Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!  Below you'll find the Holy Father's homily from Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.  Also, if you've never heard Handel's Messiah, here is a great recording of it.  You'll find "For unto us" at 34:50 and the "Hallelujah" chorus at 1:51:19.  Enjoy, and once again, Merry Christmas!



Saint Peter's Basilica
Monday, 24 December 2012

Adoration of the Shepherds

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? […]

Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the “God hypothesis” becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world. […]

Linked to God’s glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is “Emmanuel”, God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine. […]

Manger scene in St. Peter's Square
Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church’s liturgy to us today. Trans-eamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go “across”, daring to step beyond, to make the “transition” by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great “crossing over” to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. […]

Christmas 2012
The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

 (Cited on December 26, 2012 from

Image by Caravaggio available from

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Angelus - December 16th

Angelus – December 16, 2012

The Holy Father speaks from his window
overlooking St. Peter's Square.
This past Sunday's Gospel and reflection focused once again around the figure of Saint John the Baptist.  In the reading, as the Holy Father points out, because of John's tough words about repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the crowd that comes out to him asks him in response, “What must we do?”  Pope Benedict spoke of the three dialogues John has with the crowd and its relevance for us today.

John the Baptist by Andrea del Sarto.
            First, John is speaking to the crowd in general.  He tells them that if they have two cloaks, they should give one away, or if they have food to eat, they should give some to those who have none.  Here the Holy Father reflects upon the relationship between justice and charity.  Justice demands that the imbalance between those who have more than enough and those who lack the necessities be overcome; charity moves us to be attentive to others and to meet their needs rather than looking for justifications to defend our interests. Justice and charity are not opposed but both are necessary and complete each other.”

            Second, John the Baptist replies to the “publicans”, saying that they should not take more than is required.  The Holy Father notes that these public figures were not popular, due to their propensity to steal and take more taxes than were required of the people.  He further points out that John does not ask them to quit their jobs, “[John]...does not ask for exceptional actions, but first of all the honest performance of one's duties.  The first step towards eternal life is always the observance of the commandments, in this case the seventh: 'Do not steal' (Exodus 20:15)”.

            Thirdly, John makes a response to the soldiers.  These figures also held positions of power and were often found to abuse it.  John exhorts them to not to misuse their power and be content with their pay.  The Holy Father reflects, “Here, too, conversion begins with honesty and with respect for others: an instruction that holds good for everyone, especially those with greater responsibility”.

            Our Holy Father puts these key dialogues together, saying, “...from the moment that God will judge us according to our deeds, it is there, in our conduct, that we must show that we are following his will. And precisely for this reason the Baptist’s instructions are always relevant: even in our very complex world, things would go much better if everyone observed these rules of conduct. So let us pray to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that he help us to prepare ourselves for Christmas bearing the good fruits of conversion (cf. Luke 3:8).”

Pope Benedict celebrates Holy Mass on Gaudete Sunday.
        Following the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted the different language groups represented as usual.  To the English-speaking peoples, he remarked his grief and sorrow concerning the school-shooting in Connecticut and promised his prayers and blessings for all those suffering, especially those who lost a child.  Let us all continue to pray with and for our fellow brothers and sisters during this time of mourning and grief.  Pope Benedict XVI urged us all to dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and peace.  

            Blessed Third Week of Advent!

Top image available from
Image of John the Baptist available from
Third image available from

P.S. Here are some highlights from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  Some of our Sisters were able to attend the Holy Father's visit to the Spanish Steps here Rome (pictures below).  Pope Benedict said:
In Mary, in fact, that relationship with God that sin destroys is totally active and alive.  In her there is no opposition between God and her being: there is complete communion, complete understanding.  There is a reciprocal 'yes,' of God to her and of her to God.  Mary is free from sin because she is wholly of God, totally expropriated for him.  She is full of his grace, of his love.

