Monday, December 31, 2007

Homily: Solemnity of the Holy Family

1. Every year on the first Sunday after Christmas the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family in order to emphasize the fact that Jesus, the Son of God and Prince of Peace was born into a humble, poor, normal family. Jesus did not mysteriously appear one day fully grown, but like all of us, he was born into a family, was taught by his parents and played with friends just like us.

2. The holy family of Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus is the model for all families, and in our world we certainly need a model for what a family ought to be. We know that in our world the family is under attack, the idea of what a family is and is not seems to be up for grabs, although in truth, it is not. The family has been instituted by God, and we have no right to change what God has set up for our own good. As Pope Paul VI said in 1964 “May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing…the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.” And so the Church, in Her wisdom, gives us this Solemnity every year to help us meditate on what God’s plan for our families truly is.

3. The family is a special setting in which the love of God is shown to the world in a particular way. In fact, the family, is shows forth God in a very particular way because it mirrors for us the Holy Trinity. Within the Holy Trinity the love between the Father and the Son, and their total self giving, is so strong, so real, that it becomes a whole new person – the Holy Spirit. The family mirrors this reality in a very particular way. The love and total self gift between a husband and a wife is so strong, so real, that nine months later you have to give it a name. The family then is called to mirror, as faithfully as it possibly can, the relationship that exists within the Holy Trinity. That, my friends, is a very high calling, a great responsibility, but not one that is impossible or harsh.

4. The evil one, because he knows the great power that a holy and healthy family has to show forth the love of God in the world, has a very particular hatred for the family. In our world he has had great success in twisting and perverting the family. He has managed, in a great number of cases, to turn families from being what they should be: a true sign of the love, of the total and complete self giving, of the fruitfulness and life producing power of God Himself. He has managed to turn them into an image of selfishness, of lust and sterility in which the fruit of love, namely children, are seen as a burden rather than a gift. He has managed to make so many families into images of disunity, hatred, anger, and unforgiveness instead of what they should be; images of unity, love, peace, and forgiveness. He has managed to pervert that most beautiful act of love between husband and wife, that act in which husbands and wives are called to give themselves to each other freely, totally, and faithfully to one another in such a way that it is always open to the gift of new life. He has twisted this holy act into something that is full of lust, full of selfishness, all to often unfaithful, and rendered unfruitful and sterile through the great evil of contraception.

5. My dear friends, our families, our marriages, are meant to show forth the love of God – the very love that is shown to us in God’s gift to us of His only Son. The birth, life, and death of Jesus shows us the great love He has for us. We are called show forth that love by living out family life to the full by never being afraid to follow the plan for life and love that God lays out for us even if it seems hard. In my few years as a priest I have been invited into the lives of many families. Some of those families are not living God’s plan – they have played into the traps set by the devil – and they are not happy. On the other hand, some of those families are giving themselves to the plan God has for married life and the family. They are striving to live according to the teachings of Christ and the Church, they are giving God full permission to use their love to bring new life into the world, and they are happy and joyful. They remind me of the Holy Family of Nazareth. If only that could be said of all families.

6. My friends, do not be afraid to live family life to the full, for when we do we will find a joy like no other. Will it be easy, no, but I promise, we will experience a joy and love like none other both here and in the life to come.

Child Jesus, model of innocence and purity, have mercy on us.
Mary, mother of the Son of God, pray of us.
St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus Christ, pray for us.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

"God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him."

Pope Benedict XVI

Midnight Mass 2006

Saturday, December 15, 2007

From the Desk of the Pastor

Here is this weeks edition of "From the Desk of the Pastor":

This week there was a question in the Question box, but since it was a topic that was previously discussed in the bulletin I figured I probably didn’t address it as thoroughly as I should have, so attached to the bulletin is an expanded answer to the question.
This week at the Holy Mass you will have noticed a change in the color of vestments from violet to rose, or what most people would call pink. This is to signify that today is Gaudete Sunday. This Sunday gets the name Gaudete from the Entrance Antiphon for Mass. The Antiphon goes like this;

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus enim prope est.

The English translation is:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord in near.

Since Gaudete Sunday is a day of special rejoicing because the coming of Christ is near the Church allows us a little leeway in our Advent penances so that we can anticipate what is about to happen, and the Sacred Liturgy expresses this by allowing flowers in the sanctuary, rose colored vestments, and here at St. Rose, at the Sunday Morning Mass we used rose scented incense – all ways to remind us that we should rejoice because Christ is drawing near. During these last days of Advent I encourage everyone to keep up their preparations; to not give up on their Advent practices. After all, our Christmas will only be as good as our Advent preparation. So please, take advantage of the opportunities to cleans your hearts through confession during these last days of Advent. There will be extra confession times this week to allow as many people as possible to prepare in this way...

The following is the attachment to the bulletin with the extended answer to the question from the Liturgical Question Box:

The question this week goes like this: “What is the significance of the incense? It smells terrible and makes some of us almost sick.”

The topic of the use of incense in the Sacred Liturgy has been covered previously in my comments in the bulletin and so I reprint what I said then below as well as make some additional comments.

