Throwback Thursday: The Holy Family and Families Today

December 28th, 2017

On the Church’s liturgical calendar, the first Sunday after Christmas is dedicated to the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  As we celebrate this day, we also reflect on how the family of our Lord reveals God’s plan for all families.

“To understand the family today,” said Pope Francis on the eve of the 2015 Synod on the Family, we need to enter “into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body” (see also Amoris Laetitia, 65-66).

The family of Nazareth helps families of today rediscover the vocation of the family – every family – to reveal and communicate life and love in communion with the Lord.  Like Mary and Joseph, families have a mission to welcome Jesus into their homes and lives, to “listen to him, speak with him, take care of him, protect him and grow with him, and in this way improve the world,” Pope Francis said in December 2014 to begin a series of talks on the family at his weekly audiences.

Today’s mothers, he added, can learn from Mary’s care for her Son, while fathers can benefit “from the example of Joseph, a righteous man, who dedicated his life to supporting and protecting the Child and his wife – his family – in difficult times.”  Meanwhile, young people can learn from the young Jesus in his “reading of the Scriptures, in praying the Psalms and in so many other customs of daily life,” including working with Joseph at his trade and his obedience to his parents.

When challenges arise, the Lord’s presence helps families endure, just as when Herod sought to kill the newborn Christ and the Holy Family went to Egypt as instructed by an angel.  During his visit to our local Saint Patrick Church in September 2015, the Pope also spoke of how Joseph was strengthened by his profound faith in God during the difficulties in his life, such as when he and Mary found there was no room for them in the inn at Bethlehem.

In the frantic urgency of a mother about to give birth with seemingly no place to stay, “Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark.  Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life,” said our Holy Father.  “As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.”  Divine providence would have Jesus born in a stable, expressing his solidarity with the lowly and identifying “with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice.”

The Lord did not enter into the world by descending in majesty on a cloud.  He came as part of a family in humility.  He entrusted himself and his plan of salvation to the care of a human family, the family of Joseph and Mary, and “he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open,” explained Pope Francis at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

When God came “knocking,” when he sent his angel to Mary and then Joseph, each of them opened the doors of their hearts.  God knocks on the doors of today’s families as well.  He comes calling because he wants to enter into their lives, just as Jesus entered into the lives of Mary and Joseph.  He wants to give them his love so that they can be “families that are united, families that love, families that bring up their children, educating them and helping them to grow, families which build a society of goodness, truth and beauty,” said Pope Francis.

As we proceed on our pilgrim journey, God calls married couples and their children in a special way to walk a well-marked path, which he created to be their road to heaven. They do not walk alone, and they do not go forward in the dark. They are accompanied by Joseph and Mary and their son Jesus, who is also the Son of God, and they walk in the light of the Gospel.

The Holy Family of Nazareth shows families how to be holy and how to help others be holy.  The witness of families who answer God’s call, who open the doors of their hearts, reaches far beyond the walls of their home. This witness speaks the Gospel by their example to their extended family, to neighbors, to friends, to schoolmates, to everyone.  It brings Christ to the world.

The Nativity of Our Lord

December 25th, 2017

Today, a Savior is born to us.  We celebrate Jesus’ birthday in history not as a past event, but something that is on-going.  The nativity of our Lord goes beyond the limits of time and space.  It endures as a present reality in the world and in human hearts.

The Gospels speak with profound simplicity about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus that first Christmas (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-20).  Yet within that humble experience is an astounding reality in which we discover the deepest truths about God and about ourselves.

We tend to think of God as so far beyond us – maybe so distant that he is not a part of our daily life.  Christmas is a time to renew our faith that in the Child of Bethlehem, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The comfort we derive from Christmas is knowing that God has become one with us in the flesh – and there is a sublime purpose in the Lord taking on our human nature.  Because he was to be our Savior, Jesus “had to become like his brothers in every way” (Hebrews 2:17).  Furthermore, it is only in the mystery of the incarnate Word that the mystery of our human existence is comprehensible (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

As Saint John Paul II affirmed, “Through the Incarnation, God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning” (Redemptor Hominis, 1).  That dimension is love.  By the creative and transformative power of his love, Jesus renews a wounded humanity and restores our harmony and friendship with God, fulfilling the divine plan that we might enjoy eternal life and happiness with him.  This same love gives meaning and direction to our lives – to experience and participate in love and make it felt in our world, in everyone we meet (Id., 10).

Rejoicing in the great blessing that came to us that holy night when a new light dawned upon the world and God became one with us, may you and all of us know and feel today and always the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary, the Savior of the world.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas Invitations and Gifts

December 23rd, 2017

“Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy,” exclaimed the angel to the shepherds in the field. “Today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord”  (Luke 2:10-11).

At the heart of Christmas is this invitation to rejoice in the Good News, an invitation to share in the great gift that is tendered to us in the Word made flesh – “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  The Son of God comes into the world not in an overpowering or imposing way, but in a humble newborn who knocks on the doors of our hearts offering us his love, a love that reveals the ultimate meaning of our lives and “is greater than sin, than weakness, than the futility of creation, it is stronger than death; it is a love always ready to raise up and forgive,” as Saint John Paul II affirmed (Redemptor Hominis, 9).

Like the shepherds, this is how we all come to know and rejoice in the Lord who redeems our lives:  We each have been invited to receive Jesus into our hearts and lives.  Our joy in accepting cannot help but spur us to invite others to share in our blessings and experience the true meaning of Christmas.  Like the many presents under the tree, there are many invitations we can extend – singing Christmas carols together, asking someone to join us at Mass or to do some charitable service together – even a simple “Merry Christmas” can brighten someone’s life. In these commercialized times, when we can no longer take it for granted that people know that Christmas is about Christ, or even who Jesus truly is, they might really cherish hearing from you the real story and why the Lord means so much to you.

Our Christmas invitation is for people to personally experience the wonder and joy of Love Incarnate coming into the world.  And because Jesus came to save all people, all are welcome, everyone is invited. In a particular way, to anyone who might be disillusioned or disaffected by contemporary society or even by our faith community, the Church assures you that there is a place for you here in our spiritual home.  Our invitation is extended to everyone.

Wherever those we encounter are in life, whatever their own particular circumstances, our invitation to come see the Christ Child born in Bethlehem can help renew and transform them by his presence in their lives.  There is no gift that we could buy that would be greater than this gift of sharing in the hope, peace and love of Jesus, the reason for the season.

Throwback Thursday: Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us

December 21st, 2017

What is it like to see the face of God?  At the beginning, Adam and Eve had walked with him in the Garden, but they rejected his gifts and without a pure heart, they could no longer see God.  With humanity thereafter affected by sin, Abraham never saw the Lord’s face in all his glory and even Moses could only look upon the back of God as he passed (Exodus 33:18:23).  Elijah heard him in a small, still voice, but covered his face to conceal the glory of the Lord (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Still the Psalmist calls out to God: “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek his face.’ It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9). Through all of salvation history Israel cried out to the Lord, longing to see his face. In their failings and in their triumphs, in times of exile and in times of peace, the great desire of God’s people was to once again know their creator face-to-face.

Their desires were fulfilled when Jesus Christ came among us, when the divine became man and God became God-with-us, Emmanuel. Yet the Incarnation of the Word was wondrously unexpected – the Lord did not come in power and glory, but quietly and humbly. The infinite and all-powerful God entered into our human flesh and was born a small and helpless infant.  He came to save us – and to be one of us.

When the face of God is finally revealed, it is a Child’s face born in poverty.  What wonder and joy, what unfathomable blessing to have the God we worship take upon himself our own form.  He lived as one of us, and he died as one of us. He was raised up, and ascended into heaven until he comes again.

But what about us today? Can we see the face of God, or is that lost to us until the second coming?

Our vision of the Lord’s countenance is different from the Virgin Mary’s as she sat beside the holy crib, of course.  But God is not unreachable, because the Incarnation changed everything.  Jesus came to us in the flesh and in a particular way he is now present in his mystical body – we can see God’s face in his body, the Church.  Most of all, he established the sacrament of the Eucharist. Though his presence is hidden in the appearances of bread and wine, the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to see his Real Presence, to see his face.  As we receive him and go out into the world, having entered into our suffering humanity, the Lord also asks that if we love him, we will see him in those in need, so that what we do for them, we do for him.

Jesus was Emmanuel 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem, and he is still Emmanuel today – God with us.  What a perfect gift this is.

