St. Anthony of Padua
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.
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.
Christmas Day is only the beginning of the Christmas Season! With all the stuff of the secular Christmas on sale or gone home to the basement, we Catholic Christians are only just beginning to celebrate this great feast.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28th, is a day to remember innocent people who are enslaved, gone missing, murdered. Who are the Holy Innocents being slaughtered today, literally and figuratively? You and your family might fast from eating Christmas goodies this day, or keep dark the Christmas lights as you pray for the Holy Innocents—young or old—of every generation. Rejoice in the sacrifices so many made in making the Advent Crib such a great success that assists single mothers and their babies.
December 30th is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There are many ways of being family these days. From a mom and dad with five children and a grandmother, to a blended family, to persons gathering with friends, one thing is common: love. When Joseph received a message from God in a dream, he rose in the middle of the night, woke Mary, then, because the life of the baby Jesus was in danger, took off for Egypt. Today, think and talk about sacrifices people make. What did Joseph, Mary, Jesus have to sacrifice 21 centuries ago? What have your parents, children, grandparents, and friends sacrificed for you? Thank someone for making a sacrifice for you. Have you made a Christmas resolution to go to more daily Masses or come and visit Our Lord in the tabernacle? Then, Go.
New Year’s Eve is always celebrated boisterously, but in the quiet of New Year’s Day, we might pray for peace and remember Mary, the Mother of God, who treasured the miracles of Jesus’ birth: shepherds’ visit, Magi’s gold, prophecies, signs, and skies full of angels. Today, tell of the births of family members, then enjoy your family treasures: turn the pages of old photo albums, unfold birth certificates, and hold baby blankets. Then invite friends and families in for Open House—all generations eating and playing together, not in separate rooms, maybe with the TV off for an hour!—welcoming in a New Year of Grace: 2017.
Feast of the Epiphany, January 8th, is a rich and noble feast! Take out the fine china and crystal! Make gold crowns for everyone to wear! Give a small gift or make a long distance call to someone not expecting one. Light a sweet-smelling candle to represent the Magi’s gift of frankincense. What stars have you followed? The Lord is with you on that journey!
(from Psalm 97)
The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many isles be glad.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory.
Light dawns for the just; and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the Lord, you just, and give thanks to his holy name.
We are already in the third week of our journey through Advent’s preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas time. The third Sunday of Advent, which we celebrate today, is called the Gaudete Sunday. The name of this Sunday comes from the first words of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. [Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.]
These words come from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, who often times calls the people to rejoice, even in difficult living situations. In particular, St. Paul writes this letter while he is in prison. We are to be joyful because the ultimate cause of joy for a Christian is a faith rooted conviction of the constant presence of God in our lives.
There is one more name for the Third Sunday of Advent: The Rose Sunday. This name comes from the color of the liturgical vestments for this day: rose (not pink). This liturgical color (used only twice during the liturgical year: the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent) points to the color of the sky at dawn. It pictures the glare of Jesus Christ coming to us on Christmas. The coming Christ, the Emmanuel and our Redeemer, is for us the Light that enlightens the gloom of our lives imprisoned by sin and death, like the rising Sun enlightens the gloom of the night. This theological image can be found in the words of Zachariah: “who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet to the way of peace.” (cf. Lk 1, 78n)
The joy of Christmas does not come from the emotional exultation, but from the authentic religious experiences of God coming to us in the form of an infant child. It is the joy of being a Christian who is visited by his only Lord that brings peace to his heart. I pray and wish you all to experience this joy and peace.
Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Quas Primas, (1925) instituted the Feast of Christ the King during the holy year commemorating the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicea which took place in 325. The Pope wished to affirm the “Kingly dignity of Christ” by remembering the words of the Nicene Creed, “and his Kingdom will have no end.” In doing so, he also wished to correct the false ideologies of nationalism, materialism, secularism and anti-clericalism that were beginning to arise in many places. These “false ideologies” already dominant in Russia, soon became manifest in formerly Catholic areas such as Italy, Germany and Mexico. For example, only two years after the publication of Quas Primas, on November 23, 1927, the Jesuit priest Blessed Miguel Pro was executed by the anti-Catholic government of Mexico. Facing his executioners, Fr. Miguel forgave the firing squad, stretched out his arms in the form of a crucifixion and proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live, Christ the King!)
