Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“Behold your Mother!”

Pope Francis rang in the New Year by celebrating Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. He reminds us that we, the faithful, follow the path of faith that Mary took and that she walks with us on our pilgrimage, helping us and encouraging us with her tender maternal affection.

Homily of Pope Francis
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
1 January 2014
In the first reading we find the ancient prayer of blessing which God gave to Moses to hand on to Aaron and his sons: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). There is no more meaningful time than the beginning of a new year to hear these words of blessing: they will accompany our journey through the year opening up before us. They are words of strength, courage and hope. Not an illusory hope, based on frail human promises, or a naïve hope which presumes that the future will be better simply because it is the future. Rather, it is a hope that has its foundation precisely in God’s blessing, a blessing which contains the greatest message of good wishes there can be; and this is the message which the Church brings to each of us, filled with the Lord’s loving care and providential help.

The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before any other creature.

The Mother of God! This is the first and most important title of Our Lady. It refers to a quality, a role which the faith of the Christian people, in its tender and genuine devotion to our heavenly Mother, has understood from the beginning. . . .

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis Named Time Magazine's Person of the Year

Time Magazine has named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year." Of course, like Benedict and John Paul before him, he does not aspire to celebrity. Still, this recognition is an occasion to be happy because it ultimately is about more than Jorge Bergoglio the person - it shows that, as secularized as our culture has become, still there is a hunger for the spiritual. Even if the story below from Time gets some things wrong about the papacy, the Church, and Catholicism in general (and unfortunately uses what should be a moment of praise to, yet again, take unfair and mean-spirited slaps at Popes Benedict and John Paul), the award itself is nevertheless heartening and can be understood another step in that continuing journey of the secular in dialogue with faith.

Pope Francis, The People’s Pope
Time Magazine
December 11, 2013
On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje C, a shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage - strewn Mariano Acosta. There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin, toward the end of the ­pasaje — Spanish for passage — where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire. . . .

The word asesino — ­murderer — is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting. Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars. Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads. But even Pasaje C can lead to Rome.

As Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a metropolis of some 13.5 million souls, Jorge Mario Bergoglio made room in his schedule every year for a pastoral visit to this place of squalor and sorrow.­ . . . On other days, there were other journeys to barrios throughout the city — so many in need of so much, but none too poor or too filthy for a visit from this itinerant prince of the church. Reza por mí, he asked almost everyone he met. Pray for me.

When, on March 13, Bergoglio inherited the throne of St. Peter—keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven—he made the same request of the world. Pray for me. . . .
To read more, go to: TIME's Person of the Year 2013 Pope Francis, The People's Pope

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fifty Years of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

Today is the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, on December 4, 1963. Understanding the primal importance of the liturgy, this was the first document approved by the Second Vatican Council and it followed a long and growing "liturgical movement," which extended back for many decades. Many prior popes and bishops, including St. Pope Pius X, had recognized the need for various reforms to meet people's desire for deeper appreciation of and greater lay participation in the Holy Mass.

One of those involved in the liturgical movement was Father Joseph Ratzinger, who was a peritus (advisor) to the Council (and later became Pope Benedict XVI). In his contemporary account, he described how important the sacred liturgy is and why the situation as it existed prior to the Council demonstrated an evident need for renewal.
[F]or the Church, divine worship is a matter of life and death. If it is no longer possible to bring the faithful to worship God, and in such a way that they themselves perform this worship, then the Church has failed in its task and can no longer justify its existence. But it was on precisely this point that a profound crisis occured in the life of the Church. Its roots reach far back. In the late Middle Ages, awareness of the real essence of Christian worhip increasingly vanished. Great importance was attached to externals, and these choked out essentials. (Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 129)
Although the Council of Trent eliminated some abuses that had crept into the liturgy over time and made some reforms to prevent new overgrowths in the future, Father Ratzinger noted that this created its own problems.
The main measure [after the Council of Trent] was to centralize all liturgical authority in the Sacred Congregation of Rites . . . This authority completely lacked historical perspective; it viewed the liturgy solely in terms of ceremonial rubrics, treating it as a kind of problem of proper court etiquette for sacred matters. This resulted in the complete archaizing of the liturgy, which now passed from the stage of living history, became embalmed in the status quo and was ultimately doomed to internal decay. The liturgy had become a rigid, fixed and firmly encrusted system; the more out of touch with genuine piety, the more attention was paid to its prescribed norms. . . . The baroque era adjusted to this situation by superimposing a kind of para-liturgy on the archaized actual liturgy. Accompanied by the splendor of orchestral performance, the baroque high Mass became a kind of sacred opera in which the chants of the priest functioned as a kind of periodic recitative. The entire performance seemed to aim at a kind of festive lifting of the heart, enhanced by the beauty of a celebration appealing to the eye and ear. On ordinary days, when such display was not possible, the Mass was frequently covered over with devotions more attractive to the popular mentality. . . . In practice this meant that while the priest was busy with his archaic liturgy, the people were busy with their devotions to Mary. They were united with the priest only by being in the same church with him and by consigning themselves to the sacred power of the eucharistic sacrifice. (Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 130-32)
Faced with this situation, as the bishops themselves could see in their own churches, the Council Fathers saw the need for liturgical renewal, including taking steps to make a reality the expressed desire of Pope Pius X for greater "active participation" on the part of the laity.
In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 21)
Clearly, then, this was not a "reinvention" of the Mass, nor was it the creation of a "new Mass," as that term is sometimes derisively used. As a matter of sacramental doctrine, there is one and only one Mass, just as there is only one God, one holy sacrifice of Christ, and one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Rather, as the text indicates, this was to be a restoration of the whole purpose of the liturgy – "when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects. . . . Such participation by the Christian people as 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people' (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism." (Id., 11, 14).

