You’ve all heard of the seven deadly sins, pride, sloth, lust, anger, gluttony, greed, and envy, but you may not have heard of the unofficial eighth deadly sin. In the tradition of the Benedictine monks, they add one sin to the list of seven deadly sins, the “sin of monks,” but which can afflict all of us, murmuring or complaining. If you follow social media, you may have noticed that the big thing right now is that people are resolving, in this new year, to be more positive. People noticed that last year was marked by negativity and complaining, and they’re tired of it; they want to turn over a new leaf in this new year. However, we can’t let this new resolution to stop complaining turn into complaining about other people being negative and complaining.
Murmuring, or grumbling and complaining, is so damaging to the monastic life because it’s contagious. It spreads from one person to the next sapping people’s energy and motivation. The purpose of the monastic life is to for the brothers, or sisters in a convent, to strive to help each other to grow in holiness, and it’s very hard to do that when you’re always complaining about one another. Complaining does the same thing in our lives and families and in the communities that we belong to. Instead of helping to build one another up we bring one another down.
The remedy to any sin is to find out what the opposite virtue is and to try to grow in that virtue, and the opposite of complaining is gratitude. When we grow in gratitude for the gifts in our lives, for the good in the people around us, and for the blessings that God gives us, then we naturally complain less. Let’s all challenge ourselves to be more grateful. Every time we find ourselves complaining about something, stop and think of one thing that you’re grateful for that day, and thank God for it. In that way we replace the deadly sin of murmuring with the life giving virtue of gratitude.
Since today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I’ve been thinking a lot about baptism. John the Baptist said about Jesus, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt. 3:11). The only thing necessary for baptism is to use real water, to intend to do what the Church intends, and to use the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” However, there are other rites and symbols in a Catholic baptism which the Church uses to show us what’s happening in baptism, such as the water, the white garment, and the candle.
Water is necessary for the baptism to be valid, but it isn’t used on accident. We use water because water does physically for the body what baptism does spiritually for the soul. Water is used to clean things because almost everything dissolves in water, and baptism “cleans,” or purifies, the soul since it removes all traces of sin, both personal sin and original sin. Water is also necessary for life. We need to drink water to live, our bodies are filled with water, and we are born from water. In baptism, we’re reborn through water into the family of God and given the new life of the Holy Spirit.
After the person is baptized they are clothed in a white garment. As this is done the celebrant prays, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity…bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” This visibly shows the cleansing of the soul that happens in baptism and reminds us not to stain ourselves by falling back into sin.
Then someone, usually one of the godparents, lights the baptismal candle from the Paschal Candle, which is lit for every baptism. The Paschal Candle, or Easter Candle, represents the resurrected Christ. At the Easter Vigil Mass the Paschal Candle is lit outside and then brought into the Church in procession, representing Jesus Christ returning to the Church after His death on the Cross on Good Friday. As St. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm. 6:3-4). The baptism candle therefore represents the Resurrection of Jesus Christ giving new life to the soul of the baptized and the hope for our own resurrection to eternal life in heaven.
There are other rites in the Rite of Baptism, like the two anointings and the ephphatha (and yes, that’s spelled correctly), but I chose to reflect on these three to show us that baptism is supposed to be about being cleansed of our sins and anything that is not of God and receiving the new life of the Holy Spirit. May we all live out the grace of baptism in our lives.
The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is the celebration of the epiphany, the “making-known” or coming-into-the-light, of Jesus Christ. We focus on the three magi who came from the east, probably from Persia, to greet the newborn King of the Jews and to give him homage. They were the first gentiles, or non-Jews, to recognize Jesus Christ. The prayers of Epiphany also make references to three other epiphanies of the Lord: the birth of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana. All of these are points when Christ is made known for Who He is.
There are two traditional Catholic practices that are specifically done on the Feast of Epiphany. They are the blessing of water for Epiphany and the Blessing of Chalk. There is a special rite for the blessing of Epiphany Water which is much more in depth than the typical blessing. It begins with a litany of the saints and chanting psalms 28, 45, and 146. Then the salt and water are both blessed and then mixed together. The blessing of chalk is also just for Epiphany. The Epiphany Water and the blessed chalk are taken home the faithful and used to bless their homes. The water is sprinkled in every room of the house while the family say prayers together, such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Then the chalk is used to mark the outside lintel of every exterior door like this:
20 + C + M + B + 19
The door is marked with the year, as a reminder of when the blessing occurred. It’s also marked with the initials C, M, and B, with a cross between each of the initials and the date. The initials refer to two things. First, they refer to the names of the three kings, Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar. It also refers to the Latin phrase, “Christus mansionem benedicat,” meaning, “May God bless this house.” The point of this rite is to recognize the coming of Christ, to ask Him to fill your home with His grace, peace, and love, and to protect the people who live there from the attacks of the Ancient Enemy. In other words, as we celebrate the coming of the Lord into the world and His becoming known at Epiphany, in this blessing you are asking the Lord to come into your home and make Himself known to you.
The world experienced 200 years dominated by revolutions beginning with the American Revolution in the middle of the 18thCentury, continuing with the French Revolution at the end of that century and ending with revolutions in South and Central America and Africa in the middle of the 20thCentury. These were political revolutions aimed at overthrowing old regimes and setting up new governments. Some of them were successful and others failed. Some of them resulted in more freedom and rights for the people and some in oppression and terror. However, all of them were political revolutions. The celebration of Christmas offers us a chance to join a spiritual revolution.
Jesus Christ may have been born the child of a poor carpenter, but an army of angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of the new king in the city of David and proclaiming him to be the “Christ the Lord.” This was during the reign of the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, who was hailed as the Lord of the world and commanded the strongest army in the world at that time, the Roman legions. Jesus of Nazareth was the true Lord of the world, and He commanded an army of angels. Caesar Augustus came to conquer and obtain power for himself, and Jesus Christ came “not to be served but the serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). The legions of Caesar came with swords, but Jesus told St. Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52).
Christmas is an invitation to join this spiritual revolution, which we do by imitating Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, and set us free from the tyranny of sin. Let your kingdom come and your will be done in our lives and in the world as it is in heaven. Arm us with the sword of the Spirit and armor us with the helmet of salvation. Do not let us give any space to the enemy in our hearts, but allow Christ to reign in every corner of our lives.
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, take the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
May you all have a merry and most blessed Christmas.
At Mass about a month ago a made a comment about the reason that we do so much kneeling, sitting, and standing at Mass, and I got so many comments about it that I decided to expand on that a bit more in this article. It amazes me that this is one of the most common complaints about the Mass and is used as a reason for people not to go to Mass. The Mass isn’t something that we passively sit through but is something that we have to actively participate in. It isn’t just about what God is giving us, the Eucharist, but it’s also about what we are offering Him, our own lives, even if His gift to us is far greater than our gift to Him. That’s why we need to actively participate in the Mass in different ways: mentally, by paying attention to the readings homily, etc., spiritually, by praying along with the prayers, and physically, by using our bodily posture and gestures.
We kneel, sit, or stand at specific times in the Mass based on what’s happening in the Mass at that time. We sit down during the readings from the Old and New Testament and the homily to show that we are receptive to what we’re hearing. We stand during certain prayers and during the readings of the Gospel to show reverence and respect and that we are actively participating in those prayers, not just letting someone else pray for us. We kneel during the Eucharistic prayer and after receiving Communion because we recognize that Jesus Christ is now present with us in the Eucharist and desire to worship Him.
This shows that we worship God with both our soul and our body. Yoda may think that we are really only our souls, like he said to Luke in Star Wars, episode V, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” but Christians believe that God created us body and soul, that the body is good, and that our bodies will be resurrected at the end of time. If our bodies are gifts from God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and destined to be raised up to heaven after the Resurrection of the Dead, then we should use them even now to worship God.
If you are a baptized Catholic, then you have a patron saint. He or she was picked for you when you were baptized, but you may not know who it is. It may be that you share your first or middle name with a saint, or maybe some other saint was picked for you. If your parents didn’t pick a patron saint for you by naming you after a saint, then the priest or deacon who baptized you probably did; we often choose St. Joseph for boys and the Blessed Virgin Mary for girls. I share my middle name with St. Joseph, and I picked St. Joseph for my confirmation saint as well. If you don’t have a patron saint or don’t know who it is, then hopefully by the end of this article you’ll be determined to pick one, to learn about them, and to develop a relationship with them.
First of all, your patron saint will act as an example for you to show you how to live as a follower of Christ, show virtue in difficult circumstances, and grow in your relationship with God. The first step to being declared a saint is for the Church to examine someone’s life to see if they lived with heroic virtue. The Church will examine their life, any records that they left behind, and interview people still living who knew them. If they pass this step they are proclaimed venerable, like Venerable Mother Henriette Delille. When the Church canonized someone as a saint it doesn’t mean that they were perfect or that they never sinned, but it does mean that they make a good example for Christians today. That’s why it’s important to actually learn about the lives of the saints, especially your patron saint. Learn about their life and read any writings they left; you may learn something that will help you in your own life.
The saints aren’t just examples, though, they are living in heaven, and we’re still connected to them through the Holy Spirit. We, the saints in heaven and the members of the Church on earth, are all members of the one Body of Christ. We should ask the saints to pray and intercede for us because they are closer to Christ than we are, since they’re already in heaven and see God face to face. We underestimate the power of prayer too often. We believe that God is all powerful, all knowing, all good, and present everywhere. Since He is present everywhere He isn’t limited to helping one person at a time. In His goodness He desires the good for us, in His omniscience He knows the best way to help us, and in His omnipotence He has the ability to do it. “If God can do all that, then why,” you may ask, “do we need to pray at all?” We pray, not to tell God what we want or what to do, but to increase our desire for the graces and blessings that God already wants to give us that we might grow in holiness. The saints can help us by showing us what holiness is, so we can desire it all the more, since they live in the presence of God Who is the source of all holiness.
Heaven and Hell
Heaven and hell are a reality that we have to consider, because we’ll ultimately end up in one or the other, so it’s a good idea to understand what they are. Heaven and hell aren’t places that we go. Heaven isn’t a place where all of our dreams come true, and hell isn’t a place where demons torture the souls of the condemned, as if it’s some sort of spiritual dungeon. Heaven is the state of being in complete union with God and hell means being eternally separated from God.
Jesus Christ redeemed us through His death, Resurrection, and ascension into heaven and thus reconciled us to God. Heaven is the community of all those who are perfectly united with Christ; we call these people the angels and saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes heaven like this, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (paragraph 1024). We were made for heaven because God made us for love, and God is love. Being is perfect union with God means to love perfectly and to be completely filled with love. Since heaven isn’t a place we can begin to experience it here on earth whenever we are united with Jesus. We experience heaven when share God’s love with one another through acts of charity, when we experience the presence of God in prayer, and, most of all, when we unite ourselves to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Holy Mass and receive Him in the Most Holy Eucharist.
The Catechism goes on to say, “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves… To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (1033). In the Gospels, Jesus often speaks of hell as being cast out into the darkness, where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” Hell is a place of punishment, but that punishment is one that we bring on ourselves by our own choices. If we live apart from God here on earth, we shouldn’t be surprised if we are separated from Him for eternity.
No one is predestined to go to hell; only those who turn away from God through mortal sin and persist in it. However, everyone sins, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For all have sinned and all are in need of the glory of God. We have been justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:23-24). While we pray for mercy and the grace of God in prayers like the Our Father (“lead us not into temptation”) and the Hail Mary (“pray for us now and at the hour of our death”), we should also remember that we must all, bishops, clergy, and lay people, Catholics and protestants, Christians and non-Christians, stand before our Just Judge after we die. Let us strive to live so that we can welcome that day not with terror but with rejoicing.
A Memento Mori, meaning “remember death,” is a piece of artwork or writing that calls to mind the fact that we must all face eventually. If you do a google image search for memento mori (which you should only do if you’re not upset by skulls and things like that) you’ll find some very interesting results. Remember that this is a traditional Catholic thing, not heaven metal, punk rock, goth, or something like that. St. Benedict of Nursia said that Christians should, “keep death ever before your eyes,” and on Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are placed on your head, we pray, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” November is the month that we set aside to remember death and to think about the last things that every experiences: death, judgement, and heaven or hell.
When you think about the history of the early Church you can see why people thought about these things. For the first almost 300 years of Christianity it was illegal to be Christian. Many tens of thousands of Christians were killed, mostly by the Roman Empire, and most Christians probably knew someone who had been martyred. Not every Christian who was arrested by the Romans was martyred, of course. Some of them were exiled or given other punishments, and some of the renounced the faith to escape punishment, but many of them refused to worship the emperor and the Roman gods and suffered the ultimate fate, believing that their faith in God would get them to heaven.
Do you think about the reality of death? Do you try to live each day as if it may be your last? Do you focus on the things that are truly important in life or do you put them off for another day? Remembering death can lead us to despair if we don’t believe in the afterlife, but the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to heaven gives us hope. Jesus prepared the way for us and opened the gates to heaven. The Memento Mori reminds us that this life is temporary. If we live only for this life, then we will lose everything when we die, but if we build up treasures in heaven then they will be waiting for us when we get there. We build up treasures in heaven by living with our eyes set on Christ, Who said to Martha when her brother Lazarus died, “I am the Resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: and everyone that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever” (John 11:25-26).
We all know that we have to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, which are the Assumption (August 15), All Saints Day (November 1), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25), and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1). Have you ever wondered why? In the next few weeks I’ll answer that question and other related to the Mass and the Sacraments.
The Second Vatican Council was a gathering of all the bishops of the Catholic Church to discuss certain issues affecting the Church and society, including the liturgy and sacraments of the Church, the Bible, evangelization, the relationship of priesthood and the laity, and modern society and technology, among other things. It began in October of 1962 and ended in December of 1965. One of the most important topics the Council Fathers (the bishops who attended and voted on the acceptance or rejection of the documents) covered was the Mass.
They called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life,” because the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the presence of God Himself. God is the source of all things, but in a special way He is the source of the Christian life because He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to unite us to Christ. Whenever we receive the Eucharist we are more and more closely united to Jesus Christ. God is also the summit of the Christian life, meaning that He is our goal. The reason that we are Christians is to grow closer to God. That’s what holiness is: closeness to God. The Eucharist is the best way to grow in holiness because we are never closer to God than we are when we receive Communion.
Everything in the Mass means something, from the structure of the Mass to the movements of the priest and ministers, and understanding this symbolism can help us to better understand the Mass, pray the Mass, and get something out of the Mass. A symbol, like a stop sign, is something that means something or points to something else. When you see a stop sign you know it means that you’re supposed to stop, but it doesn’t make you stop. Some symbols do seem to have power, though, like language. All language is symbolic because words point to something else; words mean things. When the president says, “I pardon John Doe of his crimes,” that sentence affects his legal status and makes him pardoned. When the priest says, “I absolved you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” it affects your soul and wipes away your sins. The symbols of the Mass, through the power of the Holy Spirit, make present the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Even the structure of the Mass is symbolic. The Mass starts with The Introductory Rites, continues with The Liturgy of the Word, goes into The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and finishes with The Concluding Rites. The Introductory Rites prepare us for the Mass. We begin with the sign of the Cross and then the priest greets the Church, saying, “The Lord be with you,” and they respond, “And with your spirit.” The greeting is both to remind us that the Lord is indeed with us and also to call the Lord down, which is why you respond by calling down the Lord upon my spirit as well. We continue with the Penitential Act by confessing our sinfulness and asking the Lord to have mercy on us three times. We must be purified of our sinfulness in order to worthily enter into the Mass. Finally, we sing or recite the Gloria, reminding us that the purpose of the Mass is for us to glorify the Lord.
The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist go together. We listen to the Word of God and hear the priest or deacon interpret it, encouraging us, calling us to repentance, and spurring us to action. The Word of God in the Bible prepares us to recognize and receive the Word of God present in the Eucharist. It puts us in the proper mindset or spiritual disposition to celebrate the Mystery of the Eucharist. These two parts of the Mass go all the way back to our Jewish roots. The Jewish people went to synagogues and to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the synagogue, the Scriptures were read and then the rabbi would interpret them for the people. In the Temple, the Jewish Levitical priests would offer the sacrifice. There were many different things offered in the Temple, like different grains, bulls, goats, doves and pigeons, and oxen, but the three most common offerings, which were offered every day, were unleavened bread, wine, and lambs. The points to Christ who is the Lamb of God and gives us His flesh in the form of unleavened bread and wine. Both the synagogue and Temple worship are present in the Mass, because the Liturgy of the Word is based on what they did in the synagogue and the Liturgy of the Eucharist replaces what they did in the Temple.
We finish by being blessed and sent forth to live what we have heard and received.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.