December 23, 2013

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


The angel visits Joseph
(Click here for today’s readings

In the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name?” It is true enough that the name is not the same as the reality. And yet some names do matter.

There are many names in today’s readings: Ahaz, Isaiah, Paul, Mary, Joseph. Two others really stand out: Emmanuel, and Jesus.

About the name Jesus, St. Peter says in chapter 4 of Acts: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Jesus means God Saves, or God is salvation. This is why the angel tells Joseph, “You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Then, of course, there is the magnificent prophetic name Emmanuel: God with us.

Another name for Jesus also appears in today’s Gospel: Christ, which means Anointed, which translates the Hebrew title Messiah. Whenever we say Jesus Christ, we could equally say Jesus Messiah.

One other name appears in all three readings today, but only in passing, not as a character. That is David. Ahaz is addressed as “House of David,” that is as king, a member of David’s royal family. Joseph is called “Son of David” by the angel. And Paul writes that Jesus is “descended from David according to the flesh.” All this reminds us that Jesus is truly human, with real human ancestors. David is one of the great sinners of the Old Testament. He is also one of the great saints.

David means “beloved,” but that is not really the point here. What matters more is his story, his place in the history of salvation, and his love of God, expressed especially in the psalms. He was anointed king, which means he also bore the title “Messiah.”

We are all “anointed.” We were anointed twice at our baptism, and again at our confirmation. In a real sense we are all called to fulfill prophecy, even not knowing what or how, just by being faithful to our vocation “to be holy” in the “obedience of faith,” to use Paul’s words.

Unlike Ahaz, we are not told to ask for a sign; but each of us is called to be a unique sign of God’s presence among us, each of us is called to be Emmanuel.

December 22, 2013

Religious Knowledge Quiz

If you need a break from all the holiday cheer, take the US Religious Knowledge Quiz, sponsored by Pew. Afterwards, you can look up the results of the actual survey and see how you compare with the American public. (H/T: Perry Dane.)

December 15, 2013

Now Taking Nominations for the "Greatest" Catholics in History

The Communion of Saints

This list is by no means definitive. It is impossible to give an exact number of saints. The majority are known only to God. The Virgin Mary has been omitted out of respect. The Mother of the Savior has a significant place in the divine economy of salvation. Contrary to popular imagination, the saints lived lives remarkably similar to our own. Living ordinary lives in extraordinary ways they were able to achieve heroic virtue. Such a life is possible for us today, with grace, unrelenting prayer, the sacraments and the saints as our guides. The number next to some saints is not intended as a rank. We have tried to include individuals who reflect the depth and scope of a universal Church that spans two millennia.

