Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Trials, Mercy & Padre Pio

Another article from Catholic Exchange

Christmas Trials, Mercy & Padre Pio

“When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne bounded […] And as he alighted…[…], he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth” (Wisdom 18:14-16). What Child is this who spans the abyss between the earth and heaven? He is the incarnate Word of God and His divine nativity changes everything forever.
For believers, His arrival is a glorious gift; salvation has come. But for the ancient enemy of mankind, Christ’s arrival is his undoing. The Incarnation is the worst news for Satan and his cohorts. Thus, from the start, the Babe of Bethlehem is pursued for destruction. His disciples also are targeted. He is the Prince of Peace who is unwelcomed by those who revel in discord. For some believers Advent is experienced as a little Lent—a trial and test of faith. This is consistent with the challenges that arose even before His divine birth. One, holy, silent night in Bethlehem is a defining moment in salvation history and a decisive moment of us personally. Will we truly honor and serve Him as the Lord of our life? Will He reign in me?
Christmas is a most wonderful time of year and many people are full of joy and hope. Loving generosity often wins the day during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. It is my favorite time of year—I enjoy it all—from beautiful liturgies, nativity scenes, to gift-giving, cooking, socializing, tree trimming, and sightseeing the gorgeous decorations. Christmas music tugs at our heartstrings and Christmas cards with warm sentiments delight us. These can be reflections of the beauty of the Christ Child who stirs the human heart.
The secular culture, perpetuating the dictatorship of relativism, can be very seductive and some people fall away from the Christ in Christmas. Sadly, too many in our circle of family and friends now give as much weight to the scriptural story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ as to Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Carol. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about “negative tolerance” and in light of what he teaches we learn that such thinking impacts important conversations among family and friends.
A new intolerance is spreading, that is quite obvious. There are well-established standards of thinking that are supposed to be imposed on everyone. These are then announced in terms of so-called “negative tolerance.” For instance, when people say that for the sake of negative tolerance [i.e., “not offending anyone”] there must be no crucifix in public buildings with that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means, after all, that religion, that the Christian faith is no longer allowed to express itself visibly. (Light of the World, 52-53, quoted in God’s Healing Mercy)
We live in complex times when bearing witness to faith in Jesus Christ causes repercussions that may be costly. Suddenly, simply saying grace before meals or “Merry Christmas” draws a correction because of “negative tolerance”. So what are we to do?
Compromising our Catholic identity is not an option. Better to be a fool for Christ, to bear witness to the truth with the tenderness of divine mercy. The Christ Child didn’t arrive on the scene and overwhelm the world with power and might. He drew people to His light by the tenderness of merciful love. Truth carries the weight of beauty that resonates in the human heart. Having encountered Christ’s love we hope that everyone will experience such tender mercy and we pray patiently.
Christ condescended to leave the throne of glory in heaven to become the little Babe of Bethlehem. He became vulnerable for the sake of love. He teaches the lesson of true love that is vulnerable to be rejected, scorned, ridiculed and ultimately abandoned and persecuted—even to death on a cross. Christ is the icon of merciful love that pours forth from a pierced heart. At Christmas gatherings, perhaps colleagues, friends and relatives will be condescending about our faith in God. We must have a well-trained tongue to “speak the truth in love” (cf. Eph. 4:15). We pray for wisdom and discernment to know what to say, when to say it, or when to keep silence and intercede quietly.
Christ strengthens us in all trials. “Negative tolerance” is a symptom of a faithless culture into which we interject faith by word and deed. The faithful will always keep Christmas holy, peaceful and joyful as a perpetual memorial to the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ—the greatest, only necessary gift.
St. Louis Marie de Montfort spoke of an age when God would raise up the greatest saints ever to stand against the world, the flesh and the devil. This Christmas Eve, at the start of the Jubilee of Mercy, in the silence of this holy night, perhaps we will listen and hear the Incarnate Word, the Christ Child, sending us forth onto the frontlines of the “good fight” renewed to proclaim the triumph of divine mercy.

