Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Vigil Mass (OF)

Stories have been a part of our human experience since we have existed.  Even before we could write out words, we traced images onto the walls of caves.  Soon we began to have those appointed to the task of telling stories, either through recitation or through writing.  With the advent of motion pictures, we now have even more ways to enjoy our favorite stories come to life before our eyes. How many different stories have been told throughout the centuries: Odysseus and Aeneas, Arthur and Camelot, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the modern sagas of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Each of us has that story that we know from beginning to end, that story which we treasure greatly, which we return to time and time again.
What is it about that one story that attracts us to return to it even when we know the plot and could probably recite the whole thing from memory? It is something which speaks to us deep down within our being, striking a chord within our heart.  It resonates with what we desire and what we wish could be.  It is the proper resolution of all things: the good are rewarded, the wicked are overthrown and punished, and all live happily ever after.
This resolution is what every decent human being desires in their own life, and so we seek to affirm this by clinging on to stories where this resolution occurs.  How else do you explain the movies which get the biggest box office profits?  We want to see the triumph of good over evil, the victory of the hero against the villain, not the opposite.  Only a deformed mind would desire that evil emerges triumphant and good be crushed.  We treasure these stories because we recognize the reality that there is evil in our world, and that perhaps it might win over us unless we act.
Yet how often does it seem that this view of good versus evil is called simplistic or misguided in our own day?  We are told that one man’s view of good and evil may be vastly different than another’s, and that we must not seek to impose or be intolerant of the other’s views. Some even question the labels “good” and “evil” as being out-of-touch with the modern understanding of morality.  They will tell us that each value has its own place and time and that we cannot judge or dismiss these ideas from our minds.
If any of us really believed this view of the relative value of good and evil, then we would not be here tonight.  For tonight we re-hear the story that has been woven into the human experience from the very beginning.  We hear once the story of the real battle of good and evil which has been waged from the creation of the world, and which continues now and unto the end of time.  It is the story we are all too familiar with, yet the story which we should delight in the most.
Saint Matthew hints at this story in the beginning of his Gospel, when, as we have just heard, he lists out the generations between Abraham, David, and the one whose birth we are beginning to celebrate.  For those who are in the know, this list of names is like the feature of a TV series episode saying ‘Previously on...”  That story which is found within those names begins in the Garden of Eden when God creates man and woman, giving them life and calling them to union with Himself.  Of the fall of humanity we are all too familiar both in story form and in our own experiences.  We can try to deny it, but we know that there is a condition which leads each one of us to do that which we know is not right or to avoid doing that which is good.  So we see evil strike its first blow against God and against humanity, but it is not the last for either side.
Our story continues with Abraham: called in other places in the Scriptures the righteous or the faithful.  He obeys God completely in his life, from his call to leave his homeland and enter Canaan - the future home of his descendants - or even to the point of nearly offering his son as a sacrifice to God.  Abraham is one of the most holy people portrayed in the Old Testament, but he is not capable of finishing the story, and so it continues after him.
Next we see King David, the strong warrior who secures the nation of Israel against her enemies. David is highly praised in the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms as a righteous king and a holy warrior.  Yet David was not completely righteous or faithful; the most famous incident is when he lures Bathsheba away from her husband and commits adultery with her, even killing her husband so that she could be his wife.  David is thus seen as incapable of completing this story of humanity, and so it continues after him.
We then hear about those who are sent into exile after Israel is conquered many years after the death of David. This is one of the lowest points in the story up to tonight’s feast: the nation promised by God to exist forever has been conquered and banished from the Promised Land.  It seems at this point that God will not be victorious, that perhaps the devil will emerge victorious in this story.  But it is not the case: God will eventually free the people so that they may return to their heritage and live once more in the favor and grace of God.  Yet none of these men or women listed were able to conclude our story, and so it continues after them.
Until tonight.  With the child whose birth we celebrate tonight, our story begins to turn towards its climax through the introduction of the most unexpected of characters: the Author of the story itself.  For the child born to us this night is no mere child.  He is the Creator of the entire universe become a creature within that same universe; He is the Author of the great story who becomes one of the characters within that same story; He is the indivisible, infinite, immortal, eternal God become man so as to serve that same God.  It is this child who will turn the story towards its climax through His life and through His death.
Indeed, what we celebrate tonight is the fact that God becomes personally present to us through the same flesh which we all posses so as to bring about the conclusion desired by God.  Only God is capable of this, yet it is man who must do this since it was man who started the mess in the first place.  So it is that God takes on our flesh and is given a part in the story which He is writing.  So it is that this Jesus of Nazareth comes so as to free us from our sins.
We know the conclusion of the story: we see it in the Cross displayed so prominently in our church.  We will celebrate it once more on Easter Sunday when we recall and rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  But can we really say that all of that is the true conclusion to this story we have reviewing?  How can we say that this story is done when it seems that so little has changed from before?
It is true that the story of humanity is finished in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus’ vindication of humanity shines forth like the dawn and His victory like a burning torch, as prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading.  Yet this story is not finished for each one of us.  It is unfinished in that we each are given the choice of either joining in with the victorious story of Christ or of writing our own story against God and against Christ.  It is unfinished in that it is still being written in our hearts and in our lives, the pen standing over the paper at each moment to write down and to trace out our path either towards union with God or abandonment of God.
We all know the classic ending of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge, having been visited by three spirits showing him Christmases past, present, and future, changes his ways for the better, exclaiming at the end “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” For the Christian, this is meant to be not the end of our individual stories, but the beginning of our own adventures.  Each one of us is called to a part in the great story of humanity’s fall and rise. Each one is meant to make our own the story of Jesus Christ: born in a stable, hidden for 30 years, teaching and preaching and working miracles, praised by many, hated by some, cursed and derided, tortured, suffered, crucified, died, and resurrected, now reigning gloriously in Heaven after his ascension.  If we are to honor Christmas all year, we must make our broken or discordant stories one with the story of Christ, with the story of His Church.
Let us rejoice in this day, because God does not abandon us as a failed story, but instead willing enters the story so as to restore us.  Let us rejoice in that God stoops down to meet us in our flesh so that we might be able to be united to Him.  But let us not forget this story or merely write it off.  Let us honor the true message of Christmas through our living out the consequences of that story: conforming ourselves to Christ through His Church, the Church which is the greatest storyteller in the world.  Let us continue to hear that story each Sunday and indeed each day of our lives so that we may not be entertained but moved to transform ourselves to be more like Christ our hero, Christ our victor, Christ our king.  May we truly celebrate the Christmas story by reflecting it in our lives in each moment, so that we may rejoice at the conclusion of this story at the Last Day, when all the wicked shall be condemned, all the good shall be rewarded, and Christ will glorify His faithful with the gift of eternal life.  Let us live out our stories so that we may be a part of the new story which will be written in joy and peace, where all will live happily ever after.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent (OF) - Mary and Her Child

