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 have to really like St. Paul this week as he speaks not only to those 2000 years ago, but to our 21st Century world too. All too often you will hear someone out there say: “I am spiritual but not religious…or into an organized religion”. It is tempting to be attracted to such ideas because the reality of the Original Sin is so much part of our spiritual DNA. “Do you not want to be as gods…knowing for yourself good and evil.” (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)
The philosophies of worship go off in different directions. One theory is that only philosophers…only minds qualified for higher thought…are capable of the knowledge that constitutes the “way”. Only they are capable of the ascent, of the full divinization that is redemption and liberation from finitude. For the others…for the simpler souls not yet capable of the full upward vision…there are the different liturgies that offer them a certain redemption without being able to take them to the height of the Godhead. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls (or reincarnation) often compensates for these inequalities. It offers the hope that at some time in the wanderings of existence…the point will be reached when at last we can find an escape from finitude and its torments.
For others, knowledge (in Greek: gnosis) is the real power of redemption here and therefore the highest form of our elevation…union with God. That is why conceptual and religious systems of this kind (though, individually, they are all very different) are called “Gnosticism”. In early Christianity the clash with Gnosticism was the decisive struggle for its own identity. The fascination of such views is very great; they seem so easily identifiable with the Christian message.
For example, original sin (so hard otherwise to understand) is identified with the fall into finitude (Armageddon), which explains why it clings to everything stuck in the vortex of finitude (death…mortality). The idea of redemption as deliverance from the burden of finitude is readily comprehensible, and so on.
In our own times, too, in a variety of forms, the fascination of Gnosticism is at work. The religions of the Far East have the same basic pattern. That is why the various kinds of teaching on redemption that they offer seem highly plausible. Exercises for relaxing the body and emptying the mind are seen as the path to redemption. They aim at liberation from finitude, indeed, they momentarily anticipate that liberation and so have salvific power.
As I have written in previous reflections, as we prepare for the end times of this liturgical year, Christian thought has taken up the idea of: departure and a return, but, in doing so, it distinguishes the two movements from one another. Departure is not a fall from the infinite…the rupture of being; and thus, the cause of all the sorrow in the world. No, departure is first and foremost something thoroughly positive. (If you don’t believe me, look at Michelangelo’s painting of creation…it says it all.) It is the Creator’s free act of creation. It is His positive Will that the created order should exist as something good in relation to Himself, from which a response of freedom and love can be given back to Him. Non-divine being is not, therefore, something negative in itself but, on the contrary, the wholly positive fruit of the Divine Will. It depends, not on a disaster, but on a divine decree that is good and does good.
So, as our liturgical year comes closer and closer to the end times, let’s be sure to be the wise virgins with ample oil ready to greet Christ the King. Don’t let those who think that that can be spiritual (and not believe in organized religion) take your oil from you. This organized party, planned by the Creator for the end times, requires us to be ready to greet Him without letting the “party poopers” and their foolishness spoil the fun.
In a previous reflection, I wrote about gratitude. Of all the passions man has … the passion of gratitude lasts only about two hours … then is diminishes almost out of existence. (Now … contrast gratitude’s passion with the passion of anger … anger can last a lifetime … and rarely goes out of existence.) We get an idea of what God’s sees from man far too often when it comes to showing Him gratitude … and because gratitude is so short lived … it kind of explains why we do what we do during weekend Sunday Mass.
What does worship really mean? How is it different from the circle of giving and receiving that characterized the pre-Christian world of worship? Before turning to this question, I should like to refer to the text that concludes the giving of the ceremonial law in the book of Exodus. It is constructed in close parallel to the account of creation. Seven times it says, “Moses did as the Lord had commanded him” (words that suggest that the seven-day work on the tabernacle replicates the seven-day work on creation). The account of the construction of the tabernacle ends with a kind of vision of the Sabbath. “So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (cf. Ex 40:33). The completion of the tent anticipates the completion of creation. God makes His dwelling in the world. Heaven and earth are united.
(In this connection (speaking of “creation”) allow me a side note to add: that in the Old Testament, the verb “bara” has two, and only two, meanings. First, it denotes the process of the world’s creation, the separation of the elements, through which the cosmos emerges out of chaos. Secondly, it denotes the fundamental process of salvation history … the election and separation of pure from impure, and therefore the inauguration of the history of God’s dealings with men. (How we are to worship Him … pure and perfect.) Thus begins the spiritual creation, the creation of the covenant, without which the created cosmos would be an empty shell.)
Creation and history, creation, history and worship are in a relationship of reciprocity. (All three interlinked and mutually working together for a mutual benefit.) Creation looks toward the covenant, but the covenant completes creation and does not simply exist along with it. Now if worship (rightly understood) is the soul of the covenant, then it not only saves mankind but is also meant to draw the whole of reality (all of creation) into communion with God. Unlike the tenants of the vineyard in this week’s Gospel … we cannot separate creation, history and worship without harming the others.)
