Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Advent Meditation on Joseph and Mary, December 19th

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A.
December 19th, 2010
Matthew 1:18-24

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.

During the season of Advent we have the opportunity to develop the interior life, the life of prayer. We all ought to be taking time every day, and especially in these final days before Christmas, to meditate upon the events of Christ’s life. The saints will tell us that daily mental prayer is morally necessary for salvation – and they recommend around 20 minutes a day. Unless we are regularly considering the great works which God has done in the past and the ways he has revealed his love for us, we will be unable to trust in his love now in the present and to look forward to his future coming in glory.
And so, whether our Advent has been a particularly good time of prayer and meditation, or whether we have not been as reflective as we had hoped to be, the Church now gives us these final days before Christmas to re-commit ourselves to daily mental prayer.

Perhaps one reason why so many of us struggle with mental prayer and meditation is that we don’t really understand what we are supposed to be doing. What exactly should those twenty minutes be spent on? What is mental prayer?
The two most popular forms of mental prayer and meditation are surely the Rosary and Lectio Divina (prayerfully reading Sacred Scripture) – I would like to focus on the second: how do we make a meditation with the Bible?

Today’s Gospel passage offers us a good opportunity to see how mental prayer should work – we can pierce into the text and try to fill it out a bit, seeking to come to a deeper appreciation of the Holy Family. All the while, during a meditation, we must be primarily concerned to look into what the holy persons present in the Biblical narrative are thinking, feeling, doing and saying. What is Mary thinking? What is Joseph thinking? Moreover, we look to discover something of the love which was in the hearts of Mary and Joseph – this love then inspires us to love God in our turn.
First of all, in order understand the relationship between Mary and Joseph, we need to know something of the historical circumstances of their betrothal and marriage. This can be discerned from a careful reading of the Bible passages.

It seems that, when Joseph and Mary were betrothed, but before they come together, they both thought that their marriage would be a natural union. There is no reason to think that either Joseph or Mary knew what God had in store for them – this is why Mary is so surprised when the angel came with the good news at the Annunciation!
Nevertheless, although Mary and Joseph entered into their betrothal period, believing that their marriage would be a normal and natural one, Mary had a desire deep in her heart to become a consecrated virgin. She desired to be a virgin, but she also knew that she was supposed to marry St. Joseph – and so she really didn’t know what to think. But she trusted in God and she also trusted in Joseph, she knew that all would come to pass for the good.

After their betrothal, Mary revealed to St. Joseph that she had a desire to become a consecrated virgin – and you can imagine that this must have been something of a surprise to Joseph! But he was a good man and a just man; and, what is more, he loved and respected Mary very much, and so he took the matter to prayer. Ultimately, Joseph agreed and the two of them together vowed virginity, promising to live as brother and sister in their married life.
But how do we know that Mary was a consecrated virgin? Think of what she said to the angel – Gabriel told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son, but Mary was terribly confused. Why was she confused? She was troubled because she had just made the vow of virginity (together with Joseph) and she knew that virgins don’t ordinarily conceive and give birth to children. If she had not vowed virginity, Mary would have presumed that the child would be the son of Joseph; but it is because she was a virgin and intended to remain a virgin that Mary said to the angel, “How can this be? Since I do not know man.”

Mary then told St. Joseph that she was with child, but she did not explain to him the full circumstances of the conception – she did not tell Joseph about the angel and the Holy Spirit. And why not? Mary remained silent because she was very humble and she did not want to speak more about the divine mysteries than was necessary. Moreover, Mary trusted in St. Joseph, she loved him and she knew that he loved her. She trusted that Joseph, being a just man, would not make a rash decision, that he would not come to a false conclusion, but that he would wait and pray and see what the Lord had to tell him.
Additionally, we see the great faith which Mary had in God – she trusted that God would reveal all things in the proper time, she knew that he would reveal the truth to Joseph in a manner most fitting and most holy.