We stand on the precipice of Christmas.  The time grows short, the days are getting shorter and busier, everyone is bustling about trying to prepare.  We are all in haste to get the house cleaned, the presents bought and wrapped, the decorations in place, the lights hanging, everything we need for Christmas.  How much attention, though, do we place on the reason for the season? Certainly, we are not forgetful of why it is that we celebrate Christmas: the birth of the Christ Child into the world.  Yet do we take time to consider the significance of this holiday?  It’s easy to do the work of cleaning and decorating, but are we cleaning and decorating our hearts and minds for the feast day we are to celebrate so soon?
If you pay attention to the prayers of our Mass, you might notice that something is missing: the name of the one who is to be born on Christmas Day.  We must always remember that Christ is not necessarily a name but a title, a title indicating the one anointed or chosen by God.  Throughout our prayers, which normally include the Holy Name, we notice an absence which expresses the longing of the Church for He who is to be born so soon.  It is the longing of our ancestors, the longing of our forefathers, the longing of the whole human race.  It is also the longing of a mother to at last hold her unborn child in her arms and to speak their name for the first time to them.
We are journeying now with the Virgin Mary to the town of Bethlehem - foretold by the prophet Micah in our first reading to be the birthplace of the one who is to be the ruler or the king in Israel.  Saint Luke presents to us one part of the journey which Our Lady makes towards her ancestral home in showing us what is traditionally called the Visitation: the period immediately after the announcement by Saint Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she will be the Mother of God.  The archangel had revealed to her that her cousin Elizabeth had also become pregnant by the power of God; she who had been barren for so long now bore within her womb the one who would prepare the way for the Lord.
Our Lady leaves in haste so as to marvel at what God has done in Elizabeth and in herself.  But no sooner does she greet her cousin than her cousin begins to praise her: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Elizabeth cries out in joy and in humility that she has received the gift of a visit from the mother of her Lord.  Even John rejoices while in his mother’s womb, leaping for joy that the One whom he will proclaim as the Lamb of God has come to him.  Joy overflows this moment which Saint Luke recalls for our consideration.
But even greater joy awaits our Lady: the joy of finally bringing this child into the world.  A mother desires more than anyone else the birth of her child, if for nothing else except to have the child finally out of the womb.  Yet Mary desires this birth for a far greater reason: because of who this child is and what He will do.  She knows that her child is the Savior of the nations.  She knows that her child will be the King who frees His people.  She knows that her child is the one who truly comes to do the will of God in the flesh He receives from her. She knows that her child is the Emmanuel - the God with us.
This is why she eagerly awaits His birth and rejoices with Elizabeth.  Along with her littleness and her humility, God blesses Mary’s immense faithfulness with becoming the most powerful woman in the world, as one magazine recently declared her.  Thus does Elizabeth praise her finally as being blessed because she believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.  Believing in God and His desire for our salvation, she who is the handmaid of the Lord has been exalted above every other creature, to the point of even being made the Queen of heaven and earth, all because of her child whose birth is at hand.
Let us rejoice with the Virgin Mary that she is to soon bring into the world the God-man.  Let us praise her, just as Elizabeth praised her, for her faith and her humility while learning from her how to do the same.  Let us be prepared in mind and heart for the coming child through our prayers and our lives.  Let us truly desire to welcome the one whose name will so soon be on our lips, just as it was on the lips of Mary at His birth: the one who is called Savior, the one who is our way and our eternal life, the one who is the God among us: Jesus Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (OF)

