December 12, 2017

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux on the Infant Christ

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, born Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin, popularly referred to as “the Little Flower” or St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, was a French Discalced Carmelite nun. This beloved saint experienced profound spiritual insights attained in prayer. This is her reflection on the Infant Christ.
A God who became so small could only be mercy and love. 
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Prayer for St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Intercession

Almighty God, you open your Kingdom to those who are humble and to little ones, lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Thérèse, so that through her intercession we may see your eternal glory revealed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who reigns with you and with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Lucy

Memorial - December 13th 

Saint Lucy of Syracuse, also known as St. Lucia, was a third century/early fourth century Christian martyr who died during the persecution ordered by Diocletian. Lucy chose to be a Christian at a time when Christianity was illegal. She sold up her worldly riches and devoted her life to poor After resisting the advances of a Roman soldier, she was denounced as a Christian to Paschasius, the governor of Sicily, and brutally executed. Lucy is one of eight women, who together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

The Courageous Virtue and Holy Martyrdom of St. Lucy

Today's feast can easily be harmonized with Advent themes. The very name Lucy pulsates with light, a living symbol amid the season's darkness (the days are now the shortest of the year). As a wise virgin Lucy advances with a burning lamp to meet the Bridegroom. She typifies the Church and the soul now preparing their bridal robes for a Christmas marriage.

That the famous Sicilian martyr really lived may be deduced from the great popular veneration accorded her since most ancient times. The Acts detailing her sufferings, however, merit little credence. According to these she made a pilgrimage to Catonia with her mother, who suffered from hemorrhage, to venerate the body of St. Agatha. After praying devoutly at the tomb, Agatha appeared to her in a dream and consoled her: "O virgin Lucy, why do you ask of me what you yourself can procure for your mother? For your faith too has come to her aid and therefore she has been cured. By your virginity you have indeed prepared for God a lovely dwelling." And her mother actually was healed.

Immediately Lucy asked permission to remain a virgin and to distribute her future dowry among Christ's poor. Child and mother returned to their native city of Syracuse, and Lucy proceeded to distribute the full proceeds from the sale of her property among the poor. When a young man, to whom Lucy's parents had promised the virgin's hand against her will, had heard of the development, he reported her to the city prefect as a Christian. "Your words will be silenced," the prefect said to her, "when the storm of blows falls upon you!" The virgin: "To God's servants the right words will not be wanting, for the Holy Spirit speaks in us." "Yes," she continued, "all who live piously and chastely are temples of the Holy Spirit." "Then," he replied, "I shall order you put with prostitutes and the Holy Spirit will depart from you." Lucy: "If I am dishonored against my will, my chastity will secure for me a double crown of victory."

Aflame with anger, the judge imposed the threatened order. But God made the virgin solidly firm in her place and no force could move her. "With such might did the Holy Spirit hold her firm that the virgin of Christ remained immovable." Thereupon they poured heated pitch and resin over her: "I have begged my Lord Jesus Christ that this fire have no power over me. And in testimony of Him I have asked a postponement of my death." When she had endured all this without the least injury, they pierced her throat with a sword. Thus she victoriously ended her martyrdom.

Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Father Pius Parsch.

Note: Lucy's Latin name Lucia shares a root (luc-) with the Latin word for light, lux. Hence St. Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. Popular piety depicts Lucia as tortured by eye-gouging prior to her martyrdom. (Lucy was Dante’s personal patron saint, so it is to she that Beatrice turned within the hierarchy of heaven when Beatrice wanted permission to give Dante his tour of the afterlife.) Saint Lucy, help us to see the gift that is God's love.

The 2017 Christmas Novena Starts December 15th

There is no better time than to reflect on the most vulnerable of this world than during Advent and Christmas when we prepare for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to us as a small baby. The emphasis for this Christmas novena is honoring and protecting the the dignity of the human person, particularly the unborn. All human beings are made in the image and likeness of almighty God.

God's Love is Revealed in His Becoming Man.

Moreover, Advent also reminds us that Christ will come again at the conclusion of history, not as a helpless infant, but as a triumphant King and just Judge, at whose name every knee will bend. Jesus, Son of God, You have become man in order to make Yourself loved by men. But where is the love that men give You in return? You have given Your life to save us. Why then are we so unappreciative that, instead of repaying You with love, we spurn You with ingratitude? I myself more than others have thus ill treated You. But Your Passion is my hope. For the sake of that love which led You to take up our human nature and to die for me on the cross, please forgive me all the offenses that I have committed against You.

Christmas Novena Prayer - Day 1

O Lord, Word of God, You, whose glory is complete, came to us in perfect humility as a child in the womb. Your love for us and humility is unsurpassed and brings us to our knees in prayer and worship.

Your incarnation forever changed the world.

All Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and forever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Day one intention – Joy

O Lord, infant Jesus, fill us with Joy! The birth of any child is a cause for joy and so much more is the birth of You our Savior. We pray in union with Mary, Your mother, for a greater joy this Christmas as we wait in hope for your coming again at the end of time, for yours, O Lord, is the kingdom, the power and the glory.

O God, who gladden us year by year as we wait in hope for our redemption grant that, just as we joyfully welcome your Only Begotten Son as our Redeemer, we may also merit to face him confidently when he comes again as our Judge. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

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December 11, 2017

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Loving Message to the World

Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego, an humble Indian convert, on December 9th, 1531. According to the account, Our Lady instructed Juan Diego to tell Bishop Juan de Zumárraga to build a chapel in her honor where the faithful could pray and receive miracles. Our Lady’s message to humanity is one of peace, hope and love. May we heed her words and love God ever more deeply.

"Hear me and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need? Do not grieve nor be disturbed…"

Our Lady’s words to Juan Diego

Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mystical Rose, make intercession for holy Church, protect the sovereign Pontiff, help all those who invoke you in their necessities, and since you are the ever Virgin Mary and Mother of the true God, obtain for us from your most holy Son the grace of keeping our faith, of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life of burning charity, and the precious gift of final perseverance. Amen. [Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, pray for us always.]

Reflection for the Third Sunday in Advent: "Rejoice Always. Pray Without Ceasing and Give Thanks"

The Nativity of Christ

The Third Sunday of Advent [Year B]

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, 
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Rejoice ... pray ... give thanks. A great trifecta for the season of Advent! If there is any liturgical season that is countercultural, it is Advent! While the world is scrambling and shopping for perfect Christmas gifts, the faithful are asked to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. While gift giving and family feasts and traditions are all good in and of themselves, they pale in comparison to that greatest gift of them all, Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father who was made flesh and now dwells among His people (John 1:14). Yes, the very Word of God the Father has been united to human flesh, and now the human person can know and touch God! This is the mystery of Christmas! It is also a very personal feast. The Christian is called to invite Christ into his heart and soul, to experience salvation. It is a symbolic moment in which the person can feel the reawakening of Christ in his life. Christians need Christmas every year to remind themselves of the need of hope and new life, that life that can only come from Christ. That is Christmas!

The reality of Christmas is one of the reasons the Church rejoices during this Advent season. Advent is a time of joyful anticipation for the mysteries about to be revealed. Think for a moment of a child looking at a beautifully wrapped gift beneath the Christmas tree. It might be there for weeks prior to Christmas itself. The child (and some adults, too!) will look at that gift and try to imagine what it is. He can’t wait for Christmas morning to unravel it and learn its contents! It’s that same joyful, eager anticipation of that child that the Church wants to capture during Advent. For the greatest gift of them all, Jesus Christ, is about to make His entry into the hearts and souls of the faithful. Christmas is a new beginning in which the disciples of the Lord call upon His presence once again to guide, support, and inspire them in their journeys of faith. Rejoice always! Your Lord is coming to bring you the good news of salvation. You are now a person of hope. In these last days of Advent, one’s heart ought to beat just a little faster in anticipation of hearing those words at the Gospel of Midnight Mass: “ ... Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The anticipation and joy of Advent will drive the faithful into a life of prayer. In today’s first reading, Paul tells the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). During Advent, the faithful are asked to stop all activity and spend some extra time in prayer. Just be with the Lord, the One who is about to enter your heart and soul. How best to do that? In Advent, pray over the infancy narratives of Matthew (chapters 1-3), Luke (chapters 1-3), and the Prologue (chapter 1) of John. Read a bit each day, slowly, taking in all of the words and images. You will know Jesus, His mother Mary, John the Baptizer, and Joseph intimately by Christmas. This will help you welcome the Savior on Christmas day! Try and make daily Mass during Advent to hear the beautiful readings from Isaiah and Paul, which will help you find Christ. Receive His Body and Blood to be one with Him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will help you clean the slate of your soul from sin and darkness, to be ready for Christ.