St. Padre Pio’s Christmas Reflection

O Christians, so plentiful are the lessons that shine forth from the grotto of Bethlehem! Oh how our hearts should be on fire with love for the one who with such tenderness was made flesh for our sakes! Oh how we should burn with desire to lead the whole world to this lowly cave, refuge of the King of kings, greater than any worldly palace, because it is the throne and dwelling place of God! Let us ask this Divine child to clothe us with humility, because only by means of this virtue can we taste the fullness of this mystery of Divine tenderness.
Glittering were the palaces of the proud Hebrews. Yet, the light of the world did not appear in one of them. Ostentatious with worldly grandeur, swimming in gold and in delights, were the great ones of the Hebrew nation; filled with vain knowledge and pride were the priests of the sanctuary. In opposition to the true meaning of Divine revelation, they awaited an officious savoir, who would come into the world with human renown and power.
But God, always ready to confound the wisdom of the world, shatters their plans. Contrary to the expectations of those lacking in Divine wisdom, he appears among us in the greatest abjection, renouncing even birth in St. Joseph’s humble home, denying himself a modest abode among relatives and friends in a city of Palestine. Refused lodging among men, he seeks refuge and comfort among mere animals, choosing their habitation as the place of his birth, allowing their breath to give warmth to his tender body. He permits simple and rustic shepherds to be the first to pay their respects to him, after he himself informed them, by means of his angels, of the wonderful mystery.
Oh wisdom and power of God, we are constrained to exclaim how incomprehensible are your judgments and unsearchable your ways! Poverty, humility, abjection, contempt, all surround the Word made flesh. But we, out of the darkness that envelops the incarnate Word, understand one thing, hear one voice, perceive one sublime truth: you have done everything out of love, you invite us to nothing else but love, speak of nothing except love, give us naught except proofs of love.
The heavenly babe suffers and cries in the crib so that for us suffering would be sweet, meritorious and accepted. He deprives himself of everything, in order that we may learn from him the renunciation of worldly goods and comforts. He is satisfied with humble and poor adorers, to encourage us to love poverty, and to prefer the company of the little and simple rather than the great ones of the world.
This celestial child, all meekness and sweetness, wishes to impress in our hearts by his example these sublime virtues, so that from a world that is torn and devastated, an era of peace and love may spring forth. Even from the moment of his birth he reveals to us our mission, which is to scorn that which the world loves and seeks.
Oh let us prostrate ourselves before the manger; …let us offer him all our hearts without reserve. Let us promise to follow the precepts which come to us from the grotto of Bethlehem, which teach us that everything here below is vanity of vanities, nothing but vanity.
(Padre Pio, Letters, San Giovanni Rotundo, Italy)

3 Simple Ways to Sanctify Christmas Day

A good article I wish to share with you. 

3 Simple Ways to Sanctify Christmas Day

By pakosloski@me.com on Dec 21, 2015 05:40 am
Oddly enough I have discovered that one of the hardest days of the year to keep holy is Christmas day. While it is a joyous day to spend with family, it is very difficult to maintain a spirit of prayer. It is too easy to get caught-up in all the excitement over presents and entirely miss the “reason for the season.”
To combat that distraction, I have found 3 simple ways to sanctify Christmas day and keep my soul focused on the “Christ” in Christmas.

1. Don’t forget the “Mass” in “Christ-MAS”

This may seem obvious, but it is worth repeating. Attending Mass the night before or on the morning of Christmas refreshes my soul and focuses my attention on Christ.Personally, I prefer the Midnight Mass above all other Mass times. There is something powerful about attending Mass in the middle of the night, celebrating the birth of Christ at the time when He was born.
Midnight Mass is sometimes referred to as the “Shepherd’s Mass,” in reference to the shepherd’s who were keeping watch over their flock and received word of Christ’s birth from a company of angels.
What is especially beautiful about Midnight Mass is the use of lighting. Often in churches the use of electronic lights is discouraged and the entire Mass is said bycandlelight. This adds even more solemnity to the occasion and sets the mood. The dark church lit only by candles focuses our attention and quiets our soul to receive Jesus into our hearts.
Attending the Midnight Mass helps me stay focused on Christ and sets the tone for the rest of the day.

2. Start the Day in Solitude and Prayer

Another way that helps me foster a spirit of prayer on Christmas Day is to wake-up before the children and sit in the quiet. I find my inspiration from Psalm 45:11 where God says, “Be still and see that I am God.” We all know that once the children wake-up, chaos often ensues. That is why I try to be deliberate and start Christmas Day in silence and prayer, focusing my attention on Christ.
I personally know that if I do not spend those few minutes in prayer (it doesn’t have to be a holy hour; it can be as little as 10-15 minutes of silent prayer), the day will go by without remembering what the day is truly about.

