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
Going to Mass is the highest form of worship of God. The Mass is the memorial of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and in the Mass the salvation of the world is presented to us. All graces flow from the Cross, and the Cross is the only path to heaven. However, over time we begin to take all of this for granted and treat the Mass is just something that we’re told we have to do. We don’t always give God the reverence He deserves.
The first way we can show God reverence is through the way we dress. If we go to Mass dressed like we’re going to the beach, then we’ll starting treating the Mass as if it’s no more important than going to the beach. We must remember that going to Mass is entering God’s house, and so we should dress appropriately. Obviously, there will be times when you won’t be able to do that, and I’d much rather that you come to Mass dressed even in rags than that you not come to Mass. I also don’t want anyone to judge someone else by what they wear to Mass, because we don’t all have the same resources or the same idea of what’s appropriate. I’m just asking that we ask ourselves how we can show reverence to God in everything, even in how we dress.
We also show God reverence by preparing ourselves for Mass through prayer. Try to get to Church a few minutes early so you can spent that time praying. Invite the Holy Spirit into your soul, ask God to draw you closer to Him through the Mass, and offer the Mass for your intentions, such as a family member or friend in need, a lost loved one, or help with a problem you’re having. Jesus Christ really is present in the Eucharist and we should prepare our bodies and our souls to receive Him.
Finally, show God reverence by participating in the Mass. One thing I love about Our Lady of Lourdes is that a lot of people at Mass sing the hymns. That doesn’t happen at every Church and I’m always glad to hear it. When we fully participate in Mass by singing, saying the responses, and listening to the readings and prayers we express our love for God and tell Him that we want to accept all of the graces that He has to give us.
Next Week: The Liturgical Calendar
“The Domestic Church” is a phrase made popular by the Second Vatican Council and used often by Pope St. John Paul II. The idea is that the family is a “little Church,” because the members of the family are united in love through the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony. They are, together, a symbol of God’s love for the Church. Here is what Vatican II had to say, “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.”
God used the Church to spread the faith throughout the entire world. When He ascended into heaven, Jesus told the Apostles, “Go forth, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The apostles set out to spread the Gospel of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they succeeded in bringing. The faith everywhere in the Middle East, in Greece, in Italy, and even as far as India. Throughout the centuries this mission has continued, so that now there are Christians on every continent and in every country. Christianity is the largest religion in the world.
Just like the Church is called to bring the faith into the world, so parents have the task to bring the faith to their children, “by their word and example.” The Church is centered around Jesus, and so every family should be centered around Jesus. One of the most important jobs of the Church is to worship God through prayer and the Sacraments. In your family, you can do this through going to Mass together, through family prayer, and through teaching your children the faith.
Is your family a domestic church? Do you make Sunday Mass a priority or do you let other things become more important? Do you pray grace before meals together? Do you ever pray together as a family? Do you try to learn the Bible and the teachings of the Church so you can explain them better to your children when they have questions, and so you can live them out better yourself? Do you go to confession regularly? Are you generous as a family by sharing the gifts that God has given you with those who are less fortunate?
The domestic church, like the entire Church, is made up of flawed and fallen people, and that is why we need to keep Christ in the center. He helps us to focus on what is truly important by staying focused on growing in love, not on acquiring the latest gadgets, the nicest clothes, and the best car. As the Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there also is your heart.” Our families are the greatest gifts that God has given us, so don’t act like acquaintances who happen to live together, but as a domestic church seeking to grow together in the love of Christ.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
In his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul writes about marriage and the responsibility of husband and wife to love one another. At the end of that passage he writes this, “’For this reason a man shall live faith and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). St. Paul is saying that the love of a husband and wife for one another should be an image of the love that God has for the Church.
In His love for us Jesus descended from heaven to become one of us, fully human as well as fully divine, He lived among us, and them He died and rose again for us. He loves us fully and completely, holding nothing back. We are called to love Him the same way, to live for Him as He lived for us, and to give our lives for Him as He gave His life for us.
Marriage is meant to be a sign in the world of God’s love for us. We should be able to understand a little of God’s love for us by seeing how a husband treats his wife and how a wife treats her husband. This is why the Church focuses so much on marriage and family.
This would be a good examination of conscience for married people. Do you try to imitate Christ’s love for us in your relationship? Do you love without counting the cost, or do you keep score? Do you forgive completely, or do you hold on to things? Do you have unreasonable expectations of your spouse? When was the last time that you did a good thing for your spouse unexpectedly?
The Sacrament of Marriage is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Through it He allows us to see selfless, life-giving love in action, so that we can learn to love all people just a little bit better.
Next Week: The Domestic Church
Fr. Bryan Recommends
The Priest is Not His Own
by Archbishop Fulton Sheen
I’ve recommended books by Archbishop Fulton Sheen before, and when I was thinking of books on the priesthood to recommend it didn’t take long to settle on this one. He was born in 1895 and ordained a priest on September 20, 1919. He was consecrated a bishop in 1951 and archbishop in 1969. He is most famous for His television show, Life is Worth Living, which ran from 1951 to 1957, and a followup show from 1958 to 1968. The viewing audience is estimated to be as at least 10 million or as high as 30 million viewers every week.
His book on the priesthood is not really a theological explanation of what the priesthood is, but it’s more of a spiritual look at the priesthood. He writes about who the priest is, why we need priests, what priests do, and how priests should live. He gives practical advise to priests on how to grow in holiness, and how to draw souls to Christ.
He focuses on the fact that the priest is meant to imitate Christ, to be an alter Christus. Christ came as a victim offering Himself for our sins. He was born in order to die, and He died for us, to save us. If Christ came to offer Himself for us, His flock, then every priest is called to do the same, to offer Himself for his flock. Hence the title, The Priest is Not His Own.
This book is really written for priests and seminarians, but if you want to understand the priesthood better, then this is one of the best places to start.
Next Week: Three Kinds of Love
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
We’re coming to the end of this series of bulletin articles on the Seven Sacraments which began on September 3 and will finish in May with the articles on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In my article about Holy Orders, I mentioned that Marriage is a Sacrament of Service calling husband and wife to serve one another and their family in love and help one another get to heaven. Today, we’ll go a little bit more in depth on what marriage is.
When you see a marriage ceremony on TV or in a movie, there is a moment when the person officiating, the priest or judge, says, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” If you’ve been to a Catholic wedding you may have noticed that this doesn’t happen. The priest is there to witness the exchange of vows on behalf of God and the Church and offer God’s blessing to the newly married couple, but he doesn’t pronounce them married. The bride and groom are married in the moment when they exchange vows with one another. The blessing, exchange of rings, and prayers of the Church are important, but far more important is the exchange of vows. Through those vows, made honestly and with good intentions in the presence of the Church and the community, God unites man and woman in the bond of marriage and gives them grace to live out those vows.
In the marriage vows a husband and wife basically promise three things, called the “three goods” of marriage. First, they promise to be open to life. The priest or deacon asks, “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” and the couple respond, “I am.” The intention to accept children lovingly from God and to raise them lovingly is at the heart of marriage. Just as God shared His love with us by creating us and bringing us into His family, so married couples are called to imitate God by being open to the new life that God wishes to give them and expanding their families.
Second, they promise to be faithful to one another. In their vows husband and wife promise to be faithful “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you.” It’s relatively easy to be faithful in good times and in health, but it’s much more difficult in bad times and in sickness. This promise is not just to not mistreat one another or cheat, but it is something positive as well. They promise to love and honor one another, which is to put the good of your husband or wife first.
Finally, they make these promises “all the days of my life,” or, in the other version of the vows, “until death do us part.” The vows are not meant to be temporary. Some people think that it’s too much to expect people to keep a promise like this for their entire lives, but God and the Church have a higher view of humanity. We know that a husband and wife can, with the help of God, love and honor one another for their entire lives. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but it’s definitely worth the sacrifice. For my part, one of my greatest joys as a priest is to see families growing together in love, whether they’re just starting out or have been together 50 plus years. Witnessing their joy and love for one another motivate me and give me encouragement for the future.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Celibacy for the Kingdom
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ speaks of those who choose to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The practice of celibacy has endured in the Roman Church and in the Greek Churches to this day; however, there has always been debate about it. There are those who wish to end clerical celibacy, or at least to make it optional, but I fear they don't understand what they wish to do away with. The question is not whether it is useful or not, Christ himself recommended it (Mt. 19:12), the question is why.
In the seminary, we were often told that priests are "in the world, but not of the world." Priests live in the world, in the midst of the secular culture, the media, and the everyday lives of normal people, but we are not of the world. We live in the world as those who are about the business of God the Father. Celibacy is one of the main ways that we live this reality, as well as detachment from material possessions and obedience.
The Catechism of the Catholic Churchsays, "Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God (CCC 1579)." This statement gives the main reason for the practice of priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church: complete dedication to the Lord.
The life of celibacy allows the priest to be completely devoted to the service of God and of His Church, and to the service of the people entrusted to His care. It allows us to order our lives to God instead of to the world. Instead of worrying about raising a family and all of the concerns that go with it, we focus on prayer, the sacraments, and the care of souls.
Although the practice of priestly celibacy is primarily a theological concern, there are also practical benefits from it. Priest are payed by and taken care of by the Church, because being a priest is a full time job. If priests had families, we would need a much bigger salary because, as you know, children are very expensive, or we would need to be part time, but then our parishioners would suffer. However, this is a minor reason, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have married priests and they make out just fine.
This reminds me of another reason that some people want to allow priests to marry. They say that more people would want to become priests if they could also get married. However, the Eastern Orthodox Churches show that this is false. They allow priests to choose marriage or celibacy and most of them have a shortage of priests just like we do. This shows us that the priesthood is not chosen by people, but that priests are called by God; our job is to respond to that call.
An important part of Catholic culture is sacrifice. We fast during Lent to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection of the Lord, we fast out of sorrow for our sins, and we fast to increase our desire for God by denying ourselves. Priestly celibacy is also a fast, or a sacrifice; it is abstaining from marriage. When we fast from anything, we choose something that is good, that we like, to fast from. We don't fast from bad or evil things, because we're supposed to avoid those anyway. Fasting from something good is our way to saying that God is better than that thing, than chocolate, or television, or meat. Priestly celibacy is not forced on the priest, it is something that we choose; it is a sacrifice that the priest makes because he puts God first in His life, above everything else, even above having a wife and children.
In this way it is also a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven. We give up marriage because we are not living just for this world and the things of this world (res mundi); we are living for God and the things of God (res Dei). We are living in the expectation of the Kingdom of God, of the second coming of Christ, and of the resurrection of the dead. More than just a sacrifice, celibacy is a witness that reminds everyone that God is with us, that He loves us, and that we are called to love Him "with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength."