Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mercy and Spiritual Fatherhood

The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:
“Merciful like the Father” is the motto of the Year of Mercy.  What a great reminder for our fatherless culture!  What a great challenge and reminder for men on how to live as spiritual fathers.
Fatherlessness is a worldwide pandemic (43% in the US), devastating the culture, family, children, and men in particular, making it harder to experience God as love or to even hear about God.  With the sustained Marxist and feminist attacks on the family, marriage, and gender, it does not look as if things will improve anytime soon.  But the world’s greatest need right now is to experience the Father’s mercy to undo the effects of fatherlessness.
The greatest antidote to fatherlessness already exists in our Catholic faith:  Jesus reveals God as Abba (Papa, Daddy), and since God is our spiritual father, all Catholic men (young or old, single or married) are called to live out their identity as heroic spiritual fathers.  If Catholic men were to live this out, the effects of fatherlessness—which produces the culture of death—would be stopped in its tracks.
So what do we need for this journey of mercy?  For us to “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful,” we must experience this mercy.  Pope Francis says:
“The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a ‘visceral’ love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.”
If we are to be led into this “concrete reality,” we need prayer, confession, and relationships to help us encounter the Father of mercies!
A client I will call Steve was fatherless by the age of six when his parents divorced.  Even when he was with either parent, he spent a lot of time alone.  His father was into pornography, and Steve was exposed by age eight.  Steve’s father was a verbally abusive bully.  Steve was always working to be loved and lived in fear of his moody and unpredictable father.   Steve’s faith was ignited in his late teens, but he carried the burden of working for his father’s love into his relationship with God.  He is now a married father of four.  He is struggling to love his kids as he wants to but feels stuck. Pornography is still an occasional problem.  He feels unlovable, as if he is never good enough—perfect lies from the Accuser.  Steve is my typical client who knows God’s love and mercy in his head but hasn’t experienced the “concrete reality” of God’s tender, indulgent mercy in his heart.
In counseling, it is the relationship that heals. In pastoral counseling, that relationship also brings the love and mercy of God into the deepest, darkest places in our hearts where “everything is bound and loosed” (CCC 2843).  Listening and empathy let Steve know I was in his world—incarnationally—not to judge but to bring God’s mercy and love to mend his broken heart.  We prayed, imagining Jesus’ telling him the truth: “You are my beloved son, a gift, a delight to me, and this is not based on your behavior.  You are forgiven.”  I encouraged Steve to go to confession regularly, especially when anger or lustful temptations overcame him.  As Steve experienced in his heart his true identity as a son, he began to live out this love in his hands as a physical and spiritual husband and father.  His wife was more grateful and his kids listened to him more.  He got them involved in the St. Vincent de Paul society, donating toys and clothes.  They were excited about doing something for others.  Steve still struggles but is doing well.
Mercy is the essence God’s fatherhood, and for men it is the essence of spiritual and physical fatherhood.  It is the nature of God’s mercy and love that, once received, it must be given to others; it is a law in the economy of salvation.  God’s mercy must be fruitful!  Spiritual fathers must be fruitful—we are called to have spiritual children: “Go and make disciples.”  Catholics seem uncomfortable sharing the Faith with friends, but we easily “evangelize” when we talk about a good movie we’ve seen!
The Call to Action:  Be Loved and Challenged!
  1. Pray daily and meditate on the mercy of our Abba and your identity as his son. You must knock down the obstacles to experiencing this in your heart.
  2. Go to Confession regularly to receive his mercy deeply, and meditate on the rejoicing and delight that occurs when you return to the Father’s house!
  3. If you are caught in an addiction of any kind, get help!
  4. The Ultimate Challenge: Go out and demonstrate the mercy of God.  Start with your own friends and family, and then go to the people on the fringes.  Stop the Culture of Death:  be the spiritual fathers you are!

Father Barron on New Year's Resolutions

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for Catholics

It is just about time for New Year's Resolutions! Here are some suggestions from the America Needs Fatima site (via Catholic Fire).

1. Be honest. Know yourself. What is your strongest virtue? What is your worst vice? Therefore, tailor your resolution so it strengthens your good side and fights your bad one. A one-size fits all resolution is useless.

2. Be specific. Don’t use generalities. They don’t work. For example, if you need to be more humble, just saying “I am going to be more humble,” is useless. You need to zero in on one situation where you need to practice humility and resolve to improve in that one situation.

3. Be simple. Don’t make it complicated. Focus on something you can see and measure easily and that does not overwhelm you each time you try to obtain it. Otherwise, you will become distracted and your energy will be dispersed and misdirected.

4. Be reasonable. Don’t try to do too much at once. You won’t become a saint in one day. Remember: every soul has one MAJOR point upon which is hinged his or her entire fidelity to God and His Holy Laws. Find out and work on improving that key point. You’ll see how everything else will improve if you improve on that one major point.

5. Be consistent. It’s far better to do something small everyday to improve on that one key point in your soul than to make a big resolution that you cannot keep for more than a week or two. Slow and steady wins the race!