3. End the Day in Solitude and Prayer

The beginning and end of the day are often referred to as the “bookends.” I know from experience that I can’t always control what happens in the middle, but I can dictate what happens when I wake-up and go to sleep.
What I try to do is end the day in a spirit of thanksgiving. I think over the day and “count my blessings.” I was reminded about this practice while watching the classic “White Christmas” movie with Bing Crosby.
Christmas is a beautiful day for many reasons and so ending the day in thanksgiving is a great way to maintain the spirit of Christmas and focus your attention on God instead of all the things we receive.
These ways may seem very simple and obvious, but sometimes we try too hard and fail in the process. Sanctifying Christmas Day doesn’t have to be a big orchestrated event. Instead, I take the approach of imitating the simplicity and humility of Christ’s birth. Christ did not come into the world in the midst of fanfare or a light show. He came in the middle of the night; into the quiet. That is where I believe we will find Jesus on Christmas Day.
Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
shepherds quake at the sight;
glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
radiant beams from thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Homily for Today

Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to the Fourth and last Sunday of Advent. In a few days, we will be celebrating Christmas, the day of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love. I pray that all of you have had sufficient time to spiritually prepare yourselves during the Season of Advent that is coming to a closing.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Micah [Mic. 5:2-5] announced the arrival of the promised Messiah. To enjoy a greater appreciation of the prophecy of Micah which took place around 750 B.C., one must place himself back in time to a few centuries prior to the birth of Christ. In those days, Micah prophesied that until such time as the Messiah arrives to deliver Israel from its oppressors, the Jewish people will continue to be subject to other nations.

From Bethlehem of Ephrathah shall rise the King from the royal line of king David. Both Jesse and king David [1 Sam. 17:12] came from Bethlehem which is located 5-6 miles South of Jerusalem. Bethlehem which means, "house of bread" was formally known as Ephrath [Gen. 35:19] and Ephrathat. [Ruth 4:11]

The rising Messiah shall have His origin from of old, from ancient days. In other words, the Messiah shall be God Himself. That God Himself would be the Messiah is repeated in the prophecies of Malachi in 397 B.C. Malachi stated, "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way for Me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple." Here, it is announced that the messenger John the Baptist would prepare the way for God Himself. Another proof that God would come to dwell with His people is found in the prophecy of Isaiah and its fulfillment affirmed in the Gospel of Matthew where the name of the Messiah is said to be "Immanuel" which means "God is with us." [Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:23]

Micah continues by stating that Israel shall remain subject to other nations until such time as she who is in labour has brought forth. Then, God's people shall be delivered and united as one. If one tries to perceive this prophecy with a worldly mind, it will be misunderstood. Why? Because it is a reference to a spiritual delivery and freedom. It is a reference to the people's delivery from the slavery of sin through the Sacred Blood of Christ.

Regarding the woman in labour bringing forth a child, the Book of Isaiah says, "Before she was in labour, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?" [Is. 66:7-8] For a land to be born in one day or for a nation to be delivered in one moment, this can only be a reference to the suffering, the death, the burial and the glorious Resurrection of Christ who has overcome sin for the redemption of mankind. It can only be a reference to the eternal establishment of the abode of the saints, the spiritual Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.

Through physical death, those who have received the Sacrament of Baptism and who have persevered in their living faith in Christ, have inherited the Kingdom of God. Once and for always, they have been freed from all human oppression, suffering, and the ongoing inner battle between the spiritual and the worldly natures.

This is the Divine truth that the promised Messiah came to announce, the Good News that fulfilled all the promises of the Old Testament. The greatness of the incarnation of God shines in love, mercy and forgiveness. It glorifies the Most Holy Name of the Lord Jesus.

The coming of Christ into the world was to put an end to the Old Covenant under the Laws of Moses. It was to put an end to the imperfect sacrifices and offerings, the burnt offerings and sin offerings. The coming of Christ into the world was to abolish the Old Covenant in order to establish the New and Everlasting Covenant that was made perfect once and for all through the sacrifice of the Blood of Christ.

Through the sacrifice of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have been sanctified according to God's Divine Will and promises that were made during the days of the Old Testament. Through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ, during the Sacrament of Baptism, we have received the gifts of the new creation of the godly seed, the new heart and the indwelling Holy Spirit. This Sacrament can only be received once for nothing human or spiritual can surpass the new creation of the godly seed and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As we heard during today's Gospel Reading, when Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and expressed words that were eternally written in the Holy Bible. While in the presence of Elizabeth, John the Baptist, the child in the womb, was also filled with the Holy Spirit and leaped for joy.