Finally, in Advent, give thanks to God for all the gifts He has bestowed on you. As Jeremiah 1:4-10 states, He has known, formed, appointed, and dedicated you! In Advent, however, realize that you’ve been given the greatest gift of them all, the gift of salvation, redemption, and hope, all one in Christ Jesus. The time of prayer during Advent makes the faithful realize the need for Christ. Going it alone will not work; the human person yearns and pines for the presence of Christ in his life. There is no redemption outside of Christ, and the faithful Christian realizes during Advent the great need and hunger for salvation in Him. Give thanks to God for that gift! 

St. Paul gives a simple formula for Advent: rejoice, pray, and give thanks. All it will take is your time, energy, and dedication. Enter this holy season with eager anticipation, for the greatest guest of them all is knocking at the door of your heart—Christ, your Lord and Savior!

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Feast Day - December 12th  

When Saint John Paul II declared Our Lady of Guadalupe to be patroness of both Mexico and the Americas, he was not merely acknowledging the miracles that took place on a hill near Mexico City in 1531. He was confirming in a powerful way the lesson that Our Lady had already taught when she chose a poor Indian peasant to be her ambassador of faith. He emphasized that all the Americas — north, south, central and the Caribbean — are one, and that all the peoples therein need to be treated equally. He pointed to the fact that the Blessed Mother, through her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the Mary of the Magnificat, who stands with the lowly and the poor. And finally, the Pope reminded us that it was Mary’s wish to invite all people, both those native to Mexico and those who came there from Europe, to a profound conversion together in the name of her Son, Jesus.

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beautiful one. It began near present-day Mexico City on December 9, 1531, when a poor Indian named Juan Diego was making his way to Mass at a nearby chapel. As he passed a hill known locally as Tepeyac, he heard music that sounded like the singing of birds. When he went to investigate, he saw, in the midst of a radiant cloud, a young native woman dressed like an Aztec princess. This beautiful lady spoke to him in his own language, and sent him with a message to the Catholic bishop in Tenochtitlan.

The bishop, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga, was in no hurry to see this poor peasant; when he finally consented to hear his story and the Lady’s request that went with it—that the bishop build a chapel on the spot where the Lady had appeared—he sent Juan Diego away with instructions to ask the Lady for a sign. The bishop probably thought that would be the last he would see of this illiterate Indian.

Somewhat discouraged by the bishop’s lukewarm, Juan Diego nevertheless intended to comply with the bishop’s demand. In the meantime, however, Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill, even to the point of death, and for two days his devoted nephew did not leave his side.

Then, on December 12, Juan Diego found himself hurrying to St. James convent to fetch a priest for his uncle. The way led to the hill at Tepeyac, and Juan Diego, not wanting to insult the Lady but also not wanting to put off getting help for his uncle, had decided to skirt the mountain and avoid the inevitable delay a conversation with the Lady would entail.

But the Lady knew of the situation and of Juan Diego’s good heart. She instead intercepted him and, after assuring him that his uncle would recover completely — indeed, the uncle was cured the very minute she spoke — she proceeded to tell him what sign to bring to the bishop. In a nearby spot, in a season when such things did not grow, Juan Diego found bushes of exquisite Castilian roses in full bloom. He picked them and put them in his tilma, or rough cloak normally worn by peasants. The Lady rearranged the roses and instructed Juan Diego to take them to the bishop, but to keep them untouched and unseen until the bishop himself should behold them.

Once again, Juan Diego waited for an audience with the bishop. When the bishop finally met with him, he asked him what sign he had brought from this mysterious lady; Juan Diego opened his tilma and the roses spilled out onto the floor. Immediately, the bishop and everyone with him fell to their knees in awe. For there, on Juan Diego’s cloak, was an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, exactly as she had appeared to this poor Indian peasant at Tepeyac.

See Ten Amazing Facts About the Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It has been over 400 years since Juan Diego’s tilma received the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The tilma, which normally would have lasted only about 10 years, has not deteriorated; it has survived smoke, water and a bomb planted near it by anticlerical forces in 1921. Nor can anyone explain how the wonderful picture came to be. What we do know is that it serves as an expression of the love that the Blessed Virgin has for all people. “I am the ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence,” the Blessed Virgin told Juan Diego. “I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion…I will console them and they will be at peace.”

Identity: A Reflection for the Third Sunday in Advent, Year B

Feeding of the 5000

By Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America

(Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28)

In her Magnificat (today’s Responsorial Psalm), Mary joyfully identified herself as God’s servant. This means she understood her role in God’s plan. John the Baptist identified himself as a Voice. He, too, knew his role, his place.

