Sunday, January 7, 2018

Epiphany @ St. Apollinaris Church

JANURAY 6, 7, 2018

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord – the great feast celebrating the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

In the Epiphany, we close the Christmas Season, and next week we will be back in Green Vestments, corresponding to what is called Ordinary Time.

It was November when we were last in Ordinary Time – and here, the word ordinary does not mean ‘routine,’ but perhaps would be better called ‘ordinal’ or ‘numbered’ – we left Ordinary time just after Thanksgiving, and pick it up in a week.

So, what has transpired?

We spent four weeks in Advent, preparing for the Three Comings of Christ: (1) His coming in the flesh at Christmas, (2) His coming to us in Word and Sacrament – most especially in the Eucharist, and (3) His coming at the end of time.

And for the past couple of weeks, we have celebrated Christmas.

The rest of the world, it would seem, is “out of order.” They began celebrating Christmas sometime around Hallowe’en, and for the past two weeks have been getting ready for President’s Day and perhaps Valentine’s Day.

The Epiphany brings to mind images of the Three Wise Men and their three gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. We see their statues now surrounding our Nativity scene. 

Certain scholars dispute the actual number of wise men, whether they were kings, or wise, or even men; and many other sorts of minutiae … perhaps seeking to introduce some of the worldly ‘disorder’ into us.

But whoever they were, they represent the first time that non-Jews recognized that Jesus was the Messiah – the Christ – and the three gifts reflect a recognition of who the Messiah truly is.

Gold acknowledges that He is a king, even though He is born in a stable and lives a humble life.

Frankincense acknowledges that He is God – the rising of sweet-smelling smoke represents our prayers rising to God.

And Myrrh acknowledges that He has come to die – His sacrifice bringing order back to Creation after the disorder brought by the sin of our First Parents in the Garden of Eden.

Today’s feast has an even greater breadth in the Eastern Churches.

Not only is Christ’s coming in the Flesh to the Gentiles – that is not only the Three Magi, but also ourselves as well – commemorated, but also His Baptism in the Jordan, and His First Miracle at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee.

This miracle – or what St. John calls “the beginning of His signs” … the first of seven signs enumerated in St. John’s Gospel. In this reading, Jesus is revealed as the divine Bridegroom, and Our Lady admonishes us to “Do whatever He tells you.”

This is a call to heed the Voice of Christ in the Person of the Word made Flesh, and in the Word of God – that is, in Sacred Scripture.

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Three Wise Men. 

This is a call to heed Christ manifested in human Flesh – which elevates human to a higher dignity – for ourselves, for each other, for our neighbor, and in a special way for the poor and needy.

And tomorrow, we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. 

This is a call to heed Christ manifested in the Sacraments. Our participation in any of the Sacraments is only possible through Baptism. The highest point of our Sacramental life being seen in our participation in the Holy Eucharist – where we commune with God.

And so, with the East, we reflect upon the manifestations of Jesus Christ: in the Flesh, in the Word, and in the Sacraments.

As we approach this altar to receive the Most Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ; let us pray for the grace to truly recognize Christ in one another, in Sacred Scripture, and in Sacraments we receive.

May we submit our hearts, and our minds, and our souls to Jesus Christ – our King, our God, and our Sacrifice – and knowing that He alone can order our disordered world and bring order to any disorder in our own lives. May we call out to Him to save us – as our own Savior … and as the Savior of the world!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Feast of the Holy Family @ St. Apollinaris Church

DECEMBER 30,31, 2017

We are less than a week into the Christmas season. Although the world has already wrapped up Christmas and is moving on toward President’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

For Catholics, at least from a liturgical perspective, Christmas began on Christmas Eve, and will continue until the Epiphany, which this year is January 7.

Today is the feast of the Holy Family.

So, what can be said about families?

If we examine the family from a sociological perspective, we can talk about nuclear families, extended families, blended families, and even families of choice.

From a genealogical perspective, we all know what parents, grandparents, and siblings are; but we may wonder about just what is a first cousin or a second cousin – and what does it mean to be once or twice removed.

Nonetheless, these designations and analyses of what a family is are about as helpful as trying to delineate the difference between a house and a home.

Both family and home are not easily defined, because both family and home are defined in the heart and not in the head.

The Feast of the Holy Family should give us pause as to what makes a family “Holy?”

And without going into all sorts of theological extrapolations, I was propose a short and simple answer. A Holy Family is a family that has God at its heart.

This can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, too: particular devotions and prayers, customs and traditions.

But with God at its center, a family can truly become holy.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us reflect on our own situations … and in aspiring at personal holiness – with God at the center of our lives – let us strive to keep God at the center of our families as well.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas @ St. Apollinaris Church

DECEMBER 24, 25, 2017

Just a little over 50 years ago on CBS television, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time.

From a Hollywood perspective, it was destined to fail.

The actors were all actual children, and not adult voice actors.

Some of the children were so young that they couldn’t even read – and had to have their lines read to them so that they could repeat them for the recording.

Charles Schulz refused to allow the network to insert a laugh track. After all, it was the ‘60s, and every show had fake laughter and fake applause inserted throughout.

At its initial screening, the network executives thought it was terrible. Only one – slightly inebriated – animator in the back of the studio stood up and said, “It’s going to run for a hundred years,” before falling back down into his chair. Everybody thought he was nuts.

Well, we’re halfway through that century; and it seems that the experts were wrong.

In the show, with only five minutes left, Charlie Brown throws his hands up and shouts:
Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? 
At which time, Linus takes center stage and proclaims the very same Gospel we all just heard proclaimed at Mass – taken from St. Luke’s Gospel chapter two.

And at the moment that Linus quotes the words of the angel:
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
He drops his blanket.

You know what I’m talking about – Linus’ constant companion – that blue security blanket.

There are countless Peanuts comic strips dedicated to Linus and his security blanket. Wrestling with Snoopy who wants to play tug-of-war … arguing with Lucy about giving it up … even phone calls with his grandmother who tries to bribe him to let it go.

But only here – at the message of an angel – does he drop his blanket.

For ourselves, if you watch the news for even a few minutes … it would seem that there’s an awful lot of bad news out there.

And you can’t blame a person for hanging onto something … anything … for security.

The good news of Jesus Christ – the Gospel – can help us to let go of those fears … to “Fear not.” And that may be fine for a time, but then we still have to go back out into the same world we just left.

And so, in the show, only one short minute later, Linus finishes his soliloquy and picks up his blanket, and walks off stage.

Charlie Brown ends up abandoning his pathetic little tree, and with less than two minutes remaining, Linus finds the tree and this time he surrenders his blanket … wrapping it around the base of that little rejected tree, saying:
Maybe it just needs a little love.
Because, you see, Jesus came into the world to die for our sins. An no matter how scary the world is, if we put our faith 100% in Him – we too can leave our concerns and fears and worries at the foot of His Cross … that Glorious Tree on which He died for our salvation.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us open ourselves to that saving grace poured out for us. Let us drop whatever false security we may be holding onto, and leave our fears and concerns at the foot of His Cross. Knowing that in the end, maybe all we need is a little love … God’s love … in our lives.

Because … this Baby, this Child, born in Bethlehem – “. . . is Christ and Lord.

And “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

4th Sunday Advent @ St. Apollinaris Church

DECEMBER 24, 2017

Lift with your legs, not your back.

You’ve probably heard that. Maybe you’ve seen a sign in a workplace. Maybe your doctor told you that after you did the opposite and found yourself in his office … or the emergency room … and you were suffering the consequences.

There is a reason for why this is good advice. In a nutshell, the reason is: “bipedalism.” The fact that we stand on two legs, and not four (like a cat or a dog) places our strongest muscles below our center of gravity – our hips.

And so, there is actual science – both physics and biology – that supports (no pun intended) the often-heard, but often-disregarded advice to lift with your legs, not your back.

Oh, yeah, and don’t turn or twist while lifting.

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent. There is not much of a 4th Week of Advent this year. We get barely 24 hours with the fourth candle lit on the Advent wreath, before we’ll be lighting all the Christmas trees, putting baby Jesus in the manger, and wondering where all these other people sitting in the pews are in-between now and Easter.

Nonetheless, todays Gospel reading, which may sound familiar, was read on Wednesday, and is always read on December 20. It may also sound even more familiar since we heard it on December 12, and December 8.

And just for the record, it was read on March 25, August 22, and October 7.

So, depending on how the calendar runs in any given year, this reading is read six or seven times. The focus of this reading is Faith.

Now, to be clear, there are two kinds of faith: human and divine. One is used to believe the person sitting next to you … or the person who lives next to you … whomever that may be – your neighbor, your kid, your spouse … or even a total stranger. The other is used to believe in God.

Secondly, faith is based on two factors: authority and integrity. Authority means that we have an assurance that the person has adequate knowledge of the subject matter. And integrity means that we have an assurance that the person is not being deceptive.

But, in regards to these two types of faith, you have to use the right one in the right place.

If you ascribe divine faith to the guy up the street who pontificates about little green men, and Area 51, and a whole plethora of interesting – if not amusing – conspiracy theories … well, you may find yourself wearing a tinfoil hat, and emptying your bank account, if not drinking bad Kool Aid.

It is important to exercise human faith when dealing with human things.

On the other hand, if you ascribe human faith in your own dealings with God and with the things of God … then you will find yourself arguing with your grandmother about the power of prayer, or the value of life, or the meaning of everything.

And in that case, you’re going to find yourself being uninvited to family events in the not-so-distant future.

So, what’s a guy (or gal) supposed to do?

The key is found in the Sacraments. In Baptism, we were all infused with the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. In Confirmation, these supernatural graces were strengthened by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Reconciliation, they are repaired and restored. And in the Eucharist, they are replenished and strengthened.

The supernatural virtue of Faith helps us to recognize what is worthy of divine faith, as well as helps us to go – beyond our own understanding – to believe in the things of God.

Because in terms of authority and integrity – God’s got it ALL going on.

Mary demonstrates the proper application of faith, both human and divine, in this particular passage of Scripture from St. Luke. While in the preceding and in the following sections of St. Luke, we hear other characters playing out a not-so-balanced application of faith: Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, St. Joseph. But, in the end, they all figure it out.

In this Gospel today, Mary – through God’s grace – shows us how it’s done.

It’s a lot like remembering to lift with your legs, not your back … you might get away with it for a while, but when you do it wrong … you’ll know it.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us seek always to engage our Baptismal graces of Faith, Hope, and Love – topping them off at the wellspring of grace that flows from the altar. May our journey through this season of Advent help us to properly discern things – both human and divine … and properly apply our faculty of faith.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

3rd Sunday Advent @ St. Apollinaris Church

DECEMBER 17, 2017

The first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888. Volume 1 covered the initial letters “A - B.” Forty years later, the final and tenth volume “V - Z” was published in 1928. Five years later, it was re-published in 13 volumes, including supplements.

It wasn’t until 1989 that a second edition was published in 20 volumes. 

The most quoted writer in the OED is Shakespeare, while the most quoted work is the Bible.

The OED defines “joy” as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”

Yet, with apologies to those “wise clerks of Oxenford” who have been working on documenting the English language for nearly 130 years, it seems odd that these three words seem to get muddled and blurred together in this definition. 

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, the vestments are “rose” colored, and we are nearly a week away from Christmas.

The Entrance Antiphon for today says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near,” taken from the fourth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

In the first reading from the 61st chapter of Isaiah, we hear:
I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul …
In the responsorial psalm, we recited:
My soul rejoices in my God.
… while listening to excerpts from Our Lady’s Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel.

And St. Paul tells us to
Rejoice always.
While also admonishing us to pray without interruption, and to be thankful in all circumstances. 
And so, we must be clear what joy is. Is it pleasure? Is it happiness?

In his 1967 work titled The Guide to Contentment, Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen says:
Joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness. A wicked and evil man may have pleasure, while any ordinary mortal is capable of being happy. Pleasure generally comes from things, and always through the senses; happiness comes from humans through fellowship. Joy comes from loving God and neighbor. Pleasure is quick and violent, like a flash of lightning. Joy is steady and abiding, like a fixed star. Pleasure depends on external circumstances, such as money, food, travel, etc. Joy is independent of them, for it comes from a good conscience and love of God.
Sheen helps us to break these three words apart. He writes that pleasure is sensory and transitory … and is dependent on external things; that happiness comes from the fellowship of others – arising from our interaction with human beings. 

But joy … joy comes from God … by loving Him and neighbor … by persevering in God’s merciful love and abundant grace … only then can we experience true joy … as manifested by the Holy Spirit in our lives.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ – let us pray for the grace of a good conscience – by loving God and neighbor – and to persevere in God’s love and grace.

Through the manifold graces of this most Blessed Sacrament, may we experience joy … true joy … which comes from God … and from Him alone.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent @ St. Apollinaris Parish

DECEMBER 3, 2017

Charles Pierre Peguy was born in 1873 in Orleans, France. He was a poet, editor, and essayist. Throughout his early life, he was an uneasy agnostic, hanging his hat on socialism and nationalism. Yet at the age of 35, he was baptized Catholic; and from that point Catholicism strongly influenced his works.

In 1912, two years before his death, he wrote Le Porche du Mystère de la Deuxième Vertu, the title is literally The Gateway of the Mystery of the Second Virtue, but is more often translated as The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.

Peguy’s imagery is vivid and bold. He paints the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love in varying ways:
Faith is a loyal wife … who holds fast through century upon century … who resists through century upon century … 
Faith is a soldier, a captain who defends a fortress …Faith is a church, a cathedral rooted in the soil … Faith is a great tree, an oak rooted … who watches through centuries of centuries.
[Love] is a fervent mother … who gives herself through centuries of centuries … who yields through century upon century … [Love] is a doctor … who nurses the sick, who nurses the wounded ... [Love] is a hospital, an alms-house which gathers up all the wretchedness of the world. [Love] shelters all the distress of the world … [and] watches through centuries of centuries.
Yet, listen to how Peguy personifies Hope:
But hope is a very little girl … Who gets up every morning … [and] says good-day to the poor man and the orphan … who lies down every evening 
and gets up every morning 
and says her prayers with new attention … [Hope] that little promise of a bud which shows itself at the very beginning of April.

Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Today we begin a new liturgical year. Today we begin our spiritual preparation for the great feast of Christ’s Nativity.

In the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear:
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.

I think we are comfortable with a God who shakes mountains and tears open the fabric of space and time. Our latent guilt desires an angry God who is [enthroned] upon the cherubim.

But we are called to wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ … to be firm to the end … and to Be watchful! Be alert!

Because the whole point of the Incarnation is that God does indeed come – Immanuel … “God with us.” Yet he comes, not in power … but in innocence … humility … and vulnerability.

We are called to wait in joyful hope. And so in this hope we are called to watch … wait … expect … and embrace.

Faith indeed is a bulwark, a defender, a companion.

Love indeed is a shelter, a healer, a nurturer.

But Hope is found in gentle perseverance …  and in innocence. Hope is found in the innocence of a child … the child of Bethlehem … Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Our Lord.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us pray for a renewal in our hearts of Faith, Hope, and Love. May we be rooted in our Faith, and sheltered in God’s Love … and may we persevere in Hope … an innocent hope … a vulnerable hope … a humble hope … the hope of a little child.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

23rd Sunday After Pentecost @ St. Matthew Church

NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?

I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.
Thus begins the four-stanza poem by the Victorian era poet Christina Rosetti, who died six years before the end of the nineteenth century. This poem is titled De Profundis – Latin for "Out of the depths."

Twice in today’s liturgy, the first lines of the De Profundis – more properly Psalm 129 (130) – are intoned: during the Alleluia verse, and in the Offertorio.

Many poets and authors have paraphrased or interpreted this text – more often than not in a spirit of despair … during a period of personal darkness or loss.

Yet today’s Mass texts and readings call us to greater perseverance and increased hope.

The Introit is from Jeremiah 29, a verse often misused and misinterpreted. The gist being that God has banished Israel to captivity in Bablyon for 70 years, and yet the Almighty proclaims that this shall pass. Awkwardly, this verse pops up on graduation cards as a declaration of a bright future. Yet the context here is of a lengthy exile … followed by a return.

In the Epistle, St. Paul gives the Christians in Philipi a choice between the Spirit or the Flesh. One is freedom, one is exile. Yet the world often portrays the license of the Flesh to be a type of freedom. But this is deceptive. True freedom is found in Christ Jesus … in the joy and the victory of heaven. We must be careful not to treat this “vale of tears” as our final destination.

The Gospel from St. Matthew chapter 9, gives us two images of our salvation. In the first, a woman with a hemorrhage is healed by the mere touch of Our Lord. For the ancients, blood was life; and the loss of blood was the loss of life. The disease that plagued this poor soul for twelve years was a slow leaking out of life … a rather graphic image of the loss of grace – when one may ignore its divine benefits and allow it to be depleted by dis-ease … either through sin or neglect.

And in the raising of the young girl, Our Lord shows Himself as Master of both life and death – being first mocked by the mourners, whose disdain turns to amazement at the restoration of life to the dead child.

Out of the depths … Out of the depths … we cry out to God for Salvation … in the midst of our earthly exile God hears our cries … and reaches out with salvation.

No matter ones condition – saint, or sinner – Our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death, both spiritual and physical. We must never tire of crying out to Him for the graces we need for salvation … for saving … from sin … from the world … from ourselves.

Rosetti’s poem ends:
For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope;

I strain my heart, I stretch my hands,
And catch at hope.
As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us call out to Christ to save us. Let us recognize the limitations of our earthly existence, and by the manifold graces of Holy Baptism and all the Sacraments let us “catch at hope.” For it is through perseverance in Faith, Hope, and Charity that we can rise out of the depths … and imitate both Christ and the Saints … to be transformed from the despair of the flesh into the glory of salvation … and eternity … in heaven.