Discovering God in a Snowstorm

There is a heavy snow falling in Washington this March evening. Not every one likes snow but it is an amazing work of God. He takes a barren winter landscape and creates it anew. In the Book of Sirach there is a beautiful and poetic description of God and the majestic work he creates, even in the “dead” of Winter. Enjoy this excerpt from Sirach and reflect on the glory of winter.

 

God in Winter:

A word from God  drives on the north wind.

He scatters frost like so much salt;

It shines like blossoms on the thornbush.

Cold northern blasts he sends that turn the ponds to lumps of ice.

He freezes over every body of water,

And clothes each pool with a coat of mail.

He sprinkles the snow like fluttering birds.

Its shining whiteness blinds the eyes,

The mind is baffled by its steady fall. 

 Sirach 43, selected verses

Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent

If I may be so bold, I am posting my sermon online in two forms.

The mp3 recorded version is HERE.

The written outline summary in PDF is HERE.

Note that the sermon was preached at Holy Comforter–St. Cyprian Parish in Washington D.C.  We are a Catholic parish that is predominantly African-American. What this means in practical terms is that this sermon is LONGER (about 1/2 hour in duration) than the typical Catholic sermon. 

The Title of the Message is “Four Habits of Effective Evangelizers”. It is a meditation on the Gospel for Today’s Mass, the text of which can be found HERE.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours

We received a question about how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a great opportunity to talk about this form of prayer that has been central to the Catholic prayer tradition for more than 1,000 years.  Praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office as it is also called has its roots in Jewish prayer tradition and the tradition of Jesus to dedicate certain hours of the day to prayer. In the Acts of the Apostles we read “the apostles gathered at the third hour” (Acts 2:1-15). “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1).

 

What is the Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours is prayer that is composed of hymns, psalms, Old and New Testament canticles, prayers, Scriptural and spiritual readings from the writings of the Church Fathers and Church documents. The hymns, psalms and canticles are designed to be chanted or recited. Many religious communities’ rule require they pray all seven hours(Office, Morning, Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon, Evening and Night prayer). In recent years more and more lay people have discovered and are praying the Liturgy of the Hours either alone, with their family or as part of their parish’s prayer. It is a very important part of my and my husband’s prayer life, something we began while we were dating and have never stopped. A colleague shared that he prays the Hours while he is up in the middle of the night feeding a hungry baby or sitting with a restless child. It is such a celebration of the universal dimension of our Catholic faith that all over the world “the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God” (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy).

 

How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours consists of a four-volume set. Within each volume there are four sections. The first section is particular to the day. The second section gives detailed instruction for each hour and contains the prayers that do not change from day to day. The third section includes a four-week cycle that complements the first section. The fourth section is devoted to the feast days of saints and feasts of the Church.

 

For people who may not pray all seven hours there is a volume called Christian Prayer or Shorter Christian Prayer that is composed of Morning, Evening and Night Prayer and designed with the lay person in mind. 

 

With the growing popularity of the Liturgy of the Hours as a practice of daily prayer, a modified version is called Magnificat. Magnificat  is a “pocket-sized” monthly booklet. It contains Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer, readings for the Mass of the Day and spiritual reflections, including a reflection on a piece of Christian art. See www.magnificat.com

 

Praying the Hours takes some practice, though all of the volumes mentioned have helpful instructions. Another way to learn is to see if a parish near your home or work prays Morning or Evening Prayer. I am sure that your pastor or another person on the pastoral staff would not mind taking a few minutes to walk you through the structure. Keep in mind there is really no wrong way of praying when your mind and heart are lifted to God.

 

Please post a comment and share how you have made the Liturgy of the Hours part of your prayer life.

Longing for Something? Maybe it’s God!

 

One of the most gifted priestly contributors to the Internet is Fr. Robert Barron, a Chicago priest. He is an insightful commentator on cultural issues and current events and how they relate to Church teaching. Here is an example of his commentary on the A-Rod steroid controversy. Through this example he explores a basic theme of this blog: the longing we all have for God.

 

You can see more of Fr. Barron’s videos here.

Unless….

When I was a kid, I thought of Church as something my mom made me do with lots of rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But Jesus teaches something very profound in John’s Gospel when he was talking about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect he says that without Holy Communion we will starve and die spiritually. Here is what Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)

 

Even as a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if I didn’t receive it regularly, would cause me to die spiritually. But it makes sense doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion. Remember what happened in the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives. So God gave them bread from heaven called “manna” that they collected each morning. Without eating that bread from heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have died in the desert. It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our Living Manna from heaven in Holy Communion, we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just a ritual after all; it is essential for our survival.

 

Don’t miss Holy Communion! Jesus urges you to eat. A mother and father in my parish recently noticed their daughter wasn’t eating. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor, who diagnosed the problem, and now the young girl is able to eat again. Those parents would have moved  heaven and earth to make sure their daughter was able to eat. It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!”

 

Here is a powerful presentation of the “Jesus Bread of Life” discourse from the Movie, The Gospel of John. The movie is a worthy production and a word-for-word rendering of the Gospel of John. You can order it here: The Gospel of John.

Why Does the Church Not Ordain Women as Priests?

Here is another question that was sent to us via e-mail:

The Catholic Church does not ordain women as priests. Why is this so and how can the Church continue in a policy that seems so unfair and at variance with the fact that most other denominations now have women ministers?

 

This question is frequently asked today and seems more urgent when, as you note, other denominations have women ministers. There is also today a stronger sense that all opportunities should be available to everyone.

 

The most immediate answer as to why the Church does not ordain to the priesthood is that the Church cannot do so. Sometimes we think today that our Church is free to do whatever she wants. But the fact is that the Church is bound to hand on what she has received. When Jesus established the priesthood, he chose from among all his many disciples (which included many prominent women) twelve men whom he named “Apostles.” This call of the Apostles is the origin of the priesthood. Jesus called only men to this office. It is hard to argue, as some do, that Jesus had to comply with the norms of his day and thus had no real choice. The fact is that Jesus broke many conventions of his time and exhibited considerable freedom in interpreting the Law. He was more than willing to engage in controversy where necessary. Jesus himself established the priesthood calling only men and the Church has no authority to overrule Jesus, Sacred Scripture, or the established Apostolic Tradition in this regard. Both John Paul II and Paul VI indicated this very clearly. Here is What Pope John Paul wrote in 1994: “Therefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4).  Therefore, the Church must hand on what we have received from Christ and the Apostles even if this teaching is not currently popular or in conformity with other modern practices.

As to the question of fairness, I would point out that it is possible to observe differences in regard to roles in the Church without an indication of inequality. Whatever roles individuals fill in the Church, all are equally baptized, all are equally children of the Father, and all are equal in dignity. This is what Paul wrote in First Corinthians 12:

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body… 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Not long ago I was interviewed on CNN in a kind of debate with another priest who dissents from Church Teaching in this matter. If you wish, you can view the exchange here:

 

 

I encourage you to use the comments section if you would like further clarification of this teaching.

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Take A Guess

How many adults do you think are preparing to join the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Washington this Easter?

Post your guess and check back in with me on Monday. The winner will receive the promise of my prayer for their special request.

Catholics-Secret Service Evangelizers

Why is it so hard for Catholics to evangelize? We say it is not part of our tradition, yet, Jesus can be heard saying “Come and see.” We say, oh, I don’t want to seem pushy, or faith is too personal. Evangelization is sharing the Good News. Who has ever heard good news and thought, gosh, I’m not going to say anything, she might feel like I’m imposing.

Shortly after I moved to Washington, I was waiting for the train at the Brookland Metro Stop. A young woman approached and asked which train went to Georgetown. I knew enough to say, there is not a direct train, but did not know what more to say and so I said “I’m new to D.C. and not sure.” And she said, “I am new to town as well, have you found a church home?” I was taken aback and looked to see if I had something on that revealed I was Catholic! I said, no, I am looking at a couple of parishes. My evangelizer replied, “I’ve found a church I really like, near Union Station, do you want to come with me?”  Hesitantly, I said, ” Well, I’m looking for a Catholic parish, but I am happy you’ve found a church you like.”   My evangelizer said, Can I have you phone number, because finding a good church is so important, I want to call you in a few weeks to see if you have found a church home.” Big hesitation on my part!  I was hooked and wanted to see where this would go, so I wrote down my phone number and name and we parted.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, my evangelizer called and said “Hi, remember we met at the Brookland Metro and talked about finding a church home, did you find one?” I said “yes, I found a parish I really like.”  She said “Praise God, my community is great as well, I’m so happy for both of us. And we said goodbye, promising to pray for one another.

Ten year later, I still pray for her from time to time because she is a model for me of the right way to do evangelization. What was not to like about her enthusiasm,  about how important finding a church home was to her settling into a new city, how her keeping her promise to check back.  She found something good and wanted to share that. What’s not to like about that?

This Lent, Archbishop Wuerl is asking us to invite a fellow Catholic whose forgotten how important a church home is one’s life, to rediscover the Mass.  Archbishop Wuerl is depending on us to share with someone why Mass is so important to us or what difference it makes in our week or whatever it is about our faith that is good news for us. My experience has taught me that even if the person says “no.” They have always appreciated that I thought enough of them to ask.

If you are reading this and you have not been with us at Mass for a little while, or a long time, ask a Catholic friend if you can join them. Trust me, that will be so grateful you did the hard part! If you don’t know a Catholic and would like to visit a Catholic church, please post that in our comment section and we will help you make that connection.