Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Midnight Mass At Annunciation

Carols Before Midnight Mass

The servers - this is normally the time they wake up on the weekend, so they were good to go!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Letter From Jesus

My Friends,

Thank you for coming and celebrating my birthday tonight (today).  I, like you, enjoy celebrating, and what we celebrate tonight is cause for much celebration because 2000 years ago, when I was born, people first began to realize that they were no longer in darkness, but that the light was attainable again.  People began to realize that I had opened a way for them back into the Garden of Paradise.  As my beloved prophet Isaiah proclaimed:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!

Although this is cause for much celebration, I want to write to you about something.  I am human, like you, and so I recognize that for a lot of you, Christmas is a time of pain.  Many of you have been blessed growing up with wonderful Christmas memories.  Let’s pause there and just smile thinking about those celebrations of the past.  Know that in those past celebrations I was there with you, in the midst of your celebrations, and your joy brought great joy to me. 

But as we walk through this valley of tears, as we know, things can change.  A lot of you are sitting here at this Mass with a sadness because, if it were up to you, a certain person or a group of people would still be with you tonight (Today).   Through the years, this congregation has lost brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters.  Some of you are sad tonight (today) because you are separated from those who are still living, but are not able to make it home for Christmas.  Either way, whatever the cause of the separation, there is no pain like the separation of people who love each other.  I want to say to you tonight (Today) that I walk with you in your sorrow.  I would not say to you, “move on” “forget”, or “time heals all wounds” – I made you and I love you and like Job’s friends I sit with you in the midst of your sadness. 

I’ve heard the expression “I’m just trying to make it through Christmas”.  For many of you, Christmas is a more intense reminder of who is NOT here.  Precisely because past Christmasses with loved ones and family were so joyous, and were so awesome, Christmas becomes not a time for celebration but a time for being confronted by the grief and depression brought on by recalling the ghosts of Christmases past.

As I said earlier, I would not tell you to stop being sad, because I share your sadness.  I made you from before time began.  I am not a distant God who rules and commands from afar.  I made you because I love you.  And I am a human person too.  You may recall my reaction when I received word that my good friend Lazarus had died.  Again, as my friend and Apostle John wrote: “He wept”

I would like to issue an invitation to you – I want to invite you into the joy of THIS Christmas.  I was with you in the past, but I am with you right now in this moment too.  The first Christmas turned on a water faucet that is impossible to shut off.  The water flows now continuously, and that water is my presence among you.  I am flowing forth within all those who love me, bubbling up like a living stream overflowing, and so I am constantly “being born” and coming forth in this moment, in new ways. 

My adversary has one plan – to tear down everything that I build up.  Since you are my greatest creation and my greatest love, he wants nothing more than to tear you down and imprison you in guilt, fear, shame, and memories of the past, terrified to receive me in this moment.  Do not let him win – remember the past and its joys but don’t be so burdened by your grief that you can’t meet me now.  In your country, the word for “the now” is referred to as “the present” and it is my gift to you.  I invite you to unwrap it and see the miracles I am working around you and the miracles I want to work through you THIS Christmas as well.

I loved you then, I love you now, and I will love you for all time.  So let Heaven and Nature sing, let Heaven and nature sing because the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Merry Christmas now and always!

Your brother,

Just Waiting On a Baby...

Christmas blessings to you from the rectory in Brazil, IN!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22nd - O Rex Gentium

a reminder that these O Antiphons are performed by the monks of St. Meinrad as part of a WONDERFUL collection of Advent and Christmas music.  I can't recommend the CD enough!  Good Advent music is hard to find, and there are some wonderfully prayerful selections on this CD.  Order a copy today and support a great monastery by clicking on this link:

For the 22nd of December, we sing to the "King of the Nations"

First the Latin:O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:veni, et salva hominem,quem de limo formasti.
English:  O King of the Nations, whom they had long awaited, the cornerstone who make both sides one, come and save mankind, whom you fashioned out of clay.

This title of Christ evokes the same aspect of Christ that we celebrate on "Christ the King Sunday

A few days ago the Church cried out "O Adonai" - which is that aspect of God that is Lord of all things.  Today we sing out to the "King of the Nations" here thinking more particularly about how Christ is not just the King "up there in Heaven" but is also now a ruler of the people here on Earth.

We pray that his Kingship may be more realized this day, and that we and our family and friends and the whole world will offer him more tribute and honor today!

Does God Give Us Courage or the Opportunity to Be Courageous

He gives us his gifts, but we often only recognize the gifts when we are actually putting them to use!

December 21st - O Oriens

Sorry for the tardiness on this post.  Yesterday was my first day back from retreat.  Life is a lot busier when you're not on retreat! (duh!)