If we were given the opportunity and the funds, what sort of house would we build?  Would we not desire the very best materials, the highest quality furniture, perhaps even the best and newest technology we could find?  If we were capable, we would each most likely build a house better than the one in which we live now, even if we are comfortable and love what we have.  This does not necessarily signify weakness or sinfulness, but rather that we desire the best in our lives, most especially with the place where we call home.  This desire for the best is not only found in humanity, but it can also be found within the Divinity.
God desires to have the best in all that He works.  This is not because He needs it, since He is infinite and omnipotent and already has everything He could ever want, but rather because the best that earth and creation can offer are those things which are closest to God in holiness, in beauty, and in truth.  God also desires the best in His works so as to lift us up to Himself through those works.  This is proven in the work for which we have started preparing in this Advent season: the birth of the Savior of the human race.
As we continue our preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, it seems as if the Church interrupts this season of Advent with today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Yet this could not be farther from the truth.  If we understand what is happening in the mystery of today’s feast, we will see how this event is essential to the work of salvation God brings about in His Son Jesus Christ, along with seeing how the Blessed Virgin Mary is the greatest and the best creature God has ever made.
Having already noted this God’s desire for quality in His craftsmanship, we can look at what we celebrate today as one of the clearest examples demonstrating this principle.  It all begins in the Garden, which we hear the closing part in our first reading today.  Adam and Eve have contracted sin for the whole human race through their disobedience to God’s command, thus requiring their exile from the Garden and the punishment of travails in labor.  Yet even in the midst of this condemnation, God makes a promise to them that this will not persist forever.  The Lord tells our first parents that “I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between [the serpent’s] offspring and hers” (Gen 3:20).  This has been seen by the Church throughout the centuries as the foreshadowing of what will happen in the Gospel between Christ the Son of Mary and the Devil the trickster who slithered his way into ruining humanity.
Indeed, God will do this not just through any human agent, but He will do it by His own Son becoming a man so as to win humanity back from Satan.  Yet this goal of salvation via the Incarnation of God the Son begs the question: how will God become man?  Will He imitate Adam by being born from the earth? Or will He just appear among the crowds, becoming a man instantly?  Or will God take the hard road by humbling Himself to become a man just as we have done: through being born of a woman?
If God were not only to free humanity from the bondage of sin and Satan and lift us up so as to draw near to Himself, He must do it by taking on every aspect of humanity that is possible, including being conceived and born.  Yet God is all-holy, all-perfect, Goodness in His very being; how can He be born of a sinful woman, He who will be like us in all things except sin (cf. Heb 4:15)?  We have already seen that God desires to do the best in everything He works, and it is the same with the birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior.  If God the Son is to unite Himself to our human flesh and so become Jesus, He must have the best mother and the most glorious dwelling that can be created in the universe.
Thus is the Blessed Virgin Mary not only given the singular privilege of becoming the mother of God, but she is given the greatest grace and the source of the innumerable graces that fill her: the grace of being conceived without the stain of original sin.  Just as God has desired a beautiful and holy temple undefiled by sin in the times of the Old Testament, so too does He desire the most beautiful and most holy temple in the womb where He will dwell for nine months and become a member of the human race, in the womb of the Virgin Mother.
But God grants this highest privilege and immense grace upon Mary not only so that she will be the Mother of God, but that she may also begin to unravel the effects of original sin upon humanity.  Just as Adam and Eve are without sin when they decide to disobey God, so too are Jesus and Mary free of the taint of sin so as to rectify that first disobedience with the greatest obedience offered by any two human beings.  Just as sinless Eve brought forth sin unto Adam, as the story tells us, so does sinless Mary bring forth for us now the new Adam who will free us from that sin.
The celebration of the Immaculate Conception can be seen, then, as one of the most essential pieces of the immediate preparation for the coming of Christ our Savior.  For in it we see the beginnings of the fulfillment of the promise God made to Adam and Eve at their exile from the Garden, by the new garden which is found in the immaculate and virginal womb of Mary.  Yet there is more that comes from this enclosed garden than the Son who will be King and Lord: there is also the beginnings of the mercy which God desires to show unto His people.
As you have heard or seen or read for the past few weeks, Pope Francis has inaugurated a Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins on this feast.  In doing this, the pope desires to renew among we the faithful a greater appreciation of the mercy of God won for us in Christ Jesus and to be witnesses of that mercy to a world in so desperate need of that mercy.  It is fitting that we begin this Jubilee of Mercy on the day when God shows one of the greatest signs of His mercy in freeing Mary from every stain and touch of sin from her conception in the womb of her mother.
The mercy of God is given freely, without any merit on our part, but completely from the merits of Christ’s saving Passion and Death.  Mary receives this mercy and grace in a pre-figurative sense through her Immaculate Conception.  She did not earn it in any way; how can we earn something when we are incapable of breathing or walking on our own?! St. John Paul II says that “Mary is the one who experienced mercy in an exceptional way — as no one else.” (Dives in misericordia 9)  For this reason, we honor and petition Mary as the Mother of Mercy; because of all that God has done for her and through her in her Immaculate Conception, most especially becoming the mother of the one who would win this mercy for us on the Cross.
Let us then take up the call of the Psalmist to “sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous deeds” through the Virgin Mary, the best creature God has made in this universe.  Let us rejoice that Mary has been chosen to be the one “full of grace” so that she would fulfill what the archangel Gabriel declared to her: that she will bear the one whose merciful Kingdom will have no end.  Let us also turn to her, the Mother of Mercy, and beseech her to plead for us, who are still plagued by sin and temptation, who so often times fail to live up to the promise that we made at our baptism.  Let us hope in the God who has done such marvels through Mary and continues to do many marvels through the Mother of God for we her spiritual children.  Let us entrust ourselves to Mary just as God entrusted His Son to her, that we may learn from she who is the handmaid of the Lord how best to serve and love the God of mercy.  Let us not only rejoice in this feast day, but let us desire to be renewed by the mercy and the grace of God as we enter into this Jubilee of Mercy: that all our sins may be forgiven, that our lives may radiate with the joy and the love of the child for the merciful Father, that our lives may be continually purified and elevated so that we will be able to join the immaculate Virgin Mary and all the saints in the greater glories which await the faithful in Heaven.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Second Sunday of Advent (OF)

If we want to get to a destination, we require directions to get there.  Either we use a map to discern these directions, or ask someone who knows the way.  We do not normally desire to get lost or to go wandering through the woods, but are purposefully directed towards our destination.  Even if we discover that our route is blocked, we quickly determine a detour route, or at least our GPS or phone does it for us.  We rarely dwell on the journey, but treasure the destination.
But what if we did not know the destination?  Or, knowing the destination, we were missing the map or the directions to get there?  How would we fare in getting to where we want to go in an alien land and with no guidance?  We might stumble upon our destination like a blind pig stumbling on an acorn, or we might never reach our destination.  We might, in fact, find ourselves in a place far different than where we wanted to go.  It’s not only about the destination, but how we get to that destination.
Our Mass today is filled with the imagery of roads and travel.  From Baruch to Luke, we hear about mountains made low and valleys filled on high so as to prepare the way for the Lord.  All this should make us think of the first great journey described in the Scriptures: the Exodus.  God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and towards the freedom of the Promised Land.  It is God alone who maintains the Israelites in their 40-year journey through the desert until they are ready to receive that which God had promised them.
Our Mass today reflects a theme of preparing for the New Exodus, as the prophet Baruch first demonstrates.  This New Exodus will involve God once again leading His people, but this time it will be towards a greater promise.  God will smooth the way out for them by making “every lofty mountain ... low, and ... the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground”.  Just as highway builders today will flatten out the road as much as possible, so too in the old days did the ancient royal highway builders.  And so too does God make a royal road for His people to tread upon.
While the prophets may have done the survey work, it is the man found in our Gospel today who begins the process of building this royal road for the New Exodus.  John the Baptist, as we are told by Saint Luke, fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah which is echoed by Baruch: that one will prepare the way of the Lord.  This beguiling figure is depicted by the church fathers as a super-prophet, for not only did John foretell the coming of the Lord, but he was able to point with his very finger at the Lord present among the people, crying out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
John the Baptist is often called the Forerunner of the Lord, because his ministry seems to point directly to what Christ will do in His own earthly ministry.  Saint Luke tells us that John was going about “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” in anticipation of what Jesus Himself will preach after His own baptism by John.  In this phrase we see the beginnings of the manner in which God will bring about this New Exodus for the people that are peculiarly His own.  If we are to enter onto this royal road, we must do so through baptism and repentance.
The New Exodus begins as did the original Exodus: by passing through water and being purified by water.  The passage through the Red Sea is seen as a type or symbol of baptism, in which we pass from our bondage in sin and in Satan to freedom in God.  Yet, just as the Israelites fell into sin through the worship of the golden calf at Sinai, so too are we still capable of falling into sin after baptism and losing God in the process.  Thus do we need the second aspect of this New Exodus as preached by John: repentance.
The Gospel writers use the Greek word metanoia, which is normally translated as “repentance.”  Metanoia signifies a change of one’s mind, a conversion as it were from one way of thinking to another.  God does not want us merely to receive baptism, but that it should be the mark of a process of changing ourselves from our former sinful ways into the new way of living taught by Christ.  Just as the passage through the Red Sea was not the end of the journey for the Israelites, so too is baptism not the end of our journey in the Christian faith.  This New Exodus which is the Christian faith must be lived out each day in everything we do.  It may be difficult at times, but it is possible to succeed, as our Psalm expresses so beautifully today: 

Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.

Let us heed, then, the call of St. John to follow the Lamb of God who has come among us and is coming among us so very soon. Let us enter onto the royal road which the Lord has prepared for us: thankful that He has washed us clean in baptism, but mindful of our continual need for metanoia, for repentance. Let us not be distracted by the temptations which the world, the flesh, and the devil throw in front of us to pull us off the royal road, but let us remain firm in the New Exodus which we undertake, striving to complete the work which God has begun in us in our baptism, as Saint Paul exhorts us to do. Even if we have fallen off the royal road, let us  not despair or lose hope nor let us settle in our sinful state, but let us run to confession as quickly as possible to be healed of our faults and further strengthened for the journey. Above all, let us journey down the royal road towards the one destination God has promised to those who are faithful: the destination of eternal life.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Day

The first Thanksgiving in America - Florida, 1585

I would argue that our holiday today can be used as a proof for the existence of God.  We Americans enjoy giving thanks on this day each year for anything and everything.  Yet, to whom do we give thanks?  You cannot thank the universe for giving you all your blessings; it is incapable of orchestrating such giving on its own.  We cannot thank each other alone; certainly, some of our blessings come from our family, our friends, and our neighbors, but they are not the primary source.  Thus, I would posit that God must exist as the ultimate source of receiving our thanks, the Gift Giver who has provided us with the first gift, the great voice which would echo back through the cosmos, “You’re welcome.”
While it may not be the strongest or greatest of the divine proofs, I think it may be one that still has some resonance with our society today.  We still love to get together in our families on this day, to celebrate this occasion with those whom we love, and to be thankful for what the past year has brought us.  However, I think many people have lost sight of who is the One we should above all thank for not only the blessings and joys of the past year, but for even the ability to give thanks.
It is not that people are thanking God on Thanksgiving Day, but that it seems to be the only day when people thank Him.  Perhaps we may take an occasional moment or two to offer a quick thanks, especially when we have gotten through something hard or stressful, but, in general, we tend to save a greater part of our thanksgiving for this day.  The Christian, though, is not restricted to this one day or a few moments, but indeed should live a life filled with thanksgiving.
This Christian attitude of thanksgiving is one of the oldest commands given to us by Saint Paul, as we heard in our alleluia verse.  The first letter to the Thessalonians is usually considered the oldest text in the New Testament, and near the end, the Apostle gives a series of commands to the church in Thessalonica, telling them to “rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in all circumstances give thanks, for that is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:16-18).  Saint Paul, in fact, seems to be saying that this command to give thanks at all times is not from himself, but that it comes from Christ, as we hear in our Gospel today.
Ten lepers are healed by Our Lord, yet only one returns, glorifying God “in a loud voice” and thanking Jesus for his healing.  Saint Luke is insistent that only this one realizes that he is healed and then returns to the feet of Christ.  The other nine lepers seem to be too fixed on the command of Christ instead of marvelling at the gift of Christ’s healing.  It is a tale that can echo either way in the life of the Christian.  For we are like those lepers; we were born with a terrible disease upon our souls, a disfiguring condition worse than the ravages of leprosy upon the body.  We were born under original sin, and each of us is incapable of removing this disease, this condition by our own actions.  Hence, we too cry out to Jesus saying, “Have pity on us!”
And He has done just that; through the hands of the priest, through the cleansing waters of baptism, each of us has been cleansed spiritually of original sin and has been made pure by Christ.  For this, we should emulate the Samaritan leper and prostrate ourselves before Jesus our Divine Physician and give Him thanks for His cure.  This is the attitude that Christians have held since the time of Saint Paul, fulfilling his command to give thanks in all circumstances.  And Christians have done it through one particular action performed by Christ and continually re-presented to us down through the centuries: the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Why is it that we call the Mass the “Eucharist?”  It is because that word comes from the Greek word which means “thanksgiving.”  Every Mass is seen by the Church as not only the re-presentation of the immolation of Christ upon the Cross for our sins, but it is at the same time the one supreme act of thanksgiving offered by the People of God for all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  At every Mass, we fulfill the words of the Psalmist who commands us, in union with Saint Paul, to “give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Ps 117[118]:1). And it is in uniting ourselves to that perfect sacrifice made by Christ our High Priest that we are able to truly give thanks to the Lord for His ever-enduring mercy upon us.
The life of the Christian, then, should be continually filled with thanksgiving. He should be thankful for the great mercy of God won for him through the death of Christ; for the mercy which is still offered to him daily in the sacraments; for every grace given to him by God so as to follow the call of Christ towards holiness; for every blessing given to him in his daily life, whether great or small.  Even when the Christian sins and fails to live up to the command of holiness, he should give thanks that God does not abandon him to his wickedness but offers to him anew through confession the opportunity for a fresh start. The Christian is meant to be a person of thanks, a thanks-giver as it were, rejoicing in all that the Lord has done for him, is currently doing for him, and will do for him.
Let us certainly make this day a great day of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for us this year. But let us strive to be more thankful every day, most especially when we assist at the Mass - our greatest act of thanksgiving. Let us receive the Eucharist in a spirit of thanks, reveling in the marvels of what the Lord has done us. Let us not be like the nine in our Gospel who do not give thanks to Jesus for His healing, but let us imitate the Samaritan who returned to glorify God for all that Christ had done for him. Let us give thanks to the Lord now and all the rest of our days, so that we may be prepared for the eternal feast of thanksgiving which awaits us in the bounties of Heaven.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King (OF)

