December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for Catholics 2016

Madonna & Child

◗ Pray more
◗ Read Scripture
◗ Keep holy the Sabbath
◗ Sin less
◗ Eat less
◗ Honor your father and mother
◗ Spend less
◗ Spend more time with family
◗ Read a Psalm a day
◗ Live more simply
◗ Find a patron saint
◗ Find a good Catholic smartphone app [and use it]

December 31 – Optional Memorial of Saint Sylvester I

Pope St. Sylvester and Constantine
Today, the seventh day in the octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. Sylvester I, pope and confessor. Little is known about his life and formative years. He ruled the Church during the reign of Constantine when the Arian heresy and the Donatist schism provoked great controversy. As Supreme Pontiff he convoked the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. Sylvester did not attend the Council of Nicaea in 325, but he was represented by two legates, and he approved the council's decision.

During his pontificate, the great Basilicas were founded in Rome by Constantine; [the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Old St. Peter's Basilica, and several others,] built over the graves of martyrs. Sylvester's papacy lasted from 314 until his death in 335. History testifies that only a strong, wise Pope could have preserved the essential autonomy of the Church in the face of a figure like Emperor Constantine.

St. Sylvester I – A Consequential Papacy

When Pope Melchiades died in January, 314, St. Sylvester was chosen as his successor. He governed the Church for more than twenty-one years, ably organizing the discipline of the Roman Church, and taking part in the negotiations concerning Arianism and the Council of Nicaea. He also sent Legates to the first Ecumenical Council.

During his Pontificate were built the great churches founded at Rome by Constantine, the Basilica and baptistery of the Lateran, the Basilica of the Sessorian palace (Santa Croce), the Church of St. Peter in the Vatican, and several cemeterial churches over the graves of martyrs. There is no doubt Sylvester helped towards the construction of these churches. He was a friend of Emperor Constantine, convened the first General Council of Nicaea, and gave the Church direction in the new era of peace. He might be called the first "peace Pope" after centuries of bloody persecution. On the Via Salaria Sylvester built a cemeterial church over the Catacomb of St. Priscilla, and it was in this church that he was buried following his death on December 31, 335.

Numerous legends dramatize his life and work, e.g., how he freed Constantine from leprosy by baptism; how he killed a ferocious dragon that was contaminating the air with his poisonous breath. Such legends were meant to portray the effects of baptism and Christianity's triumph over idolatry. For some time the feast of St. Sylvester was a holy day of obligation. The Divine Office notes: He called the weekdays feria, because for the Christian every day is a "free day" [the term is still in use; thus Monday is feria secunda].

Adapted excerpt compiled from Heavenly Friends, Rosalie Marie Levy and The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch.

Collect Prayer

Come, O Lord, to the help of your people, sustained by the intercession of Pope Saint Sylvester, so that, running the course of this present life under your guidance we may happily attain life without end. 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.

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for January 2016

Pope Francis' coat of arms
Please remember the Holy Father Pope Francis' intentions in prayer through the month of January:
General Intention: That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice.
Missionary Intention: That by means of dialogue and fraternal charity and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christians may overcome divisions.

December 30, 2015

Plenary Indulgence Obtainable on New Year's Day

Holy Spirit

A plenary indulgence may be gained by reciting or singing the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus on the first day of the year. This hymn calls on the Holy Spirit's guidance, protection and blessing before endeavoring something new. In addition to its place in the Pentecost liturgy, the Veni Creator Spiritus has also been assigned as the official opening prayer for Church councils and synods. [Listen to it in Gregorian chant.]

Requirements for Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on New Year's Day:

◗ Recite or sing the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus on the first day of the year.
◗ Say one "Our Father" and one "Hail Mary" for the Pope's intentions.
◗ Worthily receive Holy Communion [ideally on the same  day].
◗ Make a sacramental confession within 20 days of New Year's Day.
◗ For a plenary indulgence, be free from all attachment to sin, even  venial sin [or the indulgence is partial, not plenary].

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator Blest

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God's hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.

Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o'erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.
Far from us drive the foe we dread,
and grant us Thy peace instead;
so shall we not, with Thee for guide,
turn from the path of life aside.

Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.

Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven. Amen.


Veni, Creator Spiritus

Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.

Tu, septiformis munere,
digitus paternae dexterae,
Tu rite promissum Patris,
sermone ditans guttura.

Accende lumen sensibus:
infunde amorem cordibus:
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.

Hostem repellas longius,
pacemque dones protinus:
ductore sic te praevio
vitemus omne noxium.

Per te sciamus da Patrem,
noscamus atque Filium;
Teque utriusque Spiritum
credamus omni tempore.

Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio, qui a mortuis
surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula. Amen.

Sources: Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1958 and the Enchiridion of Indulgences by the 1968 Decree of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary.

December 29, 2015

The Magi's Gifts Symbolize Three Aspects of Christ's Incarnation

The three wise men

In Matthew 2:11 it is written: "and on entering the house they [the wise men] saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." Contrary to popular opinion, the wise men were not kings. They were, rather, according to several Church Fathers, men of intellectual renown and considerable means, most likely from the Orient. Whether such wealth was their own or it was bestowed by royalty, on whose behalf they acted, is the subject of debate.

The wise men's gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, seem curious offerings to a child no more than two years of age [and perhaps far younger]. Both popular piety and Church Tradition suggest that the three gifts represent different dimensions or unique offices of Christ Incarnate.

We Three Kings

The verses of the carol "We Three Kings", while not altogether historically accurate, [The wise men were not kings nor were there three of them] are insightful nonetheless: 

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain Gold I bring to crown Him again King forever, ceasing never Over us all to rein

Gold is the gift given to Kings. Jesus Christ is King of the Universe and His Kingdom will have no end.

Frankincense to offer have I Incense owns a Deity nigh Pray'r and praising, all men raising Worship Him, God most high

Frankincense was used in religious ceremonies including the Temple in Jerusalem. It acknowledges Jesus' divinity.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume Breathes of life of gathering gloom Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Myrrh was the oil with which the dead were anointed prior to internment. It prefigures the sacrificial death of Christ as the Lamb of God.

The three offerings may also pay homage to the three divine offices of Jesus' Ministry as Priest, Prophet and King. It is worth noting that Jesus, a small child, had little use for such extravagant gifts. It is Mary who receives them and presumably keeps them on behalf of her Son. Catholic Tradition has long understood Mary to be the "Ark of the New Covenant" in whom God Incarnate literally resided. [The gifts also correspond to the contents of the Ark of the Covenant as listed in Hebrews 9.]

Here again, gold symbolizes Christ's kingship, frankincense symbolizes His priesthood and myrrh stands for His prophecy.

To some, the nature of the gifts is significant. Gold is the only gift of the three that endures. The other two, frankincense and myrrh, are spices that are temporary in nature [representing Christ’s life and His atoning death]. Gold [His kingdom] is eternal in nature.

There are numerous iterations on the aforementioned themes including one school of thought that sees the gifts as honorary but not symbolic. 

Optional Memorial of Saint Thomas Becket

Detail from an English psalter showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket.
Today, the fifth day in the octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr. He was born December 21, c. 1119 in London, the son of Gilbert and Matilda Becket. Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory in England and later attended a grammar school in London, perhaps the one at St Paul's Cathedral. Later, he spent a year studying in Paris. Becket was appointed  Lord Chancellor to King Henry II in January 1155. Seven years later, in 1162 he was ordained Archbishop of Canterbury.

Becket absorbed himself in the duties of his new office, defending the rights of the Church against the Monarchy. Henry and Becket clashed frequently as the new archbishop sought to recover the Church's jurisdiction. This included disagreements with the king, over whether secular courts could levy ecclesiastical penalties on English clergymen. Ultimately, King Henry exiled Becket to France for six years. Upon his return, Becket endured many trials and was murdered in the cathedral by agents of the king.

The Life of St. Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket was born in 1119 of a merchant family. He studied in London and Paris, entered the service of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, became Lord Chancellor under King Henry II in 1155, and in 1162 Archbishop of Canterbury. Till then a submissive courtier, he now initiated a fearless struggle against the king for the freedom of the Church and the inviolability of ecclesiastical property, occasioning his imprisonment, exile, and finally martyrdom (December 29, 1170). Canonization came quickly (1173); in 1539 King Henry VIII ordered his remains burned.

Formerly the Breviary included this summary of the saint's last days: "Calumniators informed the king that the bishop was agitating against him and the peace of the realm; and the king retorted that with one such priest he could not live in peace. Hearing the royal displeasure, several godless courtiers agreed to do their sovereign a favor by assassinating Thomas. Secretly they traveled to Canterbury and fell upon the bishop while he was attending Vespers. His priests rushed to his aid and tried to bar the church door; Thomas opened it himself with these words: The house of God may not be defended like a fortress. I gladly face death for the Church of God. Then to the soldiers: I command it in the Name of God: No harm may be done to any of mine. Thereupon he cast himself on his knees, commended his flock and himself to God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to St. Denis and other holy patrons of his church, and with the same heroic courage with which he had withstood the king's laws, he bowed his holy head to the sacrilegious sword on December 29, 1170."

With all the strength that is given us for the defense of God's rights, we must resist those who seek to subject the Church to their power, even if they are those to whom on other grounds we owe service. In St. Thomas of Canterbury the Church celebrates one of her great bishops; by applying to him the Gospel of the Good Shepherd she venerates in him the true pastor of Christ's flock who gave his life for his sheep.

Patron: Clergy; secular clergy; Exeter College Oxford; Portsmouth, England.

Symbols: Sword through a mitre; pallium and archbishop's cross; battle axe and crosier; red chasuble; altar and sword.

Collect Prayer

O God, who gave the Martyr Saint Thomas Becket the courage to give up his life for the sake of justice, grant, through his intercession, that, renouncing our life for the sake of Christ in this world, we may find it in heaven. 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.

St. Thomas Becket - Bishop and Martyr

Everyone knows that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter. Upon his faith and teaching the whole fabric of the Church will continue to be built until we all reach full maturity in Christ and attain to unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God. ...

Remember then how our fathers worked out their salvation; remember the sufferings through which the Church has grown, and the storms the ship of Peter has weathered because it has Christ on board. Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.

From a letter by Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

[Epist. 74: PL 190, 533-536.]

December 28, 2015

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 3, 2016, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Adoration of the Magi(Click here for today’s readings)

From Advent until now the readings and themes of our liturgies have all centered on God’s coming to us. The underlying movement has been God seeking us out and offering Himself to us in His Son, in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah first promised to the descendants of Adam and Eve after their Fall.

In today’s Liturgy the basic movement shifts. Now it’s all about our seeking, specifically our seeking out God in His Christ, and by the word “our” I mean all of humanity. The Magi we need to note were not Jews. They were the representatives of the gentile nations and peoples. They were kings who were sages, wise men, visionaries, men who searched beyond what is obvious; searching into the mysterious non-scientific world in which we exist as distinguished from what is merely technical and material.

The word "question" has the word "quest" tucked inside it, an idea that’s presented to us in today’s gospel account given to us by St. Matthew. Epiphany invites us to join in the quest of the Wise Men as well as the quest of all Christian believers seeking to enter into the mystery of God, particularly the mystery of God become incarnate in our humanness.

We live in a world of problems to be solved. A mystery, however, is not a problem to be solved, it is a quest to be lived. A well-known sports figure was asked what his chief ambition in life was. He replied, “My chief ambition is to go to heaven.” The sports writer who was interviewing him thought it was a joke. The ball player responded: “My friend, I don’t think that’s funny. I know you don’t mean to be a smart aleck, but there’s something wrong with a person’s attitude when he’s flippant about the great mysteries of the universe.” And the man who spoke these words was a professional baseball player.

We, too, can be superficial when we miss the point in the account we’ve just heard in today’s gospel. We can get all wrapped up in solving the problem about where the star came from, where it was located in heaven, who the Wise Men really were and where they came from, and exactly how a heavenly star could guide them. So, too, when people try to analyze Christ’s miracles, attempting to explain them away by finding natural causes, completely missing God’s revelation that is made evident to us in them.

The gifts of the Magi are meant to express our human awe and reverence at the true inner nature of the Christ child. Worldly powers, represented by the Three Kings, along with their powers of government over peoples, are placed at His feet. Gold, the currency of kings, is given to Him. Frankincense is the gift given to priests, bringing us into contact with the world of mystery and transcendence. Myrrh is an ointment used in the preparation of a body for burial; it’s significance being quite obvious in terms of this child’s destiny, as well as our own human destiny. Death is a mystery we all enter into as equals, regardless of how important or significant our lives have been during our time here on earth. Death is a mystery to be lived. It not just another problem to be solved.

Mysteries lead to discovery, or more accurately to revelation. When you encounter paradox and mystery, you are close to the gospels. For quite obviously God is bigger, more powerful, and infinitely more than anything we are. Mere data, mere information cannot possibly carry the weight or bear the load of the enormity of Mystery, particularly theological mysteries. The only thing that’s strong enough to bear the full weight of revelation is mystery, along with poetic and symbolic language. Science and technology collapse under the weight of all we must face, and face daily.

There is a motto that tells us: “knowledge is power.” Quite so. But wisdom is superior, deeper, and a far more profound reality than knowledge or understanding. Wisdom is found in the realms of mystery; it’s the only true path to revelation.

We should not let our modern technological world and culture rob us of our innate sense of mystery. We should not let our children be deprived of having a childhood. We should not deprive ourselves of something that children can point to, namely the world of awe, reverence, and mystery. To enter into those realms we must, as Jesus told us, become as little children.

Children, as we all know, love stories. So do we. The infancy narratives surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ are filled with wondrous stories. The legendary story of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the three Wise Men, is a story that invites us to be as little children once again and with awe, reverence, and wonder to enter into the world of Mystery, there to receive God’s revelation.

Is it a story that we regard with distant and unemotional objectivity? Is it merely the subject of cool intellectual curiosity? Or is it a wondrous, mystical story that invites us to embark upon a quest, a journey that was there in the beginning at the birth of our Savior, and a journey or a pilgrimage that Christians have been embarked upon for 2,000 years now?