Intensifying our Preparation for Christmas with the Antiphons of Advent

December 18th, 2017

One of the more striking hymns that everyone associates with Advent is O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which captures so beautifully the longing for the Messiah. It is one of the songs called the “O Antiphons,” each of which reveals some part of what God’s people have yearned for in their Savior.  The antiphons are traditionally sung at Evening Prayer and proclaimed in the daily Mass in the Alleluia verse before the Gospel from December 17 through December 23:

December 17:
O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love:
Come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18:
O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
Come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19:
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people:
Come to save us without delay!

December 20:
O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
Come and free the prisoners of darkness.

December 21:
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

December 22:
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
Come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23:
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
Come to save us, Lord our God!

Intensifying our anticipation each day, the O Antiphons help prepare us spiritually for the newborn king, Jesus. Contemplating each antiphon individually or singing just one verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel each day allows us to ponder, like Mary, the meaning of the glory of God becoming one of us and making his dwelling among us.

The king has come, and his kingdom is his presence in the world, manifested in the ordinary actions of every Christian.  With every prayer, work, joy and suffering, the kingdom comes.  That is how we live between the first coming of Christ and the second. We live with an expectation, confidence, and joy that we magnify as a Church every Advent.

Throwback Thursday: Rejoice in the Lord Always

December 14th, 2017

With all of the festivities and preparations associated with the weeks before Christmas, this can be a very hectic time.  Add shopping to the mix, and the long day at the mall jostling amid the crowds might tempt some to irritation.  Meanwhile, others may be distressed because they are out of work.  It is in this atmosphere of anticipation in the midst of the realities of the human condition that the Church invites us to rejoice on the third Sunday of Advent.

Joy.  It is a word we hear and use all the time.  We sing, “Joy to the world,” and Pope Francis famously reminds us of the “joy of the Gospel” and the “joy of love” in the family. But what exactly is joy?

Modern commercialism gives one answer – joy is something that can be purchased.  A similar answer is given by popular culture which tells us our individual needs and desires trump all other considerations.  Yet, invariably the people who follow these paths end up miserable as they realize that material possessions and worldly delights are superficial and fleeting.

The Church proposes another answer – namely, that joy is more than simply having fun, that it goes beyond pleasure and the world’s understanding of happiness.  Authentic joy is necessarily oriented towards the transcendent, towards things eternal, rather than worldly things that will one day turn to dust.  This joy “fills us from within” as “an expansion of the heart” that helps us find fulfilment and can still be experienced when material pleasure has ebbed and even amid sorrow, explains Pope Francis (Amoris Laetitia, 126).  And the way to this joy is love and goodness.

If we want to truly understand joy, just as if we want to understand Christmas – indeed the whole Christian faith – perhaps we need to learn from, and become like, children.  “Christmas is for kids,” we often hear.  All the excitement of this season is heightened when it involves youngsters.  Moreover, Christmas brings out the “kid” in each of us as we adults remember how, when we were little, we had no problem expressing genuine joy in simple things like singing carols and making cookies and snow angels.

However, this joy of children is not really about the presents.  Have you ever been in the toy department of a store and seen a child crying because he has lost his parents?  Here he is surrounded by all of these fun things, but at that moment, they mean nothing to him.  All he really wants is mom and dad.

What makes us rejoice is not getting lots of stuff, but having people who love us, especially the infinite love of the little Child of Bethlehem (Evangelii Gaudium, 7).  When he grew up, our Lord told us the source of all real joy – himself.  “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love,” he said.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

All authentic joy finds its origin in the Lord who is Love and, thus, the joys of this world are but a foretaste of the fullness of joy that is found only in heaven.  Those who come to eternal life know every blessing, but at the core of their joy is communion with God himself.  As described by Pope Benedict XVI, “We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (Spe Salvi, 12).

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is thus interrelated with the other fruits of the Spirit.  Hence, you cannot truly be joyful if you are lacking in charity, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, or chastity.  With love at its foundation, joy must also be shared if it is to remain joy.  “Joy is a pilgrim virtue,” says Pope Francis, “if we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end.”