We seem to be experiencing a great crisis of leadership recently.  The influx of refugees from Syria and the Middle East has lead Western leaders to equivocate and quibble over what to do.  The attacks in Paris last week have made things seemingly harder instead of perhaps easier for our leaders.  Most are quite unsure how to act or are seemingly incapable of acting.  Christians in particular are worried about their future, as many are being driven out of their homes or even killed for professing Christ as their Lord.  Not only those Christians in ISIS-controlled lands, but even here at home, where the increasingly secular and anti-Christian crowds try to repress the faith through the civic imposition of moral evils such as abortion and homosexual so-called “marriage.”  Whom shall we rally around in these increasingly dangerous and treacherous times?
We must not delude ourselves to think that this is the first time in Christian history that the Church has been on the verge of collapse and destruction.  For the first three centuries of the Church’s existence, she was consistently attacked by the Roman Empire, to the point of creating numerous martyrs.  The barbarian hordes seemed to be slaughtering Christians left and right as they tore the Empire apart.  Much later, the machinations of Luther, Calvin, and all the Protestants seemed poised to rip the Church to pieces, incapable of recovering.  The modern era of the past 150-200 years has seen time and again the consistent pronouncement of the death of Christianity and in particular the Church.  This is to not even begin to highlight the various evils done within the Church by her members that seem poised to make the whole thing collapse.
And yet it does not fall apart, it does not collapse.  To be sure, the Church has been at many points in her history weak and in need of great care and healing.  Yet this institution we call the Catholic Church is still with us today, 2000 years after her founding.  To what can we attribute this streak of persistence?  How can it be, especially in this so-called “modern” age of technology and science and anti-religion, that this Church continues to not only take the blows giving to her, but to bounce back and overcome her attackers?
We can see the Church’s vitality in the feast we celebrate today, for it is due to Christ the King that the Church has been able to persevere even in spite of the scandalous behavior of some of her members.  A nation or a people is only as healthy as her leader, and it is no exception in the Church.  In fact, we can only attribute the longevity of the Church purely on her foundation in Christ her divine Head.  It is purely through the Word made flesh that the Church is able to endure even the worst of its own internal sickness or the greatest of attacks against her.
Why is it that we celebrate Christ as being King of the Universe?  It is because He has won that right for Himself through the victory earned on the cross.  Last week we saw how we are at war with evil, starting with Satan and continuing in each heart which separates itself from God.  But this war has already seen its victory occur in the life of Christ.  Jesus comes among us not merely to be a great teacher or a wise man, but to obtain for all of humanity our freedom from evil.  The cross is not a nice little story or a cute image; it is like a Matthew Brady photo from the Civil War, conveying the harsh and cruel manner of war.  Our first reaction should be horror at the pains and sufferings that Our Savior underwent in order to redeem us from Satan and sin.  But our second reaction should be one of joy and thanksgiving, in that Christ has emerged victorious in this battle, the victory highlighted in His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Satan has tried to claim mastery over this world from that initial victory with Adam and Eve in the Garden, but Jesus does not let him keep that claim up for long.  With the victory of the cross and the triumph of the Resurrection comes the rewards, and for Jesus, it is to be crowned the rightful and true King of the Universe.  From Easter Sunday onwards, we are in the right to call Jesus not only our King, but in all truth the only King that we can really know, love, and serve completely.
Yet Jesus’ kingship is not completely realized in this world.  Our King tells Pilate when asked if He is a king that, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  How can it be of this world?  While Jesus has won his crowning victory in His passion, death, and Resurrection, yet there are still those who avoid, reject, or even hate Christ and do not seek to have Him as King.  Even among those who profess to belong to Christ, there are those who try to employ doublespeak, saying that they are Christian while leading lives that are diametrically opposed to what Christ and His Church teach and command.  How can Christ be truly a king when even those who claim to be His subjects are disobedient?
Jesus Christ is king no matter what our opinion or belief may be.  The question is whether we will accept Him as our king or not.  The Church will continue to proclaim the victory of Christ and His reign as the King of the Universe until the end of time.  Each one of us will be presented in this world and in the next with the ultimate question: Is Jesus Christ my king?  A king can only rule with the assent of his people.  So it is with Christ the King.  Will we let Him reign in our hearts, or will we place a usurper as king, to our eternal detriment? Will the Lord’s Prayer come true for us now, most especially that Thy kingdom come?
Let us follow Christ our King as our true leader, as our victorious leader, as our faithful leader. Let us abandon all those usurpers who have tried to rule our hearts and minds, and let the true King reign supreme. Let us do our part to build up the Kingdom of God on earth by showing the triumph of Christ in our own lives. But let us also be mindful of the final coming of Christ the King at the end of time. He will come on that terrible day to pass judgment on all and to reward all according to their labors. Let us not be too late in following the King of the Universe, so that He may bring about the completion of His kingdom and lead us to the glories that await the faithful in eternal life, sharing in that victory with Mary and all the saints forever.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

32nd Sunday per annum (OF) - Our True Treasure

You will find on numerous websites which are critical of the Catholic Church images which chastise the Church for the great amount of wealth which She possesses in her sacristies.  This is seen as a reason to oppose the Church in what she teaches and proclaims. “Why don’t you give everything to the poor?” they will demand and label us as hypocrites for supposedly subverting the command of Christ.  How do we respond to this charge?
Some Catholics might agree with this and say that we should give everything away, relieve as much poverty as possible, and remain poor.   I would respond by asking this person why they haven’t done this already if they so believe this to be true.  But beyond the bantering back and forth, why is it that the Church desires fineries for her churches and her sanctuaries?  Why don’t we just focus on relieving poverty?  This is because humanity is not our center of focus, but we are oriented towards God.
The anti-fanciness screed shows a complete misunderstanding of which direction we are looking as Catholics.  The Catholic Church’s mission is to be the vessel of salvation for humanity.  This certainly involves aiding the poor, since Jesus shows us that we are serving Him well in caring for those who are without.  But the Church aids the poor so as to help them to gain the wealth of the kingdom of Heaven.  The ultimate goal of every activity of the Church is to bring the people to God and to bring God to the people.  Our Holy Father has often talked about this, saying that the Church is not a non-government organization, but the body of Christ.
What does all this have to do with what we have heard today?  It is the attitude of the widow of Zarephath and the widow of the Gospel which we should emulate in our own lives.  Both women are poor, poor to the point of death.  They have only enough to keep themselves alive for a day or two.  Yet each of them puts their faith and their hope in God.  The widow of Zarephath hopes that God will act through the prophet Elijah, while the widow of the Gospel hopes that God will soon come to save His people, perhaps not knowing that this same God was proclaiming the sanctity of her offering.
Jesus praises this widow due to her hope in God while lambasting the Pharisees and their self-centered giving and obsession with human praise.  We are reminded by this Gospel that we are not truly wealthy, whether we have money or not, but that we are poor, that the whole species of humanity is poor due to its misuse of the initial gift of wealth given by God to our first parents.  Saint Paul elaborates on this theme, declaring that “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Our two widows today get this, each in their own way.  Jesus makes us rich not in monetary wealth (always beware a preacher who tells you that faith will make you rich).  Jesus pours down onto us the spiritual wealth of becoming the children of God and the heirs to the kingdom of Heaven.  We are given the richness which comes from possessing God Himself, who is the greatest and only enduring treasure that can be found.  Nothing else can satisfy the heart so much as having God as our one true possession.
This is why we seek to build magnificent churches and cathedrals, why we use gold and silver and silk and lace to decorate our altars, why we have paintings and statues and frescoes in our various buildings.  All of this is meant to show the wealth of God which is ours.  It is meant to orient us not towards the pursuit of money or fame or power, but to the pursuit of God.  Those who criticize the Church for her wealth do not believe in this eternal treasure but think that we can only find treasure here and now.  They are like the Pharisees who seek not to find God in their wealth or their offices, but instead desire to possess the treasure of human praise.
We also see in our second reading one last hint at this desire for beauty and finery in our churches.  The Apostle has been describing throughout this section and the previous sections of Hebrews how Christ is the High Priest who offers the one perfect sacrifice.  He tells us now that Jesus enters not into an earthly temple, but into the eternal Temple of God which is Heaven.  The Apostle shows us that what we do here in this church previews or prepares us for the eternal liturgy of Heaven.  Saint John in the book of Revelation describes Heaven as the wedding banquet of the Lamb to His Bride which is seen as the ultimate fulfillment of the Mass.  This means that we are previewing in this place what we hope to see in Heaven.
If this is true, then we should certainly do everything we can to beautify every aspect of the liturgy.  This is why we built such magnificent churches, why we gild everything pertaining to the sacred gifts, why we have sought the best of every art: we are trying to make all of this as beautiful as Heaven!  This is what is at the heart of the Gospel message - not merely some unity of men and women for a common purpose like golf or bridge or bingo, but a communion of persons with God in a shadowy sense here and now and in a real sense in the life to come.  The Mass is meant to be Heaven come down to earth.
Let us, then, seek to be oriented towards God our true treasure.  Let us seek to do everything we can to make this church reflect, as best as we can, the glories of the heavenly wedding feast.  We may not be a cathedral or a rich parish, but we can still do our best to make this the best it can be.  But let us also be mindful that this treasure is not meant for just us alone.  We must share this with others so that they may also become rich through their union with Christ.  A church that only focuses on itself does not grow or flourish.  Let us do our part to proclaim the treasures of the Gospel to our neighbors and help them to receive it for themselves, most especially the poor and the downtrodden, those who especially remembered by Our Lord.  May we have the faith and the hope of the two widows today to believe and trust in God’s mercy and His goodness for us now and for all eternity.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints (OF)

When we were children, we all had that person we looked up to.  Whether it was our parents or a sibling, an athlete or some fictional character; each of us had someone whom we saw as a role model or as someone we’d like to be when we grow up.  Perhaps we still have that person in mind today though we have gained a few more years to our life.  Humanity is always seeking an inspiration to be better and to do better, to improve our lives from the drab and flab or the snoring and the boring.
Yet is this true within the Church?  It seems sometimes in our own day that some Christians do not desire to follow Christ more completely or seek to transform their lives according to what Jesus teaches us, but rather, they seek to transform the Church to follow after their own example or lack of example.  “Why can’t the Church change this?”, or, “Why is the Church so harsh about that?”, these lackadaisical Christians will ask.  While it is easy to seek a role model among the athletes and abnormal in our society, it seems to be more difficult to seek Christ as a role model in our own time.
Today’s feast shows us that this is not meant to be the case.  We celebrate the feast of All the Saints, of all the holy people who are now in Heaven enjoying eternal union with God.  If there is any day which condemns the lazy Christian’s complaint about the Church and her teachings, it is this day.  For we see in the lives of all the saints, known and unknown to us, how simple it is to hear the word of God and obey it.  We see in the saints the heavenly role model for our Christian lives.
The saints demonstrate to us the proper attitude of the Christian to the teachings of Christ and His Church: a spirit of belief and receptivity.  It is not we who are meant to change the Church in our own image, but rather Christ working through His Church in proclaiming to us how humanity is meant to be recreated in His image.  The saints bear witness in being the children of God, as Saint John says we are meant to be in his letter from our readings today.  If we are the children of God, then we will strive to obey our Father in all that He reveals to us through His only-begotten Son.
This filial obedience must first come through belief.  The saints show us that we must believe every word coming from the mouth of Christ as coming from God Himself.  Each one of them received the grace necessary to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, lived, suffered and died for our sins, rose again on the third day, ascended, and reigns now from His holy throne in Heaven.  If a Christian does not actually believe in this which we profess in the Creed every Sunday and holy day, then they do not have the Christian faith, but follow a false teacher or the devil in his lies.
This belief must then be put into practice in the life of the Christian.  Saint James reminds us that faith without works is dead.  We are called not only to believe in Jesus, but to live our lives based on all of His works and teachings.  Our Gospel shows us the summation of this in the Beatitudes, the highest of all teachings which Jesus gave us in His earthly life. We are shown in these words not merely the condemnation of what is sinful, but the blessings which emerge for doing that which is healthful.  Each phrase demonstrates to us why doing these things is good, with the final phrase revealing to us that all of this will be good in that it leads us towards the reward of Heaven.
The lives of all the saints bear witness to this promise.  Look through the catalog of saints throughout the 2000 years in which the Church has existed.  You will see the martyrs of the Church, showing to the pagans or even to bad Christians the primacy and reality of Christ over the false gods and false doctrines.  You will see the great doctors teaching the truth and condemning errors from outside and inside the Church.  You will see the holy monks and nuns who renounce all that this world offers in order to seek after Christ and to live here and now in preparation for Heaven.  You will see popes, bishops, and priests directing souls to Christ through their preaching and their sacerdotal ministry.  You will see married couples bearing the fruits of holiness through their marriage and through their children.  You will see great and small, famous and nearly-forgotten, men, women, and children, all filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, longing to see the face of God.
The saints are our role models for living the Christian life.  They are not chosen by God to be saints apart from us.  Every single one of us is called to be a saint!  Sometimes, it seems that we think only some are meant to be saints while the rest of us are just supposed to be “normal” Christians.  This is far from the truth; in fact, Jesus says elsewhere in the same Gospel to all of His disciples, and to all of us in turn, that we are to be perfect (Matthew 5:48).  Jesus calls us to be saints!
If we are called to be saints, if we are called to be perfect, how can this be done?  This process of sainthood starts not from within ourselves, but from outside of ourselves.  With God all things are possible, and with the grace of God we can become saints.  He has already given us the grace to become members of His Church, to partake of the sacrament of baptism so as to be washed clean of the original sin which first stained us.  We should not be shy in beseeching His mercy to grant us every grace we need to be the saints He desires us to be and towards which He calls us.  Our first and last recourse should always be in prayer.
We should also seek the aid of the saints.  The saints are far more than role models for the Christian; they are our friends in Heaven.  They desire all of us to join them in the courts of Heaven and seek to win from God all that we need in order to be with them.  We should certainly find the saints that resonate with us, either in their life or in their example.  There are plenty of saints to choose from, and almost every walk of life is covered, so we have no excuse for not finding a saint to be our heavenly helper.
Along with prayer to God and to the saints, we must also be receptive to receiving the sacraments frequently and in a proper state.  Jesus Christ has given the sacraments to us through His Church as the primary means of distributing grace.  We must take full advantage of them, most especially the Eucharist and the confessional.  If we have sinned, we must not delay in receiving the mercy of God through the sacrament of reconciliation.  To go for a long period of time without going to confession would be like going a long time without showering or bathing.  In fact, to help with this, I plan on adding more time for confession on the weekends and even during the week.  There should be little excuse on my part for you not to receive the mercy of God.
Finally, we must echo the saints in living out the Christian faith in every action of our lives.  Holiness is not meant for merely one or two great moments; it is meant to be diffused throughout every moment of our life.  Each decision carries with it the choice of increasing in holiness or decreasing.  Saint John reminds us that if we hope to know what will be revealed to us in Heaven, then we must keep ourselves pure from sin, just as Christ is pure.
Let us pray to that great cloud of witnesses who cheers us on in Heaven that we may run so as to win (cf. Heb. 12:1; 1 Cor 9:24).  Let us be inspired by the great role models of the saints to live the Christian faith to the fullest.  Let us pray to the Virgin Mary, the Queen of all the saints, that she may aid us by her prayers and her example to live as the humble servants of the Lord.  Let us learn from the saints the simple road of holiness taught to them and to us by Christ our divine Master.  May we live such lives of holiness that we may join the great multitude in praising and glorifying Christ our Lamb and our King in the eternal joys of heaven.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

29th Sunday per annum - Christ our Ransom

What is always the first indication in the movies that someone has been kidnapped? The victims, those who have lost the person who has been kidnapped, receive a ransom note demanding some sort of payment or some other demand in return for the kidnapped person. If we have paid attention, we will notice the word “ransom” used quite often within the liturgy and in the Scriptures in relation to Jesus. We hear in our gospel today Jesus proclaim Himself to serve as the ransom for many.  When we reach that glorious Mass of the Easter Vigil, we will hear in the Exultet how Christ has “paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father.”  What is this ransom, what is this payment of debt?
When humanity fell in the garden due to the first disobedience of our parents, we incurred a tremendous debt towards God. This debt is the debt of sin: sin which goes against the eternal plan of divine justice and divine providence. Compounding on that first sin, humanity seemingly continued to increase that debt each time it failed to live up to the demands and the expectations of God. The more that we sin, the further we are from God and the harder it is to return to Him on our own.  In fact, the debt becomes so great but no mere human being is truly capable of freeing themselves, let alone the rest of humanity, from that debt. In the light of this, what can humanity do to be saved, to be freed and released from this debt?
This is why Jesus came into this world: Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, came so that we would be freed from this debt of sin. This debt is so tremendous, only God is capable of removing it. Yet this debt was incurred by man, and man is the one who is meant to repay the debt. This is why the Second Person of the Trinity takes on our flesh, becomes a human being like one of us. The Word became flesh so that, in the flesh, he may bring about the payment, the ransom, which sin has left upon us and which only God is able to actually pay.
This is what the prophets foretold for centuries before the coming of Christ. These prophecies see their peak in what Isaiah tells us in his writings, most especially in the passage we here today. Our first reading today comes from what is commonly called the Suffering Servant song of Isaiah, in which we hear the prophet declare that God's servant will bear the guilt of his people, so that many may be justified.  This prophecy is fulfilled in the sufferings of Christ, in the passion which he endures, which He bears for our sins. Through the sufferings of Jesus, and the willing sacrifice He offers on the cross, we are relieved of that ransom, of that debt which we had incurred.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the Apostle shows us a different side of the price Christ pays for our ransom. Jesus is seen as the true High Priest offering the sacrifice which removes all sins. Priests in every religion are constituted to offer a sacrifice to the gods to bring the people closer to the gods and to appease the gods for whatever wrongs the people have committed.  Jesus is our priest who brings us closer to God in His very being: in the unity of humanity and divinity found within Him. He is also our priest in offering up the one sacrifice that actually accomplishes this appeasement of God: Jesus offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Having removed this ransom which has separated humanity from God and which has kept humanity enslaved to sin, Jesus calls us back to the original divine plan for humanity: the plan for true human happiness and fulfillment. But we are still capable of putting ourselves back into that slavery to sin. We are not forced or coerced into following Christ, into obeying God. Christ calls us to follow after Him, to take up our crosses and join Him. He calls us to a life of service, not a life of ease. He calls us now to warfare, but He promises to the faithful the reward of glory.
Let us rejoice, then, in everything God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks to God for winning us back from sin through Christ our ransom. But let us not put ourselves back in that ransom through our obstinacy or our unwillingness to seek God's forgiveness. Let us imitate Christ in serving God through a life of obedience and humility, not desiring to be served by God, but seeking to repay, in our own way, the good which God has done for us. May we be nourished by the body and blood of Christ, the price of our ransom, so as to remain free of that ransom and to be able to win for ourselves, with the help of God, the seat which God has prepared for us in his eternal kingdom.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

28th Sunday per annum (OF) - Gaining Eternal Life

If there is one thing that we humans fear most, one thing that we truly desire to avoid, it is the reality of death.  We fear that terrible day, that day of wrath in which our souls will be separated from our bodies and we shall be no more on this earth.  We will do anything to either delay that foreshadowed meeting or to even prevent it completely.  Many physicians today offer us pipe dreams of being able to live forever while computer scientists tell us that we will be able to transcend this physical limitation and live on not in the flesh, but in the machine.  But all of these things are bound to fail, and just as the leaves this time each year change their colors and die, so too will each one of us pass and reach “the undiscovered country from whose bourn” only one traveler has returned.
Jesus never promises that we shall avoid death, but He offers to us the opportunity of gaining eternal life.  And so we hear in our Gospel a young man ask our Lord about what must be done to gain eternal life.  The initial response from Jesus is rather surprising: He seemingly rebukes the questioner for calling Him “good” and declares that “no one is good but God alone.”  Some will see this as a denial by Jesus of His divinity, but that is not the case.  It is, rather, a different way of acknowledging His divine nature.  No human being can be called completely good due to the perpetual struggle within our nature between the grace and call of God to holiness and the weight of temptation which tries to drag us down and separate us from God.  Only God is completely and essentially good because He is the source of all goodness.  To call Jesus “good” is to acknowledge that He is God: that He is the Son of the God the Father, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God” as we profess every Sunday.  Since Jesus is God, He can truly be the Good Master who knows completely and from within His being the right path to eternal life.
This right path which Jesus proclaims in answer to the young man’s question seems surprisingly simple: obey the commandments.  That’s it?!? That’s all one has to do?  Yes, it is, but it is not as simple as we may think.  We must plumb the depths of the commandments to understand what God asks of us in them.  Elsewhere in the Gospels, we hear Christ clarify what is meant by the commandments.  Adultery, for example, means more than avoiding the single act of adultery, but each time we engage in a lustful glance or a lustful thought, we are committing adultery.  To kill does not mean merely murder in the body but also through our words and thoughts about others and to others.  The commandments, then, must be heeded not only in letter but in spirit.
If we want to have eternal life, we must live out the commandments completely, not merely at the basic level.  What we do in this world echoes unto eternity.  Every decision we make draws us towards either heaven or hell.  Each choice brings with it the ultimate consequence: either drawing us to the good God who awaits in heaven or pushing against and away from that same God and plummeting towards hell.  Jesus throughout the Gospels never promises a free ticket to us, nor does He assure us that it will be easy.  What He tells us is what it will take to gain heaven or to lose it all in hell.
But the young man has already been doing all this, and desires more.  He senses that what he has been doing is not enough, and he is correct.  Jesus tells the young man to sell everything, give it away, and to follow Him.  What God desires most of us is a contrite and humble heart which loves God totally and completely.  A robot can obey commandments. A dog can obey commandments. It is not enough merely to obey the commandments.  Our hearts must be aligned towards God and not towards anything else.
Many people throughout the history of the Church have taken these words to their deepest meaning and have left everything to follow Christ.  Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Benedict left the world behind and retreated into the wilderness to meditate on the Scriptures and to live a life of prayer and recollection, attracting many men and women to follow them into the monastic vocation.  Saint Francis of Assisi is famous for his radical renunciation of money in favor of Lady Poverty.  While not all of us are called to this most literal of interpretations, all of us are called to live in a spirit of poverty in which we are not possessed by material goods or wealth but truly belong to God.
This is only possible through the grace of God, as Jesus affirms to the disciples.  Without God’s help, we will not overcome the weight of wealth which burdens our hearts.  With God’s help, we are able to be transformed from a people weighed down by wealth or power or fame or whatever it is which we treasure in our hearts to a people who rise to meet God face to face, loving Him who first loved us.  How great, indeed, shall be the reward for those who are free for love, free for holiness, free for eternal life!
Let us pray to God that our hearts may be purged of all that holds us down.  Saint John of the Cross wrote that
The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel 11)
May our hearts be cut by God’s grace from everything which keeps us from flying.  May we seek the aid of Mary through the Rosary in being freed from sinful possession so that we may soar up to heaven.  Let the word of God pierce our hearts so that we may be free.  Let us desire the wisdom which is worth more than silver or gold, the wisdom which demonstrates to us that the only abiding treasure we can ever possess is the infinite and loving God who offers us eternal life.