One of the keys to loving Jesus is taking the time to appreciate how much He truly loves us. Yes, we know the historical facts and truths that He taught. We can easily read them over and over again in the Bible. But it always comes down to our response to Jesus. There are many things that we do in our lives and there are many different attitudes and reasons. We can act out of love, joy, hope, and gratitude or we can act out of duty, convenience, regret, anger, guilt, or fear or a host of other motives or impulses. The best reason to act of course is love. We love the people we are with and we love to do the things we do. To truly grow in our life with Jesus we need to ask these questions: Do I pray because I have to, want to…or love to? Do I come to Mass because I have to, want to…or love to? Obviously there is a great difference in the reasons we pray and come to Mass. We know the best reason, but is that in the forefront of our minds and hearts? With all the activities in our daily lives it takes discipline to find the time to pray. The fact is we do find time to do the things we want to do and like to do. When and where we find the time to pray every day becomes easier to carve out when we understand how much Jesus loves us and wants us to be part of His life. We can spend hours on the Internet, watching TV, or even reading a book. At times we recognize that we are centering our lives around what we like and our own agendas. But too much self-centeredness leads us to put off what is really best for our spiritual, physical, and mental well being.
This was well-illustrated in a story I read – about mosquitoes and bees:
Once upon a time, some mosquitoes and some bees had an exchange about their views and aims in life. The mosquitoes said: “We do not toil as you bees do, nor have we any desire to do it. We have a leisurely existence. In the night, slowly and unnoticed, we intrude into people’s habitations, and then we sting them and suck their blood. That is what we do. We know that we cause them itching and pain, none of us could care less. As long as we get what we want, it is all right with us. We know that people hate us, but this does not bother us.”
The bees retorted in horror: “Our way of life is just the opposite. Night and day we work hard and struggle to support ourselves from the fruit of our labor. We hate to be a burden or nuisance to anyone. On the contrary, we are delighted to share the surplus of our labor with others. Our aim in life is to support ourselves as well as to give comfort, nourishment, and sweetness to one and all. Flying from flower to flower, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the light of the day, collecting scented nectar and making honey is truly an exhilarating and worthwhile way of living. It is in working for ourselves and others that we find meaning and happiness in life.”
Our response to the goodness and love of others is gratitude and a desire to love them in return. That is the ultimate response to Jesus: to love Him in return. When that happen (as it does when we choose to love others) we make Him the center of our concern and look forward to spending time with Him. Our will is fueled by a desire to do what is truly good for others and Him. Their well being becomes an important part of our thoughts, words and actions.
Both this and last week’s Gospels can cause a person to think about Jesus as CS Lewis had. Jesus (when it comes right down to it) was one of three realities: He was insane. He was a liar. He is what He said He was…the Son of God. (“You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God…but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” from Mere Christianity)
One of the insights we all grapple with is that we are not in control of so many things in our personal lives, in the lives of those we love, and in the lives of our country and our world. Peace only comes when we rise above the frustration, disappointment, anger, and vengeful thoughts that fill our minds when things do not work out the way we think they should. I have been reading a book quoting Henri Nouwen who had this profound thought: “Keep your eyes fixed on the Prince of Peace, Who doesn’t cling to His Divine Power, Who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights, and rule with great power. See the One Who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; Who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; Who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on Him Who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak…and Who is rejected with the rejected. That one, Jesus, is the source of all peace.” Was Jesus able to find peace in this world and, even more bring peace into our world? Of course He found peace, the peace that came from the prevailing thread revealed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures and the four Gospels – God never takes no for an answer. God never gives up on us. God never stops reaching out to us. His love is divine, merciful, unconditional, and life giving. Jesus experienced rejection in the form of not being welcomed from the first moment He came forth from Mary’s womb (you know…there was no room for them at the inn). After bringing joy to the shepherds in the area who responded to the angel’s announcement about Jesus’ birth, and to the Magi with their humble, grateful gifts…Joseph had to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus. Rejection that caused Him to be a refugee did not stop Him from coming back to God’s chosen people…His people…the Jews.
When I conclude my morning prayers, I like to reflect on the paradox of the Jesus Christ that Lewis presented…he is great in giving me the hope, inspiration, and the foundation to rise above frustration, disappointment, anger, and vengeful thoughts as I start the day. (Sure, at times I do not always succeed…but the lack of success or right judgment are lessened and the next day I once again have hope.) After praying morning prayer in the breviary, I read the Paradoxical Commands that come from a book by Kent Keith entitled “Anyway.” (St. [Mother] Teresa of Calcutta had these hanging in an office she used.) I read them thinking about how Jesus lived them. The Paradoxical Commands are a good guide that will help us find the peace Jesus came to bring into our daily lives, a good guide to commit ourselves as we leave the Easter Season (and think of the lessons of this week’s Gospel). The Paradoxical Commands:
People are unreasonable, illogical and
self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish
and ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and
true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be
honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be
destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help. They may attack you if
you help them. Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may be
repaid with indifference. Give the world the
best you can anyway.
