They say that some people see the world through rose colored glasses. They always look on the bright side of things and see the positives in people and events, sometimes to the point of blinding themselves to the very real dark sides of things. There are other people that, we might say, can’t be happy unless they have something to complain about. They always find the negatives in things and often can’t see the positives. Neither of these has anything to do with hope or despair. Hope, as Christians understand it, is the infused virtue by which we have absolute certainly that God will give us everything we need to reach eternal life.
Hope is infused within us. It doesn’t come just from ourselves; it is a gift of God. However, it’s also a virtue that we build up over time by living in the hope of eternal life and keeping our eyes on heaven. It’s like making tea. If you put the tea leaves in cold water, you’ll just get soggy tea leaves. The water has to be heated so it can be infused with the flavors of the tea leaves. It takes work on our part to make ourselves ready to accept the gift of God’s grace, but it doesn’t matter how hot you get the water if you don’t have tea leaves.
Hope is in the middle between two extremes: despair and presumption. Despair is the lack of confidence in God. It’s when we think we can’t possibly be saved, and so we stop trying. Despair is not depression. Depression is an emotional disorder that saps our energy and motivation; it isn’t a sin but a condition that we should seek treatment for. Despair is a choice not to seek the things of God, because we don’t believe that salvation is possible for us.
The other extreme is presumption, which causes us to assume that we’ll be saved regardless of what we do. When we presume on God’s mercy we may fail to do everything we can to overcome our sins and grow in virtue, because we don’t think we have to do anything to prepare ourselves to receive God’s grace.
To grow in hope, I have to remind myself that everything is within God’s providence. When we look back from heaven, God willing, we’ll be amazed to see how God was present and working in every moment of our lives, and we’ll be amazed at how often we failed to see Him, even though He was always with us. Every day, we should put ourselves into God’s hands, but not passively as if we’re waiting for Him to do all of the work. Were the saints passive? No, they were actively listening to where the Holy Spirit was leading and looking for opportunities to do God’s will in the world. The virtue of hope gives us the confidence in faith to know that God is with us and to boldly follow after Him.
With the spread of the coronavirus into Louisiana, people are beginning to prepare for the possibility of becoming sick. As of when I’m writing this, there are 33 confirmed cases in Louisiana, including 23 in Orleans Parish, 3 in Jefferson, and 1 in St. Bernard. Last week, when I went to get a refill for the hand sanitizer at the entrance of Church, I found out that the Walmart, Dollar General, and Walgreens in Meraux were all sold out. People, like my dad, are stocking up on water, non-perishable food, and medicines, in case they have to quarantine themselves.
Some people have also asked if I think this is a punishment for our sins. God doesn’t punish us in that way; He doesn’t send plagues or natural disasters in punishment for our sins. Suffering came into the world as a result of Original Sin and is a sign of the disorder caused by sin, and we look forward to a time when all of creation will be restored in Christ. However, Jesus taught us that any particular suffering or tribulation can’t be attributed to our sins. In the Gospel of Luke we read, “At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’” (Lk. 13:1-3) Jesus calls on us to repent of our sins, not because we’ll suffer in this life because of them, but so we can enter into eternal life.
I would like to encourage everyone to reach out in compassion. First, pray for medical personnel, especially those working directly with coronavirus patient. Even if they take precautions they’re still risking contracting it to take care of their patients, and that’s a heroic thing. Take precautions by keeping a certain distance, but also reach out to family and neighbors who are homebound or don’t have anyone else to reach out to for help. We can help by offering to pick up medicines or make grocery runs for them. Call the Church if there’s any specific needs that we can help with. Most importantly, pray daily through the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor that we may have the immediate help of God through healing for the sick and protection against illness for everyone.
This Sunday is the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides, or middle, of March. Caesar was one of the most influential people who have ever lived. His death prepared the way for his nephew and heir, Octavius, better known as Caesar Augustus, to completely dominate Roman politics and become the defacto emperor, although the word emperor didn’t mean what it means today. The Imperator was the commander of the Roman Legions, not the head of the government. The heirs of Julius Caesar simply took the name “Caesar” as a title. The name “Caesar” became a title that meant the same thing the word emperor means. Many kings and emperors would take titles derived from Caesar’s name, like the Kaisers in Germany and the Czars, or Tsars, in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia.
During his life Julius Caesar proved to be an adept politician and was loved by almost everyone. The people loved him because of the social programs he started and the lavish games and festivals he put on. The soldiers loved him because he brought them victory in battle and wealth. The aristocrats and senators, on the other hand, didn’t like him. As he gathered more and more power they became more and more afraid that he would try to make himself a king. Their concerns seemed to be confirmed as he began to wear a purple cloak, a color usually reserved to kings, and had a statue of himself paraded around in procession with the statues of the gods. So on March 15, 44 B.C., 60 senators lured Julius Caesar to the senate and stabbed him 23 times. Far from freeing Rome to return to a republican government, the death of Caesar lead to 13 years of devastating civil war and the end of the Roman Republic for good. After his death, Julius Caesar would be declared, by the Senate of all people, to be a god. If you go to Rome today, you can visit the remains of an altar where the Romans used to offer sacrifices to Julius Caesar, and people still leave flowers there to this day.
About 75 years later, around 30 A.D., the Romans would kill another man claiming to be a God-king, Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t try to ingratiate Himself to the people with flattering words and a showy spectacle; He told them the truth and challenged them to live it out. He didn’t seize power by gaining the support of the army; He allowed Himself to be lead to the foot of the Cross and crucified, and He told His disciple, St. Peter, to put down his sword. He didn’t try to seize power for Himself. Instead, “though He was in the form of God, (He) did not consider equality with God something to be seized. Instead, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and accepting the state of a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
One of these sought, and achieved, worldly power and fame on a level few have ever matched, and the other was truly the center of the universe and yet came to be among us and to die for our salvation. May we follow the example of the true Lord and King, Jesus Christ, who teaches us, “Do not choose to store up for yourselves treasures on earth: where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also is your heart” (Mt. 6:19-21).
Ss. Perpetua and Felicity were from Carthage and were martyred with their companions in the year 203 AD, under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus Augustus. St. Perpetua was only 22 years old when she was arrested. Her mother was Christian and her father pagan, but she decided to follow her mother and converted to Christianity. She was also a mother herself and had an infant son. She was arrested with 4 other catechumens, Ss. Felicity, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and their teacher Saturus. They were baptized before being taken to prison. St. Felicity was a slave, and was 8 months pregnant at the time of her arrest. She gave birth just days before her martyrdom, and her child, a girl, was adopted by one of the Christian women in Carthage.
Secundulus died in prison, but the others were eventually tried and, when they refused to deny their Christianity, were sentenced to die in the arena by being thrown to wild animals. Saturus, Revocatus, and Saturninus were thrown to bears, leopards, and wild boars. Perpetua and Felicity were thrown to a rabid heifer, but survived the attack. They were then taken into the center of the arena and exchanged the kiss of peace, as at Mass, before being executed.
After she converted her father tried to convince her to renounce her Christianity, and she recorded the conversation, “When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
St. Felicity likewise showed incredible faith and courage in her imprisonment and martyrdom. When she went into labor in prison, the guards made fun of her, asking how she would stand the suffering in the arena if she couldn’t stand the pain of childbirth. She responded, “Now I’m the one who is suffering, but in the arena, another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him.”
We share with them the name of Christian; may we share their faith and love for God and their courage in professing it.
When we do something often, like driving, we become more and more familiar with it. This is one of the reasons that new drivers get in more accidents than experienced drivers. New drivers have to pay more attention to what they’re doing because experienced drivers have trained themselves to do these things almost automatically. It reaches a point where we become so familiar with something that we actually stop paying attention to it; like when you miss your turn because the route your taking is so familiar that you automatically start driving home instead of where you meant to go. Food can be like that, too, and music, and even relationships with other people. We become so familiar with them that we’re not really paying attention to them, because we think we know them already.
Religion, our relationship with God, is the same. The more familiar we become with Mass, prayer, and the faith, the more depths we see in it, but if we’re not careful we might stop paying real attention to God. Lent is a time to remind ourselves to pay attention. We do this by rededicating ourselves to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Through fasting we step back from the good things of this world and deny our passions. Fasting shows that we love God more than the good things that He gives us and allows us to focus on God Himself without distractions. We then turn to prayer to grow closer to the Lord, especially by meditating on the Passion and Crucifixion of the Lord. Prayer and Fasting should lead us to almsgiving and acts of charity to stir up our love for God and neighbor.
The key to having a good Lent, to really renewing our spiritual lives and relationship with God, is the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. The prayer and fasting of Lent ought to remind us of how our sins have damaged our relationship with God. Through confession our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with the Lord, and in the Eucharist we encounter God Himself. Our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving should be inspired by the sacraments and lead us back to the sacraments.
Every once in a while I like to recommend a book, website, app, or movie, because there’s so much out there now that it can be hard to separate the good from the bad. Today, I want to recommend that you look at the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft. He’s a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has published 95 books, and has given many talks, speeches, and lectures on philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality.
I first encountered Dr. Kreeft when he book, The Summa of the Summa, was assigned in one of my classes in seminary. That’s probably his most well-known book, but he’s also written, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Christianity for Modern Pagans, Fundamentals of the Faith, and Forty Reasons I am a Catholic. His books are good, but I really want to recommend his website, which has sections on Featured Writing and Featured Audio, including payed and free recordings of talks that he’s given at various conferences and events.
Most of all, I want to recommend his talk on “Pro-Life Philosophy” in which he gives the philosophical case against abortion. It’s a very good talk which can help us to defend our pro-life position in a rational way against the arguments of the pro-choice movement. The talk is free on Dr. Kreeft’s website under Featured Audio – More.
This Sunday, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, marks the end of the 40 days of Christmas and is the last feast of the baby Jesus before the beginning of Lent. Our readings today describe the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time, in which the child Jesus is redeemed by presenting or offering Him to God in the Temple and making an offering of five shekels (coins). This was done in remembrance of the Passover, when God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and struck only the houses of the Egyptians, taking the first born sons, which lead to the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt. After that, all Jews present their first born sons to God in thanks for their freedom and the lives of their children.
Today is also a feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because the Holy Family weren’t at the Temple only for Jesus, but for her as well. The old Testament prescribes that a woman will be ritually unclean for 40 days after giving birth because of the blood that is shed in childbirth. Any shedding of blood causes ritual uncleanness, meaning that you are not allowed to worship in the Temple. After the 40 days they were able to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice of 2 turtledoves or pigeons for Mary’s purification. Ritual uncleanness was not considered sinfulness or guilt; in fact, touching a dead body caused ritual uncleanness, and yet burying the dead was considered to be an act of mercy. These things make someone unclean because they both have to do with life and death, but God is the source of true life (Lv 17:11).
Traditionally, this is celebrated as Candlemas, because Jesus is the light of the world. Today, Jesus entered the Temple, the House of God, for the first time, showing everyone that the light had entered the world. In Churches we still place candles where God is present: around the Tabernacle, around the altar, and at the ambo when the Gospel is being read. In the same way, we begin the Easter Vigil in darkness, because Christ was crucified on Good Friday and the light of God entered the realm of the dead. The first light to reenter Church on Holy Saturday evening is the Paschal Candle, of the Easter Candle, which represents Jesus, and as the candle is brought up the isle the deacon intones, “The Light of Christ,” and everyone responds, “Thanks be to God,” for the light had reentered with world with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. At Candlemas we’ll bless the candles that will be used in Church in the coming months, because a Savior has been born for us and He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).
We’ve recently started offering Mass in Latin here at Our Lady of Lourdes for our monthly First Saturday Mass, which is at 8:00 AM. This is the normal, Novus Ordo, or New Rite, Mass from after Vatican II. It uses the same readings and follows the same calendar as the ordinary Mass the we celebrate; in fact, the readings and homily are also in English. If you want to experience Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as it was celebrated before Vatican II (and I think every Catholic should at least once), it’s celebrated every Sunday at St. Patrick’s Church in New Orleans at 9:15 on Sundays, 7:15 AM on weekdays, and 8 AM on Saturdays. The difference is that all of the prayers are in Latin, and you’ll have Latin and English translations of the prayers side by side to help you follow along. In some ways, it’s just like going to Mass in Spanish or Vietnamese, because you’ll still recognize everything, you just might not understand the language. Since people have asked, this Mass doesn’t count for your Sunday obligation. You can fulfill your Sunday obligation at any Mass on Sunday or after 4:00 PM on Saturday. So, why offer this to the parish?
I celebrated the Mass in Latin regularly at Visitation of Our Lady and Divine Mercy Catholic Churches, and I found out that some people were under the impression that the Church had done away with Latin in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. However, Vatican II actually said, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 2. But since the use of the mother tongue… frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down in subsequent chapters” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 36). So, they wanted to allow Mass in the languages of the people while still retaining some Latin. Imagine if every Catholic could still pray at least the Our Father in Latin, then you could pray with a Catholic from anywhere in the world, even if you don’t speak one another’s languages.
Second, in the Roman Churches the Mass has been celebrated in Latin since at least the 4th century. It’s true that there have been changes and developments to the Mass over the centuries, but they kept using Latin. This means that most of the saints celebrated or attended Mass in Latin. This is part of the life of the Church, part of our heritage, and part of history. If you feel like you’re stepping back in time, then that’s a good things. The Mass doesn’t belong to you or me, it’s an inheritance of the entire Church, and when we celebrate Mass we should see that this isn’t an ordinary, normal thing, but that we’re entering the Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin helps us to see that we don’t fully comprehend everything that’s going on, but that we have to really make an effort to enter into it more fully. This is true of every Mass, no matter what language it’s celebrated in, but we tend to see it more easily when we don’t understand every word that’s being said.
We refer to the teaching office of the Church, or the Magisterium, as the authority that Jesus Christ gave the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals. That is, the Church speaks in the name of Christ when the bishops, in union with the pope, teach about the faith or about morality. One of the ways that the popes have of using this teaching office is the Apostolic Exhortation. It ranks third in papal documents after the Papal Encyclical, letter addressed to the bishops on a particular Church teaching, and Apostolic Constitution, on Church governance. An Apostolic Exhortation is written to all the members of the Church and is meant to guide them in a particular area of the faith.
In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an exhortation on “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” called Familiaris Consortio. In his own words, Pope St. John Paul II wrote this exhortation because, “the Church wishes to speak and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives.” In part one, the Pope talked about the hopeful signs and challenges facing the family. Among the hopeful signs, he includes greater personal freedom, more attention to the quality of relationships, the promotion of the dignity of women, advances in education, etc. Among the challenges he mentions, among other things, the difficulty in transmitting fundamental values to younger generations, the growing number of divorces, and the scourge of abortion.
The second part is called, “The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family.” This is a very beautiful explanation on God’s plan for the family going all the way back to the account of the creation of the world in Genesis and the first marriage, of Adam and Eve, and tracing the Biblical teaching on marriage to the teaching of Jesus. The third part is on “The Role of the Christian Family,” and is significantly longer the part two. He divides it into four sections: forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church.
Although the entire document is more of a small book, the part on God’s plan for marriage is only a few pages long, and is well worth reading, even if you don’t read any of the rest of it. In fact, I always have the couples that I prepare for marriage read that section. Sometimes people need to read it several times to make sense of it, because Pope St. John Paul II packs a lot of meaning into those few pages, but it’s worth the effort. I’ll include a link to a free English translation of it when I post this to the Pastor’s Blog on our website, www.olol-church.com.
I think of two different experiences when I think of Christmas. One of them is how my family celebrated Christmas. I remember setting up the Christmas tree every year on my mom’s birthday, December 9, untangling the lights with Uncle Robert, and how every ornament was unique. I remember attending Nanny’s family Christmas party on Christmas Eve, playing with Big Mac boxes to see who could stack them the highest, and seeing Christmas carols. I remember waking up on Christmas morning to open presents, going to the noon Mass at St. Clement of Rome, and having Christmas dinner with Aunt Pat, Uncle Paul, and my cousins at my house because we had the biggest dining room.
On the other hand, I think of my Christmases since I’ve been a priest. I think of all the Christmas parties for the different Church ministries, the PSR Advent Program, and setting up decorations in the Church. Mainly, though, I focus on helping people prepare spiritually for Christmas. Christmas has become such a huge thing in American culture that it’s easy to overlook the religious significance of the day as the turning point of human history. There’s a reason why the calendar changes from B.C. to A.D., or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) to C.E. (Common Era) at the birth of Christ. Some scholars have switched from using B.C. and A.D. to B.C.E. and C.E. either to keep from offending non-Christians or to deny the importance of Christ, but we don’t number the year from the ascension of Augustus Caesar to Emperor of Rome, or from some major military battle or great invention, or from anyone else’s birth. When Jesus Christ was born, salvation came into the world and the Kingdom of God (not Caesar or Rome) was inaugurated. The promise that was given in the birth of Jesus Christ was fulfilled in His Resurrection. That’s why celebrating Mass on Christmas is one of the most meaningful moments in my priesthood. On the day that Jesus Christ came into the world in the flesh, I am privileged to make Jesus Christ present on the altar, body and blood, soul and divinity.
12 days after Christmas, on January 6, we celebrate the Epiphany (although the celebration is moved to the nearest Sunday, January 5 this year). The Epiphany is the celebration of the “Light of Christ” coming into the world and spreading to every land and people. May we never forget that Christ is our light, that we cannot truly see unless we have His light in our lives, and that He is calling on us to spread His light through acts of faith, hope, and love.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.