It is to their credit that our excellent priests at Blessed Sacrament have helped to make the blessings of Sacrosanctum Concilium a reality. And thanks to Bishop Loverde, and Bishops Keating and Welsh before him, that the sacred liturgy throughout the Diocese of Arlington is so reverent and fruitful. (Sadly, in some locales this is not always the case, as many of us discover when we travel during the holidays and go to Mass in some other diocese and/or as some others of us experienced back in the 1970s. Although the Mass is always holy – because Christ himself who is present in the Mass is holy – that much-needed reverence can sometimes be lacking.)

The fruits of Sacrosanctum Concilium are many, but understanding that our faith is a journey, there is still room for us to grow, to move ever closer to the Lord. As Pope Francis has been saying a lot in a variety of contexts, let us ask God for this grace in the sacred liturgy, to be more worthily disposed and to grow deeper in the love of Christ, the Holy Bridegroom of the Church.

Monday, December 2, 2013

George Weigel Speaking at Blessed Sacrament This Evening

This evening, Monday, December 2, after the 7 p.m. Mass, Blessed Sacrament will once again welcome renowned author George Weigel who will speak about the joy of "full-time Catholicism," in light of his new book Evangelical Catholicism - Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church and, no doubt, Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium on the proclamation of the Gospel in today's world.

"Recreational Catholicism — Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps ninety minutes of one’s time on a weekend — is over," observes Mr. Weigel.
Full-time Catholicism — a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission — is the only possible Catholicism in the twenty-first century.

The Evangelical Catholicism of the future is a Catholicism of radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. Evangelical Catholics put friendship with the Lord Jesus at the center of everything: personal identity, relationships, activity. Evangelical Catholics strive for fidelity despite the wounds of sin, and do so through a daily encounter with the Word of God in the Bible and a regular embrace of Christ through a frequent reception of the sacraments.

Evangelical Catholics experience dry seasons and dark nights, like everyone else; but they live through those experiences by finding their meaning in a deeper conformity to the Cross of Christ — on the far side of which is the unmatchable joy of Easter, the experience of which gives the people of the Church the courage to be Catholic. And evangelical Catholics measure the quality of their discipleship by whether, and to what extent, they give to others what they have been given: by the degree to which they deepen others’ friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, or bring others to meet the unique savior of the world.
Mr. Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, is one of the world’s leading authorities of the Catholic Church. He is the author of more than twenty books and is a regular columnist for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Before Evangelical Catholicism, Mr. Weigel is perhaps best known for his comprehensive biography of Blessed Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, as well as God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, written shortly after the 2005 Conclave.

Please join us this evening for this informative and timely discussion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pope Francis Issues Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis has issued his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which follows up on, and expands upon, the work of the Synod on the New Evangelization which met in October 2012. Below are some excerpts from the opening passages.

Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)
His Holiness Pope Francis
Solemnity of Christ the King, November 24, 2013
1. THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.


2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.

3. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards! . . .

6. There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26).

7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

8. Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? . . .

17. Here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality. In this context, and on the basis of the teaching of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, I have decided, among other themes, to discuss at length the following questions:

a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;
b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;
c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;
d) the homily and its preparation;
e) the inclusion of the poor in society;
f) peace and dialogue within society;
g) the spiritual motivations for mission.

18. I have dealt extensively with these topics, with a detail which some may find excessive. But I have done so, not with the intention of providing an exhaustive treatise but simply as a way of showing their important practical implications for the Church’s mission today. All of them help give shape to a definite style of evangelization which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake. In this way, we can take up, amid our daily efforts, the biblical exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice” (Phil 4:4).
Please read the complete apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium here.