Anyway, again a reminder that these O Antiphons are performed by the monks of St. Meinrad as part of a WONDERFUL collection of Advent and Christmas music.  I can't recommend the CD enough!  Good Advent music is hard to find, and there are some wonderfully prayerful selections on this CD.  Order a copy today and support a great monastery by clicking on this link:

What are the "O Antiphons"?  These "O Antiphons" are ancient pieces of chant sung on the days from December 17th through December 23rd.  Each day a different Old Testament title for the messiah is beseeched to come.  As the world cried out in longing for the Messiah before Christ, so we still cry out for his return.

Today's "O Antiphon" is a hymn to "Oriens" which is the most interesting of all the titles to translate.  First let's look at the antiphon in Latin and then in English.

Latin:O Oriens,splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Now in Engllish: "O rising Sun, splendor of eternal light, and Son of righteousness, come and enlighten those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death"

"Oriens" we hear this Latin root word in different places.  First of all, 99% of Catholic Churches are built with the back door of Church facing West and the aisle points due East toward the altar and the sanctuary.  Mass where the priest faces the same direction as the people is thus referred to as "Ad ORIENTem" - or Mass towards the East.

"Orient" is also obviously used today to refer to the East, and we get our word "oriental", which has become more pejorative in nature as it now seems kind of weird to refer to all the people East of Europe with one word.  But I digress.

The "East" has always been the direction of Christian worship from the very first days because the Sun has been seen as an image of Christ, and thus the rising sun in the East has been seen to represent the "return of Christ" - so a Christian faces East in EXPECTATION of Christ's return.

"Oriens", though, is an "-ing" ending - thus it is "Easting" or "rising" or "rising Sun", which conveys an interesting point - it is happening continuously still, Christ's second coming is already, in a sense, happening now.  Certainly there will be a definitive return, but because of Christ's presence in us, he is already returning, thus we can refer to it as a developing story continuing to unfold.

"those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death" is a beautiful reference to one of my favorite Scripture passages.

Saint Zechariah sings a beautiful hymn of praise to God when John the Baptist is born.  This hymn is a prayer that every priest and anyone else who prays Morning Prayer recites or sings EVERY morning:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
He is come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
Born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
That he would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
And to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
Holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Come, Rising Sun! (and Rising SON)!


Friday, December 20, 2013

If You're Not a Chant Fan (or even if you are)

From movie trailer land two solid musical pieces.  The first is a Mumford remake of a Bod Dylan original that was scrapped.  Mumford and Dylan is about as good as it gets for me musically right now.

While I'm not a fan of going to the movies on Christmas Day, this film that releases December 25th has what I consider to be a really solid theme song called "Step Outside."  The song and the film are about breaking beyond "ordinary life" which can always be either a really good idea or a really bad idea, depending on what one means by the breaking beyond.  We're always called to conversion and to a returning to God and to he we are authentically made to be, which always involves leaving things behind and breaking through complacency.  Of course some take it as "I have to leave my wife, marry a snow boarding sky diver, and escape my ordinary life...well in that case the message would be misunderstood.

December 20th - O Clavis David

Pick up this and other wonderful music for Advent and Christmas by clicking here:

These "O Antiphons" are ancient pieces of chant sung on the days from December 17th through December 23rd.  Each day a different Old Testament title for the messiah is beseeched to come.  As the world cried out in longing for the Messiah before Christ, so we still cry out for his return.

Today's "O Antiphon" is a cry to the "Key of David"

Latin: O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;qui aperis, et nemo claudit;claudis, et nemo aperit:veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English: O Key of David, and scepter of the House of Israel, who open and no one closes, who close and no one opens, come and lead forth from the house of bondage, the captive city in darkness and the shadow of death

This title of "Key of David" is first and foremost a reference to Isaiah 22:22, which notes

I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.

We see this title of Christ brought into the New Testament as well.  In the Book of Revelation we read in 3:7 - 

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write this: “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open says this:"

Knowing that Christ is the Key of David, we then can understand more fully the words of Matthew 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter as the head of the Apostles and the Church:

"I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 

It is from Matthew 16:19 that the Church derives its understanding of the Sacrament of Confession - the idea that the Apostles, firstly Peter, were given the authority to either bound up or free people from their sins.  People argue all the time "why did Christ set it up that way?"  The answer is that He didn't have to set it up that way, He could have said "stay at home and confess your sins on your couch" but He didn't say that.  While we many not understand Christ's reasons for everything, as St. Thomas Aquinas notes, what we can be sure of is that if Christ set something up, we can be sure it is the best way.

Thus we see that until he returns, the way in which, as the antiphon says, we are lead out of the "house of bondage, the captive city and the shadow of death" is through the Sacrament of Confession. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 19th - O Radix Jesse

Pick up this and other wonderful music for Advent and Christmas from the monks of Saint Meinrad by clicking here:

These "O Antiphons" are ancient pieces of chant sung on the days from December 17th through December 23rd.  Each day a different Old Testament title for the messiah is beseeched to come.  As the world cried out in longing for the Messiah before Christ, so we still cry out for his return.

Today's Antiphon is sung to "Radix Jesse"

Latin: O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

English: O root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the peoples, whom kings will kneel with silence, whom nations will entreat with prayer, come to set us free, delay no longer.

The kings will seek out the Lord (the "wise men" are the first to do it) will seek out the Lord because he is the answer to the question that is every human heart (as John Paul II would say, paraphrasing Gaudium et Spes paragraph 22). 

This title of the Messiah as the "Root of Jesse" clearly references the prophecy found in Isaiah 11:1-13

When we read in Isaiah about the "stump of Jesse" it is an image not unlike the "family tree" image we use today.  The family tree of Jesse, who was the Father of the first king of Israel, King David, had run its course and was no longer capable of bearing fruit.  The kings had corrupted and the fruit of Jesse's tree, through the generations, had withered away to a barren stump. 

But as anyone who has spent time in the woods can tell you, sometime where a stump is dead, a new plant can spring forth from the stump.  It is quite cool to see a new plant growing on a dead stump.  That is exactly what Isaiah is prophesying - the dead tree of Israel's kings will, in the Messiah, see a new plant shoot forth from the dead stump, a new king, a king that will be sought out by all the kingdoms of the Earth.

The prophecy as we read it in Isaiah:

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.  A spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.  He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.  Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.  Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.  The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.

On that day, The root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the peoples— Him the nations will seek out; his dwelling shall be glorious.  On that day, The Lord shall again take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria and Egypt, Pathros, Ethiopia, and Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the isles of the sea.  He shall raise a signal to the nations and gather the outcasts of Israel; The dispersed of Judah he shall assemble from the four corners of the earth.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18th - O Adonai

First of all, feel free to pick up this WONDERFUL CD of Advent and Christmas music from the monks of St. Meinrad by clicking here:

Latin: O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,et ei in Sina legem dedisti:veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento

English: O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Sinai gave him the law, come to redeem us with outstretched hand

The monks of St. Meinrad left "Adonai" untranslated, but it is translated by the Church today as "Sacred Lord"

Today's "O Antiphon" recalls the power of God.  Here we are reminded that not only is God "wise" (as we sang yesterday) but God is also capable of "shock and awe" and great miracles and power.  Yesterday we prayed for enlightenment and understanding; today we cry out as people oppressed by our own sins asking God, in his power and might and lordship, to break the bonds that we have tied ourselves up with.

We so often take for granted what life is like "Post-Christ" but we really think very little about what it was like to live before Christ; we don't think much about what it would have been like not knowing whether we would ever be freed from the debt of our sins.  If we possess the slightest bit of empathy, we ought to be able to transport ourselves back to those times and start to get a glimpse of what life before Christ would have been like, and how disorienting and uncertain it would have been. 

We too, although knowing that "our redeemer lives" still cry out to God with the same prayer - "come, God, in your power and shock and awe and might, and free us from the bondage that we can not free ourselves from."

As part of my retreat I was reading yesterday from "The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus" By Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, and in there I came across this wonderful passage:

"In this life, the just man cannot have absolute certitude of being in the state of grace...and hence his presence in us and His absence cannot be known with certainty."

That lack of knowing for certain our fate at any given moment allows us to share something in common with those who lived throughout the Old Testament as well - "Lord, come and save me with your mighty arm!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 17th - "O Sapientia"

The "O Antiphons" are ancient pieces of chant that have been sung on the days leading up to Christmas.  Each day, a different title of Christ takes center stage, as the world literally sings out beseeching the Christ to come into the world.  Each of the titles references an aspect of the messiah that is heralded in the Old Testament.

The first day of the vigil, December 17th, sees the Church crying out for Christ, Wisdom made flesh. 

In the video above, the monks of Saint Meinrad sing both the Latin then the English version of the Antiphon. 

English:  O Wisdom who came forth from the mouth of the most high reaching from end to end mightily and gently ordering all things, come to teach us the way of prudence.

Latin: O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,attingens a fine usque ad finem,fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

To pray for prudence is a dangerous thing.  For all the lambasting of the "law" that goes on today, my experience in the confessional and in helping people in general, most people want God or the Church to tell them what to do in every instance.  "Prudence" is a virtue, however, and it basically is the belief that we as Catholics say that in the vast majority of circumstances, the law DOESN'T dictate what you are supposed to do, and that the only one who will know is the person in the situation who sees the infinite number of variables at play. 

"Prudence" is thus a virtue that we are educated in by God, and as we practice it more frequently, we get better at it, but we need the training and guidance of God, which is why we pray today that "Wisdom" come and train us "in the way of prudence."  May we be open to the training!

For further reading, the Catechism talks about prudence in paragraph 1806

"Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers."  Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid."