Tag Archives: liturgical year

What About the Tree?

26 Dec

Christmas treeFor many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.

But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?

Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as in the United States it is celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, for example, the second Sunday after Christmas falls on January 3rd.

But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn’t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 10th.

Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.

But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won’t take it!

Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 11th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I’d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 4th). That’s especially true for Nativity sets that include the three wise men.

And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?

Christmas Eve

23 Dec

When you think about it, doesn’t “Christmas Eve” sound like an apt title for the Blessed Virgin Mary? After all, as the Fathers of the Church taught, she is the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Gen. 3:20; Rev. 12:17).

As Christmas day rapidly approaches, I thought our readers would appreciate a snippet of a sermon by St. Augustine, which is the reading for tomorrow’s Office of Readings (matins) in the Church’s liturgy:

“Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. . . .

“Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.”

Come Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love. By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What the Tilma “Said”

12 Dec

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We are all familiar with the events that occurred on this date in 1531 just outside of Mexico City. Our Lady not only appeared to St. Juan Diego and gave him roses that ordinarily don’t bloom that time of year, but also there appeared on St. Juan’s cloak, or “tilma,” the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

The news of the miracle spread like wildfire. Within two weeks, the tilma was moved to the first of a succession of chapels, churches, and eventually basilicas constructed at the apparition site.

There were three points of great significance to the Indian people:

(1) The lady was Indian, spoke Nahuatl, and appeared to an Indian (Juan Diego), not a Spaniard. The oppressed Indian peoples could relate to her.

(2) The lady appeared, of all places, at Tepeyac, the reputed home of Tonantzin, the mother God. The Indians understood this as meaning that this lady—the Virgin Mary—was the mother of the one, true God. The Native Americans clearly saw that Christianity was to replace the Aztec religion. Even the golden filigree over Our Lady’s rose-colored gown matches the topography of the Mexican lands once ruled by the Aztecs.

(3) The Indians were especially drawn to the image on the tilma itself, which represented God’s sacrificial love for mankind. This image was a welcome change for those who worshipped deities that required human sacrifice. Continue reading

St. Turibius of Mogrovejo

23 Mar

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Turibius (sometimes called Toribio) of Mogrovejo (1538-1606). Most readers probably aren’t familiar with St. Turibius. Not very often do we hear of friends naming their children “Turibius”! Yet, despite his relative obscurity, he’s one of the greatest bishops the Western Hemisphere has ever known.

He was born in Mayorga in the kingdom of Leon (I’m not kidding!) in Spain. He was a devout young layman who eventually made a name for himself as a civil and canon lawyer. When the Archdiocese of Lima needed a bishop, King Philip II recommended him to the Holy Father, who confirmed his selection as Lima’s new archbishop.

Turibius initially did what he could to resist his nomination, but in the end he acquiesced out of obedience to the Church. He was ordained a priest and consecrated as a bishop before being sent to Lima in 1587.

He was filled with great apostolic zeal. He founded many hospitals, schools, and churches–and also the first seminary in the New World! He was a reformer who called various councils and synods, and he used his legal expertise and holy wisdom to issue decrees for his archdiocese that were later adopted by other dioceses.

St. Turibius travelled to every corner of his huge archdiocese to reach out to his entire flock. He became the great protector of the native peoples, who were being exploited by the Spanish immigrants. And to assist in his work with the Indians, over the course of his 20-year archbishopric he mastered several Indian dialects.

There’s one final point I’d like to make about St. Turibius: He’s Exhibit “A” when it comes to the extraordinary impact a proactive, Spirit-filled bishop can have on the faith life of his flock. This impact not only involves “numbers” (large amount of converts) but also fostering an environment where holiness can really flourish. In that regard, I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that two great Dominican saints–St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima–were very small children when St. Turibius arrived on the scene.

St. Turibius, pray for us!

Timothy and Titus Top Ten

26 Jan

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus. Both were disciples of St. Paul and are mentioned in the New Testament. Timothy eventually became the Bishop of Ephesus and Titus became the Bishop of Crete, so they are important early witnesses to the structure of Church leadership.

St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus that became part of the New Testament. These letters are commonly grouped together as the “Pastoral Epistles,” because they provide pastoral guidance to individual bishops rather than instruction for entire local Churches, such as in the case of the letters to the Corinthians or Romans.

In honor of the feast, I now humbly offer my “top ten” list of favorite verses from the Pastoral Epistles. Here it is:

(10) 1 Timothy 3:15: “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I’m probably underrating this one, perhaps because it is so frequently trotted out in the context of “winning” apologetics debates. While there is an unmistakable apologetics dimension, as St. Paul is clearly referring to the Church–and not the Bible alone–as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” what really moves me is the fact that I can turn to the Church, in season and out of season, for the truth.

(9) Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”

This is a really beautiful description of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is truly the doorway to the Christian life. I love the image of “regeneration,” as through the sacrament we become “new creations”–sons and daughters of God by adoption. Our Lord makes all things new!

(8) 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, . . .”

This popular verse connects the concept of “inspiration,” which means “God-breathed,” with Scripture’s value for the believer. And the next verse, sometimes overlooked, completes this beautiful insight:  ”. . . that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

(7) 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

This passage provides a biblical basis for remembering civil and Church leaders in the General Intercessions at Mass. For me, it’s a challenging reminder, especially after the disastrous 2008 election, to pray for our leaders despite their entrenched opposition on the issues that matter most. (The only thing that President Obama and I agree on is that there should be a playoff system in college football, but I digress.) And I have to say that “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” is a goal that really resonates with me.

(6) 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings.”

That time has come. Many people today do not endure sound teaching, and sadly they can find New Age gurus, heterodox theologians, start-up “churches,” and even some Catholic clergy and religious who will tickle their ears. Instead of saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” they say “You’re okay as you are, believe what you want.” This verse challenges me to have the humility to listen to the truth, and also the courage robed in charity to resist the temptation, born of a false compassion, to scratch ears rather than speak the truth. (See also 1 Timothy 1:19 about how going against what we know is right makes a shipwreck of our faith.)

(5) 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

What a wonderful verse for those of us who are parents or teachers, as it challenges us to walk the talk–not only for the good of our “hearers,” but also for our own salvation. This verse also touches on the need to persevere in the faith if we want to attain the “crown of righteousness” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).

(4) 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

St. Paul’s use of military and athletic images to describe the Christian life summons men to step up and live generous, heroic lives for Christ. This verse also points to the necessity of persevering in the faith, lest we run aimlessly or otherwise become “disqualified” through mortal sin (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  We’re not in heaven yet; we need to put on the armor of God and fearlessly run toward the prize.

(3) 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.”

What an amazing verse. St. Paul is instructing Timothy to guard the deposit of faith. Yes, the deposit of faith, summed up in the person and teachings of Christ, needs to be proclaimed, but it also needs to be safeguarded lest mere human wisdom or even outright error intermingle with the Word of God. So the Magisterium, or teaching office, of the Church not only plays offense (teaching the faith), but also defense (protecting the faith). Praise God that the Church proclaims the true faith in every generation, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors, by means of a special gift of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

I know, it’s a hefty four verses, but it’s such an inspiring passage that I didn’t want to chop it up. I especially appreciate how Christian hope impels us to live virtuous lives.

(1) 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

What can I possibly add to this verse? Here St. Paul, a la the late Howard Cosell, is simply “telling like it is.”

Well, those are my favorites. What are yours?

St. Robert Bellarmine on the Eucharist

17 Sep

St. BobToday is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine. In honor of his feast, I thought I would once again share with our readers this excerpt from St. Robert’s teaching on the Eucharist:

Take and eat: This is My Body. Weigh carefully, dear brethren, the force of those words. . . .

Suppose a prince promised one of you a hundred gold pieces, and in fulfillment of his word sent a beautiful sketch of the coins, I wonder what you would think of his liberality? And suppose that when you complained, the donor said, “Sir, your astonishment is out of place, as the painted coins you received may very properly be considered true crowns by the figure of speech called metonymy,” would not everybody feel that he was making fun of you and your picture?

Now Our Lord promised to give us His flesh for our food. The bread which I shall give you, He said, is My flesh for the life of the world. If you argue that the bread may be looked on as a figure of His flesh, you are arguing like the prince and making a mockery of God’s promises. A wonderful gift indeed that would be, in which Eternal Wisdom, Truth, Justice, and Goodness deceived us, its helpless pensioners, and turned our dearest hopes to derision.

That I may show you how just and righteous is the position we hold, let us suppose that the last day has come and that our doctrine of the Eucharist has turned out to be false and absurd. Our Lord now asks us reproachfully: “Why did you believe thus of My Sacrament? Why did you adore the host?” may we not safely answer him: “O Lord, if we were wrong in this, it was You who deceived us. We heard Your word, THIS IS MY BODY, and was it a crime for us to believe You? We were confirmed in our mistake by a multitude of signs and wonders which could have had You only for their author. Your Church with one voice cried out to us that we were right, and in believing as we did we but followed in the footsteps of all Your saints and holy ones . . .

The Other Lawrence

21 Jul

St. Lawrence of BrindisiToday is the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. When reference is made to a “St. Lawrence,” however, we are usually referring to the third-century deacon and martyr who is even mentioned in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I). This latter St. Lawrence, given his special patronage of those who barbecue, is indeed a fine summertime saint in his own right, but his feast isn’t till next month.

Today’s St. Lawrence (1559-1619) was a Capuchin Franciscan priest who led, even by secular standards, a most remarkable life. One commentator has gone so far as to call him “the greatest man and the greatest saint yet produced by the Capuchin Franciscan Order.” Surely the excellence of his preaching was recognized by Blessed John XXIII, who named him a Doctor of the Church in 1959.

In 2002-03, I published in Lay Witness a series of 12 articles on the Marian teachings of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. Most if not all of these are currently available in the Lay Witness archives. These particular writings were translated into English for the first time by Joseph Almeida, professor of classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. To view these articles, click here and browse the 2002 and 2003 issues.

I’d like to close with the beautiful Opening Prayer for today’s feast:

O God, who for the glory of your name and the salvation of souls bestowed on the Priest Saint Lawrence of Brindisi a spirit of counsel and fortitude, grant, we pray, that in the same spirit, we may know what must be done and, through his intercession, bring it to completion. 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. Amen.