Advent looks forward, not backward
We have entered the Season of Advent and most of us are thinking of Christmas; in fact, I began my Christmas cards yesterday. But Advent is not about Christmas, at least in the Extraordinary Form readings; it’s about Christ’s Second Coming. The Epistle today clearly warns us to prepare ourselves, and the Gospel foretells a terrifying end of the world. The next three Sundays of Advent are less apocalyptic but no less focused on the Second Coming. They say nothing about the birth of the baby Jesus, nor do we hear any Messianic prophecies, as in the Ordinary Form readings. Advent, at least in the Extraordinary Form, is meant to focus us on the Second Coming of Christ, not his First Coming. What if Christ were to return to earth during this “Holiday Season.” Would we be ready for him? Would the world, which has removed the very name of Christ from Christmas, be ready for him? Here he comes, and there we are, waiting in line at Macy’s, or fuming with road rage on the way to the mall. If Christ knocked on your door an hour before your big Christmas party, would you let him in? “Honey, tell whoever it is to come back next week—I’ve got so much to do before the guests arrive!” I’m not forbidding Christmas parties, but let’s try to keep Advent in focus. Our priority during Advent, and Christmas, is not social fun, but prayer and Christian love and almsgiving, some measure of penance. Our Christmas parties and shopping and tinsel are fine, if we keep them within the authentic purpose of the liturgical season. The coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the guiding purpose of Advent.
People will die of fright
On the First Sunday of Advent, as I said, we hear of confusion and terror: the sea and the waves will roar; the powers of the heavens will be shaken. “Nations will be in dismay; people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming.” It is for these days that we must prepare, because they will surely come. At His First Coming, God came as a darling baby on the lap of his childlike mother Mary. At His Second Coming, Christ will come on the clouds with power and great glory, his authority fully manifest. “When these things begin to pass, look up, because your redemption is at hand.” We are preparing for our redemption, for we are not yet redeemed—it is “at hand,” it is near, but not yet here. God’s judgment on our lives, His sentence on our time, has yet to come. Everyone in this church today (especially me) could end up in hell, and it would be an unspeakable tragedy if even one of us were eternally damned. Advent calls us to keep this danger in mind during our Christmas parties and shopping adventures, but also to keep in mind the proximity of our redemption. Now is the time to prepare for judgment; now is the time to hope for redemption.
How do we keep a good Advent? Many Americans begin the “Christmas Season” with the new civic holiday we call “Black Friday.” The very name indicates a culture that was once Christian but has become the negative image of what it once was. Children of the light, St. Paul says, “throw off works of darkness.” If we’ve thrown Christ out of Christmas, then indeed it is a “Black Friday.” Do we prepare for Christ by eating and drinking? Again, St. Paul: “not in orgies and drunkenness, rather, make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Folks, we are supposed to lose weight in this season, at least before December 25. But we do live in a time that ignores and despises the Word of God. Yet everything but the Word of God will burn in the universal fires at the end of human history.
There is a true Advent, and there is a false Advent. The false is the negative image of the true. The true Advent has gradually been turned upside down, and we don’t often stop to think about it. Christians are to practice deeper prayer, charity, and mortification in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Funny thing is, we mostly do just the opposite. We pray less and we eat more. We waste more money at Christmas on more banalities, precisely at the time the Church urges us to simplify, to spend less time and money on distractions. Let’s try to refocus, to direct that time and money this time of year on the things that last: on deeper prayer, on sacrificial and heartfelt charity. Advent is a time to remember the neediest, to give gifts without expecting a return.
In the end, Advent prepares us for our own death, and the death of our world as we know it. Deep down, we long for the death of all that is imperfect and sinful, so that we can enter into a new and perfect life. Death is hard, and more than anyone, we need our Blessed Mother at the hour of our death. Our mother brings us to birth, and God has ordained that she be with us at the hour of our death. If Advent points us to the end of all things and the beginning of a new Kingdom, then Our Lady must be a large part of Advent and Christmas. And indeed she is, on almost every Christmas card and still (Deo Gratias) on US Postal stamps. Even as we shop and have parties and write cards, let us bring Jesus and Mary to every Advent activity—a decade of the rosary or the Angelus and some real Christmas carols at every Christmas party—so that we will be prepared to meet Christ when he returns to earth.
