There was a time when people thought of going to war not only as a duty and responsibility that they owed to their homeland but as a point of honor. It was something that many young men looked forward to. We can’t imagine that because we live after the war that changed all of that, that changed civilization forever, the Great War or the War to End All Wars, what we normally call World War I.
The world powers in England, France, Germany, and Russia saw this war coming decades ahead of time, knowing that the system of alliances that kept the peace couldn’t last forever. They also saw the technology of war changing with the invention of machine guns, more powerful explosives and artillery, airplanes, and even poison gas. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia called the leaders of 26 nations, including all of the major world powers, to the Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907, where these nations agreed to outlaw the use of poisons and any technology developed after the Conferences.
However, in 1914 this all went out the window when World War I began. In January 2015, the Germans were the first to use poison gas against the Russians, first against the Russians and then the French and British. They were soon emulated by the British and French. During the course of the war three types of poison gas were developed, bromide, chlorine, and mustard gas. Each one was worse than the last, and even if you survived the initial attack, you might have to deal with debilitating effects from it for the rest of your life. When you add in the first wide-scale use of machine guns, aerial bombing, modern artillery, and trench warfare, the casualties of World War I were higher than any previous war (around 10 million military and 6 million civilian lives lost), and the survivors suffered terrible physical and psychological effects from the war.
This all lead to a greater understanding of the effects that wars have on the people who fight them and are caught up in them. What previous generations thought of as cowardice or weakness, we now understand to be normal human reactions to horrible, traumatic experiences. The soldiers on both sides of that war were honored by the establishment of Armistice Day on November 11, the day that the war ended. In the United States it was raised to a national holiday in 1938. It occurs on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” which is when the armistice was signed. In 1954, President (formerly General) Dwight D. Eisenhower changed it to Veterans Day in 1954.
On this November 11, at 11 AM, let us pause to offer a prayer for the roughly 18 million living Veterans in the US, and countless who have already passed away. Let’s also remember that we join countries around the world in honoring their own Veterans and all those, no matter what country they’re from, who fight to protect their homes and people.
St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, pray for them.
In one of my favorite quotes, the one that I put on the end of all of my emails, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos said, “Time, in which we have found nothing to offer up to God, is lost for eternity.” Blessed Francis Seelos goes on to explain how we can offer things up to God, like our work, our sufferings, inconveniences, and also prayers and obedience to God, but I want to focus on time.
Today is the day when we “fall back” in daylight savings time and lose an hour on the clocks. The idea of daylight savings time is to add an extra hour of daylight to the workday, so we can get more work done. We don’t like to waste any time that we could be using to accomplish our own priorities, whether that’s business or pleasure. We want to give ourselves more time in the day to work or play, to accomplish things, and we go so far as to adjust the very clocks that we use to tell the time. Unfortunately, we don’t actually gain an hour. There are still 24 hours in a day. There’s still the same amount of sunlight and darkness in the day as there would have been anyway, we just adjust what times of the day are bright so we don’t lose an hour of sunlight before people wake up and go to work.
We may be able to control the clocks, but we don’t control time itself. There is only One who is outside of time, and He is the only One who can give us more time or take it away. We only have so much time left, and we don’t know how long it will be until our time is up. On that day we will have to answer for how we used the time that we were given. Did we use all of our time for ourselves and our own priorities, or did we spend our time on the things of God? Only God is eternal, because only God has no beginning or end. We cannot become eternal like God, but we can enter into God’s eternity. Whenever we invite God into our souls and put Him at the center of our lives we consecrate the hours and days of our lives by dedicating them to God.
So, reassess your priorities. What are the most important things in your life? What is valuable to you? What do you believe in? Would someone know that by observing the way that you live? Would they know what is important to you by seeing how you spend your time? Only God can give you more time; only God can bring you into heaven. One day we will all have to stand before the judgement seat of God. If we try to rely on our own accomplishments in life, without building up a relationship with God and with His family, the Church, then we may be disappointed in the outcome. If we ask for help from God the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit to live out the Divine Law by loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we will be greeted as children returning to their Father’s house.
Halloween is in just a few days, and then we have Thanksgiving a month later and Christmas a month after that. You may have heard that Halloween and Christmas were originally pagan holidays and that the Church just took them over and Christianized them. This may well be true, and it can teach us a lesson about how the early Church Christianized a culture that it had already evangelized. You see, it’s not enough just to accept the Gospel, we have to live it out in our lives and let it change our culture.
What we call Halloween probably started as a Celtic or Druidic celebration Samhain, which was the Celtic new year. They believed that ghosts of the dead returned to earth on Samhain, so they would light bonfires and wear scary masks to ward off the spirits. When missionaries brought Christianity to Great Britain, they also brought the Catholic feast of All Saints’ Day, which was first already being celebrated on November 1 as early as the 700s AD. They added the feast of All Souls’ Day on November 2 to emphasize to the newly Christianized population that we don’t need to fear the souls of the dead, but that we should pray for them and ask them to pray for us.
We’re not sure about the history of Christmas, but it happens to be around the same day when the Romans would celebrate the feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. Sol Invictus was originally a relatively unpopular god in Rome until the 3rd or 4th century AD, when some of the Emperors began to promote his cult. Some historians think they did that as a response to Christianity, since the Rising Sun is also a symbol of Jesus. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25, or maybe not, but it is a sign of the contest between Roman paganism and Christianity.
You see, the ancient Christians had a saying, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, meaning, “The law of praying is the law of believing is the law of living.” The way we pray, like the way we celebrate different feast days, will affect what we believe, and what we believe will affect how we live. The ancient Christians instituted Christian feast days, sometimes directly competing with pagan or druidic feast days, in order to reinforce the Christian beliefs that most people were converting to.
Today, these feast days are in the process of changing again. They aren’t going back to paganism; instead, they are becoming more secular. Many people who aren’t really Christians still want to celebrate these holidays that they grew up with, but they don’t really want to think about the Christian meaning of them, so they ignore that part or take it out altogether. We have to remember that the way we celebrate Halloween and Christmas will affect what we believe and how we live, so let’s celebrate them specifically as Christian Catholics and don’t surrender to secular culture. Make sure that you go to Mass together as a family. On Halloween, offer some prayers together for lost family members and friends. On All Saints’ Day look up the story of a saint and on All Souls’ Day go to a cemetery blessing. When we begin to truly celebrate our faith again, and to celebrate our Christian feasts, then we’ll find it much easier to live as faithful followers of Christ.
Fr. Bryan Recommends
Signs of Life by Scott Hahn
Dr. Scott Hahn is a Bible scholar and convert from Protestantism who writes books and gives talks and conferences helping us to understand the Bible in a way that is accessible but not dumbed down. His talks and books, along with others like Dr. Brant Pitre, Dr. Michael Barber, and Dr. John Bergsma, have helped me to understand the God Word in the Holy Bible in a deeper way and, I hope, helped me to become a better preacher and teacher of the word of God.
I’ve recently started reading Signs of Life and I already know that I want to recommend it to you. In it Dr. Hahn covers 40 different Catholic customs, their roots in the Bible, how they can help us in our spiritual lives, and answers common questions and misconceptions. He covers things like holy water, the sacraments, the liturgical year, incense, relics, devotion to the saints, preparation for death, and more.
Everything we do in Church and in our spiritual lives has a meaning and a purpose, because it comes from God, and knowing the origin and meaning of them can make them more beneficial. For example, the Rosary is basically a very easy prayer but it’s also a very difficult prayer to pray well. If we just recite the prayers while thinking about what we need to do latter in the day, just so we can get it done, then it’s still does a little good, but not nearly as much as it could do. When we know that the Rosary is rooted in the Bible, is meant as a way to meditate on the life of Christ, and that it was developed as a way to teach people the truths of the faith, then we can get much more out of it. It becomes one of the most beneficial prayers in the Church and a powerful weapon against Satan. This book can help us to better understand things we do every day and give us more ways to grow in devotion to God.
Before I even got to Lourdes the word got out that I enjoyed cooking. In fact, some of the parishioners put together a welcome gift of a stainless steel pot, a bunch of vegetables, kitchen towels and pot holders, and an apron. I last used that pot to make some chili. When I cook chili, I only simmer it for 30-45 minutes, just long enough to get everything cooked, because I like to taste all of the different ingredients, the beef and the celery and the bell pepper and the roasted tomatoes. However, when I cook a pot of stew or red beans, they need to be cooked low and slow. This lets all of the ingredients meld together to you taste the same thing with every bite. That type of cooking takes patience while you wait for things to come together over time.
Most of the time the spiritual life is like that. We sit in prayer, often in silence, trying to stay focused on God, but it’s hard because it often doesn’t seem like anything’s happening. That’s because what’s happening is invisible. It’s happening in the soul, and we often don’t even realize that anything is happening at all, when all the while God is working in our soul to heal what’s broken, to shore up what’s weak, and to reinforce what’s already strong.
To use another analogy, St. Teresa of Avila compares prayer to watering a garden. It can seem to be slow and boring, and on the surface nothing appears to be happening, but it’s necessary for the life of the soul, just like water is necessary for a garden. The water is only one thing, the same Holy Spirit, but it produces many types of flower and fruit, which are the different virtues and graces.
We keep busy with so many things that we don’t give God a chance to do His own work in us. We need those times of quiet prayer to let God do His invisible work within us, so that God can bring out the best that we have to offer. You may not feel like your accomplishing anything just sitting in quiet prayer, reading the Bible, or meditating on the life of Christ, but by ourselves we can only do so much. God has given each of us the potential to become something amazing, but we need to give Him a little time for the fire of the Holy Spirit to do His work.
Why are the sacraments important? What do they do? How do they affect us? The sacraments are symbols of the grace of God that was won for us by Christ on the Cross and that comes into our lives through the Holy Spirit, but they aren’t merely symbols. Since the sacraments were instituted by Christ Himself, they have His authority and carry His power. When the sacraments are performed in the proper way they really bring about what they symbolize. They don’t rely on the holiness of the one performing the sacrament; they rely on the promise of Christ.
Certain sacraments can be received many times, like the Eucharist and Confession, because they give us graces that we need over and over, like the nourishment of God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins. Other sacraments can only be received once, like Baptism, because they give us a grace that tends to stay with us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:
The three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders confer, in addition to grace, a sacramental character or “seal” by which the Christian shares in Christ’s priesthood and is made a member of the Church according to different sates and functions. This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church. Therefore these sacraments can never be repeated. (CCC, 1121)
This seal is permanent. Once someone is baptized, confirmed, or ordained, they are forever baptized, confirmed, or ordained. Since the mark or seal is on the soul it lasts even after death. This seal confirms us to Christ and especially to His Cross and Resurrection. It is a “disposition for grace” and a “promise of divine protection.” God wants to give us grace to protect us against spiritual evils and the activity of the devil and to help us to grow in holiness, but we still have to accept those graces and cooperate with how God wants to work in our lives, which the sacramental seal helps us to do.
Finally, the seal is a “vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church.” In other words we’re called to make use of the grace that we’ve been given. This grace adheres or sticks to the soul and it’s difficult to get rid of. So we have to ask ourselves, “How am I using the grace of Baptism that I received? The grace of Confirmation? The grace of the diaconate or priesthood?”
Wednesday, October 2, is the Memorial of Guardian Angels, the day that we celebrate the angels, servants of God, who are sent to us to protect us from dangers, particularly spiritual dangers. We picture angels either as little cherubs wearing togas and playing harps, but when we read the Bible we get a very different idea of angels. In the Bible, when an angel appears to someone they usually fall down on their knees or on their face, like when the Archangel Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel and he falls down prostrate on his face. Some angels are described as having 6 wings, or 4 faces, one on each side of their head, or wheels instead of feet. No wonder that Zechariah was struck with fear when the Archangel Gabriel came to announce to him that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist, so that the first words he said were, “Do not be afraid” (Lk 1).
The angels of God serve as His messengers and His assistants. Some angels constantly pray for people, especially children, before God, as the Lord told His disciples, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly father” (Mt 18:10). They are also sent to minister to people, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” The goal of our guardian angels is to help us get to heaven by protecting us from the lies and temptations of the devil, praying for us to God, and guiding us along the right path. We can ignore our guardian angels or we can accept their help and work with them.
We really don’t know very much about angels in general or guardian angels in particular, and the great theologians have disagreed about them. We do know, however, that they exist, that the always follow God’s will, and that God loves us enough to send each of us an angel to help us achieve salvation. As St. Jerome said, “How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth and angel commissioned to guard it.” Don’t take your guardian angels for granted or underestimate them. Ask them to pray for specific things, like something that you’re struggling with or even for someone else. Ask them to help you not only to resist temptation but to avoid what will temp you in the first place. May we all get some day get to meet our guardian angels in heaven and, though we never saw them on earth, recognize in them our constant companion and true friend.
The internet is one of the most revolutionizing inventions of the past 100 years. It’s like a mirror reflecting all that is good and bad about humanity back to us. It reflects back our desire to build communities through social media, our desire to learn through educational materials, and our creativity in countless ways. It also reflects our negative and unhealthy desires back to us as well, in the form of human trafficking, violence, and distorted forms of human sexuality. The pornography industry in the US makes between 6 and 15 billion dollars a year; for comparison, all of Hollywood makes about 11 billion dollars a year. In the past pornography was rare and difficult to get, but now it’s as easy as taking our smart phone out of our pocket.
Pornography addiction is an increasingly big issue, especially considering that most children have the first exposure to it between 8 and 11 years old. Exposure to these sorts of things leaves mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds. The Lord wants to heal these wounds in our hearts. He wants to free us from addictions and compulsions. He wants to bathe us in His grace and mercy.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans is offering you a resource to get information and help: CleanHeartNOLA.com. The website has information men and women struggling with pornography addiction or a spouse struggling with this issue. It also has suggestions for parents to get the tools they need to teach their children about these issues.
Know that you are not alone, and you don’t need to bear this burden alone. Whether you’re struggling with this yourself or a parent wondering how to talk to your children about it, you’re welcome to come see me in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or make an appointment for a more in depth conversation. In Psalm 51 we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). Let us all pray that the Lord me give us all clean hearts and renewed spirits, so that we may live in the presence of God.
Last week I wrote about how the laying on of hands in the sacraments represents the blessing of God the Father coming down unto us and making us His children. If we keep reading in the Old Testament, we see that the laying on of hands has another meaning. When Moses ordained Aaron and his sons as the first priests, God told them to take 1 bull and 2 rams, then to anoint Aaron and his sons with Chrism and dress them in the priestly vestments. Then, it says that Aaron and the other priests “lay their hands upon the head of the bull, and you shall kill the bull,” and “Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall slaughter the ram,” and finally, “you shall take the other ram; and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram” (Ex 29). The book of Leviticus is the instruction book for the Old Testament priests on how to make the sacrifices in the Temple. Over and over the book of Leviticus says things like this, “He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the Lord, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the Lord” (Lv 4:4). If you’re a bull or a ram or a lamb in the Temple and you see a guy in special priestly vestments coming towards you with his hands stretched out, you better run because you’re being set apart as a sacrifice for the Lord.
Likewise, in the ordination of a Catholic priest, the bishop lays his hands on the head of the young man, thus setting Him apart for the Lord and marking Him as a sacrificial offering for God. The priest is called to die to himself so He can live for Christ. It’s not just priests who receive the laying on of hands. In the Sacrament of Confirmation each candidate, or all together if there are many of them, receives the laying on of hands, signifying that they too are set apart for God. In the sacraments we are conformed to Jesus Christ. We become children of God because we are united with the Son of God. We are, as it were, sons in the Son. Jesus Christ became one of us in the incarnation in order to make us like Him and show us what it means to be children of God. As Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Being conformed to Christ means to take up the Cross and be willing to suffer for the good of others, as Jesus Christ did for us.
How do we take up the Cross in our daily lives? First, we know that everyone experiences suffering at some points in their lives. We can suffer patiently and offer it up. There’s no special trick to this. Simply tell Jesus that you are giving Him you pain and suffering for whatever intention you have. You can offer it for the souls in purgatory, for your family or children, for Catholic missionaries, or any other intention that you may have. This won’t make your suffering go away, but it will unite it to the Cross of Christ and give it meaning.
Some suffering, like an illness, comes to us against our will and some we choose to undergo. The highest form of suffering is the suffering that we willingly endure for the sake of a loved one, as a soldier or first responder puts their lives on the line to save some else or as a martyr endures suffering and death because of their faith in God. Martyrdom is to die the death of Christ and so to be conformed to Christ not only in life but also in death, and so martyrs go straight to heaven, because they are already united to Christ. Let us ask Jesus to give us the strength of the martyrs in all the suffering in our lives, that we may be conformed to Christ in life, in death, and for eternity in heaven.
If you’ve been around the Catholic Church very much, then you’ve surely noticed a priest imposing hands over or laying hands on some object or person, for example, when he’s blessing something or someone, or in the sacraments. In the Mass the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine during the epiclesis of the Eucharistic Prayer, in the ordination of a priest or deacon the bishop lays his hands on their heads before praying the Prayer of Ordination, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation the priest holds his hand over the person while praying the Prayer of Absolution. This is a symbol of the priest calling down the Holy Spirit to give grace, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). So, extending the hands in blessing is a priestly act of calling down the Holy Spirit, but what is that blessing actually doing for us.
The first blessings we see in the Bible occur in the Book of Genesis. We see Isaac blessing Jacob and Jacob blessing his children and grandchildren. The blessings in Genesis are of fathers blessing their children, as when Isaac blesses Jacob and makes him his primary heir. A blessing can also make someone who isn’t your child into your child. The 12 tribes of Israel are the sons of Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel, except that the rest of the Bible often speaks of the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. These were Joseph’s two sons, who received a special blessing from Israel, and from that point on they were listed with the sons of Israel instead of his grandchildren.
In the book of Judges we read about Micah, who set up a shrine in his land and was looking for a priest for the shrine. One day, a Levite, the priestly tribe, was passing through, and Micah asked him to stay and be their priest, saying, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, and a suit of apparel, and your living” (Jdg 17:10). So, a priest, in the Old Testament, is seen as a type of spiritual father. This continues in the New Testament, when St. Paul calls himself a father to those whom he has brought into the faith, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). In both the Old and New Testaments, the one who blesses, the priest, is considered a spiritual father, because through the blessing of God we become children of God.
In the Sacraments, whenever the priest imposes hands over something he calls down the Holy Spirit and that thing changes. In the Mass, the Holy Spirit, changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation our sins are forgiven and our souls cleansed. In Baptism the priest lays his hand on your head, you are reborn through water and the Holy Spirit, and you become a child of God. If, then, we are children of God, let us follow the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the way we live our lives.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.