6. Be humble. Recognize that you cannot do any good action which has value in the supernatural order without God’s grace and the intercessory help of the Blessed Mother. Beg God’s grace through Our Lady’s intercession constantly in all your thoughts, desires and actions

7. Be disinterested. Remember that God wants us to defend His rights and interests, and to share His thoughts and ways. And therefore, to focus on things, happening and events that are very close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary that are not necessarily linked to our own personal interests.

8. Write it down. It’s important to write down your resolution so you can refer back to it often during the year. Also, by writing it down, you will be able to review it when the year is over, and to evaluate your progress since the time the resolution was made.

9. Public expressions of faith. Don’t hide your faith. That’s just what the devil wants. He knows when you express your faith publicly, others see you and are encouraged to follow your good example. Say grace openly and proudly before meals in a restaurant so people can see. You’ll be surprised with the good reactions you will get.

10. Devotion to Our Lady. Have more devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Devotion to the Mother of God is a panacea. Saint Louis de Montfort said that devotion to Holy Mary is the easiest, safest, fastest, most secure, and surest path to Jesus and to our own salvation. If you can nothing else, resolve to say the Rosary everyday. Saint Louis de Montfort wrote:

“If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins 'you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.' Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if-- and mark well what I say-- if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Unwrap the Gift of Silence

The following comes from The Anchoress:

The silence of which we sing so wistfully at Midnight Mass, is at an all-time premium at Christmas; it is so difficult to find a silent night, let alone sit within one and become immersed in it, that the possibility of a seasonal soothing of the heart—a quieting of the grief of the world—seems the stuff of illusion and myth.

Christmas has, in too many ways, become the equivalent of an overdone theme-park vacation. By its end, one is knock-kneed with exhaustion and desperately in need of a genuine opportunity to rest.

A Christmas snow, like the one we’ve just had, does wonders to cull the silence. A few inches of white powder brings an unusual and welcome softening of sound—in cities, the hum of traffic is muffled; in the suburbs even the broom of the ubiquitous snowblower is reduced to a faint and unobtrusive whir, one that remains mostly beneath the surface of one’s awareness.

In such a silence, if you have turned off the television and tempted your child away from his games with a good book, you can hear other things: the chatter and call of cardinals who have found the birdseed; the crack of a log in the fire; hot coffee being poured into a cup; the ticking of your last non-digital clock; the rhythmic breathing of tired child (or parent) who has dozed while reading; the soft thud of a book sliding to the floor.

You can hear life, forced into a slow-down; life less deliberate; life lived as it was for centuries, before the busy inventiveness of the last five decades: life acquiescent to uncontrollable nature, and hunkered-down.

We have allowed silence to become a gift forgotten, one we only consent to unwrap when all of our alternative bows and strings have been unraveled, and our diversions have been utterly played out. Our inability to be silent puts our minds and our souls at a disadvantage, because it robs us of the ability to wonder, and if we are not wondering at the impossible perfection of the world in its creation—if we are not wondering at spinning atoms and Incarnations—then we are lost to humility, and to experiencing gratitude.

And, without gratitude, we cannot develop a reasoned capacity for joy.

One of the most attractive things about G.K. Chesterton was the unending sense of surprised delight he had for all creation, the world and everything in it. He found newspaper ink to be as wonderful as beach glass, which—it went without saying—was as marvelous to him as any good cigar. He was as awe-struck and grateful for the world as a teenager in love, and he wondered about the unconditional gift of days that God had given him. He asked with astonishment, “Why am I allowed two?”—a great question in an age where we expect unending, medically-engineered days.

Chesterton was joyful, because he was grateful; he was grateful because even within his busy life, he was allowed the leisure of silence, with which gift, he was able to wonder. And, as St. Gregory of Nyssa is credited with saying, “only wonder leads to knowing.”

If we cannot wonder, how can we presume to know the Timeless and Eternal God? Without wonder, how may we know ourselves? How do we remember that time is a construct to which we must not become enslaved?

By what means shall we know that, when we are so deeply immersed in the seasonal pronouncements of Madison Avenue, where Christmas begins (at the latest) in early November and ends on December 26, whence commences Valentine’s Day? In all times and seasons the media-message is a weirdly incongruous (and John Lennonesque) amalgam of “be here now” and “serve yourself.”

Read the rest here.

Saint of the day: Thomas Becket

Today we remember St. Thomas Becket. The following comes from the American Catholic site:

A strong man who wavered for a moment, but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil and so became a strong churchman, a martyr and a saint—that was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on December 29, 1170.

His career had been a stormy one. While archdeacon of Canterbury, he was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. When Henry felt it advantageous to make his chancellor the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas gave him fair warning: he might not accept all of Henry’s intrusions into Church affairs. Nevertheless, he was made archbishop (1162), resigned his chancellorship and reformed his whole way of life!

Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise. He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England, he suspected it would mean certain death. Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favored by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in the Canterbury cathedral.

Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Feast of the Holy Innocents

The following comes from the Women of Faith and Family site:

Since the sixth century, on December 28, the Church has celebrated the memory of those children killed because of Herod's rage against Christ (cf. Mt 2:16-17). Liturgical tradition refers to them as the "Holy Innocents" and regards them as martyrs. Throughout the centuries Christian art, poetry and popular piety have enfolded the memory of the "tender flock of lambs"(125) with sentiments of tenderness and sympathy. These sentiments are also accompanied by a note of indignation against the violence with which they were taken from their mothers' arms and killed.

In our own times, children suffer innumerable forms of violence which threaten their lives, dignity and right to education. On this day, it is appropriate to recall the vast host of children not yet born who have been killed under the cover of laws permitting abortion, which is an abominable crime. Mindful of these specific problems, popular piety in many places has inspired acts of worship as well as displays of charity which provide assistance to pregnant mothers, encourage adoption and the promotion of the education of children.

As recorded in the gospel of Matthew (below), after the visit of the Magi, Herod, in rage and jealousy, slaughtered all the baby boys in Bethlehem and surrounding countryside in an attempt to destroy his perceived rival, the infant Messiah. These "innocents" are honored by the Church as martyrs.

In countries where our own innocents are daily being slaughtered by abortion, this feast day is a special time to remember the unborn, to pray for their cause, and perhaps to picket or pray at facilities where unborn babies are killed through abortion.

This would be a good day to begin a Novena for the Unborn.(Click here for Spanish Version)

The collect for the Holy Innocents may be said just before the blessing of the evening meal (see Christmas mealtime blessings), or at night prayers.

The ancient Coventry Carol is a mournful lullaby to the Holy Innocents. The words are printed below.

Family observances of this feast day have traditionally included serving baby food (oatmeal or pureed fruits), especially to the youngest member of the family. Another custom is eating a light-colored pudding with a red strawberry or raspberry sauce as a reminder of the blood of the tiny infant martyrs. While some adults may find this rather gory, many children appreciate this symbolism without the squeamishness their parents may feel.

Parents may also want to begin a nightly blessing of their children. Simply trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads while saying "May God bless you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit".

Sunday, December 27, 2015

G.K. Chesterton on Christmas

"What life and death may be to a turkey is not my business; but the soul of Scrooge and the body of Cratchit are my business." - "Christmas," All Things Considered

The Night Heaven Came to Earth

The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:
It was night. The shepherds were keeping watch with their sheep in the fields.
They lived in a time of epic and empire, the greatest the world had yet seen. But here, in this land of balding hills and boulder-strewn fields, in a small town in a backwater region, about the most exciting thing these shepherds could expect was a stray wolf striking at their flock.
They were about to witness the most unexpected event in the history of the world.
First came the angel. He appeared not above them, not suspended in the air, but standing right next to them. The angel had to make way for something far greater.
Then the divine splendor of God Himself shone all around them, like a giant halo encircling a hilltop.
An angel was one thing. But this was too much for them. They were reportedly “struck with great fear.” Or, as the original ancient Greek text of the account puts it, they feared with great fear. So begins the Annunciation to the Shepherds as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, in the second chapter.
The shepherds had good reason to be afraid. Luke describes the divine splendor that shone all around them as the “glory of the Lord.” This is the same language that described the cloud that had descended upon Mt. Sinai, where Moses met with God. Then the glory of the Lord could be seen even at a distance, appearing to the Israelites far below as a “consuming fire” (Exodus 24:17). Here’s how Exodus 19 further describes the scene:
Annunciation to the Shepherds 15thC Flemish MiniatureOn the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud blast of the shofar, so that all the people in the camp trembled. … Now Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke, because the Lord had come down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently (Exodus 19:16, 18).
Moses spoke and God answered him in thunder (Exodus 19:19). So dangerous was the presence of God that the Israelites were ordered to come no closer than the foot of the mountain, lest they be struck dead.
As fearsome as this was, to both Moses and the Israelites, both had time to prepare for this encounter with God in His glory. Moses had conversed through the God through the burning bush. And the Israelites had seen the power of God at work in the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.
But these shepherds on their night watch never saw it coming. The consuming fire, the cloud glowing with lighting and grumbling with thunder—they had no time to prepare for such a wonder.
But that wasn’t even the big news of the night.
The angel tells them he has “good news” of “great joy” for all of humanity. We can only imagine what is going through the shepherds’ heads at this point. Of one thing we can be assured: the angel had a captive audience. If he proclaimed something of greatness for the whole of humanity, it was pretty believable in that moment.
Then comes the news of an even more extraordinary event: For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Once in Royal David's City

Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

Fr. Longenecker: Angels, Shepherds and Sheer Joy

The following comes from Fr. Longenecker:

Angels crowd the Advent story, and their presence culminates in the throng of angels who appear to the shepherds on the hill outside Bethlehem. The angelic presences pushing in on the ordinary world come first to the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and then to the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Finally, they appear with the message that God’s son has been born to the humble shepherds.
The story is told in the classic words of the King James Version:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

The presence of the angels in Advent is the presence of the supernatural pressing in on the natural. At the coming of Christ the veil between the seen and the unseen worlds is tissue thin. That which is invisible presses in upon those who can only see the visible. As God takes human flesh it is as if the whole divine realm becomes more present in this physical dimension.

Have you ever wondered why messengers from heaven so often appear to shepherds? Not only did the Christmas angels come to shepherds, but the Hebrew people were a nomadic herding tribe. Moses was a shepherd when God appeared at the burning bush. The great king David was a shepherd boy, and at Laus, La Salette, Lourdes and Fatima Mary appeared to shepherd children. The supernatural appearances come to humble peasants for a good reason. Humble workers are, on the one hand, likely to accept a supernatural appearance, and on the other hand, they are unlikely to fabricate a wild story. They’re down to earth, simple, honest and straightforward people — likely to believe in the supernatural but also unlikely to deceive.

The combination of angels and shepherds brings alive the wonder of Christ’s birth, and the symbolism of the shepherds and the wise men add to the levels of meaning and mystery. As his ancestor David was the shepherd king, the child in the stable will prove to be both the Good Shepherd and the King in God’s kingdom. So the angels herald his birth to the shepherds, and through the guiding star the kings make their way to pay him homage. As princes and peasants come together, they prove that the child is the Lord of both the highest and the lowest of humanity.

The angels of Christmas night also remind us of the role of the angels. They are God’s messengers and bring the message of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, and through them to the whole human race, but they are also agents of praise. The angelic role is to give everlasting praise, honor and glory to God. When the shepherds see the angels, they hear a hint of heaven and get a glimpse of glory. Their hearts lift in praise and wonder as they experience the stupendous sight of heaven being opened for a moment as God comes down to dwell among mankind.

As the shepherds take action and hurry to worship the newborn king, they remind us of an important takeaway from the story. Every glimpse of glory and spiritual uplift brings with it the call to action. The angels praise God, but they also serve God. They worship him, but they also render him service. They glorify him and they bear his message to the world. Likewise, following their example, at this Christmas season we turn out hearts in worship and praise, but we rise from Christmas Mass with an even greater determination to bring the angelic message of peace and goodwill to the world through both our lips and our lives.

Saint of the day: Stephen the Martyr

The following comes from the CNA:

On December 26, the universal church will commemorate the death of St. Stephen, the first man to give his life in witness to the Faith.

St. Stephen was a deacon in the early church. The sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles says that, Stephen was “a man filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit... filled with grace and fortitude.” The Bible also notes that Stephen was a gifted orator and that his logic was sound. The conversions of many people are attributed to him.

However, his outspokenness provoked the ire of some of his listeners and he was accused of blaspheming against Moses and against God. He was brought before the high priest and many false witnesses testified against him.

In his defense, he gave an eloquent analysis of Salvation History and the love and mercy of God. He also recounted Israel's repeated ungratefulness towards their God. However, it didn't sway his accusers who proceeded to take him outside the city and stone him.

As he was about to die, Stephen looked up to heaven and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” Then, as he was being stoned, he cried out, ““Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

His last words, as the stoning had brought him to his knees were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Friday, December 25, 2015

Pope Francis: Only God's Mercy Can Free Us

In his annual Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” blessing Pope Francis prayed for all those affected by violence, conflict and poverty throughout the world, asking that they rejoice in salvation offered by the birth of Christ.
“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations,” the Pope said on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.
God alone is able to save us, he said, adding that “where God is born, hope is born. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war.”
Pope Francis spoke to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear his Christmas message and receive the special blessing which goes out “to the city and the world.”
In his message, he lamented that ongoing conflicts continue to strain peaceful living in the Holy Land, and prayed for peace there as well as in war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, Colombia and Ukraine.
Francis also turned his thoughts to all those affected by “brutal acts of terrorism” throughout the world, particularly the “massacres” which have recently taken place in Egyptian airspace, in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis. 
He then offered prayers for refugees forced to flee their homes due to violence, as well as for victims of human trafficking, for the unemployed and for all who suffer due to poverty. In contemplating the birth of Jesus, the Pope asked that we open our hearts to receive the grace offered on Christmas Day, “which is Christ himself.”
Jesus, he said, “is the radiant day which has dawned on the horizon of humanity. A day of mercy, in which God our Father has revealed his great tenderness to the entire world. A day of light, which dispels the darkness of fear and anxiety.”
It is also a day of peace, “which makes for encounter, dialogue and reconciliation. A day of joy: a great joy for the poor, the lowly and for all the people,” Francis said.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night by Libera

Fr. Robert Barron on Christmas

EX ORE INFANTIUM by Francis Thompson

LITTLE Jesus, wast Thou shy
Once, and just so small as I?
And what did it feel like to be
Out of Heaven, and just like me?
Didst Thou sometimes think of there.
And ask where all the angels were?
I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air,
And wonder where my angels were;
And at waking 'twould distress me--
Not an angel there to dress me!

Hadst Thou ever any toys,
Like us little girls and boys?
And didst Thou play in Heaven with all
The angels, that were not too tall,
With stars for marbles? Did the things
Play Can you see me? through their wings?
And did Thy Mother let Thee spoil
Thy robes, with playing on our soil?
How nice to have them always new
In Heaven, because 'twas quite clean blue.

Didst Thou kneel at night to pray,
And didst Thou join Thy hands, this way?
And did they tire sometimes, being young,
And make the prayer seem very long?
And dost Thou like it best, that we
Should join our hands to pray to Thee?
I used to think, before I knew,
The prayer not said unless we do.
And did Thy Mother at the night
Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right?
And didst Thou feel quite good in bed,
Kiss'd, and sweet, and Thy prayers said?

Thou canst not have forgotten all
That it feels like to be small:
And Thou know'st I cannot pray
To Thee in my father's way--
When Thou wast so little, say,
Couldst Thou talk Thy Father's way?
So, a little Child, come down
And hear a child's tongue like Thy own;
Take me by the hand and walk,
And listen to my baby-talk.
To Thy Father show my prayer
(He will look, Thou art so fair),
And say: "O Father, I, thy Son,
Bring the prayer of a little one."

And He will smile, that children's tongue
Has not changed since Thou wast young!


God’s Surprising Christmas Gift

The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:
Our God likes to surprise us, to break the mold, to reveal his awesome power in ways that we could never have anticipated. The virgin birth of Christ is one of the most surprising and yet splendid events in history—the greatest of Christmas gifts! This Sunday’s reading of a short passage from Isaiah (7:10-14) is one of the most controversial and yet crucial passages of the whole Bible. It prophesies the virgin birth of Christ during a moment of international political crisis.

Historical Context

The Assyrian empire is expanding and conquering. Pekah, the king of Israel, and Rezin, the king of Syria make an alliance against Assyria, the dominant superpower of the time. They want the kingdom of Judah, led by King Ahaz, to join the coalition, but he refuses. Afraid that their two-king alliance won’t be strong enough to withstand the Assyrians, these two kings seek to conquer Judah and set up their own puppet king as the third member of the coalition. At this historical moment when the kingdom of Judah is under threat, the prophet Isaiah speaks these words to King Ahaz. The two allied kings have mustered an army and come to conquer the kingdom of Judah, depose Ahaz and set up a puppet king on the throne. No wonder Ahaz is scared!

God’s Faithfulness and Human Foolishness

Despite Ahaz’s previous unfaithfulness, the Lord pledges to save Judah, David’s kingdom, from the peril posed by the two-king alliance. The Lord wants to reassure Ahaz by offering a divine sign of the king’s choosing as confirmation of the prophet’s word. Rather than responding to the Lord’s invitation with a request, Ahaz pretends to be pious by saying he does not want to “tempt the LORD” (a citation of Deut 6:16). Of course, the Israelites had tested the LORD during the wilderness wanderings, and provoked his judgment. But here, the Lord is offering the king a sign not as an insincere trick to get him to sin, but as a powerful antidote to his lack of faith. Ahaz refuses to ask, showing his obstinance, his unwillingness to be converted even by a miracle. 2 Kings 16:7-8 tell us what Ahaz does instead: he makes an alliance with the powerful Assyrians against Israel and Syria. In fact, he pledges allegiance to Assyria and sends silver and gold from the Temple itself to firm up the offer. The Assyrians accept Ahaz as an ally and launch a counterattack against both kings’ capitals: Damascus and Samaria. Eventually, the Assyrians will break their agreement with Judah and come to attack it as well (2 Kings18).

Two Key Words

Two Hebrew words that underlie this text are important to know: almah and immanuel. The first word,almah in Isaiah 7:14, is translated as “virgin” by the New American Bible. This Hebrew word is a general purpose word for “young woman” (e.g. Gen 24:43) and there is actually another word, betulah, that specifically means “virgin” (e.g. Gen 24:16).  However, the ancient pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, translates almah in Isa 7:14 as parthenos, which means “virgin” in Greek. So when Matthew’s gospel quotes this passage in reference to Christ (Matt 1:23), it is quoting from the Septuagint Greek and showing that the prophecy was understood to be about a virgin birth, not just any birth.
The other key word is well known to us Catholics: immanuel. It is really a compound of two Hebrew words: immanu, meaning “with us”, and el, meaning “God.” So of course, the translation is “God with us.” This name for the child of the virgin indicates that God will come to dwell with us through this special child.

Two Fulfillments?

While Isaiah 7:14 mainly prophesies the virgin birth of Christ, one must ask whether Ahaz received a sign from God at all. The Lord asked him through the prophet to request a sign and since he does not, tells of a sign to be offered anyway. It would seem odd for the sign not to come to fulfillment at all for some 600 years. Did Ahaz receive a sign in his lifetime?
If you read the rest of Isaiah 7, you’ll see that the promises of the Lord here are not a bed of roses. Since Ahaz refused to accept the Lord’s blessing, the Lord will bring judgment upon his kingdom by means of Egypt and Assyria (7:18). Though Ahaz’s enemy kings will be brought low before the child is grown up (7:16), places that used to be fertile farmland will get covered in briers and thorns (7:24-25). God’s judgment is coming upon the kingdom of Judah.
Immediately following in chapter 8 is a description of the birth of Isaiah’s son named Maher-shalal-hashbaz, “one who hastens to plunder, one who hurries to loot” (8:3). The Lord promises that before he can talk, Damascus (Syria’s capital) will be despoiled by Assyria (8:4). This lines up with his promise about Immanuel in 7:16—that Israel and Syria will be deserted before he is grown up. And indeed, this prophecy is addressed to “O Immanuel” (8:8).
This is a little complicated, but I think what we can see here are two fulfillments. On the one hand, Isaiah begets a boy who is a concrete sign of judgment for Ahaz. This first “Immanuel” is conceived by natural means and born of a young woman. On the other hand, the prophecy points to a greater, more significant fulfillment—the birth of a son to the Virgin Mary by the power of God, to the birth of the everlasting Immanuel, to the birth of Jesus himself. While the first Immanuel (Maher-shalal-hashbaz) is a sign of God’s temporal judgment on his people for their unfaithfulness, the final Immanuel is a sign of God’s salvation, rescuing his people from the darkness of their own sin and establishing his reign in their hearts.
The great surprise of the virgin birth, when God intervenes in human history in an unprecedented and powerful way, sets the stage for the great salvation which the Baby of Bethlehem will win for us at Calvary. The greatest of all revelations begins with the most surprising of Christmas gifts, the virgin birth.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas in King's College, Cambridge UK

Christmas Eve, 1906. A Miracle.

The following comes from Matt Archibold at NCR:

It was Christmas Eve night in 1906. The ships at sea for the US Navy and the United Fruit Company received a message in Morse code to expect a special and important transmission. The telegraphers in their respective ships expected to hear the dits and dashes of Morse coming through.

But instead they heard something that many likely hadn't imagined possible. It was the sound of a human voice. In particular, it was the voice of Reginald Fessenden, the genius behind this first wireless voice transmission who had studied under Thomas Edison, transmitting from Brant Rock, MA, to ships on the North and South Atlantic Ocean.

And what did those people hear from Fessenden, the son of an Anglican minister, on that important night?

After playing Handel's Largo on the phonograph for all to hear, it was Fessenden himself playing "O Holy Night" on the violin and singing along. "Fall on your knees. O hear the angel voices. O night divine. The night when Christ was born. O night divine" he sang. Years later he would write that "the singing, of course, was not very good."

Fessenden then urged his wife to read from Luke, Chapter 2 but she suffered from microphone fright leading to the first ever instance of awkward radio silence. Fessenden then read aloud about the day a savior was born into the world. "Glory to God in the highest -and on earth peace to men of good will."

It seems fitting, doesn't it, that an improbable voice in the darkness reached out and changed the world that night and told of the Good News that had occurred almost 2,000 years before when the world was changed forever. 

A Chrismas Poem by G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

(Gilbert Keith Chesterton)

The Christmas Story

Mary's Boy Child by Tom Jones

Heather King: A Course in Christmas Miracles

The following comes from Heather King:

"For some extraordinary reason, there is a fixed notion that it is more liberal to disbelieve in miracles than to believe in them. Why, I cannot imagine, nor can anybody tell me."

--G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

A friend recently asked my take on a passage that began: "One of the keys to survival is to know deep in one’s heart no one is coming to save you. Because as long as the person who is in a dire situation thinks that is so, then they sit and wait. They don’t go on about the business of living in that place. Rather, they wait for someone to save them so that then they can resume living." 

"Because obviously," my friend continued, "we all have to come to grips with the fact that no-one's coming. No-one's going to save us." 

I looked around my room. The home-made triptych to my three unborn children that sits in the loft above my bed, the Sacred Heart of Jesus icon, the Christmas lights, the angel candle (lit each night before I go to sleep), the rosary of purple glass beads, the multiple Madonna and child calenders, prayers cards, the photo of Therese of Lisieux (the one where she looks both infinitely tender and infinitely fierce), the Rembrandt Head of Christ  (the one in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he looks like he has been regarding your wounded, conflicted, fearful, yearning heart with utter love for all eternity).

I thought about how, as a kid on holidays and especially Christmas, I could hardly wait for Nana to come. Nana, who would have been driven over in the big black Buick by Cousin Richard, who she had raised, and who was now her helpmeet. Nana, with a white-blue perm, a long fur coat with a weasel-head clasp, and a hard-sided black leather handbag that held an embroidered hankie (raised pink rosebuds, pale blue forget-me-nots), a bottle of Yardley Smelling Salts, and a change purse filled with coins she was lavish about doling out.

Nana, Daddy's mother, the Queen Bee to whom we all instinctively paid homage. Nana, with her brogue. "She's here, she's here!!" I'd yell, and race out through the breezeway to stand in the ice-rutted driveway, semaphoring my arms like those parking lot jockeys with orange flags, in case (though Nana and Richard came almost every Sunday), they'd forgotten where we lived.

I'd yank open the passenger side door--"Merry Christmas, Nan! do you want me to take the rolls, Nan? What does the ocean look like today, Nan?..."

Nana always brought home-made yeasted rolls. At Christmas, she made red wool shirts for "the boys" (my father on down), and for "the girls"...I can't remember. A card with a five or ten-dollar bill maybe. Nana was the present. She was special, she was ours, I would have broken the arm of anyone who tried to wrest from me the honor of hanging up her coat, or situating her on "her" place on the couch, or fetching her a glass of punch.

After she fell years later, on the steps of the church, I'd go over to the house in Rye Beach and stay overnight, filling the hot water bottle for her aching hip. I still spoon sugar every morning into my coffee from the blue and white sugar bowl, part of the china set she brought over on the boat from Ireland.

"Because obviously no-one's going to save us....obviously no-one's coming"...

I thought about how the mark of a follower of Christ is to believe in miracles, in magic, in angels and prophetic dreams and saints. I thought about which is more sublime, more clear-eyed, harder: to stop waiting, to harden your heart against waiting; or to wait in hope, your whole life, for someone you know will never come. I thought about how Catholicism ends with a wedding. 

I wrote back to my friend, "Actually, I don't think no-one's coming. In a practical sense of course I identify with feeling lost and the realization that no one is going to save us. I think we first realize that as children--and forever after, we're pissed off! Yes, I absolutely think we are responsible for making a life-or-death choice as to how and why we are going to be on this earth. But from a mystical sense, I DON'T think no-one's coming. I long to be united with Christ, who has already come. And at the end of time, will come again"....

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

O Come O Come Emmanuel by William Dutton

A Christmas reflection from Thomas Merton

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.

Thomas Merton

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Emmanuel - Songs Of Praise

These are some amazing choirs!

Christmas, Suffering, and the Cross

The following comes from Michael Coren at the Catholic World Report:

I graduated from high school in England back in 1977, and it’s grimly sobering that some of the people reading this column weren’t even born then! Be warned younger people—middle age creeps up on as surreptitiously as the most careful and crafty beasts of prey. There was a somewhat perfunctory party where students and teachers said goodbye to one another, but most of us were only too eager to see the back of school and go on to university, work, fun, whatever. I remained close to my oldest friend, who later was the best man at my wedding, but otherwise I have not maintained contact with most of my contemporaries. Frankly, I can’t even remember their names.

There was one couple, however, who I do remember: Jonathan and Angela. I say “couple” because while only 17-years-old back then, they always seemed to have been together. Not in some prurient way but as surprisingly mature, committed young people. They were also both extremely good-looking, athletic, and intelligent. With so many gifts they could at least have been unpleasant and rude just to balance things out, but they were also kind and generous—the model couple.

I recall Angela speaking to me at the party about her plans but I think I was too busy trying to look at her legs to listen to what she was saying (I wasn’t a Catholic at the time, so it was okay!). After that I pretty much forgot about Angela and Jonathan. I married, came to Canada, started a family, and moved on.

Fast-forward twenty years to a phone-call from that oldest friend. “Are you still visiting London at Christmas,” he asked, “and do you remember Jonathan and Angela?” I said “Yes” to both questions. “They’ve apparently been living in Africa and have just returned to Britain. They’re having a party to say hello to everybody. They want us all to know, however, that Jonathan was in an accident. Angela has been a teacher at a small school, and there had been a fire. One little boy, Joshua, had been left inside. Jonathan ran back in and rescued the boy. The child is fine, but Jonathan is badly burnt; they don’t want anybody to be shocked when they see him.”

I did indeed fly to London that Christmas, and made my way to the apartment whereJonathan and Angela were staying. It was Christmas Eve, and I’d planned to go to Midnight Mass after seeing them. As for burns and the accident, I had worked as a war reporter, had seen death up close, and I was—so foolishly prided myself—a man of the world. I arrived a little early, and knocked on the door. There was Angela, as lovely as ever. “Come in, come in”, she said. “You’re the first here, and Jonathan will be overjoyed so see you.”

There he was. This once strikingly handsome young man, sitting in a large armchair, his face so disguised by scar tissue that I could barely see his eyes. One ear seemed to be almost missing, and he had hardly any hair. I tried to register nonchalance, but it never works. Then he spoke, and the voice was the same as it had been two decades ago. And the words, the words. “All right Coren, I know I look a bloody mess. But at least one of us has kept their figure.”

I tried to laugh, but instead I began to cry. Angela ran to me, embraced me, said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’ve both done a lot of that. Don’t worry.” Then a little African boy ran into the room, jumped on Jonathan’s lap and said, “Daddy, daddy!” Angela held my hand and said, “Have you met our new adopted son? His name is Joshua.”

I learned that night that Jonathan and Angela were Christians, had been all of their lives, and that after university they had worked as missionaries in Africa. Jonathan helped bring a clean water supply to the region; she set up and ran a school. Christ had formed their lives, their behavior, their relationship, their love, their sacrifice, and their courage. I should have known this years earlier but I was—yes—too busy trying to look at Angela’s legs. That was an evening, a Christmas, and a Midnight Mass I will never forget.

Let me be candid. There are times when I wonder if it’s all worth it. The internal politics of the Church; the ambitious Catholics—clergy and laity—who gossip and betray; those who are never happy unless they are condemning and criticizing the words and actions of others. It was Flannery O’Connor who spoke of suffering for the Church and suffering from the Church. The first is easy and rewarding, and can lead to deeper faith. The second is enervating and painful, and can lead to despair. But whenever I feel the sting, see the unfairness, shudder at the injustice, I try to think of Jonathan, Angela, and little Joshua. But most of all I think of what this season is all about, and it is about He whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

I know the birth of Jesus Christ may well not have been in December and that it may not have been a stable, but I really could not care less. I have been to Bethlehem, but more importantly Bethlehem has been to me. I have not had to run into burning schools or put my life at risk, and my complaints about ill treatment are generally little more than privileged whines. Nor do I want to be a martyr, if it can be at all avoided. The point, though, is not whether we die for Christ but whether we are willing to die for Christ. If it’s love, it’s total. There’s no middle way when it comes to the romance of faith.

He became a baby so that we could know Him and understand Him properly. This is the quintessence of Christmas, the story of God becoming man—becoming child. Naked vulnerability guaranteeing eternal life. Angela reminded me of this when I spoke to her the day before I returned to Canada those twenty years ago. “Women used to turn and look at my husband in the street because he was so good-looking”, she said. “Now everybody turns and looks at him, but for other reasons.” A pause. “I’ve never stopped looking at him, and never will.”

Never stop looking at Jesus, as a baby, a child, an adult, a man dying on the Cross, a God restored to life, a savior with us until the end of time.\
Have a blessed and wonderful Christmas.

Archbishop Sheen: The True Meaning of Christmas

Von Balthasar: Mary represents the Church

"Mary of Bethany can never be dispensed with. Personam Ecclesiae gerit: she represents in her special role, the Church herself. She actualizes in the world of human consciousness the inmost mystery of the nuptials between Christ and the Church, God and the world, grace and nature, a relation that is the mystery both of Mary's fecundity as mother and of that of the Church."

Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blessed Mother Teresa on Prayer

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” 

                           Blessed Mother Teresa

Saint of the day: Peter Canisius

Today we remember St. Peter Canisius. The following come from the Catholic Online site:
In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a secret agent. It was shortly after the Council of Trent and the pope wanted to get the decrees of the Council to all the European bishops. What would be a simple errand in our day, was a dangerous assignment in the sixteenth century. The first envoy who tried to carry the decrees through territory of hostile Protestants and vicious thieves was robbed of the precious documents. Rome needed someone courageous but also someone above suspicion. They chose Peter Canisius. At 43 he was a well-known Jesuit who had founded colleges that even Protestants respected. They gave him a cover as official "visitor" of Jesuit foundations. But Peter couldn't hide the decrees like our modern fictional spies with their microfilmed messages in collar buttons or cans of shaving cream. Peter traveled fromRome and crisscrossed Germany successfully loaded down with the Tridentine tomes -- 250 pages each -- not to mention the three sacks of books he took along for his own university!

Why did the Vatican choose Peter Canisius for this delicate task?

Born in Holland in 1521, Peter had edited and written several volumes on Church history and theology, been a delegate to the Council of Trent, and reformed the Germanuniversities from heresy. Called to Vienna to reform their university, he couldn't win the people with preaching or fancy words spoken in his German accent. He won their hearts by ministering to the sick and dying during a plague. The people, the king, and the pope all wanted to make Peter bishop of Vienna, but Peter declined vigorously and administered the diocese for a year.

For many years during the Reformation, Peter saw the students in his universities swayed by the flashy speeches and the well-written arguments of the Protestants. Peter was not alone in wishing for a Catholic catechism that would present true Catholic beliefs undistorted by fanatics. Finally King Ferdinand himself ordered Peter and his companions to write a catechism. This hot potato got tossed from person to person until Peter and his friend Lejay were assigned to write it. Lejay was obviously the logical choice, being a better writer than Peter. So Peter relaxed and sat back to offer any help he could. When Father Lejay died, King Ferdinand would wait no longer. Peter said of writing: "I have never learned to be elegant as a writer, but I cannot remain dumb on that account." The first issue of the Catechism appeared in 1555 and was an immediate success. Peter approachedChristian doctrine in two parts: wisdom -- including faith, hope, and charity -- and justice-- avoiding evil and doing good, linked by a section on sacraments.

Because of the success and the need, Peter quickly produced two more versions: a Shorter Catechism for middle school students which concentrated on helping this age group choose good over evil by concentrating on a different virtue each day of the week; and a Shortest Catechism for young children which included prayers for morning and evening, for mealtimes, and so forth to get them used to praying.

As intent as Peter was on keeping people true to the Catholic faith, he followed the Jesuit policy that harsh words should not be used, that those listening would see an example of charity in the way Catholics acted and preached. However, his companions were not always as willing. He showed great patience and insight with one man, Father Couvillon. Couvillon was so sharp and hostile that he was alienating his companions and students. Anyone who confronted him became the subject of abuse. It became obvious that Couvillon suffered from emotional illness. But Peter did not let that knowledge blind him to the fact that Couvillon was still a brilliant and talented man. Instead of asking Couvillon to resign he begged him to stay on as a teacher and then appointed him as his secretary. Peter thought that Couvillon needed to worry less about himself and pray more and work harder. He didn't coddle him but gave Couvillon blunt advice about his pride. Coming from Peter this seemed to help Couvillon. Peter consulted Couvillon often on business of the Province and asked him to translate Jesuit letters from India. Thanks to Peter , even though Couvillon continued to suffer depression for years, he also accomplished much good.

Peter died in December 21, 1597. He is known as the Second Apostle of Germany and was named a Doctor of the Church.