But what did St. Joseph think? Understandably, he was very confused. On the one hand, he knew his wife was a consecrated virgin, and he knew that she was very holy. Think about it: Joseph had known Mary for many years and he had never seen her commit even the least venial sin! Every time he saw her, everything he knew about Mary told him that she was holy, a woman of great prayer and great faith. And, what is more, Joseph loved Mary, he trusted her, his heart was exceedingly tender towards her – she was his great joy in this life.
But, on the other hand, Mary was now with child – and Joseph didn’t know what to think. I do not say that he doubted the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I do not say that he suspected her of sin; I only say that Joseph was torn, that he was confused, and that his faith in God was proved in that he did not act rashly, but trusted in God and took the matter to prayer.

It was at this moment, during this time of trial and confusion, that the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and revealed the truth. Think of the faith which Joseph had – he believes in a dream! He is willing to stake his whole life, his reputation, everything all on a revelation given in a dream – what faith, and what love!
How tenderly Joseph received Mary into his home – and love filled his heart all the more, as he considered the Christ Child already present in the womb of the Virgin. How Joseph loved Mary and Jesus! How tenderly he watched over them as a father and lord.

Now we have seen what was in the hearts and minds of Joseph and Mary, the next stage would be to consider what love moved the Holy Trinity, as almighty God watched over the couple and guided Joseph and Mary through every difficulty. Finally, we would then consider the heart of Jesus; even in the womb, Jesus already knew and loved each and every one of us. How he loved  his foster father Joseph. How he loved his Mother Mary. Even in those quite months, as he waited to come forth from the most pure womb of the Virgin and to be revealed to the world, Jesus was interceding in our behalf and meriting our salvation.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do you want to be more joyful?

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A.
December 12th, 2010
Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again rejoice! The Lord is near.

Recently, I had the opportunity to go Christmas caroling with the children from our parish grade school. And, before the kids went out to sing in the various places around the city, the teachers had to remind them to smile. Children, of course, can get a little nervous when in front of a crowd, and so it was necessary for the teachers to remind them to be joyful when singing their Christmas songs.
There is indeed something about Christmas carols which requires that we rejoice as we sing them. There is something about the very nature of Christmas which demands joy.

Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete simply means “rejoice”. The Church tells us to be joyful in the Lord; and it is not a recommendation, it is a command The Faith demands that we Christians be joyful, that we truly do rejoice in the Lord.
But what is this joy which the faith requires? Is it, perhaps, a passing emotion? No, of course not. The joy of which we speak is the spiritual and supernatural joy the soul takes in the Lord when she is in the state of grace. Joy is an effect of the theological virtue of charity – it is as stable in the soul as the state of grace.
In fact, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; that is, it is the activity of the Holy Spirit working in and through us! This is why the Church can demand that we be joyful – true joy is always present in the soul which is united to the Holy Spirit through grace.

Precisely because spiritual joy is not a passing emotion, the saints could be joyful even in the midst of terrible hardship and persecution. We can consider how many of the martyrs rejoiced even as they were tortured and killed.
Consider the saint presented to us in today’s Gospel: St. John the Baptist. John lived a very austere and difficult life. He was out in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey. He was not dressed in fine clothes, but in camels hair. John’s life was certainly not easy and he did not have hardly any material comforts – and yet he rejoiced to see the day of the Lord and to point out the Messiah when he came. Moreover, even at the end of his life, when, due to the malice of Herod, John awaited his martyrdom; he was nevertheless joyful and looked for consolation not in the things of this life, but in the Lord.
This is the lesson to be learned from John – if we desire to be truly joyful, we must not be like a reed swayed in the wind, we must not be tossed about by our passions and our worldly cares, we must not look for consolation in the base realities of this life; rather, we must be rooted in the Lord and find all our joy in him.

And so, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves: Am I as joyful as I would like to be? Am I as joyful as I should be? Let us be honest, why do we lack the joy which Christ desires for us?
Now I know that we are all very busy and there are many demands pressing in on every side. Perhaps even we might feel stretched too thin, exhausted. We might think that we are not has happy and joyful as we should be because there are just too many demands that we have to live up to.
My brothers and sisters, it is a lie. There is only one reason why you are not joyful – you sin too often and you pray too little. Only one thing can rob us of spiritual joy, and that is sin. For only sin can take away divine grace.