Easter’s Grand Finale
“Cum complerentur dies Pentecostes….” So begin our Scriptures today, fifty days after the Resurrection: when were completed the days of Pentecost…, bringing the Church’s longest liturgical season to a spectacular conclusion. We extinguish the Paschal candle at the end of Mass, singing the double Alleluia after the dismissal one more time, recalling the Alleluias of the Easter Octave seven weeks ago. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, 1,980 years old today, born at that first Pentecost and renewed each year on this feast. Perhaps we should have a birthday cake for Holy Mother Church with 1,980 candles on it.
Two Stories of Pentecost
Scripture gives us two accounts of this birth of the Church. Our First reading, from Acts 2, gives us the more familiar story, truly spectacular. On the 50th day after the resurrection, the apostles were praying around Our Lady when a blast like a strong driving wind—a howling, whistling sound—came from the sky, filling the building, rocking its foundations. Sheets of fire appeared in the air, descending on each of them, and they began to speak in different tongues. But, marvelously, the people could understand these strange languages—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Romans, Lybians, and Arabs. Babel was reversed! From many languages, one word, which all peoples could understand: Jesus Christ is Lord! The Church was born, and it was born Catholic, a universal Church, a Church for all nations, as it is very much so even unto our time. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, Mass is said every Sunday in 49 different languages. And what did these Parthians and Medes and Egyptians hear, in their own language? The “Mighty Acts of God.” If only we could speak of the mighty acts of God to the non-believers of our time in a language they could understand! We can indeed, but only through the Holy Spirit. Let us never cease praying to him for the gift of tongues.
The Second Story of the Holy Spirit’s coming is found in our Gospel, from John 20. Not 50 days after the resurrection, but the very evening of that same day, Jesus walks through the walls of the apostles’ hideout. He bestows upon them the fruits of the Spirit, Love, peace and joy: “Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “and the disciples rejoiced.” He breathed on them, and then sent them out to bring peace and joy to others. How? By hearing confessions. The first task he gives them, immediately after imparting the Holy Spirit, is this: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”
Life in the Spirit
And so the Holy Spirit brings the Church into existence, and continues, infallibly, the work of Christ on earth. It is for us to live spiritual lives, as St. Paul says in the second reading. Those in the flesh cannot please God. They cannot even please themselves. Joy and peace will elude whoever lives a merely carnal life, apart from the Holy Spirit. “We are not debtors to the flesh,” Paul insists. If you live according to the flesh, you will die. Yet most of us do live a good deal of our lives in the flesh. Consider: what do you think of when you get up in the morning? Breakfast, of course. What do you think of after breakfast? How long until lunch, of course. Other tyrannies of the flesh, more nefarious, besiege us too. If we live “according to them,” life is not worth living. “We will die” in the words of Paul—we are already dead. We must continually insist on our spiritual lives, our prayer lives, and discipline the body with penances and mortifications. Only a son who works hard and sacrifices himself can call God “Abba, Father.”
Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit
In this month of May, we turn to Our Lady, spouse of the Holy Spirit. No human being knows the Third Person of God better than she, who submitted her body and soul to him at the Annunciation. As she brings us to her Son, so she brings us to her Spouse. When we pray “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” we pray to her who is full of the Holy Spirit. Please, Blessed Mother, bring us to the Holy Spirit, that our lives may be spiritual, pure and beautiful, like yours.
Extraordinary Form of the Mass; Second Sunday after Epiphany
The Back Wall: Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite
Today the Gospel recounts Second Luminous Mystery, the Wedding at Cana. We hear these words today in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity here at Thomas Aquinas College. As you leave Mass this morning, you might glance up to the scripture verse carved into the lintel over the main portal. It is the last thing we see upon leaving the chapel to return to the outside world. The words are the last recorded words of Our Lady in the Bible, uttered just before Jesus’ first public miracle. Jesus changes water into wine at her request, and the curtain falls, so to speak, on Our Lady as it rises on her divine Son. Cana is the last domestic encounter between Jesus and Mary—the mother’s last words to her Son before he sets out for his public life and ultimately his execution. Her words are: “Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite.” Whatsoever he will tell you: do it. Do whatever he tells you.
Our Lady’s prayer
Let’s look a little more closely at this First Miracle, which yielded the first glimmers of belief in his disciples. The wedding is at Cana, a poor village 15 minutes east of Nazareth. The reception would be shockingly poor by today’s standards. Jesus and all of his friends were there, and anyone else who could get in for a free meal and a cup of wine. Of course, the pitiably small amount of wine they could afford soon ran out.
Our Lady sees the problem, and discreetly mentions it to Jesus, so as not to embarrass the bride and groom. He refuses to intervene. In Greek, guné, tí emoí kai soí, “woman, what matters this to me or to you?” Our Lady is in a delicate position. She sees the need for wine, but she has heard the "disinclination” of the Lord. She doesn't press Jesus, but she turns to the servants: "do whatever He tells you." Mary here is the interceding Church, never growing weary in prayer. The Lord wants us to be "clever," to be insistent in prayer, and never to grow weary in faith. He wants us to ask for favors like we really want them ("you will find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer. 29). This week marks 40 years of legal abortion in the United States, and many of us are preparing for the journey to San Francisco’s Walk for Life. For 40 years the Church has been praying for an end to this barbaric injustice, a contagion that has infected every aspect American public life, a cancer that has spread from America throughout the world. Sometimes it seems the Lord refuses to answer our prayer, but like Our Lady we must not give up, nor grow weary in prayer.
Our Lady is a bride and not a slave; she is free and has rights with the Bridegroom, a holy confidence in asking for a favor. She is Mother Teresa getting a diocesan building from some poor bishop, or Mother Angelica closing a deal with Satellite TV executives. She freely and confidently commands the waiters, and naturally assumes general oversight of the household. Mary does not tell anybody "what" to do—she points it out to Jesus, apparently unsuccessfully, and then she points Jesus out to the stewards—urging them to a deeper faith, a deeper obedience. She's making the rounds, leaving no one out, interceding on behalf of all, simply encouraging all to have faith, to act on that faith. She did this at Fatima, telling the children simply to "pray, pray, pray." She respects each one's freedom, but points them to the obedience in which all freedom can develop. She is serene, because she has made her petition in faith, and knows that "whatever will happen, it will be within God's grace.”
And Jesus responds to her intercession, with magnificent abundance. Jesus, the man, desires the cooperation of the woman, his "helpmate." He wants to enter into a confidence, a relationship, a reciprocity, a marriage, with his Church. It’s impossible to imagine, but God wishes to be our spouse. “Your builder will marry you,” in the words of Isaiah 62:5. We are not only the sons and daughters, but the spouses, of God.
Our Lady was God’s first love, but not his only love. Through her, we each receive the grace of Christ to enter into that marriage. But Jesus our Spouse requires complete trust, and we must follow Our Blessed Mother’s words: whatsoever He tells you, do it.
First, I wish all of you a Blessed and Merry Christmas, and I thank you for attending the Midnight Mass, especially those brave enough to do so with little children in tow. During my boyhood in Pennsylvania, Mom and Dad would pile all six of us into the station wagon for Midnight Mass. We could see bright stars shining sharply in the cold black sky. We would crunch through ice and crusted snow to the church for a long Mass. Why, I complained, must we have Mass in the middle of the night? It’s too dark and cold! And my mother would explain that we go to Mass at Midnight because Jesus was born in the darkness, in the middle of the night. The Church celebrates Christmas Mass in the dark to underscore our liberation from darkness: we are no longer afraid of the dark. There is no darkness for men of faith because a child is given us, and we name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
True enough, the world is dark. The world without Christ is very dark. America celebrates Christmas this year with her flags at half-mast, watching the funerals of twenty schoolchildren, and wondering who will be next. Lurking in the backs of our minds is the fact that America kills thousands of children every day, with the support of the government and the approval of many Christian churches. The world is dark. Its movies are dark—I saw The Hobbit the other day and found it so much more dark and barbaric than Tolkien’s graceful tale of “there and back again.” So much of contemporary music, art, internet sites, news stories, clothing styles, and the rest of secular culture communicates gloom and desperation. We are a people addicted to anti-depressants, but it doesn’t permit us to evade the pervading fear and darkness.