1. St. Peter - first pope, apostle, martyr
2. St. Paul of Tarsusmissionary, author of scripture, martyr
3. St. John - apostle, evangelist, bishop
4. St. Thomas - apostle, missionary, martyr
5. St. Andrew - apostle, missionary, martyr
6. St. James the Greater - apostle, martyr
7. St. Luke - evangelist, missionary martyr
8. St. Matthew - evangelist, apostle, martyr
10. St. James the Lesser - apostle, martyr
11. St. Mark - evangelist, martyr
12. St. Bartholomew - apostle, missionary, martyr
13. St. Simon the Zealot - apostle, preacher, martyr
14. St. Thaddeaus or Jude - apostle, missionary, martyr, wrote epistle
15. St. Matthias - apostle, martyr
16. St. Philip - apostle, martyr, missionary
17. St. Ambrose - bishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
18. St. Gregory the Greatpontiff, theologian, Doctor of the Church
19. St. Augustine of Hippo - bishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
20. St. Jerome - biblical scholar, priest, Doctor of the Church
21. St. John Chrysostom archbishop, preacher, Doctor of the Church
22. St. Basil the Great - bishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
23. St. Gregory of Nazianzus - archbishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
24. St. Athanasius - archbishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
25. St. Peter Chrysologus - bishop, preacher, Doctor of the Church
26. St. Hilary of Poitiers - bishop, apologist, Doctor of the Church
27. St. Cyril of Jerusalem - bishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
28. St. Cyril of Alexandria - archbishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
29. St. Ephremdeacon, prolific author, Doctor of the Church
30. St. Bede the Venerable - priest, monk, Doctor of the Church
31. St John of Damascus - priest, monk, Doctor of the Church
32. St. Gregory VIIpontiff, great reforming pope
33. St. Albert the Great - bishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church
34. St. Anthony of Padua - priest, monk, Doctor of the Church
35. St. Francis of Assisi - monk, mystic, stigmatist, founder
36. St. Bonaventure cardinal-priest, Doctor of the Church, friar
37. St. Dominic - priest, founder, spread devotion to the Rosary
38. St. Thomas Aquinas - priest, theologian, Doctor of the Church
39. St. Catherine of Siena - mystic, author, advisor to pope, Doctor of the Church
40. Bartolomé de las Casas friar, bishop, missionary
41. St. Ignatius of Loyola - priest, missionary, theologian, founder
42. St. Anselm - theologian, archbishop, monk, Doctor of the Church
43. St Isidore of Seville - bishop, Doctor of the Church
44. St. Leo the Greatpontiff, Doctor of the Church
45. St. Peter Damian - cardinal-bishop, monk, Doctor of the Church
46. St. Bernard of Clairvaux - priest, founder, Doctor of the Church
47. St. Peter Canisius - priest, Doctor of the Church
48. St. John of the Cross - mystic, writer, founder, Doctor of the Church
49. St. Teresa of Ávila - mystic, writer, foundress, Doctor of the Church
50. St. John of Ávila - mystic, priest, Doctor of the Church
51. St. Charles Borromeo - cardinal-archbishop, reformer
52. St. Philip Neri - priest, founder, reformer
53. St. Robert Bellarmine - cardinal, reformer, Doctor of the Church
54. St. Vincent de Paul - priest, founder
55. St. Patrick - missionary, bishop, preacher
56. St. Francis de Sales - priest, writer
57. St. Irenaeus - bishop, apologist, theologian
58. St. Polycarp - priest, theologian, martyr
59. St. Ignatius of Antioch - bishop, theologian, martyr
60. St. Alphonsus de Liguori - bishop, founder, Doctor of the Church
61. St. Clare of Assisi - foundress, abbess 
62. St. Joan of Arc - martyr
63. St. Thomas More - lawyer, statesman, martyr
64. St. Lawrence of Brindisi - priest, diplomat, Doctor of the Church
65. St. Hildegard of Bingen - visionary, composer, abbess, Doctor of the Church
66. St. Francis Xavier - priest, founder, missionary
67. St. John Vianney - priest, confessor
68. Innocent III - pontiff, called first crusade
69. St. Pius Vpontiff, instrumental in the Council of Trent 
70. St. Martin de Porres - Dominican third order
71. St. John Paul IIpontiff, philosopher

The following are all over the place chronologically and fall in the last but not least category:

St. Joseph - spouse of the Blessed Virgin, foster father of Jesus
St. Mary Magdalene- apostle to the apostles
St. Monica - mother of Augustine
Bl. John Henry Newman - cardinal, convert, theologian
St. Thérèse of Lisieux nun, author, Doctor of the Church
St. Teresa of Calcutta - nun, foundress
St. Stephen - first martyr, deacon
St. Faustina - nun, apostle of Divine Mercy
St. Macrina the Younger - sister of Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great.
St. Anthony - hermit,  father of monasticism
St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort - priest, theologian
St. John the Baptist - preacher, forerunner of Christ
St. Valentine - priest, martyr
St. Lucy - martyr, virgin
St. Bernadette Soubirous - nun, visionary
St. Nicholas - bishop
St. Padre Pio - priest, stigmatist, visionary
St. Katharine Drexel - nun, foundress
St. Elizabeth of Hungary - countess, served the poor
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - nun, foundress, educator
St. Benedict of Nursia - monastic, founder
St. Brigid of Ireland - nun, abbess, founder
St. Catherine of Alexandria - virgin, martyr
St. Columbanus - missionary, monk, founder
St. John Bosco - priest, educator, founder
St. Joseph of Cupertino - friar, mystic, confessor
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini - virgin, nun, foundress
St. Martin of Toursbishop, monk
Constantine the Great - emperor, convert
St. Alexander of Jerusalem - bishop, martyr
St. Catherine Labouré - nun, visionary

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH
We are in Cycle A of the Sunday readings, in which the majority of the Gospel readings are from Matthew. In a few weeks we will be reading his account of Jesus’ Baptism. “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

That was chapter 3 of Matthew. Today’s Gospel is from chapter 11. John needs to know: “Are you the one?” Strange, isn’t it? He knew him then. How can he now have doubts?

What has changed is that John is now in prison! It would appear that this was not what he expected.

Jesus’ answer is in two parts:
  1. Look around you. Everything prophesied in Isaiah 35 is being fulfilled—and more besides!
  2. Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. What we have here is a beatitude! (There are many beatitudes in the Bible besides the famous 8 of Matthew 5.)
Have you ever been in a time of crisis and had a well-meaning person tell you how lucky or blessed you were? If so, you might be tempted to think the second part of Jesus’ response to be insensitive. Would you tell a prisoner how lucky he is?

Actually, this part of Jesus’ words corresponds to another part of the first reading: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! here is your God.”

And in the second reading, James invites us to patience, to firmness of heart.