The Christmas message is one of great joy, which is to say it is a message of love – Jesus Christ is born, God is with us.  “With Christ,” Pope Francis affirms, “joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). When we share that message and joy with others – at work, at home, and even at the mall – we give them the perfect gift.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

December 12th, 2017

Amidst all the preparations, decorating and shopping this Advent season, the voice of John the Baptist cries out to us, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!” (Mark 1:3)

The way of the Lord is love and mercy, light and salvation which leads out of the spiritual desert to the spring of life-giving water. To prepare this way for Our Redeemer and making straight his paths, then, means straightening and prioritizing our own lives so that we are worthy to receive him.  It means opening our hearts, where his love can heal and sustain us and transform our lives into a unique reflection of his own.

Revealing in himself the merciful love of God, Jesus comes to offer us the gifts of grace and new life.  One way to keep the way clear for the Lord to enter into our hearts is by a contrite examination of conscience each day and striving to do better.  However, in a more particular fashion, Jesus makes us a new creation in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

There is a struggle between the spirit and the world in which we live. The sobering and sad fact of life is that each of us from time to time sins.  Each of us sometimes goes off on our own way, rather than God’s way, with the inevitable adverse consequence that we stumble through a wilderness in the dark.  Thankfully, the light of the confessional is there serving as a beacon of love and caring concern which says  that inside is an oasis of mercy where the Lord is ready and waiting to receive all who enter.

Confession is the story of reuniting with our Lord and the embrace of his infinite love.  In the sacrament, we receive a grace that has a real impact on us in real life.  Through this gift that is as undeserved as it is unmerited, not only are we reconciled to God with our sins forgiven, but we also receive his divine assistance to lead a more loving, truthful, and faith-filled life.  Whatever small penance we perform is merely a token of our resolve to amend our lives in love and thanks to God, who is all good and deserving of our love.

The message of Christmas is God loves us and it remains one of the marvels of his endless love that through his Son, born in Bethlehem, he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us.  As we journey to Bethlehem, we need to prepare the way for him and bring to him a fitting gift.  We want to be able to approach and lay before the manger our own loving, pure and reconciled heart.

The Trinity Dome: The Crowning Jewel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

December 8th, 2017

The dedication today of the Trinity Dome mosaic, the crowning jewel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, marks the completion of a pilgrimage that began nearly a century ago, with the laying of the shrine’s foundation stone in 1920. The final touches on this sanctuary of prayer are thanks to the overwhelming support of the nation’s Catholics, just as they have contributed from the very beginning. This outpouring demonstrates the faithful’s love for Mary – the mother of Jesus and the mother of the Church, whose “yes” gave us our Savior and who shows us the way to him.

The dramatic new mosaic shows the Blessed Mother with her arms outstretched, leading us, as represented by a procession of saints, to the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Included in this pilgrim journey are 18 saints and blesseds from all backgrounds and walks of life, but with a special connection to the Americas and to the Basilica. Among these inspirational holy men and women who now pray for us in heaven are Saint John Paul II, who visited and prayed at the shrine in 1979, Blessed Paul VI, who visited before he became pope and whose papal tiara is on display there, and Saint John XXIII, who was pope when the Great Upper Church was dedicated in 1959.

The base of the dome is ringed by the words of the Creed. Pope Francis blessed the section with the beginning and concluding words, “I believe in one God” and “Amen,” during his 2015 visit to the Basilica, where he celebrated the Canonization Mass for Saint Junípero Serra, the great missionary who is also depicted in the work.

The papal connection so evident in the mosaic and a part of the shrine reminds Catholics of their connection to Peter, the rock on whom Christ built his Church. Meanwhile, we could say that the millions of pieces of colored glass in the mosaic symbolize the universality of the Church, including the diverse pilgrims from across the country and around the world who come to pray here, offering the gifts of their different backgrounds and heritages. United in faith in the Lord Jesus, together these elements reflect the beauty and transcendence of God’s holy Church.

Tomorrow, our archdiocesan family of faith is invited to join the Walk with Mary procession and Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. The celebration starts at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart for another pilgrimage to the house of Mary, reminding us that our journey of faith continues with our Blessed Mother showing us the way to God, as depicted in the Trinity Dome. This happens not only through dramatic, colorful artwork, but by saying “yes” to the Lord each day of our lives.

Throwback Thursday: The Incomparable Importance of Immaculate Mary in Our Life of Faith

December 7th, 2017

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a beautiful, beloved, essential and pervasive figure in the Church calendar.  Tomorrow, we rejoice in her Immaculate Conception, celebrating her as God’s greatest creation – the vessel he fashioned to be his own mother, the woman who would bear him into the world.