No Longer Darkness
The world is dark, but God’s Kingdom is bright and beautiful. In the words of Isaiah, “To a people who walked in darkness, who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shown…. for a child is born to us.” The powers of this world fear and hate the child. They try to kill it, and they succeed in killing many children. But they cannot kill this Child.
St. Luke begins the Christmas story by acknowledging the powers of this world. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled….” Caesar had the power to command the “whole world,” even the Mother of God and God himself in her womb. They went obediently to Bethlehem to register with the government. No woman about to give birth should bounce on a donkey for three days, sleeping in strange places, exposed to cold and danger. And in the cold and dark she had her child, a child who would banish cold and dark forever. Cold is not cold for us, and dark is not dark, because God Is With Us.
Caesar will fail us. Governments that ignore the Law of God bring only darkness and suffering to their people. Our government used to acknowledge a power higher than itself, and we pray that it will again someday. We pray that the leaders of our Church will also submit to the will of God in everything, refusing to make bargains with the powers of this world. But no matter how dark it gets out there, our blessed hope shines brightly in here, close to Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. No worldly power, no abuse of worldly power, and no cultural decline, can extinguish this light. No Caesar and no Herod can kill this baby. We must stay close to Him, our only hope. We must stay as close to Him as did his Holy Mother, and St. Joseph, and the Holy Shepherds and Kings from the East. We must be saints like them, because outside of Jesus, it is cold, and dark, and hopeless.
We join the Blessed Mother at the manger tonight, not at all mindful of the dark and the cold. We pledge ourselves this night to stay beside them, and to never let go. We can be merry this Christmas, and of good cheer every day, because today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Sept 2, 2012, Fr. Joseph IlloA Pure Heart
In 1948, Mother Teresa
picked up a man dying in a gutter, covered with worms. She did not want to do it; the very shape and smell of this man repulsed her. But once she overcame her initial repulsion, she recognized Jesus Christ in the man she was holding. He was the first of 47,000 people she and her sisters picked from gutters over the next 40 years. One of them, looking up into Mother’s face, asked “why are you doing this?” She replied, “Because I love you.”
It was not easy for Mother Teresa to practice this degree of charity. Daily, as she went into the streets, she climbed Golgotha to lift the dying body of Jesus from the Cross. To climb that hill, and to recognize the Body of Christ, she needed a pure heart
. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God,” Jesus says in the 6th Beatitude. The impure can’t even see
God, let alone feel his love.Hand Washing and Heart Washing
In the Gospel today, the question is one of purity. Christ’s disciples scandalize the Pharisees by launching into a meal without washing their hands. As St. Mark explains for his non-Jewish readers (that’s you and I), by the time of Jesus all Jews had adopted the ritual initially practiced only by priests: that of washing one’s hands before receiving God’s gifts. Catholic priests maintain this tradition—before Mass many priests wash their hands before clothing themselves with the sacred vestments, and during the Mass servers pour water over the priest’s fingers just before he enters into the Sacrificial Liturgy.
We must all purify ourselves before offering the sacrifice. So we begin every Mass with an act of penance, and again we purify our hearts just before receiving communion: “Domine, non sum dignus….
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof….” We cannot receive his gifts efficaciously, we cannot receive the gift of himself, with impure hearts. But how do we purify our hearts
? Certainly not with mere soap and water.
