder and destruction that had reigned in that place.

The bud that blossoms from God’s new creation is something completely different, something incredibly wonderful, something that would never be possible in the old order: “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” None of those species would ever get along in the old creation; none of them would ever have been safe. But in the new creation, all of them will know the Lord, and that knowledge will give them new life, a new direction, new hope and a new salvation.

In today’s gospel reading, Saint John the Baptist proclaims the coming of Christ who will do things in a new way, too: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The all-consuming fire of the Holy Spirit will burn away all that is not right and heat up all that has been frozen in listless despair for far too long. That fire will force a division between what is old and just not right, and what is of the new creation: “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

All of these are nice words, and the idea of a new creation is one for which I think we all inwardly yearn. But what does it really mean? What does it look like? How will we know that we are moving toward new creation and new life? I think Saint Paul gives us a hint in the second reading today: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to be people who think and act in harmony with one another and with Christ. We have to be people of unity.

Which is, as most things are, so much easier to say than to actually do. For one thing, if we are really to be created anew, that means that some of the old stuff has to die: the death chambers have to be closed, the chaff has to be burnt up in the fire. Our old, stinkin’ attitudes have to be abandoned: resentments have to be put aside, rivalries have to be ended, forgiveness has to be offered and accepted, jealousies have to be thrown away. All of that festering, disease-ridden thinking has to be put to death if we are ever to experience new life.

The death of that old nonsense then has to give way to the new life that God intends for us. We have to be a people marked by new attitudes, new grace, new love. We have to strive for peace and justice – real peace and real justice available to everyone God has created. We have to be a community who worships God not just here in Church, but also out there in our daily lives: a community that insists on integrity, a community that genuinely cares for those who are sick, in need, or lost. We have to be a people who worship God first every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, who confess our sins with hope of God’s mercy, who give priority to prayer in the midst of our crazy lives.

Most of all, we have to be a people who are open to being re-created. If we are not willing to put to death our old stinkin’ selves and embrace new attitudes and ways of living, if we are not in fact willing to take up our crosses and follow Christ, then we are proving Einstein right: we are doing the same old thing and hoping for a different result. It doesn’t work that way. We have to cooperate with God’s new creation, we have to be eager to let God do something new. We have to be willing to live out of boxes for a while, so that the transition can take place. We have to have unwavering hope that giving ourselves to God’s re-creation will be worth it, if not immediately, then certainly in the long run. We have to truly believe our Psalmist’s song: “Justice will flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.”