December 6, 2016

O Antiphons Overview

O Antiphons

The liturgical season of Advent has two parts, both of which look to the coming of the Lord. The first part of Advent, which immediately follows the feast of Christ the King and ends on December 16, looks to his second coming — the return of Jesus at the end of time. The second part of Advent begins on December 17 and is the Novena leading up to the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. In the second half of Advent, the Church places itself once again in the era anticipating the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem — looking forward to his first coming. Our attention shifts from the One who is to come to the One who has already come in the flesh. This second part of Advent is another period of intense training. ...

The importance of O Antiphons is twofold: each one highlights a title for the long-awaited Messiah by the Jewish people: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the  Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one references the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. The antiphons have been referred to as a collage of Old Testament types of Christ, given by the Israelite prophets who were the first to teach us how to wait for the coming of the Savior. Their predominant theme stresses the hope of the Savior’s coming in fulfilling his promises. The sequence progresses historically, from the beginning, before creation, to the very gates of Bethlehem.

December 17:

"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation." (Isaiah 11:2-3)

December 18:

"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free." (Isaiah 11:4-5)

December 19:

"O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you." (Isaiah 11:10)

December 20:

"O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom." (Isaiah 22:22)

December 21:

"O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death." (Isaiah 9:1)

December 22:

"O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust." (Isaiah 9:5)

December 23:

"O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God." (Isaiah 7:14)
____________________________________

Fr. Daniel White, "Praying the ‘O Antiphons’", Vermont Catholic (December 2010).

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor

St. Ambrose

December 7th, is the memorial of Saint Ambrose, (c. 338 - 397) the 4th-century bishop and theologian, one of the four original doctors of the Church, famous for baptizing Saint Augustine. Originally a lawyer and provincial governor, Ambrose was named bishop of Milan by popular acclamation while still an unbaptized catechumen. He wrote extensively on Sacred Scripture and the Fathers, defended the rights of the Church against secular encroachment and opposed heretics. He composed numerous sermons, letters and hymns, (most notably the Te Deum) promoted sacred chant, and took interest in the Liturgy. He introduced into the West the practice of Lectio Divina. St. Augustine called him, "a faithful teacher of the Church, and even at the risk of his life a most strenuous defender of Catholic truth." Through his efforts, Ambrose secured the rights of Christians to worship.

Ambrose was born to a wealthy Christian family (his father was the Pretorian Prefect of Gaul) in what is now Trier, Germany. After his father's death, he went to Rome where he was appointed consul with residence at Milan (the position his father had held). When the bishop of Milan died, a conflict arose between the Catholics and the heretical Arians about who should be his successor. Ambrose was called upon to mediate the dispute. During the assembly, a child cried out, "Ambrose, bishop", and immediately both sides took up the chant in unison. In this way, Ambrose was appointed bishop of Milan by unanimous consent.

At first, Ambrose refused to accept, but soon consented to the will of God. Within a week, he was baptized, ordained and consecrated bishop. He divested himself of his worldly property, giving his possessions to the Church and the indigent, adopted an ascetic lifestyle centered on self-denial and prayer, and diligently studied to prepare for the arduous task ahead. Apart from his episcopal duties, he spent much time in study and devotion. He preached every Sunday, and at certain times daily. His work catechizing and preaching was blessed with great success. The following excerpt on prayer from Ambrose’s treatise on Cain and Abel highlights praying with and for the whole body of Christ:
Offer to God a sacrifice of praise and pay your vows to the Most High. To praise God is both to make your vow and to fulfill it. That is why the Samaritan in the story is placed above his companions: with nine other lepers he was cured of his leprosy by the command of the Lord, but he alone came back to Christ, praised the greatness of God and gave thanks. Jesus said of him: There was none of these who returned and thanked God, except this foreigner. And he said to him: Rise up and go on your way, for your faith has made you whole.
As bishop, Ambrose dedicated much of his life to fighting the Arian heresy that had caused apostasy among clerics and the laity alike. His dealings with the imperial court of Rome epitomized Ambrose's courage and fidelity to the faith. Once, he confronted Maximus, the murderer of the Emperor Gratian. When Maximus refused to do penance, Ambrose excommunicated him. Later, he denied Emperor Theodosius entrance into church for his massacre of the citizens of Thessalonica. It was on this occasion that Theodosius made allusion to King David as a murderer and adulterer, and Ambrose replied, "You have followed him in sin, now follow him in repentance." Theodosius accepted the penance imposed.

Saint Ambrose, died peacefully on Holy Saturday April 4, 397. Ambrose's body may still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop. He is the patron of learning, Milan, Italy, schoolchildren and students. Lord, you made Saint Ambrose an outstanding teacher of the Catholic faith and gave him the courage of an apostle. Raise up in your Church more leaders after your own heart, to guide us with courage and wisdom to seek your will.

Immaculate Conception Novena 2016 | Day 8

Mary, conceived without sin.

December 6, 2016

Today we pray for those who have fallen away from the faith. Jesus says that there will be great rejoicing in Heaven when one who was lost returns. O Mary most holy, intercede for families, especially parents, that they may lead their children to God. We pray that our loved ones who have gone astray will soon be welcomed home to the Church founded by Christ, to live in imitation of Him.

Day 8 - Immaculate Conception Novena

O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God – the Queen of Angels and of men. I humbly venerate you as the chosen mother of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the singular grace and honor of being His beloved mother. By the power of His Cross, He preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and bold confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.

I pray that your prayers will bring me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Now, Queen of Heaven, I beg you to beg my Savior to grant me these requests…

(Mention your intentions)

My holy Mother, I know that you were obedient to the will of God. In making this petition, I know that God’s will is more perfect than mine. So, grant that I may receive God’s grace with humility like you.

As my final request, I ask that you pray for me to increase in faith in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in hope in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in love for the risen Jesus!

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

December 5, 2016

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent [A]

Nativity of Christ

Third Sunday of Advent (A), December 11, 2016

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

"Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord." (Jas 5:7)

Advent coincides with one of the busiest times of the year. As people are gearing up for Christmas with frenzied shopping trips and the like, a very holy time can easily be lost. Christians need to reclaim the four Sundays and their corresponding weekdays before Christmas for Advent, in which the Church asks its people to stop, wait, listen, be patient, and pray, all in preparation for Christmas.

On December 25 the world will celebrate the Incarnation, the feast of the coming of the Lord. At a certain point in time and history, God stepped into the human story as one who is fully human yet also fully divine. He did this with one purpose in mind: to show his deep love for the human person most especially through the passion, death, and resurrection of His son and our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, even on Christmas morning the faithful have one eye on Easter, for that is the feast of all feasts in which hope is born and death, sin, and despair are conquered. On Christmas day, the human person is introduced to its Savior, this tiny child born in a stable.

While Jesus was born once for all for history, the faithful prepare for His coming every year. It is like preparing one’s life and home for an annual guest eagerly awaited. The reawakening of Christ is in the heart of each of His followers. It is a fresh beginning in which the relationship with Christ is built once again. Why does the Church celebrate this feast annually? Each year the faithful follower needs this reawakening. In the time since the last feast of Christmas much has happened. In his life of work, home, family, school, and community there have been good developments alongside of sin, obstacles, suffering, and disappointments. The follower is not the same person today he was a year ago. Being introduced to Christ once again will give him hope, new life, and the possibility of starting ever new, ever fresh. Christmas is a reintroduction to hope, new life, salvation, and redemption, all of which came through Jesus Christ! Needed by all, this reintroduction will strengthen the Christian faithful to the life of the covenant of Jesus Christ which has eternal life as its end. This is the feast of Christmas! The world rejoices that God has stepped in to bring it hope and forgiveness!

Then what is supposed to happen during Advent? In this season, the Church joins the people of the Old Testament in seeking the Messiah who will bring this hope. It is a season of intense prayer and patient, silent waiting. Spending time in silent prayer, away from words and distractions, is the core of Advent. It is the season of eager expectation at the coming of the Guest! One possible metaphor that works in this season is a carefully wrapped gift under the Christmas tree. Throughout Advent, the person unravels that gi one day at a time, slowly, until it is fully unwrapped. A little frustrating, right? Waiting for the Lord can arouse similar feelings! The journey of faith requires patience with God and self.

Advent is the season in which the person steps back, waits, and prays for patience. James 5:8 reads as follows: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” Faith comes to the human person in quite the same way. As the person goes through the trials and tribulations of life, so she realizes the need of God’s presence and His saving help. Hope grows from within so as to give the person an anchor to hold. Faith is a lifelong process. Advent is but a capsule of time that really is the lifetime of faith. It is an intense period of realizing the search for the Lord. The readings of daily and Sunday Masses throughout Advent are all focused on waiting for the Lord’s presence. The figures that have prominent roles are Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, Mary, and Jesus.

The Guest of all guests will arrive soon, bringing you hope, salvation, and eternal life. Are you ready?

Questions for private reflection …

1. What is your build up to Christmas like? Are you spending enough time in prayer?

2. There are multiple resources online and elsewhere to read the daily Mass readings. Read
and pray those readings daily to understand the journey of Advent.

3. Are you ready for the Guest of all guests?
________________________________________

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois, "Living the Word: Feast of St. Andrew, November 30, 2013", Vermont Catholic (November 2013). Reprinted with permission from the author.

Rev. Msgr. Bernard W. Bourgeois is the Pastor of Christ the King, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Patrick Parishes in Rutland, VT.

Gifts Every Priest Deserves

Emmaus Road Publishing

Emmaus Road Publishing has put together six of their favorite titles which are sure to inspire, encourage, and enlighten our spiritual fathers. Buy the whole bundle, and you’ll receive $40 off.

The bundle includes Jesus is the Gift by Regis Flaherty, Joy to the World by Scott Hahn, Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas by Randall B. Smith, and Speaking the Love of God by Jacob W. Wood, plus:

The Catholic Priesthood: Biblical Foundations: Fr. Thomas Lane’s probing examination of the changed understanding of the priesthood that followed Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Sacred Conversation: The Art of Catholic Preaching and the New Evangelization: Fr. Joseph Mele’s engaging guide to the "why" and "how of sound homiletics.

Looking for a bigger gift? Consider sponsoring your priest for their week-long priest's conference in July 2017. Check out the details here and ask your priest if he's interested in attending.

Select Emmaus Road Publishing books are now 15% off. As part of their Advent Sale, enjoy free shipping on orders over $50 and take advantage of their Amazon price match. If you find any of their products on Amazon for less than what EmmausRoad.org offers, call 800-398-5470 and they will reduce their price.

The Bible and the Virgin Mary materials are also on sale. Use the coupon code Advent25 to receive 25% off the Leader Guide and the Participant Workbook. Use the code Advent10 to receive 10% off any product containing the DVD.

Optional Memorial of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas
December 6th, is the optional memorial of Saint Nicholas, (270-343) also called Nikolaos of Myra, (present day Demre, Turkey) the 4th-century archbishop known for his tireless devotion, generosity and defense of orthodoxy. Due to the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also referred to as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Greatly revered in the ancient Church, he was held as the archetypal bishop and the archetypal saint. He is without doubt one of the most popular saints in the world; honored in the Latin and Orthodox rites. A Russian proverb states: "If anything happens to God, we have always got St. Nicholas."

Nicholas was born in the city of Patara in Lycia, the only son of pious parents, Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God if they were blessed with a son. Nicholas’ formative years were marked by rigorous asceticism, the reading of Scripture and upholding the moral tenets of the Faith. His parents would succumb to a plague when Nicholas was still young. His uncle, (also named Nicholas) the archbishop of Myra in Lycia, raised him thereafter; eventually ordaining him and appointing him the abbot of a local monastery. Upon the death of his uncle, Nicholas was chosen the Archbishop of Myra; a position he held until his death. Nicholas' pastoral skills were legendary.

Popular piety records several accounts of Nicholas’ munificence and miraculous interventions ascribed to him. One tells of a poor man with three daughters. In Nicholas’ day a young woman's family was beholden to offer any prospective husband a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the odds a daughter would marry. Learning of the man’s poverty, the saint secretly visited one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. This provided the young woman an honorable marriage. Nicholas furnished gold for the other daughters as well, sparing the family destitution and dishonor. While bestowing charity, Nicholas always acted clandestinely to conceal his good works.

Under the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, he was briefly imprisoned for preaching Christianity, but was freed during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Despite his gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, Nicholas was an ardent warrior for the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, he went to pagan temples in Myra and its surroundings, shattering idols and excising shrines. In 325, he answered the call of Constantine and appeared at the First Council of Nicaea. There, he was a staunch anti-Arian and defender of doctrine. According to tradition, he became so angry with Arius that he struck the heretic in the face.

St. Nicholas died on December 6, 343 in Myra. His body was preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with healing myrrh, from which many received healing. In 1087, his relics were moved to the Italian city of Bari, where they remain. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of travelers, against imprisonment, children, brides, newlyweds and for deliverance from floods, poverty, or any misfortune among others. With Saint Andrew, he is the co-patron of Russia. We humbly implore your mercy, Lord: protect us in all dangers through the prayers of the Bishop St. Nicholas, that the way of salvation may lie open before us. 

Immaculate Conception Novena 2016 | Day 7

Mary, conceived without sin.

December 5, 2016

Today we pray for motherhood. Mary is the mother of our Savior. She is tender, loving and selfless. May all mothers be like Mary in how loving they are to their children and families. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Day 7 - Immaculate Conception Novena

O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God – the Queen of Angels and of men. I humbly venerate you as the chosen mother of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the singular grace and honor of being His beloved mother. By the power of His Cross, He preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and bold confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.

I pray that your prayers will bring me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Now, Queen of Heaven, I beg you to beg my Savior to grant me these requests…

(Mention your intentions)

My holy Mother, I know that you were obedient to the will of God. In making this petition, I know that God’s will is more perfect than mine. So, grant that I may receive God’s grace with humility like you.

As my final request, I ask that you pray for me to increase in faith in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in hope in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in love for the risen Jesus!

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

December 4, 2016

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016, Year A (Gaudete Sunday)

John the Baptist in prison.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

“Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

As you live out life as a Christian, trying to make the life of Jesus a reality in your own life, many are going to be observing you. In key moments, some people are going to be looking to you for help, hope maybe you’ll be their salvation, their way out. Very indirectly, perhaps very quietly, or perhaps quite directly, they might ask you: ARE YOU THE ONE WHO CAN HELP ME… WHO CAN BRING ME SALVATION IN THIS MESS… OR DO I LOOK FOR ANOTHER?

You are a Christian. You openly and publicly bear the name of Christ… and you do it for all to see. You identify yourself as a Catholic. You attend Mass… receive the Sacraments. As a result people are going to look at you… to examine your actions… to look into your life. And they will ask you questions about why you are a Catholic.

You have been baptized. You have been confirmed. As we heard John the Baptist declare in last Sunday’s Gospel, he only baptized with water, but the One who is to come would baptize in the Fire of the Holy Spirit.

Having been marked with the signs of Baptism and Confirmation, and having been joined into Christ’s Mystical Body in Holy Communion, the Church now sends you into the world around us. With Jesus, you are one who is sent. The word “Mass” is derived from “missa” , mission, being sent. You come to Mass to receive in order to be sent, in order to share what you have received.

And so as a baptized and confirmed Christian, as a representative of Christ, openly living the Christian life, you will encounter people who will be looking at you and your life and asking: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” Is your Faith real, is your Faith true and right, or do we look to another? One of the reasons why Pope Francis is popular is that he is real.

John the Baptist asked that question of Jesus because he wasn’t so sure about Jesus. Oh, he had heard reports about Christ. He’s heard rumors about His miracles, miracles that we done quietly, privately, only for a few individuals and without any dazzling, public display. John had even baptized Jesus with a baptism of repentance, an ancient Jewish religious practice that was not uncommon. John the Baptist had done that at the beginning of Christ’s public life. John was quite sure about Jesus at that point, telling everyone that he, John, wasn’t even worthy to carry Jesus sandals. But now? Well…. he just wasn’t so sure anymore. You see Jesus hadn’t as yet liberated the Jews from the yoke of the Romans and their occupying army. Jesus hadn’t vindicated the Jews in front of the whole world, and so John wasn’t so sure that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Savior, after all.

Well, Jesus sent a reply back to John via John’s own messengers. Tell him, Jesus replied what you see and hear: the blind see once again, the crippled can now walk, hopeless lepers have skin that is clean once again, people that couldn’t hear can now hear and speak again, dead men are raised back into living again, and men and women who were without hope now hear good news. And happy are they who are not disappointed in me!

What, we must now ask, will be the message others receive about your life and mine? What kinds of things are happening in your life and mine that will give men and women hope? What will answer their insistent call to you: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

Each one of us here should be able to give the answer that Jesus gave. People that know us should be able to see, to have a vision and see what the meaning and purpose of human life is all about. They can dream the dreams that we dream. There is light in our lives, a light that shines in the darkness, a light that points to hope, the hope of eventual victory… the hope of the triumph of good over evil… the hope of peace… a light that reveals the presence of salvation in our lives. The blind, the spiritually blind, in other words, ought to be able to see God’s presence in humanity because of us.

Then there are the crippled. Others can see in us, or ought to see, a person who is actively doing something about the downtrodden in our world. We have, for instance, the Alternative Christmas Tree in the back of our church. Through it we are not giving money to some cause or some organized charity. And please don’t misunderstand me – many of those things are noble, very worthy and wonderful organizations. Here, however, we have an opportunity to directly respond to folks nearby as ones who are giving them gifts from God.

The lepers? All around us there are persons whose skins crawl with self-hatred. There are those who have been ostracized by others, cast away and left to shift for themselves. They are the lonely, the socially underdeveloped, the so-called freaks, and so on. Do we regard them as lepers and refuse to even get near them, or even breathe the air that they breathe? “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another, O Christian?”

And there are the deaf… those who can’t communicate… those who listen but do not hear. There are those who don’t understand Christianity… or Jesus… who have never really heard about Jesus Christ… who haven’t studied His personality… His character… and who would like to. Can you and I be answers to their prayers? Can we reveal Jesus to them in who we are and what we do?

And we are sent, finally, to raise the dead back to life again. I suppose for us it means going to those in our lives who are exhausted, worn out, dead tired, and giving them the energy of our love… giving them the power of our love, our enthusiasm. It means spending a lot of time and energy on them… our own time and lots of our precious energy… helping them to break out of their shell and bring them back into life again. It means giving them hope… something to live for… a life full of beauty, wonder, awe, goodness, and all of those things that make life really worth living. It means giving good news to those who are near death and have nothing but bad news because they have lost hope.

And so, Christian, as Christmas comes to you once again – Happy are those who are not disappointed in you. You are the one sent by God into their lives so that they need not look for another!

The Jesse Tree

Tree of Jesse Icon

Jesse Trees are a very old Christmas tradition dating from medieval times. They are used to tell the story of the Bible from creation to the Birth of Christ. Depictions of the Tree of Jesse are based upon the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1-2:
But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD.
In works of art the genealogy of Christ (based on Matthew 1) is frequently shown in the form of a tree which springs from Jesse, the father of David, and bears as its fruit the various ancestors of Christ.