God has a Word for you. He has something He wants to say to you. God has a vision for you, a revelation to give you. Are you willing to be a seeker and to journey with those Wise Men from the East? The wise still seek Him.

Epiphany is not a one-time event, it is a context in which we live. How, then, can we seek the Lord in these days, in these times of ours?

The one necessary thing is to give God time, quiet and alone time in which to reflect and meditate. I have talked with some very busy and highly successful people who actually take time out away from their many concerns to reflect. They give their attention to God’s still, inner voice deep within them. They have come to know that they are more effective if they reflect on what they are doing, reflect on their goals and how they are achieving them. A by-product found in such times is a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness. These are all things that can be done in the presence of God, all things that are ultimately directed at seeking God’s purposes for our lives. They are far more important to attend to than the problems that beset us.

If Christmas is all about God coming to us to seek us out, then Epiphany is all about our seeking out the God who has come among us. The Wise Men offer us great wisdom. They give us a gift that is priceless. After finding Christ they went home by another route. We should too.

With the Wise Men, may you and I make that journey

December 28th – Feast of the Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents
During this octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. Sacrificed by a wicked monarch, these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men. But the persecutors are powerless, for Christ came to perform a work of salvation that nothing can prevent; when He fell into the hands of His enemies at the time chosen by God it was to redeem the world by His own Blood.

Our Christmas joy is tempered today by a feeling of sadness. But the Church looks principally to the glory of the children, of these innocent victims, whom she shows us in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

The Holy Innocents

Today, dearest brethren, we celebrate the birthday of those children who were slaughtered, as the Gospel tells us, by that exceedingly cruel king, Herod. Let the earth, therefore, rejoice and the Church exult — she, the fruitful mother of so many heavenly champions and of such glorious virtues. Never, in fact, would that impious tyrant have been able to benefit these children by the sweetest kindness as much as he has done by his hatred. For as today's feast reveals, in the measure with which malice in all its fury was poured out upon the holy children, did heaven's blessing stream down upon them.
Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers' womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod's cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers' bosom, are justly hailed as 'infant martyr flowers'; they were the Church's first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.
— St. Augustine

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

St. John the Apostle
Due to technical difficulties, [no internet over the weekend] we were unable to post the following on Sunday. The Feast of Saint John the apostle is commemorated each December 27th. This liturgical year, the evangelist’s feast fell on a Sunday and was thus superseded by the Feast of the Holy Family. John’s prominence in the spread and development of the Church is undeniable. We therefore present to you this summation of his life and contributions.

St. John, the apostle and evangelist, is the only apostle [excluding Judas Iscariot] not to be martyred; having survived at least one attempt on his life. Born in Bethsaida, he was called while mending his nets to follow Christ. He would become Jesus’ beloved disciple. John wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles and the Apocalypse [Book of Revelation]. His passages on the pre-existence of the Word, who by His Incarnation became the light of the world, and the life of our souls, are among the finest spiritual reflections in the New Testament. As an evangelist, John focused on the divinity and fraternal love of Christ. With James, his brother, and Simon Peter, he was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration. At the Last Supper, John leans on the Master's breast [See blog masthead]. At the foot of the cross, Jesus entrusts His Mother to John’s care. John's pure life kept him close to Jesus and Mary in the years to come. John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Emperor Domitian. It was there that he composed the book of Revelation.

The Life of St. John

St. John, the Evangelist, who is styled in the Gospel, "the beloved disciple", was a Galilean, son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother to St. James the Greater, both of whom were fishermen. The two were called by Jesus to be disciples as they were mending their nets by the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus showed St. John particular instances of kindness and affection above all the rest. He had the happiness to be present with Peter and James at the Transfiguration of Christ, and was permitted to witness His agony in the Garden. He was allowed to rest on Our Savior's bosom at the Last Supper, and to him Jesus confided the care of His holy Mother as He hung dying on the Cross.

St. John was the only one of the Apostles who did not forsake the Savior in the hour of His Passion and Death.

It seems that St. John remained for a long time in Jerusalem, but that his later years were spent at Ephesus, where he founded many churches in Asia Minor. St. John wrote his Gospel after the other Evangelists, about sixty-three years following the Ascension of Christ; also three Epistles, and the Book of the Apocalypse or Revelation. He was brought to Rome and, according to tradition, was cast into a caldron of boiling oil by order of Emperor Domitian. Like the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, he was miraculously preserved unhurt.

John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse. Afterwards, he returned to Ephesus.

In his extreme old age John continued to visit the churches of Asia. St. Jerome relates that when infirmity and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time John pronounced to the gathered assembly: "My dear children, love one another."

St. John died in peace at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan [as seems to be gathered from Eusebius' history of the Saint]; that is, the hundredth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from the crucifixion of Christ, St. John then being about ninety-four years old, according to St. Epiphanus.

Adapted excerpt from Heavenly Friends, St. Paul Editions

Patron: Against poison; art dealers; authors; bookbinders; booksellers; burns; compositors; editors; engravers; friendships; lithographers; painters; papermakers; poisoning; printers; publishers; tanners; theologians; typesetters; writers; Asia Minor; Taos, New Mexico; Umbria, Italy; diocese of Cleveland, Ohio; diocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Symbols: Cup or chalice and serpent (cup or sorrow foretold by Jesus); eagle rising out of a cauldron (refers to being a martyr of spirit, but not in deed); serpent entwined on a sword; grave; Prester John seated on tomb, with book, orb, and sword; eagle on a closed book; scroll of his Gospel; scroll of the Apocalypse; nimbed eagle; book.

Collect Prayer

O God, who through the blessed Apostle John have unlocked for us the secrets of your Word, grant, we pray, that we may grasp with proper understanding what he has so marvelously brought to our ears. 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.

Hymn of Praise to St. John, Evangelist

An exile for the faith
Of thy Incarnate Lord,
Beyond the stars, beyond all space,
Thy soul imprisoned soared:
There saw in glory Him
Who liveth, and was dead;
There Judah's Lion, and the Lamb
That for our ransom bled.

There of the Kingdom learnt
The mysteries sublime;
How, sown in martyrs' blood, the faith
Should spread from clime to clime.
The Holy City, bathed
In her dear Spouse's light,
Pure seat of bliss, thy spirit saw,
And gloried in the sight.

Now to the Lamb's clear fount,
To drink of life their fill,
Thou callest all; O Lord, in me
This blessed thirst instil.
To Jesus, Virgin-born,
Praise with the Father be;
Praise to the Spirit Paraclete,
Through all eternity. Amen.

Prayer to St. John, the Apostle

O Glorious Apostle, who, on account of thy virginal purity, wast so beloved by Jesus as to deserve to lay thy head upon his divine breast, and to be left, in his place, as son to his most holy Mother; I beg thee to inflame me with a most ardent love towards Jesus and Mary. Obtain for me from our Lord that I, too, with a heart purified from earthly affections, may be made worthy to be ever united to Jesus as a faithful disciple, and to Mary as a devoted son, both here on earth and eternally in heaven. Amen.

