Friday, August 22, 2014

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

When we pray the rosary’s fifth glorious mystery- the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary- we honor that which we celebrate today: the queenship of Mary.

Mary’s queenship didn’t begin with her heavenly coronation, however. Instead, it began at the Annunciation, when she became the mother of Jesus, whom the archangel Gabriel explained would receive the “throne of David his father” from the Lord. Since David was a king, Jesus is king, which makes Mary a queen, or more specifically, a queen mother.

In ancient days, an Israelite queen mother had great power as an advocate with the king. One of her primary responsibilities was to prepare her son for his royal wedding.

Throughout her life, and especially at the Cana wedding feast, Mary prepared Jesus for his royal wedding to the Church, his “bride,”which took place at the crucifixion. Just as Eve was created from the rib from Adam’s side, so the Church came forth from Christ’s pierced side which poured forth water and blood, representing Baptism and the Eucharist.

Preparing Jesus for his wedding was to prepare him for the cross. And it’s in this role that Mary challenges us today- to help those we love to bear their crosses, that they might grow closer to Jesus, their king, and their bridegroom.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Memorial of Saint Pius X

Once, due to a traffic accident, I arrived forty minutes late for an early morning Mass I was scheduled to celebrate. When I finally entered the church, I expected to find it empty. Much to my surprise, however, the vast majority of the people had stayed, because daily Mass is so important to them.

As it so happened, this took place on this very date several years ago. It was fitting that such a testimony of love for the Eucharist was made on a day we honor Saint Pius X, who served as pope from 1903-1914, and is sometimes known as the "Pope of the Holy Eucharist." In his era, it was commonly taught that most people were too unworthy to receive Communion on a regular basis. People went to Mass, but would typically pray the rosary while it took place, and would receive Communion only a few times a year. As Pope, Pius X encouraged people to pray the Mass along with the priest and receive Holy Communion frequently, even daily if possible. In addition, because he thought it important that children receive communion, he established the age of first Holy Communion at age 7, which is still our practice today.

Jesus once told a parable of a king who sent out invitations to attend his royal banquet- the heavenly banquet, of which the Eucharist is a foretaste. One way we can honor the memory of Pius X, is by accepting our Lord’s invitation to attend his Eucharistic banquet, as faithfully, and as often, as we can.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ordinary 20 Wednesday

What do John Wayne, Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill, and (possibly) George Washington have in common? They all became Catholic on their deathbeds.

Conversions such as these should cause rejoicing! But that’s not always the case. News that a notorious gangster became Catholic as he died was met with howls or protest by those who thought it unfair that such a person might receive God’s mercy. Much like those in today’s gospel who grumbled when the latecoming workers received the same pay as those who’d worked all day.

            From the world’s perspective, the conclusion of Jesus’ parable isn’t fair. After all, longer work should lead to greater pay! But Jesus was speaking of the kingdom of heaven, where different rules apply.

            On the job, we can earn a paycheck, and even a bonus. But there’s nothing we can do to earn our way into God’s kingdom. We’re welcomed in, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done. Heaven isn’t a reward for good behavior, it’s a gift from God. There’s no admissions fee, as Jesus already paid the price for us.

            Yes, we are accountable for our actions before God, who calls us to lead holy lives. But Jesus’ parable reminds us that those passing through the pearly gates won’t hear, “Congratulations! You’ve earned it!” Jesus will say instead: “Welcome! I love you.”

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ordinary 20 Tuesday

The great English Catholic G. K. Chesterton once remarked that ever since Jesus insisted that it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, we’ve been frantically trying to build bigger needles and breed smaller camels!

People of every generation have found this teaching of our Lord hard to swallow. It certainly shocked the disciples, as we just heard. And this saying can make us uncomfortable too, because so often we seek our comfort in the things of this world.