The Jesse Tree symbols transform a Christmas tree into a "family tree" of Christ, since each ornament is a symbol of an ancestor or of a prophecy which foretells his coming. Some of the symbols included are the sun, the tablets of the Law, the key of David, Bethlehem, the root of Jesse, Noah's ark, the Ark of the Covenant, the altar of holocaust, the apple, the Paschal Lamb, the pillar of fire, manna, the star of David, Jacob's ladder, Jonah in the whale, the Temple, the crown and the scepter, the sword of Judith, and the burning bush.

The sun represents Christ as bringing eternal life and light, and is based on the prophecy of Malachi: "But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." The six-pointed Star of David symbolizes the lineage of Christ from the royal house of David. The burning bush symbolizes the Virgin Birth, and the prophecy of the birth is seen in the Bethlehem-emblem. The apple is a symbol of Christ, who took upon himself the burden of man's sin, and Jacob's ladder is interpreted as Christ reuniting mankind to God. The ladder has also been interpreted in a moral sense, with each of the fifteen rungs standing for a specific virtue. The lamb is one of the favorite, and most frequently used, symbols of Christ in all periods of Christian art. A typical reference is John 1:29, "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Noah's ark is a symbol of baptism, and Jonah in the whale symbolizes death and resurrection. ...

The Advent Jesse Tree is fairly recent practice, trying to emphasize "Christ" in Christmas by studying His roots. A home Jesse Tree can be a small evergreen tree, artificial or real, bare branch set in a sturdy pot, or a wallhanging made of felt, posterboard or wood. Each evening in Advent a new symbol is placed on the tree, the Scripture verse is read and the significance in Salvation History is explained.

The Story of the Jesse Tree

Jesse was the father of the great King David of the Old Testament. He is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus.

In Church art a design developed showing the relationship of Jesus with Jesse and other biblical personages. This design showed a branched tree growing from a reclining figure of Jesse. The various branches had pictures of other Old and New Testament figures who were ancestors of Jesus. At the top of the tree were figures of Mary and Jesus. This design was used mostly in stained glass windows in some of the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. The Cathedral of Chartres (which was dedicated in 1260) has a particularly beautiful Jesse Tree window.

Another development in religious art during the Middle Ages was that of Mystery Plays–drama that depicted various Bible stories or lives of Saints and Martyrs. These plays were performed in churches as part of the liturgical celebrations. One such play was based on the Bible account of the fall of Adam and Eve. The "Tree of Life" used during the play was decorated with apples. (Quite possibly this is also the forerunner of our own Christmas tree.)

Sources: The Trees of Christmas, by Edna Metcalfe and Catholicculture.org.

Immaculate Conception Novena 2016 | Day 6

Mary, conceived without sin.

December 4, 2016

Today we pray for healing; the healing of relationships, minds and physical bodies. If you or someone you know is suffering and needs healing, know that many people are praying for you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.

Day 6 - Immaculate Conception Novena

O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God – the Queen of Angels and of men. I humbly venerate you as the chosen mother of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the singular grace and honor of being His beloved mother. By the power of His Cross, He preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and bold confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.

I pray that your prayers will bring me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Now, Queen of Heaven, I beg you to beg my Savior to grant me these requests…

(Mention your intentions)

My holy Mother, I know that you were obedient to the will of God. In making this petition, I know that God’s will is more perfect than mine. So, grant that I may receive God’s grace with humility like you.

As my final request, I ask that you pray for me to increase in faith in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in hope in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in love for the risen Jesus!

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Christmas Anticipation Prayer

The Annunciation

Beginning on the feast day of Saint Andrew the Apostle, November 30th, the following prayer is traditionally recited fifteen times a day until Christmas. This meditative petition helps us to increase our awareness of the real focus of Christmas and to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christ's coming in glory.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
In which the Son of God was born
Of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight,
in Bethlehem,
in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, O my God,
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
[here mention your request]
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016, Year A

St. John the Baptist Preaching
Detail, St. John the Baptist Preaching, Mattia Preti (Il Cavaliere Calabrese), c. 1665.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Here we are with Christmas just two and a half weeks away. The shops and malls are loaded with goodies. Christmas songs fill the air. Parties are being arranged and delicacies prepared. Thoughts of home, of family, and of a lovely time fill our hopes and imaginations.

With all of these lovely sentiments in our hearts and minds we come to church today and hear about a weird guy living in the desert, wearing scratchy and horribly smelling clothes made of camel’s hair, eating locusts, calling people a bunch of snakes while telling them that fire and brimstone will come down on them, all the while threatening them with axes that will cut them down. The gospel picture ends with John the Baptist threatening the Sadducees and Pharisees with hell.

Aren’t you glad you came to church today just before Christmas to hear all of that? Well, John the Baptist reminds us that it’s likely we all need to pay attention to a few things that perhaps we have neglected in our lives, things that revolve around the presence of Christ… or His absence.

Take for instance those with whom we live — our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents, our friends. How have we loved them? How have we failed to love them? Who have we downright neglected or not treated as we should have?

Too often we take those around us for granted. We give them little, if any, of our time, our attention, our affection. Maybe we haven’t cared for the very well at all. It seems strange that we sort of assume that they know we love them without our ever actually telling them or showing them that we do love them… dearly love them. Daily routines, concerns about our work, and our habits can cause us to pay attention to material things at the expense of giving our families and friends our real attention, care, concern, and love. Maybe this Christmastime we can actually give them more of our selves as we prepare to celebrate the love of God for us made real in Christ Jesus.

What about our parents and our grandparents who live some distance away from us? Have we neglected them too? And our friends? Are there some changes we need to make because of our neglect?

Then there are those with whom we work. Our attitudes toward them are expressed in the ways we treat them or otherwise relate to them. Attitudes are the sources of human behavior. If we want to reform the way we treat others we have to begin with our attitudes toward them. We need to hear John the Baptist’s message as it applies to us.

Then, too, we should pay some attention to the way we have neglected our own selves. Are we physically out of shape? Overweight? Do we over indulge ourselves? Do we drink too much… drink too often… or eat too much? Do we care for our selves?

What is at issue is the way we have failed to love, failed to love and respect others, and failed to have love and respect our selves, selves that God gave us when He brought us into life in the first place. John the Baptist’s words ought to raise questions we should face and answer.

Finally there is the matter of Christ himself. We profess our faith in Him and our love for Him. But talk is cheap and words are easily spoken. It’s what we do that gives substance to love. Today we need to take an honest look at what we are actually doing in our daily lives that reveals our faith and love in Christ. Just how real is our relationship with Jesus Christ?

Repentance means change. And change is something we dislike. If you are driving to a destination and make a wrong turn, you can’t just say “oops” and continue on driving in a wrong direction. You have to turn around and get back on the right path. You have to make a change that makes a difference. Change has its demands, demands that go beyond mere words of regret. Advent calls us to make some changes in our routines.

Advent has more to offer us, however, than that. Advent has a Savior for us. Beyond our own efforts to recognize sin and failure in our lives, beyond our confessions and admissions that lead us to repent, Advent presents us with what we truly need – a Savior. For if we’re honest with ourselves we will admit that we cannot deal with sin, repentance, and conversion all on our own. We can’t manage our lives all by ourselves.

So I’ll leave you with the first three steps of the famous Twelve Steps found in Alcoholic Anonymous. Of the twelve, the first three are the most vital and critical. They deal with what John the Baptist is talking about. So, substituting the word sin for the word alcohol the steps are:

1 – We admitted we were powerless over sin – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2 – Came to believe in a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The only thing in life that is constant is change. The only certitude is this: that there is life where there is change. Something that is changeless is dead.

Change is hard on us all – on you and on me alike. It’s very difficult for everyone because who or what guarantees that things will be better as a result of change? A life lived close to God is the only real guarantee we have.

The wonderful thing about Advent is that in the end we are given the certitude of God’s presence in our lives in Jesus Christ. Advent is all about our expectant faith in the God who loves us enough to send us His very best… His only Son. And if we receive Him in our hearts and souls, deep down within and not simply with good wishes and nice thoughts, then the change that we enter into will move from incertitude into the certainty of God’s abiding love deep within us to empower us to deal with our selves, and to love ourselves and those around us as He would have us.

December 3, 2016

Immaculate Conception Novena 2016 | Day 5

Mary, conceived without sin.

December 3, 2016

Today we pray for those suffering from financial hardship. Whatever difficulties result, we pray that this hardship bring people together rather than tear them apart. May trying times for individuals and families be resolved in ways that inspire gratitude and humility. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.

Day 5 - Immaculate Conception Novena

O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God – the Queen of Angels and of men. I humbly venerate you as the chosen mother of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the singular grace and honor of being His beloved mother. By the power of His Cross, He preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and bold confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.

I pray that your prayers will bring me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Now, Queen of Heaven, I beg you to beg my Savior to grant me these requests…

(Mention your intentions)

My holy Mother, I know that you were obedient to the will of God. In making this petition, I know that God’s will is more perfect than mine. So, grant that I may receive God’s grace with humility like you.

As my final request, I ask that you pray for me to increase in faith in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in hope in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in love for the risen Jesus!

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

December 2, 2016

Saint Francis Xavier — His Wisdom in 10 Quotations

Saint Francis Xavier

In Thee, O Lord, have I put my hope. Let me never be confounded
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It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken.
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Would to God that these men who labor so much in gaining knowledge would give as much thought to the account they must one day give to God of the use they have made of their learning and of the talents entrusted to them!
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The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but while you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.
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Speak to them of the great mercy of God… Sometimes people are helped by your telling of your own lamentable past.
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It is impossible to find a saint who did not take the 'two P’s' seriously: prayer and penance. 
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I wish they [students] would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
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Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians.
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Tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ.
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I've heard thousands of confessions, but never one of covetousness.

The Miracles of Saint Francis Xavier

The miracles of Saint Francis Xavier
The miracles of Saint Francis Xavier, Peter Paul Rubens, 1617-1618.

Once, while traveling through a pagan territory, Francis learned of a woman who had been in labor for three days and was probably near death. Midwives and sorcerers were treating her with superstitious incantations. Xavier went to the woman's home and called on the name of Christ to heal her. “I began with the Creed,” he wrote to Ignatius, “which my companion translated into Tamil. By the mercy of God, the woman came to believe in the articles of faith. I asked whether she desired to become a Christian, and she replied that she would most willingly become one. Then I read excerpts from the Gospels in that house where, I think, they were never heard before. I then baptized the woman.” As soon as Francis baptized the woman, she was healed and gave birth to a healthy baby.

The woman's family was so touched by this divine intervention that they invited Francis to instruct and baptize all of them, including the newborn. News then traveled quickly throughout the village. A representative of the raja, the overlord, gave the village elders clearance to allow Francis to proclaim Christ there. "First, I baptized the chief men of the place and their families," he wrote, "and afterwards the rest of the people, young and old."

In another village, crowds besieged Francis, begging him to pray for ailing family members. Missionary and teaching duties overwhelmed him, so he enlisted some enthusiastic children to minister to the sick. He sent the children to the homes of the ill and had them gather the family and neighbors. He trained them to proclaim the creed and to assure the sick that if they believed, they would be cured. Thus, Xavier not only responded to requests for prayer, but he managed to spread Christian doctrine throughout the village. Because the sick and their families had faith, he said, "God has shown great mercy to them, healing them in both body and soul."

From Mystics and Miracles, Bert Ghezzi