The Presentation of Mary

Today's feast | Today's readings: Zechariah 2:14-17, Luke 1:46-55, Matthew 12:46-50

You know, I'm not sure how my mother would react to my not acknowledging her presence like that, but I know it wouldn't be good! But, lest we impute the wrong motives to our Savior, we should understand that He was well aware of Mary's contribution to the will of God. St. Augustine reminds us that Mary was extremely obedient to God's will and singularly cooperative with God's plan of salvation. He says: "Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple that to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood."

Jesus was holding up Mary as an example of discipleship to all of us. Our constant efforts and prayers should be directed at being as open to the will of God as she was. By her fiat, saying yes to God through the angel Gabriel, Mary opened the world up to the possibility of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The feast of the Presentation of Mary goes back to around the sixth century in the Eastern Church. It appeared in the Latin Church around the eleventh century and was made a feast of the Universal Church in the sixteenth century. This feast is not historical, but is based on a tradition from the early church of Mary having been presented in the Temple to God by Joachim and Anne when she was around three years old. This was to fulfill a promise made to God when Anne was childless. The tradition continues the theme which begins at Mary's Immaculate Conception, continues through the celebration of her birth, and through the Presentation we celebrate today. This tradition teaches us that Mary's destiny to fulfill God's will began before she was born and continued through her early childhood.

We call on the intercession of Mary our Mother today, that she would guide us to lives open to the will of God, and that she would lead us always to proclaim the greatness of the Lord in soul and in spirit.

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

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Today’s readings | Today’s Saint

[Mass for the School Children]

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth was the daughter of the king of Hungary, and she married Louis IV of Thuringia when she was fourteen years old. They were happily married and had three children together. Together, they tried to live the ideals of St. Francis who was all about living simply and helping the poor. So they sold their possessions and gave the money to the poor. This upset Elizabeth’s in-laws, who probably were hoping to inherit the things Louis and Elizabeth owned. When Louis was on the way to fight in a war, he was killed. Elizabeth’s in-laws forced her out of the palace, and she and her children went to live with her uncle who was a bishop. After Louis’s friends returned from the war, they restored Elizabeth to the palace and her rightful place. St. Elizabeth is a woman who lived a simple life and dedicated her life to loving others and helping the poor. She is the patron of Catholic Charities.

The story of St. Elizabeth and the story about the old man in the play our fifth graders acted out remind us about two things. First of all, they remind us that living a simple life brings us closer to God. The old man didn’t care about how rich he could become if he sold his land; he only wanted to live in the house he grew up in for the rest of his days. Elizabeth didn’t care about all the possessions and luxury she could have in the palace; she only wanted to live the Gospel and help the poor. By not surrounding themselves with money and luxury, they could see and appreciate all the things that really matter.

Second, these stories remind us that sometimes loving people is hard. The old man loved everyone in the town, but when they thought they could get rich, they turned on him. He loved them anyway. Elizabeth loved the poor. So when her in-laws threw her out of the palace, it would have been easier for her to stop helping the poor. But she didn’t. By choosing to love people even when it was hard to do that, both the old man and St. Elizabeth were models of God’s love for all of us.

Today’s Gospel calls us to do something that is hard for us to do: love our enemies and be good to them. Who wants to do that? It’s so much easier for us to love, and be kind to, people who love us back and who are also kind to us. But anyone can do that, Jesus tells us. All of us who want to follow Jesus have to go a little further and to love everyone, whether they love us or not. Yes, that’s hard to do. But if we could just trust Jesus enough to love and be kind to someone who isn’t kind to us, we could really change things. We could really see how God’s love changes everything if we would love everyone, no matter how hard that is to do. We have to treat others just as we want to be treated.

St. Martin of Tours and Veterans Day

Today’s readings | Today’s feast

“Blessed is the one who fears the Lord.”

St. Martin of Tours is a fitting saint to intercede for veterans today. He himself was a soldier and served his country faithfully. After a time, he asked for and received release from military service. He had become a catechumen, and said to his superiors, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” Having received his release, he became a monk and served God faithfully. As a soldier of Christianity now, he fought valiantly against paganism and appealed for mercy to those accused of heresy. He was made a bishop, albeit reluctantly, and served faithfully in that post. He was a man of whom the psalmist says today, “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord.”

On this Veterans Day, we honor and pray for veterans of our armed forces who have given of themselves in order to protect our country and its freedoms. We pray especially for those who have died in battle, as well as for those who have been injured physically or mentally during their military service. We pray in thanksgiving for all of our freedoms, gained at a price, and pray that those freedoms will always be part of our way of life.

I received this prayer for Veterans Day. As I pray it, think of someone you know who may be a veteran, or perhaps is currently serving in the armed forces. Maybe that veteran is even you. If you don’t have anyone particular to pray for, ask God to hear this prayer on behalf of a veteran who has no one to pray for them. So let us pray:

We ask for blessings on all those who have served their country in the armed forces.
We ask for healing for the veterans who have been wounded, in body and soul, in conflicts around the globe.
We pray especially for the young men and women, in the thousands,
Who are coming home from Iraq with injured bodies and traumatized spirits.
Bring solace to them, O Lord; may we pray for them when they cannot pray.

Have mercy on all our veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq,
Bring peace to their hearts and peace to the regions they fought in.
Bless all the soldiers who served in non-combative posts;
May their calling to service continue in their lives in many positive ways.

Give us all the creative vision to see a world which, grown weary with fighting,
Moves to affirming the life of every human being and so moves beyond war.
Hear our prayer, O Prince of Peace, hear our prayer.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.

The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings | Today’s feast (more)

AllSaintsDuring his lifetime, Pope John Paul II canonized some 480 saints. Many people felt that this was a kind of “inflation” of saints, since he alone canonized more than one for every day of the year. But the pope’s view on this was that holiness is the true mission of the Church, and the real call of the Second Vatican Council. The whole purpose of the Church, in his view, was to bring men and women of every time and place to the great reward of heaven. Toward that end, it should not be surprising, he felt, for the Church to raise so many holy men and women to the glory of sainthood.

When the Church canonizes a saint, what she is really saying is that that person, through holy living and a faithful relationship with Christ, has received the reward of heaven. Interestingly enough, the Church has never named one single person who is in hell, but has named thousands of saints who are definitely in heaven. The doctrine on the communion of saints is that that wonderful communion binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in Purgatory, and the saints in heaven under the headship of Christ who has provided for the redemption of all. These are called saints because their destination is heaven itself.

But this particular fest day does not celebrate the sanctity of any particular saint. Not any of the 480 canonized by Pope John Paul, nor any canonized before or after him. This feast day celebrates the saints that we never hear about, at least not officially. These are the saints whose holiness has consecrated the everydayness of life for those who knew them, but whose deeds never gained them the recognition and following of the Church as a whole. Members of this great cloud of witnesses may have made it their life’s work to reach out to the poor or the sick or dying. Maybe they worked for justice in societies that were filled with greed and oppression. Maybe they were all about teaching the young or advocating for those who had no voice in society. Maybe they were people who cured diseases or made life easier for those who labored day after day to feed their children. There are so many who have left this world a little better than they found it. We may never have heard their stories or known their names, but they too are part of the Communion of Saints.

But even that great number of holy men and women does not exhaust the list of saints we celebrate today. Because the Church recognizes those who may not have accomplished great things, but still have attained great holiness. Because holiness is not first of all about what we do, but what God does for us and in us and through us. So the members of this great cloud of witnesses may have been your parents or grandparents whose prayer life, witness and teaching has been responsible for bringing you to the faith. Maybe they were those who served in our armed forces heroically and with integrity. Maybe they are your coworkers who work and live with honesty and grace. Maybe they are the neighbor who helped you clean out your flooded basement. Maybe they are the lady you knew from Church who lived the last days of her life in great pain, but never complained and was always cheerful. These holy men and women have sanctified their families and their homes, and have affected their communities for good. They may never find their names on the list of those in the beatification process, but they too are part of the Communion of Saints.

The point of all of this, and the point of this great feast, is that the Church believes that the 480 who were canonized by Pope John Paul and the thousands who have been canonized over time are nothing but a drop in the bucket! All of us, brothers and sisters in Christ, are called to be saints. And that’s not a popular idea in the thinking of the world today. How many times have you heard someone say with a glint in their eye, “Oh, I’m no saint…” How heartbreaking that kind of thinking is! You yourself may think the whole idea of becoming a saint is impossible, out of the question. Because saints are those lofty men and women who have done incredible things. But that’s not our belief. If the saints are those who are in heaven, then we are all called to be saints, because we were all made for heaven. Why would we want anything else for our lives? The Church says, in stark opposition to all that un-saintly thinking, that we are all called to the Kingdom of God, and that it is absolutely possible for all of us to become saints.

So how do we do that? How can we become saints? What is the path that will lead us to holiness of life? Well, today’s Gospel provides a blueprint. In this very familiar reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the qualities of those who not only will become saints, but actually are already saints by their way of life and their relationship with God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, he says, and blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, and the merciful. Blessed are those who make peace, those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, or are insulted and slandered because of Christ. These are rewarded with all the blessings of the kingdom. These courageous people are the saints among us.

But we may think that maybe we don’t want to be that kind of people. Who wants to be slandered, persecuted, or known to be meek or poor? What kind of happiness does that give us in this life? Well, Jesus does not want us to be persecuted souls, suffering for nothing. He has no interest in wimpy saints who wallow in self-pity. No, all these are blessed, he says, because they have weathered the storms of life – storms that afflict us all at one time or another in life – and have been faithful to Christ. We are blessed when life tries us and we remain faithful to God who remains faithful to us. In times of trial and distress, we are blessed and we are happy because we have found God working in our lives in ways we might not otherwise see. We absolutely believe that holiness has rewards in this life and in the life to come. If we live that way, we can rejoice and be glad in this life, and look forward to a great reward in heaven.

When I came here in June, I said in my introductory bulletin article that it was my prayer that we would all grow in holiness together. This feast of All Saints is a celebration of that prayer. We have been created by God, for God, and we are truly happy – truly blessed – when we are living that way. Today as we offer our gifts at the altar, let us also offer our lives that we may be made holy by the One who is holiness itself. And after we have received the Body and Blood of our Lord in Holy Communion, let us give thanks for those saints in our lives who have brought us to God. May we all become the saints we were created to be and eventually receive the great reward that waits for all those who believe in Christ.

St. Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf and Companions, Martyrs

Today’s Feast | Today’s readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 28:16-20

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St. Isaac and St. John were among eight missionaries who worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians in the New World in the seventeenth century. They were devoted to their work and were accomplishing many conversions. The conversions, though, were not welcomed by the tribes, and eventually St. Isaac was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois for months. He was moved from village to village and was tortured and beaten all along the way. Eventually he was able to escape and return to France. But zeal for his mission compelled him to return, and to resume his work among the Indians when a peace treaty was signed in 1646. His belief that the peace treaty would be observed turned out to be false hope, and he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.

St. John worked among the Iroquois and ministered to them amid a smallpox epidemic. As a scholastic Jesuit, he was able to compose a catechism and write a dictionary in Huron, which made possible many conversions. He was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Iroquois. These eight missionaries received the Great Commission that we heard in today’s Gospel: Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-19)

St. John prayed for the grace to accept the martyrdom he knew he may one day have to suffer. He wrote about it in his diary:

May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Savior, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

 

My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.

What we see in St. Isaac and St. John and their companions is that we can never relax our zeal for the mission. Whatever the costs to us, Christ must be made known, those who do not believe must be converted, and sin must be driven out of every time and place. That is the mission of disciples in this world, and sometimes the mission results in death. For us that probably isn’t true, but would that we would endure the sufferings of proclaiming an unpopular message to those who need to hear it. Would that we would endure those sufferings with the same zeal for the mission that these French Jesuits did. As I said on the memorial of St. Ignatius on Tuesday, our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is none the less real. And our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to the French, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.

Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Today’s feast | Today’s readings: Philippians 3:17-4:1 / Psalm 34 / John 12:24-26

St. Ignatius was a convert to Christianity who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. During his time in Antioch, the Emperor Trajan began persecuting the Church there and forced people to choose between death and denying the faith. Ignatius would have none of that, so he was placed in chains and brought to Rome for execution. During the long journey, he wrote to many of the churches. These letters famously encouraged the Christians there to remain faithful and to obey their superiors.

Obedience was a strong theme for Ignatius, who was very concerned about Church unity. He felt that unity could best be achieved by all being obedient to the bishop and acting in harmony with one another, living the Gospel that had been proclaimed to them. Perhaps the most famous of his letters, though, was the final one in which he exhorted the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his execution. He said to them, “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

How well Ignatius knew the writings of St. Paul as we heard from the letter to the Philippians today. Paul rightly reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Whatever we have to suffer in these days, we must remember that we are not home yet. We still have the Kingdom of God to look forward to, and we must never be deterred from our journey to get there. Ignatius knew that the way for him to be with Christ was through the martyrdom he would have to suffer, and he did not want to be deterred from going through it.

Ignatius was that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died, only to become a stalk that bore much fruit. We too must be willing to die to ourselves, letting go of hurts and the pains this life can bring us, so that we might merit the everlasting crown of heaven. Our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is no less real, and we must be willing to suffer it in order to be with Christ. In today’s Eucharist, may we too be ready to offer the libation of pouring out our lives and being ground into the great wheat of the Body of Christ.

The Guardian Angels

Today’s feast | Readings: Exodus 23:20-23, Matthew 18:1-5, 10

I love the feast of the Guardian Angels, because my Guardian Angel was probably the first devotion that I learned. I remember my mother teaching me the prayer. Say it with me if you know it:

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
To rule and guide.
Amen.

The impetus for today’s feast is summed up in the first line of the first reading. Hear it again:

See, I am sending an angel before you,
to guard you on the way
and bring you to the place I have prepared.

From the earliest days of the Church, there has always been the notion of an angel whose purpose was to guide people, to intercede for them before God, and to present them to God at death. This notion began to be really enunciated by the monastic tradition, with the help of St. Benedict, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and others. It is during this monastic period that devotion to the angels took its present form.

guardianangelMany of us have probably moved over on our seats to make room for our Guardian Angel. As amusing as that may be, the concept of an angel to guard and guide us is essential to our faith. The gift of the Guardian Angels is a manifestation of the love and mercy of God. Devotion to the Guardian Angels, then, is not just for children. We adults should feel free to call on our angels for intercession and guidance. I know that when I had my tonsils removed when I was thirty, I called on my Guardian Angel a lot! We should continue to rely on that angel right up to death, when our angel will present us to God. We hear that very prayer in the Rite of Christian Burial:

“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.”

May the Guardian Angels always intercede for us. And, as we hear in today’s Gospel, may our angels always look upon the face of our heavenly Father.

Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, archangels

[Mass for the school children.]

archangels

Today’s feast | Readings: Tobit 5, Tobit 11 & Tobit 12; Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 1:18-25

The world can be a confusing and scary place some times. Sometimes when we go on a journey, we lose our way and get lost. Sometimes when we get lost, it’s because men like me don’t stop and ask for directions! Sometimes people get sick, or maybe they get hurt, or maybe they are blind or deaf The world can be a lonely place for those who are sick. The too, there is danger in lots of places, and sometimes we don’t feel very safe. And sometimes we don’t know the truth, or hear any good news. The truth is, lots of times, we need someone to help us. Sometimes we need to hear from an angel.

Today is the Feast of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. Since our church is named after St. Raphael, this is a very special day for us. But it’s a special day for everyone because the angels that we’ve heard about today are great helps to us every day.

Some angels are guides. Today we heard about our patron, St. Raphael, who was a guide for Tobiah in our first reading. St. Raphael appeared as a young man and accompanied Tobiah as he journeyed a long distance to get his father’s property and bring it back. Tobit, his father, was very worried about Tobiah making the journey, so he was looking for someone to help him. Raphael, posing as the young man, went with Tobiah and brought him home safely, along with his father’s property. St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers.

Some angels bring healing. The name Raphael actually means, “God heals.” Tobit, Tobiah’s father, was blind for a long time. So, along with bringing back Tobit’s property, Raphael and Tobiah brought back an ointment made of fish gall. Tobiah blew into his father’s eyes and smeared the medicine on them, and Tobit was able to see his son again! Raphael also healed a woman named Sarah. She was married seven times, but each of her husbands died on their wedding night, and Sarah thought she would be alone for the rest of her life. Raphael arranged for Tobiah and Sarah to be married, and they both lived very happily. St. Raphael is also the patron saint of healing, especially of the blind.

Some angels are defenders. In the second reading, Satan was trying to take over heaven and accused all of God’s followers, good people, of all kinds of crimes. St. Michael fought against Satan and had him thrown out of heaven. He brought victory to God by being strong in the battle against Satan and all evil powers, and he still defends people against evil to this day by his prayers. Because he defends people, St. Michael is the patron saint of police officers.

Some angels are messengers. St. Gabriel was the angel who came to tell Mary that she was going to be the Mother of Jesus. In our Gospel reading, St. Gabriel also comes to St. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, and reassured him. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father of Jesus, so he was going to quietly call off the wedding. But Gabriel came and assured him that the baby Mary was going to have was from God, and because of what Gabriel told him, St. Joseph stayed with Mary and became to earthly father of Jesus. Gabriel is known for the news that he brings, and is the patron saint of messengers, postal workers, communications workers and broadcasters.

All three of these angels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, came to make God’s presence known on earth in some way. Our patron, St. Raphael, came to be Tobiah’s guide and to bring God’s healing to Tobit and Sarah. St. Michael came to defend God’s people against evil and danger. St. Gabriel came to bring good news about Jesus and how God was going to save the world through Jesus.

I wonder, sometimes, if there are still angels among us. Maybe St. Raphael is still here, keeping us safe when we go on long journeys and, more importantly, helping us to stay on the path to God. He might be here, too, working through the hands of doctors and nurses and physical therapists, and all kinds of healers, to bring sick people back to health. Maybe St. Michael is still here, working through police officers and fire fighters and all kinds of public safety people, in order to keep our communities safe, and maybe St. Michael also works through those who defend the Church against all kinds of evil. Maybe St. Gabriel is still here among us, telling us how to follow Jesus; maybe he’s working through our parents and teachers and priests and ministers when they bring us news about God.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of the stories we read about them in the Bible. But I don’t think those stories are finished just yet. I think the angels are still working among us, guiding us, healing us, defending us, and bringing us good news. The angels are probably working through people you know. Maybe they’re even working through you whenever you help someone else. The truth is, I don’t think we would live very safe and happy lives if it wasn’t for the angels among us. Today we should thank God for Saints Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.

Thursday of the 25th Week of Ordinary Time: He kept trying to see him

Today’s readings

“And he kept trying to see him.”

Certainly Herod’s motives for trying to see Jesus were highly suspect. He obviously wanted to be sure Jesus didn’t pose some kind of threat to him. And if it was the person of John the Baptist resurrected, Herod would have wanted him out of the way immediately. So we can’t be too proud of Herod for wanting to see Jesus, but maybe we can take that and let it be our own mission, for better motives, of course.

How often do we try to see Jesus? Do we take time to sit before the Blessed Sacrament either in the tabernacle or on days of adoration? We spend the time to look at Jesus and let him look at us, so that when we meet in heaven, we’ll recognize one another! Even just a few minutes a day would be great. And if we can’t make it in for adoration, we can always set time aside to at least be with him in prayer. We have to keep trying to see him.

Another way that we have to keep trying to see Jesus is by serving the poor. I was helping at Hesed House last month, and one of the parishioners I was working along side of said to me, “Can’t you just see the face of Christ in all of them?” He was right. Jesus has made it clear that whatever we do to a brother or sister in need; that we do to him. So we must be intentional about reaching out to the poor and hungry and homeless. We have to keep trying to see him.

And we have to see Jesus in the people around us, all of the people in our lives. Whether it’s friends, family, coworkers, or fellow students, we believe that Christ is in that person. In his famous Rule, St. Benedict says, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” Whoever God puts in our life for any amount of time, must be seen as Christ, and we must make it our daily prayer that we could see people as Christ does. It is one of my deepest convictions that I know that God loves me largely because of the love of all the people he has given me in my life. We have to keep trying to see him.

So, we know that Herod had it all wrong, motive-wise. But he was right in his eagerness to see Christ. We, too, have to keep trying to see him.

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

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I often wish that I could see in people the same things that Jesus sees. Obviously, Matthew was not qualified for the role of apostle, but he was called anyway. Matthew was, as we know, a tax collector. Tax collectors in those days tended to be rather unscrupulous. They would have assigned to them people from whom to collect a tax, and they would be charged a certain amount by the government to be paid by the people assigned to them. Anything they could collect above and beyond that was theirs to keep. So tax collectors were seen as greedy and usurious, collecting taxes far beyond what people should have been required to pay.

So it’s hard to blame the Pharisees for being taken aback at Jesus dining with tax collectors and other sinners. But Jesus could see beyond all that. First, he saw that these people were willing to be healed of their sins and infirmities. The Pharisees had their own spiritual ailments, of course, but they were unwilling to address them. Matthew and the others were. But second, Jesus also saw something in Matthew that said he would be a good leader and preacher. He obviously was, because we have the Gospel that bears his name as the fruit of his labor.

Wouldn’t it be great, then, to see people as Jesus does? To get beyond the things that are others’ rough edges, even beyond all the things about others that can really annoy us. What a gift it would be to see straight into the hearts of all of them, and to love them for the gifts they were created to be! My prayer is always that I can see others and love others as Jesus does. If we all did that, think how many Matthews there would be, all proclaiming the Gospel!