All of today’s readings acknowledge that the life of faith isn’t easy!

Blessedness, then, is not a matter of external circumstances. In my 40 years as a priest, only once have I had a cancer patient tell me how blessed she felt! That takes a depth and breadth of faith that one rarely has the privilege of encountering.

Things also can be “blessed.” Jesus told his disciples once, “Blessed are your eyes... Blessed are your ears.”

In today’s readings, we see that patience is a blessed thing. So is trust. So is hope.

The current translation of the Roman Missal has restored the phrase “Blessed hope” in the prayer following the Our Father. Until two years ago It read, “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” Now, like the Latin original, it reads, “As we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The “blessed hope” is the firm confidence in “his coming.” Like the quality of mercy, it is twice blessed: It is blessed in its object, namely the return of Christ; and it is blessed in the courage it inspires.

The expression comes from Titus 2:13: “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, and the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ.”

This describes Advent perfectly: it is the season of Blessed Hope.

December 3, 2013

A Day in the Life of Pope Francis

Andrea Tornielli of Vatican Insider shows us what a day in the life of Pope Francis is like.  It begins early at quarter to five in the morning.  Not many details but interesting nonetheless.  Go here for her article.

December 2, 2013

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

By Fr. Tommy Lane

John the Baptist is a powerful image placed before us every Advent. We might want to say John the Baptist preparing for Christ is our model during Advent. In the Gospel today John announces judgment, and next Sunday’s Gospel tells us of Jesus bringing salvation. John’s first word announces his theme, “Repent.” In other words, John asks his listeners to turn their minds and hearts away from whatever they had as their goal and look only to God. The reason is because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” In other words, Jesus the Messiah has already arrived. Everything about John shows that he himself has repented and turned away from everything to look only to God. He has nothing in the desert; he only has a garment of camel hair and whatever food he could find in the desert. John is living the very message he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Because John is obviously radiating God’s word, we heard that Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan were going to John. Normally it would be the reverse; they would all go to Jerusalem. Already with the preaching of John the Baptist there is something new in the air that is not in the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore even the Pharisees and Sadducees come to John the Baptist and he reminds them that no matter what their dignity they too must repent and cannot just pretend to repent.

Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ (Matt 3:8-9) Jesus came to save but if we reject Jesus then we bring judgment on ourselves. Therefore John says, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.  herefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 3:10)

John describes Jesus as a farmer threshing; at the threshing, the wheat and the chaff are separated. The farmer blows with his fan and the wheat which has weight and substance falls down to the floor while the chaff is blown away and will be burned. Those who do not have weight or substance in their repentance before Jesus bring a judgment on themselves. John is making it clear that now is a critical time. Repentance will save the situation. The baptism of John was a sign of repentance and turning from sin.(Some ideas above from Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Vol. 1)

John makes it very clear that he is not the Messiah, he is only preparing for the coming of the Messiah. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matt 3:11)

The baptism of John was only a water baptism as a sign of repentance from sin and did not give the Holy Spirit but Jesus’ baptism gives the Holy Spirit because Jesus is full of the Spirit. Jesus is the one full of the Spirit prophesied in the first reading from Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that a shoot would sprout from the stump of Jesse and the Spirit of the Lord would rest on him. Jesse was the father of King David, and they are of the tribe of Judah. Jesus also is of the tribe of Judah. Jesus is the one on whom Isaiah sees resting, a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord (Isa 11:2)

These are six gifts of the Spirit in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek translation adds a seventh gift of the Spirit, piety, resting on Jesus, the shoot sprouting from Jesse. Jesus had the fullness of these seven gifts of the Spirit and they are the seven gifts of the Spirit that the bishop prays we receive when we are confirmed. The bishop prays during confirmation,
“Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understandingthe Spirit of right judgment and couragethe Spirit of knowledge and reverenceFill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”
Not only does Isaiah see Jesus sprouting up in the tribe of Judah full of the Spirit but he also sees the time of Jesus as one when hopes are fulfilled. Isaiah describes this in an imaginative way as animals completely at peace with each other:
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;The calf and the young lion shall browse together,with a little child to guide them.The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,together their young shall rest (Isa 11:6-7)
Although imaginative language, it does describe something real, the difference that having Jesus in our life makes, which is the peace of pure wheat and no chaff in our hearts after repentance. What is the chaff in our lives that needs to be blown away and burnt so that we can stand before Christ as pure wheat? We believe that when we die we will have an immediate personal individual judgment – we call it the Particular Judgment - and at the end of time after the resurrection of all the dead there will be a general judgment on all of humanity - the Last Judgment - when we will see the consequences of the good we did or failed to do. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1021) What chaff do we need to repent of so that we will be ready for judgment?

Go to Fr. Lane's website to read homily in full.