December 27, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, December 27, 2015, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Holy Family
(Click here for today’s readings)

What it means to be a family is undergoing a redefinition in our culture. No longer is the term “family” applied strictly to a household with mom, dad and the children all living together in the same home at the same time. As a matter of fact what is known as the nuclear family is now in the minority. We have now various arrangements found in single parent families, in families in which the parents are of the same gender, and in families in which one parent is simply living with a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

One major consequence is that children now must relate to multiple sets of parents, multiple sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other adults who are not related to them by birth or blood. The Fourth Commandment, “Honor thy father and honor thy mother” is now strained, to say the least. How is that divine commandment, handed down on Mt. Sinai to Moses and the Israelites, to be applied in such diverse and modern household living arrangements?

Another major force at work upon the family of today is the fact that adult moms and dads must relate not only to their children but also to their own parents as well. Adults in their fifties and sixties must now relate to their own children as well as to their own parents who are in their seventies, eighties and nineties. This latter factor is something that will increase during the years ahead of us. We are facing multiple strains on our family relationships.

It’s hard to relate to our children when they don’t behave as we would wish and do not believe in what we believe. Added to that we have parents whose own aged parents cause them impatience, resentment, frustration, and draining exhaustion. What does the phrase “shared values” mean in such situations?

It is in this cultural context that our Church today bids us give attention to the Holy Family, asking us in that context to examine what is wholesome and holistic in our families. Our response is not optional. Our response is necessary. Do we simply reject our religious heritage outright, claiming that it is now irrelevant, or do we take the wisdom that comes to us from our religious tradition and apply it afresh to the living situations in which we find ourselves today?

It is no secret that other cultures, cultures that are not derived from our Judeo-Christian culture, revere their elders. The aged are held in great esteem and respect. What is understood by the word “tradition” is regarded with great honor. Can we say the same for our American culture? Indeed, when it comes to “being an American”, what part of tradition shapes and forms us as so-called “Americans”? Sadly we even watch what was given us by our nation’s founders being stripped away from public observance. The “Almighty Now” seems to be totally in control of what we think, say and do.

Much needs to be done to build up and buttress our present day American families. Indeed, we find a number of social movements and organizations appearing on the scene in the last few decades that are designed to do just that.

So today I would like to focus our attention on the role our aged parents can play in our present day household and family arrangements.

Think for a moment now on the memories being carried in the minds and hearts of our aged parents and grandparents. What was life like for them in their families when they were young? What was America like for them those many decades ago? What did it mean to be “an American”, to be a Christian, to be a Catholic? What did their religious heritage mean to them and what did it give to them? How did it shape and form their characters and their souls?

There is a huge and rich mother lode of wisdom and insight contained in them, one that should be shared with us all, one that should certainly be shared with their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren.

What sort of instruction are our children receiving in their school classrooms? Does that instruction accurately and faithfully transmit to them our American traditions and values? Our Judeo-Christian traditions and values? This is not to imply that our children cannot or should not be exposed to our Native Americans’ beliefs and morals. Nor does it imply that we should be kept in the dark about African values, traditions and beliefs, or Chinese, or Mexican, or Japanese, or Arab. All I am suggesting here is that our children not be kept away from our own American philosophies, morals and beliefs. How willing are we to pay for qualified teachers in our public schools, teachers who support, buttress and build up all that we mean by the term “family”?

Granted that we live in a society that separates Church and State, does that mean we should be living in a society in which religion plays no part? And granted all of that, what are we doing within our own families, in our own households (however they are constituted), to transmit the wisdom of our elders to our children and their grandchildren?

A holistic and holy family is integrated, not fractured; other-centered, not self-centered; lives in forgiveness, affirms the uniqueness of each of its members; builds up instead of tears down; is mindful of God and not neglectful of His Presence and love.

The thoughts of St. Paul we heard read to us a few minutes ago, writing to the Colossians two-thousand years ago, apply to us just as urgently now as they did back then – perhaps more so.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:12-17]
May you live with Christ in a happy and holy family.

December 25, 2015

Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Protomartyr

St. Stephen
Today, the second day in the octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stoned outside Jerusalem, he died praying for his executioners. As one of several who assisted the apostles; he was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," and was "full of fortitude." The Church draws a comparison between the disciple Stephen and his Master, Jesus, emphasizing the imitation of Christ even unto the complete gift of self. He is referenced in the Roman Canon.

Stephen's name means "crown". He was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the crown of martyrdom. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The apostles found that they needed helpers to look after the care of widows and the poor. Consequently, they ordained seven deacons, of which, St. Stephen is the most famous. [Saul of Tarsus was present during the stoning of Stephen and was a witness to Stephen's profession of faith and unfailing charity.]

The Life of St. Stephen

The deacon Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem two years after the death of Christ, has always been the object of special veneration by the faithful. He is the first martyr. The account in the Acts of the Apostles relating his arrest and the accusations brought against him emphasize the parallel with our Savior's trial; he was stoned outside the city wall and died, like his Master, praying for his executioners.

Stephen belongs to the group of seven deacons whom the Apostles associated with their work in order to lighten their load. He was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," "full of grace and strength" he showed himself as a man of God, radiating divine grace and apostolic zeal. As the first witness to Christ he confronted his opponents with quiet courage and the promise made by Jesus (Mark 13.11) was fulfilled: ". . .Disputing with Stephen they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke."

In St. Stephen, the first martyr, the liturgy emphasizes the imitator of Christ even to the extent of the complete gift of self, to the extent of that great charity which made him pray in his suffering for his executioners. By establishing the feast on the day after Christmas the Church draws an even closer comparison between the disciple and the Master and thus extends his witness to the whole mission of the redeeming Messiah.

St. Stephen's discourse before the Sanhedrin defending Christianity.

St. Stephen is the patron of: Casket makers; deacons; headaches; horses; masons; diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky; stone masons.

Symbols: Deacon carrying a pile of rocks; deacon with rocks gathered in his vestments; deacon with rocks on his head; deacon with rocks or a book at hand; stones; palm of martyrdom.

Collect Prayer

Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who know how to pray even for his persecutors. 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.

Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 Angelus Message for the Feast of St. Stephen

"On the day after the solemnity of Christmas, we celebrate today the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr. At first glance, to join the memory of the "protomartyr" and the birth of the Redeemer might seem surprising because of the contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of St. Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church.

In reality, this apparent opposition is surmounted if we analyze in greater depth the mystery of Christmas. The Child Jesus, lying in the cave, is the only-begotten Son of God who became man. He will save humanity by dying on the cross.

Now we see Him in swaddling clothes in the manger; after His crucifixion, He will again be wrapped in bandages and placed in the sepulcher. It is no accident that the Christmas iconography sometimes represents the divine newborn Child lying in a small sarcophagus, to indicate that the Redeemer was born to die, He was born to give His life in ransom for all.

St. Stephen was the first to follow in the steps of Christ with martyrdom: like the divine Master, he died forgiving and praying for his executioners (cf. Acts 7:60). During the first four centuries of Christianity all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs.

They are a countless multitude, which the liturgy calls "the white army of martyrs," [martyrum candidatus exercitus]. Their death was not a reason for fear and sadness, but of spiritual enthusiasm, which always gave rise to new Christians. For believers, the day of death, and even more so, the day of martyrdom, is not the end of everything, but rather the "passage" to immortal life, it is the day of the final birth, the "dies natalis." Thus is understood the link that exists between the "dies natalis" of Christ and the "dies natalis" of St. Stephen. If Jesus had not been born on earth, men would not have been able to be born for heaven. Precisely because Christ was born, we are able to be "reborn."

Also Mary, who took the Redeemer in her arms in Bethlehem, suffered an interior martyrdom. She shared His Passion and had to take Him, once again, in her arms when they took Him down from the cross. To this Mother, who felt the joy of the birth and the anguish of the death of her divine Son, we entrust those who are persecuted and those who are suffering, in different ways, for witnessing and serving the Gospel.

With special spiritual closeness, I am also thinking of the Catholics who maintain their fidelity to the See of Peter without giving in to compromises, at times even at the cost of grave sufferings. The whole Church admires their example and prays that they will have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are a source of victory, though for the moment they might seem to be a failure."

Top Ten Posts of 2015

We have compiled for your consideration the top ten articles appearing on Big 'C' Catholics in 2015 [plus four honorable mentions]. They are listed in order of publication from first to latest.

Christ's Last Words on the Cross or What's Good about Good Friday

Why Satan Hates the Ascension of Christ

In Honor of the 95th Anniversary of Saint John Paul the Great's Birth - A Retrospective

Vatican's Chief Exorcist, Fr. Amorth, Reveals Secrets of Hell, Says the Devil is Behind ISIS

Christ and the Feeding of the 5,000

The Power of the Mass

The Future Pope Pius XII's Dire Premonition Regarding the Catholic Church

Amazing! Pope Pius XI, the Washington Post and Mohandas Gandhi All Agreed Contraception is Gravely Immoral

Five, First-Century, Non-Biblical, Historical References to Jesus of Nazareth

Prayer for the Canonization of Mother Teresa

Two Soldiers From the Life of Christ Who Exhibited Exemplary Faith

An Exorcist Tells His Story: Fr. Gabriele Amorth on the Power of Satan

Seven Amazing Facts About the Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Why Isn’t Jesus Named Emmanuel?

December 24, 2015

Christmas 2015

Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. 
— Isaiah 7:14
O God, who marvelously created and yet more marvelously restored the dignity of human nature, grant that we may share the divinity of Him who humbled himself to share our humanity.
— From the Nativity of the Lord [Christmas Day] liturgy.
The Nativity Of Our Lord Jesus Christ From The Roman Martyrology

The announcement of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord from the Roman Martyrology draws upon Sacred Scripture to declare in a formal way the birth of Christ. It begins with creation and relates the birth of the Lord to the major events and personages of sacred and secular history. The particular events contained in the announcement help pastorally to situate the birth of Jesus in the context of salvation history.

The Nativity Of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course
from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed
since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood,
as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,
came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses
in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two
since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,
was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and when nine months had passed since his conception,
was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,
and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

May the blessings of Christmas be yours until Christ comes again in glory.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, [Christmas Day] December 25, 2015, Year C

Nativity of Jesus Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

All of the shopping, all of the rushing about, all of the busy-ness of Christmas is now over. Today the streets are deserted. A quiet and peaceful stillness lays over all. Now the religious meaning of Christmas is allowed to emerge from beneath all of the mall music, the shopping, and the frantic preparations for this day.

But to what do we turn our attention? To peace on earth toward men of good will? Yes, and something more.  To the sharing of love with family? Yes, and something more. To joining together with the ones we love? Yes, but more. Christmas is more than having a lovely time, more than family sharing, more than the so-called “happy holidays.”

We celebrate today what so many are looking for. We focus our attention today on that which will give peace to many who are lonely, uneasy with themselves, and who are searching for meaning in their lives.

The centerpiece of the Mass, the essence of Catholicism, and the core of our belief is what we consider today. The only essential and ultimately important reality is the joining of humanity with divinity. This joinder is the genius of Christianity and the core of Catholic devotion. It is that which unites liberal and conservative, saint and sinner, European and American, black and white. God and man at table are sat down.

The birth of Jesus Christ is not the birth of one religious prophet among many, one founder of a religion among many, the birth of one good man among many others. It is rather the stupendous joining of humanity with divinity.

In a few short moments we will make it all happen again. All over the world, in the Vatican as well as in Baghdad, in Jerusalem as well as in Cairo, Catholics celebrate the Incarnation… God becoming human flesh. We don’t say that our humanity is perfect. It certainly is not. We do say, however, that we are loved so much by God that He has become one of us. We are loved and being redeemed sinners. In every Mass, God in His mercy becomes one with us.

The long tradition of a sinners’ church is perhaps the most commanding reason for the survival of Catholicism. Catholic theology is by no means a theology of the elite and the elect. Nor is our theology one of predestination. However much our understanding of hell may be dim, we all recognize that it is still quite possible for one to lose his or her soul… or to save it.

The salvation of a sinful humanity, a sinful humanity that constitutes the Church, is the saving grace of our Church. Today a savior has been born for us, Christ the Lord. He was born, lived, and died as one of us. He is Emmanuel – God with us – in every aspect of human living.

He was born in very humble circumstances. He lived a modest life. Thirty years of His life were lived in hidden obscurity and in the ordinary daily life we all live as members of a family. He never stormed the palaces of power. He ran for no political office. He refused riches, and more importantly He refused to succumb to the temptation of His own popularity. He lived with ordinary people and He chose very ordinary men to be His apostles. His proclamation was uttered in simple words, in parables of universal appeal in their simply clarity. Finally He died a shameful death, the death of a crucified criminal, alone, quite helpless, and apparently defeated.

What, then, do we celebrate? After all, He did not give us a free ticket through life, a life free of loss, pain, and suffering. We still have to rise each morning and face days loaded with pain, loneliness, and self-doubt. We worry, we fear, and we are uncertain.

What we celebrate is the fact that God has become very much a part of His creation. God has entered the process of creation with us. He is not simply alongside of us, He is part of us as we struggle to bring order out of chaos, as we suffer in world straining to be born anew, living in a frenzied drive to bring perfection to a world that is far from perfect.

God and man are now conjoined. God is not dead nor doth He sleep. His is not aloof. He is not "out there in the cosmos" living in grand and disinterested isolation from us. What we celebrate is that God is living out, with us, through us, and within us, the full measure of human suffering. He is saving us within all that we face. Unto us a savoir is born. He is Christ, the Lord!

This is the cup of my blood, He tells us. Take it and drink it. Take my life and mingle it with yours. Take and drink the life-supporting and live-giving blood that is mine. It is now yours… and your blood is now mine. Sinful blood, human blood, sinful flesh, human flesh, your flesh and mine are now joined in God’s. God and man at table are sat down.

And so today we celebrate the centerpiece of all Catholic theology… the foundation of the Eucharist and it’s core meaning… the central dogma of all who call themselves Catholic.

It is the one thing that gives me hope in world filled with destruction, desolation, and terror. It is the one shining brilliant star shining above a world that seems terribly dark. It is the one tongue of fire, light, and warmth blazing in a world that otherwise seems to have gone cold in its darkness. It is the most tremendous source of hope I have, it is that which is the keystone of my faith and which I share with you today… HOPE! Hope because of Jesus Christ.

Back in 1970 a Belgian Cardinal by the name of Suenens was asked the question: "Why are you a man of hope even in these days?" He answered:

“Because I believe that God is new every morning, I believe that God is creating the world today, at this very moment. He did not just create it in the long ago and then forget about it. That means that we have to expect the unexpected as the normal way of God’s providence at work.

I am hopeful, not for human reasons or because I am optimistic by nature, but because I believe in the Holy Spirit present in His Church and in the world – even if people don’t know His name. I am hopeful because I believe that the Holy Spirit is still the Creating Spirit, and that He will give us every morning fresh freedom, joy, and a new provision of hope, if we open our soul to Him.”

And so we celebrate today the fact that just as God came to the Garden of Eden to search out Adam and Eve, so also did He come to us in Jesus Christ to search us out and fill us with God’s Holy Spirit. And we celebrate the stupendous reality that He comes to us in every Holy Communion to be made flesh in your flesh, and so mingle His blood with yours and thus to search out and enter into your heart.

This is God’s Christmas gift to you. What will you give to Him? Hopefully we will give Him the gift of ourselves and our love.

December 23, 2015

Seven Misconceptions About the Birth of Christ

Adoration of the Magi
Adoration of the Magi, Giotto di Bondone, c. 1312. 

1. Our Savior wasn’t born in 1 A.D.

Scripture gives clues as to Christ’s year of birth based on references to rulers at the time.

Matthew’s Gospel states that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod [Matthew 2:1-2]. We know Herod died in 4 B.C. It was Herod who ordered all boys two years old and younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem to be killed in an attempt to destroy the Messiah. Jesus could have been as old as two before Herod’s death.

Luke 3:23 asserts that: "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age." Jesus commenced His ministry during the time John the Baptist preached in the wilderness. John’s ministry began “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas" [Luke 3:1-2].

If Christ were "about thirty years of age" in c. 27 A.D., his birth would have occurred sometime between 7 and 4 B.C., an assertion that Pope Benedict has himself endorsed.

2. Jesus wasn’t born in a manger.

Luke 2:7 states that Mary laid Jesus in a manger. We usually associate mangers with stables or barns.

First century dwellings used in Jesus’ day incorporated caves as part of their structures. Guest and family rooms were in the front of the house and animals were sheltered in the back [in a cave]. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over just such a cave. Joseph took the expecting Mary to Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. Because of the census taking place, none of his relatives had room in their guest quarters. Therefore, it is a near certainty that the Holy Family took up lodging in the back of the house in a cave typically reserved for animals.

The Church of the Nativity sits atop a Grotto wherein lies the cave that St. Jerome professed and both archeology and popular piety testifies to be the actual site of the Nativity of our Lord.

3. Donkeys and cattle were not present at the Nativity of our Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, contended that the presence of animals such as cattle and donkeys in Nativity scenes is based on little more than a myth. "There is no mention of animals in the Gospels," Benedict wrote. The belief that animals were in the stable where Christ was born has proved an enduring notion. The Vatican’s elaborate Nativity scene featured in St Peter's Square in the weeks before Christmas has included livestock such as sheep and goats. Even though Joseph and Mary were probably lodged on the lower level or in the back of the house, most likely, the animals were removed while the couple stayed there. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with making the first manger scene complete with live animals. 

4. There were three wise men. 

The Gospel of Matthew records that wise men visit Jesus after his birth, however, their number is not given.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. [Matthew2:1] … And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. [Matthew 2:11]
Tradition holds that there were three wise men based largely on the fact that three gifts were offered to our Savior: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The wise men are often pictured as three solitary figures roaming the desert in search of the just born King. In reality, their traveling caravan was far larger, most likely consisting of servants, soldiers and attendants. It is all together probable that the number of wise men who visited Jesus was greater than three [perhaps substantially more]. 

5. The wise men, or magi, were kings.

The wise men were not kings according to our common understanding. They were members of a caste of oriental priests and soothsayers who practiced the esoteric arts, dream interpretation and astrology, by way of predicting the future. They functioned primarily as consultants to royalty. The word "Magi" is not used in the Bible. "Magi" is a transliteration of the plural of the Greek word "magos", from the Septuagint, that is found in Matthew 2:1. The wise men’s quest for Jesus brought them to Jerusalem. Divine Revelation led them to Bethlehem. When the wise men finally paid their respect to the prophesied Messiah, the poverty of His surroundings doubtless astonished them.

6. The wise men arrived the night of Christ’s birth.

Sacred Scripture says nothing about the wise men’s arrival Christmas night. Instead, Matthew 2:11 testifies: "and on entering the house they [the wise men] saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." 

Countless depictions of our Lord’s Nativity picture wise men, shepherds, angels and animals all assembled around the newborn Jesus flanked by Mary and Joseph. Yet Matthew’s description leaves open a number of possibilities. First, the wise men enter a house, not a barn or stable. Second, they see a “child”, not an infant. Scholars theorize that Jesus might be anywhere from two weeks to two years old, according to St. Matthew’s account. Furthermore, Matthew 2:16 states Herod ordered killed all boys two years old and under, based on the time he obtained from the wise men. It is not inconceivable that the wise men arrived two years after Jesus’ birth. 

7. Jesus was born on December 25.

The Bible does not designate a date or month for Christ’s birth. A majority of scholars who reject December 25th argue that it would be unusual for shepherds to be “abiding in the field” [Luke 2:8] at this time of the growing season.  Those who subscribe to this view cite the practice of keeping flocks in the fields from Spring until Autumn. Additionally, winter would be an especially challenging time for the expecting Mary to travel the seventy miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Although in the minority, defenders of the December 25th designation point out that Bethlehem is located below the snow line. The fleece of sheep enables them to stay warm, and even now sheep are pastured in the Shepherds' Field near Bethlehem at the time of year in question.

While we don't know for certain when Jesus was born, and ancient Christian writers advanced a variety of dates for his birth, none of the aforementioned misconceptions detract from the fact that the birth of Christ is the most momentous event in human history — an occurrence more magnificent than words can express.

December 22, 2015

Fr. René Butler: Principles for Family Life

The Holy Family In honor of the upcoming Feast of the Holy Family, we present to you Father René Butler's insightful reflection for families, "Principles for Family Life": 

Fr. René Butler

It’s easy to imagine the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. All we have to do is picture the perfect family: never a cross word, no signs of impatience… None of the unpleasant things that are part of the life of most families.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a beautiful theology of the family. But it isn’t theology that makes family life good. Of course what the Catechism teaches is true. Family prayer is important. But healthy common sense is what families need, an understanding of what it takes to live together.

What follows is a talk I have given to members of religious communities, but the principles apply to family life too. There are eight principles, each with consequences.

PRINCIPLE 1 – Snowflake principle: People are like snowflakes, no two are alike.

Consequence: I cannot be what I am not. I can admire others without having to become like them. I can accept myself with my imperfections. That door swings both ways: I can accept others with their imperfections. If persons X, Y, Z can’t be X, Y, Z, who are they supposed to be?

Other consequence: Not to be used as an excuse. I still need to work on my faults.

PRINCIPLE 2 – Elbows and toes: You can’t rub elbows with the same people day in and day out without sometimes stepping on each others toes.

Consequence: Expect and accept the occasional tension. Be realistic.

PRINCIPLE 3 – Hello, I’m nobody!
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you -- Nobody -- Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise -- you know!
How dreary -- to be -- Somebody!
How public -- like a Frog --
To tell one's name -- the livelong June --
To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson
Consequence: We need a sense of humor about others and about ourselves.

Other consequence: Believe it or not, the universe doesn’t revolve around me; you either. I’m OK, you’re OK.

PRINCIPLE 4 – Remember to forget. The story is told that Clara Barton, on being reminded by someone of an offense she had suffered years before, replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

Consequence: The burden of resentment usually weighs me down more than the person who offended me in the first place.

PRINCIPLE 5 – “Of course.” We all know what people are like and how people behave. E.g.: Of course people talk about me behind my back.

Consequence: Anticipate and live with certain universal behaviors, bad days, etc.

PRINCIPLE 6 – Avoid Funagalo language. (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 21.) "They taught us Funagalo, which is the language used for giving orders underground [in the mines]. It is a strange language.... It is a language which is good for telling people what to do. There are many words for push, take, shove, carry, load, and no words for love, or happiness, or the sounds which birds make in the morning.")

Consequence: share more than work-related ideas and plans, but love of arts, etc. Anything that brings light into your life. Even – why not? – faith.

PRINCIPLE 7 – Everyone needs a home In “The Death of the Hired Man” (Robert Frost), the wife of a farmer tells her husband that a former worker has returned. The farmer doesn’t want him. The conversation continues as follows:
Wife: He has come home to die.
Husband: Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
Wife: I should have called it, something you somehow haven’t to deserve.
Consequence: Difference between a house and a home.

PRINCIPLE 8 – Somebody’s got to do it. There are things that I can't or won't do that need doing, maybe by people very different from me, whether I like them or not.

Consequence: Be supportive, don’t get in the way.


Family life needs, more than anything else, acceptance. The starting point is to recognize how deeply we are accepted and loved by God. If we can then learn to accept and love ourselves and others as we and they are accepted and loved by God, our families will be transformed.

December 20, 2015

Note to Readers

St. Peter preaching

We will publish next Sunday's homily by Father Charles Irvin for the Feast of the Holy Family tomorrow, according to the usual schedule. Father's Christmas Day homily will be published on Christmas Eve, during the Christmas vigil.

May this season of Advent draw you closer to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Why God Became a Baby

The Nativity of our LordThe following reflection by Father Michael Najim (posted with permission) reminds us of the tender compassion of our God, who came to us as a helpless infant to show us the way to truth and eternal life. Let us not forget that when Christ comes again in glory, it will be as King of the universe and a just Judge. 

Fr. Michael Najim is a priest serving the Diocese of Providence, RI. He is currently, Director of Spiritual Formation at Our Lady of Providence Seminary and chaplain at La Salle Academy (a Catholic high school). Visit his blog, Live Holiness, for more such excellent content.
A God who became so small could only be mercy and love. 
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Last Monday evening I was blessed to visit Amy and Paul and their newborn baby boy, Joseph, at the hospital.  It was last April when I celebrated Amy and Paul’s wedding, and it’s been a joy seeing them eagerly anticipate the arrival of Joseph.  A few weeks ago they’d asked me if I’d be willing to bless them and little Joseph before they left the hospital.  Of course, I was happy to do so.

When I arrived they made sure little Joseph was wrapped tightly in his blanket and then they placed him in my arms.  Amazing!  He was as light as a feather and his face was like that of an angel’s.  His little eyes were open, and if babies could talk he probably would have said, “Who is this guy that’s holding me?  Doesn’t look familiar to me in my one-day-old world.”  I was mesmerized as I cradled him in my arms and looked into his eyes.  I started talking to him about his parents.  I told him how blessed he was to have them and that I was happy he took after his mother [a compliment to Amy and a humorous jab to Paul].

Little babies, especially newborns, have a way of taking us out of ourselves, of making us forget about our cares and problems.  They captivate us and lift our spirits.  Our hearts surge with love when we hold them in our arms.  It is a deeply spiritual experience.

For a moment, think of the feelings you’ve had when you’ve held a newborn baby.  Now, think about the fact that God became a newborn.  On that holy night in a stable in Bethlehem Mary and Joseph held the Christ child in their arms. They gazed into his eyes.  They felt his soft skin and heard his first cries.  They were mesmerized.

God could have chosen to come to us in another way.  He could have come majestically on the clouds, appearing in all his glory (and He will when He comes again).  But, in His wisdom, He chose to come to us humbly, as a little baby.

But why did God come to us as a baby?  Because He wants us to have confidence in His love and to be fearless in approaching Him.  That’s what we do with babies, isn’t it?  We want to draw close to them, to look into their eyes, to touch their soft cheeks, to hold and rock them. They elicit in us sentiments of love, tenderness, and affection.  God became man in Jesus Christ so that we could draw close to Him.  He took the initiative.  He appeared as a little baby so that our hearts would be filled with deep love and affection for Him.  He wants us to know that He is approachable, that He is lovable, that He is gentle.

As we approach the great Solemnity of Christmas we are invited to draw very close to Jesus, to contemplate Him in the manger. In your meditation, take Him out of the manger and hold Him in your arms.  Touch and kiss His cheeks.  Look at His face.  It is the face of God. Are you afraid of a God who became so little that you could hold Him?  Do you really believe that He doesn’t love you or that He wants to remain distant from you?  No!  As St. Therese said, "A God who became so small could only be mercy and love."

Let your heart be filled with love and affection for the Lord.  He is not distant from us.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  This Christmas, open your heart and let Him give you the greatest gift: a deeper love for Him and a deeper trust in His tender care for you.

A Hauntingly Beautiful Rendition of “Veni, Veni Emmanuel

From Church Pop comes this:

"Veni, veni Emmanuel" performed by the "Dainava" Lithuanian Choral Ensemble.

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Advent, December 20, 2015, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

The Visitation
(Click here for today’s readings)

The Gospel account for this 4th Sunday of Advent is about two pregnant women, one of whom, Elizabeth, was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Mary had only recently received the news that she was pregnant. It was a life-changing announcement and she probably needed some time to herself, time to prepare, time to reflect, time to get herself together. But she didn’t think of her own needs. Instead she set out on an arduous journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant and to care for her. That’s not something most women would do. But these were two remarkable women, remarkable in the sense that under ordinary circumstances they would not be pregnant. One was a virgin; the other was beyond, way beyond, childbearing age. Both were not supposed to be pregnant. But God was at work within them. To add to the unexplainable mystery, they both bore within their wombs mysterious babies. One bore the Christ, God’s only begotten Son; the other bore John the Baptist.

What does that have to do with us? What does this entire interchange have to do with how we live our lives?

There are those who believe that life is all about having fun. Eat, drink, and have fun is their motto. They live for weekends when they don’t have to be on the job, times when they can get away from making a living and really live (they mistakenly think) in their weekends. There are others who don’t want to pay attention to what’s inside themselves, who divert their attention from anything and everything that is spiritual. Their focus is on their bodies; they don’t want to admit that they have souls. The spiritual, they ask? Who cares! John the Baptist? He was some kind of a nut! Jesus Christ? Who’s he? is their response.

