Archive | November, 2011

The Advent of the Christ

28 Nov

The reason we celebrate Christmas at all should be obvious: The birth of Christ in the “fullness of time” of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most significant event in human history. Despite secularist efforts to change how we reckon time, even our calendar is divided by what occurred “Before Christ” and after Christ, “in the year of the Lord.”

But why December 25th? And when did the Church work this into her own liturgical calendar? After all, the Bible is far from clear on the point.

The conventional explanation is that December 25th was chosen by the Church as a means of “baptizing” the pagan worship in ancient Rome and thereby evangelize the culture. It is true that on December 25, 274 A.D. the Roman emperor Aurelian declared the sun god the principal patron of the empire. This gave rise to the feast of Sol Invictus, or the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. The date falls on the Winter Solstice, which of course would be fitting to celebrate the birth of the sun.

And so the common view is the Church adopted this date for the feast day of the birth of Jesus in the fourth century. Christians of all generations have understood Christ to be the “light of the world,” the “Sun of Justice,” and “morning star,” so selecting this date would be in essence a counterpoint to paganism. If that in fact were the case, that doesn’t render Christmas a “pagan feast.” But rather than pursue that line of discussion, the more interesting question to me is whether in fact this is really how it all came about. Continue reading

Long Live Christ the King!

23 Nov

Bl. Miguel Pro at his martyrdom

This past Sunday we began the last week of the liturgical year with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI initiated this feast day in 1925, at a time of growing secularism, which led to a loss of respect for the Christ’s sovereignty in our lives and in our world. I think the same concern applies to contemporary debates regarding the role of faith in political life, as the U.S. Bishops beef up their defense of our religious liberty.

I especially like this quote from Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas, which introduced the new feast:

“Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast [of Christ the King] that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected, and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.”

As one of today’s saints–Bl. Miguel Pro–said at the moment of his remarkable martyrdom, “Viva Cristo Rey!”  Long live Christ the King!

Getting the House in Order

22 Nov

My husband Brad and I are new to the Office of Marriage and Family Life, and new to the area, as well. We moved here from Minnesota. We accepted the position right after the July 4th weekend and moved right after Labor Day. I am still tired thinking about it. Aside from purging 7 years of garage sale finds, free furniture and well-intentioned but outgrown gifts and then packing everything that was left, we also completed every project we had meant to do since we moved in. We put in a new tile floor, painted, insulated the attic, removed an old drop ceiling, changed out light fixtures, replaced gutters, remodeled a bathroom and refinished hard wood floors. We even removed ballerina wallpaper border from our daughter’s room that had bothered me since day one. By the time we left, the place looked good enough to live in!

When we told people about this flurry of home improvement activity, almost everyone nodded and mused, “Yep. Isn’t that how it always goes? You get it nice right before you go!” Usually they would then proceed to share a similar story from someone they knew, or from their own experience.

Needless to say, we wish we could have lived in our own beautifully remodeled, de-cluttered house all along, and I think it’s not an uncommon regret. In fact, several friends who helped us in this process remarked to us that we had “inspired” them. Oh, good, we thought. You are inspired to follow God’s call even if it involves doing something difficult like moving several states away? No, they would answer. We had inspired them to clean out their closets and get rid of junk so they would never end up like us! Continue reading

Pilate Light

21 Nov

In St. John’s account of the Passion, proclaimed every Good Friday, we hear the dramatic exchange between Our Lord and Pontius Pilate in which Jesus makes this remarkable statement: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn. 18:37).

Just one day–or four chapters–earlier, Jesus identified Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). Perhaps with Pilate we might ask, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38), or at least, “Lord, what do you mean?”

All the books in the world can’t contain the full answer, but we can say that Christ came to show Himself as the Son of God, who came that we may partake of His divinity as adopted sons and daughters of God (cf. Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:4-7).

He is the King of the New Israel, the Church, which in His name and through the power of His Spirit is called to renew the face of the earth. This kingdom is fully in this world, but ultimately does not belong here (cf. Jn. 18:36), pointing instead to a new heaven and a new earth (cf. Rev. 21:1-4). We celebrated His kingship yesterday at Mass, as the culmination of our liturgical year. Continue reading

Christ and His Church Are One

18 Nov

This past week, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York gave the opening address at the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Naumann praised this address, noting that it set the tone for the meeting and refocused the bishops on the most important thing: namely, that “Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”

At his archdiocesan blog, Archbishop Dolan provides the complete text of his address, but he especially invites us to consider the following excerpt:

You and I believe with all our heart and soul that Christ and His Church are one.

That truth has been passed on to us from our predecessors, the apostles, especially St. Paul, who learned that equation on the Road to Damascus, who teaches so tenderly that the Church is the bride of Christ, that the Church is the body of Christ, that Christ and His Church are one.

That truth has been defended by bishops before us, sometimes and yet even today, at the cost of “dungeon, fire, and sword.”

That truth–that He, Christ, and she, His Church, are one–moistens our eyes and puts a lump in our throat as we whisper with De Lubac, “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”

Each year we return to this premier see of John Carroll to gather as brothers in service to Him and to her.  We do business, follow the agenda, vote on documents, renew priorities and hear information reports.

But, one thing we can’t help but remember, one lesson we knew before we got off the plane, train, or car, something we hardly needed to come to this venerable archdiocese to learn, is that “love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”

Everybody Loves Raymond!

10 Nov

Raymond dressed as Cardinal Burke this past Halloween

Today is the seventh birthday of my youngest son, Raymond. Filled with thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father, I will once again tell the remarkable story of how Raymond became part of our family. For those of you who have already heard it, tough!

Toward the end of October 2004, while I was still serving as president of Catholics United for the Faith (“CUF”), our Tucson CUF chapter underwent a name change, taking as its new patron the recently canonized St. Gianna Beretta Molla. All this took place in the context of a large, regional conference cosponsored by the chapter.

At the Friday night banquet, I was privileged to introduce the keynote speaker, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke of St. Louis. Even though the presidential election was only a week away, Archbishop Burke was not there to talk about the role of Catholics in political life, much less who should or should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Instead, he was there to tell us about St. Gianna, whose image was prominently displayed during the banquet and throughout the weekend.

Archbishop Burke gave a moving overview of the life of this twentieth century saint: a wife, mother, and physician, who ultimately gave her life so that her youngest child, Gianna Emanuela (who visited KC earlier this year), could live. Her loving husband, Pietro, was present at her canonization. (For those interested in reading more about St. Gianna, I recommend this biography published by Ignatius Press.)

I was already somewhat familiar with St. Gianna, but I was struck by Archbishop Burke’s comment that she’s a powerful intercessor for infertile couples. Even though Maureen and I already had five living children, we have struggled with infertility throughout our marriage and by that time we had already lost six children in utero. We were open to another child, but our “window of opportunity” seemed to be closing.

So, hearing Archbishop Burke’s words, I was moved that evening to pray to St. Gianna for the first time, hoping against hope that our family would be blessed with another child.

The rest of the weekend conference was predictably both tiring and fruitful, and Sunday afternoon the CUF staff members who attended the conference boarded the plane for the trek back to Ohio. On the plane, I pulled out a journal I had been keeping for my (then) three-year-old son Samuel, and I wrote him a letter. It was October 31st, Halloween, the birthday of my dear brother Ray who, with my father Leon Sr., died in 1978. In the journal entry, I told Samuel about his Uncle Ray. I also mentioned that his mother and I were still hoping that someday he would have a little brother, if that was God’s will for our family.

It’s a Boy!

After two flights and a 45-minute drive, I finally entered my home after midnight and crawled into bed. A few hours later, there was much activity, as we all got up early Monday morning to go to All Saints’ Day Mass at our parish. Then, as a feast day treat, our family went to a coffee shop for breakfast to catch up on what had happened the past few days while I was gone. I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the nicest mornings our family had ever had, and I rejoiced to be back with “everybody.” But then I dropped everybody at home and drove to the CUF office. We were closed for the holy day, but I had a few things that needed my immediate attention.

As soon as I arrived at the CUF headquarters, I realized that I needed a phone number, so I called home. Maureen answered the phone. She sounded like she was in a state of shock. I asked her what was going on, to which she replied, “Honey, I just got a call from Florida. We are going to adopt a little boy.”

St. Gianna doesn’t waste any time!

Maureen explained more of the situation to me. The birth mother was due to deliver in two weeks, but she wanted to meet us before she went into labor. In addition, we had to get busy to prepare for this sudden addition to our family.

Later that afternoon we talked about a name for the little boy and we selected the name Raymond Leon, not only for the great Dominican canonist St. Raymond and “great” Pope St. Leo I, but also for my brother Raymond, my father, Leon, and Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, who encouraged the prayer to St. Gianna.

We flew down to Florida that week to meet the birth mother, her family, and the social worker. The birth mother told us she chose our family specifically because of Samuel. She saw that we had already welcomed a biracial child into our family, and so she felt comfortable that her son would likewise be accepted and loved. We also made arrangements with a generous CUF family in Florida who would take in Maureen and baby immediately after the birth, since it takes about a week to get clearance to leave the state. The family was part of our new “Our Lady of Life” CUF chapter!

In His merciful providence, Our Lord ordinarily gives parents nine months to prepare for the rigors of childbirth and caring for a new baby. In this case, though, we had nine days, not nine months. After scurrying to get all our paperwork in order, we received a call on November 10th, the feast of St. Leo the Great, telling us that our son was born. Continue reading

Protecting the Sheep

9 Nov

The Church in recent decades has called the family a “church in miniature” or  “domestic Church.” As the pastor of my domestic Church, I must admit that we don’t have any pews or bells. We do, however, have areas set aside in our home for prayer, and through the years we have adorned our home with crucifixes, Catholic art, holy water fonts, and the like, which serve as helpful reminders of our family’s Catholic identity. Even so, it’s not the externals that make the Church–domestic or otherwise–so much as the lives of faith, hope, and charity that are fostered on the inside.

Pastors of parishes are often presented with programs and ideas, and while they want to say “yes,” they rightly scrutinize the proposal to make sure nothing harmful to the faith is allowed into the parish.

Similarly, we have to be careful about what we allow into our homes. I’m not suggesting that we adopt a bunker mentality, but are we good shepherds, truly committed to protecting the souls that have been entrusted to our care? We might talk a good game when it comes to what’s going on at the parish, but do we apply the same level of scrutiny to what goes on in our own homes? Are we careless in letting in influences, often under the guise of entertainment, that are harmful to our family’s life of faith, hope, and charity? Continue reading

Seizing the Moment

7 Nov

In our daily spiritual lives, moments of decision typically revolve around temptations. We’re trying to follow Christ and abide by His teachings and commands. Then we’re faced with a situation in which we’re being lured—subtly or overtly, whatever best suits Satan’s purposes at the time—into doing what we know we shouldn’t do.

In these instances, the good choice often involves avoiding a negative–in other words, not doing the wrong thing. Yet, battling temptations rather than fleeing them suggests that part of us has already given in a little bit. I know that sometimes even after choosing not to sin I feel somewhat sullied and compromised, because I know deep down my good choice wasn’t as prompt and pure as it should have been.

I guess we can keep butting heads with temptations, flirting with how much we can get away with before we’re actually sinning, but I’d like to suggest a way out of that mindset. Continue reading

Leaping to Action

4 Nov

Before ascending to His Father, Jesus instructed His apostles:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20).

One of the many striking features of this passage is Jesus clearly did not come to establish the “First Baptist Church of Galilee,” but rather His purpose was much more ambitious in scope: He came to gather all peoples and nations into one universal (i.e., “catholic”) Church. And in this Church, everyone is called to discipleship, to follow Christ unreservedly. Truly a great fruit of Vatican II has been the renewed emphasis on the legitimate role of the laity–our call to holiness, to evangelization, and to ordering secular society in accordance with God’s will.

Another thing that I find striking about Matthew 28 is that we as disciples are called to observe all the commandments. Christ doesn’t say we should merely “learn” the commandments or observe only those commandments that work for us. After all, is He the Lord of our lives or not? How many Church teachings can we reject and still claim to be faithful disciples? Rather than choose to go our own way, we should echo the words of Simon Peter: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life” (Jn. 6:68).

Like St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Mass ends with a commissioning, as we’re sent to bring the light of Christ to all the world. We’re not supposed to keep our faith to ourselves or under a bushel basket, but instead it is given so we in turn can give it away. Faith, without words, without actions, is dead (cf. Jas. 2:17).  As Archbishop Chaput says, it’s not an accident that the book of the Bible is called “Acts of the Apostles” and not “Pious Sentiments of the Apostles” or “Good Intentions of the Apostles.” Continue reading

Biblical Walk Through the Mass

3 Nov

The CUF Blog is publishing a weekly series by Dr. Edward Sri on the new translation of the Roman Missal as we lead up to its implementation this coming Advent. The most recent post is entitled,  “Your Moment in the Mass: ‘Through My Most Grievous Fault’ and ‘Only Begotten Son.’

Dr. Sri, a former professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, now serves as professor and provost at the Augustine Institute in Denver.

In his clear, accessible style, Dr. Sri explains the change to “Only-Begotten Son” in the Gloria:

“The opening words of the Gloria echo the hymns of praise sung by the angels over the fields of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night: ‘Glory to God in the highest . . . ‘ So the Gloria is somewhat like a Christmas song. Why do we sing a Christmas song at Mass? Because the mystery of Christmas is, in a sense, made present at every Eucharist. Just as the Son of God was made manifest to the world some 2,000 years ago, so He is made present sacramentally on our altars at the consecration at every Mass. Thus, it is fitting to welcome Jesus with words of praise that echo how the angels heralded Christ’s coming in Bethlehem.

“One noticeable change in the new translation of the Gloria involves Jesus being addressed as the ‘Only-Begotten Son.’ We had been saying that Jesus was the ‘only Son of the Father,’ but the new translation more closely follows the theological language used in the early Church to highlight how Jesus is uniquely God’s Son, sharing in the same divine nature as the Father. This also reflects the biblical language in John’s gospel, which uses similar wording to describe Jesus’ singular relationship with the Father. While all believers are called to a special relationship with God as His sons and daughters through grace (see John 1: 12; 1 John 3:1), Jesus alone is the eternal, divine Son by nature. He is the ‘only-begotten Son’ of the Father (see John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).”

Dr. Sri will be giving a presentation based on his best-selling book,  A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy, this coming Saturday across the state line at St. Therese parish in Kansas City, Missouri. For more information, click here.