Friday, September 14 was the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Saturday, September 15, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. For most of the first 300 years of its existence, the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, among others, but that all ended in the year 313 AD with the Edict of Milan. The newly named Roman Emperor attributed his victory over his competitor to the help of Jesus Christ and legalized the practice of Christianity.
Historians disagree about the genuineness of Emperor Constantine’s faith, but few doubt the faith of his mother, St. Helena. St. Helena was the one who journeyed to the Holy Land to build Churches over the holy sites, such as the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the site of the crucifixion. She recovered the relics of the true Cross from where it had been hidden and it was venerated in Jerusalem for over 300 years. In the 600s AD, when the Cross was taken from its place by the Persians, Emperor Heraclius recovered the Cross and had it brought to Rome. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross was established to commemorate that event.
The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows follows the next day because Our Blessed Mother was united to Christ in His life on earth, in His sufferings on the Cross, and is now with Him in heaven. These two feast days teach us the lesson of the Cross. This is a lesson of faith, hope, and charity. We must have faith because everyone suffers in this life. There is no way to completely avoid suffering. We must try to imitate the faith of Mary and unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ. In that way we are lifted up with Him, so that, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us” (Rm 8:18). Faith leads to hope, because we know that Christ overcame the sufferings of the Cross in His Resurrection on the third day, and, “if we be dead with Him, we shall also rise with Him” (2 Tim 2:11).
Faith and Hope lead to charity, because we know that Christ died for us, and, as He said to His apostles after He washed their feet, “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also” (Jn 13:15). As Christ had compassion on us and came to free us from sin and death, so let us have compassion on one another and try to relieve their suffering.
Next Week: Family Day
The Second Vatican Council, held in Rome from 1962 to 1965, the Church called for all Catholics, not just priests and religious, to active participation at mass. This wasn’t a new thing, but the result of a liturgical movement stretching back about 100 years before Vatican II. It was this movement that encouraged people to be more engaged with the Mass. They encouraged music in the Mass that people could sing, which resulted in a renewal of Gregorian Chant, which is easy enough that most people can sing along with it, beautiful enough to lift our hearts and souls to God, and has a long history in the Church. Often, in the old form of the Mass, many people would pray their rosary or other prayers while the Mass was going on, the Liturgical Movement encouraged people to follow along with the prayers of the Mass by buying Daily Missals, which have all the prayers and readings of the Mass. That’s why most church’s today have missalettes in the pews.
When Vatican II called for active participation in the Mass, this is the history they were thinking of. The bishops at the Council had all been brought up in this movement. They saw that many people were taking the Mass for granted and thought the solution was to be more actively engaged in the Mass. So, while it’s very good, and a big help, for people to be involved in the Mass by doing the readings, being an altar server, usher, or member of the choir, or helping distribute Communion, even people who aren’t doing that can actively participate by engaging their mind, heart, and soul.
So, I want to encourage everyone to pay attention to the readings, listen to the homily, and pray along with the prayers of the Mass. Just like the priest offers the Mass for a specific intention, every time you go to Mass you can offer that Mass for a specific intention. After Mass, spend a moment in prayer thanking God for the Mass and thinking about one think that God wants you to take home with you. Don’t be upset or surprised if you get distracted in Mass, it happens to everyone. Just gently turn your attention back to the Lord. Every time you do you’re telling Jesus that you’d rather spend time with Him than think about whatever was distracting you. The problem isn’t when you’re distracted 100 times during Mass, it’s when you’re distracted once and it lasts the entire time.
Next Week: Exaltation of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows
RCIA stands for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and it’s the program through we the Church uses to bring converts into the Church. The RCIA is a formation program, not just an education program. There are three periods leading up to baptism and acceptance into the Church at Easter; they are the Period of Inquiry, the Catechumenate, and the Period of Purification and Enlightenment.
It begins with the period of inquiry, where the potential convert is getting information about the faith and the Church, asking questions, and deciding whether they want to continue with the formation process. This ends with the Rite of Acceptance where those who have decided to continue state their intention and the Church accepts them as a Catechumen. A catechumen is a student, so this period includes more instruction in the faith, going deeper into the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition, developing habits of prayer, and beginning to practice the faith.
The Catechumenate ends with the Rite of Election at the beginning of Lent, where the catechumens are chosen by the Church to become Catholics at Easter. During Lent, the Catechumens begin their final preparations to receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation at Easter and to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time.
This whole process is based on the way that ancient Christians welcomed new members into the Church and prepared them to receive their sacraments. When we are baptized and confirmed, as in all of the Sacraments, we accept the responsibility of living as a child of God and practicing the faith in our lives. We don’t want to just throw people into the deep end; we want to prepare them to thrive in their new lives as followers of Christ and to continue to grow closer to Him for the rest of their lives, so they can join Him forever in heaven.