In both cases, a spiritual manifestation came forth from those who were touched by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Equally, the coming of Jesus in the world should touch each and everyone of our hearts. From us should come forth the living water so it may flow freely towards our brothers and sisters in the love of Christ. As Elizabeth and John the Baptist expressed great joy in the presence of the Lord, we also should be expressing great joy.

On Christmas Eve, some of you will stay up until midnight to commemorate the arrival of Baby Jesus in the world. Others will wait until they rise on Christmas morning. Be it at midnight or in the morning, all should be prepared to rejoice in the coming of the Lord Jesus.

For the fullness of our joy to be complete during the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world, our preparation demands that we receive the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist so the Lord may make His Holy dwelling in our bodily Temples.

To receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in full preparation, we must receive the Sacrament of Confession so, in a state of grace, we will be found worthy in the eyes of God. Then, our joy shall have reached its fullness.

May the joy of the Lord come forth from each and everyone of you during this holy Season. Alleluia!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Image result for fourth sunday of advent

Reading 1

MI 5:1-4A

Thus says the LORD:
You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times.
Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time
when she who is to give birth has borne,
and the rest of his kindred shall return
to the children of Israel.
He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock
by the strength of the LORD,
in the majestic name of the LORD, his God;
and they shall remain, for now his greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.

Responsorial PsalmPS 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

R. (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Reading 2HEB 10:5-10

Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.’“

First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings, 
you neither desired nor delighted in.”
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated 
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

AlleluiaLK 1:38

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 1:39-45

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah, 
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb, 
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 
cried out in a loud voice and said, 
“Blessed are you among women, 
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, 
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, 
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

Prayers for Today

"Lord Jesus, fill me with your Holy Spirit and give me joy in seeking you more earnestly. Increase my faith in all your promises, my hope in the joy of heaven, and my love for You as my All."

Lord, you know the reality of my life and how much I need your grace. I believe that you love me and desire the best for me. I, too, want to respond to your love, and thus, with humility, I ask for your sanctifying grace. As I contemplate the wonders you worked in Mary’s and Elizabeth’s lives, I desire to imitate their attitudes and convictions, so that you will be able to transform my life. 

 Lord, during this time of prayer, I want to enter into a deeper relationship with you. I want to experience your loving presence in the daily activities of my life. As Christmas Day approaches, I want to grow in my love for you. I want to share this love with others by imitating your meekness and humility. Please, do not pass by me this Christmas without granting me at least this grace. Transform this plea, the supplication of this beggar, into the treasure of a benefactor for others. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Isaiah: The Prophet of Christmas