As the Fortnight of Freedom 2017 comes to a close, as a nation of faithful Catholics and Christians, we continue our prayers for our United States. There are so many who are confused and misguided with the lies of “choice” and “conscience”.
Reflect, if you will on the story of Norma McCorvey. A woman who no one knows by name. She is the woman who is Roe in the Supreme Court case of Roe vs. Wade (the case that made abortion legal in our nation on January 22, 1973). Her road to notoriety started with an unplanned pregnancy. She originally said she was raped, a factor she thought would strengthen her case. Her lawyer was a pro-abortion feminist. It is interesting and encouraging to see how the life of Norma McCorvey has played out.
First of all, Norma never had an abortion. The child in her womb was too far formed. When she asked her doctor for an adoptive/foster attorney, that attorney put her in touch with the pro-abortion lawyer. Ironically, Norma McCorvey never stepped foot in a courtroom. She had signed an affidavit in Texas and was used as a pawn. (So much for “women’s’ rights”) She read about the legalization of abortion in the newspaper and was never contacted after the signing.
In 1995 Norma McCorvey declared herself Pro-life. In an account of a banquet of citizens for life that met in Alabama there was this observation: “In a 1995 Nightline interview, she explained that after working in four Dallas area abortion centers and learning a lot more, she started having inner-conflicts with herself. From that time on, Norma has completely moved her position from “a woman’s right to choose…to…upholding the right to life of the preborn baby.”
In the end people of good will see the light. Now is our challenge and time to witness to the truth of human life in the womb. I encourage you to say the prayer I put at the end of last week’s column (inspired from this week’s first reading): “Thank You Father for the gift of life. Thank You for the gift of Your Son Jesus. May my gratitude inspire and sustain me in doing everything I can to respect the lives of all people and to do all in my power to end abortion…and everything else that harms, abuses, or threatens human life. Give me the courage and strength to live in Your image each day. Amen.”
Psalm 69 has simple words to contemplate (the Psalm verses from last week): For Your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my children, because zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme You fall upon me. I pray to You, O LORD, for the time of Your favor, O God!
In Your great kindness answer me with Your constant help. Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is Your kindness; in Your Great Mercy turn toward me. “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and His own who are in bonds He spurns not. Let the heavens and the earth praise Him, the seas and whatever moves in them!”
One of the gifts we have as Catholics is the living Word of God. The first part of every Mass we celebrate is called the Liturgy of the Word. The Word, of course, comes to us from the Bible, the inspired Word of God. The Bible is far more than a historical account of the relationship of God and His people, it is the life-giving voice of God for us to hear, think about, and be informed, encouraged, and inspired by as we hear this week’s Sunday readings.
More than 3,000 years ago there were two women who were ordered to kill male children when they were born, but they refused. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah, and their goodness and concern for human life is recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Exodus. The Jewish people wound up in Egypt after Joseph was sold into slavery and then became a very high-ranking person in the royal family. But once Joseph died and time passed, the Jewish people were enslaved and the birth of their male children was seen as a threat to the King and his fellow Egyptians. Exodus 1:15-22 tells us: “The King of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women, look on the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the King of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this, allowing the boys to live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives.” Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very numerous. And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them. Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “Throw into the Nile every boy that is born, but you may let all the girls live.”
These two midwives are our forebears in the Pro-life movement today. They refused to be threatened by what the King would do to them, and as a result, found peace with God and experienced His blessing. They saw beyond popular opinion and the law enacted by the leader of their nation.
This week’s reflection is brought forward to remind our parish members that the Fortnight of Freedom (which was established since the Obama administration attempts…(and I remind everyone…still attempts)…to remove religious freedoms from our public square. Too many believe that the Trump administration “has taken care of all that”. NOT TRUE…the Obama leftovers continue his agenda in full force and by every means possible. So let us not be lulled into a sense of false security. The Fortnight for Freedom of 2017 has begun last Wednesday, June 21st (the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More) to July 4th (Independence Day). This is a time to pray all the more for our country. The US Conference of Bishops asks us to reflect:
It is good to love one’s country, but ultimate loyalty is due only to Christ and his kingdom. Nationalism becomes idolatrous when loyalty to the nation is more important than loyalty to Christ. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher show us what faithful citizenship looks like. They loved and served their country. But when they were forced to choose between God’s Church and the king, they were faithful to the Church. May their example continue to illuminate the path for us, as we seek to faithfully serve our Church and country.