It is time to stop making all these excuses. Yes, it may be true, perhaps life is hard and demands too much. But the proper response to this is to seek our consolation in Christ. If we do not take our delight in Christ through daily meditation, we will begin to seek joy in all the wrong places. The Lord says, “I know you are tired, I know that life is burdensome to you; then leave the world, even if for just a moment. Come to me and rest a while in prayer. Enter my Sacred Heart and find your true peace, your true joy.”

Advent is a time to be free of all those sins which bind us. Now is the time to begin anew the life of grace, to strive for virtue with greater zeal than before.
Consider the love which Christ our God showed us in becoming a child to save us. May his second coming be for us the fulfillment of all joy.

Advent Confession, Sermon of December 5th

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A.
December 5th, 2010.
Matthew 3:1-12

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Advent is confession for the communion of Christmas. Advent is confession for Christmas’ communion.
What does this phrase really mean? Well, let’s be straightforward – it means that each and every person in the parish who has reached the age of reason should go to confession at least one time during the season of Advent. All of us should go to confession at least once during Advent, in order to be well prepared to receive Christ more fully this Christmas.

Advent is a sort of confession, in preparation for the communion with Christ which we must more deeply enter into at Christmas. It is for this reason that St. John the Baptist tells us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Notice, fist John challenges us, then he gives us a word of encouragement.
First, John says, “Repent.” This is the challenge – it is the call to turn away from sin, to rid ourselves of all the worldly attachment which plague us. But then he continues, “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Here is the encouragement – this is the time of grace, this is the time for conversion, the Lord will help you, do not be discouraged.

Advent is confession for Christmas’ communion. Advent is that time to be free from those same old sins which weigh us down. Advent is the time to consider that the Lord is coming, grace is here; let us use this grace well.
In order to understand more fully how Advent is like confession and Christmas like communion, it is necessary to consider the relation between these two sacraments.

How is confession related to communion?
Obviously, confession is given as that means of healing and forgiveness so that we can enter into communion more deeply and with greater fruitfulness. Confession is a means of preparing the way of the Lord, readying our hearts for the reception Christ’s sacramental presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
Sometimes, confession is necessary before communion – whenever we have committed a mortal sin, it is necessary to first go to confession before coming to receive communion; forgiveness is needed before we are prepared to enter into union with our Lord.
Here it is good to mention that intentionally skipping Mass on Sunday, without a serious reason, is a mortal sin – if we have skipped Mass on a Sunday or a holy day of obligation, we must first receive the Lord’s forgiveness through confession before we receive him sacramentally in communion. Moreover, it must be mentioned that December 8th is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is a holy day of obligation.  If we are planning on skipping Mass this coming Wednesday (December 8th), then we cannot come to communion today – we must be honest with God, we must never receive communion when we are separated from Christ through serious sin.

However, to return to confession and communion and the relation to Advent – we must heed the call of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” What we cannot do, what would be utterly disastrous for our spiritual lives, would be to think that we really have no need of repentance. This alone will destroy our life with Christ, if we say, “Oh, I am basically a pretty good person.” No! We are sinners, and we stand in great need of a Savior!
This is what led John the Baptist to treat the Pharisees so harshly – he called them a “brood of vipers” because they considered themselves to be basically good people who didn’t really need to repent. The Pharisees thought that they really had no great need of a Savior, because they didn’t think that they were really sinners. And, it is true, if we deny our sin, then we deny our Redeemer.

This Advent we ask the Lord to purify us of this Pharisaic tendency to deny our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is the Pharisee who says that he doesn’t really need to go to confession. It is the Pharisee who says that he really doesn’t have any sins to confess.
We, however, must know our sinfulness and our need for God’s grace. It would be good for each of us to get in the habit of making a more regular confession, since this helps us to be ever more conscious of our faults and of God’s love and mercy. Those who come to Mass every Sunday, should go to confession at least every other month. For those who attend daily Mass, we ought to confess at least once a month. These two sacraments work together – confession and communion. They are meant to be received together, and together they will bring us happily to life everlasting.