Jesus is not saying that we don’t have legitimate financial needs. We most certainly do! And he wants us to pray for them. What Jesus is saying, however, is that when our wants become needs, we cross the border into the land of idolatry, which is a dangerous and foolish thing to do. Because to love riches more than God is, as Bishop Robert Morneau has put it, to commit spiritual adultery.

And so today’s gospel challenges us to consider our priorities, to evaluate our goals, and assess how we spend our time and energy, to determine if we have de-throned almighty God as Lord of our life, and replaced him with the “almighty” dollar. Because if we wish to enter God’s kingdom, we must seek it, first of all.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ordinary 20 Monday

Back when I was in school, people would joke about the "Gentleman’s C." It referred to the effort made by those people who did just enough to get by, but who never pushed themselves to be all they could be.
I think we see this attitude in the wealthy young man of today’s gospel. All in all, he was a good person. He was honest, chaste, and he loved his family and others. But when it came to serving our Lord, he didn’t want to go that extra mile. Because when Jesus told him what he needed to do in order to be perfect, he went away sad, for he wasn’t willing to do it.

But don’t we sometimes do the same thing? Isn’t there something of that young man in all of us? When it comes to our discipleship, we draw lines in the sand beyond which we refuse to go. We’re happy to serve God within our comfort zones; we’re happy to do enough to earn our "Gentleman’s C," but that’s all. If you think about it, it’s a form of selfishness which shows a lack of faith and trust in God.

Today’s gospel, then, challenges us to strive to be the Christian God created us to be, and not just the Christian we’re satisfied to be. As one catchy slogan puts it: It doesn’t take much of a person to be a Christian; it takes all of a person to be a Christian!"

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A few summers back, my wife and two of our children, along with another family, were driving to Washington's Air and Space Museum in our minivan. The parking options were pretty slim, so Stephanie asked our six-year old son Charlie if he would pray for a parking spot. He did, out loud, and then to everyone’s surprise he added: “…and make sure it has a broken meter so we don’t have to pay.” Everyone laughed for a moment until, lo and behold, a perfect parking space appeared right in front of them- with a broken meter!

Now, as we all know from our own experience, not every prayer request is granted so quickly. Just consider the case of the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel. As we heard, she pleaded with Jesus that he might cure her daughter. At first, Jesus gave her no response. And then, after she continued to beg for help, Jesus quoted a proverb which referred to her people as dogs- something that might very easily have turned her away. Nevertheless, this desperate woman continued to persist, and because of her great faith, Jesus healed her little girl.

This little episode demonstrates the importance of persistence in prayer. First of all, persistence demonstrates to God that something is very important to us- and God likes to hear that sort of thing! Second, persistence teaches us patience, and reminds us of God’s infinite patience with us. And third, the need for persistence reflects the fact that we have a personal relationship wit a personal God, and that God isn’t a spigot of grace that we can simply turn on and off whenever we wish.

Persistence, however, doesn’t always translate into a prayer request being granted, as it did for the Canaanite woman. So why is it, then, that our prayers at times seem to go unanswered? It could be that we’re praying without faith, thinking that God either can’t or won’t answer our prayer. A priest friend of mine tells a funny story about a group of farmers who, in the middle of a drought, came together to pray for rain- but not one of them brought an umbrella. They, my friend concludes, were not praying with faith.

Another possible reason a prayer seems to go unanswered is because we’re asking for the wrong thing. As I’ve heard it explained before, God is a loving parent, and what parent would give their child a knife to play with? C. S. Lewis once speculated that we’ll probably spend eternity thanking God for the prayers he did not answer!

However, sometimes the problem is not our faith, or the nature of our request, but our own inactivity. Think of it this way: As Christians, we typically end our prayers by saying, “Through Christ our Lord.” By praying through Christ, however, we include ourselves in our requests, because we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. In other words, when we pray for something through Christ, we take upon ourselves the responsibility, as best we can, to help answer our own prayer.

Consider the experience of an elderly nun who had prayed for a younger nun in her religious community. She personally liked this young nun, and was appreciative of her enthusiasm and energy. She knew that the young nun had been wrestling over whether or not she should leave the community, or even if the community wanted her at all. So the elderly nun prayed that she might stay, prayed that she might realize that she was wanted and valued, and prayed that God might give her the strength to see beyond her doubts. However, she never went, at any time, to speak with the young nun. She never told her how much she liked her, how much her gifts were treasured, and how much she wanted her to stay in the community. When the young nun left, the elderly nun was deeply upset.

Later on, a friend pointed out that she had never tried herself to bring about what she was asking God to do. She had offered her prayers through Christ Jesus, but had forgotten that she herself was part of Christ’s body. She had tried to make God responsible for solving a problem, and hadn’t taken any responsibility herself. (1)

St. John Chrysostom once wrote that “The sincerity of our prayer is determined by our willingness to work on its behalf.” For us, this means that if we pray for peace, we need to be peacemakers in our families, and in our communities. If we pray for good health, we need to adopt a healthy lifestyle. If we pray for a lonely person, we need to reach out and touch his or her life in some way. If we pray for the Church’s mission, we need to contribute our time, talent, and treasure. If we pray for the poor, we need to be faithful and generous stewards of God’s gifts to us. If we pray for a sick relative or friend, we need to help with their care as best we can. And if we pray to pass a test, we need to crack the books, and study. The old expression, “God helps those who help themselves,” has some truth to it. Or as St. Thomas Aquinas often stressed, “Grace builds on nature.”

Now, it has to be said that God doesn’t need our help in answering prayer. Instead, God asks us for our help; it’s all part of his plan. God freely chose to enter the human scene in Jesus, and he continues his presence in the human scene though us- we who are united with Jesus in his church. In a sense, we are extensions of Jesus, and God invites us to willingly give ourselves to his service. When we pray then, we need to present ourselves as part of the answer. In the words of St. Augustine, “Pray as if everything depends on God, and act as if everything depends on you.”

(1) The illustration is found in Fr. Ronald Rolheiser's book, The Holy Longing.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Friday, August 15, 2014

Solemnity of the Assumption

Just a week after I had assisted at his daughter’s wedding, the father of the bride approached me after a Sunday Mass.The wedding itself had been a wonderful occasion: a gorgeous sunny day; smiling, happy people; a lovely bride in a beautiful dress; good food and wine; a string ensemble playing delightful music. As he reflected on it all, the father of the bride said to me, “Why can’t every day be like that?” “I wish it could,” I replied. “Maybe that’s why Jesus often described heaven as a wedding party.”

Picture a wedding party in your mind for a moment. Most likely there would be laughter, music, dancing, flowers and decoration, affectionate embracing, food and drink, people dressed in their finest clothes…in other words: special sights, smells, sounds, taste, touch, movement. All things that engage our senses. Things that, if we are to enjoy them, require our having a body.

The same is true for heaven. If as Jesus said, heaven is like a wedding party, we will need our bodies in order to experience and enjoy it. We Christians don’t simply hope that after we die, our “spirits” or our “souls” will simply “go to heaven.” What we hope for instead is the “resurrection of the body.” And it is this hope that we remember and celebrate today, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the end of her life, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. Not just her soul, but her body as well. God would not allow the body of the Mother of God to decay and return to the earth. In fact, we don’t even say that Mary died. Death is a consequence of sin, and Mary was preserved from sin by the grace of God. That’s the whole point of the Immaculate Conception; that’s why whenever we pray the Hail Mary, we remember that she is“full of grace.”

By being assumed into heaven body and soul, Mary enjoys in its fullness what we hope and long for: Resurrection. Not just eternal life, but resurrection of the body, which we say we believe in, whenever we profess the Nicene Creed at Sunday Mass. But we might ask: “So what? In heaven, who cares if we’re body and soul, or simply soul, as long as we’re with God?” That’s a fair question, but think of it this way: God made us body and soul. If eternal life excluded our bodies, our redemption would be incomplete. Jesus saves all of who we are. And that includes our bodies.