The Beautiful Lady of La Salette did not identify herself in this way, but she did indicate her role: “I am here to tell you great news.” She identified herself, therefore, as God’s Messenger.

Isaiah describes himself in similar terms. He is sent by God to bring tidings, to proclaim, to announce.

What we do, however, does not define us completely.  When St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice, to pray, to refrain from evil, there is an underlying reality that explains the doing, the role, the behavior. They are disciples of Jesus Christ, and therefore they live in a certain way.

That is Mary’s message at La Salette. The difference is that St. Paul was encouraging Christians who were aware of their identity, while Our Lady was speaking to those who had lost that sense of Christian identity, whose behavior contradicted it in many ways.

Conversion, a turning back, a return to a Christian way of life, might restore that identity. Mary promises that if her people are converted, their fields will again produce abundantly. In a mirror-image way, this would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “As the earth brings forth its plants…, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”

What all plants do, regardless of species, is to grow and produce fruit. That is the way God made them, and so they do God’s work. What true disciples of Christ do is to grow in their faith and produce fruits of righteousness, made holy and preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord. This is what God calls us to, it is his work and, as St. Paul writes, he will also accomplish it.

There should therefore be no difference between who we are and what we do. A poet named G.M. Hopkins wrote that everything in the universe cries out: “What I do is me: for that I came.” This applies to John the Baptist, to Mary and—why not?—to us.

December 10, 2017

The Curé d'Ars on the Glorious Duty of Man

Saint John Vianney

Saint John Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, was a 19th century French priest confessor, mystic and the patron saint of priests. His preaching was so powerful that the faithful traveled from far and wide to hear his homilies. The following quotation comes from a larger discourse on prayer and contemplation.
This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man's happiness lies. 
― St. John Vianney

Prayer of St. John Vianney

I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life. I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You. I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally. My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath. Amen.

Pope St. Damasus I, Established the Canon of Scripture

St. Damasus I

On December 11th, the Church observes the feast of Pope St. Damasus I, who lived in the mid-300s just after the early persecutions of Christians had ended. When Damasus assumed the papacy, there were numerous Gospels and stories of Jesus’ life that were then circulating. Many of these were not inspired. Pope Damasus convened an ecumenical council to determine once and for all which Gospels and letters should comprise the New Testament. He also commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.

Pope St. Damasus I: A Consequential Papacy

On [Pope] Liberius' death, riots broke out over the election of a successor. The majority favored Damasus, who was born in Rome of Spanish descent. He had served as a deacon under Liberius and upheld the Nicene Creed. In less than a month, Damasus was installed in the Lateran palace. A minority refused to accept the decision and set up the antipope Ursinus. As the violence continued, Emperor Valentinian, who ruled the West, was moved to intercede and expel the antipope.

Pope Damasus fostered the development of the Church during this period of peace by publishing a list of the books of both the Old and New Testaments. He also encouraged his longtime friend and secretary, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. This Vulgate edition continues to serve the Church usefully. Damasus himself composed eloquent verse which he had inscribed on marble slabs and placed over the tombs of martyrs and popes alike. But Damasus is best known for his devoted project in the catacombs. He ardently searched for the tombs of martyrs which had been both blocked up and hidden during previous persecutions. He lighted the passages and stairwells of the catacombs, encouraging pilgrimages to the martyrs. He did much to beautify existing churches, such as building the baptistery in St. Peter's and laying down marble pavement in the basilica of St. Sebastian.

Damasus was a vigorous defender of the orthodoxy, as well. He condemned the heresies of such men as Macedonius and Apollinaris and continued the march against Eastern Arians. Although Emperor Valentinian was a Catholic, his less capable brother Valens was under the Arian influence. Valens kept the Eastern bishops in turmoil until his death in 378 by the determined Goths. Emperor Theodosius, who succeeded Valens, supported the orthodox and convened the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381. The council settled the dispute by recondemning Arianism and adopting the pope's teachings.

The chair of St. Peter was never more respected than during the pontificate of Damasus. He tirelessly promoted the Roman primacy, successfully persuading the government to recognize the Holy See as a court of first instance, although it declined to give the pope himself any particular immunity against the civil courts. Next in hierarchy came Alexandria, founded by St. Mark, and then Antioch, where Peter reigned before leaving for Rome.

Pious Pope Damasus died in December of 384 after a reign of eighteen years. Grant, we pray, O Lord, that we may constantly exalt the merits of your Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. St. Damasus, help us love God as found in Sacred Scripture. Amen.

Adapted excerpt from, The Popes: A Papal History, J.V. Bartlett.

Advent Reflection Week Three: "The Lord is Near"

The Baptism of Christ

As Christmas draws ever closer, holy Mother Church emphasizes the joy which should reside in our hearts over the birth of our Lord and Savior. The greatest joy of Christians is to see the day drawing near when the Lord will come again in His glory to lead the faithful into His kingdom. The oft-repeated Veni (Come) of the Advent season is an echo not only of the prophets but also of the conclusion of John's Revelations: "Come, Lord Jesus," the last words of the New Testament.

The beautiful passage from this Sunday’s Gospel recalls the forerunner of Christ: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” John the Baptist’s role as the harbinger of salvation was no accident. His was indeed, the "voice crying out in the wilderness", foretold by the prophets, who urged repentance and proclaimed to the world the imminence of the Messiah. On the day of Christ's baptism, John recognized Jesus as the Savior.

John the Baptist was ordained by God for a special purpose. Likewise, as Father Charles Irvin observes, “Your life is not a mere accident. Every life is given by God to accomplish His purposes, to bring His loving presence into a suffering world, to make His kingdom real by realizing it in how we live and how we treat people. No one is an outcast. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.” Christ’s words and actions testify to this reality. Yet, in our fallen world, we long for the perfect heavenly Kingdom of God where death has no power and sin is no more.

In his homily for Gaudete Sunday Fr. Irvin explains how, "Advent is the time of the coming of God into our humanity, into your personal lives and mine. It is that mysterious time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already is and what is yet to be; between what we are and what we can be; between what has been accomplished and what remains unfinished in our enterprise of living." St. Paul tells us, "We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains ... as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:22-3).

Let us prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ and his glorious second coming by taking to heart the prophecy of Isaiah about the message of John the Baptist, "A voice proclaims in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, [and] every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley," (Is. 40:3, 4) so that we shall see God face to face in Beatitude.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017, Year B

The baptism of Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

One of the most important needs we have in life is to receive respect and esteem from others, no matter how high or lowly our position may be on the ladder of social importance. This is a good and legitimate need. Humility does not mean being a door-mat upon which others wipe their feet.

But our need for respect and esteem can, as we all know so well, become unbalanced. Self-appreciation and self-affirmation can slip over into egocentrism, self-centeredness, arrogance and an aggressive “in your face” approach to others.

The result is certain … sadness, pain, and misery, not only in one’s own self but in the lives of those who must live near us. When the biggest thing in this world is self, there is no surer guarantee to misery. Preoccupation with one’s own public image and the everlasting pursuit of recognition leads us into the most merciless of all slaveries, with our ego as our tyrannical owner.

Happiness is, I said, one of the greatest needs we have in life. The quest for happiness is probably the most powerful drive we have within us. And so we should ask the question: When have we been happy? Have we ever been happy when we have been preoccupied with our own self? If we’re honest, we have to say never. Neither have others who are forced to live with us.

In his famous play “The Cocktail Party”, T.S. Eliot tells us: “Half the harm that’s done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, or the harm does not interest them, or they do not see it, or they justify it, because they are absorbed in an endless struggle to think well of themselves.” People who are nursing their fictitious superiorities, people who are taking advantage of others in order to feed their inflationary ego drive, simply become blind to the harm they are doing to others and even more blind to the harm that they are doing to the very selves that they are trying to develop.

John the Baptist gives us a clue to the secret of human greatness. The lives of the saints give us insights into the way to respect and esteem. To be genuinely loved by others, to receive the affection and appreciation that we all crave, we simply must forget our selves and dedicate our lives to some thing or some one that transcends our selfish interests and human pride. We have to give ourselves over to something that is superior. All of the really great people we’ve known, if we think about them, are people who have been astonishingly careless about their own importance. In fact, they really don’t even know that they are important. They lose themselves and forget themselves into what is, for them, supremely important. If human accolades come to them they are quite appreciative of them, but then they go on about their task whether or not they receive any accolades at all from the crowd. Furthermore, I have found that really great people are often surprised when people pay them tribute.

All of this is to say that greatness finds you. You don’t find greatness. If you seek it you will never find it. Greatness, the esteem of the crowd, human accolades, the recognition of your nobility finds you. And it finds you only where it can, when you are located in the center of a life dedicated to a transcendent value or goal; when you are found engaged in the task of doing your Heavenly Father’s work here on earth.