Taken from Catholic Exchange

More than any other, Isaiah is the prophet of Christmas.
Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.
Those are Isaiah’s words and they have become as much a part and parcel of the Christmas story as the three kings of Orient, the inn with no room, and the herald angels singing. Isaiah’s prominence is reflected in the liturgies for Christmas. There are four liturgies for Christmas: the vigil, the night, the dawn, and the day Masses, and Isaiah is the Old Testament reading for all of them. (The Mass readings are listed here.)
Readings from Isaiah will continue to dominate this Christmas season. Isaiah is also very much a prophet of Advent. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness—the memorable epithet of John the Baptist—is taken from Isaiah.
Writing hundreds of years beforehand, just what was it that Isaiah saw? A fleeting glimpse of the truth? A few details from an otherwise impenetrable story?
To the contrary, Isaiah seems to have grasped not only the whole story of Christ—remember that he is also very much the prophet of the Passion—but also its theological and spiritual depths. Among the many texts of Isaiah read during the Advent and Christmas seasons, a number of particular themes about the truth of the Incarnation stand out.
Something wholly new. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? So Isaiah 43:19 declares. Isaiah trembles with excitement at this sense of something wholly new and unexpected. The end of Isaiah 52, which is read for the Christmas day Mass, speaks of nations startled and kings standing speechless. They shall see what has not been told them, shall behold what they never have heard(Jewish Study Bible translation). A whole new world will come into being—one far removed from the trials, strife, and suffering of ours. It will be a world where swords will be beaten into plows and the lion will lay down with the lamb.
Longing of the world. While Isaiah foresaw the coming salvation as something wholly new, it was also something for which the world had been longing. This is especially suggested by recurring images of fresh water being poured out upon or bubbling up from dry desert lands. For example, Isaiah 44:3 prophesies that I will pour out water upon the thirsty ground, streams upon the dry land. Likewise, Isaiah 35:1declares that the desert and the parched land will be glad. And then there’s this inIsaiah 25:9And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited.
Abundant life. Along with images of flooding deserts there are also those that indicate a newness and abundance of life. The virgin will conceive and the barren woman with no children will rejoice at suddenly finding herself to have many. God will make thewilderness rejoice and blossom such that it will become even like a second Eden. Do not these motifs of abundant life call to mind the words of Jesus Himself in John 10:10I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The light of the world. Isaiah is filled with images of light breaking in on the darkness. At the midnight Mass we read the beginning of Isaiah 9The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone. In Isaiah 42:9, this image is combined with the motif of prisoners who are being freed to suggest light that liberates. In order to convey the completely unexpected and miraculous newness of such light, Isaiah 42:16 then discusses this motif in terms of the healing of the blind: I will lead the blind on a way they do not know; by paths they do not know I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them.
From the gospels we know that the light that dispels the darkness of evil and leads us to God is Jesus. He is the light that frees us from our sins and heals our spiritual blindness. Indeed, even Christ describes Himself in John 8:12 as ‘the light of the world.’
Overwhelming joy. In Isaiah 52:8Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy. For they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord’s return to Zion. According toIsaiah 25:9We shall rejoice and be joyful in his salvation. This sense of overwhelming joy pervades Isaiah. The very heavens and earth will break out in joyful song. Even the wildernessthe barren woman, and the ruins of Jerusalem will rejoice.

Season of Giving

As we go through Advent at a whirlwind speed concentrating on getting the correct gifts, going to Christmas parties, getting a tree etc.. With this hectic space we sometimes forget about the less fortunate and giving to them.
 The parish I am going to raises money and gifts for those less fortunate within the parish. The Angel Tree as it is called has little angels on it with age group and sex of person and suggested gift whether it be toiletries like soap, shaving or toys for younger ones or gift certificates for food or even dinners the tree is full. You take the angel and then get the gift and following week put under the tree.
 I was amazed this week at mass at just how many people there are just in this parish who are less fortunate. I dropped off my gift certificate but could hardly get close to the tree with all the gifts under it and all the gift certificates on the branches.
 I had ordered poinsettias through the Knights of Columbus who use this as a fund raiser for their chapter and the parish and was picking them up in the parish center when all the Angel Tree gifts came in and it was like a never ending line of gifts. I was thoroughly impressed and said a little thank you to our Lord for being able to help albeit in a small way for somebody who is in need this Christmas Season and to be at a parish that really cares.
 With this said take the time to help the less fortunate this Christmas Season and help people believe that there are those out there that care about them.
 God Bless

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Today's Homily

My brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to today's celebration of the Holy Mass which commemorates the Third Sunday of Advent.

Today's readings are a continuation of our preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus. This truth can be perceived three different ways. (1) It can represent our commemoration of the incarnation of God on Christmas Day through the birth of Baby Jesus. (2) It can represent our appearing before the Lord at the end of this life. (3) Or it can represent the final coming of the Lord Jesus in full glory with the saints at the end of the world, which ever may come first in our lives.

Today's readings, rich in spiritual food, echo the glory that is associated with the arrival of the Messiah on earth.

The first reading [Zeph. 3:14-8] begins by stating, "Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" Zion or Sion was the mount in the south western part of Jerusalem. Over a period of centuries, the poets and prophets gave Zion a sacred meaning to the extent of, being synonym to Jerusalem, it became known as the sacred capital. Therefore, when the people of Zion are told to rejoice and exult, this is symbolic of rejoicing and exulting in the most Sacred place of Jerusalem.

The first reading continues by saying, "The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies." Embracing a spiritual approach, from this passage we perceive that through the redemption plan of our Lord Jesus, the enemy, sin, has been conquered. Through faith in Jesus and the Sacrament of Baptism that bestows upon us a new heart, a new spirit and the indwelling Holy Spirit, we obtain our first righteousness towards salvation in Jesus Christ. Through the Sacrament of Confession, we obtain ongoing righteousness, to the extent that God will no longer remember our past sins. [Jer. 31:34] Through the atoning Blood of Christ, the Lord God forgives our sins.