We are getting ready to begin a new group in the RCIA in September. If you are interested in converting to Catholicism or if you are a Catholic who still needs to make their Confirmation contact the office for more information. If you know someone who fits these categories, please give them this article and let them know that they are welcome to join us.
Next Week: Participation at Mass
Next Wednesday is the Assumption of Mary, when we celebrate the fact that God brought Mary into heaven body and soul, meaning that there are only two people in heaven in their bodies, Mary and Jesus. Normally, death means that our soul leaves our bodies. At the moment of death, we are personally judged by God and go to our final reward, heaven, hell, or purgatory. At the end of time, when Jesus comes again, we will all be reunited with our bodies and then there will be the general judgement which is spoken of in Matthew 25 with the separation of the sheep from the goats.
It’s hard for a lot of people to believe that the Blessed Virgin was actually, in fact, brought into heaven body and soul. Most people think of it as simple religious piety or as a myth made up by the Church. However, the apparitions of Mary and the miracles that accompany them throughout the centuries have shown that the Church’s teachings on Mary are true. For example the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in 1531 and the miraculous image left on the tilma (St. Juan Diego’s cloak), which no science can explain. Also, the apparition of Mary to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858 and the miraculous healings at the spring there. Then, the apparition of Mary in Fatima in 1917 to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta and the miracle of the sun that happened there and was seen by tens of thousands of people.
The assumption of Mary is a sign of hope to us that we, too, can go where she’s gone. It’s easy to believe that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven, because He’s God, but think about what that means. It means that there’s a human being sitting at the right hand of God on the throne of glory. In Christ, humanity is fully united to God, and the Blessed Mother shows us what that means for us. If Mary was brought into heaven, then we can also be brought into heaven, body and soul, if we follow her advice. She tells us the same thing she told the waiters at the wedding feast at Cana, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you” (John 2:5).
Next Week: Parish School of Religion
Fr. Bryan Recommends
Daughter Zion by Pope Benedict XVI
Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Munich in Germany in 1951. In 1977 he would become the Cardinal Archbishop of that diocese, but he would only stay in that post for four years. In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as head, or Prefect, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. His job as Prefect of the CDF was to promote and defend the teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. As Prefect, he would work closely with Pope St. John Paul II on numerous projects, such as putting together the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger retired from this post on April 2, 2005, only to be elected Pope himself 17 days later. He took the name Benedict XVI.
As a renowned theologian and biblical scholar, he wrote many books and articles. One of my favorites, however, is Daughter Zion, which is about Mary, the Mother of God, and the Church’s teachings about the Blessed Virgin. He explains how Mary is both Virgin and Mother, how she was kept free from original sin, and how she was assumed bodily into heaven using passages from the Bible and the great teachers in the history of the Church, and he does it in a way that is easy to follow but will give everyone who reads it something to think about.
It may be a good time to read up on Mary, since we’re getting close to the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15.
Next Week: To be decided.
Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalen, who was one of the disciples of the Lord during His life and the first person to announce His Resurrection. Everything that we know about her for sure comes from the Bible. We know that she was a friend and follower of Jesus. In her love for Jesus, she anointed his feet with oil and washed them with her hair (John 12). We also know that Jesus exorcised 7 demons from her.
Aside from this, St. Mary Magdalen is one of the most controversial saints there is, not because of anything she did, but because of what has been said about her by others. First, many people are under the impression that St. Mary Magdalen was a prostitute before she became a follower of Jesus. This is probably because of a misinterpretation of the Bible, but there isn’t actually any evidence that she was a prostitute.
Second, there are 2 different cities that claim to have the remains of St. Mary Magdelen. The Greek Church claims that St. Mary Magdalen went with St. John and Mary the Mother of Jesus to Ephesus, where she lived until her death. Her body was moved to Constantinople (now called Istanbul) in 866. The French claim that she went with Lazarus and several others to Marseilles, France, where she became a hermit until her death. These remains were moved around several times and are now at La Sainte-Baume. It’s probably impossible to tell which story is true, but we do know that having the relics of a popular saint like Mary Magdalen brings in a lot of tourists and pilgrims, both in the Middle Ages and now, and can bring a lot of prestige and wealth to the city where they’re kept.
Finally, a line of French kings, called the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled France from about 450 to 750 A.D., claimed to be descended from Jesus Christ himself. They claimed that St. Mary Magdalen was Jesus’ wife and that she was pregnant when Jesus was crucified. They claim that she travelled to France after He ascended to heaven, and that they are descendants of that child. First, there is no evidence that this is anything other than a lie that they told to increase their own importance. Second, if this is true, then they’re claiming that Jesus is basically a deadbeat dad who abandoned his wife and child, which is clearly ridiculous. Finally, we know from the testimony and writings of the earliest Christians, people who actually knew Jesus personally, that Jesus was never married and practiced celibacy throughout His life. You may remember this idea from Dan Brown’s fictional novel, The Davinci Code, or the movie based on it.
Despite these controversies, St. Mary Magdalen herself can be a huge help to people spiritually. She’s the patron saint against sexual temptation, of drug stores and pharmacists, contemplatives, converts, women, people ridiculed for their piety, and of the diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, among many others. She was one of the few followers of Jesus to remain faithful to Him even through His arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion. When most of the others ran away and hid, she stayed with Him, with St. John, the Virgin Mary, and several other women. May we have her courage and conviction of faith, even when we have to suffer false accusations.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Tuesday, July 3, marks the one year anniversary since I became pastor here at Our Lady of Lourdes. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for welcoming me into the parish, into this community, and into your lives. Being a pastor, and being your pastor here, brings me great joy. I’ve often said that it takes me a full year to really settle in at a new parish, because you need to experience the entire liturgical year and all of the seasons with the Church. Now that I’ve been here a year, I can say that I’m even happier to be here than I was when I first got here.
We’ve had a lot of changes over the past year as a parish. The construction on the new Hall, or Parish Community Center (PCC), was really just getting underway when I arrived, they broke ground just a few months before I got here. We got to see the foundation get poured, the frame go up, the walls go in, and everything start to take shape. Archbishop Aymond came out in January to bless the new building, and we finally got to move in in March. It took some people a few weeks to realize that the offices had moved from the Rectory (which is now only my residence) to the PCC, and Fedex still sometimes makes deliveries to the Rectory. The new building has allowed us to restart the Nifty Fifty group, move parish meetings out of the Church, have nicer receptions, and have better facilities for CCD classes and youth ministry.
We’ve also seen some small changes to the liturgical life of the parish. You may not have noticed if you haven’t been directly involved, but we reworked the parish guidelines for Funerals and Weddings last November, and we just recently reworked the parish guidelines for Infant Baptisms. These are in the handouts rack in Church and on the parish website in the Sacraments section. I’ll take this opportunity to clear up a common misunderstanding. We don’t charge a fee for funerals or baptisms for use of the Church or for the priest, although there is a musicians fee if you choose to have a cantor. Anything you want to give to the Church for those services is purely voluntary, and it all goes to the Church’s operating fund. We’re also getting ready to do training sessions for all liturgical ministers, including altar servers, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and ushers, not least of all because we have a new deacon in the parish, Dcn. Craig.
In this coming year, I want to continue to push the importance of the sacraments in the life of the Church, especially going to Mass every weekend and regular Confession. I’m also going to start putting more emphasis on devotions, like the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, and novenas.
Finally, we’re blessed to have a lot of young families and children in the parish. Last year we had 125 kids enrolled in religion classes from 1st to 11th grade, which is fantastic. As a parish, I think we need to focus on welcoming these young families, children, and teenagers into the community and offering programs for them.
As I said in the beginning, I’m happy to be in such a lively, devoted, and close-knit church, and I pray that we continue to grow as one family in Christ.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
A member of our parish, Craig Taffaro, was ordained as a deacon of the Catholic Church on Saturday, June 23, at St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica. This is a great blessing for our parish and I want to congratulate Craig and his family.
The diaconate is the oldest of the three ranks of the hierarchy, the others being bishops and priests. The ordination of the first deacons is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles in the bible, Acts 6:1-6. It records that the early Church grew very quickly as the apostles preached the Gospel and made many converts from Judaism. Eventually, the apostles found that there were too many people for them to continue to do everything themselves, so they choose seven men from the community of believers. The apostles prayed over these men and laid hands on them, which is the same way that deacons are ordained today; the bishop lays his hands on their heads and then prays over the men to be ordained.
The Bible records that the role of the deacons was ministry to the needy, to preach the Gospel, and to assist the apostles and later bishops of the Church. Eventually, the Church would grow big enough that all of the Christians in a town or city couldn’t fit in one Church, so parishes were formed and priests ordained to run those parishes, and the deacons would also assist the priests in the parishes, but they didn’t come until later on.
The Church has grown and developed over the last 2 millennia, but deacons are still basically the same as those first 7 deacons. They still assists the bishops in governing the Church, the still serve at Mass and minister to the needy, and they still preach the Gospel. Today is a good time to give thanks to God for the gift of the diaconate and the ministry of deacons in the Church, and that one of our own was called to the order of deacons. Please pray for Craig and the other men that were ordained deacons this weekend.
Next Week: One Year Anniversary
Why do we place so much importance on parents in our society? After all, very few groups get their own holidays, but parents have two, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and we celebrate these day more than we do most other National Holidays, of which there are dozens.
First, it’s because of the impact that parents have on the lives of their children. If we think about ourselves, so much of who we are can be traced back to the influence of our parents, including big things like the values that we hold, our religion, and our political opinions, and everyday things, like the foods that we like and the way that we talk. Our parents help shape who we become through what they teach us and the example that they give by the way that they live their lives.
Parents have a very grave responsibility. They are responsible for the lives of their children. They have to keep them alive and healthy, educate them, and raise them to be successful in the world. Studies show that parenting has a huge impact on the physical, emotional, academic, and mental health of their children not only during childhood, but throughout their entire lives. Children raised with attentive and loving parents in a stable home tend to be healthier, do better in school, get better jobs, have better emotional health, have less legal trouble, and form healthier relationships of their own in adult life.
Parents also have responsibility for their children’s eternal life as well. Parents are entrusted with teaching their children the faith and how to life out the faith in their lives. The example that parent’s give can either help their children to grow in the faith or make it that much more difficult for them. A study done in Switzerland shows how important the parent’s faith life is to the children. The study showed that, if both parents attend church regularly, 33% of their children will end up as regular church-goers and 41% irregular, with the regaining 24% not going at all. However, if neither parent attends church, only 4% of their children will attend regularly and 15 % irregularly, with over 80% not attending at all. If the mother attends regularly but the father irregularly or not at all, then she helps give her children some connection to the Church, ensuring that a larger percentage attend occasionally. The big shock of the study, however, was in the influence of the father. If the father goes to Church regularly, he increases the chances that his children will attend Church regularly, helping them to develop a strong connection to the faith, even when the mother goes irregularly or not at all. As Robbe Low put it in an article on the study, “A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up a church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door.” Men sometimes think of church as “women and children stuff,” but, just like a part of a mother’s job is to witness to the love and care that God has for each of us, part of a father’s job is to witness to Christ as the Good Shepherd, leading His flock. Don’t be afraid to take a leading role in the faith life of your family.
We are right to be grateful to our parents for everything they do for us, from feeding us and raising us, to teaching us about right and wrong, to helping us become the men and women that we are today. So I’d like everyone to stop and say a special prayer for your parents, asking God to bless them, whether they’re still with us or having already gone on to their final reward.
Next Week: On Deacons
The prayers at Mass and colors we wear, our devotions, and our liturgical life is covered by the liturgical calendar. So the calendar actually governs a lot of our Catholic spiritual life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. So Christians don’t use a liturgical calendar. They do pretty much the same thing at every service. The minister chooses the readings, songs, and theme for the service based on what he wants to preach on. Catholic priests don’t get to do that nearly as often, because the prayers and readings for the Mass are decided by the liturgical calendar. This means that a Catholic can go to Mass anywhere in the world and find the same colors, readings, prayers, and general themes being used. This is important to us because we are one Church throughout the world, not a lot of separate churches.
The calendar is based on the life of Christ. The year begins with Advent, when we begin to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ at Christmas. The season of Christmas lasts about a month. Then we have a few weeks of ordinary time. Ordinary Time is the season when we don’t celebrate anything specific, and it takes up most of the year. During the season of Lent we prepare for the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It lasts 46 days. Remember, we don’t fast on Sundays, because on Sundays we celebrate the Resurrection. If we take out Sundays, we have 40 days of fasting in Lent, because Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism in the Jordan River. The Paschal Triduum is Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday, and this is when we celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The celebration of Easter is extended for 50 days, and ends with the celebration of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the upper room. Then, we have more ordinary time until Advent starts again. The colors give you a clue to what the season is about. Advent and Lent are times of preparation and penance, so we wear purple. Christmas and Easter are times of celebration and joy, so we wear white or gold. During ordinary time we wear gold.
The amount of thought, time, and effort that the Church puts into the liturgy is amazing, as you can see in just this one part of it. This is because the Mass is the highest form of worship of God. In a way, offering worthy worship to God is the main job of the Church. Hopefully I haven’t bored you too much, but maybe this can help you live the liturgy of the Church a little more fully.
The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has the liturgical calendar right on the home page, on the right hand side, and if you click on the date it will take you to the Mass readings for that day. The website is http://www.usccb.org.
Next Week: Parenthood
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.