Purity is always an issue. We may purify ourselves in the confessional, and Christ may purify us in the Holy Mass, but it isn’t long until we manage to defile ourselves again. We defile ourselves in slight ways in almost every conversation with peers. We defile ourselves by how we regard or disregard others. We defile ourselves slightly and sometimes grievously on the internet. We defile ourselves with food and drink, and in how we behave off campus. It is almost impossible to make our way through this world without getting dirty. Thus the need for constant purification.Charity purifies
The Pharisees insisted on hand washing, but how best to purify our hearts
? St. Paul writes in our second reading: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Charity covers a multitude of sins, as St. Peter writes (1 Pet 4:8). Of course, we need to keep clear of worldly stain—the basic defilements, such as drugs, pornography, intemperance in food and drink, dirty speech, etc. But purity consists in seeking good, not just avoiding evil. Charity is the greatest good, and a pure faith cares for “widows and orphans.” Today that means befriending the friendless, helping someone with homework, listening patiently, from the heart, to people, calling Mom and Dad at least once a week, and putting up with annoying folks with a smile. Love is patient; love is kind.The Immaculate One
Mother Teresa became a saint by the heroic exercise of charity. She founded a congregation known as the Missionaries of Charity
. A few years after she picked up that first dying destitute from the gutter, she established her first Home for the Dying in a section of Calcutta called Kalighat. She named this home Nirmal Hriday, Bengali for the “Home of the Pure Heart.” The first day I went to that place, I felt weak and naseus. But the brothers took me first to a little statue of the Our Lady that Mother Teresa had set into a wall niche. And so everyone begins the day’s work at Kalighat with a prayer to the Immaculate Heart, asking for the purity necessary to attend to the dying Christ at Calvary.
Among all the wondrous virtues of Our Lady, her purity sets her apart preeminently. Don’t we long to share in that purity? Don’t we forget that such purity, such joy, is even within our grasp? Mother Teresa ended every prayer with this invocation: “Immaculate Heart of Mary, Cause of our Joy, pray for us.” We too can imitate Our Lady’s purity, and so share in her joy, by practicing the charity of her Son. Go to her, go to Him, to share in their purity.
Homily: A Mother's Love
The Bishop is in Love
First, allow me to tell you a joke Fr. Benny told me yesterday, as Fr. Tony had told it to him the day before. It has something to do with Mother’s Day and the Blessed Mother.
Once upon a time a young priest preached at the Bishop’s Mass. Afterwards, the Bishop said to him: “you need to begin your homilies with a story—wake people up, get their attention. Come to my Mass next Sunday and I’ll show you.” So the next Sunday the Bishop begins his homily like this: “I have something to tell all of you: I’m in love with a beautiful woman.” He pauses for effect, and then continues: “Her name is the Blessed Virgin Mary.” So the young priest goes back to his parish and gets up to preach the following Sunday, but catches sight of the Bishop himself standing in the back. He gets nervous, but launches into his homily anyway. “The Bishop is in love with a married woman,” he blurts out, “but I can’t remember her name.”
Mary, our Mother
Her name is Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, wife of St. Joseph and mother of God, and we are so joyful to be in the middle of the Month of May, Mary’s Month. This Sunday is not only Mother’s Day (Happy Mother’s Day to our beautiful mothers) but also the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1917, she appeared to the three shepherd children in a field outside of Fatima, Portugal, to bring peace to a world still gripped in the Great War. Mother’s Day is in May because May is the month of the Blessed Mother. The best gift you can give your mother today is to pray a rosary for her, or even better, with her. I’m going to do that by phone with my mother later today.
They say there is no love like a mother’s love. A mother loves her child simply because the child is. There is no question of the child earning his mother’s love. He can do nothing for his mother, or even acknowledge her love. A mother’s love for her child is absolutely unconditional.
Jesus points to the source of all love in today’s Gospel: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” God the Father begets his Son, eternally pouring out his divine love into Him. The Son does not “earn” his Father’s love—he simply is the Father’s love. But the Son then gives his Father’s love to another—to us. “I love you as the Father loves me.”
If we are good sons and daughters of our mothers, who loved us unconditionally simply because we were born, we give our mother’s love to another. If we are good disciples of Jesus Christ, who loves us with his Father’s unconditional love, we give Jesus’ love to another.
Love’s Two Stages
Because love has two dimensions, two stages. First, we receive love. St. John puts it like this: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” We have no love that is not first received; any love I give was previously given to me from another (my mother, my father, my friends, etc). And the first source of all love in the world is God. So: stage one is to receive love from God.
But love must move to stage two, or it is incomplete and will die. Stage two is to give that love to another, to pass it on. If we just sit on the love given us, it dies. So Jesus says, remain in my love by keeping my commandments. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This I command you, Jesus says: love one another. Love is not a feeling (no one can command feelings—they are beyond our control). But he can and does command an act of our wills, a decision to love. Everyone possesses the capacity to make this decision to love. This is the basic stewardship principle: everything given to us is meant to be shared. That is particularly true of love. Love received is not complete or effective if I don’t give it away.
A Mother’s Love
I can’t earn love, but I can give it away. What does this authentic love look like? Well, look at a mother. She gives her blood during a pregnancy. She gives her milk after the child is born. She gives her sleep for the first two years; she gives immense amounts of her time and her sweat and her attention to her child. And in giving, she receives, perhaps not immediately, but she receives love. It comes not always from the child, but always from God. Authentic love does not look much like what you see on television. It looks a lot more like what you see in your mother, and hopefully your father too.
Which is why we love our mothers. You have taught us to love. You have given us the love you received from God, and have taught us to share it with another by your very sharing it with us. May we honor you, our mothers, by giving the love you have given us, even until it hurts. May we honor our Blessed Mother, who first received Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and then gave Him to us all.
Homily: "If you die with me, you will rise with me"
Lent: dust to dust
How is your lent going? We are five days into this most holy season, a retreat time of purity, sacrifice, and joy. I am preaching all of Fr. Peter’s English Masses this weekend to introduce myself as your Lenten Mission director, and to encourage you to attend the mission, which will be at 7pm Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the coming week.
I hope many of you were able to kick off Lent with a good Ash Wednesday. At my parish of St. Joseph’s in Modesto, the crowds were immense. In my 12 years as pastor, I’ve never seen crowds that big or lines so long. Everyone was there: rich and poor, Mexicans and Anglos, teens and seniors, even democrats and republicans. It reminded me of Ash Wednesdays in New York City, where I attended seminary. We would spend all day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, giving out ashes. Everyone came for ashes: the cabbies and the power brokers, office gals in smart business suits wearing their running shoes for the trot over from Broadway, news anchors and opera stars from Times Square, street cleaners and Wall Street financiers, homeless folk and Park Avenue elite. All were shoulder to shoulder in line, patiently waiting to get a smudge of ashes under the great gothic arches of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is the day when princes and paupers alike confess the universal truth: I am not perfect, I will die someday, and I need God’s help.
It’s ironic, really. As religion is more than ever ridiculed, as God is increasingly mocked in public life—even as our government seeks to shut down religion in America, the crowds at Mass are bigger than ever. Why is this? Because we know that sin is killing us: our marriages, our families, our culture. Deep down we know this, and we seek refuge in the simple truth of Ash Wednesday: “If you die with me, you will rise with me.”
In the first reading, a flood wipes out the whole mess. Only Noah and his family are saved from death in those raging waters. The Flood was not God’s punishment for sin, but the consequences of our sin. And yet, even so, God said never again. How would he save us from our own sin? By sending his own son, the Savior. And in today’s Gospel, this savior enters the wilderness of our sin and its consequences, a zone of death, to fight for us. It is a wilderness full of beasts and angels, the best and the worst of our human race. It is planet earth, laid waste by broken families, violent streets, blasphemous language, drugs and alcohol, infidelities and brutality of every sort, but also graced with the lives of saints like John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Jesus goes into the desert to rescue the beasts and make them into angels.
Noah’s built an ark, under God’s direction: a mighty ship that would save his family from the dark waters. The ark is a life raft, prefiguring the Church herself. Anyone inside this Ark, the Church, is safe, but anyone outside will drown. Jesus is the captain of this Ark, and the Ark is Our Lady. She is the great Ark of the Covenant who bears Christ within her. She guides us to Christ, and He guides us to the Father.
Our Parish Mission next week will focus on Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant, and Jesus, the divine presence in that Ark. He is always within her. The closer we draw to Mary, the closer we draw to Jesus inside of her. There is no authentic devotion or life in Christ that ignores or disowns his mother, Mary.
I have been giving retreats to Mother Teresa’s sisters around the world for most of my priesthood. My three talks will be from those I give to the sisters, adapted for the parish. The first will tells the story of Mother Teresa’s life and her significance in the 20th Century. We will discover her devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Holy Rosary. The second will be the first two mysteries of the rosary, the Annunciation and the Visitation. And the third talk will be on the Great Sign of Revelation 12: the Ark of the Covenant, which shows us the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I will tell some stories from my work with her in 1997 and my friends’ experiences with her. We will show a little bit of her life on a video.
I hope you can come. It will be each evening at 7pm. I will preach in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and do benediction at the end. There is wonderful grace in simply coming to a mission, because it is God’s will that we do this during Lent. Confessions will follow each talk. Each evening is self-contained, so even if you can’t make all three, I encourage you to come to one or two. But for those who make all three, I will grant a plenary indulgence.
Let us pray to Our Lady now in the words of Mother Teresa:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart,
so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate,
so full of love and humility,
that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life,
love Him as you loved Him,
and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Mother of all Feasts
We Catholics are famous for devotion to the Blessed Mother. We carry rosaries and sing songs to her; we put her statue in front of our churches and in the backyards of our homes; we celebrate her many feasts throughout the year: the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, Guadalupe, the Immaculate Heart, the Annunciation, etc. But today, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is the “Mother of all Marian Feasts.” It follows Christmas by one week, because Mary follows Christ. We can only understand Christ, and love Him, by understanding and loving His Holy Mother.
I grew up Catholic, but even in High School I didn’t know how to pray the rosary. Graduation was coming up, and I asked my mother if I could spend the summer before college at our cousins’ ranch in Utah—they were Mormons. She said yes, but only if I also did a 4-week Catholic retreat in Los Angeles. At that retreat, I discovered Mary. I found that Jesus’ mother was also my mother. They taught us a simple song: “Mary, you’re my mother. Ooo—oooo-oooo-ooooo-oooo.” It’s just that simple, and it’s stayed that simple every since. Mary is my mother. I love her, and she loves me. She looks into my face, and I look into hers.
Love your mother
God wants you to love your mother, because if you don’t love your mother, you won’t love anyone. Really, it’s the most natural thing in the world, and it’s where we all began. We all began life under, so to speak, our mother’s hearts—in her womb. The first thing we began to sense was the beating of our mother’s heart, our first reference and identity. Our own hearts began to beat, at around 10 weeks from conception, in rhythm with that great heart just above us. Then we were born, and we pressed our faces to her heart, to her breasts, to receive milk and warmth and love. Sometime, however, around age two, we learned the word “no.” We began saying “no” to our mother’s heart. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to return, to bring our own hearts back into rhythm with hers. She is our first love, and nothing can replace a mother’s love. Some of us don’t have a mother’s love, or very much of it, and that is a great cross. But we have another mother….
Broken Hearts and the Immaculate Heart
No mother is without her own sins, except for one. We begin to see, as we grow older, that our mothers’ hearts are broken, just like ours. It is true that our mothers have at times been careless with us, have misunderstood and hurt us. But though imperfect, a mother will always seek the face and the voice of her child, even an aborted child. In Bethlehem, the shepherds went in haste to see the face of a child. They entered and found Mary and Joseph, and the child, lying in the manger. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” It is in the heart of Mary that we find our own hearts; it is in the heart of Mary that we find the heart of Jesus. She kept all these things—she kept her baby Jesus—in her heart, kept Him there for us. Our Lady is Jesus’ keeper. The shepherds came to her to find Jesus. We also will find Jesus by going to her. She keeps Jesus for us.
Most of us disrespect or ignore our mothers, at least in small ways. In doing so, dear people, we disrespect and ignore our real selves. Strive for the virtue of reverence, honor, and respect for your mother. And if that is difficult, turn to your mother in heaven for help. In honoring her, we also honor, and learn to love, our earthly mothers. If your own mother does not care for you, turn to your mother in heaven. I began a real relationship with my mother Mary when I was 17. I learned to pray the rosary, and honor Our Lady in all women, beginning with my own mother. I turn to her for help, and I turn to her in love, every morning and every evening. Mary, be our mother today.