John the Baptist was a great man. Jesus Christ said of him: “Of all of the men born of women, none was greater than John the Baptist.” THAT was quite a statement, considering its source! And what did John the Baptist say about Jesus? “I must decrease, He must increase.” In other words, John the Baptist’s awareness was centered on the presence of God in our midst. Ordinary eyes couldn’t perceive the Presence of God in the midst of our humanity, but John the Baptist’s eyes could. John was free to see reality, the way and the truth and the spirit of human life, and the spark of Divinity hidden within both Christ’s humanity and within ours.

Are you and I that much different from John the Baptist? In a lot of ways we are, of course, but we have some things in common. John was a messenger sent on assignment. But so are you. John was on a divine mission, but so are you. We are engaged in a task that is a whole lot bigger than just taking care of ourselves. You and I along with John the Baptist are sent into our world to point to God’s very presence among us. We have a high purpose for living. And being where we are we can, by the way we live and by faithfully attending Mass, point to the presence of Christ in our world. Others notice how we live. Never for a moment suppose that they don’t.

Your life is not a mere accident, nor is mine. Every life is given by God to accomplish His purposes, to bring His loving presence into a suffering world, to make His kingdom real by realizing it in how we live and how we treat people. No one is an outcast. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. If Pope Francis´ ministry and life tell us anything, they tell us that.

Let me suggest to you here today, in the middle of Advent, that perhaps it would be good for us to examine the question: To whom and to what is my life dedicated? For that is where I will find honor and respect. That is where I will find happiness.

Advent is the time of the coming of God into our humanity, into your personal lives, and into mine too. It is that mysterious time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already is and what is yet to be; between what we ARE and what we CAN BE; between what has been accomplished and what remains unfinished in our enterprise of living.

My mother once told me: “Happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” If you and I can live lives dedicated to making the lives of others a little bit better than they once were, if we can find ourselves in the center of what is transcendent in life, giving love to the loveless and being loved in return, and if we can live each day fully in the Presence of Christ, or rather with His Presence reaching and touching others through us, that is no small thing to have happened to any man or woman.

If we do that, our lives will be judged accordingly and we will have as our own the honor that Christ gave John the Baptist.

Prayer for the Advent Wreath Week Three


The lighting of the Advent candles symbolizes the hope that the coming Messiah represents in a world that very often seems dark, forbidding and hopeless. We do so because we are a people living in faith that our Divine Master will come again in glory at the end of time to dispense peace and justice. The joyous anticipation of the season of Advent is captured in the teachings of the prophets from the Old Testament: "Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he…" (Zechariah 9:9)

Advent Wreath Prayer - Third Week

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Heavenly Father, today is the Third Sunday of Advent. Everything about today speaks of rejoicing in your presence among us. The prayers, readings and even the pink candle remind us that we are building up to the celebration of your decision to step into time and take a place in the human family.  Help me, Lord, to feel the excitement of a child who waits to open that large Christmas gift. Inspire me to open my heart, mind and soul to your presence, not only in the world but within me, which calls me to holiness and truth. This we ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect Prayer Third Sunday of Advent

O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Lord, our God, we praise You for Your Son, Jesus Christ, for He is Emmanuel, the Hope of all people. He is the Wisdom that teaches and guides us. He is the Savior of all. May He come quickly and not delay. We ask this in His holy name. Amen.

The Church’s "Great" Popes Lived Out Heroic Virtue

Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom

Three Popes in the history of the Church have been honored with the designation "the Great". Pope St. Leo I (440–61), Pope St. Gregory I (590–604), and Pope St. Nicholas I (858–67). This is not, however, the result of official Church decree. The pontiffs so named have been duly singled out through the popular acclaim of the faithful on the occasion of their deaths and over time by tradition. Since his passing in April 2005, Pope St. John Paul II has been variously accorded the title.

St. Leo the Great

Pope St. Leo the Great

Pope St. Leo, one of the best-known popes from the 1st millennium, was a native of Tuscany, and initially served as a deacon under Pope St. Celestine I. Leo was a force to be reckoned with in diplomatic proceedings, which is why Pope Sixtus III sent him to resolve various disputes as a deacon. Leo's skills as an administrator enabled him to deal judiciously with the disintegration of the Roman Empire and guide the Church successfully through various consequential doctrinal disputes.

During Leo’s papacy, the universal Church and secular authorities recognized the supreme pontiff as the true leader of Christendom. He ruled on questions ranging from Church discipline to controversies among prelates, and authored numerous theological works. The most popular was the Tome of Leo which greatly shaped the Church’s teaching on Christ’s consubstantial union with God the Father at the Council of Chalcedon (451). Leo died in 461 and is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica. His feast day is celebrated November 10. He is among the Doctors of the Church.

St. Leo the Great on Christ

"He who could not be enclosed in space, willed to be enclosed; continuing to be before times, he began to exist in time; the Lord of the universe allowed his infinite majesty to be overshadowed, and took upon him the form of a servant..."

― Pope St. Leo the Great

When Attila the Hun threatened to invade and conquer Italy, it wasn’t an emperor or a deputy who went and talked Attila out of it. It was Pope Leo. Records show that after meeting with Leo, Attila retreated from Rome. The most plausible cause is that Leo prevailed upon Attila, making so great an impression that Attila left, stories range from Leo offering Attila a sum of gold (unlikely) to Attila suddenly seeing a vision of Christ in priestly robes bearing a drawn sword, threatening to bring death and obliterate the Hun army should they proceed with their attack.

St. Leo in particular contributed tremendously to the Church, including (through a particular devotion to St. Peter) helping to develop our understanding of papal primacy.O God, who never allows the gates of hell to prevail against your Church, firmly founded on the apostolic rock, grant her, we pray, that through the holy intercession of Pope Saint Leo, she may stand firm in your truth and know the protection of lasting peace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

St. Gregory the Great

Pope St. Gregory the Great

Born to an aristocratic Roman family around the year 540, St. Gregory was a public servant into his thirties, then retired to be a monk. He was a fan of the great St. Benedict, devoting a whole book to the saint's life and miracles, and encouraged the spread of monasticism during his papacy. Pope Pelagius II called Gregory away from his life of solitude to act as papal nuncio in Constantinople. After the pope’s sudden death from the plague, Gregory was elected on February 3, 590. He reluctantly accepted this holy summons to serve as Rome's bishop.

It was Gregory who is owed thanks for spreading the faith in England and Gaul. He sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and companions there as evangelists, and for keeping the faith alive among the Franks (ancestors of the French). He did dispute the emperor on several new laws, but made sure to approach each situation with proper humility: as a loyal subject rather than a man on equal footing. Due to the depleted infrastructure in Rome by that time, Gregory was tasked with handling everything from feeding Rome’s poor, to managing the vast amounts of Church property, to rebuilding aqueducts and discussing the most equitable ways to use Church resources. A meticulous and generous man, he left the Church in vastly better shape than he found it, hence his title, "The Great."

St. Gregory the Great on Repentance

"If we knew at what time we were to depart from this world, we would be able to select a season for pleasure and another for repentance. But God, who has promised pardon to every repentant sinner, has not promised us tomorrow. Therefore we must always dread the final day, which we can never foresee. This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion."

― Pope St. Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great was perhaps most known for being a prolific writer and teacher, having authored four books, several sermons, and over 850 letters that survive to this day. He is responsible for several liturgical customs that still exist. The Our Father’s current placement in the Mass, various prayers recited according to liturgical season, and some additions to the Roman Canon all originated from him. Gregorian Chant, though it bears his name, only came from Gregory in seed form; that attribution first appeared nearly three centuries after Gregory’s death.

Pope St. Gregory, now recognized as a Doctor of the Church, died on March 12, 604. He was acclaimed as a saint almost immediately. His feast day is celebrated September 3 in the Latin Church. Almighty God, who cares for your people with gentleness and rule them in love, through the intercession of Pope Saint Gregory, endow, we pray, with a spirit of wisdom those to whom you have given authority to govern, that the flourishing of a holy flock may become the eternal joy of the shepherds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, together, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Nicholas the Great

Pope St. Nicholas the Great

A Roman from a noble family, Nicholas was well-known, even before becoming pope, for his holiness, goodwill, intelligence, and ability to lead. A subdeacon under Pope Sergius II and a deacon under St. Leo IV, Nicholas was elected to the papacy on April 24, 858. He wasted no time revitalizing the Church. With the Holy Roman Empire in shambles and Christian morality in a deep state of decay, Nicholas the Great led the Church well through a time where things could easily have devolved into anarchy. His enlightened stewardship proved to be a blessing.

Many bishops of the time were living worldly, decadent lives. One of Nicholas’ hallmarks was reforming and renewing those standards to which bishops and priests should be held. He twice excommunicated the archbishop of Ravenna, for being a tyrant who extorted his subordinate bishops and imprisoned his priests, not to mention forging papal documents and abusing the pope’s representatives. Nicholas also battled the archbishop of Reims, over the pope’s supremacy, but fortunately the issue was resolved without the archbishop having to be removed.

St. Nicholas the Great on the Church's Certain Doctrine

"From the time the Christian religion began to be spread, she has held unchangeable and taught uncorrupted throughout the world the doctrines which she has received once and for all from her patron and founder, St. Peter."

― Pope St. Nicholas the Great

Nicholas dealt with an emperor wanting a divorce, a foreshadowing of Henry VIII nearly 700 years later, when Lothair II left his lawful wife, Theutberga, to marry another woman. The area bishops, who were controlled by Lothair, approved of his abandonment, as did a meeting of bishops where papal representatives were bribed. Nicholas, never one to back down, convened his own meeting, wherein he duly reversed the decision and excommunicated his representatives. Even Lothair besieging Rome for two days couldn't discourage Pope Nicholas, despite the pope himself effectively being imprisoned without food in St. Peter’s during that time. Lothair ultimately reconciled to the Church and to the pope, seeking forgiveness.

During his time in office, Pope Nicholas continued to restore churches and was an active proponent of the religious life, considering he himself lived monastically, through and through. He died November 13, 867, and after death was venerated as a saint. Almighty Father, lover of souls, who chose your servant Saint Nicholas to be a bishop in the Church, that he might give freely out of the treasures of your grace: make us mindful of the needs of others and, as we have received, so teach us also to give; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017, Year B

Saint John the Baptist

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

We read today in 2 Peter, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” This salutary but unsettling reminder of what is to come makes me think of one of the “Holy Sonnets” of the 17th century poet and essayist John Donne. It begins with the words: “What if this present were the world’s last night?”

“What if?” indeed! If we knew we had such little time, how would we spend it? Rush to the nearest confessional? Seek out the people we love most? Just cower in fear?

The poet is not afraid. He invites his soul to look into his heart and see there the image of Christ crucified, which for him is beautiful and offers him assurance of mercy.

We should note that St. Peter’s imagery is not simply about destruction. He follows immediately with this: “But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Similarly Isaiah, who is quoted in Mark’s, is not suggesting that valleys be filled in and mountains be made low in a destructive way. The point is to make a straight, direct route for God to come to his people. Anyone living in a mountainous area knows how travel times can be doubled and tripled by winding roads.

John the Baptist is “the voice” calling for the straight path. There are many singers and actors famous for their voice. John is famous for his voice, but in a different way. He is the herald, not drawing attention to himself but to the one who is to come after him.

Have you ever had the experience of imagining what someone looks like, based only on the sound of his or her voice? I once was curious enough to search the Internet for a picture of Steve Zirnkilton, whose voice introduces every episode of all three Law & Order series on television (“In the criminal justice system...,” etc.). I was surprised and amused to see how far off I was! His appearance seemed so unlikely to me.

There are prophetic voices around us even today, calling us to fill in valleys and make mountains low. Often they are unlikely prophets, hard for us to recognize.

Mountains and valleys constitute obstacles. The valleys and mountains of Isaiah are not the physical ones that would require engineers to level out. The ups and downs and winding roads are in the “wasteland” that our hearts can sometimes be. Mountains of self-importance, of greed, of whatever makes us think we are above the human condition. Ravines of jealousy, of self-pity, of whatever drags us down and stifles hope. We all have them at times, and in an infinite variety of forms.

Maybe there is an unlikely prophet, a voice crying in our desert, to help us.

Be that as it may the question remains: How can I, how can you, make a straight path for the Lord into our lives and hearts? How can we prepare for the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”?

December 8, 2017

Pope St. Gregory the Great on the Birth of Christ

The Queen of the Angels
[On the night of Our Savior's Birth] The Angel announces that a king is born, and the choirs of angels join their voices, and rejoicing together they cry, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those of good will.' Before our redeemer was born in the flesh there was a discord between us and the angels, from whose brightness and purity we stood afar, not only as the result of original sin but also because of our daily offenses. Because through sin we had become strangers to God, the angels as God's subjects had cut us off from their fellowship. But because we have now acknowledged our King, the angels have received us as fellow citizens.
― St. Gregory the Great 

Collect Prayer for the Nativity of the Lord

Almighty ever-living God, who gladdens us year by year as we wait in hope for our redemption grant that, just as we joyfully welcome your Only Begotten Son our Redeemer, we may also merit to face him confidently when he comes again as our Judge. Who reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit one God Amen.