Archive for the ‘Penance’ Category

Do Good While You Sleep

September 28, 2020

St. Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). The sufferings we endure and penances we freely offer not only help to perfect our own souls but can spiritually benefit others as well. Doing penances of some form (classic three being prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) should be a part of our lives. “The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way,” says the Church’s Code of Canon Law. Whatever penances we undertake should be properly moderated and suitable to our state in life.

During my seminary days, I experimented with different penances. I practiced fasting by limiting my eating and tried sleeping on my floor, but both of these shared a serious drawback: they deprived me of the energy I needed for my studies. This led me to discover a new penance to offer in their place which preserved my nutrition and good night’s rest.

I have found that when I offer my coming nights’ dreams to God as a penance, my ordinarily unremarkable dreams change. Because they do not terrorize me I would not call them nightmares, but I would describe these dreams as stressful. Ever dream that you must do something you’re unready for, like give a talk or take a test, and then awake relieved to find it was just a dream? When I form an intention that my dreams may have redemptive value and go on to experience dreams like this, I am pleased that God has apparently answered my prayer and used my modest suffering to spiritually aid others.

I recommend trying this experiment for yourself. God will not give you anything or any more than what is good for you, and considering the burdens that others carry in our midst and around the world it’s really a small sacrifice. “[God] pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber,” even enabling us to do good for others while we sleep.

Questions & Answers About Lent

February 5, 2016

What is Lent?

The Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer, 1854.Lent is the liturgical season in which we prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, and fasting.

How long is Lent?

Lent runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter Vigil. It is actually 46 days long: 40 days of penance, plus six Sundays not considered days of penance.

Why is it called “Lent”?
The word “Lent” comes to us from old German and English words for “springtime.”

Why do we get marked with ashes?

The ancient Jews would put ashes atop their heads in repentance, mourning, and/or self-debasement. The ash crosses on our foreheads signify our desire to return or draw nearer to the Lord Jesus.

Who abstains and fasts in Lent?
Catholics who are at least 14-years-old are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Fridays in Lent, and Good Friday. Until at least their 59th birthday, Catholics who are at least 18-years-old are to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

What is “fasting”?

Lenten fasting is eating just one full meal.  Two additional smaller meals (less than one full meal put together) are allowed if necessary, but not eating solid foods between meals. (The physically, mentally, or chronically ill, as well as pregnant or nursing women, are excused from fasting and abstinence.)

Why the ages 18 to 59?

These ages consider the nutritional needs of the young & elderly, and the symbolic forty (years) between them reflects other periods of penance & preparation in the Bible (the Flood, the Exodus, Moses on Mt. Sinai, Jesus in the Desert, etc.)

Why isn’t fish considered “meat?”

In times past, fish was considered a food of the poor. It took multiple pounds of grain to raise one pound of livestock, but fish were simply caught. Eating fish instead of land-based meats conserved grain and was a penance in solidarity with the poor.

What can I do for Lent?

Add to your spiritual exercises, such as time for prayer, daily Mass, and the Stations of the Cross. Attend a penance service and go to confession. Go on pilgrimage to Sacred Heart Church, or to the cathedral or the shrine in La Crosse. Deny yourself occasions of sins and offer up sacrifices of self-denial; such as fasting, almsgiving, and good works.

Our Holy Conspiracy & the End of the World — 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year B

November 16, 2015

C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963A new liturgical Church year will begin in a couple of weeks with the first Sunday of Advent. As this Church year ends, our Mass readings (like today’s Sunday readings) focus on the Last Things and the end of the world as we know it. This weekend’s news reports, especially the terrible events in France, remind us that though the Kingdom of God is among us, we pray “thy Kingdom come” because it is not yet fully here in total, unveiled power. This weekend’s readings and news events remind me of passages from C.S. Lewis in excellent book Mere Christianity:

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless [radio] from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.”

Why does Lewis say that our king has landed “in disguise?” Well, where would you expect a king to be born? The Magi sought the newborn king of the Jews in the palace at Jerusalem, but Jesus was born in a barn—a cave in Bethlehem—to a pair of poor parents. How would one expect the Jewish Messiah to enter into Jerusalem to claim his throne? Probably riding on a warhorse, but Jesus came meekly riding on a donkey, just as had been prophesied about him. Who would have thought that God would become a man, and then suffer and die as he did? After the vindication of the resurrection, one would have thought he would appear to the high priest and Governor Pilate, or to the Emperor Tiberius in Rome, to declare that he was indeed who he claimed to be. Instead, Jesus appeared discretely, to his disciples.

Lewis writes that God has landed in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and has started “a sort of secret society” to undermine the devil. This secret society he speaks of is the Church. But what is so secret about the Church? We have a sign in front with our Mass times. We don’t check ID’s at the door. And if anyone wants to know about what we do or what we believe, we will gladly inform them. But, in a sense, the Church is a secret society—for the world and even many Catholics do not recognize who and what we really are. We are a holy conspiracy. We are fighting the propaganda of the world and the devil with the truth of God. We are recruiting others to the side of the Lord. We are his special forces sabotaging evil with the weapons of love in preparation for the king’s arrival.

From where do we receive our power for this mission? The source of our power is the Holy Mass. Today’s second reading says that the Old Testament’s priests offered many sacrifices because those  could not truly achieve their purpose, but Jesus our High Priest offers his sacrifice once for all. At Mass we transcend space and time to personally encounter that sacrifice, and it’s power is applied to us here and now, providing all the graces we need to fulfill his will.

Lewis asks, “Why is [God] not [yet] landing in [total unveiled] force, invading [our world]? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; [but] we do not know when.”

Indeed, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “of that day or hour, no one knows… but only the Father.”

We do not know when the Lord is going to land in force. “But,” Lewis continues, “we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman [during World War II] who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade.”

Why has God not yet invaded our world with his full, unveiled force? Why does he allow the wicked to use their freedom for evil, like the terrorism we saw in Paris?

Lewis writes, “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?”

I think “the whole natural universe melting away” is an excellent reflection on today’s gospel. Jesus tells us that at the end:

“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…”

In the ancient world, the sun and moon, stars and planets, were considered the most stable and eternal things in the cosmos (and you can understand why.) But when even these things are passing, you know the universe as we know it is melting away. After this, the Lord Jesus comes with judgment. “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory… (and his angels, like St. Michael from our first reading, along with him…)”

Sprouting Fig Tree in SpringtimePerhaps we may find it surprising that Jesus describes these events as a good thing to his disciples. He says:

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.”

We usually associate the end of things with the fall. Youth is called the springtime of life, while old age is the fall. In the Northern Hemisphere, every Church year ends in the fall. Yet Jesus presents an analogy for the end of the world as one of spring becoming summer: ‘When the tender branch sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.’ A small thing, the branch, points to the arrival of a much greater reality, the summer. Why would we cling to the branch when the whole world is being renewed in glory? For friends of God, what is to come is better than what we see. The life we live now in this world is the winter. What is still to come for us is the spring and summer. Let us not hesitate to hope for it, envision it, and rejoice in it.

When the last day comes, “it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give [people] that chance. [But it] will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”

How long will it be until the Lord comes again? Jesus says in today’s gospel that, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” But he said this a long time ago. Was Jesus wrong? No, for when you read these passages from Mark in full context, Jesus is responding to his disciples questions about two things side-by-side: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. The Romans destroyed the great city and its temple in 70 A.D., during the lifespan of some of Jesus’ hearers, and to many Jews it felt like the end of the world. This event prefigured the passing away of all things. Like other prophesies in the Bible, Jesus’ prophesy has a near and distant fulfillment, one after a forty-year opportunity for conversion, and another at the end of time.

So when will the Lord come again? The answer for every generation before us has been “not yet.” If this world endures to the year 10,000 A.D., the Christians of that time will probably regard us as the early Christians. I personally think it will still be awhile before he comes, for it is still legal to be a Christian in too many places on earth. Yet, in a sense, it doesn’t matter when Jesus is coming, for the end of our individual lives is equivalent to the end of the world for us. If you’re ready for one, you’re ready for the other. But if you, or people that you know, are not ready for either, then now is the time for conversion.

The Lord our King has recruited us into his holy conspiracy, arming us with the weapons of truth and love. You and I are his advanced forces and, among other tasks, he is sending us on rescue missions to bring others to himself. Who do you know that is far from Christ? We are to draw on the power of this Mass for them. We are called to pray, fast, and sacrifice for them, and even to be so bold as to talk with them—inviting them to come to Jesus Christ and his Church. Seize this opportunity and do not let it pass away, for whether the Lord first comes to us or we go forth to him, each and all will encounter him soon, face-to-face, in his full, unveiled glory.

Questions & Answers for Lent

March 1, 2014

What Are the Lenten Fasts and Who Keeps Them?

Catholics who have celebrated their 14th birthday are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays in Lent, and Good Friday. In addition to not eating meat, Catholics who have celebrated their 18th birthday are to fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday until at least their 59th birthday. Here, fasting is defined as eating just one full meal.  Two smaller meals are also allowed if necessary to maintain one’s strength, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. (The physically, mentally, or chronically ill, as well as pregnant or nursing women, are also excused from fasting and abstinence.)

Why the Ages 18 to 59?

Two reasons: because of the nutritional needs of the young and elderly, and because the number forty symbolizes penance and purification in the Bible.

Why Isn’t Fish Considered “Meat” on Meatless Fridays?

In times past, fish was considered a food of the poor. It took multiple pounds of grain to raise one pound of livestock, but fish were simply caught from the water. Eating fish conserved grain for others and was an act in solidarity with the poor. Today, Catholics are only obliged to abstain from (land-based) meats on certain days of Lent. However, Catholics remain obliged to offer penance on Fridays throughout the whole year; be it through fasting, abstinence, pious devotions, or loving service. Every Friday is to be a little remembrance of Good Friday.

Why is Lent Longer Than Forty Days?

There are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. However, every Sunday is a “little Easter” and, like all solemnities, Sundays are not considered days of penance.  As Jesus said, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Matthew 9:15) All are free to keep Lenten penances on these days, but enjoying these respites can increase one’s devotion and joy in the Lord. Subtract the six Sundays in Lent from the total and you are left with forty days.

Penance Service Rosary Meditations

April 20, 2011

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. There was a garden there and he and his disciples entered it. He took along Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, and began to experience sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer. “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” In his anguish he prayed with all the more intensity, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Then he rose from prayer and came to his disciples, only to find them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? ”

When Peter, James and John fell asleep that hour in the garden, they let Jesus down, but Jesus still loved them. When we sin, we also let Jesus down, but Jesus still loves us, too. Let us all make good confessions, and pray attentively, in this hour with Jesus.

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

When it was morning, those who had arrested Jesus bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. Now for Passover, the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, a revolutionary, a robber and a murderer, called Jesus Barabbas. (The name Barabbas means “son of the father.) When they had assembled, Pilate said to the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?” They answered, “Barabbas!” Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.

Whenever we sin, we choose a Barabbas instead of Christ. Jesus promises us that choosing Him will make us the most happy, but when we choose to do what’s wrong, we disbelieve Him, and choose someone or something else to make us happy. With our confession and these prayers, let us recommit ourselves to always choosing Jesus Christ, who suffered whips for love of us.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside of their fortress and gathered the whole army around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.

For as much as those soldiers mocked Jesus, let us now honor Jesus sincerely through this decade of the Rosary, with our hearts full of sorrow and thanks.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

They took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. As they led him away, they laid hold of a man named Simon who was coming in from the country. They put a crossbeam on Simon’s shoulder for him to carry behind Jesus. A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him.

During this decade of the Rosary, let us imagine ourselves helping Jesus to carry His cross. By being with Him and knowing how He felt, this will help us to love Him more. And who knows, perhaps our prayer will travel through space and time to help lighten, even just a little, the burden that He carried.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

They brought Jesus to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull) and crucified Him there. At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Finally, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

The forgiveness of our sins is so easy for us. When we go to confession and it is brief and painless. But let us always remember this: the forgiveness of our sins is so easy for us in the confessional because Jesus let the forgiveness of our sins be so hard on Him on the cross. Let us thank Him and honor Him for this great gift.

Not If, But When — Wednesday, 11th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

June 16, 2010

Notice that in today’s gospel, Jesus does not teach saying, “If you give alms…” or “If you pray…” or “If you fast….”

Jesus says, “When you give alms… when you pray…. [and] when you fast….”

Prayer, fasting, and alms giving are assumed for the follower of Christ. If we do not have all three of these as a regular part of our lives, we need to put them there. And when we do, our Father, who sees all, will repay us.

Three Temptations — 1st Sunday in Lent—Year C

February 23, 2010

In today’s gospel Jesus is led into the desert by the Holy Spirit for forty days of prayer, penance, and preparation and there He is tempted by the devil.  We have been led to this season of Lent and we also find ourselves being tempted. This morning I would like to talk about how the devil’s three temptations present themselves to us and to let you know about an allowance in Lent that you will be happy to hear.

Most of us here have chosen to take on a penance during Lent.  You have probably resolved to abstain from something good, like cookies, candies, ice cream, TV or the internet, to grow in disciple and virtue, and to offer some sacrifice to God. The devil first said to Jesus, “command this stone to become bread,” and we will probably be tempted in a similar way; “Put down the rock of your penance for awhile and let it nourish you.” It is the way of demons to first entice and then condemn. The rationalization, “Go ahead, it’s just a little cookie,” will afterwards become the accusation, “You couldn’t even sacrifice one cookie for God.” Let us preserve in our Lenten penances, for the joy of having carried a cross for the Lord is far preferable to the discouragement of a moment’s compromise.

As a second temptation, the devil, in a vision, showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and said, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Scripture calls Satan the Father of Lies, so we ought to be skeptical about whether he really had this authority over the nations, and even if he did we should disbelieve that he would give Jesus the world if He were to worship him. Instead, I suspect that the devil would have simply laughed and left Jesus with nothing for having fallen into sin.

We human beings are creatures of habit. The same sins which you have struggled with in the past are probably the same ones that challenge you today. When we are tempted by sins they promise us the world, great peace and satisfaction. Yet we can look back at our own experiences and see that these are lies. Our past sins show us that they only lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction. We should stop swallowing the bait. We should stop accepting the lie. This Lent is a perfect time for us to commit to crushing the habitual sins in our lives, for our sins will not make us happy, even if they promise us the world.

As a third temptation, the devil took Jesus up (in a vision or in the body we do not know) to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. He said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” The temptation addressed to us sounds differently. “You are not the Son of God, you’re not even close to being saint! You should throw yourself down in shame for your sins and not dare to pray or present yourself to God!” On the contrary, as we heard in the second reading, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” Lent calls us to sorrow and conversion for our sins, not to shame and aversion from God.

We see the one-two combo of enticement and shame modeled in the case of Adam and Eve.  When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about the garden they hid themselves among the trees, for they realized that they were naked before Him, and they were ashamed and afraid. Much later, in the case of Judas Iscariot, the devil led him to betray Jesus, one of the worst sins ever, and then after regretting it he was led to kill himself. If Judas had gone from the temple to Calvary, instead of to his tragic tree, Jesus would have forgiven him, because Jesus wanted to forgive him.

Jesus loves us. He doesn’t just love us because He’s God and He “has to” love everybody. Jesus loves us and He actually likes us for all the good things that we are and for all the good things He sees we can become. This is why He created us and died for us, because He loves us. So we should not be ashamed to come to Christ in the sacraments; in confession with our big sins, or at communion with our small ones. As Jesus told St. Faustina, the greater our sins the more entitled we are to his mercy. When it comes to God’s forgiveness, only we ourselves can get in His way.

Finally, I mentioned that there is an allowance during Lent which is a cause for consolation amidst our Lenten struggles. But first, did you know that there are more than forty days in Lent?  The season is longer than forty days because we don’t count the Sundays.  There are 40 days of penance, but every Sundays (from Saturday evening to Sunday night) we are released from our penances. At Sunday Mass the priest still wears the Lenten season’s purple, we might do less singing, and we don’t say the Gloria or say the “A”-word before the gospel, but we are freed from penances that day, for every Sunday is a “little Easter. ”

In the first reading, we heard how Moses commanded the Hebrews that once they came into the Promised Land they should come before God to present their first fruits and recount the story of how God had delivered them from slavery, brought them into the Promised Land, and filled them with blessings. Each Sunday we come before God and recall how His Son, Jesus Christ, delivered us from our slavery, brought us into His kingdom, and has filled us with His blessings, especially the gift of Himself in the Eucharist. Each Sunday gives us consolation, and this release from our penances encourages us to offer still more penance to God in the week ahead, for it is an easier thing abstain for just six days than to do it for forty in a row.

So in conclusion, be faithful to your penances, your faithfulness will have its reward. Commit to crushing your habitual sins, for sins cannot make us happy, even if they promise the world. Shame and fear are the devil’s traps, so whenever you sin, come to the Lord with trust and sorrow. And know that you are released from penances on Sundays in Lent.  May this gift be a cause for thanksgiving and joy and inspire us to make a still greater gift of ourselves to Christ in this Lenten season.

The Fool’s Blindness — Tuesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 9, 2010

Some priests like to begin their homilies with jokes. Today I’m going begin by telling you a few jokes—some very, very old jokes. In fact, they come from the oldest joke book in the world, a collection of 265 jokes from the 4th century A.D. entitled The Philogelos, or (in English) The Laugh-Addict.

One day an intellectual bumped into a friend and said to him, “I heard you were dead.” “Well,” said the friend, “As you can see, I am very much alive.” “Yes,” [replied the other,] “but the person who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.”

[On another occasion,] A doctor stole the lamp of a man whom he was treating for inflammation of the eyes. A few days later, the doctor asked the patient how his eyes were. “It’s a funny thing, [Doctor,] ever since you treated them I haven’t been able to see my lamp.”

[And finally,] An intellectual was [once] on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. ‘Don’t cry,’ he consoled them, ‘I have freed you all in my will.’”

Now these three jokes have something in common, besides being very old. They all share the have comedic device: a foolish person who focuses on the wrong thing, like the patient who mistrusts his eyes more than his doctor. This is called majoring in the minors, or as Jesus would say, “straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.” In the Gospel today, Jesus really takes it to the scribes and Pharisees for doing this sort of thing: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. … This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”

So do we focus on small details of our faith and neglect what’s really important? For instance, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and during Lent we usually give up something we enjoy as a form of penance until the joyful celebration of Easter. Now keeping a Lenten penance is a good tradition, because penance helps us to shed old sins and to grow in our ability to do good and to be happy. But… if we give up pop, cookies, candy, or ice cream, while we neglect to go to Sunday Mass, we are keeping a human tradition while we neglect God’s command: keep holy the Lord’s day. Instead of doing neither this Lent, please do both.  Take a penance and go to Mass every weekend for the love of God.

Maybe your family doesn’t go to Mass on weekends, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you love God enough to ask your parents’ permission to go by yourself or with a friend this Sunday, I doubt you will need to go alone a second time. For you will provide your parents with a needed reminder about God’s important in our lives, and I bet you that at least one of them, if not the whole family, will come with you every week after.

So let us keep first things first, and not be stupid, like the man who was swimming when it started to rain; and dove to the bottom, to keep from getting wet. This Lent, let us keep the Lord’s Day, every Lord’s Day, holy. The reason the Lord calls you out is to call you to Himself.

2nd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 10, 2009

In the first year of the presidency of Barack Obama,
when Jim Doyle was governor of Wisconsin,
and Kohl and Feingold were its senators,
and Obey was the seventh district congressman,
and Favre was the quarterback in Minnesota,
when Benedict was pontiff and Jerome was bishop,
the word of God came here,
to Christ the King parish in Spencer:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

It isn’t a new word… It was the message of John the Baptist, and Isaiah wrote it long before that. Yet the word of God is not old in the sense that it has passed some kind of expiration date. When the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of these words, their human author who put the pen to parchment did not know the great audience and the impact they were to have. But the Holy Spirit saw us here and had these words written to us and for as well. These words were not meant only for Old Testament peoples, or for the time when Christ walked on the earth. These words are proclaimed to us, and meant for us, here today. Remember this every time you encounter the Scriptures, here at church or in your private prayer.

So what is God’s word saying to us today? In the Gospel, did you notice that of all the rulers and governors and leaders at that time, the word of God did not come to any one of them? “The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” The lesson is that God prefers to lead souls to salvation by working through common people. People who think that they have no power.

What politicians do is important, since good laws can help people and bad laws can hurt them, but what saves souls rarely comes through them. And though our Holy Father and our bishop strive to do important work for Christ, there is only so much they can do. The way of the Lord is prepared by the daily efforts of ordinary Christians, who sometimes have children and sometimes work jobs. Your family, friends, and co-workers probably don’t read papal encyclicals, but they always witness your words and example. And so, Jesus depends upon you to prepare His way for others, to make winding and rough roads straight and smooth, and so that all people see the salvation of God.

This is the Christian’s calling and important mission, yet we cannot share what we do not have. If were are going to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths for others we must first fill the valleys and level the mountains for Christ within ourselves. To this end, I urge you to make the most of two gifts God gives us: the sacrament of confession and daily prayer. There is simply nothing that more quickly and effectively strengthens the average Catholic’s moral and spiritual life than frequent and regular confession. And daily prayer is indispensible for growing in relationship with Christ and for living a wonderful life.

Each year, many of our homes are visited a familiar and beloved character whom we associate with Christmas… I speak George Bailey from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This film, despite its flawed angelology, teaches the truth about how much difference one person can make for others. George Bailey’s an ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life without even realizing himself. By the end of the film, we see the impact for good that his life has had and we see George surrounded by his family and his many friends who all love and admire him.

Why does George Bailey live such a wonderful life?  Sure, he’s a nice guy, but he’s more than a nice guy. Time and again, he sacrifices what he wants to do what’s loving and best for the people God has placed in his life. I hope we can all see a little bit of George Bailey in ourselves. Because we can see a great deal of Christ in George Bailey.

This Advent season, let us prepare the way of the Lord within us, so that through us, all people may see the salvation of God.  This is the calling, the mission, and the privilege of the Christian.  In this or any age, it’s a wonderful life.

August 8 – St. John Marie Vianney

August 17, 2009

For many years, around 300 people would travel by train each day to a small town of 230 people. Why did they come? They came because they sought the mercy and counsel of Christ in the confessional of John Marie Vianney. Why did Father John 12 to 17 hours a day sitting in his confessional? He was there because he believed that this sacrament was that important.

Today we often hear people say, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest when I can just pray to God directly? It’s like the complaint of Aaron and Miriam in the first reading,  “Is it though Moses alone that the Lord speaks?”

Jesus, in the upper room, breathed on his apostles and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Did Jesus give them this authority and power for no purpose at all?

Jesus gave us the sacrament of reconciliation because we need it. Confession prevents my sins from just being between me and myself. It prevents me from making mountains into molehills, and molehills into mountains. It allows me to know with absolute confidence that this sin of mine is forgiven forever. When we go to confession we acknowledge the Incarnation, that Christ redeemed us in His flesh, not merely by composing a prayer to the Father.

If you are too shy to admit your sins to a priest, who won’t know who you are, and couldn’t tell another soul even if he did, then what makes you think you will have the poise to stand face to face with Christ at the judgment?

When Miriam and Aaron sinned, they turned for mercy to the Lord’s servant, Moses, and their sin was healed. If you have neglected confession, please come. There is mercy, peace, and God’s help awaiting you.

If you already go to confession with some frequency, then please offer a penance today for the conversion of sinners. St. John Vianney did penances for conversions because he was convinced that it made a difference.

In the Gospel we heard that every sick person who came and touched Jesus’ cloak was healed, but those sick people first had to be brought to Jesus. Help carry them.