Concluding he told us that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception expresses the certainty of faith that the promises of God are realized: that his covenant does not fail, but has produced a holy root, from which sprung the Fruit that is the most blessed of all the universe, Jesus the Savior.  Mary Immaculate demonstrates that grace is capable of bringing about a response, that God's fidelity is capable of generating a true and good faith”.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blessed "O Antiphon" days and the final prep before Christmas

December 19, 2012
Today's blog entry has to encompass two audiences, since your author has been studying a great deal the last few days.  Thanks for your patience.
First, let's look at last week's message about the steps of Revelation.  Pope Benedict has already gone to great lengths to show how God's revelation is present in the natural world all around us.  Now he is moving into what we might call Revelation with a capital "R", that is, God showing us Who He Is personally in a way that we can understand, and then calling us into a friendship with Himself.
This pillar in honor of the Immaculate Conception offers an
artistic interpretation of the steps and figures of Revelation.
Moses (left) and David (right) both shed light on who the
Messiah of Israel will be.

  The Blessed Virgin Mary brought the Son of God into
the world and sang the praises of God in her Magnificat,
which has been captured in song by
numerous composers.
What that requires is for God to make the first step--every step, actually--and then man to respond.  A tradition Advent chant entitled Rorate Caeli captures humanity's longing and God's rending of the heavens in order to come down to us.

As God's Revelation unfolds over time, human history becomes shaped, transformed, and ordered according to God's plan and design.  That design is one of love that never dismisses human freedom.  We call it "salvation history."  And it's written in the Bible.

By reading the history of the People of Israel in Sacred Scripture, we begin to understand that God's interventions in history are not little occurrences that happen and then fade away.  Part of being in a covenant with God is remembering what He has done in my life.  Celebrating the memory of certain events in salvation history is not just nostalgia; it renders the event present and actual in the life of the believer.  Our relationship with God changes over time, and God's faithfulness becomes more present and real the more we reflect upon it.  Because of His faithfulness, we look to the future with hope.

The pillar in full view.

In yesterday's audience, Pope Benedict highlighted the faith of Mary, Mother of the Lord. 

The angel's greeting to her, Χαιρε in Greek, means "Rejoice!" Whenever that same greeting is used in the Old Testament, it is an expression of joy and consolation at the promised coming of the Messiah.  For Mary and for us, it is a salutation that signals the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News of salvation.

Joy--Mary's joy and our joy--comes from grace, or communion with God.  It is not ephemeral giddiness; it springs from faith.  Faith includes elements of darkness and things that we don't understand.  However, the person who is open to God, like Mary was, comes to accept the divine will even when he or she doesn't understand it, even when it doesn't correspond to an individual's plan, and even when it is a sword that pierces the person's heart.

We all encounter moments of darkness in our walk of faith, as well as moments of light.  Faith keeps us constant through thick and thin--that's why we have to pray for faith!  Belief and trust in God allows us to let go of what we think life ought to be in order to let the Word of God be the lamp unto our feet, the guiding principle of our thoughts and actions.

Annunciation by Fra Angelico.
Image available from
From Mary we have not just a model of faith, but we also learn how to put faith into action.  When she heard the angel Gabriel's greeting in the Annunciation, she pondered it.  When the shepherds at Bethlehem told her what they had been told, she kept it in her heart.  When Jesus, at the age of 12, told her that He had to be in the house of His Father, she reflected and pieced together all these events.  She entered into a dialogue with the Word of God in order to see and understand His will so that she could do it.  It is because of her faith that all generations have called and will always call her blessed.

Christmas invites us to live this same humility and faith.  God's glory is manifested in the womb of a virgin and revealed in the poverty of a baby, not in the triumph and power of a king, a famous city, or a sumptuous palace.

God's omnipotence acts in our lives the same way it shone forth in Bethlehem: quietly, in truth and love.

There won't be an audience next week, so I wish all of you the best in these final days of Advent...Veni, veni Emmanuel.  God bless all of you, and Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

John the Baptist

The Christmas tree is up in St. Peter's Square!

Sunday Angelus – December 9, 2012

John the Baptist: The Voice of One Crying out in the Wilderness

Blessed Second Sunday of Advent (sorry this is a little late)!  The theme of this week’s Angelus message revolved around John the Baptist, one of the two liturgical Advent figures who help us to prepare for the coming of the Son of God (the other is our Blessed Mother).  Pope Benedict XVI expounded upon the relationship of Jesus with John the Baptist particularly found in Luke.  In Luke, we read in his infancy narrative about the close connection with Jesus and John the Baptist, which is further revealed at the beginning of Christ’s ministry.  The Holy Father points out that this setting is particularly important because it not only helps us to understand that John is the last of the prophets, but also represents the whole priesthood of the Old Covenant for men to prepare their hearts for the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus.  Within all of the history that Luke provides in his gospel “lies the true great event, the birth of Christ, which his contemporaries will not even notice.  By God the great men of history form the backdrop to the small”. 

John the Baptist is “voice of one crying out in the wilderness”.  He is not the Word of God, but he has a very important role of preparing men to receive the Word, to make straight the paths before Him.  His role, the Holy Father reiterates, is always in relation to Christ.  Quoting Saint Augustine, he said, “John is the voice. Instead of the Lord says: ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1).  John is the voice that passes away, Christ is the eternal Word who was in the beginning.  If you take the word away from the voice, what is left?  A faint sound.  The voice without the word strikes the hearing, but does not build up the heart” (Sermon 293, 3).  We must make room in our hearts to hear his voice and to welcome Jesus.  In a consumerist society, where we seek joy in things, the Baptist teaches us to live in an essential way, so that Christmas is not only experienced as an outward party, but as the feast of the Son of God who came to bring peace, life, and true joy to people. 

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The economy of salvation

General audience - Wednesday, December 5, 2012

We've been speaking about ways to come to know God and our natural openess to God's revelation.  Along with that, the profound desires of the human heart tell us that there is something great that we are called to, a fulfillment that awaits all of us.

In last week's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI began unfolding the "benevolent design" of the economy of salvation.  "Economy" here is meant as management of a household or family; a plan or dispensation, according to its Greek origin.  In other words: God, from all eternity, has had a plan for our personal salvation, and he carries it out all around us, all the time.  The center of that plan and the center of all history is Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict mentioned St. Paul's hymn in the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), which I will put here in full:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy and blameless before him.
He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In hin we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the rices of his grace
which he lavished upon us.
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ,
as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.
In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things
according to the counsel of his will,
we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed
to live for the praise of his glory.
In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation,
and have believed in him,
were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
who is the guarantee of our inheritance
until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

God's benevolent design, as laid out here by Saint Paul, is a plan of love.  It is gratuitous; it is all around us; it transforms us.  Why does God do this?  To unite all things in Christ--but what does mean?  In asking these questions, we are knocking on the door of faith.  To be made a son or daughter of God in Christ is something much greater than what we usually experience it to be. 

By entering into our world and uniting us to himself, God gives himself to us--this is one sense of God's self-communication, an expression which Pope Benedict is fond of using.  From Dei Verbum we read:
In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.

God realizes his master plan by entering into a relationship with man, with each and every human being.  He broke open the heavens and came down to us to bring us back to himself.  As Saint John Chrysystom would say: Look at what we have been given.  What else could we want?  Or, as Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio:
Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith.
Faith is each person's response to God's plan of love.  It is the only way to really receive this plan and put it in play.   From Dei Verbum again we read:
"The obedience of faith" (Rom. 13:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) "is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals," and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him.
The phrase "commits his whole self freely" is another way of saying that in faith, we abandon ourselves to God.  This takes us into a whole new dimension in our outlook on life, our relationship with others, and our relation to all of reality.  It is a real attitude adjustment, placing everything we think we know into the hands of God.

Advent is the perfect time to take a look at where I have committed my whole self freely.  In Advent we are reminded that Jesus has come and has won the victory; he will come again in glory at the end of time.  We are given this time to re-order our lives in order to prepare and be ready for his coming.  Not only that, through our faith, hope, and love, God desires to come into the world again through us.  Through us, he can make his light shine in the darkness again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent begins

Angelus MessageDecember 2, 2012


Greetings and blessings on during this first week of Advent! 

This past Sunday, our Holy Father greeted pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square, reflecting on the meaning of “advent”.  The word means, “coming” or “presence”, and in our Christian tradition, it refers to the coming of God and His presence in the world.  It is a mystery involving all of creation, all of history, knowing particularly two moments—the Incarnation and the second coming of Jesus Christ.  We do not know when the Lord will come in all his glory and splendor, but these two events are intimately related and touch each other in their depths, “because with his death and resurrection Jesus has already realized that transformation of man and the cosmos that is the final goal of creation”.  While we wait his coming and before the end, the Lord tells us that it is necessary that the Gospel of Jesus Christ be preached to all the nations.  The Lord’s coming continues, the world must be penetrated by his presence. The Holy Father exhorts us saying that our collaboration is required and the Church, the Bride of Christ in communion with her Lord, collaborates in this coming of the Lord.