At another level, all of us must eventually face the fact that we are persons and that we are destined to live in interpersonal relationships. All of us feel the call to love. Some of us are, however, afraid to love because love demands setting one’s self aside. Love demands that we be open, sensitive and vulnerable to others. Those who cannot love don’t stay married for very long. Those who cannot love don’t have any good friends, and if they do their friendships are superficial at best. Those who cannot love, or those who choose not to love, are doomed to live only for themselves, doomed to love only their own selves.

As persons do we think we are bodies that happen to have souls, or are we souls clothed with bodies? How you answer that question determines how you will live out your life. So, because the question is so crucial, I’ll ask it again: Are we bodies that maybe have souls, or are we souls clothed with bodies?

It’s what’s inside us that matters, not how we look, not how beautifully our bodies may be shaped, not how many possessions we have, not how much money we have, not what kind of jobs we have, or the professions we live in. It’s what’s inside us that matters; it’s the spiritual part of us that allows us to love, to have friendship, and to truly relate to others.

So what does the story of Mary and Elizabeth have to do with us? Well, Mary was carrying within her the Christ child. We, too, carry within us the presence of Christ. That’s why we pay such attention to Mary. She models who we are and what God is doing inside us. The Church is pregnant with the presence of Christ, something that we are about to celebrate in Holy Communion. And since the Church is not simply a building or an institution, since the Church is the Body of Christ and you and I constitute together the Mystical Body of Christ, we, like Mary, carry within us the presence of Christ. Not only that, but we carry within us the presence of Christ not just for our own sake, but in order to share Him with others.  We bear Christ within us that we may bring Him to others in the world around us.

So now we see the importance of the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Now, perhaps, those two pregnant women are not so mysterious after all. If we see ourselves in them and understand ourselves to be just like them, then we see that we are to go out to others both when convenient and inconvenient… we are to carry the presence of Christ to all those who labor under heavy burdens, to all those who are frightened, who have been intimidated by life, and who need our help. They are our cousins, just as Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin. They may not be old and infirm; they may be young and lost. They are anyone and everyone who needs our loving attention, our caring for them, our love.

Our Catholic faith is not simply about saving ourselves and getting ourselves into heaven. God made us who we are for the life of the world. Saving our souls is a part of why we come to Mass, but it’s only half an answer to why God made us in the first place. The other half is equally important, namely bringing the care, love, compassion, concern, and presence of the Christ within us to those around us. God calls us to reveal His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

We may be tempted to feel we are too small and too insignificant to matter much. If you hear that voice whispering within you then you must recognize that it is the devil who is speaking, the devil who wants you to ignore the call of love, to ignore God’s love, and do nothing. Listen again to what the prophet Micah is saying to you and me in today’s first reading: Thus says the Lord: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.

How you live your life can have a tremendous influence on others around you. You have the power to bring Christ’s love, compassion, mercy, and friendship to those around you, particularly to those who are close to you. John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb recognized Jesus in Mary’s womb and was filled with joy. Others around you can recognize the presence of Christ within you and also be filled with joy. You can bring to them what their hearts are searching for. Yes, it may be hidden; the bond of friendship and love may be hidden from the eyes of others, but it will be no less real.

Elizabeth blessed Mary, crying out: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” May others who know you, others who have received your loving care and friendship, likewise bless you.

And so what does the story of Mary and Elizabeth have to do with us? The answer is: Everything!

December 18, 2015

Padre Pio's Christmas Meditation

Far into the night, at the coldest time of the year, in a chilly grotto, more suitable for a flock of beasts than for humans, the promised Messiah – Jesus – the savior of mankind, comes into the world in the fullness of time.

There are none who clamor around him: only an ox and an ass lending their warmth to the newborn infant; with a humble woman, and a poor and tired man, in adoration beside him.

Nothing can be heard except the sobs and whimpers of the infant God. And by means of his crying and weeping he offers to the Divine justice the first ransom for our redemption.

He had been expected for forty centuries; with longing sighs the ancient Fathers had implored his arrival. The sacred scriptures clearly prophesy the time and the place of his birth, and yet the world is silent and no one seems aware of the great event. Only some shepherds, who had been busy watching over their sheep in the meadows, come to visit him. Heavenly visitors had alerted them to the wondrous event, inviting them to approach his cave.

St. Padre Pio and the Infant Jesus

So plentiful, O Christians, are the lessons that shine forth from the grotto of Bethlehem! Oh how our hearts should be on fire with love for the one who with such tenderness was made flesh for our sakes! Oh how we should burn with desire to lead the whole world to this lowly cave, refuge of the King of kings, greater than any worldly palace, because it is the throne and dwelling place of God! Let us ask this Divine child to clothe us with humility, because only by means of this virtue can we taste the fullness of this mystery of Divine tenderness.

Glittering were the palaces of the proud Hebrews. Yet, the light of the world did not appear in one of them. Ostentatious with worldly grandeur, swimming in gold and in delights, were the great ones of the Hebrew nation; filled with vain knowledge and pride were the priests of the sanctuary. In opposition to the true meaning of Divine revelation, they awaited an officious savoir, who would come into the world with human renown and power.

But God, always ready to confound the wisdom of the world, shatters their plans. Contrary to the expectations of those lacking in Divine wisdom, he appears among us in the greatest abjection, renouncing even birth in St. Joseph’s humble home, denying himself a modest abode among relatives and friends in a city of Palestine. Refused lodging among men, he seeks refuge and comfort among mere animals, choosing their habitation as the place of his birth, allowing their breath to give warmth to his tender body. He permits simple and rustic shepherds to be the first to pay their respects to him, after he himself informed them, by means of his angels, of the wonderful mystery.

Oh wisdom and power of God, we are constrained to exclaim – enraptured along with your Apostle – how incomprehensible are your judgments and unsearchable your ways! Poverty, humility, abjection, contempt, all surround the Word made flesh. But we, out of the darkness that envelops the incarnate Word, understand one thing, hear one voice, perceive one sublime truth: you have done everything out of love, you invite us to nothing else but love, speak of nothing except love, give us naught except proofs of love.

St. Padre Pio and the Infant Jesus

The heavenly babe suffers and cries in the crib so that for us suffering would be sweet, meritorious and accepted. He deprives himself of everything, in order that we may learn from him the renunciation of worldly goods and comforts. He is satisfied with humble and poor adorers, to encourage us to love poverty, and to prefer the company of the little and simple rather than the great ones of the world.

This celestial child, all meekness and sweetness, wishes to impress in our hearts by his example these sublime virtues, so that from a world that is torn and devastated an era of peace and love may spring forth. Even from the moment of his birth he reveals to us our mission, which is to scorn that which the world loves and seeks.

Oh let us prostrate ourselves before the manger, and along with the great St. Jerome, who was enflamed with the love of the infant Jesus, let us offer him all our hearts without reserve. Let us promise to follow the precepts which come to us from the grotto of Bethlehem, which teach us that everything here below is vanity of vanities, nothing but vanity.