Pope Francis I, in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, has said, “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light so powerful, that it cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love hear his voice and receive his light and cannot keep this gift to themselves. Since faith is hearing and seeing, it is also handed on as word and light.”
When Pope Pius XI first established the Feast of Christ the King, he called upon the men and women of his age to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel to their contemporaries and to promote and defend the rights of Christ and His Church against those who were usurping Divine prerogatives and ignoring basic human rights: “This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict and manifest only weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.”
As citizens of the United States, we have no king. However, we are members of a democratic republic, with a written constitution that defends basic human rights, defines a limited government and prohibits any laws that deny the free exercise of religion. As Catholics exercising our religious liberty, we proudly proclaim that Christ is our King, not just at Mass but wherever we are – at home or at work, at school or at play, in government or in business, in our charities and our hospitals. In this we are united as we “fight courageously under the banner of Christ the King” for liberty and justice for all.
If you said, Nathan Söderblom you’d be absolutely right. You’d also be a genius, because almost nobody remembers the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize (past, maybe, the last two or three). He’s fresh in my mind because I’m reading Jay Nordlinger’s book, Peace They Say: A history of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World. In considering that time between the two World Wars, I believe we can all gain some wisdom. Wisdom our young people are not being taught today.
There is a lot to say about the theories of war and peace, but in this short article I wish to draw your attention to an important distinction between a “Catholic world view” and the classic “Protestant world view” that dominated so much of 20th century Europe and still dominates today. In Söderblom’s acceptance talk he warned Europe (even as rumors of war were rising again after the end of the Great War). He said, “If a new war threatens our peace, the churches will not, this time, bless the guns. They will halt the nations in the name of Him who called Himself the Prince of Peace.” (It’s good to recall that Nathan Söderblom was a devout Lutheran minister, who became the Archbishop of Uppsala, Sweden.) His strong Christian faith made him somewhat of a rare recipient of the Peace Prize since many at that time (as well as in our modern times) were very secularistic agnostics that despised organized religion. However, even though he was one of the more religious fellows to receive this prestigious award, a crack in his religious armor that is “Protestantism” can be seen. And seeing it, we as Catholics need to be aware of it and be prepared to correct it.
Protestant Christianity began with (and has grown up with) a basic attitude in regard to the relationship between the “church” and the “state”. It is an attitude that at first glance seems so noble and true. And it is noble and true to a certain point. The attitude goes something like this: “We the church are here to serve you the state.” Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Isn’t this the message of Christ, who called his followers to serve one another? Service must be a part of Christianity; but, these words of Nathan Söderblom (now that we can read them in the context of history) reveal this crack in the Protestant Christian armor. Why? Because, as much as he wanted to curse and not bless the guns of war, the basic relationship between the Protestant church of Sweden and the State of Sweden was still the same.
By that I mean, since the church exists to serve the State, then, if the State wants the church to bless its guns, then the church will bless its guns. Indeed, this is precisely what happened when Hitler attacked Norway and Sweden. My lesson here is not about the dignity of WWII but the concept of the Church’s service to the State. So when the State “legalizes” murder under the euphemism of choice and death with dignity; or, futuristic and right side of history…this does not mean the Church must immediately roll over and “not be political”. The Church’s service needs to be conditional, not unconditional, as Protestantism has been. It is conditional on the Truth. If I were a chaplain at the time of the Nazi invasion, I would have blessed the guns, because my service to the TRUTH of human nature demands, at times, resistance against evil. What does this mean for us today?
…that God will lead us to make our nation, unlike other nations…