Drawing connections with the Sunday’s Gospel, Luke 21:25-28, 34-36, and the second reading, 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2, the Holy Father tells of how these readings describe the conduct necessary to prepare and get ready for the Lord’s coming – mainly, “sobriety and prayer” and growing and in love “among ourselves and towards others, to make our hearts strong and blameless in sanctity”.  He says, “In the midst of the upheavals of the world, or in the deserts of indifference and materialism, Christians welcome the salvation that comes from God and bear witness to it with a different way of living, like a city on a hill”. 

Pope Benedict XVI gives to us the Virgin Mary as the perfect incarnation of the spirit of Advent – “this spirit is one of listening the God, of profound desire to do his will, of joyous service to our neighbor.  Letting ourselves be guided by her, so that the God who comes does not find us closed and distracted, but can, in each one of us, extend a part of his kingdom of love, of justice, and of peace”.  May we walk with Mary, our Blessed Mother, during this Advent season, learning from her how to prepare our hearts for the Word of God. 

Following the Angelus, the Holy Father spoke of another beatification, this one in India.  The Blessed's name is Devasahayam Pillai, who was a layman martyred for the faith in the 18th century.  He was a royal official who converted from Hinduism to Catholicism, and refused to deny his faith. 

Lastly, the Holy Father spoke about the International Day of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which took place on Monday.  He spoke of the dignity of all persons, encouraging the ecclesial community and governmental workers to be attentive and welcoming to the needs of these persons and to safeguard their rights. 

Blessed Advent!



Saturday, December 1, 2012

How do we speak about God?

Wednesday Audience: November 28, 2012

In last week's general audience, the Holy Father addressed a fundamental question for the New Evangelization: How do we speak about God to our contemporaries?  He was quick to point out that Jesus asked the same question when he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?"  How do we get our message across?

The first condition for speaking about God is to listen to Him and learn from Jesus the art of living.  He is the response to the fundamental question of why and how to live.

We must also have a familiarity with the Gospel and a passion for God's design of salvation, using his own methods: humility, small steps, confidence in God, simplicity.  The Gospel tells us about a God who is real and concrete, who is interested in us and who comes close to us in Jesus Christ.  He gives us hope and opens us up to a life that never ends, life eternal and true.

RESTOUT, Jean IIAnanias Restoring the Sight of St Paul
Saint Paul is a wonderful example of what this looks like.  Wherever he went to preach the Gospel, he tried over and over again to speak only of the Person who had penetrated his life and transformed it.  He made room in his life for Jesus and thus was able to make Jesus known.  When Paul preached, it was never about himself: he let his "I" live in Jesus Christ.  We can learn from Saint Paul that the more we put Jesus at the center of our lives, the more fruitful our communication will be!

However, perhaps the best thing for us to reflect on is how Jesus himself communicated.  He has a unique type of communication with his Father -Abbà- and speaks of the kingdom of God with his gaze full of compassion for the difficulties and trials of human existence.  He speaks realistically and makes essentially transparent how much the world and our life matter to God.  In him the world and all creation see the face of God; God is present in our daily life.  In the Gospels we read this: Jesus is interested in every situation that he encounters and enters fully into realities of the men and women he meets.  Now, in our time, Jesus is doing the same thing.  We just can't see him.  He is present, though, and if we are attentive we can meet him.  In Jesus, proclamation of the Gospel and life are one thing.  And he acts and teaches always out of his intimate relationship with God the Father.

The family has privileged place at this level of evangelization, since the parents are first to educate and open their children's consciences to the love of God.  The Holy Father mentioned three virtues that will be most important to renew family life:
  • vigilance: to grasp the right moments to bring faith to light and to help it to grow through mature reflection
  • joy: the joy of Easter, which does not silence or hide suffering, pain, and death, but knows how to interpret everything in light of Christian hope
  • dialogue: give and take, listen and speak, in order to understand and love one another more deeply.  We are sign for one another of God's merciful love.
In short, it is time for us to allow ourselves to be transformed by God's immense love for us and, through this transformation, to renew our life and our relationships.  The grace of God will transform us if we open up. God can overcome our individualism, self-centeredness, indifference, so that we can live out our love for him in our daily circumstances, whatever they may be.  We can thus be people of joy.  Blessed Advent!

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