Pope Francis explains that, in view of her divine motherhood, “Mary was preserved from original sin, from that fracture in communion with God, with others and with creation, which deeply wounds every human being. But this fracture was healed in advance in the Mother of the One who came to free us from the slavery of sin. The Immaculata was written in God’s design; she is the fruit of God’s love that saves the world” (Angelus address of December 8, 2013).  By her Immaculate Conception, Mary is truly a proper and pure living temple for the Son of God, a holy living house of the Lord.

Our Holy Father has stated that Mary is more important than the bishops and that without her, we could never truly understand the spirit of the New Evangelization (e.g. Evangelii Gaudium, 104, 284).  In fact, without Immaculate Mary, without her “yes” to God, the events of salvation that were to come could not have taken place.

Recognizing her unequaled importance in the incarnation of Jesus and his work of salvation, the Second Vatican Council devoted a substantial portion of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, to the Virgin Mary.  More than that, recalled Pope Benedict XVI, who served at the Council as a theological advisor when he was a young priest, the entire process was pervaded by a Marian dimension (Homily for the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Council, December 8, 2005).

Summarizing the Council Fathers, Pope Benedict said, “The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church, she always remains the Star of salvation.”

The role that Mary played and continues to play in pointing the way for the Church is crucial, taught the Council.  “Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness,” such that throughout her life she remained “free from all stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (Lumen Gentium, 56), we find in Mary both the most sublime example of God’s grace at work and also a sign that we too can be made new and grow in holiness if only we accept his grace.  Just as the Blessed Virgin is “the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (Lumen Gentium, 68).

Everywhere the Church has spread there are signs of profound veneration of Our Lady.  There is a complete symphony of praise for her in poems, litanies and hymns sung in every language, giving voice to her vital role in our life of faith.

While we cannot equal Mary in the singular privilege of her Immaculate Conception, as we seek to renew ourselves in preparation for Jesus during this Advent season, we can certainly emulate her faith and her love for the Lord. Following her example as handmaid of the Lord, we can continually progress in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things (Lumen Gentium, 65).  In this way, we become more like her exalted type and help to manifest already in this world the beginnings of Christ’s kingdom of peace and justice, truth and love.

The Perfect Gift

December 3rd, 2017

Today begins the liturgical season of Advent, during which the Church prepares to receive the fullness of God’s promise. We recall the centuries and millennia when the world awaited the arrival of our Lord and Savior. There is also an intensifying of the Church’s expectations for the future as we reflect on what it means to be prepared for the second coming of Christ. Thus, in Advent the Church looks backward and forward, while living also in the present moment.

In the cycle of readings chosen for this year, we hear an urgency, almost a command that seems to be exactly the tone we need in the hectic world in which we live. Mark’s Gospel for this first Sunday of Advent urges to “be alert,” to be “watchful.” It seems the right invitation during a time when we are tempted by the many distractions that make us so easily forget the real meaning of Christmas. What is involved in adopting Advent’s interior disposition of a confident peaceful waiting for Jesus to come again? It begins by remembering that which is most important about Christmas – the one and only gift that matters the most has already been given. God gave us his only Son, and in that Son we find the perfect gift.

This theme of the perfect gift is the focus of the archdiocese’s annual Advent evangelization initiative. Find the Perfect Gift is a reminder to people that the celebration of Christmas is a celebration of love – God’s love for all his people and the many ways that loved is shared in families, among friends, through individuals and groups who reach out to the most vulnerable and poor to insure they have food, warm clothes and gifts to share.

As you drive around over the next few weeks and engage in social media and listen on the radio, you will see banners and promotional spots and hear ads that invite people to find that perfect gift of Jesus in prayer, in reflection, at Mass and in reaching out to our brothers and sisters most in need. You can also visit for resources to help adopt an attitude of watchfulness and be alert to where and how you can share the gift of love that God first shared with you, including a series of spiritual reflections by some of our priests and videos that celebrate the richness of Advent and Christmas traditions in the many ethnic communities that make up our spiritual family. Advent wreaths can be downloaded as well as a resource for daily prayer for the family.

The cultural demands of this time need not distract us from being alert to the presence of the Lord here and now and to the confident hope we can have in knowing that at the first Christmas, the Word made his dwelling among us, and he is already with us “always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).