I want to get the date (and thoughts) into your schedules and prayers for Advent. As last week, we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8th, let’s not experience this event in theory. In an answer to these prayers, please plan to join us next month (again) at the State Capitol in Pierre as we witness Respect of Life in Prayer, Singing and Fellowship.
The South Dakota Right to Life will be planning the event for Sunday, January 21st. (As usual, a bus will be scheduled to pick up those who would like to have this convenience to travel down to Pierre.) Members of surrounding parishes will be invited in joining us as well.
During this Advent Season, come and visit the church in a Holy Hour with Our Lord held before the Blessed Sacrament. Pray a Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for the success of this coming year in witnessing the Gospel of Life. (And, storm heaven and earth to end our nation’s culture of death.)
This event bridges the Feasts we celebrate – the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego (December 9), the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), Christmas (December 25), Holy Innocents (December 28), Holy Family (December 31), Mother of God (January 1) as well as the Epiphany (January 7) and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (January 8)…ALL THESE FEASTS GIVING CELEBERATION AND WITNESS TO NEW LIFE TO HUMANITY!
Let us pray to Mary, the Mother of God (under her title Our Lady of Guadalupe) to intercede for us through her Divine Son for a return to respect for ALL life in our country.
This Advent, may we make reparation for all the lives lost in this nation to abortion and pray that parents may be conscious of their calling as they share in God’s creative power. We also pray that those who have acted against human life experience forgiveness.
A possible theme for prayer this year: “Let us bow down in UNISON across the nation before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration and Reparation for the sins against the lives of our innocent unborn and helpless ones.”
You may remember from last week’s reflection: the prayers and the readings are preparing us for the end times…for the arrival of Christ the King (and the end of the 2017 liturgical year). The first reading reminds us of how we are to treat one anther…looking out for each other…being an example to one another. St. Paul applauds the Thessalonians for their looking outside of themselves and creating circles of faithful individuals in other towns.
This image of expanding the faith is not of an upward flying arrow, but of a kind of circular movement, the two essential directions of which can be called: departure and return. This “paradigm” is common in the general history of religions as well as in Christian antiquity and the Middle Ages. For Christian thinkers, the circle is seen as the great movement of the cosmos. The nature religions and many non-Christian philosophies think of it as a movement of unceasing repetition (as we find in the modern Hinduism and Far Eastern religions). On closer inspection, these two points of view are not as mutually exclusive as at first sight they seem.
For in the Christian view of the world, the many small circles of the lives of individuals are inscribed within the one great circle of history as it moves from departure and return. You see this in the first reading as God reminds Israel…“I am not that far away…I have (and experience) compassion for those who call out to Me. And, I am watching and listening.”
The small circles carry within themselves the great rhythm of the whole, give it concrete forms that are ever new, and so provide it with the force of its movement. And in the one great circle there are also the many circles of the lives of the different cultures and communities of human history, in which the drama of: beginning, development, and end is played out. In these circles, the mystery of beginning is repeated again and again, but they are also the scene of the end of time, of a final collapse, which may in its own way prepare the ground for a new beginning. The totality of the small circles reflects the great circle. The two – the great circle and the small circles – are interconnected and interdependent. And so our worship is bound with all three dimensions of the circular movement: the personal, the social (love your neighbor as yourself), and the universal (above all things, loving God).
As we come closer and closer to the end of liturgical year…we also anticipate a new beginning, a new middle and a new ending. Unlike so many who have a dread of the end times. The Church and Its members actually: prepare, are preparing, and are prepared for Christ the King (all at the same time as we worship God at the Mass.)
Once again we face the question: What is worship? What happens when we worship? In all religions…sacrifice is at the heart of worship. But this is a concept that has been buried under the debris of endless misunderstandings. The common view is that sacrifice has something to do with destruction. It means handing over to God a reality that is in some way precious to man. Now this…handing over…presupposes that it is withdrawn from use by man, and that can only happen through its destruction…its definitive removal from the hands of man. But this immediately raises the question: What pleasure is God supposed to take in destruction? Is anything really surrendered to God through destruction?
One answer is that the destruction always conceals within itself the act of acknowledging God’s sovereignty over all things. But can such a mechanical act really serve God’s glory? Obviously not. True surrender to God looks very different. It consists – according to the early Church Fathers (in fidelity to biblical thought) – in the union of man and creation with God. Belonging to God has nothing to do with destruction or non-being: it is rather a way of being.
It means emerging from the state of separation, of apparent autonomy, of existing only for oneself and in oneself. It means losing oneself as the only possible way of finding oneself (cf. Mk 8:35; Mt 10:39). That is why St. Augustine could say that the true “sacrifice” is the civitas Dei (the City of God)…that is…a love-transformed mankind (the divinization of creation and the surrender of all things to God): God all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). That is the purpose of the world. That is the essence of sacrifice and worship.
And so we can now say that the goal of worship and the goal of creation as a whole are one and the same—divinization, a world of freedom and love. But this means that the historical makes its appearance in the cosmic. The cosmos is not a kind of closed building, a stationary container in which history may…by chance…take place. It is itself movement, from its one beginning to its one end. In a sense…creation is history.
Man himself cannot simply “make” worship. If God does not reveal Himself, man is clutching empty space. If you remember a few weeks ago…Moses says to Pharaoh: “We do not know with what we must serve the Lord” (cf. Ex 10:26). These words display a fundamental law of all liturgy. When God does not reveal Himself, man can, of course, from the sense of God within him, build altars “to the unknown god” (cf. Acts 17:23). He can reach out toward God in his thinking and try to feel his way toward Him. But real liturgy (the liturgy God wants…in other words… perfect liturgy) implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship Him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of “institution”. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity—then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation. Liturgy implies a real (perfect) relationship with Another, Who reveals Himself to us and gives our existence a new direction.
In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of “what you please”. Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (by the way…for the farmers and ranchers out there that know the significant difference…strictly speaking, a “bull calf”). The misdirected worship conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods.
Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God Who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God…to idolatry. This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes.
First, there is a violation of the prohibition of images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote and mysterious God. They want to bring Him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one’s own world. He must be there when He is needed…and He must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.
This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated worship. When Moses stays away for too long…and God himself becomes inaccessible…the people just fetch Him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation.
Instead of being worship of God…it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God…but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around.
Or, still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in pious disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.
Next week, we as a society honor the fathers who do so much (and like St. Joseph, himself) are given little fanfare. This year, in your celebrations, remember the new fathers that are not so well known to many: Father Joseph Scholten, Father Brian Eckrich, Father Andrew Thuringer, Father Tyler Mattson, Father Timothy Smith and Father Thomas Hartman (and Father … to be…God willing…Rev. Mr. Patrick Grode). Let us take a moment this week to prepare for next Sunday’s celebrations! Let’s not just think about our fathers for just one moment for one day this year.
Yes…we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity this week. But, often, we are overwhelmed by the the Three in One Godhead. So…something to reflect –
At the Masses this weekend we will offer a special blessing to our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, and all who offer us paternal love and care. They protect us, provide for us and support us often in many unappreciated ways. It is sad that all too often their holy vocation is depicted so disparagingly in sit-coms, movies, etc. Far from being bumbling dolts…our fathers are so often a great source of thoughtful advice, lived experience and compassionate encouragement. They are often faithful, quiet examples of hard work and loving dedication. We are deeply grateful for them and we ask our Heavenly Father to bless them this day.
There is a hymn in the missalette that always makes me pause on the greatness of the vocation of father’s as we think of the father of Jesus – St. Joseph (often thought of as the “forgotten” saint): “… And Joesph’s love make ‘father’, To be, for Christ, God’s Name”. (ref: By All Your Saints Still Striving) May, God our Heavenly Father, keep all our fathers close and blessed as they reflect His (often unspoken) Love.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking from the same place He was for the Last Supper. In this passage Jesus is giving us His last will and testament. What is He going to leave to His followers? His love. That love includes not only Himself, but the Father and Holy Spirit. He fulfills His Last Supper promise: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14: 15-16) Jesus did die on the cross, but He did not leave us. As we see in His words He will come and dwell within us and the Father will come with Him. A few verses later Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit. Our inheritance from Him is the fullness of the life of God. We began that life the moment we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (We remind ourselves of this treasure every time we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
When you think about it, those we love do dwell within us. They are an intimate and intricate part of who we are. They are always in our hearts that are filled with love for them expressed in our concern, goodness, gratitude, humility, sacrifices, mercy, and generosity. In this Gospel passage Jesus expressed what was going to happen when He died and rose from the dead. Our inheritance from Him is the gift of Himself, the Father, and Holy Spirit dwelling within us. How does this inheritance affect our lives? The more we “use” our inheritance from Jesus, the more we recognize the gift of peace that He also promises in today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This is the peace we long for as individuals, families, communities, nations, and worldwide. Human efforts have helped us to defeat the countless powers that seek to separate us from God and one another (just ask a faith-filled veteran). Yet still, in all too many places around the world, there is violence, injustice, destruction and the abuse and taking of human life.
So, what is this peace Jesus is leaving us? It is the peace that comes from truly believing that He knows us as we are at each moment of our lives and is with us in all we say, do and think each day. This thought is expressed so clearly at the beginning of each of the four Eucharistic Prayers (for Various Occasions): “You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, Who love the human race and Who always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is Your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by His Love, and when, as once for the disciples, so now for us, He opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.” Obviously we need to accept His invitation to be renewed by our inheritance from Him through our heartfelt participation in the Mass every week. Jesus never tires of inviting us to open our eyes to His Love for us and His Presence to us. It is Jesus and our inheritance from Him, which is Jesus Himself, that lifts us beyond the confusion, challenges, and obstacles we face as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Only a nation under God can be one nation. It takes God to not only take away the confusion…but also to enlighten us with the truth of who we truly are and what we are ultimately capable of in the best sense possible.
Many know that I was assigned to St. Sebastian Church back in Connecticut when I was a deacon. It was a predominately Italian parish. (And, yes there is a difference.) I would visit and bring Communion to an elderly Italian lady who lived to be 102 years old. Every time I visited her one of the first questions out of her mouth with her heavy Italian accent was: “How’s your mother?” That was quickly followed by these words from her: “Nobody loves you like your mother!” Today we celebrate Mother’s Day. It is a special day to do what we actually do each time we see or think about our mothers – to give thanks for the life they have given us and their continued maternal love. Whether we are children or adults, whether our mothers are living or deceased…we have the gift of life because they carried us in their wombs and nurtured us as children.
There is another Mother I honor every day as well – Mary. As He was dying on the cross Jesus said to St. John and to all of us: “Son there is your mother.” Jesus knew the love of His Mother. She conceived Him miraculously in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. As she anxiously searched for a place to give Him birth which we know was a stable, she had the joy of seeing the wonder and awe of the shepherds who responded to the announcement to them by the angels and went and saw the newborn Christ Child. What wonder she must have felt when the Magi came, who prostrated themselves in gratitude, and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Forty days after His birth, she and St. Joseph presented Him in the temple. There she heard the heartfelt words of the old man Simeon, who recognized the gift of God Himself in the child Jesus. He also foretold the sorrow His Mother Mary would experience when he said: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) Like every mother, Mary knew the joy of her Son’s goodness and love for herself and others. She also knew the pain when He was rejected. But her love for her Son did not make her bitter, angry, or doubtful when others attacked, betrayed, or abandoned Him. Just as she trusted that she would conceive Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, so she stood at the foot of the cross with hope and trust in God.
We also have the blessing of belonging to and being part of Holy Mother Church. As Catholics we are a living, life-giving part of the Body of Christ on earth. Once we receive life from the Church we make the Church a powerful source of love, hope, healing, and assistance as individuals and as a community of believers. On a local level in the parish, most are fed weekly by God’s Word and Presence at Mass. (Some are able to be nurtured at our daily Masses.) When we fail because of human weakness and sinfulness, we are renewed, refreshed, and forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. People who are sick or going into the hospital for surgery or other medical procedures are anointed with the oil where Jesus and His healing presence are encountered in the Sacrament of the Sick. We celebrate weddings, joining couples together in a bond of love that mirrors Jesus’ love for the Church. At funerals where we come together in sadness, compassion, love, and hope to pray for those who have died and to pray for and with their families and friends. We educate our children in the religious education programs. The Treasure Hut in Hoven reaches out to so many people who have a great number of different needs. Yes, Holy Mother Church is a powerful source for nourishment to thousands of people because together we are a Parish Family.
I wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. May God bless you for the life, love and goodness you have so generously showered upon us. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary…you are signs and sources that encourage all of us to be good, loving, generous, life-giving members of Holy Mother Church.