Our bodies, and indeed the world we live in, are not something bad we’re meant to escape from when we die. Our bodies and our world are good- God created them, after all! When the Son of God was made human in Jesus, he had a body- of course! If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been human. There would be no sacrament of the Holy Eucharist if there had been no Body and Blood of Christ. Without a body, Jesus could not have died for us. And he certainly could not have risen again.

Jesus rose in the body. He ascended into heaven in the body. Mary his mother was assumed into heaven- in the body. There is not, nor has there ever been, a grave or tomb of Mary to which we can make a pilgrimage and say a prayer. That’s because there was no body left behind to bury.

Our bodies will be buried, of course, but that’s not the end of the story. When Jesus comes again at the end of history, there will take place what we call the“general resurrection.” Body and soul will be reunited. But even more than that, our earth and indeed all of creation- the entire cosmos- will be renewed and restored to the perfection God intended for it in the first place. There will be no more decay, no more death. It’s not that heaven will replace earth. Nor is it that the earth will be discarded as being useless. Instead, we believe that when Jesus comes again, heaven and earth will be united as one. Heaven will then truly be like a wedding party, as Jesus described it; all of our senses will be engaged, because our bodies will have been restored, and even glorified.

All of this is for the future, however. Nevertheless, the resurrection of the body has meaning for us even now. First of all, it reminds us that our bodies are good. They’re to be treasured and cared for as God’s gifts. That’s one reason why the Church prefers burial over cremation. Even in death, our bodies are something to be honored.

Furthermore, since our bodies are good, those things we can enjoy with our senses are good: the beauty of the earth, the taste of good food, the warmth of human embrace, the scent of spring time flowers, physical intimacy between husband and wife. God touches our lives through our senses, in the sacraments, though which we receive his grace through the outward signs of bread and wine, water and oil, the spoken word, gesture and touch.

In addition, all this means that the earth and the whole cosmos- with its bounty of resources- are good. They’re to be used responsibly instead of being wasted and exploited; conserved for future generations, instead of being depleted today; to be shared, not hoarded; treasured, not misused. Proper care for our environment happens to be one of the major agenda item for Pope Benedict. In his last message for the World Day of Peace, he stressed: “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”

Mary’s assumption challenges us today to re-think some of our attitudes toward our bodies, our responsibilities for the world we live in, and what it is we hope for in the fullness of life still yet to come. What we do and how we live today, can be a foretaste of what we will enjoy, in the eternal tomorrow.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Monday, August 11, 2014

Memorial of Saint Clare of Assisi

Earlier this year, many people gave up using Facebook during Lent. They’d concluded that they were spending way too much time posting, sharing, tagging, poking, and whatever else is done on Facebook!

Facebook is one of the many new vehicles of social communication that have emerged in the past few years. All in all, they’re a good thing! They bring people together and can be effective tools in spreading the gospel. Just visit the website of the Archdiocese of Washington: we’re on Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, and we have podcasts and a daily blog.

At the same time, these things have their downside too. They can become an obsession, keeping us from work and family. And they certainly spread a lot of material this is, at the very least least, at odds with our faith.

I say all this because today is the feast day of St. Clare of Assisi. We know her as a friend and disciple of St. Francis, and she cared for him in his final days. She was so inspired by his witness that she founded a religious order for women, known today as the Poor Clares, who lived a life of work and prayer within their monasteries.

When Clare was elderly and no longer able to attend Mass with her sisters, they posted a picture of the Mass on the wall of her room, so when they were gathered in chapel, she could gaze at her picture and be with them in Spirit. It was because of this that in 1958 she was named the patron saint of television, which at that time was the “cutting edge”new media.

As we use the new media available to us in our day, we can be challenged by St. Clare to use them only in ways that are consistent with our faith: in moderation, bringing friends and family together, spreading good news, and building up the kingdom of God.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )