Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Today is Christmas Day! It has been truly blessed.

Our time of Advent was a lot more chaotic than we would have liked. Still, in spite of it all, there were many times of reflection and prayer in preparation, and in anticipation of Christmas. At last it has come. My children are so much fun to watch as they are so excited to see what they got for Christmas. But I feel just as giddy as I, like a child, am pondering anew and afresh the wonders of what God has given us in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It continues to shock and amaze me- that God loves us so much as to become one of us so that we can become like Him.

For Catholics, our Christmas season begins today and goes for 12 days (just like the song). It will conclude with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. So our celebrating is just getting started. Our 4 weeks of preparation usher us into 12 days of celebration followed by an extended time of reflecting on the events of the early years of our Savior's life on earth. I am continually in awe of the wisdom of the Church to do so many things to focus our attention on these things as she does during this time of Christmas.

May all who read these pages be blessed with a truly Merry Christmas- not only today, but throughout the season!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holy Days and Holidays

The term, "holiday" derives from that of "holy days". In their inception and primary meaning they are virtually synonymous. But later in practice they often divide into two separate ideas. Nowhere is this more the case than with Christmas, or, as it is known in the Church, the Feast of the Nativity.

First of all, there is the season of Christmas. For those observing the holiday, that begins roughly around Thanksgiving (unless you're a retailer, then it begins around July) and ends after New Year's Day. It is a time of Christmas music, decorating, baking, shopping, and an endless array of other activities.

Now, the holy season of Christmas begins on December 25th (the Feast of the Nativity) and goes for 12 days, culminating on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. It is preceded by a 4 week period of preparation called Advent. This is not the same as the Christmas season. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. It's purpose is to prepare us for the coming of the Lord at Christmas and at the end of time when our Lord Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Contrary to the busy-ness mentioned above, Advent is intended to be a tranquil and reflective time. It is also characterized by a penitential attitude similar, but not quite as stringent, as Lent. Decorations, if there are any, are kept to a minimum. Instead of feasting, there is fasting. Songs particular to the season focus on preparation and our yearning for the coming of the Lord.

By now you can probably see a great contrast between the celebration of the holiday and the observance of the Holy Day. The problem is that too many Christians are ignorant of their own heritage and are sucked into all the chaos of the holiday and miss the great celebration of the Holy Day. Without an observant Advent, one is not ready to enter into the great mystery of Christmas. Missing that, we miss out on the fullness of peace and joy that God intends for this Holy Feast.

In case you haven't already figured it out, we are currently in the season of Advent, not Christmas. To return to the traditional Christian practice will require a bit of asceticism foreign to our family, friends, and neighbors. It means waiting on Christmas music, cards, baking, and even decorating until much closer to Christmas. Certain things are obviously done to prepare for the Feast, but primarily we are in a time of waiting. The anticipation is intended to further inflame our love and devotion to our Lord.

So are we rank sinners if we are doing things more like the world than the Church? Not necessarily! But we are most likely missing out on wonderful spirtitual benefits which only come by keeping to the wisdom of the Church throughout the ages.

At this time of year everyone is so busy. We need Advent. We need to be reminded to slow down and ponder. We need to prepare ourselves through self-examination and the confession of sin. We need times of prayer and meditation. We may not be able to avoid all the busy-ness, but we can keep ourselves at peace by these means. Christmas is coming soon, and we will be ready to enter into the full spirit of the season if we have been diligent and observant during this holy season of Advent.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Warfare

Spiritual warfare is not quite the hot topic it once was, but it still commands some attention. Usually when people are talking about it they are referring to some sort of conflict with demonic powers. In some cases, these conflicts are merely imagined. But the real warfare is not nearly so "glamorous".

We fight in this warfare daily. Our enemies are the devil, the flesh, and the world. They are ruthless in their onslaught. They are especially so on those weakest among us. They are relentless in their efforts. Unfortunately, a great many of us are not even aware of their tactics and that we have been taken prisoner.

We fight daily to be holy. We fight against our own sinful inclinations. We fight against a worldly philosophy that has been embraced by many of our own brothers and sisters in Christ. This war is constant and intense.

How do we fare? That depends in large part on how aware we are of the warfare itself. Do we understand that when we are tempted the battle is being waged in earnest? How do we respond? Do we cave in easily? Do we run and hide? Do we grumble and complain? Do we whine? Or do we stand and fight?

Fighting is hard. It requires spiritual stamina. The battle will not be over in a few minutes. In some cases it will literally last a lifetime. We must endure. We must be strong. We must be courageous. We must be skillful in battle. That requires a thorough knowledge of the Word, a steadfast faith in our Lord, and a seasoned prayer life complemented by the Sacraments.

What if we fail? God is merciful. He will forgive, restore, and equip for future battles. But once we have given ground it will be all the harder to re-take it. Still, if we will endure, we may be confident of God's strength to assist us to victory.

For those who are victorious, we gain a place with the saints through the ages who have been renown for their heroic virtue and holiness. The prize, of course, is eternal life, which is to become one with our God and Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because this warfare takes place so much in the realm of what is not seen, we often make the mistake of imagining that it is not real. But it is real. It is very real. So fight on, dear brother and sister. Our Lord has gone before us, victorious in battle. We have the privilege of treading where He has trod. He has given us all we need to join Him in victory. But the battle remains ours and He will not take it from us. Fight on then in the sure knowledge of victory. Fight with all your might. Fight till the last when you will be rewarded with an everlasting crown. Fight the good fight and win in the warfare!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Second Sunday of Advent

Advent is a wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, it is too short. It's purpose is to prepare us for the coming of the Lord; both His first and second comings. We prepare for Christmas, but we also (and more importantly) prepare for the day when He will return to judge the living and the dead. How do we prepare? By self-examination and repentance.

In today's Gospel we hear the voice of John the Baptist calling us to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," (Mt. 3:2). He speaks specifically to the more religious minded among us. He tells us that our outward acts of piety are nothing without a corresponding inward change of heart. "Bear fruit that befits repentance," (Mt. 3:8) we are told. He tells us not to trust in our pedigree (whether gentetic or spiritual). "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham," (Mt. 3:9).

These are good words for our time. The world is in dire need of such repentance. But let judgment begin in the house of the Lord. We (the Church) are in great need of such a repentance. How many of us are already caught up in the worldly notion of covetousness (known popularly as consumerism) and thus we hand our hearts over to our idols? How many of us are glued to a television set night after night in which we vicariously indulge in adultery, fornication, and the love of this present world? How many of us have made ourselves the center of our own universe and evicted God for all practical purposes? We are in desperate need of hearing and pondering John's message afresh.

Advent reminds us that the bill comes due some day. Our Lord will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. On that day all the books will be opened. Our lives will be laid bare before Him. We will be judged (Scripture is abundantly clear on this) by our words and our works. These two things will show forth the true state of our hearts and God will be found just in His judgment. In light of that, how are we preparing ourselves today? For He can come at any time. No one knows the day or the hour.

I cannot say that I will pass this test with flying colors. In fact, there are times when I wonder if I will pass it at all. But if I do, it will merely be because of the all-sufficient merits of my Lord Jesus Christ. But it will also be because I was able to appropriate the Grace He died to give me. We are gravely mistaken to think we have nothing to do with our salvation. St. Paul told us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Phil. 2:12). We do indeed have something to do. As someone has said, we cannot do Christ's part and He will not do ours.

So as we head toward the midway point in this blessed season of Advent I ask you, where are you? Are you ready to meet Him when He comes? Will you be in that number to go out and greet Him when He comes? How are you using this Advent season?

For those who prepare now, there will be great rejoicing at His appearing. But for those who live slothfully now, it will be a time of great fear. May we all heed the voice crying in the wilderness and begin today to do works befitting repentance!


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Immaculate Conception

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church. Catholics believe that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived without original sin. She is, therefore, immaculate- spotless. Now for non-Catholics this appears to be troublesome, even blasphemous. In fact, the whole idea of Marian devotion is hard to grasp.

To understand all this one must understand two fundamental concepts of the Catholic Church. First, whatever we believe about Mary flows from what we believe about Christ. We do Christology first, then Mariology follows. So we believe Jesus is fully God. Therefore Mary must be the Mother of God. We believe that being God, the Son of God could not dwell in a temple that was tainted by sin. Therefore Mary must be immaculate. Finally, having sanctified the womb of Mary, it could not possibly be returned to common uses and so we believe she is Ever-Virgin.

Secondly, Catholics believe in the Church. That is, we believe that the Church is of divine origin and that it cannot be conquered by error or sin. Therefore, when the Church makes a definitive statement of faith and morals, we simply accept it. We trust the Church is being directed by the Holy Spirit and so she cannot err. We do not have to figure it all out for ourselves. We simply receive it by faith.

Putting these two emphases together, we find a number of things that the Church teaches about Mary that we receive and practice by faith. The Immaculate Conception is one such thing. Marian devotion is another. Now, to distinguish between the two, the Immaculate Conception is a dogma. It must be believed by all the faithful. However, Marian devotion, while based on dogma, is very much in the realm of discipline, or that which may be practiced in various ways by the faithful. So there are some differences.

Why is Mary so important to the Catholic Church? Well, she is the mother of our Lord. Isn't that enough? But in additon, it was her "yes" to God that opened the way for Christ to come. So she plays a very pivotal role in God's plan of salvation. Also, being the mother of our Lord, she becomes the mother of all who believe in Him- who are His brothers and sisters. As our mother, she sets an example for us to follow, and intercedes on our behalf so that we will gain eternal life.

On this day, we not only honor Mary, but we glorify God in Mary. We rejoice in the manifold wisdom of God in His marvelous work. We are in awe of Mary because we are in awe of God. As we rightly honor Mary, we bring glory to God who chose her as His precious instrument to bring salvation to the world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Miraculous and the Mundane

I have been talking about miracles and their place in the Christian tradition. But what about today? Do miracles still occur? Yes, they do. In fact, they probably occur much more frequently than we realize. Yet, most of us don't live in this realm of the miraculous. Instead, we live very much in the mundane. That is, we live in the very ordinary things of life.

In the Tradition of the Church, we observe a liturgical calendar. About half of the year we are focusing on some special event in the life of our Lord. Right now we are in the season of Advent, which is a preparation for Christmas. But the other half of the year is simply called Ordinary Time. There isn't anything spectacular happening. The Church recognizes that we live a good portion of our lives in ordinary time. This is the mundane. There isn't anything exciting going on.

What's important is that we maintain a miraculous faith in the midst of the mundane. That is, that we know that our God is great and capable of anything. We trust Him for everything. If we find ourselves in the middle of an impossible situation, we pray and trust God for His power. But even if things don't work out like we thought they would, it's still important that we trust Him. Faith is not getting God to do what we want, it is trusting Him to do what He knows is best. Sometimes that will mean the glory of the miraculous, but most of the time it will simply mean abiding in the mundane.

We glorify God in both of these places. When God works by His power to do the miraculous, we praise Him and give Him the glory for it. When He doesn't, we rejoice in Him always, being thankful for all things that He allows to come into our lives. We offer Him our meagre sufferings to be mixed with His own. In this way we are made more like Jesus. We are conformed to His sufferings that we might be more like Him in His glory someday.

I have known very little of the miraculous, and very much of the mundane. But I am slowly discovering more of the God of the miraculous in the midst of the mundane. As my eyes are open to Him in all His beauty, I find that whether miraculous or mundane, it is absolutely glorious to be living in communion with my Lord.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Miracles Part 2

One of the things that got me thinking about the role of the miraculous is pondering the role it plays in the Catholic Faith. I think a lot of people who are not Catholic think that Catholics are superstitious when it comes to these things. But it's hard to deny that a true miracle has taken place.

When a miracle is reported, the Catholic Church takes great pains to ensure it is authentic. They are much harder on themselves than any critic could be. Once verified, the Church allows the miracle to be noted for the increase of the faith of its people and a witness of the working of our Lord in the world.

Two particular types of miracles have caught my attention of late. The first is that there are a number of saints whose bodies lie incorrupt. Among them are St. Clare of Assisi, St. Louise de Marillac, St. Bernadette, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Catherine Laboure, and St. John Vianney. The Church does not believe this is any indication that they were more godly or more favored than other saints. But it does regard it as a work of God's grace.

The second miracle I have been thinking about is the stigmata (the physical wounds of Christ) which were given to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio. This is obviously a rare occurence. But it still is some indication of the work of God's grace.

What do these things mean? I'm not sure anyone really knows. But at a minimum they show how powerfully the Holy Spirit has worked, and continues to work, through these saints. By extension, it naturally follows that if they were so favored by the Lord, then there is nothing about their lives or teaching that could be of great objection.

As I mentioned in my previous post, miracles were one of the ways that God gave testimony to His Son. Everything about the major events of His life and ministry were characterized by the miraculous. In the same way, I believe the Lord chooses to allow the miraculous to bear witness to His Bride, the Church. By these things, we are led to know the truth and find salvation.

Now I know that some will object that even the devil can counterfeit the miraculous. This is true. But the fruit of those "miracles" is to glorify evil, leading to death and destruction. This is not so of the Church. The individuals involved were known for their godliness. Many were led to faith in Christ through them, and continue to be so as these testimonies are circulated.

Our Lord, when accused of performing the miraculous through the power of the devil, replied that a house divided against itself will fall. Surely, we cannot believe the devil is behind these miracles, or many others like them. The fruit of them is godliness. The devil wants nothing to do with that.

Miracles alone cannot prove anything. But in combination with the Word of God, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, they do verify that God is still working through His Church. While we are not called to seek after miracles, we should ponder them when they occur and listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Church.