This is from the September 23rd bulletin:

“Incense, according to the Institutio “is an expression of reverence and of prayer, as is signified in Sacred Scripture (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:3). Incense may be used…in any form of Mass.” Incense is a beautiful expression of our prayer rising before the throne of God, and its sweet aroma reminds us that our prayers are pleasing to God. Incense is also a beautiful reminder that the presence of God is mysterious. Just as He appeared to Moses in the cloud on Mt. Sinai, and as He appeared to Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor in the midst of a cloud, so in the Eucharist He comes to us in the midst and mystery of a cloud.

Incense also allows us to enter into the Liturgy using all of our senses. The Liturgy is meant to involve the whole person, not just parts of us. So in addition to hearing the words of scripture, the music and the bells, seeing the altar, the statues, the windows and many other beautiful things in our Church, tasting the very Body and Blood of Christ, touching Him with our tongue or hands, we also see clouds of smoke and smell its sweet odor. Truly then Mass becomes a full body, full sense experience, which is exactly what it is supposed to be. Truly then we are living out what the Second Vatican Council called for when saying we should have “full, conscious, and active participation” in the Liturgy.”

Surely some of you have noted that we have been using incense fairly frequently. This is because the Church encourages us to ensure that the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated in the very best possible way that it can be celebrated. When we come to the Holy Mass we are here to give our very best to God, and we do this by striving to worship in a way that incorporates our whole selves (see above). It also means that we worship in the way that He desires to be worshiped, not the way we desire that He we worshiped. It’s kind of like marriage. If a husband desires to love his wife he will do things that she desires – he will love her the way she desires to be loved, not the way he desires to love her. So, he will give up his own desires in order to love his wife the way she desires to be loved. Yes, it is a sacrifice, but love always involves sacrifice; if we truly love someone we will die to ourselves and our wishes in order to give the one we love what they desire. The same is true of our relationship with God and our worship of Him. He desires to be worshiped in a particular way and that particular way is given to us through the scriptures and through the teachings of the Church that Jesus Himself founded. We may not personally like some of the particulars of how He desires us to worship Him, but if we love Him – truly love Him – then we should be willing, out of our love for Him, to sacrifice our own likes and dislikes in order to worship Him as he desires to be worshiped.

One of the many ways that Scripture and the Church tells us we can offer fitting worship to God is by using incense as part of our liturgical celebrations – especially ones that are more solemn such as Sundays and Solemnities. It helps to remind us that God is present at Mass, that our prayers rise up to Him as a fragrant offering, and that what happens at Mass is mysterious and awesome.

“But Father” some of you might ask “why are we doing this when none of the other parishes are doing it?” It’s a good question, but we are certainly not the only parish using incense on a regular basis. There are many, many parishes in our diocese that are using incense regularly. Some are even using it every Sunday of the year. Recently I came across a bulletin from another parish in our diocese and the pastor was addressing the very same issue in their bulletin. Here is what that pastor said in his bulletin on the Sunday right before Advent:

“In a couple of weeks we begin a new liturgical year – we move from Ordinary Time into Advent. Advent is a season of anticipation and hope. Mixed in with the preparation for Christ’s coming as a baby, is the preparation of His future coming in the “end times.” Of course, that means there will be changes in the liturgy. The most obvious one is color…Another addition to the 9 and 11 a.m. Masses will be the use of incense. I know at times this “incenses” some of our people who don’t like it or who are allergic to it. So I had to ask myself if it is really necessary. Why does the Church ask us to use incense...? Well, for one, incense was a gift brought by the Magi to the Christ child. It indicated that the Magi recognized Christ’s divinity. Aa we contemplate the end times during Advent, we will hear readings from the Book of Revelation describing in detail how the Lamb on the Throne is “incensed” by the angels o His right and left. When we begin to remove these important tangible signs and symbols from our worship, we mitigate the greater meaning of our celebration, and lose a certain understanding of our faith. This year, we will be using hypoallergenic incense in hopes of being sensitive to those with allergies. Today Malachi says in the First Reading that “the Day of the Lord is a fire that consumes some, and heals others.” May the “fire” we use this Advent be a sign of our desire for healing in every area of our lives.”

As we move toward Christmas I encourage all of us to be willing to allow ourselves to truly enter into the Sacred Liturgy; to let the signs and symbols, the sound and the sights, the smells and gestures to soak into us and lead us deeper and deeper into the mysteries that we celebrate.

As always, thank you for your questions and comments. I appreciate them because they help us to better understand our faith and can be a tool to help us understand why we do what we do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ah...How True It Is...

Here is a great quote from Mike Huckabee (and no, this is not an endorsement...just a good quote that struck a chord with my experience).

"In one of the first churches I was assigned to, I thought I was supposed to be the captain of a warship leading the congregation into a battle against spiritual darkness," he said."But they wanted the captain of the Love Boat. They just wanted everybody to be happy. It was not about how many people were won to Christ or how many teens were pulled away from drugs or how many marriages were saved. Instead, it was about the seniors having a great trip going to watch the fall leaves change, the teen-agers going to a better summer camp than the church across town."