Next, we heard, "The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disasters no more." Spiritually speaking, disaster means condemnation because of sin. Now that the Lord is in our midst, spiritually present in us through the indwelling Divine Presence of the Holy Spirit, and physically present with us in the Sacred Tabernacles of the Churches, we no longer have to fear death and eternal punishment. Our Saviour, the Living Bread, is physically present among us. By receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist while in a state of grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are assured our salvation and adoption as children of God.

So why is it that we should not fear or let our hands grow weak? It is because the Lord Jesus, the all powerful King of kings, is in our midst, He who is a Warrior who gives victory.

The Lord Jesus shall rejoice with gladness because He has reclaimed what is rightfully His by establishing His spiritual Kingdom on earth in Jerusalem. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on Pentecost Day in Jerusalem, [Lk. 24:47, 52; Acts 1:4; 2:1-4], the Holy Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, had its beginning. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, believers become new creations [2 Cor. 5:17] that entitles them to become members of the spiritual Kingdom of God on earth. Now, they can worship the Heavenly Father in spirit and truth, such being pleasing to Him. [Jn. 4:24]

Indeed, the Lord Jesus is renewing us in His love. For through His death and glorious Resurrection, we received a new life that springs like flowing water. We have become living stones that shine forth to form a living Temple for God on earth. The Lord exults over us for we are the fruit of His Divine Blood. As precious gems to the Lord, He smoothens the road ahead of us so we may be moved by His Spirit to bloom and become His holy bride, a glorious gift for the Heavenly Father.

During today's Second Reading, [Phil. 4:4-7] we heard, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." Yes, rejoice! For we are the fruits of the Lord's glorious work. Each and everyone of us has been called before creation to become the object of God's Divine Plan. What a joy it is to know that God has counted us among those that He has chosen.

"Let your gentleness be known to everyone." Gentleness is one of the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit. [Gal. 5:23] When others are moved by the gentleness that flows from our humble beings, they are moved by the fruit of the Holy Spirit that flows through us for the glory of God.

"The Lord is near." How near is the Lord? His Spirit dwells within us when we are in a state of grace. He is physically present in the Sacred Tabernacles of the Catholic Churches. He is here and there, within the reach of all! So near is the Lord that during the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we literally touch His physical Body. The Lord is with us! He has made His dwelling among us!

"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Yes, let us worship the Lord God by appealing to Him for our needs with a thanksgiving mind. Having God as our Father, what fear can we possibly have? The fear of death? Physical death only means our freedom from our bodily form so we may worship God in the fullness of our spiritual being. Our fear should not be of those who can kill the body but rather of he who can destroy both, the soul and the body in hell. [Mt. 10:28]

"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus." [Phil. 4:7] Those who enjoy the peace of God know no fear. Surely that surpasses the human understanding of those who fear death. For the Christian who lives his faith in Christ, death is life. Death is a new beginning. Death is a passage from the darkness to the light. Death is letting go of tears and sufferings in exchange for eternal joy and peace. How precious death is to those who have the peace of God. It is as a pearl hidden in a treasure chest, waiting for the day when the Lord will say, "Come to your eternal rest in Me!"

Before finding our eternal rest in the Lord Jesus, we must be sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must embrace holy ways. Today's Gospel Reading [Lk. 3:10-8] teaches us some of the many holy ways that we should be embracing.

If you have two coats, you must share with anyone who has none. With Winter setting in, many of the poor cannot afford a warm coat, they still wearing a Spring or Summer coat. They do not know warmth for they shiver every moment when they step out of their homes. Your generosity can make the difference between they being warm or cold. As Jesus said, what you have done onto them, you have done onto Me. By sharing your coat with anyone who has none, you are sharing your coat with Jesus.

Holiness involves sharing our food with those who have none or very little. Holiness is finding those who are ashamed of their poverty and who will not come forward to ask for food. While it cannot be denied that there are many abusers of our many social agencies that are intended to help those who are really needy, many of the hungry are not registered with these agencies. And what about the children who are starving because their parents are addicted to alcohol or drugs? Do we have a right to say that these children deserve to go hungry because their parents fall short of spiritual wisdom in their human weaknesses? Holiness is not judgmental! It is full of compassion! It reaches out to those in need so it may be accredited to one's favour on Judgment Day.

Holiness embraces honesty. While today's Gospel tells the tax collector to collect no more than the amount prescribed to him, equally it can be said that we should pay no more and no 'less' than what we owe in taxes to our Government.

The list of virtues is endless for those who seek true righteousness. They will always find an area towards which they can improve their holiness so they may become more in the likeness of Christ.

During today's Gospel Reading, John the Baptist said that the One who was coming would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Baptism with the Holy Spirit represents the Sacrament of Confirmation and the receiving of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It means to be sent forth to preach the Gospel to our brothers and sisters. Baptism by fire means to be sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may become holy children of God. Unless we are sanctified, we cannot enter Heaven. For Heaven is the home of those who love, the humble, those who serve, the obedient, those who tell the truth, those who are pure in mind, the gentle, those who share, etc... These are the holy qualities that we should strive for.

John the Baptist ended his words during today's Gospel Reading by saying, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.' Does the Lord consider us as wheat or the chaff? That is the question that we have to answer. That is the question that will make the big difference at His coming. That is the difference that will determine if our presence before the Lord God will be a pleasant one or an unpleasant one.

This week, let us reflect upon these things. Let us ask in our hearts, "Am I ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus?" "Am I ready to commemorate Christmas with a true spirit of holiness?" "Am I ready to appear before the Lord if I was to die tonight?" "Am I ready for the final coming of the Lord in His full glory if He was to come in five minutes from now?"

Accordingly, let each and everyone do what is necessary to be sanctified in Christ sor our face to face meeting with the Lord will be a joyful one.

Third Sunday of Advent

Image result for 3rd sunday of advent

Reading 1ZEP 3:14-18A

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Responsorial PsalmIS 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

R. (6) Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Reading 2PHIL 4:4-7

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding 
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

AlleluiaIS 61:1 (CITED IN LK 4:18)

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 3:10-18

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none. 
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them, 
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion, 
do not falsely accuse anyone, 
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation, 
and all were asking in their hearts 
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying, 
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways, 
he preached good news to the people.

Prayers for Today

"Lord Jesus, let your light burn brightly in my heart that I may know the joy and freedom of your kingdom. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and empower me to witness the truth of your gospel and to point others to the light of Christ." 

As Christmas draws near, I desire to learn more deeply your example of humility by coming among us as an infant. I pray that this season rekindles my sense of hope in your providence. 

Lord, for you, charity is the highest value. You even spoke about it the night before your death. "I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34). Christmas should enkindle charity in my heart. Let me see you in every person I meet today. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Taken from Catholic Online

Our Lady of Guadalupe - Guadalupe, Mexico (1531)
Patroness of the Americas

Feast Day in the USA - December 12th
The opening of the New World brought with it both fortune-seekers and religous preachers desiring to convert the native populations to the Christian faith. One of the converts was a poor Aztec indian named Juan Diego. On one of his trips to the chapel, Juan was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico. Near Tepayac Hill he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself:
"My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
Juan, age 57, and who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary's request. He went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and requested to meet immediatly with the bishop. The bishop's servants, who were suspicious of the rural peasant, kept him waiting for hours. The bishop-elect told Juan that he would consider the request of the Lady and told him he could visit him again if he so desired. Juan was disappointed by the bishop's response and felt himself unworthy to persuade someone as important as a bishop. He returned to the hill where he had first met Mary and found her there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded:
"My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen."
She then told him to return the next day to the bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary, who was again waiting for him there, of the bishop's request. Mary responded:
"My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son."
Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a priest. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the priest. As he was passing, he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke:
"Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under myshadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me."
While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary's instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him:
"My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him."
At the palace, Juan once again came before the bishop and several of his advisors. He told the bishop his story and opened the tilma letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn't the beautiful roses that caused the bishop and his advisors to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her. The next day, after showing the Tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle:
"Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe".
It's believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mis-translation of the local Aztec dialect. The word that Mary probably used was Coatlallope which means "one who treads on snakes"! Within six years of this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. The tilma shows Mary as the God-bearer - she is pregnant with her Divine Son. Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. There was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma and when the bomb exploded, the cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged and the tilma was...untouched! Indeed, no one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.
In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. It can be seen today in a large cathedral built to house up to ten thousand worshipers. It is, by far, the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere.