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.
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2018
Merry Christmas! We’ve finally made it to another Christmas and are once again gathered around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the incarnation, the becoming flesh of Jesus Christ and His coming into the world. For Christianity, today is perhaps the second most important day of the year, second to Easter, but culturally, and, of course, economically, it’s probably the most important day of the year. It’s almost like there are two different celebrations of Christmas, the Christian one and the cultural one which is influenced by Christianity but is participated in by many non-Christians as well.
The incarnation is one of the great acts of God’s love for us, along with the Creation of the universe and the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation is a sign of God’s love for us, showing us that God desires so much to be with us, to be close to us, that He came down to become one of us and open the gates of heaven so that humanity sits at the right hand of God in the person of Jesus Christ. When you love someone you desire nothing more than for them to love you in return. So, why should we love God?
Should we love God because of everything that He’s done for us? We should certainly be grateful to God for creating us, redeeming us, sending His Holy Spirit to be with us, and calling us to heaven, but that’s not why we should love Him. I say that for two reasons. First, if I love God because of what He’s done for me, then I might stop loving God when bad things happen to me. More to the point, though, is that that’s not what love is. If I love God because of all the good things that He’s done for me, then it’s not God that I love, it’s myself. Love isn’t about what I can get from you, but what I can give to you. Love always seeks to do good for the beloved, not to take from them.
Should we love God because of His majesty and power? We should respect God because of His majesty and power, but that’s not why we should love Him. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s the beginning of wisdom, not the end of wisdom. When we’re immature in the faith we need to learn the Ten Commandments and the punishment due to sin to begin to learn discipline, but if we stop there we remain immature in the faith. As we mature in the faith we move on to the Beatitudes, the virtues, and the laws of love. We avoid sin and strive to do good not because we’re afraid of being punished, but because we’ve grown in our love for God. It’s like the difference between respecting your parents as a child because they’ll punish you if you don’t and respecting your parents as an adult because you don’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
We should love God for the same reason that we should love anyone, because of Who He IS. God is the source of life, goodness, and truth. He is all good, all loving, all powerful, all knowing, and all present. He is perfectly just, giving to each one what they deserve, but He is also all merciful, showing mercy to all. He cannot be contained by the entire universe, and yet He was contained in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and held in her arms. He is more powerful than all the armies in the world, and yet He came to us as an infant. He is the king of the universe and all riches are His, and yet He was born to a poor carpenter and lain in a feeding trough for a bed. He is no fairy tale that happened a long time ago in a land far, far away. He was born to Mary and Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem in the land of Judea about the year 2 B.C. and lived and died in Palestine, and yet He is the unchangeable God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we can learn to love God for Himself, then that love will be an immovable rock, and when the wind and rain of the trials of life come, that rock of God’s love will always be there.
So, get to know who God is. You cannot love what you do not know, but the more you get to know God, the more you will love Him and want to be near Him. We get to know God first by spending time with Him. Though He ascended into heaven, He didn’t leave us, but He left us His presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. We have Eucharist adoration here every first Wednesday from 8:30 AM to 7:00 PM and every Friday from 7:00 AM for an hour before the 8:00 AM Mass. You also get to know Jesus by talking to Him and listening to Him, that is by praying. Spend some time in prayer every day, and try to do it at the same time every day. Make that God’s time. Read the Bible or pray the Rosary or just talk to God, just pray. Finally, make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we hurt someone we love we have to go apologize to them and try to repair the damage we’ve caused, and it’s the same with God. God has given us the Sacrament of Confession so we can be assured of His forgiveness and receive the grace to be strengthened against sin in the future. There are many other ways to grow closer to God, but these three, staying close to the Eucharist, frequent confession, and daily prayer, are the most important and the most powerful. We know that God loves us, not least of all because He came to live and die for us, so we should also learn who God is personally, so we can learn to love Him better.
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.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Advent – Year C – 9 December 2018
During this time of year we are tempted to indulge ourselves in all of the things that we like, and to indulge ourselves to excess. At Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, if we don’t eat to the point of barely being able to move, then we feel like we failed. Consumerism and consumption are the rule of the day. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but we are all tempted by our consumerist culture and can easily be tempted to overdo it. We need to get the newest smart phone, even though last year’s model was probably more than sufficient. Some of the companies even design the phone so that you can’t just replace the battery and so have to buy an entire new phone. And it’s not just phones, lots of companies design their products to fail or go obsolete after a certain amount of time so you have to buy a new one. Did you ever wonder why car companies come out with new models and designs of cars every few years? Well, GM started the practice in 1924 as an incentive for people to buy a new car even though their old one was still working just fine.
Over-indulgence is always bad. Drinking too much alcohol, eating too much, gambling too much, and spending too much eventually lead to problems like addictions, health problems, and damaged relationships. Virtue is in moderation: not too much and not too little. Courage, for example, is the mid-point between cowardice, not enough courage, and recklessness, too much courage. Temperance is the mid-point between lust and gluttony, excessive indulgence, and puritanism, the excessive denial of bodily pleasure.
We usually fall more on the side of excessive indulgence and not enough on the side of self-denial, but we need both in order to be balanced both physically and spiritually. The Church has a lot less rules about fasting than she used to. We are no longer required to abstain from meat every Friday, just in Lent now, but we are still required to do some sort of penance or to fast from something, whether that’s meat or sweats or television or something else of your choosing. It should be something that you’ll actually miss, a real sacrifice for God. Through these acts of self-denial we train ourselves to be able to say no to our desires and impulses. If we only ever give in to those temptations then our desires will begin to rule over us. If I can learn to say no even to good things, things that aren’t sinful, out of love for God, then I’ll be better able to say no when I am tempted to sin.
What is the most important thing in life? Money, pleasure, prestige are temporary and fleeting. They last a little while and then they’re gone. We can’t take them with us when we die, and they can’t even give us true joy here on earth. Don’t let the things in your life distract you from the purpose of your life: to love and serve God in this life and to praise Him forever in heaven. In today’s Gospel we’re encouraged to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and to fill in every valley and level every mountain. The valleys and mountains are the things in our lives that keep us from God. Advent is about preparing to welcome Jesus at Christmas, so let’s really prepare to welcome Him.
The first way you can do that is by fasting and self-denial. When you fast, increase your hunger for the Lord.
Another way you can do that is by buying someone an anonymous gift or doing something for them in secret. That way, they can’t pay you back or return the favor.
Also, after Christmas when you’re putting away all of the things people gave you, pick out one or two of your older things to donate to good will.
Finally, if you have children, come up with a family charity to donate to this Christmas. Let the kids help pick it out and contribute to the donation from their own money.
In these ways we can all learn that Christmas isn’t about the things that we receive; it’s about the love that we receive from God and that we give back to God and one another in return.
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.
Last year, when the School of Religion classes were still being held in the Church, the kids would see me putting on and taking off my vestments before and after Mass. I was told that one of them went home and told his mom that I have a whole closet full of fancy capes and things, which is exactly right, they are basically just fancy robes and capes and things, but they’re also more than that. The word vestments simply means clothes. Chasuble is an ancient word for a coat, cincture is an old Latin word for belt, and cope comes from the same Latin word as cape, because that’s what it is. So, why don’t we just wear normal clothes for Mass? That’s what most protestant ministers do, but Catholic and Orthodox clergy, who can trace their origins back to the apostles themselves, wear fancy vestments for Mass and for the sacraments.
We wear vestments because it’s not about the priest, it’s about the sacrament. The vestments cover the priests own clothes from his collar all the way down to his ankles, and bishops even wear hats for Mass, to cover even more of themselves. The priest, in the Mass, is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. He acts in the name of Christ and not in his own name and with Christ’s authority, not his own authority.
Wearing special clothing for religious rites goes all the way back to the Old Testament to the high priest Aaron. God gave the design for those vestments to Moses and they showed that Aaron stood before God on behalf of the people. Catholic vestments have meaning as well. The amice goes around the neck to cover the collar of the shirt, and it symbolizes the “helmet of salvation” (Eph 6:17). The white robe, traditionally made of linen (but not necessarily now), is the bottom layer of vestments and goes down to the ankle; it represents purity and reminds the priest or deacon of their baptism. The alb is secured by a rope called a cincture which represents continence and chastity.
Over the alb is worn the stole, in the color of the day or season, which represents the authority of the priest or deacon before God. The priests stole is worn hanging straight down, like the Jewish’s priests prayer shawl, and the deacon’s stole is worn across the chest, like the cord that held a Roman legionnaire’s sword. The prayer which is prayed while donning the stole reminds the clergyman of their need for God’s mercy. Over everything else, a deacon wears a dalmatic and a priest wears a chasuble in the color of the day or season. The deacon’s dalmatic represents asking the Lord to cover him in salvation, joy, and justice. The priest’s chasuble represents asking the Lord to cover him in charity or love. Nothing is allowed to be worn over the chasuble, as charity and love should go over everything else.
As we don our vestments and pray the appropriate vesting prayers, we also spiritually prepare ourselves to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, so the vestments, in addition to showing that the Mass is not about ourselves and symbolizing the role of the priest and deacon, also remind us that we are doing the most important thing that we will ever do, uniting ourselves to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ through the Most Holy Eucharist.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope
by Pope St. John Paul II
Pope St. John Paul II served as Pope during a time of great change in the world and in the Church. He was elected in 1978 as the second pope after the end of the Second Vatican Council and would have the task of continuing the implementation of the Council documents, which had caused such great upheaval in the Church. He would serve as Pope until his death in 2005. In the intervening years, he would be instrumental in bringing about the peaceful fall of the Soviet Union and see cultural changes throughout the entire world. Not the least of these was the invention of the personal computer and the explosion in popularity of the internet in the mid-1990s. During this time he was known for his personal holiness and love for God and the Church.
He wrote a large number of books in his life, both before and after becoming Pope. Crossing the Threshold of Hopeis different because it is the record of an extensive “interview” that Pope St. John Paul II gave to the journalist and author Vittorio Messori. Messori gave the pope a list of questions that were originally intended for a televised interview which fell apart at the last moment due to the Pope’s schedule. However, the Holy Father answered the questions in writing and the result is this book. The Holy Father answers questions about his prayer life and how to pray, the existence of God, Jesus and salvation, evil and suffering, other religions, communism, the new evangelization, and more.
I preached from an outline this week instead of a complete text, but I did want to post some of the resources that I used.
You can find the readings for the November 18, 2018, HERE.
I used the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Second Coming, paragraphs 668-679, which can be found HERE.
I also referenced Philippians 2:10-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-30.
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.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.